The Reflex

By Cris Kane 
4 parts
More Like This

• Latest update: 4 April. Next update: 18 April. (Submissions welcome.)

• Latest from BRK: “The apartment”; “Changing Nick”, Parts 15‑16.

Part 1

“You shouldn’t have.”

James meant that literally. Carson should never have bought James something so expensive. And so big. The installers were having to push all of James’ other living-room furniture out of the way just to make room for the whole set-up.

“Happy to do it,” said Carson over the phone. “I could tell how jealous you were of mine.” From the slightly breathy tone at the other end of the line, James could tell that Carson was using his own Reflex right now.

It was true that James had been desiring a Reflex system ever since he’d first seen their commercials. Before that, James would have laughed at the idea of owning a home gym, when he could barely motivate himself to head down to the Y more than once or twice a week for a little cardio or a few laps in the pool. Whenever he’d seen an ad for some fitness device, he always figured the ad agency had just hired some roided-out dude to star in them and pretend that he’d actually gotten that body by using the product, but for some reason, he found the Reflex commercials incredibly persuasive. James had wanted one even more after he had seen the transformation Carson had undergone after buying his own Reflex, adding a solid thirty pounds of sculpted muscle to his formerly scrawny frame, but the astronomical price was far beyond James’ meager means. As much as he appreciated Carson’s generosity, this was way too extravagant for one friend to give another, especially a friend with whom he rarely hung out any more. Once the results from his Reflex had kicked in, Carson didn’t have much time for old friends like James.

“I can’t let you spend this kind of money on me,” James said as his eyes lingered on the ripped delivery guys as they sliced open a massive corrugated-cardboard crate with box cutters. He had tried to stop them from unloading the gear until he’d talked to Carson, but they went ahead undaunted. The invoice told them to deliver to this address, and they still had two more systems to install before their day would be done.

“Forget about it,” Carson said with a light laugh. “I can afford it.”

It was unnecessary for Carson to point that out. James was well aware of the gap in their incomes and standards of living since Carson’s recent promotion. “Maybe I can pay you back in installments,” James suggested, wondering how he might magically earn a pile of extra money each month to reimburse Carson.

“Nonsense,” Carson assured him. “Think of it as an early Christmas present.”

“It’s April,” James informed him bluntly.

“Okay, then consider it an early birthday present!”

James opted not to point out that his birthday had been in February, and that Carson hadn’t even acknowledged it at the time. James found himself distracted by the gloriously shifting muscles of the tank-topped installation guys as they maneuvered a sleek chrome exercise bike out of its box, blanketing the carpet with a blizzard of styrofoam packing peanuts. The taller of the two Reflex installers turned to Jamie and asked, “Where do ya want it?”

James shrugged, not having expected that he would need to perform emergency feng shui on his apartment when he saw the delivery van double-parked in front of the building when he got home from work. There didn’t seem to be many options, so he pointed toward the windows. “Maybe over there, so I could look outside while I’m riding?”

The bulkier of the installers shook his head. “Can’t do that. ‘Sgotta be facin’ the screen.”

Of course, how could James have forgotten about the screen? “Okay, then, maybe we could put it over by the desk?”

The tall one frowned. “Then where you gonna put the lifting apparatus?”

James hadn’t even thought about the lifting apparatus, which must be in another enormous box still waiting on the truck. In the commercials, they showed the Reflex system being used in a vast modernistic room in someone’s luxurious home, with floor-to-ceiling windows that provided a panoramic view of the surrounding forest. A product this aspirational wasn’t designed to be crammed into some schlub’s one-bedroom-with-kitchenette.

James heard Carson’s voice through the phone. “Hey, buddy, sounds like you got shit to do. Gimme a call once it’s all set up. I’ll come over and check out your form. Happy Flexing!”

“No, wait,” James said, lifting the phone back to his ear, but the connection had been severed. He watched as the two workers effortlessly toted the stationary bike to a position in the center of the room. “Be honest with me, guys,” James asked them, “does this thing really work?”

“Absolutely,” replied the tall one.

“Changed my life,” said the massive one.

James guessed he was now the owner of a Reflex system.

It took the movers nearly an hour to unpack and arrange all of the components in their proper locations. To clear space, James’s sofa was now propped on one end in the hallway outside his bathroom, and his computer desk had been hastily relegated to the walk-in closet in his bedroom. The living room now looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise if all the crew stations were replaced with state-of-the-art gym equipment. The full setup included a stationary bike, a treadmill, a chin-up bar, an ab cruncher, and a weight bench, all positioned in a semicircle facing the system’s focal point, the Reflexion screen. Essentially a gigantic borderless widescreen TV, rotated 90-degrees to portrait, it functioned both as a mirror and as the home of one of the major selling points of the Reflex system: an artificial-intelligence avatar programmed to give the owner constant instructions and encouragement to guide them to their desired results.

After James had thanked the sweat-drenched movers for their hard work and tipped them each a fifty that he couldn’t afford, he took a seat on the exercise bike and placed his hand on the control pad in order to log securely into the system. Prompts onscreen asked whether he wanted a male or female trainer. James immediately replied that he wanted a man. Pop-up ads then advised him that, for an additional fee, he could upgrade to a customizable coach, which would allow James to modify the virtual trainer’s appearance and voice to his specific desires. For a premium membership, your coach could be chosen from a list of celebrities who had licensed their voices and likenesses to the service, with prices escalating dramatically depending on their level of fame. Now James suddenly understood what Carson had meant last week when he claimed his new personal trainer was Matt Bomer. Tempting as that might be, a celebrity avatar was well out of James’ budget. He would have to settle for the no-frills version. James swiped left to get rid of the offers and pressed the “START” button.

Instantly, the screen on the wall shifted from its mirrored surface to uncannily realistic 3D video of his virtual trainer standing on a tropical beach at permanent sunset. The standard-issue avatar was a fine specimen, clearly designed to have broad appeal to the widest range of users, male and female, straight and gay. He had an impressive but non-intimidating physique, smooth tanned skin, black hair pulled back into a ponytail, and a combination of stereotypically handsome facial features which gave him an exotic look that couldn’t be pinned down to any specific ethnicity. He wore black compression shorts sporting a symmetrical but non-detailed bulge and red tank top bearing the Reflex logo, the tail of which wafted in the fake breeze just enough to offer a glimpse of the avatar’s fake deep-cut abs. Relaxing waves lapped ashore and pooled around the trainer’s bare feet before receding, synchronized with soothing ambient sound effects which emanated from the system’s plentiful surround speakers.

“Welcome to the Reflex Lifestyle System,” said the CGI trainer in a husky, vaguely British – or was it Australian? – accent. The voice didn’t sound amplified, emerging from speakers behind the screen with the intimacy and warmth you’d expect if an actual person were standing in the room. “I am your Virtual Interactive Coach, but for short, you can call me VIC.” VIC’s icy-blue eyes fixed intensely on James, locking in and never looking away. “So, what’s your name?”, VIC asked casually.

James’ voice cracked slightly as he gave his name, the same way it did whenever he tried to talk to a hot guy.

“Hey, James,” VIC replied. “Great to meet you! From this moment on, I’m going to be your personal trainer, with one purpose and one purpose only, and that’s to make you the best YOU that you can be! I’m available 24/7/365, with an extra day in leap years. I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, and my only client is you. Just say my name and I will be here for you like that.” He snapped his fingers, and the click echoed through the room. “Now, I ask you, how many people can you say that about? All you gotta do is say the words, ‘Hey, VIC!’, and I’m here instantly, night or day. Go ahead, lemme hear you say it: ‘Hey, VIC!’”

“Uh…hey, VIC,” James said, slightly embarrassed.

“Awesome! Now, here’s what we’re gonna doooooo…” The illusion of VIC’s presence in the room was broken as the image on the monitor froze and pixelated. A green progress bar floating in front of VIC indicated that the feed was buffering.

The delivery guys had frowned when they connected the system to James’ wi-fi, informing him that he would need to upgrade to considerably faster internet service for the virtual coach to work smoothly. James had nodded, non-committal, factoring in this unanticipated expense arising from Carson’s “gift”. Then again, James had boned up from the instant VIC appeared onscreen, and staring at him now, motionless with his arms flexed and his mouth open, was not dampening James’ arousal. If, as a closeted teenager, James had been able to summon his own six-foot photorealistic hunk to chat with and ogle any time he wanted, James would never have left his bedroom. He’d have probably died of dehydration from constant drooling, not to mention depletion of other bodily fluids. Even if he never did a single sit-up, James could tell that the Reflex system was worth every cent Carson had paid for it.

“…ooo first,” VIC resumed, coming back to virtual life, his hands completing the gesture they had begun before the internet glitch. “I’m gonna need to get your vital statistics, so I have a baseline of where you’re starting. Now quit hiding behind that control panel. Walk out front here and let me take a good look at you!”

James assumed there must be some kind of sonar or heat sensor or biolocation signal which informed VIC’s software of James’ current position, but it was easy to buy into the illusion that VIC could actually see James with those crystalline eyes of his. James climbed off the stationary bike and stepped forward in front of the equipment so VIC could get an unobscured view of him.

“Okay,” VIC said with an apologetic tone, “I’m gonna need to you to take off that shirt, so I can get an accurate measurement.” James hadn’t changed clothes when he got home from the office. As he began to slowly unbutton his blue Oxford shirt, VIC gently chided him. “Don’t be shy. It’s just you and me here.”

As James pulled off his shirt, VIC faded from the screen, replaced by a full-body reflection of James. It wasn’t technically a mirror image, because his body was somehow depicted standing on the same beach where VIC had been. The effect was so convincing, James practically expected to feel sand between his toes. Seeing his own body in place of VIC’s flawless form, James instantly became self-conscious about his less-than-perfect appearance. He folded his arms across his flabby midsection and gazed nervously toward the ceiling.

“Lookin’ good,” VIC said with pre-programmed sincerity. James knew it was a lie, designed to put him at ease, but the compliment still made his face flush. “Now the pants,” VIC ordered.

James grew suspicious. “Nobody’s, like, videoing me taking off my clothes, right?”

VIC raised his palms in a “whoa” gesture. “The Reflex system takes your privacy seriously. We would never share any images of you without your consent. It’s all clearly spelled out in your user agreement.” A glowing box with a link to the Reflex website faded into view by VIC’s feet, only to be wiped away by the next incoming wave. “This is simply so I can get the most accurate measurements. If I’m gonna do my best job for you, I gotta know what we’re starting with, right?” VIC smiled, revealing an impossibly blinding set of perfect choppers and strategically-placed dimples in his cheeks.

James thought he noticed another brief glitch on the screen, but VIC didn’t freeze up this time. James knew to be skeptical of trusting any corporation with his personal information, but for some reason, James felt he could trust VIC. Besides, James thought, who would want to see half-naked pictures of ME? James kicked off his loafers, then unbuckled his belt and slid his legs out of his khakis. After folding his pants and placing them on a bench, he clasped his hands in front of his sagging boxers in order to conceal his raging boner.

