Lasseter coughed, cleared his throat and said, “Paul, you haven’t figured it out?”
“No,” he answered plainly.
“You’ve directed people to escape from explosions, you’ve instilled people with desire to drink Rum and Coke…you turn minds into putty.”
“Well, Lasseter,” said Paul deliberately as he reached for his cold cup of coffee, “It’s not just me. It’s the nanites. It’s an awesome talent, I admit, but what can I do with it? Join the circus?”
“Think of the sexual favors,” Billy-Bob muttered while lubricating the barrel of his Glock.
Lasseter swirled the liquid in his flask before answering. ‘Grow up, Billy-Bob. Raise your consciousness.”
“That’s it!” Paul bellowed, in the first of many eureka moments. “I can raise the consciousness of all mankind!”
“Only if you get them in bed.” Lasseter replied without missing a beat.
Billy-Bob returned the slide into his gun with a loud click. “I like the sounds of that.”
Akira moved closer to Paul, whispering in his ear: “You can be the one to end mankind’s collective insanity. You can enlighten people. Change their behavior. In doing so, you can save mankind from themselves and save the entire planet.”
Paul turned his head sideways to meet her gaze. “This is a big jump from doing parlor tricks. How would I even start?”
Lasseter swirled the liquid in his flask even faster. “Get mankind nanite anointed. Get as many people in the bed as possible.”
Paul raised an eyebrow. “Enlightenment through technology?”
Akira nibbled on Paul’s neck and whispered so only he could hear: “What else has technology brought to mankind besides death, destruction, and the ability to amuse strangers with cat memes?”
Paul gulped his coffee. It tasted bitter, but it woke him up. “Where would I even start?”
Akira pulled her head back. “If you want to raise people’s consciousness, start a new religion, you start by telling the truth.”
“Oh, you know the truth?” Billy-Bob asked, his Glock cleaned and reassembled. “How about you start by telling me the truth?”
“I know the truth based on evidence,” Paul replied.
“Evidence?” Billy-Bob answered, admiring the shine of his gun’s polished metal. “You mean, when you gather more evidence, or when you gather contradictory evidence, the truth changes?”
“Yes,” Paul whispered, taking the first sip of his fresh coffee, “That is also the truth. Everything is in flux. The entire universe changes moment to moment.”
Akira moved his cup towards closer to herself. “What does your truth tell you Paul? What does the evidence say?”
Without taking his eyes off his Billy-Bob and the glistening gun, Paul replied: “The real world is a ceaselessly flowing quantum soup. A fluctuation of energy and information spinning in an infinite void. Consciousness creates reality. In fact, atoms are mostly energy and empty space, so we may not exist at all. Nothing has anything to do Jesus, Allah, Moses, Shiva…”
Lasseter uncorked his flask and took a long gulp before speaking. “Considering most people on the planet don’t have clean water, internet access, or a high school education—your truth might be a bit much.”
“Yeah, it’s bit much, even for me,” Billy-Bob replied, holstering his weapon. The metal felt slick and clean between his fingers. How could it possibly not be real?
Paul shrugged. “I’ll simplify my message.”
“How can you simplify a message like ‘we may not even exist’”? Akira asked softly, pushing the coffee back in his direction.
“Get a free mattress,” he answered. “Simple enough?”
“What kind of message is that?” Billy-Bob answered, picking up different gun to start another cleaning.
Paul met his gaze with mild bemusement. “We give our mattresses away. The more mattresses, the more nanite anointed, so to speak. Then I’ll instill appreciation that we exist at all.”
“And stop people from killing each other?” Akira asked, reaching out to remove Billy-Bob’s gun from his holster.
“Hey!” Billy-Bob jumped back, startled. “Even Gandhi had a bodyguard.”
“You’re making sense now,” Lasseter answered, taking a final swallow and returning his flask to his breast pocket.
Akira walked across the floor and opened the kitchen window, letting the cool air fill the room once again.
“Let’s get on with it,” she said, “before the bloodbath begins.”
An owl hooted from a distant tree. The creature had never left.