A short story…
In the year 2373 human civilisation has spread across the arm of the galaxy.
Genetic manipulation has greatly advanced. Some humans choose to become replicas of other people they admire. The rich, the famous and historical figures are popular choices.
Cellular structures can be altered in various ways. Muscle size or organ regeneration can be increased through “amplification” – where cells are replicated so that the total volume of a muscle or organ is increased. “Replication” occurs where the genetic code of another individual is copied so that a second person attains desirable characteristics – including beauty, skin quality, strength, speed and so on. “Transference” is where the actual genetic material from a desirable candidate is successfully transplanted into another’s body.
Where genetic alterations fail to produce the desired changes, some bodybuilders resort to other means to boost muscle size, including injecting synthex into their bodies. Synthex is a chemical compound which forms the approximate consistency of firm muscle once it enters the body. It increases muscle size, but not strength.
Due to various complications – including the proliferation of uncontrollable cancers and bodies that mutate in unpredictable and horrendous ways – genetic manipulation is strictly controlled. However in some more remote regions of the galaxy, regulation is lax, due to difficulties in enforcing laws…
A burgeoning black market in genetic manipulation is becoming a genuine problem for governments, as the needy, sick, old and just plain vain seek means to have their bodies rebuilt and “improved”.
A large, muscular man strode through the arrival gates, his tanned, peaked biceps jutting from under his tight t-shirt. Richard Quaid’s hard brown leather shoes echoed upon the stone marble floor, cut as it was from the ancient surface of the dry, red planet of Arnu. His handsome young face failed to betray the fact that he had been born some eight decades prior to that day. Perhaps an observant bystander would have detected a slight limp, courtesy of a major knee operation; everything else about the man suggested power and control.
But there were no bystanders there on that day, as Quaid was the first man off the flight from Earth. Carrying nothing but a black backpack behind his broad shoulders, Quaid walked briskly up to the first window of the Arnu border control.
Not that anyone referred to it as Arnu anymore. Rather, it was now infamously known by the very name plastered across the rocky wall behind the customs desk:
Beneath those words a large portrait hung in honour of the man Quaid (and indeed most of the people who traveled to Planet Arnold) considered the greatest of humans: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Quaid knew almost every detail of the man’s life; so he knew that the image had been taken from Arnold’s time as Mr Olympia, posing in trunks on a mountain above Capetown, South Africa.
The hall was filled with other photos. Arnold as a teenager. Arnold as the Terminator – with half a mechanical face and one mechanical red eye. There were Arnold relics encased in glass showcases. The metallic exoskeleton of the Terminator, minus human flesh. One case held one of Arnold’s Mr Olympia trophies. Yet the most prized of all was the glass container which housed a pair of posing trunks worn by Arnold in one of his earlier bodybuilding victories.
What caught Quaid’s eye was the life-sized bronze statue of Arnold, erected just before the first customs window. It showed Arnold hitting a double biceps pose, the muscles across his shoulders rising like great boulders above his wide back.
Quaid turned to catch his own image in the customs officer’s window, comparing himself to the great Austrian bodybuilder.
“Perfect,” Quaid thought to himself. As he smiled the gap between his two front teeth seemed to widen in approval. He could spot no difference between the Austrian Oak and himself. He secretly flexed the great bicep under his long shirt sleave. At 23 inches in diameter, his upper arm was a perfect replica of Arnold’s at the peak of his physical form some three centuries years before. Not an inch more, not an inch less.
Like the rest of his physical form everything had been sculpted to create a perfect replica of Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger.
Quaid was bought back to attention by a disembodied and deep male voice echoing across the solid stone walls.
“Welcome to Planet Arnold, the world that honours the greatness that was Arnold. Please enjoy your stay. And remember… keep pumping iron!”
The woman behind the processing counter looked familiar, with her plump, middle-aged demeanour and red, old-fashioned coiffured hair. It was the yellow top and brown scarf that triggered Quaid’s memory. The woman from the Mars spaceport scene in Total Recall. Of course!
Quaid had watched that movie 213 times. He knew every line, every plot detail.
He half expected the woman to rip her face off, allowing Arnold Schwarzenegger himself to emerge from behind all that makeup, just as he ad in the movie. But then he remembered that Arnold was long dead.
“Please look up. Remove your lenses, please.”
“Oh, sorry,” Quaid said, embarrassed. He quickly detached his coloured contacts. His natural eye colour was hazel, as opposed to the grey-blue of Schwarzenegger.
The woman instructed him to stand on the red line and look at the camera. He felt the slightly uncomfortable feeling he always got when he knew that his irises were being scanned and brain activity monitored.
“How long will you be staying on Arnu?”
“Oh, just the two weeks.” Quaid’s voice was thick and deep. And Austrian. He had adopted the accent of his idol for so many decades that he didn’t need to fake it anymore.
The woman shook her head. “Please, not another one” she muttered softly as she did something below the counter.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
Looking up at him, the woman ignored the question. “Richard Quaid?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
The woman’s straight face betrayed a hint of concern. “Quaid. Is that your real name? We don’t allow pseudonyms or avatars in customs.”
“Yes, of course. It’s me, Quaid! Don’t you remember me? Some men just tried to kill me!” His straight face suddenly loosened with a great grin.
“Total Recall, scene twenty seven. Quaid’s living rom.” She shook her head again and sighed. “Like I haven’t heard that one a million times.”