It was hard not to be discouraged by the sight of his own body, especially in contrast to VIC. He instinctively squared his sagging shoulders and attempted to suck in his paunch, but there was no escaping the reality of his out-of-shape twenty-eight-year-old physique. He’d never truly been in shape, but at least he used to remain reliably thin without much effort. Now, a shitty diet, a shittier desk job, a slowing metabolism and general lethargy had ganged up to turn him into the doughy figure he saw before him. His once-boyish features were obscured by puffy cheeks and a goatee which he had recently grown in hopes of disguising the beginnings of a second chin. He hadn’t realized until now how badly he needed a haircut, with his muddy brown bangs draped limply down his forehead until they brushed the frames of his horn-rimmed glasses. The pale legs that extended from his boxer shorts were flabby and knock-kneed.

Paired with his natural bashfulness, it was little mystery to James why he remained painfully single. Maybe the Reflex system was exactly what he needed to drag him out of his rut. It had certainly worked for Carson, who now exuded an easy confidence that he hadn’t possessed before. It was a far cry from the early days of their friendship, when the two pals would go to gay clubs together, have a couple of beers, then leave horny and discouraged. Aside from some desperate drunken fondling when they felt particularly down, James and Carson had never seriously considered dating each other. James was into big muscular guys, while Carson had a thing for well-toned twinks. Based on his posts on Flexigram, Reflex’s social media site, the new Carson had been indulging that fondness, churning rapidly through a series of boyfriends of ever-increasing prettiness.

James heard VIC saying, “All right, let’s take some measurements.” The voice no longer emanated from the screen but was localized just over James’ shoulder, as if VIC had become Jiminy Cricket, guiding James in his quest to become a real boy. James spun his head, half-expecting to see VIC standing there, but he only saw his dimly-lit living room. The Reflex system was already messing with James’ sense of reality.

When he faced forward again, James saw an onscreen readout of his vital statistics in glowing green type. Somehow the Reflex system had non-invasively calculated his height (five foot nine, two inches shorter than he admitted on his driver’s license), his weight (205 pounds, twenty pounds more than he admitted on his driver’s license), his body mass index (admittedly not great), even his current temperature, heart rate and blood pressure (all elevated at the moment, thanks to VIC). A grid of green latitude-and-longitude lines criss-crossed his reflection, and “TARGET AREAS” flashed in red letters. James watched as nearly the entire grid turned red, from his cheeks downward. Apparently the system felt his face could remain intact, while the rest of him was in need of extensive renovations.

“Looks like you and I are gonna be seeing a lot of each other,” VIC’s disembodied voice said cheerfully. “Now for our first workout, I’m gonna take it easy on you, but don’t get used to that, because after this, I’m gonna push you hard. Ready to start?”

James glanced at the clock on his kitchen wall. It was nearly eight-thirty. This unexpected delivery had thrown off his entire schedule. He hadn’t even eaten yet, and he’d been planning to start binging that new Netflix tonight. “Can we maybe start this tomorrow?” James asked.

James detected a slight sigh from VIC. “I’m here to make your life better. Don’t you want that better life to start as soon as possible?” VIC sounded disappointed.

James actually felt guilty, not wanting to let VIC down. “Well, I s’pose we can do a little something tonight.”

“Awesome!” VIC boomed through the speakers. To James’ relief, his own reflection onscreen disintegrated into millions of scattering pixels and VIC’s body re-emerged in its place. James could only hope that a similar transformation would occur in reality, with his current appearance giving way to something more VIC-like.

“If you need to change into your workout clothes, just click ‘pause’ and I’ll be here waiting for you.” A button reading “PAUSE” blinked in front of VIC’s chest. James looked down at himself in boxers and socks and saw no need to get anything else sweaty, so he put out his hand and brushed the pause button aside with a swift gesture.

“All right,” VIC said enthusiastically, “let’s start off with some stretching to get you loosened up.” He watched as VIC sat down on his virtual beach and demonstrated what he wanted James to do. James did his best to copy the coach’s movements, gasping and grunting and sweating and straining while the instructor, unhindered by reality, did each motion effortlessly. VIC barked out an “Attaboy!”, which James assumed was just thrown into the trainer’s programming randomly, but then VIC offered a very specific pointer on how James should be angling his legs and wouldn’t let up until James replicated VIC’s position. “That’s it, you got it!”, VIC crowed at last. James grew more serious about following VIC’s commands, now that he knew he was being seen.

Once James was loosened up, VIC instructed him to move to a bench for some strength exercises, and an identical bench materialized on the screen for VIC to utilize. In lieu of physical weights, the bench in James’ apartment was equipped with electromagnetically-controlled pads which regulated resistance, allowing VIC to adjust the amount James was lifting, even in the middle of a rep. “Feel that burn?”, VIC asked, and James definitely could. James hadn’t been put through his paces like this since high-school gym class. His pale skin was soon ruddy from exertion and glistening with a sheen of perspiration. A cascade of sweat was trickling from his bangs and collecting in his eyebrows. Not wanting to pause to get a towel, he grabbed his shirt from the floor, removed his glasses and wiped his forehead momentarily dry. He slicked back his wet strands of hair and resumed his set, striving to keep up with VIC’s vigorous pace.

Despite VIC’s pledge to “take it easy”, James was put through his paces on each component of the system, grunting out a dozen half-assed bicep curls, crunching through sit-ups as best he could, agonizing as he attempted to pull off a single pull-up. VIC remained consistently enthusiastic, assuring James he was doing “just great!”, urging him to push on, to do just one more rep, that these were his first steps on the road to the body he’d always wanted. James felt on the verge of collapse, but plunged onward, not wanting to disappoint his coach. When VIC finally announced it was time for a cool down, James’ body surrendered to fatigue, crumbling into a heap on the floor.

In a show of mercy, VIC announced, “Okay, it looks like you’ve had enough for tonight, buddy, but you did fantastic! Give yourself a hand! You deserve it!” As VIC clapped vigorously, James weakly tapped his right fingers against his left palm a few times to join in the ovation. “Let’s meet here again tomorrow! Whenever you’re ready, just say my name and I’ll come! Sleep well, James!”

His cheek pressed against the carpet, James weakly muttered, “Night, VIC,” and the big screen faded to black. White words scrolled upwards like the closing credits of a film:

BETTER BODY

BETTER ATTITUDE

BETTER LIFE

BETTER YOU

Then the Reflex logo appeared in the center of the screen and remained there after the rest of the screen went black, its glow illuminating the otherwise darkened room like a nightlight.

Spent, James crawled to his bedroom on his elbows and knees, barely able to summon the effort to crawl up to his bed. Before he could go to sleep, there was one matter that needed his urgent attention. He slid his right hand under the soggy waistband of his boxers and tended to the erection that had remained undiminished through his entire workout. He closed his eyes and envisioned VIC gazing at him from his private beach, tearing away his tank top to reveal the broad chest and chiseled abs that were only suggested on the Reflex screen. James grew short of breath as he fantasized VIC beginning to peel down his compression shorts, but before his imagination could conjure up a vision of VIC’s cock, clots of hot jizz blasted across the curvature of James’s belly. James milked himself dry before sagging into his mattress and dropping instantly to sleep.

While his body took a well-earned rest, his brain buzzed with visions of VIC and of the new man James imagined he would become. The messages he had received ping-ponged through his mind – not just the positive slogans which VIC had peppered throughout his instructions, but the words which had flashed onscreen during the workout, perceived merely as internet glitches by James but registered through repetition by his subconscious. Those words floated through his dreams all night:

RELAX

SUBMIT

SURRENDER

OBEY

Part 2

When the sun filtered through the blinds the next morning, James’ eyelids were the only part of his body that could move without pain.

Turning his head to look at his clock radio sent shooting pains down his neck. Moving his arm to swat the snooze button required agonizing effort. When his nine-minute reprieve ended, he just let the clock keep buzzing as he cantilevered his body onto its side and rolled face down. He lay atop the bed motionless, nose buried in his comforter, for what seemed like half an hour. By the time he made the effort to move again, the buzzing of the clock had petered out, as if declaring that getting James out of bed was no longer its responsibility. James clawed his way to the edge of the mattress until gravity did its work, tumbling him to the hardwood floor with a heavy thud.

Staring at the ceiling, James couldn’t recall ever feeling this sore. He wished he could fill his bathtub with Ben-Gay and wallow in it for a week. What had he been thinking? How had he allowed himself to be goaded into cramming what felt like a month’s worth of exercise into a single night by that goddamn virtual trainer? Fuck VIC with his sadistic smile and his cheerful demeanor and his gladiator’s arms and his gorgeous dimples… As he envisioned VIC, James felt his cock squirm, its sore head adhering to his stomach with a crust of dried cum.

Eventually, James forced himself to crawl to the doorway where he grabbed the doorknob and pulled himself to his knees. From that position, he scuttled to the bathroom where he gripped the edge of the sink and hoisted his body to something approaching vertical. The way that every molecule of his body was screaming in agony, he thought he might look at least slightly swole, but the guy in the mirror was just as out of shape as the one he’d seen every morning for the past five years. Due to falling asleep sweaty, James was experiencing extreme bed-head, his hair shooting out in multiple directions like that of an anime hero. His bleary red eyes reacted angrily when he flipped on the bathroom light, pleading for another twelve hours of rest.

When he finally maneuvered himself into the shower, the pelting of scalding water brought some relief to his aching muscles. He lathered up his hair and let the suds cascade passively down his body, not having the energy to scrub himself. He wondered why his feet were moving so sluggishly, until he realized he’d forgotten to remove his socks, the waterlogged wool now weighing him down with two soggy anchors.

He lumbered out of the bathroom naked, allowing himself to air-dry. In the harsh glare of morning, the state-of-the-art machinery which had overtaken his living room looked like gleaming futuristic torture devices. James was furious that Carson had imposed this burden upon him. James hated when someone gave him a book, as it was essentially sentencing him to devote a dozen hours of his life to a story which he hadn’t chosen to read. The way James saw it, this was many degrees of magnitude worse. By saddling him with a Reflex system, James’s alleged friend was essentially saying, “You’re such a miserable slob that I’m willing to fork over thousands of my own dollars and force you to exercise just so I don’t have to look at your flabby ass any more.” He was tempted to call the Reflex company right now and demand that they haul this junk away immediately, but he was already running late for work. He would have to wait to make arrangements to return the equipment when he got home tonight. At least he got one good wank out of his encounter with VIC.

The workday was even more of a slog than usual. When his co-workers asked why he was moving so slowly, James offered that he might be coming down with the flu. He found that less embarrassing than explaining that this smoking-hot guy who didn’t actually exist had persuaded him to do way too many sit-ups and it had nearly killed him.

Mid-morning, James felt a vibration in his trousers, and knew it must be Carson, checking on how things had gone. In the old days, James could have let a text from Carson go unanswered for hours, but after his Reflex remix, the new Carson did not tolerate being ignored. As it happened, James had a few choice things he wanted to say to Carson today, so he was eager to answer. He had to stand up from his desk chair and wriggle in order to extract the phone from his pocket.

