Truth in a Strange Land by James Moran

I had Sparrow, my Indonesian chef and housekeeper have my sixty ounce shake ready and by my console by 6:45pm. I’d showered and put in my best gel, even though no one would see me. I felt so fresh and so clean clean. I was out of my mind that I could join my team in turning Strange Land upside down from my home console because the tour was over. I was not a fan of the travel console I was forced to use while on tour.

At five till, I put the grips and headset on. I logged in exactly at 7pm.

We were in the chopper we rented, strapped in. It’s my fellow chiseled, clean cut, twenty-something, Caucasian military men Ralph, Bob and me. Geoff hasn’t logged in yet, apparently. Ralph was showing off the boxes that contain the arsenal he had procured for us. It was exactly what we voted on: two sawed offs for each of us, complete with hip holsters a la Mad Max, an uzi with a bandolera belt holster for each of us, laser-armed headlamps, and of course each of our personal Hammer of God machine guns/grenade launchers packed with care along with their exploding rounds.

“Come on,” Ralph urged, “We’ve paid the chopper enough to keep us higher than any attack. There’s no turbulence. Let’s unstrap and suit up.”

As he said this, Geoff appeared.

“Sorry, Cheryl cooked dinner so I was on the hook for putting the kids to sleep. What did I miss?”

“Just shut up and suit up,” said Ralph.

“Tell me about it,” I said. “Connie wanted to do date night tonight. She even got a baby sitter. I said, good thing you got a baby sitter, because I got plans!”

They all gave me a good laugh for that one.

“Good one, Nick,” said Bob, “I’m so bald and fat, if my wife has a date night, it sure as hell won’t be with me.”

“At least I’m not bald,” said Geoff.

“Oh, I’m not complaining,” said Bob. “When she hears in the news that I took down Caligula and turned Strange Land upside down, I can gain twenty more pounds and she’ll still be into me.”

“It’s Kali Yuga,” I said. For some reason, everyone called the player who earned enough credits via pillaging Strange Land to effectively run this virtual world as an all-out tyrant “Caligula,” even though the mystery player dubbed themselves “Kali Yuga.” I supposed it didn’t really matter what they called Kali Yuga because they didn’t know the player’s actual player-identity. Somewhere along the way in amassing a fortune in Strange Land credits, the player bought a very expensive player-identity shield that protected them from personal attacks. It made them effectively immortal. Maybe this chafed at everyone so much they called Kali Yuga “Caligula” because they’d wish it had been their move.

“What’s the plan again?” Geoff asked Ralph.

“Geoff, is anyone attacking us?” Ralph asked as he helped Geoff suit up.


“I thought you said that was because we paid the chopper to fly high enough,” said Bob.

“Point is,” said Ralph, “no one’s following us. No one cares what we’re doing. We’re going in the opposite direction. Everyone is always mounting head on assaults on Caligula that never go anywhere. Everyone wants to be the one to take down the big boss. No one can. They pay dearly for it. We’re doing the opposite. We retrieve the Truthisman and use it to reveal Caligula’s player-identity and then we sit back and let everyone else mount attacks on Caligula’s player-identity and Caligula is finished. And we’re the ones who get the credit for it.”

“That’s not going to lead to people finding out Caligula’s actual IRL identity so they start harassing him, is it?” asked Geoff.

“How do you know Caligula is a ‘him’?” Ralph asked, before continuing, “It probably won’t. Even if it did, Caligula’s earned so much money off Strange Land they probably live in a fortified compound or something.”

“Tell me honestly,” said Bob, “if we take Caligula down, and you played your cards right and had an opportunity to take his place and rule Strange Land, would you do it?”

“In a heartbeat,” said Ralph. “Again, we don’t know if Caligula is a ‘him.’”

“I probably would,” said Geoff.

“It’s pronounced Kali Yuga,” I said.

“Would you, Nick?” Bob asked me.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“But you’re always complaining that your wife and kids are always asking you for money,” said Geoff.

“Yeah, still,” I said.

“You’ve seen how well I run this team of dimwits,” said Ralph, referring to us. “Imagine how well I’ll run Strange Land.”

“More importantly,” I said. “What’s our soundtrack for our attack?”

