FANTASY PICK • by P. Djeli Clark

The mega stadium cheered as Jim Holloway ran onto the field, draped in red, white and blue. He waved to his fans, many of them screaming wildly and blaring noisy horns, holding up signs adorned with “We Love You Jim!” and “Lucky Jim’s Our Number One!” The flash of camera lights rippled through the massive crowd as he passed, hoping to capture his immortality. Jim Holloway, Lucky #7 — the greatest quarterback ever.

“Look at him!” my Dad exclaimed. He sat at the edge of our couch, staring at the three-dimensional holo-screen on our living room wall. “Lucky Jim! The Heat Seeker!”

My eyes remained on the television, where a blazing rocket streaked across the Jumbo Tron. The Heat Seeker. That was what they called Lucky Jim’s arm, because it always found its mark. He was a legend, an icon. My Dad grew up watching Jim run across this same field with his father. Now it was my turn.

“Ain’t right,” someone muttered. I turned to find my grandfather, who sat grimacing up at the screen. His eyes squinted, not as good as they used to be, even with the synthetic ocular implants.

“Aww, Pop,” my Dad said. “That’s Lucky Jim. Don’t you remember him?”

Grandpa frowned, his wrinkled face seeming to fold together.

“I remember him. I remember when he was a man — a hero. Before they turned him into this.”

My uncle who sat nearby, laughed. “Here we go again,” he said, taking a swig of beer.

“He’s still a man, Pop,” my Dad said. “He’s still a hero. Nobody’s turned him into anything.”

I looked back to the screen as the cameras panned in on Jim Holloway. They were honoring him today, his 50th anniversary in the United Football League. He stood holding his helmet, his strong, perfect physique surrounded in a swirling rain of patriotic confetti. Blaring lights reflected off a square jaw and gleaming teeth as he smiled, casting him as almost godlike. Yet something about his face gave me pause. The skin there was taut but weathered, with deep crow’s feet streaking from the corner of his eyes. It created a bizarre sense of agelessness, making him look both young and worn at once.

I knew the Jim Holloway story — everyone did. The top quarterback whose arm was shattered during his first season. That’s when the Replicative Gene Corporation agreed to fix him. They used his own cells to grow synthetic muscles and bones at an accelerated rate, replacing his ruined limb in days. Jim returned to the field, his brand new arm working better than ever. That was how he got the nickname Lucky. When he got injured again, the Corporation patched him up like new. It had happened so many times most people lost count.

“Look at him,” Grandpa grumbled. “Just a bunch of artificial meat they keep repackaging. He’s a freak!”

My uncle laughed again, while Dad shook his head.

“Pop, all they’ve done is helped him keep playing. Everyone wants him out there. He’s America’s quarterback. Back when I was a kid, when the NFL went bankrupt with the rest of the country, Jim and the UFL brought the game back — brought us all back. Gave us something to believe in again. Where’s the harm in that?”

Grandpa grunted, unconvinced.

“Way I hear it, Jim don’t have a choice,” he muttered.

An awkward silence followed. Everyone knew that story, too — about the contract Jim Holloway signed with the Corporation. It allowed them to keep fixing him every time he was injured; they even gave him replicated cells to slow his aging. Every part of him was patented now by the Corporation, who owned him from head to toe. There were some, like Grandpa, who believed it was wrong. They called Jim a modern day slave, who wasn’t even given control over his own body. There were court cases by civil liberties groups — one even went to the Supreme Court. But they ruled in favor of the Corporation, declaring Lucky Jim “private property”.

The Corporation tried the same thing with other athletes, many eager for their chance at eternal fame. But nobody cared about them, not the way we cared about Jim. People didn’t want to see just anyone. We’d chosen Jim Holloway. He was our idol, not just a product that could be reproduced on an assembly line. The Corporation quickly realized they were wasting millions, and gave up that goal, instead marketing Lucky Jim as unique — a one-of-a-kind hero who couldn’t be replaced. He became an all-American brand, a pitchman and mascot to boost stock prices and fill ad campaigns. No one could be Jim Holloway, but if a synthetic organ or eye implant was good enough for him, it was good enough for the rest of us.

No one knew exactly what Jim Holloway thought of it all, as the Corporation didn’t allow him on camera without their agents. Most people said he was content, happy to keep playing. The way he always smiled and took in the glory, it certainly seemed so. But there were other, darker stories; of Jim purposefully injuring himself, trying to cut off a hand or open up a vein, hoping to end his perpetual servitude — only to find himself fixed again, and put out to field. Whatever the truth, he was on our TV screens every Sunday, ready to entertain his adoring fans.

“Aww, Pop,” Dad said finally, giving a dismissive wave. “You listen to too many rumors.”

There was a roar from the crowd. We looked up to see Jim Holloway being presented with a trophy which he raised high above his head. The entire stadium came to their feet as one, whistling and applauding. My Dad, Uncle and I did the same, standing and cheering on our hero. All my grandpa’s worries vanished from my mind, as I joined in the euphoria likely gripping homes everywhere — all for Lucky #7, Jim Holloway.

He was, after all, our fantasy pick.

P. Djeli Clark is a Brooklyn-based writer of speculative fiction

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