“You mean we’re giving birth to a machine?” Paul cast his eyes towards Akira, his face a mix of confusion and fear.
The candle seemed to burn brighter; the shadows danced across the walls.
“Both human and machine Paul. The first of its kind. A new species.”
“It’s not possible.”
“Is it so hard to believe, Paul?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Why? What does it mean to be human? Do you think you have some sort of magical, transcendent quality? A soul perhaps? Do you think there’s something special about humans that differentiates you?”
“Well, there is no scientific proof, but…”
“Exactly, Paul. Being human simply means when you procreate, you pass your genes along, creating others nearly exactly like you, and you populate the planet. That’s all.”
“But there’s so much more…”
“Of course, there’s more,” Lasseter unscrewed his flask and took a long, slow drink. Paul had never seen him look so serious. “Humans have a consciousness, a heightened awareness—if you will—like no other. It’s this quality that Homo ex machina will evolve. Eventually, Homo Sapiens will take their place with the other six species of humans.”
“Replaced. Crowded out of the ecosystem? Extinct?”
Paul reached across the table for the flask. “But why does this involve me?”
Lasseter unscrewed the top, pushed it closer.
“During our Sleep studies, I discovered you have an extra Y chromosome. That was the key.”
“Just my luck,” Paul said, drinking slowly. The candle burned with an intensity far beyond the capacity of the wick. Paul puckered and blew at the flame, but it only grew brighter. “But wouldn’t an extra Y chromosome turn me into some sort of homicidal maniac?”
Both laughed loudly as Paul buried his head in his hands.
“Your extra chromosome compensated for her biological deficits,” Lasseter leaned forward, caressing Akira’s shoulder.
Akira pulled back from human contact.
“Listen, Paul,” Lasseter continued, “This is not the first cognitive leap for mankind. The first leap happened 10,000 years ago. For 200,000 years, mankind was a happy go-lucky hunter gatherer not having much impact on the ecosystem, when, suddenly, there was an unexplained cognitive leap that lead to agriculture, industry, technology—and eventually wars and ecological damage so irreparable it’s put your doomsday clock at one minute to midnight.”
“This is another of those cognitive leaps?”
“Yes. This time, however, Homo Sapiens will be left to fend for themselves. I’ll take Akira and the new species back to my planet. Sapiens should be able to determine their own fate. You have all the technology, all the data. If you ignore your tools, if you choose not to use it, or ridicule your own science,” Lasseter paused, shrugged, turned his eyes skyward, “Oh well.”
“Yeah, oh well. We tried.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“What about me?” Paul leaned into the candle, waiting for Lasseter’s answer.
“You’re staying behind, Paul. Perhaps you can help save Homo Sapiens from extinction.”
“If Akira and the baby are so important to you, why don’t you take Akira and leave now? Why are you hanging around?”
“Ah!” Lasseter slammed his palms on the table, slapping the wood hard. The candle flickered, the noise of flesh hitting wood almost woke Billy-Bob, who groaned and turned sideways on the couch, pulling the covers over his head.
Akira tensed, flinched at the sudden noise.
“There’s always a fly in the ointment,” Lasseter’s voice raised an octave. “There’s always a conundrum. There’s always some damn catch 22 no matter what. It’s like the Universe doesn’t want to make shit easy for me. Why do I have to work so hard for everything?” His eyes rolled toward the ceiling.
“What’s the catch,” Paul asked, holding his breath.
“You. You’re the catch.”
“What do you mean?”
“These nanites of yours. You have the ability to control minds. The government is looking for you. The government is looking for us.”
“Doesn’t that give you more reason to leave now?”
“I can’t leave now! I can’t!” Lasseter slammed his precious flask.
“Why not?” Paul lowered his voice so Billy-Bob wouldn’t hear.
“Because when they came hunting for you—Akira’s defensive algorithms kicked in; by protecting herself and the baby she’s now a cop-killer and they won’t stop until they find her.”
“Then leave!” Paul stared across the table, his voice hissing.
“I can’t leave!”
“Why?” Paul demanded.
“The portal will receive three of us, and three only. Any more, any less, and the portal won’t work!”
“So that means…”
“That means we’re stuck protecting you until the baby is born!”
Akira leaned forward, pushed Lasseter’s hands off the table, and blew out the candle.