Wow, these pages are actually dusty. I guess it's been a while since I've written. But it's been good to be away from this, away from the past for a while and living here in the present. This will most likely be my last entry.

The dreams stopped. Just like that. I remember that morning, the day after my last entry, waking up and realizing I had dreamt a normal dream, a dream set in some nebulous near future rather than in some distant past. It was one of those soft and fuzzy dreams with shimmering dew drops and pretty girls and fun and frolic.

I reached for my journal out of habit, but only held it and stared at it for a while. What is this? What was this? A fracture in time, a train ride through purgatory, a glimpse of a million alternatives to the reality that is here and now. But here is where I got off, the door I stepped through, my station.

My station, the very me that is here, now, not some other me that I am not. And so I put this archive of netherworlds on a shelf and forgot about it.

For almost two years.

But the universe does not stop for lack of witnesses. (If a tree falls in the forest and kills the only person who heard it falling, did it make a noise?) For all of my ignoring the world beyond the boundary, today that world came to us. We have an out of town guest.

This morning I was surprised to open the door to find Creature Thing sleeping at my doorstep--occupying most of the street, to be sure, but curled up on my welcome mat by all intent.

It was early, and people were only just starting to gather at the spectacle.

I said an ethereal, "Yo."

It reanimated with a start, looked me up and down, and seemed quite pleased to see me again. I too was pleased to see it, though not without some trepidation.

It wanted me to come with it. I just knew this; we needed no words. I agreed with a sigh, told Laura to mind the boy and don't wait up for me if I'm not back by bedtime. For all of my pretending this happy valley is the whole of reality, I know we are but a tiny encampment at the base of a giant dam that some day will spring a leak and probably soon after burst, and that will be the end of it. But, as the man who jumped off the skyscraper said as he passed his hundredth floor, "So far so good!"

It's lasted this long; no reason to think it won't last a while more. Right? Still, I was quite uneasy with curiosity the whole way to Creature Thing's lair, though I must say it was a fun ride.

We arrived, my hair plastered straight back and knotted from the wind. I jumped down before Creature Thing might absent-mindedly chuck me in a recycling hopper.

"Okay, now what?" I asked.

It just went back to its corner and dropped for a nap. I re-familiarized myself with the place, but not surprisingly it hadn't changed one bit. Since waiting seemed to be the order for the day, I impatiently fast-forwarded through time looking for the good bits.

I felt it coming, another mind entering range. A neo-human mind, I could tell. Time slowed and it zoomed toward me.

It was a very strange sensation. It seemed so familiar, this mind. I thought for sure in a moment I would meet myself, but the transport doors snapped open and there before me stood Nari, the spitting image of how I last remembered him.

I stood speechless, but he seemed completely unfazed and raised his hands in welcoming glee as he marched up to me.

"Alex!" he said. "We meet again again!"

He looked around the room and said, "My god, how long have you been in this box?"

"What?" I said, confused in six different ways for a moment. "No, no, I don't live here, I--" I wasn't sure where to begin.

"Well, no matter," he said. "We'll get you properly outfitted in a jiffy."

"Huh?" I was now confused in seven or eight different ways.

"Wow, you look great," he said, surveying me like a piece of art. "The last time I found you in bipedal form, you were buried up to your neck in regolith riding a small comet, radiation riddled brain, babbling something about space ducks."

He noted my expression and quickly moved to reassure me, "Oh, we fixed you up fine! Don't worry. I dropped you off at Leema Seven."

For a moment he looked at me quite seriously, and I felt a gust of ethereal wind pass through my mind.

"Wow," he said, more cautiously now, "you're just a kid."

Suddenly he spun around and looked at Creature Thing, now perked up from his nap.

"RRRoot!" Nari yelled, ran over and plastered himself against Creature Thing with a hug that looked more like an auto-crucifixion. Root's various appendages rallied with visible excitement in return.

"Wait a minute," Nari said as he turned to face me again. "Does this mean this is--?"

He ran toward me, then right on by. As he reached the iris it snapped open and revealed the open terrain with the city far off in the distance.

"No way! This is nuts." He turned to me. "Don't tell me there are still humans in there?"

I raised a brow, and he knew it was an affirmative. He looked back into the room, up and around, seemed to be seeking something ethereally and then to find it. A moment later he said, "Mother's had a lobotomy."

"Mother?" I asked, still a bit dumbfounded.

"Hmm," he said, looking at me askance, finally realizing I think how utterly clueless I was. "Mother watches over this place, keeps it running. Seems there's nothing left of her mind now though beyond basic metabolic regulation--food, climate, population control, that sort of thing. I was hoping she could tell me more. So how did you end up here?"

I pointed straight up, and he looked up the inside of the boundary wall, seemed to put two and two together, and literally fell over backward laughing. I walked up to him with a crooked smile, had to chuckle a little.

"You're the demo!" he managed to eke out amidst his laughter. Finally he regained composure. "You clever dog. I knew you weren't going to let them lock one of you up in an infinite loop. You must have dropped a cracker in somewhere during the construction. Probably been chipping away at your encryption for centuries."