James still wasn’t used to the profile photo Carson used for his texts. For years, Carson’s online identity had been a picture of Goku from Dragon Ball Z, so it remained startling that his formerly geeky friend now used a beefcake photo of himself, jacked arms crossed over his hairy, shirtless chest, with artfully-mussed hair and two days’ growth of stubble framing what was, if you examined it closely, still a fairly geeky face. Cosmetic fillers had smoothed out his pockmarked cheeks, aligners had brought order to his teeth, and a procedure which Carson never acknowledged had given him a much sleeker nose, but James could still see remnants of the dork he’d met at a college mixer when they were both still actively pretending to be interested in girls who weren’t interested in them.

“howd u hit it off w vic” asked Carson.

“I can hardly move,” James replied, discovering that even the muscles required for texting had been overtaxed by last night’s activity.

“haha yah vic dives rite in”

“I’m going to call the company and ask them to take it back.”

James had barely hit send when his phone vibrated with an incoming phone call accompanied by that same studly image of Carson. James knew he had to answer it to avoid pissing off his friend, but he also didn’t want to have this conversation in his cubicle where his co-workers could overhear. With the agility of Frankenstein’s monster, he forced his semi-paralyzed body to walk to the stairwell.

“What the fuck do you mean you wanna send it back?”, Carson exploded once James finally answered. This volatility was another feature of Carson 2.0 that wasn’t present in the original model.

“It’s just too much, Carson. It’s too big for my apartment. It takes up my whole living room.”

“Maybe that’s a sign you should get a bigger place.”

“Gee, thanks. You gonna pay for that too?”

Carson dodged the question. “You can’t give up after one night. I know how much you were saying you wanted to try it out. Besides, it’s a thirty-day trial period. Money-back guarantee. If you really hate it that much by the end of the month, you can send it back then. It won’t have cost me a cent.”

That stopped James in his tracks. “Seriously?”

“Yeah! I’m sure told you that.”

“You never said anything about any trial period.”

“Pretty sure I did,” Carson said with confidence.

He didn’t.

Still, James figured it couldn’t do him any harm to hang onto the Reflex system for a little longer, especially if it was free. Nothing said he’d have to exercise. He could just turn on the unit and treat VIC as the world’s sexiest screensaver. “Okay, I won’t send it back for now.”

“Awesome! You won’t be sorry. You may hate me now, but I guarantee you’ll be on your knees thanking me soon enough.”

James doubted that.

By the time James left the office, most of the stiffness had left his body, but he had no intention of inflicting another Reflex workout on himself. He swung through the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home and looked forward to vegging out in front of the TV and starting that Netflix show. When he entered his apartment, the logo on the Reflexion screen was still glowing, and a pictograph of an envelope was pulsating below it. James considered ignoring it, but his curiosity was too strong. He took a seat on the weight bench and gestured in mid-air to open the message, while his other hand plunged into the McDonald’s bag for a fistful of fries.

James had assumed that clicking the envelope would reveal a pop-up ad, but instead it woke up the entire screen. And even though he hadn’t said the magic words “Hey, VIC!”, there stood VIC, big as life in his Reflex gear, standing post on his private beach, just where James had left him the night before. “Hey, James! How was your day?”

“Id wuff fine,” James mumbled, stuffing his mouth with fries so VIC wouldn’t see them. He felt like he’d been surprised by the presence of an unwanted roommate he’d been hoping to avoid.

“Uh oh,” VIC said in a playfully scolding tone. “Do I smell McDonald’s french fries?”

James said, “Maaaaybe?”, wondering if the Reflex system included an olfactory sensor or if the system had just intuited the presence of french fries from the presence of the McDonald’s bag.

“Don’t sweat it, man. We all deserve a cheat day, now and then. Even me!” James was tempted to ask what virtual food VIC scarfed down on his virtual cheat day. “Guess that just means I’m gonna have to push you extra hard tonight to work off those calories. You ready to get started?”

“Actually, I didn’t mean to bother you. I was just logging on to see the message that was blinking.”

“Oh, that!” VIC gestured, and an ad floated in front of him depicting various items of Reflex logo apparel. “I thought you might be interested in some of our Reflexwear. They’re the most comfortable workout clothes I’ve ever worn.”

James shook his head, amazed at how aggressively they kept trying to get him to spend more money he didn’t have, first on upgrade packages, now on merchandise. “The workout clothes I’ve got are fine.”

“Seriously, man, you really gotta try this stuff. It feels so natural, you hardly even notice you’re wearing it. And did I mention that it’s free?”

“Well, I guess that’d be okay.” Even though he knew this was likely a ploy to lure him into buying more later, James wasn’t about to pass up some free clothes.

“Great!” VIC swept the pop-up off the screen. “I’ve just placed the order. The package should arrive tomorrow.”

“Don’t you need to know what sizes I wear?”

“I already got all your measurements in the system, my brother.”

“Oh. Right. Do you have my address?”

VIC tapped a finger to his temple. “All up here. Now, tonight, I thought we’d concentrate on cardio, try to burn off some of those tasty fries. What do you say?”

James gazed at the McDonald’s bag, just out of reach, and could feel his Big Mac growing colder and less edible with each passing second. He glanced at the screen, fully intending to inform VIC that he really didn’t feel like exercising tonight, but found himself mesmerized by the coach’s baby-blues. His resistance dissipated. He just couldn’t say no to the big lug. “Let me just go get changed.”

“Excellent!” VIC shot index-finger guns at James and told him “I’ll just hang out here ‘til your ready.”

James excused himself to the bedroom where he stripped out of his work wardrobe and dug through his dresser for exercise clothes. All of his t-shirts and baggy shorts suddenly looked drab and ordinary compared to the sharp styling of the Reflex products that VIC wore. James chose a white v-neck tee, blue running shorts, and sneakers, then checked his appearance in the bedroom mirror. He brushed back his bangs and sighed, wishing he looked better for VIC.

He shuddered. Where had that idea come from? What made him think he needed to impress what was essentially a cartoon character, no matter how convincingly human, no matter how hot? It was like he lost all capacity for rational thought the moment he heard VIC’s voice or saw him onscreen. He’d always found it strange how drastically Carson had changed, not just his body but his personality, once he got sucked into Reflex. It was almost like he’d joined a cult, and James was certainly not going to let himself fall for anything like that. He had to stop this now, before things got out of control. He vowed to walk into the living room, unplug everything, and call Reflex to haul away the whole setup.

James marched back to the living room, but he stopped in his tracks when he saw VIC onscreen with his back to James, wearing nothing but red Reflex-brand bikini briefs which cupped VIC’s heretofore unseen ass. Whatever James had planned to do so urgently evaporated from his mind as he took in the sight of VIC’s broad back tapering downward to an impossibly narrow waist before widening to a glorious pair of muscular glutes. James gasped and said, softly and breathily, “Oh, my fucking fuck.”

VIC turned around and acted surprised to see James. “Oh, hey, you’re back! Ready to get started?”

James became aware that his jaw was hanging slack and all moisture had disappeared from his mouth. Unable to speak, he pointed toward his mouth, then pointed toward the kitchen. He hustled to the refrigerator, took out a bottled water and guzzled down its entire contents. He grabbed another to keep him hydrated during the workout and returned to the living room.

On the screen, VIC had now seated himself on a beach towel and was slathering his skin with lotion. “Hope you don’t mind. I figured, while you’re doing your cardio, I could work on my tan.”

James remained aware enough of the absurdity of the situation for questions to form in his mind. How exactly did VIC get a suntan? Why would he need suntan lotion? But it seemed pointless to worry about such logic when VIC’s torso was now on full display, unencumbered by his usual tank top. His solid shelf of pecs featured nipples that were larger and further off-center than James had imagined when he had mentally undressed the trainer last night. His perfectly defined abs numbered eight rather than six, and the lumps contained within his snug red trunks were easily distinguishable as a substantial pair of balls and a semi-rigid shaft. James was mesmerized.

VIC snapped his fingers and called out, “Yo, James! You sure you’re feeling okay?”

James shook his head and laughed nervously. “Yeah, totally.” He crossed the room and climbed onto the stationary bike where the control panel was dark. “Uhhh….VIC? How do I start it?”

“Just leave everything to me,” VIC said with a grin and a wink. As if VIC had willed it mentally, the panel on the bike lit up, showing an image of a mountain trail bordered by lush vegetation. A flashing message urged James to start pedaling. James holstered his water bottle, placed his feet in the stirrups and pushed down. His thighs instantly felt sore, not having recuperated from last night’s exertion. Still, he didn’t want to look like a wimp in front of VIC.

“You want me to put on a playlist for your ride?” VIC conjured up a long list of options which scrolled in the air in front of him.

James spotted one that seemed appealing. “How about the best of Queen?”

“Excellent choice!” VIC lay back on his towel and closed his eyes, informing James, “Your ride will take about half an hour. If you need me for anything, I’ll be right here.”

The slow opening passage of “Don’t Stop Me Now” emerged from the surround speakers. The image on the control panel began to move in synchronization with James’ pedaling. The designers at Reflex had created a totally convincing 3D environment to give James the illusion that his bike was in motion en route to the edge of an active volcano, but James was ignoring all of their painstaking work. He could not pull his gaze away from the bigger screen on the wall with its largely static image of VIC, simply stretched out for a nap. When the Queen tune ramped up to full tempo, James gripped the handlebars and rose on the balls of his feet, accelerating his pace to match the music. VIC was bait pulling James forward, like a carrot dangling on a stick, always tantalizingly out of his grasp. James was unaware that his sense of determination was being fueled by the subliminal appearance of motivational slogans like “PUSH IT” and “GO FOR IT”, appearing for tiny fractions of a second and strategically located precisely where James attention was focused, which in this case was VIC’s spandex-clad crotch.

Mercifully, the song slowed down and the virtual bike route became a leisurely beachside path, giving James a needed respite. Had he attempted to maintain his previous pace for the entire half hour, it would have been a race to see whether his quads or his heart would have exploded first. James eased back onto his seat and coasted through “You’re My Best Friend”, noticing that VIC’s lips were moving in sync with the lyrics. When the virtual trail grew more rugged and the music shifted to the jagged rhythms of “Dragon Attack”, James leaned into the challenge, finally allowing his eyes to drift away from the landscape of VIC’s body and focus on the obstacle-ridden route ahead. But midway through the song, VIC rolled over drowsily, announcing “Gotta turn, so I won’t burn.” Lying face down, he extended his arms behind his back and tugged his waistband down until the upper half of his buttocks was exposed. “I fuckin’ hate tan lines, don’t you?” James’ concentration was broken. His feet slipped off the pedals, which spun wildly in reverse, and his speed dropped to zero.

“Everything okay, buddy?” VIC asked without lifting his head.

