Out-of-Body Syndrome – Short Story (Sci-fi)

“We are so desperate to be accepted by society that we often condemn others for having the same traits we condemn about ourselves.”

Galen shook his head. “What? That’s not true. You’re saying if someone says they hate serial killers that they are secretly serial killers?”

“You asked me why your friends made unfavorable comments to you. You wanted to understand why your friends chastise you.”

“Whatever. You’re a massive super computer. You’re supposed to know everything.” Galen shrugged and started dismantling the central core of the AI and stuffed it into his backpack. The non-playable characters in this game were useless. A ship-shaking tremble reverberated throughout the large chamber. He sniffled and walked away, leaving the AI tower to lose power. He couldn’t help but focus on how his friends said he was stupid for spending so much time in virtual reality but what did they know? If the AI was right that meant they were stupid too.

The real-world clock read 2AM but he wasn’t tired. He’d run through a few more missions and go to bed. Homework could be finished up in home room. The bay door of the ship was still open, revealing the massive planet below. Initiating his jetpack, he launched himself away from the command ship before it would crash into the mountains. That was how he spent most of his time in Homeplanet VR, taking what he needed and letting atrophy and chaos do the rest.

The command ship cracked the mountain in half and sent giant fireballs into the sky. VR games were generally played in first-person mode but he liked seeing the third-person perspective as it allowed him to see if anyone was sneaking up behind him. He spent all weekend with the glasses on, even when he went to the bathroom, which was a jug at the side of his bed. The virtual planet was large enough to hide secrets in every corner and he was compelled to find every single one of them.

He landed at an alien military base and spent the next hour blowing up their aircraft and hover vehicles to get the extra points. But he couldn’t help but think about what Jacob and Miller had said at lunch. What would they know anyways? Whenever they complained that he was being too mean they conveniently forgot about all the mean things they said to him but the only time he defended himself was when they replied with, “Stop being a wussy.”

Refugees from inside the base scrambled across the tarmac, towards a space transport. He blew it up with a wrist missile and watched the ensuing panic as they scattered.

Wussy. He wasn’t a wussy. They weren’t really his friends if they would talk trash like that to him. Several alerts appeared on his visor, providing missions and side quests but he was so blind with anger that he could barely read them. His mind was gone. He threw off his glasses, without even ending the game or opening his eyes, and fell asleep in his bed.

The next morning he yawned and threw off his sheets but instantly fell to the floor when he opened his eyes. He was beside himself…literally…looking down at the back of his body, just like in the game. Panicking he stood and looked around the room, nauseated by the strange third person perspective. From so far away he told himself to breathe becoming disentangled from the reality, from the person he once was. Had the back of his head always looked like that?

Walking around his room took some getting used to. Dread and fear were lessened when he realized how cool this was. No one could sneak up on him in real life now too! Or he could see if any of the school bullies stuck anything to his back. This had to be some sort of mental delusion or syndrome from the hours of VR games. Either way it probably wouldn’t last much longer.

But it did. When he walked to school he watched himself awkwardly bumping into fences and sidewalks. Strangely he could feel every jostle, the wind on his skin, and hunger pangs. It took some getting used to but he had plenty of practice. At school he saw that as students passed him, they made faces behind his back that he didn’t notice before. Most were cruel glares or mocking laughs. It only worsened his anxiety but at least he wasn’t the one experiencing it, or so he told himself. What a strange feeling of dissociation. Was he really who he was anymore or another version of himself that became a watcher?

He called this physical Galen as avatar-Galen while the real Galen, the one who was in control, as Galen Prime. The dissociation continued when he commanded avatar-Galen to sit next to his friends at lunch. It was like watching a TV show unfold before his…eyes. Did he really have eyes or were those owned by the avatar? This show sucked. He wished he could change the channel or switch to another character but he wasn’t able to even change the camera angle.

Jacob made a joke about the gym teacher being overweight and the Galen-avatar laughed instinctually, making another mocking joke in reply. He couldn’t believe he was being so juvenile and cringed to himself. This perception of himself was all wrong. This couldn’t be how everyone else saw him, an abstract, dull, and muted version of himself.

All the wars, battles, fights he had fought, the settlements he conquered, the struggles he endured, the wastelands and jungles he survived, the trophies and rewards he achieved, he was better than this little boy with bent neck, quiet demeanor, and frizzy hair. All the worries and anxieties he had over his public image were gone.

His friends didn’t care about hurting his feelings because they didn’t need to. They were just as insecure as he was, focused more on their own social anxieties. At least in their closed group they could let go and just say what came to mind, a place where the anxiety didn’t exist, for a few peaceful moments.

Besides if they didn’t joke with him, they probably wouldn’t be his friends at all. That’s what friends were for. If best friends couldn’t be honest with each other who could they be honest with? They were just trying to make him laugh and he, for the first time in his life, was okay with that.

Suddenly he blinked and he was inside his body again, inside the avatar. Home. A sense of what only could be described as a wistful gush of freedom passed over him. No longer was the worry, anxiety, and anger forefront in his mind. He’d now have so much time to focus on the important things. He breathed a sigh of relief and looked at them in the eyes, finally saying, “You guys want to play a game with me?”

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