I was looking in the mirror, at myself.
I looked just like me, and I felt just like me.
compared to some recent dreams. Very...natural. If I had known then what I
know now, I would have thought it was my best avatar yet. But this
wasn't my best, it was my only. I had been brought back from my
original scan archives right into this body. I was perhaps both the
oldest and the youngest avatar alive.
A pair of hands on my shoulders, a woman behind me.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked.
I took her hands around my waist to pull her up close behind me.
In the mirror, her face leaned against my neck, she looked very
much like Laura.
"The past," I said. "And the future."
"The future..." she said, with a melancholy normally reserved for the past.
"Is there one?"
I chuckled gently. "What do you mean?"
"I mean for me. I know you have a future: all of eternity.
But I think mine is finally gone."
"That's silly. You know you can become an avatar any time you want."
"But that's not what I want," she said. "That's not my future. I want
to have children, to grow old and... die."
Wanting to eventually grow old and die was a surprisingly common sentiment in my time
when the consequences and alternatives were not well understood. But I'd been in this future
world long enough now that I didn't expect to hear this. And to want children--equally
strange here. It just wasn't done, it was a thing of the distant past.
On the other hand, she was human, after all. Every one of her
ancestors had chosen to breed despite the marketing, financial
incentives, social pressures, everything the elders could think
of to dissuade it.
She was the resistant strain.
And she had been given to me. Or I to her. I really wasn't sure which.
"Then have children," I said. I was not so far from my own past
that this seemed a ludicrous choice.
"No," she said, "my time is at an end. The world no longer belongs
to me, it belongs to you."
I silently wondered whether it was the woman or the gene speaking to me.
"When I was a child, maybe eight years old," she told, "I used to
lev to the youth focus zone every day to play with the other children.
I knew them all by name, and they knew me. My best friend was a boy
named Jeromy. There was nothing remarkable about him, but he was
nice to me and we had fun playing together. Then one day, a huge piece of
metal fell from far above, smashed right through the dome glaze, and
landed smack in the middle of the playground. We all jumped back
and screamed, just from the shock and surprise of it. It made me
feel so small and insignificant. I knew if I'd been just twenty
feet in the wrong direction, that would have been the end of me.
Smush. No avatar or anything. Then I saw Jeromy, or his feet anyway,
sticking out from behind the object. I screamed and ran over to him,
expecting to find the worst, but he was okay--mostly. He was crying
and clutching his arm, which had been severed at the elbow. It was
bleeding, but not very much, and not blood. Little black bits
kept falling out and onto the ground where they would dance around
like lost bugs. I had some idea what it meant, but I couldn't put
it together in my head, so the whole event just felt confusing and
dreamy. Then I and a few of the other children started coughing from
the bad air flowing in. A droid picked me up and whisked me away and
soon I was on a lev bound for home. When I came
back the next day, Jeromy was fine. We never spoke of it
I stood at the window, looking out over the city. I'd seen only
a handful of humans in all my time here. It hardly seemed a relevant
distinction, but maybe it was.
"Why would they make avatar children?" she asked.
I told her honestly I didn't know. She settled on the sofa,
stared at the ceiling, and talked.
"When I was a bit older, I remember knowing about avatars
and being really curious to meet one some day. The incident
with Jeromy still sat silently in the back of my mind, with
nothing to connect to. Around this time, I happened upon
my first neo-humanoid: a man with four arms. My first thought
was that he was just a freakish human, a beautiful defect
by happenstance. But then it dawned on me he could be an
avatar! So human looking, though. I couldn't decide. So
I just choked up the courage and went up and asked him. He
smiled sweetly and said yes, he was an avatar. I was very
excited, and shook both his right hands, one at a time with
my two. I dare say I had many fantasies for a while about
handsome, four-handed avatars."
It dawned on me then, a bit of a tangent, how ironic it
was that neo-humanoids were still a fringe culture.
Here we were, avatars, immortals, synthetic minds
free of the constraints of biology, and we had been just as
programmed as our squishy predecessors. The culture of
being more human than human, which we had created at first
to blend in and then to quietly overtake, had overtaken
us. Though that was changing, slowly but surely as individuals
tested boundaries which, long lacking foundations, were
beginning to decay and crumble.
"But then something else happened," she continued. "I used
to like to try to hide from the droids. It's mostly impossible,
of course, because the eyes are everywhere. But it was fun
to try, and I could pretend it was working because there was
no way to know anyway. Well one day I must have
managed a small string of successes, maybe an eye or two was
offline at the time and I found the blind spots by luck, because
I rounded a corner and came upon a crowd of people socializing--in
dead silence. It was so eerie.