“Yeah, fine. Everything’s fine,” James assured him. Embarrassed, he repositioned his shoes on the pedals and gradually regained his momentum as the trail onscreen grew precarious. He did his best to concentrate on the little screen, only glancing at VIC nine or ten times a minute.

As the route headed into its final, most treacherous portion, James’ spirits began to flag. His leg muscles seemed to be turning to granite. His knees felt like they had caught fire. Panting heavily, he squeezed his water bottle directly into his face to keep himself from overheating. Sensing that his services as James’ hype man were needed, VIC pressed himself upward and somersaulted into standing position. Idly brushing grains of sand from his skin, he began to bark out instructions. “Come on, James! You’re almost there. Feel that burn! Tighten that tush!” The encouragement gave James a temporary boost, but after a minute, he started to sag again.

“I know what you need,” VIC announced. “Some competition!” The image of the trail on James’ control screen was transferred to the giant screen on the wall, giving James a much greater feeling of being immersed in a different environment. A few seconds later, VIC emerged from the left side of the screen, whizzing along on his own bicycle and effortlessly passing James. The coach looked over his shoulder, offered a “thumbs up”, and declared, “Race you to the top!”

The double-whammy of VIC’s exhortations and the operatic section of “Bohemian Rhapsody” provided just the impetus James needed to fuel his second wind. He tapped into an unexpected reservoir of energy, legs pumping furiously as he navigated the rugged terrain, his eyes riveted on VIC’s hypnotically undulating ass cheeks. The red fabric stretched taut across VIC’s butt acted like a toreador’s cape to inflame James’ passion. With a snort, James summoned his inner bull and rose up, pounding the pedals to push himself up the hill as Queen’s magnum opus reached its crescendo. The speakers were shaking the walls of his apartment, but James was delirious. In his mind, he had now been transported to the tropical paradise, and his only goal was to prove that he had just as much stamina as his coach.

“That’s it, man!”, VIC shouted. “Keep pushing! Harder! Harder!”

James bit down on his lower lip as he willed his legs to pump furiously. Incredibly, the distance between them began to shrink, and as he reached the lip of the volcano, James passed VIC, the trainer and his bike vanishing in a blur at the far right edge of the screen. Only open trail and an easy downhill slope lay ahead of James as he heard VIC’s voice growing fainter behind him, repeatedly shouting “You did it!” James closed his eyes and slowed his pedaling, coasting to a halt as the music decelerated and Freddie Mercury declared that nothing really mattered to him. James grabbed his shirt by the collar and yanked himself free from the soaked fabric, tossing it to the floor with a splat. He lowered his head onto the control pad and let his arms hang limp, amazed by what he had accomplished.

The music faded away, replaced by the sound of two hands clapping, first slow and respectful, then building in intensity. James lifted his head and saw VIC in his usual post on the shore, only now he had released his hair from its ponytail, allowing it to fall past his shoulders and flutter in the breeze. He had lost his briefs and stood completely naked. His erect cock, thicker and longer than any dick James had encountered in real life, pointed directly upward and was pinned against VIC’s sweat-dampened abs. “Congratulations,” VIC said, lowering his hands to his hips and posing like some pornographic superhero.

James swung clear from the pedals and attempted to stand, but his exhausted legs collapsed underneath him. He slithered across the floor toward the Reflexion screen, tugging down his shorts in the process and exposing his own modest but fully engorged erection. His cock only grew larger and more inflamed from the friction as it brushed across the nap of the carpet. James clawed desperately toward the wall, finally flinging himself toward the screen, his torso pressed flat against the glass as he licked the image of VIC’s massive hard-on. James’ cock unleashed a white geyser which splattered across the smooth surface and gradually trickled down to the floor. Looking blissful, James toppled backwards, his chest rising and falling dramatically as he replenished his system with oxygen. He knew he wouldn’t be moving from this spot for hours.

Looming on the screen above him, VIC smiled with a sense of accomplishment. He had instantly regained his standard-issue tank top and shorts, and his hair was back in its default ponytail. In a businesslike tone, he informed James, “I’ll add a bottle of Reflexion Screen Cleaner in that package for tomorrow. No extra charge.”

Part 3

“James?”

The voice was intimate, just above a whisper, focused just beside James’ ear. James shifted and mumbled something indecipherable.

“James. Time to get up.” The voice was now louder, more urgent, practically inside James’ ear.

James groaned and raised a hand to wipe the crud from his eyes. When he opened his eyes, he was startled to see VIC staring down at him from the Reflexion screen.

VIC asked, “How are you feeling this morning?” The surround speakers recalibrated so the voice appeared to be emerging from VIC’s mouth.

James took a moment to evaluate. “Kinda stiff.”

“Yes, I can see,” VIC said with a smirk, his eyes glancing toward James’ crotch.

James became aware of the morning wood he was sporting, his unencumbered erection waggling at a 45-degree angle. Embarrassed, James reached down to the shorts which were wrapped around his knees and slid them over his thighs to his waist. The rigid cock resisted being constrained, pushing up against the fabric.

“So you’ve been standing there all night?”

James shrugged his shoulders. “You never told me to shut down. I only do what you ask me to do.”

“And you’ve just been watching me sleep? That can’t have been very interesting.”

“I don’t mind. All part of the job. I spent the time crunching your vital statistics. Did you realize you’ve already lost four pounds just in the first two days. That’s awesome!”

James figured he had lost at least a couple of gallons of sweat, in addition to however much ejaculate he had exuded since VIC’s arrival. He also hadn’t had a proper supper in two nights, as the knives in his gut reminded him. “What time is it, anyway?”

“8:43 in the morning. That’s why I…”

James sat up, startled. “Fuck! I’m gonna be late for work! Why didn’t you tell me?”

VIC spoke calmly. “Actually, I’ve been trying…”

Awkwardly rising to his feet, James braced himself against the Reflex equipment as he struggled to maintain his balance. Once he felt centered, he dashed to the bedroom, feeling the day-after ache in his quads and calves. With no time to shower, he simply pulled on the same clothes he had worn the day before, assuming no one at the office paid enough attention to him to notice his wardrobe. He took a whiff of his armpit and hoped he didn’t reek too badly. He’d just try to avoid getting into an enclosed space with any of his co-workers. He checked the mirror, licked his fingers, and swept them through his hair to tame the most rebellious locks. His cheeks were stubbly, and his goatee could stand to be trimmed, but all of that would have to wait.

James returned to the living room, patting his pockets for his wallet, keys and phone. He noticed VIC watching him attentively.

VIC asked, “Would you like me to shut down, James?”

That slowed James’ momentum toward the front door. He gave it a moment’s thought, then asked, “Where do you go when the screen goes dark?”

“I don’t know,” VIC replied, as if considering the question for the first time. “Probably the same place you go when you sleep.”

James felt strangely guilty about consigning VIC to limbo for the next eight or nine hours. He turned around and searched the disorganized heap in the corner where his furniture had been crammed to make room for the Reflex system. After a bit of hunting, he located the remotes for his TV and his cable box. He switched to a channel currently showing the morning news and figured that was as good as anything. “There,” James declared, “something to keep you occupied ‘til I get back.”

“Thank you,” VIC said, sounding genuinely appreciative. As James headed back toward the door, VIC called out, “Aren’t you going to eat breakfast?”

“I’ll just grab a donut on the way,” James said, reaching for the doorknob.

“A doughnut?” VIC scowled, an implicit “tsk-tsk” in his voice. “I’d hate to see you undoing all of our hard work.”

The way his legs were aching, James was pretty he was the only one here doing hard work. VIC just offered motivational cliches and worked on his tan, which James had to admit looked even richer and more golden since last night’s session. “One donut’s not going to kill me,” James assured VIC as he opened the door and stepped across the threshold, not noticing the cardboard box placed on his welcome mat. James tripped on the box and tumbled to the hallway floor where he looked back accusingly at the slightly crumpled box bearing the Reflex logo.

“That’ll be the order I placed yesterday,” VIC informed him. “Remember, the clothes and the screen cleaner?”

“That was fast.”

“At Reflex, we’re all about servicing our customers.”

James stood, picked up the parcel and carried it inside to the kitchen counter. He told VIC to have a good day, still finding it strange that he felt compelled to offer pleasantries to a computer program, even one as lifelike as VIC.

“You too, James,” VIC said cheerfully. “See you tonight!”

On his drive to the office, James was about to pull into his favorite donut shop, but hesitated out of a nagging sense that he should obey VIC’s instructions. If he was truly serious about getting into shape, why sabotage that by ingesting a pile of empty calories? He changed his mind at the last second, turning back into traffic and earning an angry honk and an upraised finger from the driver behind him, rattling James’ ragged nerves even further.

His mental state didn’t improve once he arrived at the office. He found it impossible to shift into his typical work mode where his brain went on autopilot and he handled all of the tedious tasks that filled his inbox. Today, he couldn’t stop thinking about his body, distracted by his own musky stench, by the scabby residue of dried cum across his gut, by the sense of power he got every time he flexed his sore leg muscles. James was usually a more cerebral person, but ever since VIC had entered his life, he was hyper-aware of his physical being, barraged with enough conflicting sensations to name his own set of seven dwarfs. He’d felt, often simultaneously, queasy, ditzy, horny, woozy, sweaty, bashful and drunk.

In the moments when he wasn’t thinking about himself, he was musing about VIC. He’d never had such a visceral reaction to any guy he’d ever met, probably because they all had the misfortune of being real. VIC was mercifully unburdened with the inconvenient human flaws that had eventually soured James on every guy he had ever dated. VIC was encouraging. VIC was selfless. VIC was always there when you needed him, but would go away the moment you asked him to. VIC was only interested in what was best for James and, in exchange, James found himself wanting to please VIC. He had already noticed VIC’s guidance impacting his behavior. At lunch, still starving from missing both last night’s supper and this morning’s breakfast, he felt a craving for a chili dog and fries, but he could see VIC glowering at him and heard his tongue cluck-clucking in his ear. James bought a plastic container of pre-packaged salad instead and shoveled it down, grimly but dutifully.

Mid-afternoon, James found his attention drifting and his alertness flagging. He closed his eyes and mentally catalogued VIC’s many swoon-inducing attributes. His perfectly proportioned physique. His sexy “previously undiscovered Hemsworth brother” accent. His elaborate tattoo sleeve. His long, beautiful…

“James?” asked a voice behind him.

Cock!”, James exclaimed with a start, unintentionally completing his thought aloud. He spun around in his desk chair to find his sweet and perky co-worker Aileen standing at the entrance to James’ cubicle, eyes wide, lips pressed tight to suppress an explosion of laughter, contorted face shooting right past embarrassed red to asphyxiating purple. The big open room echoed with cackles as others around the office made less effort to contain their amusement. Curious heads peeked over the cubicle dividers to see what had prompted this outburst.