There was the sound of laughter from behind, and Quaid turned around. This was to be a moment that would forever remain imprinted on his mind. For he stood staring at perhaps half a dozen other huge men who all looked very much like him. He had never seen so many Arnold replicas gathered in one place. Replicas tended to avoid hanging around with their own genera.
At that quick glance Quaid noted that not all of them were a perfect match. Several were a little short, and two were towering around two metres or more. The shirtless giant at the front of the line was decked out as Conan Barbarian, complete with leather briefs and headband. Three of Arnolds wore a Terminator-style leather jacket. Towards the end of the line stood one rather short and lean Arnold in a Running Man “future” suit. His face wore a slight scowl, as if he was annoyed at being delayed.
It was only then that Quaid looked down and noticed a diminutive, suited Danny DeVito lookalike nestled at the very front of the queue, looking slightly inadequate.
Quaid’s momentary daze was interrupted by the sound of the custom woman’s voice.
“What is your business here on Arnu?” As if disinterested in the answer, the woman’s gaze immediately fell back below the window, perhaps to enter data on a computer.
“I am here for the competition. The Mr Arnold contest. I am a competitor.”
“You don’t say,” the customs officer mumbled to herself.
“It has been my life’s dream to come here.” Quaid paused for a moment, then, unable to bite his lip continued. “It’s my first time. But I’ll be…”
“I’ll be back, right?”
The woman’s face remained blank, preoccupied with whatever she was doing under the counter. Quaid knew that she would already have scanned his mental history, while the sensors would be reading his neurophysiology for signs of problematic neural predispositions. Quaid felt his breath begin to tighten in his chest. From the delay, he knew that he had already been identified as a moderate security risk.
The woman looked him in the eye for the first time. “Feeling a little nervous today, Mr Quaid?”
“It’s just my pre-contest diet. I have to eliminate all carbs till three days before the event. It leaves me a little edgy.”
“Do you have a history of mental illness, Mr Quaid?”
The dryness of the woman’s voice could not hide the fact that she already knew. And Quaid knew that she knew. Knew about his breakdown and how he had spent a month in an institution on Mars after his first marriage collapsed.
“Yes, I know what you are going to say. But that episode was forty years ago. I was barely out of short pants then.” Quaid hoped that she didn’t have access to any records which showed that he had changed his name and physical appearance immediately after being released from the institution. That might suggest that his decision to become an Arnold replica had been driven by some kind of neurosis. Or even psychosis.
“I have been clean ever since. I never felt better. I’m perfectly sane, trust me.”
“Then what are you doing on this planet?” The extra-deep, Austrian-accented voice came from behind. Quaid looked around to see the giant, Conan-clad Arnold gazing at him intently. The man was massive, perhaps two hundred kilos, his huge tree-trunk arms folded across his bare chest. The trapezius muscles in his shoulders jutted up towards his ears, which were barely visible behind his long hair.
Quaid eyed the giant nervously. It was hard to say how much the man was synthetic, how much genetically amplified, and in what ratio. Quaid saw that the man’s elbow joints were thick. He knew that the synthex enhanced replicas – their bodies pumped full of protein gel – typically showed an unnatural imbalance between the massive size of their upper arms and their elbow joints. It was difficult to get synthex into the elbow area without making an individual look like an inflated Popeye, a look every bodybuilder and Arnold replica wanted to avoid.
Quaid suddenly realised he’d been staring too long. The huge Conan pulled up his sleeve and slapped his veiny arm.
“It’s all genuine meat, my friend. Unlike most of the pathetic wannabes on this planet.” He raised his eyes and tilted his head behind him, indicating to the line of Schwarzenegger lookalikes.
The green light above the camera flashed. Quaid quickly walked through the open gateway.
He had arrived on Planet Arnold.
Quaid followed the taxi signs and soon he found himself approaching the spaceport exit. The eerie red aura of Arnu filtered through the tinted glass from. As he stepped out onto the street he was immediately taken by the glimmer of the great translucent graphite dome that encased Arnu City, rising hundreds of feet above the tallest buildings. He stopped as he looked beyond the dome and across the rocky terrain of Arnu, which was illuminated by the great red sun above; perhaps twice the size of the sun as seen from Earth. Quaid knew that without the protective dome everyone in the city would instantly perish, asphyxiating in the planet’s thick, toxic atmosphere, even before the furnace-like temperatures of the remote world could incinerate them.
Quaid heard the call before he saw the taxi pull up. The vehicle was an exact reproduction of the cabs from Total Recall. Quaid jumped in.
“Welcome Richard. Please state your destination.” The puppet-like cab driver wore a painted smile, blue coat and cap. It also recreated the authentically jerky, awkward movements of the movie original.
“I love this retro-future stuff.” There was a huge grin on Quaid’s face.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not aware of that destination.”
“You know your lines pretty good. Take me to the Arnu Hilton. It’s got the best gym on the planet. And make it quick. I’m fucking tired.”
“Yes sir. But please refrain from swearing. You have incurred a one dollar penalty.”
“Fuck you, asshole.”
“There is no swearing in this cab, Richard. Another two dollar fine has been added to your bill.”
“But that was just one instance of swearing. You can’t fine me two bucks!”
“Your sentence contained two swear words, sir. Planet Arnold takes the rule of law very seriously. We encourage all visitors to comply with local customs and regulations.”
“Whatever, stickman. Just drive.”
* * *
You can read the rest of Death on Planet Arnold in Marcus T Anthony’s Insufficient Data, which is a Kindle collection of his short stories. Available January 27th, 2014. (If you purchase the book before this date it will not contain this story, Death on Planet Arnold).