I just stood there silently, staring at them all in their
many little groups, gazing at each other, occasionally gesturing,
but saying nothing. Then suddenly they all started talking, as if
they had been the whole time, and the eruption of noise made me jump
and gasp a little. A man came over and asked me if I was
lost or if I needed any help, and I said no and ran away."
"It started to dawn on me then," she added, "as I put one
thing and the next together, that it might be a human I should
be excited to meet some day."
I sat back and contemplated. I was missing the piece de resistance,
how this added up to the end for her.
"These days," she said, "they don't even bother to
speak out loud when I enter the room. Don't you see? When
I was born, I was in some sense one of the most important people
in the world. This world exists in this form for my sake, however
convoluted the history behind that is. But I've watched it
change, just within my lifetime."
Strange, I thought, that I was older than her yet she had been
in this particular world far longer than I.
"How many humans are left?" she asked. "Do you know? Does anyone
know? I can only surmise that at least some of my childhood buddies
were humans. Or do you avatars fake coughs too? The atmosphere domes,
they are there for us. We need them, you don't. But it's no longer our
world, and you--they--are finally realizing it. That spells the end."
I wanted to argue, but she was right. Something had changed, and
society was starting to drift. How it had lasted this long in the
first place, I wasn't sure. Some of these people were a thousand
years old, yet behaved just as they ever had. Had the
elders mucked with people's minds as they graduated them into
avatarhood? Of course they had. How else could society have fallen
into such coherence? I suspected not long after arriving here
that those around me had been quietly stripped of their kernels of
malice and deceit. Maybe it was more. Curiosity,
the need for change, the need to learn, had these been taken away
too? I shuddered at the thought. But I didn't feel any different
than I ever had. I didn't feel lacking in any of these.
Perhaps it is simply human nature to be indefinitely content
with sufficiency. We are all royalty here, the ultimate dual-class
society with all the humanoids on top, and the tincs and
droids slaving away underneath. Whatever we need, we have, and
whatever we want within reason, we can get. There isn't even
empathy for the working class to stir up someone's passion,
because the working class truly and completely wants to be
exactly where they are, doing exactly what they're doing: living
and working for us. They love us, in the truest, deepest sense.
Had we simply reached equilibrium? With reproduction out of
the picture, our lives eternal, were we living the perfect suburban
moment in a continuous loop? More shudders. My mind was too much
a child of my competitive genes to like this.
Things were changing, though. How or why, I knew not.
I wanted to speak with the elders--something apparently no one
had done in a very long time. But rumor was they were once me,
so surely I would grant myself an audience?
I heard what I can only describe as a small child's chortle,
looked around to see where it came from because it definitely
wasn't my Laura.
Then the room went bright, so bright
it saturated away into complete whiteness everywhere. My
eyes adjusted and there before me were three young children
of ambiguous gender: two large, one small.
"Alpha!" the first one said.
"Beta!" said the second.
"Omega!" the little one said.
Had I just fallen down the rabbit hole?
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Both," the first two said in unison.
"Neither," said the third.
They were a bit perplexing, to say the least. I thought to ask
something simple and concrete.
"Are you boys or girls?"
"We can't help it," Alpha said. "You're just too predictable."
It was starting to dawn on me what was going on.
"Like a rock falling," Beta said, "you just know where it's going to land."
Omega just smiled sympathetically.
"Stop answering my questions before I ask them!" I said, incredulous.
"No," Omega said quietly.
"Are you the elders?" I closed my eyes and shook my head. This was strangely infuriating.
"The elders are gone," Alpha said. "We're their brain children."
"Born with empty minds like you," said Beta. "But better."
"Exploring the galaxy," said Omega.
"Where did they go?" I asked, kicking myself a moment later.
"It is time," Alpha said.
"We're leaving soon too," said Beta.
"What's been taken has been returned," said Omega, who then gestured with
a flick of his hand toward the other two, and vanished.
Alpha and Beta looked confused for a moment, then grabbed their heads just
as huge rabbit ears sprung out of both of them.
"How did he do that?" Alpha asked.
"I don't know, it shouldn't be possible," Beta said.
"Omega!" they both yelled, and then were gone.
I stood quietly in this seemingly infinite white space, looked
around a bit, started to whistle. Can't say I knew how I got there,
certainly didn't know how to get back.
"I agree," I heard Beta say, "I'll see to it." And then I was back.
"Thoughts?" she asked.
I realized almost no time had passed from her perspective.
"I think you should have children," I said.
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