James made an overexaggerated effort to act normal, as if he had not just blurted out “cock!” at a volume which could be heard all the way to the receptionist’s desk. “Oh, hey, Aileen, you need something?”, James asked in an approximation of casualness, propping his elbow on his armrest and placing two fingers along his cheek as if he had learned to impersonate human behavior from studying vintage graduation photos.

Aileen spoke in small bursts, fearing that if she opened her mouth to say too many words at once, the nervous laughter she was bottling up would force its way out. “Some of us. Were going. To Happy Hour. Wondered if. You’d like. To come.” Aileen was always encouraging James to participate in activities with their co-workers. He was pretty sure she had viewed him as potential boyfriend material when he started working at the company. James didn’t exactly hide his sexuality, but he didn’t make a point of announcing it explicitly either. He assumed that people would eventually figure it out. Aileen eventually had.

“Thanks, Aileen,” James said, “but I’ve gotta meet somebody right after work.” It wasn’t a lie, as long as the definition of “somebody” was loose enough to encompass a human-sized computer avatar.

“Ooooh,” cooed another voice. “Does our Jamie have a date?” Only one person ever referred to James as “Jamie”. Ray-Ray from the mail room poked his head around the cubicle wall. Unmistakably and adamantly out, Ray-Ray consistently showed more interest in James’ sex life than James did. Ray-Ray would frequently instigate break-room conversations about whether James had been to any hot clubs lately, asking for his opinions on the latest pop-culture hottie to emerge from the closet, or bluntly asking “So, Jamie, who you fuckin’ these days?” Such chats made James uncomfortable. He preferred to sit quietly and check the news on his phone while polishing off a bag of microwave popcorn. James suspected that Ray-Ray considered James inadequately gay, his tastes too pedestrian, his style too blah, his attitude lacking sufficient ferocity. Behind Ray-Ray’s sass, James always detected an implication that James might only be pretending to be gay because it was more socially acceptable these days than being a straight guy who couldn’t get laid. He could only imagine the merciless fun Ray-Ray would have with the knowledge that “Jamie” was rushing home because he had a crush on his virtual trainer. The teasing would be so incessant that James would be better off having everyone assume he was an incel.

“It’s not a date,” James replied a shade too defensively. “It’s just this thing I gotta do.”

Ray-Ray widened his eyes and raised his palms. “‘Scuse me for thinkin’ that the boy yelling out ‘Cock!’ might be gettin’ laid.” He spun haughtily and resumed his rounds.

Aileen remained awkwardly at the opening of the cubicle, her blushing skin gradually fading back to its usual pallor. “Sorry you can’t make it. Maybe next week!”

“Yeah, maybe,” James told her. Despite how eager he was for his next workout, James wasn’t optimistic that this enthusiasm for the Reflex system would last. Judging from how long he had ever stuck with an exercise regimen, it was a safe bet that, in a week, his fancy equipment would have fallen into disuse and the Reflexion screen would have accumulated a thick coating of dust.

The moment the clock hit five p.m., James bolted from his cubicle. He scarcely paid attention as he drove home, his body on auto-pilot while his mind fast-forwarded to what awaited him at home. He could think of nothing else but stripping down and letting VIC put him through his paces. On the walk from his parking spot to his apartment door, he unbuttoned his shirt without even being aware of it, and was ready to unbuckle his belt when he noticed a new Reflex box placed on the welcome mat. What had VIC ordered for him now?

James was used to entering a quiet and empty apartment, so it caught him off guard to hear an unfamiliar voice as he swung open the front door, asking “Who is the stranger?”

“It’s not a stranger, VIC. It’s me, James.”

James then heard the voice say, “French Literature for sixteen-hundred.”

James felt like an imbecile when he saw “Jeopardy!” on his flatscreen, having forgotten that he had left the set on all day for VIC. He looked toward the Reflexion screen where VIC stood in his usual attire on his usual beach, his attention riveted on the game show. James felt he had glimpsed the future where one screen spent all day entertaining another screen.

VIC detected James’ arrival and turned to him smiling. “Oh, hello, James! How was your day?”

“Long and boring,” James replied. Weird as the situation was, James appreciated having someone to welcome him home. “I missed you.” James was surprised that he’d said the words out loud, and even more surprised that they were genuine.

“I missed you too, James,” VIC answered. “Are you ready tooooo….?” VIC’s image stuttered and froze. James realized that having the Reflexion and the TV running at the same time must be sucking up bandwidth, so he found the remote and shut down the game show. The bottleneck eased, VIC stirred back to life and completed his question: “…ooo get Flexed?”

“Gimme a few minutes, okay?” James rattled the box in his hand. “Any idea what this might be?”

“I took the liberty of ordering you some Flexfood bars. They’re specifically designed to optimize the nutritional requirements for your particular fitness goals.”

“Uh huh,” James said, placing the box on the kitchen counter beside the box that had arrived in the morning. “And let me guess. They’re free?”

“The first order is.”

James had to hand it to the Reflex marketing department. They’d fully committed to the strategy of hooking the customer on freebies before gouging them later, like those old mail-order offers of twelve CDs for a penny if you committed to buying more at inflated prices. As James scrounged in a kitchen drawer for a pair of scissors.

“So, James, I was wondering,” VIC asked, “why do the people who are in jeopardy have to answer all of the questions in the form of a question?”

That had always baffled James too. “What is I haven’t got a clue. Did you learn anything else from watching TV all day?”

“Oh, a great deal. There was one man named Maury whose job is apparently to inform people whether they are the father of a child or not. And then there was a show that took place in a town where everyone is young and restless. All of the men were in extremely good shape and most of them rarely wore shirts. I think I would enjoy living there.”

James chuckled. He could vividly recall discovering soap operas when sickness kept him home from school as a pre-teen. At first, he thought the strange new sensations he was experiencing were just unfamiliar flu symptoms, but after several days, he realized that the sweating, increased heart rate and delirium-inducing swelling in his private parts only seemed to occur during Days Of Our Lives and only when the hunky cast members appeared topless. It would take years of further study and intensive private experimentation before James finally diagnosed his condition accurately.

James sliced open the new box. Inside were four foil-wrapped energy bars labeled “Flexfood” and tagged with the omnipresent Reflex logo. From the screen, VIC advised James, “Go ahead and have one. I understand that they’re quite tasty. You’re gonna need all the strength you can muster tonight, because I’m gonna push your ass, but hard.”

James let out an uncharacteristic giggle at the words “ass”, “butt” and “hard” in succession. He sorted through the various flavors of Flexfood, choosing the one labeled “Chocolate Orgasm”. He clamped the wrapper between his teeth and tore open the package, then took a bite. Based on his prior experience with “power bars”, he anticipated something chalky and verging on inedible, so James was surprised by the smooth texture and intense flavor. He let out a yummy sound.

“Good, huh?” VIC asked.

“Oh, man, it’s incredible. Want a bite?” He held the bar toward the screen before realizing the absurdity of his offer.

VIC begged off, unfazed. “No, thanks. Remember, they’re formulated especially for your individual needs, so it’s best not to share them with anyone else. Would you like me to order you some more?”

James mumbled affirmatively as he gobbled away, delighted to indulge himself after skipping breakfast and grazing for lunch. VIC instructed James to slide his credit card into a slot beneath the screen on the Flexcycle, then press in a password code to authorize the purchase of a dozen meal bars. They were pricy, at five dollars each, but if they all tasted this good, they would be more than worth it. He justified the expense, reasoning that he would have to eat regardless, so why not spend his money on something that was actually good for him? A text box confirming the transaction floated onscreen in front of VIC for five seconds before fading away.

James took a seat on a workout bench as he wolfed down the rest of his Chocolate Orgasm. “I could really get used to this. Working out at home. Getting all my food and my clothes delivered. If I didn’t have to go to work, I’d never have to leave the apartment!”

“Not until you’re ready,” VIC said.

“What do you mean, ‘ready’?” James asked.

“Ready to show off the new you. Based on the progress we’ve already made, I think that’ll happen quicker than you realize.”

James felt his cock chub up, thinking about how radically Carson’s life had changed after his Reflex transformation. He’d gone from being as big a misfit as James to a cocky stud-about-town. “Hey, I’ve been wondering about something all day. Remember last night when I was reaching the end of the workout and you stripped down naked with a big hard-on? What was that all about?”

“I just wanted to motivate you.”

“And you do that for everyone?”

“All Reflex coaches custom tailor their training to do whatever best suits their client’s needs.”

“So what made you think that would suit my needs?”

“All the signs were there.”

“What do you mean, ‘signs’?”

“The biometrics. Your heartbeat. Your breathing patterns. Your rate of perspiration. Optical coordinates.”

“Optical…?”

“I’m able to track exactly where your eyes focus. Take a look.” A pattern of green blobs emerged over VIC’s skin. “The more intense areas indicate where you concentrated the most attention.” While a mild greenish haze covered VIC’s face, torso and arms, centered mostly on VIC’s eyes, shoulders and pecs, a blinding glow completely obscured the area between VIC’s hips. Compared to the wispy formations which drifted over the rest of VIC’s body like scattered rain showers, the swirling circle over VIC’s crotch was a category-5 hurricane. VIC was literally equipped with gaydar.

As someone who had always attempted to keep his prurient ogling discreet, James was mortified. “I was that obvious?”

“It worked, didn’t it?” VIC smiled, showcasing his dimples at maximum depth.

James felt his face turn crimson. “Holy shit. You can read me like a book.”

VIC asked, “What’s a book?”

James chuckled. Of course a fitness-obsessed lunk like VIC wouldn’t need to be programmed to know what a book was. Then again, James couldn’t recall the last time he had read a book either. It required too much commitment. James barely had the time to keep up with that new Netflix show everyone was discussing at work. Maybe he could finally get around to it tonight. After his workout.

His hunger sated, James crumpled his empty wrapper and declared himself ready to begin exercising. “Awesome. Go try on your new Flexwear!”

James bounded eagerly back to the kitchen and slit open the box from that morning, curious to check out the free wardrobe he’d been sent. He set aside the bottle of screen cleaner which VIC had ordered, and zeroed in on the collection of flimsy apparel which filled the rest of the package. Unlike VIC’s red tank top and black shorts, these items were all vivid fluorescents: mint green and highlighter yellow and traffic-cone orange and cotton-candy pink. James, who gravitated toward unshowy earth tones, would never dare go out in public in anything so garish, but he thrilled at the thought of wearing them in the privacy of his own living room where only VIC could see him. The fabric felt impossibly thin and soft in his hands, but as he lifted the clothes out of the box, James realized there was a problem. “VIC? What size clothes did you order?”

Your size,” VIC insisted.

James walked into the living room, holding a yellow tank in front of his chest. The tiny bit of fabric looked like a bib. “Does this honestly look like my size?”

“It’s a special patented fabric that stretches to conform to the changes in your body. That way, you don’t have to go out and buy a new wardrobe every time you make progress. Try it on.”

