I was sitting at a table with the same woman from my last dream, and two other avatars of indefinite species. It can't have been more than half a year since before, but oh, how things were changing. Non-human avatars had come into vogue, and the streets were full of them, every mix of gender and species one could imagine.

Still, they were the same inane minds, all too accurate replicas of their long decayed human predecessors. I had once looked forward to a future amidst advanced beings, but these were the same bozos I went to college with. I almost felt more at home with the tincs, who were largely descended from my own brain templates. But they were half-wits, literally.

Things were changing. The elders, or their children, or whoever or whatever they had left in their place, were beginning to offer mental upgrades to anyone who wanted them. Small things at first, but I recognized the path as one I would take on the way to godhood.

It was an issue of much discussion whether or not to take upgrades. The long-ago choice to move from body to avatar was relatively easy because it was designed to preserve the sense of self as perfectly as possible. Not to mention the body was going to die anyway, so the alternatives were pretty poor. This new option was not so clear.

On one hand, a relatively small change compared to the change from wetware to hardware, but on the other, that was only a change in substrate, form not function, whereas this was a structural change--a tweak to one's very identity as a mental being.

Some were opting in, others out. As resources permitted, some were cloning so they could try both paths. But most people didn't like the idea of cloning, equating it perhaps to competition over their identity. Still, it was early in this experiment, not at all evident where it would lead.

The other hot topic of discussion was the sanctuary, a refuge for the remaining humans, to keep them safe and happy and away from a world rapidly becoming inhospitable to them. Everyone was calling it "Alex's Sanctuary" for which I was receiving countless kudos and back pats. I had perhaps been the first to suggest it, but it had taken on a life of its own now. It was a project for a society that had not had one in centuries. The new royalty had found their philanthropy and I was its figurehead. There was even talk of installing a ground-zero replica of me near the observation deck, where the historic event that started it all could be recreated over and over so googly-eyed avatars could meet the founder himself, father of the elders, in the "flesh". Never mind that they were just going to find little ol' me, probably rather confused and terrified to boot. Never mind that in an accurate recreation, I would have to die on the table, which wouldn't make for a very interesting meeting. They wanted a celebrity, and if it took a little imagination to create one, so be it.

Still, I didn't much like the idea of being stuck in a loop. Not that I'd know the difference, but the idea of it just didn't sit well. I would have to see about hacking in to whatever back door they were going to install to trigger the reset. Worst case, I could set up a brute-force attack on the key. It might take a while, but a man with no memory is infinitely patient.

The woman across from me--I still don't know her name as it never crossed my mind in the dream--was pregnant. She smelled pregnant. I recalled at first not identifying the smell, having never smelled it before; as a human I lacked the (conscious) ability and as an avatar I had never run into a pregnant woman before. But her home picked it up soon after that and informed her who then informed me with an excited, "We're pregnant!"

I felt a twinge of surprise that she'd been sleeping with some man I didn't know about. The resistant strain is tenacious! But she authorized Central to confirm that she hadn't, in fact, slept with anyone but me since we met.

With her permission again, I had the genes traced. They weren't mine (of course). The father was another human on the other side of the city. According to Central, they'd never been within a mile of each other. I called his mate, an avatar named Mila. As I suspected, she'd received a series of unexpected maintenance visits not long before the same happened to me. A few more calls verified the same for all the avatars I could find with human companions.

It was a convoluted strategy, but it would work. I could guess what they were up to. Some of us, probably those of us with human partners, would have to move into the sanctuary for a few generations, to act as gene filters. Modern humans were already a stellar lot, having had to compete favorably against avatars in order to breed, but still there were genes in the pool that could cause problems eventually--psychological attributes, health issues, and most importantly meta-evolutionary mechanisms. The only practical goal here is to attain equilibrium, the same sort the avatars had enjoyed for so long. The elders and their kin knew by now exactly what components of the mind made this possible, and they knew exactly how the genes shaped the mind, so the initial filtering should be easy. But locking it down so it didn't drift over time? Could they do that?

It would work, but what was the point? To place the human race into eternal equilibrium, is that any different than placing them into stasis? Was this, perhaps, the true final blow, to gather up the resistant strain and cap them in a bottle like a vial of smallpox on some laboratory shelf?

I didn't like the idea, but I saw no better alternative. Perhaps some day one would arise. But if one did, would anyone notice or care?

I'd have to think about this more.

I reached my hand across the table and met hers. Her fingers wrapped warmly around mine and she smiled.

And then I woke up.

I rolled over in bed, snuggled up against Laura. I now had an answer to something I'd been wondering about for days.

Laura is pregnant.

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