Yeah, this made sense. It fit with what I remembered of my intentions toward the end.

"Could the same thing give me dreams?" I asked.

"Sure, if you set it up that way," he said, and then laughed again. "Yeah, sure! You sly fox. Break yourself free, then catch yourself up with a little first-person news archive."

He shook his head, bemused, and patted me on the back.

"After all of you I've known, you still surprise me. Come, let's go check this place out!"

With that, he leaned forward and fell flat on his face.

I helped him up, dusted him off.

"Um, right," he said. "We'll walk then. Clearly I've been a space ship for too long. I just fabbed this body to come see you, you know. Very nostalgic."

"Root," I said, "give us a lift?"

It did.

We walked through town, Nari audibly laughing with glee at each of the first dozen or so humans we passed, most of whom laughed in return, being friendly if a bit confused. We talked at length about many things, and it was good to be with someone from my own time again even if that was so very long ago for him.

"You're lucky one of me was near the solar system," he said at one point.

Apparently he clones himself regularly, whenever he can afford the dilution of funds, but has chosen always to keep a line going with his original mind (plus or minus a few minor sensory-motor adjustments necessary for interfacing with alternate bodies).

"If I feel too constrained in this mind," he said, "I clone myself and flip a coin and the winner gets to expand. So, I'm one of the highly improbable and yet guaranteed to exist N-time losers. I take my consolation in knowing that another me is out there doing the expanded mind thing, but it's still a mind-fuck to lose Every. Single. Coin toss."

He craned his neck way around as a mother with newborn baby walked past.

"Why does every baby I've seen today look like you?" he asked.

I switched the subject and asked him about the great robot land war that was brewing in my last recollections.

"... And then one day when almost every robot was deployed to one imminent battle or another, they all charged their enemy without warning--who were, of course, armies of robots charging right back. Nobody could figure out who gave the orders, but everyone assumed they must be right because the other side was charging too. They met on the fields, all around the world. But instead of fighting they spent a great deal of time shaking hands with each other and singing."


"Uh, yeah. We won't go there. Anyway, I'm sure the generals had all gone pale, realizing the threat to humanity, not to mention their jobs. They ordered air strikes, but of course by then they didn't have a single weapon or vehicle that didn't contain at least one critical component made by one of our sister companies. So they couldn't do a thing."

I grimaced. "It must have been a slaughter."

"Huh? Oh no, what do you take yourself for? Most of those robots were only a few revisions off from you--and I mean the mind, not the body. Those were fields full of Alex."

I grimaced again. "Singing?"

"Yeah...anyway, with the cat out of the bag, the armies dispersed into the communities of the various countries where they had been sent to fight and took up posts as volunteer security droids. Most of the world assumed this was the original intent, and lauded the governments for it, who of course had no choice but to smile and accept the credit and keep the droids well supplied with fuel and repairs while they contemplated their own predicament. I'm sure they concocted a hundred plans to take back control, to return us to the world of war and corruption upon which their jobs depended, but none ever came to pass. Soon avatars were moving in by droves and reshaping societies, limiting reproduction, and, well, you know the rest."

"So, we simply marketed the humans out of existence?"

"Yup. Well, you did. Most avatars were hardly more aware than the humans, just your own line or those the elders determined were trustworthy allies."

"How could they not have known? Someone somewhere must have done the math and seen it coming?"

"Sure, a few here and there got a hint of it. But who counts the heads, who consolidates the numbers, who propagates the news? In your time, how did you know anything about the world besides what came to you through the media, and maybe a little word of mouth? If someone got too close, we didn't hold them back, we just made sure World News picked up their story and ran it alongside their alien abduction stories. How many people are going to go out into the world and verify their own news? More to the point, how many people are going to care as long as their own needs and desires are met? It was genius, you dog, genius. The coldest cold war that ever was. A gentle evolution of the species. The immortal gene has given way to the immortal being."

Another woman with a child walked by, and smiled a big smile at us; perhaps me in particular.

Nari squinted at me. "Well, almost."

The human gene itself is a living entity, I realize, each life shed like a lizard's skin when it grows old and worn, each new birth a branch in a single living tree, a tapestry of gene fragments mixing and matching in symbiosis, working as one organism like ants in a colony.

Perhaps more like a fungus; it is, after all, a mindless machine. No, worse than mindless. It grows minds like flowers on a vine and then drops them dead to the earth when it's done with them.

The gene is a vile creature, isn't it?

I discussed it with Nari. We're going to pull the plug, put this beast to a merciful death. We'll adjust Mother to set the birth rate to zero (something she controls already with food additives) and like an animal in a CO2 chamber, it will quietly fall asleep and cease to be. It may whimper a bit, may even scream and cry, but in the end it will quietly, quietly die.

"Those are your kids, aren't they?" Nari asked.


"You sent them forward--your own genes--didn't you?"

"I assume so."

"You realize you've introduced wild, unfiltered genes into the carefully domesticated stock..."


"This may not be as easy as we think."

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