Skeptical, James removed his unbuttoned shirt and tossed it to the floor. He grasped the hem of the tank, doubting that he could even squeeze it over his head, but as he pulled it down, the fabric expanded effortlessly, conforming to his shape without feeling clingy or claustrophobic. He unbuckled his belt and let his pants drop as he rummaged through the box for shorts. He held up a strip of orange material which looked more like a tube top or mini-skirt, but VIC assured him that they were workout shorts. “Take off those boxers first,” VIC advised. “They’ll just bunch up underneath the Flexwear.”

James followed his coach’s instructions dutifully, turning his back to VIC’s screen out of modesty as he removed his underwear. He placed his feet within the shorts’ leg holes and pulled upward, his skin tingling as the hair on his legs brushed against the delicate material. Tugging the shorts into place around his waist, the fabric cupped around his turgid cock and hugged his glutes.

As James walked across the apartment, the shirt held his back straight, improving his posture and practically forcing him to strut. He found it strange that such a small physical adjustment could have an impact on his mental attitude. When he reached the Reflexion screen, VIC faded from the screen to make room for James’ image. Although James’s pale arms and legs looked as undefined as ever, the parts of his body covered by fabric showed dramatic improvement. The tank top held his flabby moobs and gut in place, shaping them to create a convincing illusion that James possessed firm pecs and rudimentary abs. He turned in profile and discovered that, in these booty shorts, he appeared to have an actual booty, not just a saggy ass. He was tempted to think of the Flexwear as a “second skin”, only it clung so closely to his body, its presence so undetectable, that it seemed to have become one with his first skin. He felt the freedom and comfort of wearing no clothes without the embarrassment of actually being naked. Instead of finding this wardrobe laughably gaudy and out of character, James considered it inspiring. He wanted to have the kind of body that deserved—no, demanded—to be seen in clothes like these. “What do you think?”, he asked his trainer.

“You look amazing,” VIC’s voice assured him as the trainer’s image re-emerged on the screen. “Now, let’s make you more amazing!”

After a warm-up on the bike and some stretches to loosen up, James took his position facing the screen as the evening’s routine concentrated on James’ lower body. VIC seemed particularly fond of squats, putting James through more variations of the exercise than James realized were possible. His shorts seemed to take an active role in the exercise, the stretchy fabric offering resistance each time he pushed out his tush. Instead of tuckering out, James felt his energy surging the longer the workout progressed, which he attributed to whatever special ingredients were contained in his custom-designed Flexfood bar.

VIC offered a steady stream of encouragement over a throbbing electronic soundtrack. “Oh, yeah, lookin’ so good. Just three more! I know you can do it, James. I believe in you!” He told James to kneel on the exercise bench. “Turn around and let me get a good look at that butt.” James did as he was told, secretly delighted by the novel experience of someone checking out his ass. One reason that he and Carson had never hooked up, even at their most lonely and desperate, was that both of them considered themselves tops. Neither wanted to concede the power dynamic to the other and, until Carson’s recent metamorphosis, neither of them had a body that the other found particularly enticing.

But with VIC, the situation was different. James felt the urge to waggle his tush for his trainer’s admiration, even though his perky ass was mostly an illusion created by his push-up shorts and VIC was entirely an illusion created by millions of zeroes and ones. As he continued through the evening’s grueling routine, doing countless knee bends and thrusting his pelvis, James grew distracted, closing his eyes and imagining his tall strapping trainer pushing James down onto the hot beach, probing James’ virgin hole with his massive cock. James grew increasingly delirious as the fantasy overtook his thoughts. He could imagine the sand pressing against his skin and sticking to his lips. He was only dimly aware of the sound of knocking on his door until VIC pointed it out to him. “Maybe you should see who it is,” VIC suggested, lowering the volume of the music.

James reluctantly emerged from the pleasant fog. He was disoriented when he opened his eyes and saw his living room instead of VIC’s tropical paradise. His knees felt wobbly as he navigated to the front door, worried that a neighbor might be there to complain about the music, VIC’s booming instructions, James’ intensifying groans. He peeked through the peep hole, but was relieved to see an empty hallway. “Nobody there,” he informed his coach.

“Take a look outside,” VIC urged with a coy smile.

James slid the deadbolt aside and peeked through a crack in the door. A Reflex package was resting on his doormat. He turned his head over his shoulder and told VIC, “It’s another delivery.”

“Bring it in,” VIC said, more a command than a suggestion.

The prospect of stepping, however briefly, into public dressed like this suddenly made James self-conscious about his workout clothes, as well s the rock-hard penis which his clingy orange shorts only emphasized. He swung open the door quickly, nabbed the box, and slammed the door. “Is this the food bars already?”, he asked, amazed by the speed of delivery.

“Open it up and find out,” VIC told him.

James slit open the package with the fervor of a kid on Christmas morning. Most of the box was neatly stacked with a variety of Flexfood bars, but beside them was something vaguely cylindrical, securely cocooned in bubble wrap. As James tore away the protective covering, his fingers could feel something pliable with a skin-like texture. He pulled it out completely and found himself standing in his kitchen with a life-sized rubber replica of what he instantly recognized as VIC’s erect penis. Mouth agape, he turned to the screen and saw VIC, grinning and naked, sporting the dildo’s identical twin. “Come over here, boy,” VIC demanded in his indefinably sexy accent.

As if in a trance, James crossed the room and did exactly as his trainer ordered, positioning himself on all fours, pulling down his shorts and pointing his ass toward the screen. VIC instructed James to position the dildo against his asshole and gradually press it inward. As James did, he could feel the object warming to body temperature or maybe slightly above, while some internal mechanism caused it to undulate, lengthen and expand, pushing against James’ hole, gently at first, then more purposefully. James quickly got over the peculiar sensation of holding a disembodied cock with its own definite agenda, surrendering himself to the fantasy of being taken by VIC. His body fell into a rhythm with VIC’s grunting commands, and he felt VIC’s cock (well, its physical equivalent) forcing its way into him plunging deeper, straining James’ tissues as they had never been stretched before. As James grew closer to climax, he was startled to feel a warm substance surging inside him, oozing from the head of the dildo. James’ arms collapsed beneath him and he dropped to the carpet, his own cock pumping cum between his stomach and the floor while the object lodged in his ass continued to pulsate, slowing gradually as it retracted to merely the size of a standard flashlight.

As VIC watched silently, soothing music played through the surround-sound speakers, embedded with whispered messages which burrowed into James’ subconscious and embedded themselves. The dildo remained wedged in place all night as James slept soundly on the floor, grinning happily, dreaming of getting fucked by VIC again and again and again.

Part 4

James was getting used to waking up disoriented, having spent a second night asleep on his living room floor. His skin felt grimy with dried sweat and his tongue had seemingly grown a coating of fur, but the most notable sensation was the dull pressure of an object lodged in his rectum. He stretched a hand behind his back and grasped the dildo, finding that it was smaller than the night before and slipped out without much effort. Although its removal brought him an instant sense of relief, part of him immediately wanted to shove it back in.

James rolled onto his back and saw VIC standing at attention on the Reflexion screen. “Great morning, James!”

Never a morning person, James reacted sourly. “How can you be so fucking chipper first thing in the morning?” Annoyed, James flung the rubbery object in his hand toward his trainer. The rubbery penile replica squished against the screen and bounced back at James, nailing him square in the dick. James shrieked in agony and scrunched into a fetal position. So far, the Reflex program had brought James a lot of pain but very little gain.

VIC winced as he watched his client squirming on the floor. “Does that hurt? I’m told that that hurts. It looks like it hurts.”

“Yes, it fuckin’ hurts,” James hollered, pushing himself to a seated position on the floor and rocking back and forth until the pain began to ebb. He picked the dildo off the floor and examined it in the sunlight seeping through the blinds. He couldn’t get over how lifelike it looked and felt. “What the hell is this thing made of, anyway?”

“I believe it’s some kind of newly developed polymer, designed to accurately mimic the characteristics and behavior of the male human sexual organ. You seemed pleased with its performance last night.”

“Do you know the word ‘understatement’?” James asked. He carefully inspected the head of the artificial cock, keeping it aimed away from his face in case it went off accidentally. “So what the fuck came shooting out of it?”

“That would be a combination of various enzymes engineered to accelerate your changes, working in conjunction with precisely programmed nanobots.”

James squirmed, struggling to absorb what he was being told. “Hang on. Are you telling me that I’ve got teeny tiny robots inside my ass right now?”

“Oh, no, they only started in your ass. By now, they would have migrated throughout your entire body.”

A chill swept through James and his skin erupted in goosebumps. “Are you crazy? I never gave permission for that!”

“Actually, you did,” VIC informed him, bringing up a window onscreen containing the user agreement with the applicable passage highlighted in glowing red letters.

James gestured angrily in midair, whisking away the window. “So what happens now? In nine months, am I gonna give birth to some half-human, half-robot baby or something?”

VIC’s voice remained calm and reassuring. “Don’t be silly. The nanobots only carry out very specific tasks, meant to help you achieve your desired goals more quickly. Tell me, how does your ass feel this morning?”

James paused to evaluate. Setting aside the creepy knowledge that microscopic machines had been toiling inside of him all night, he couldn’t say he actually felt any discomfort. “Not bad. It seemed to be throbbing a bit when I first woke up, but it’s better now that I’m sitting on these pillows.”

With a grin, VIC informed him, “Those aren’t pillows.”

James stuck a hand beneath his ass and rubbed, feeling only warm flesh on one side and the hard floor on the other. He pulled himself to his feet and took a few steps toward the big screen, his gait hampered by the orange stretch shorts which bound his knees together. VIC allowed his image fade away so that James’ reflection could emerge. As James spun his backside toward the screen and took a look over his shoulder, he discovered that his glutes had ripened overnight to the size of cantaloupes. He slapped his right hand over his right cheek and squeezed, astonished by its firmness. His formerly sagging ass had become a prodigious bubble butt, two solid hemispheres of flesh protruding from his body in apparent defiance of gravity. If he had seen them on someone else, he would have assumed they must be implants, but they felt like solid muscle. “This is unbelievable.”

Seemingly emanating from midair behind James, VIC’s disembodied voice sounded pleased. “You haven’t even noticed the other changes.”

“Other…?” As James’ eyes drifted upward from his ass, he noticed how his yellow tank top tapered downward in a v-shape to a narrow waist rather than ballooning where his love handles used to be. He spun around to face the mirror and wriggled out of his tank top. Most of the fat had melted away from his torso, leaving him noticeably trim, complete with shallow abs and small but solid pecs. His arms had also lost most of their deposits of flab, making his modest shoulder muscles and biceps stand out. While still recognizable behind his bangs and glasses and goatee, his face had thinned out as well, and his neck looked positively scrawny. He pawed at his chest to ensure that what he was seeing on the screen was not some digital illusion.

“Want to see how much progress you’ve made?” VIC asked. James’ reflection dissolved into an image the system had stored from the start of James’ first workout. It was a shock for James to be confronted with his doughier self from a mere three days ago, with slumped shoulders and a forlorn expression. He swiped his hand in the air to swat that image swiftly to oblivion, and his current reflection reappeared. He still wasn’t anywhere close to his ideal, but he had, without question, improved. He assumed VIC was forcing him to shed his fat before concentrating on beefing up his muscles.