 “I like the way you think, Nick,” said Geoff.

I waited with held breath. Geoff was always coordinating the soundtrack. He was a fan of my music, but he was also a fan of Gnash. “Don’t say Gnash,” I said to myself. I actually didn’t want him to say “Zack” either, because after the tour, I was tired of my music, particularly my most recent album.

“How about Zack’s most recent?”

Sweet lord, I could’ve kissed the virtual sky just outside the chopper. “We’re always listening to either Zack or Gnash,” I said. “How about something else?”

“Xenocide has a new album out,” said Geoff.

 “Perfect,” I said. I sought nods of agreement and found them all around.


Ralph had the chopper put us two clicks out. Hiking down into the valley was a surprising workout. Since the tour, I’d let myself go, but I kept finding myself ahead of everyone else. Bob was never too far behind, but Ralph and Geoff I could barely see. I kept having to wait up, which was shaping up to be a lot more boring than I expected. I guess that was the problem with teaming up with a bunch of middle-aged out-of-shape dads.

Finally, we all gathered at the riverside by the mouth of the cave.

“Not a shot fired,” remarked Geoff.

“Yeah,” said Ralph. He seemed bummed.

“Are there enemies or monsters inside?” asked Bob.

“I didn’t hear of any in my research,” said Ralph. “I just didn’t imagine the place would be so dead.”

“Super stealthy find,” I said by way of comforting Ralph.

“Let’s get in there,” Ralph said.

We crept along with headlamps on and guns at the ready.

About twenty meters in we came to the end of the cave. There on an altar was the Truthisman. It was an amulet couched in an ornate golden housing.

“What do we do now?” asked Bob.

 “I don’t know,” said Ralph. “We take it, I guess. Once it’s activated, it only works for thirty seconds.”

“So we activate it near Kali Yuga, or something?” I asked.

“Just take the damn thing and let’s get out of here before we trip some damn booby trap that makes us all sorry,” said Ralph.

I approached and clasped it in my hand.

It was stuck.

I tugged on it hard. From the amulet burst red scanner light, scanning the whole cave and all of us. When it was done, the amulet glowed as bright as sunlight, illuminating the entire interior of the cave.

Where the avatars of Ralph, Bob and Geoff had been standing, three strangers stared at me, dumbfounded. Where Ralph had been standing stood a somewhat stooped overweight black butch lesbian wearing a Lakers jersey. Where Bob had been standing was a thin middle-aged white man with a full head of hair wearing a crisp button-down shirt and sporting a gold cross pendent on a gold chain around his neck. In place of Geoff was a bald, middle-aged man with a pot belly.

The cave was so silent, I swear I could hear us all breathing.

Finally, Geoff spoke. “Is that…Zack?” he asked.

“Are you Zack?” Ralph asked me.

I pointed at myself. “Me?”

They nodded.

“Look at yourselves!” I protested.

The spell was broken. Again, the chiseled military young men avatars I was familiar with for Ralph, Bob and Geoff were in the cave with me.

“Geoff I can understand,” I said to Bob. “He just really wanted us to know he wasn’t bald. And guess why, because he is. But you. You wanted to be a bald, fat, middle-aged white man, but you’re a skinny, middle-aged white man with a full head of hair!”

Bob protested, “You wanted to be a bald and fat middle-aged man and apparently according to those two,” he said referring to Geoff and Ralph, “you’re some famous pop star.”

“I like your music,” Geoff said.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Are you even married?” asked Bob.

I returned the question. “Are you?”

“Yes, in fact I am. And I have two kids just like I said. But I asked you first.”

Ralph interrupted Bob. “He’s not married. And I’m a two-hundred-pound black lesbian. Do you have a problem with that?”

Bob looked frightened suddenly. “No,” he replied.

“Good,” Ralph said.

“I’m sorry,” I blurted to the group. The lack of clarity regarding what I was apologizing for perplexed everyone, including myself, but no one said anything.

“We fall back,” said Ralph. “We have the chopper rented till we return to our normal rendezvous.”

Fall back we did.


About the Author

James Moran is a professional astrologer who regularly publishes articles, fiction, and poetry. His published works can be found at


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