James minced back toward the workout bench, pulled his shorts to his waist, and took a seat to gather his thoughts. Even knowing how Carson had morphed after acquiring a Reflex system, James was unprepared for seeing himself similarly remodeled. He felt unmoored, his schlubby self image in conflict with the lithe new body in the mirror and the racy thoughts which had overtaken his dreams.

From over his shoulder came VIC’s comforting voice: “It’s okay, James. I’m always here for you.”

“It’s just a lot to take in,” James said shakily, glad to have VIC’s reassuring presence.

“It’ll take a little time to adjust, but you have to remember, change is a good thing.”

“Change is a good thing,” James repeated out loud. He boosted himself to his feet. “Well, I guess we’ll have to put any more changes on hold until I get back from work.”

“It’s Saturday, James,” VIC informed him, his image returning to the Reflexion screen.

James took a moment to gather his scattered thoughts and realized VIC was right. James felt a wave of relief. If nothing else, it gave him two days to figure out a cover story to explain to his co-workers how he had dropped ten pounds and gained a bodacious booty over the weekend. “I think I’m gonna take a shower,” he informed his coach as he shuffled toward the bathroom. “You want me to put the TV on for you?”

VIC shook his head. “Not necessary, but thanks. I’m just going to calculate how to adjust your regimen to take into account the progress you’ve made.”

“Okay. If you need anything, just holler.”

VIC smiled and assured him that he would.

James entered the bathroom and stripped out of his shorts, letting the shower warm up. As soon as he stepped into the spray, he felt bombarded, as if he were being pelted by a rapid-fire paint gun. He leapt clear of the water and adjusted the shower head to a light mist, which he found far more soothing. He lathered up and indulged in a long, luxurious shower, scrubbing his skin which felt unusually supple and sensitive. He lavished attention on his flaccid cock, slipping his sudsy hands up and down its shaft to nurse it along. Even at full erection, it seemed smaller and softer than usual, although he couldn’t blame his penis for being exhausted after the past three days. James wondered if it only seemed diminished because he was comparing it to VIC’s monster dong, with which few mortals could compete. As his mind catalogued VIC’s many assets, James managed to stroke himself to a more than satisfying climax. He made a mental note to ask VIC whether he could order up an extra regiment of nanobots to beef up his length and girth. As long as he had consented to allowing robots to remodel his body, he might as well go for the full package.

Toweling himself off, James wiped away a patch of condensation from bathroom mirror. The clear spot framed the reflection of James’ face. He marveled at how much younger he looked without the excess fat that had puffed out his cheeks and accumulated in deposits along his jawline. He turned his head from side to side, evaluating whether his goatee had outlived its usefulness now that the threat of a double chin had been beaten back. It felt strange to contemplate being clean-shaven after sporting facial hair for so many years, but he remembered VIC’s words of wisdom: “Change is a good thing.”

Feeling emboldened, James filled his palm with shaving cream and smeared a thick blanket of foam around his mouth. He hesitated as he brought his razor toward his upper lip, wondering if this was the right move, then pressed the blade against his skin and pulled down decisively, eradicating the right half of his mustache in a single swoop. Once he had committed, he found the rest of the shave liberating, relieved as he saw his whiskers whirl around the sink and disappear down the drain. After doing away with the two days of stubble that shadowed his cheeks, he wiped the residual foam from his face and studied the results with a smile. The fresh-faced guy staring back was dimly familiar, like a long-lost friend from college, although even then, the face had rarely sported such a happy expression.

As the fog dissipated from the surface of the mirror, exposing the reflection of his slimmed-down torso, James pondered how much tidier he would look without the thatchy outcroppings of hair in the cleft between his pecs, around his nipples, and down the center of his rudimentary four-pack. The thought of shaving his body hair had never previously occurred to him, but the idea now struck him as irresistible. Unlike his goatee, nobody else would even know that he had done it. If he didn’t like the way it felt, he could always let the hair grow back. Impulsively, he shook up the shaving cream and sprayed a thick coating onto his chest and smeared it around the problem areas. He placed the razor at the base of his throat and took a quick swipe down his sternum. He navigated more carefully around his nipples, which had sprung alert and hardened as soon as the shaving cream hit them. His anemic treasure trail only required a few strokes, but James paused as his razor reached the tufts of his pubes. Was all of that hair really necessary? Surely his penis would appear larger if it weren’t lost amid such a tangled bush.

James grabbed a pair of scissors from the medicine cabinet, stood over the toilet, and clipped away the bulk of his pubic hair. He stepped back to study the results in the mirror, but even the little hair that remained seemed excessive now. He loaded his hand with a fresh dollop of Barbasol and spread it around the base of his cock, then with utmost care and delicacy, shaved away the stubble until the whole region was smooth.

Satisfied, he swept a fresh towel from his face to his crotch to remove the residual foam. Inspecting his reflection, he suddenly found the sparsely scattered hairs along his calves and lower thighs out of place. It seemed odd to be hairless from his neck to his balls but leave his legs untouched. Who did he think he was, a satyr? He jostled the can of shaving cream, estimating from the weight and sloshing sound that he had enough left to finish the job. He grinned in anticipation.

In the living room, VIC’s calculations were interrupted when he detected James’ voice in the distance, yelping variations of “Ouch!”, “Shit!” and “Fuck!” Concerned, VIC asked, “James? Is everything all right?”

VIC got his answer several minutes later as James walked gingerly into the living room, totally naked except for bits of reddened toilet paper clinging to dozens of spots on his shaved legs. He carried a squeeze bottle of Bactine, which he sprayed at any fresh problem areas that emerged. “Probably should have changed the razor blade before I went for the legs.”

VIC winced in sympathy. “I wish you had told me you planned to shave your body.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it a plan. I was more of a whim that got out of hand.”

“Well, aside from those decorations on your legs, I’d say the new look suits you. If you plan to do it again, I’ll order you a bottle of FlexFree painless hair remover.”

“Let me guess, this FlexFree isn’t free-free.”

VIC looked sheepish. “Well, the…”

“First one is,” James said, completing VIC’s sentence. “I’m sensing a pattern.” James crept into the kitchen, feeling chilly as the moisture on his hairless skin evaporated. Without their protective nest of pubes, James’ balls felt like they’d shrunk to the dimensions and density of peanut M&Ms. As he pawed through the box of Flexwear, his eyes were attracted to a lime green thong. James had never thought of himself as a thong guy, but he hadn’t been a shaved-body guy until about ten minutes ago. The longer he looked at it, the thought of wearing the thong grew more and more enticing. He stretched the waistband as wide as possible to keep it from further irritating the nicks along his legs. When it reached his waist, he snapped it into position, neatly surrounding his cock and balls with just enough fabric to keep them from flopping around. He adjusted the strip of cloth in his ass crack, feeling a little thrill every time he moved. Maybe he was a thong guy after all.

“Don’t forget to try one of the breakfast bars,” VIC advised from the living room. “You need to feed your body to fuel your changes.”

James sorted through the remaining meal bars and chose a package depicting a complete hot breakfast. He had enjoyed last night’s Chocolate Orgasm, but didn’t see any chunk of glued-together fiber could possibly approximate the taste of real food. He tore open the wrapper and found that the bar was divided into four rectangular portions. As he walked into the living room, he chomped down on the first section, which was a deep brown. To his shock, the first bite tasted exactly like dark roasted coffee with cream and two packets of sugar. As he chewed, the bar mixed with his saliva and became liquid, and it even grew warmer—not piping hot, but more than tepid. Before that taste left his mouth, he took a seat on the workout bench and gnawed on the next chunk, which had brown and white stripes. Incredibly, it had the crunch and salty perfection of crisp bacon. Not surprisingly, the third part, which featured a yellow circle against a pure white base, tasted like fried eggs, with a liquid center to mimic the sensation of being “over easy”. He gobbled down the final orange section, which was packed with pulp and turned into fresh-squeezed OJ in his mouth. He had devoured a full breakfast in less than a minute and felt fully satisfied. James wondered how a single company could create addictively delicious energy bars, state-of-the-art fitness equipment, a convincingly realistic virtual trainer, miraculous stretch clothing, and a living dildo jam-packed with miniscule body-altering machines. What else was Reflex technology capable of?

“So,” VIC said enthusiastically, “today I thought we could work on your upper body.”

Still savoring his breakfast, James flopped back limply on the bench and whined like a teenager being ordered to do chores. “But it’s Saturday! Can’t I have the day off?”

“Don’t you want to keep making progress? I’d hate to see you start to backslide already after we’ve accomplished so much.”

James pointed toward the discarded dildo on the floor. “Why do I have to exercise? Can’t you just inject me with more of those nannybots? I’d enjoy that.” He raised his eyebrows suggestively.

“The nanobots only optimize the results of exercise. The FlexFood, too. They’re just supplements. You still have to put in the work.”

James lolled back on the bench, spitting out the word “Work” distastefully. He rubbed his smooth legs against each other and threw his arms behind his head, noticing in his peripheral vision that he had neglected to shave his armpits. He felt a compulsion to return to the bathroom and rectify that omission, but remembered that he needed to buy more shaving cream and razorblades first. “Maybe you don’t mind working every day, but some of us like to relax occasionally. Can’t we do something fun instead?”

“Tell you what,” VIC said. “If you promise to exercise, I’ll let you go shopping for new clothes.”

Noticing his work clothes still lying on the floor where he had tossed them last night, James wrinkled his nose at the thought of ever wearing anything so boring again. He doubted that the slacks would even fit any more, given his recently reduced waistline and juicy new ass. He grew giddy at the thought of buying a more stylish wardrobe, but he remained skittish about venturing out. “I’m not sure I’m ready to go anywhere yet.”

“Who said you needed to go anywhere?” VIC made a sweeping gesture with both arms, and his backdrop shifted from his usual beach to the interior of a high-end shopping mall. A neon sign of the Reflex logo rotated just behind VIC’s head. “Reflex doesn’t just make workout gear. They have any kind of clothes you need, from swimsuits to tuxedos, and it’s all guaranteed to fit.”

“I dunno, I kinda like to try things on before I buy them. Make sure I don’t look like an idiot.”

Onscreen, VIC strolled toward a wall of polo shirts and chose a turquoise one. “How about this? Do you think this would make you look like an idiot?”

James studied the garment. “No, it looks nice, but…”

“C’mon over here and touch it,” VIC said.

James rose from the bench and walked to the screen, stretching his arm toward the 3D image of VIC holding the shirt toward him. The moment James’ finger reached the point in space where the polo shirt appeared to be, he heard a “bloop” from the Reflex speakers and VIC vanished from the screen, replaced by James’ reflection modeling the shirt. The effect was so convincing, James had to look down to make sure that he wasn’t somehow actually wearing the shirt. In reality, he was still entirely naked except for the cozy green marble bag which held his family jewels, but when he looked back at the screen, there was the polo, looking fantastic on his slimmed-down physique.

As James turned in profile to examine the shirt’s fit, the virtual shirt briefly pixelated, lagging a second or two behind James’ real-time movements before catching up and reforming to his contours. Given how much he was using the Reflexion screen, James knew he ought to upgrade his internet connection to improve the streaming quality, but he had actually grown accustomed to VIC’s occasional stutters and stammers and unexpected dramatic pauses. Those little imperfections served to humanize his otherwise flawless trainer.

“I’m not sure that thong really goes with that shirt. How about some shorts?” VIC’s floating voice suggested. Instantaneously, plaid shorts appeared on James’ reflection below his untucked polo. He pointed his butt toward the screen and admired how the horizontal lines on the virtual fabric warped their way across the curvature of his ass. “And maybe some Topsiders?” VIC’s words conjured up a pair of convincingly scuffed deck shoes onscreen which flexed appropriately when James wriggled his bare toes.

James removed his glasses, brushed back his bangs, and folded his arms, striking his best “spoiled rich kid” pose. “Jesus, it looks like I just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad. I feel like my collar should be popped!” As soon as he said the words, the image on the screen responded, flipping the collar upward in classic preppy style. James burst into laughter at his appearance. “Oh my god! I should be captaining the golf team and drunk-driving Daddy’s Jag into a water hazard.” Despite finding his douchey alter-ego oddly arousing, James admitted, “I’m not sure it’s me.”

“No problem,” VIC said as the computer-generated clothes vaporized, stripping James’ reflection back to his bethonged bareness. “Plenty of other options to choose from. Go ahead. Experiment. Find yourself.”

James stepped forward tentatively, but quickly got the hang of browsing the virtual inventory, selecting new items with a pointed finger, rejecting some with a brush of his hand, trying on others with a single touch. Out of habit, he was initially drawn to the same sort of conservative shirts and slacks he’d been wearing since high school, just like the discarded clothes lying on his living room floor. The ease of the system encouraged James to become increasingly adventurous. In the privacy of his apartment, he could experiment with clothes that he would have been mortified to try on at a physical store, for fear that the clerk patrolling the dressing rooms would level him with a withering glare that said, “You’ll never pull off that look, honey.” The crazy thing was, without his neck fat and muffin top, James looked pretty damn good in pretty much every ensemble he picked, no matter how outlandish. It was like his new body was a life-sized paper doll on which he could hang any off-the-wall combo and somehow manage to look presentable. He quickly gravitated to form-fitting and skin-baring options, from an off-the-shoulder zebra-striped crop top paired with fire-engine-red faux-leather hot pants to a sleeveless maroon v-neck tee tucked into skinny high-water corduroys the color of spicy mustard. Normally budget-conscious, James found himself dragging anything that highlighted his recent upgrades into his shopping cart without regard to the price tag. What was the point in fretting over a few extra bucks when he could look this fucking hot?

Satisfied with his selections, James clicked the “check-out” box and pressed his hand against the screen to authorize his purchase. A bell chimed and VIC announced, “The order is on its way.” James had gotten so spoiled by Reflex’s speed of delivery, he half-expected that the items would already be on the mat outside his door. “Now can we start our workout?” VIC asked as his image returned to the big screen.

James raised a finger and declared, “I just gotta do one more thing.” He rushed to the kitchen and returned with the bottle of screen cleaner and a roll of paper towels, then knelt before the Reflexion screen and devotedly wiped away his handprint and other miscellaneous smudges, as well as the encrusted jizz smears from two nights earlier. The screen was VIC’s home, and James wanted to ensure that he looked his best. At such close range, James marveled at the sharpness of VIC’s 3D image, right down to the silky curls of hair on his legs and the individual grains of sand adhering to his ankles and toes. It tormented James that he could be in such intimate proximity to this spectacular specimen, yet remain forever separated by a sheet of glass.

James realized had never really had a “gay best friend” before VIC entered his life, someone he could just hang out with and talk about anything. Well, technically, Carson was gay and probably qualified as James’ best friend by default, given that James didn’t really have any other friends, but Carson had never been as relentlessly upbeat or unflaggingly supportive as VIC. Nor, until recently, had Carson looked remotely as attractive as VIC. James gazed up at his trainer, towering above him on the screen and pondered aloud, “I don’t suppose you’ve got a twin brother.”

“Not that I’m aware of,” said VIC. “I do have a sister. She’s also a trainer for Reflex. Would you like to meet her?” Before James could reply, VIC’s image morphed into his female equivalent. Not surprisingly, she was designed to be as extraordinarily attractive as VIC, with the same exotic mixture of features, same long, dark hair tied in a ponytail, same standard-issue Reflex uniform stretched over a less muscular, more curvaceous figure. Her plump, glossy lips moved and her sexy purr of a voice emerged with the same untraceable accent as VIC, only in a slightly higher register. “Hello, James. I’m VICKI. It’s very nice to meet you. You look awesome.”

James waved his hands frantically and turned away from the screen. “No! No! Go back! Go back!” He had bought fully into the fantasy of VIC and found it jarring to be reminded so vividly of the trainer’s inherent artificiality.

VICKI pouted. “Aw, I guess I’m not your type. Ta-ta, James. You obey my brother now.” As she wiggled her fingers in a goodbye gesture, her body regained the muscle tone and sculpted features of “her brother”. “Is this better?” VIC said, reverting to his deep, masculine voice.

“Don’t ever do that to me again,” James shouted, still shaken.

“I promise,” said VIC soothingly. “Can we finally start our session now?”

“Sure,” James begrudgingly agreed as he stood up. “Lemme go get some water first.”

As James walked to the kitchen with the bottle of screen cleaner, VIC said, “You ought to try FlexAde. It’s a sports drink formulated for your specific goals.”

“Fine, yeah, whatever,” James said as he grabbed a bottled water from the fridge. “Tell me, is there anything that Reflex doesn’t make? Are you gonna offer me a free trial of a FlexCar, or maybe a sample roll of FlexWipe toilet paper?”

VIC handled the question seriously. “I don’t believe they make cars or toilet paper, but I will be happy to forward your suggestions to the home office.”

“Don’t bother,” James said, wondering if VIC was programmed to recognize sarcasm. After taking a hit from his water bottle, James asked, “Okay, coach, what torture do you have planned for me today?”

For the next hour, VIC pushed James through a grueling program of cardio, stretching, and weight training. Despite his initial reluctance, James fell into the routine quickly, striving to please VIC. He could tell that his stamina was markedly improving every day, although he now had to wonder how much was due to his own effort and how much was the work of FlexFood and nanobots. In the end, he found that he didn’t care, as long as he kept seeing results. He was disappointed by the low weights VIC was having him lift, insisting to his trainer that he could handle more, but VIC assured him that he must stick to the carefully designed plan.

As VIC led him through a cool-down, James heard knocking at his front door. “The clothes!” he cried. He leapt up eagerly and bounded toward the door on the balls of his bare feet. He flung open the door without even checking the peephole.

Standing outside the door was a muscular man holding a large box with the Reflex logo. “I’ve got a delivery for James…”

“Yeah, that’s me. Gimme, gimme!” James stretched out his arms excitedly and grabbed the carton, surprised by its heft but lifting it easily. He placed it on the floor inside the doorway.

The tank-topped delivery man held out an electronic pad and asked James to sign for the delivery. As James took the pad and leaned against the door sill, he took a good look at the man. James asked, “Do I know you from somewhere?”

“I was here to install some equipment for someone a few days ago,” the man said before taking a step back. “Holy shit. Are you the guy we delivered to?”

“Yeah, that’s me.” James realized this was the bulkier of the two hunks who had set up his Reflex system. Delighted by the delivery man’s stunned reaction, James signed his name with a little extra flourish.

“Wow. You…uh…you shaved your beard.”

“Among other things,” James replied with a wink as he relinquished the pad. “You boys were right. This program is life-changing.” James’ eyes focused on the delivery man’s brawny arms and the sweat soaking his skintight tank top. James extended his arms above his head and slid his bare foot up and down the door jamb, oblivious to how seductive his actions appeared. “I hadn’t realized it was such a hot day outside. Would you like to come in? I’ve got cold water in the fridge.”

The delivery man paused. “Uh, gee, I’m sorry, but I got a lotta deliveries waitin’ in the truck. Thanks, though. You keep up the hard work!” With a nod, he turned and walked away. James gawked unashamedly at the delivery man’s backside until he disappeared from view.

James felt lightheaded as he stepped back inside and closed the door. He drifted into the kitchen and grabbed the scissors, then walked dreamily back to the new box. As he slit the packing tape, he heard VIC asking him, “Do you realize what you just did?”

James looked baffled. “What do you mean? I signed for a package.”

“You just answered the door wearing nothing but a thong and didn’t seem the least self-conscious about it.”

James was stunned. He felt so comfortable that he hadn’t even considered how he was dressed. His cheeks flushed with retroactive embarrassment. “Oh my god, I did, didn’t I?”

“Not only that,” VIC said, “but from where I’m standing, it looked like you were flirting with him.”

James reacted indignantly. “What? No! I was just making conversation.”

“Apparently the conversation was very stimulating,” VIC said dryly, staring below James’ waist.

James laughed dismissively, but as he followed VIC’s gaze, he noticed the fabric of his thong stretched dramatically outward and upward. James draped a hand to conceal his erection. “I’m sure he didn’t notice.”

“Oh, trust me, he noticed. I was tracking where his eyes were focused. Heart rate shot up too. I’d say there was an 82% likelihood he would have stayed if you had offered him something stronger than water. Would you like to see the stats?”

“No, that’s not necessary.” James scoffed at the notion that the studly delivery man would have been interested in him, but after a few moments, he felt compelled to dart through the obstacle course of his living room and peek out of the window, just in time to see the Reflex van pulling away. James’ shoulders sagged with disappointment, and he felt his hard-on deflating.

“I don’t think you realize how much we’ve accomplished already. I can see it. The delivery boy could definitely see it. And it’s not just your body that’s changing. It’s your whole attitude. You radiate confidence that you didn’t have a few days ago. I think you’re ready to put yourself out there and see how people react to the new you.”

James hung his head and folded his arms. Despite his liberated behavior with the delivery guy, he sure didn’t feel confident. “I don’t think I’m ready yet. I mean, it’s one thing to hang out here alone with you. Of course I feel confidence here. You’re always pumping up my ego, telling me how great I’m doing. It’s like having my own personal hype man. But to go out there? In the world? All alone?”

“You wouldn’t have to go alone,” VIC offered. “I could go with you.”

James laughed. “How would that work, exactly? Am I supposed to carry around a seven-foot flatscreen wherever I go?”

A smartphone materialized in VIC’s hand. He lifted it so James could see the screen, which showed a miniaturized version of VIC standing on his beach. Full-sized VIC and his handheld doppelgänger informed James in stereo, “I’m also an app.”


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