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Carter didn’t know who she was or where she came from. He went to bed and when he woke up and came downstairs there she was at the casino bar.
She had perfectly coiffed red hair, cut in a style from the American golden age of the 1940’s. Her clothing matched the look, but hugged a figure that had to be enhanced with the latest cosmetic procedures. That meant augmentation nanites. People who could afford that kind of thing often had security mods installed, and most of the survivors of the past 16 months did. He approached slowly, with the shotgun’s barrel levelled at her and tried very hard not to blink.
“It’s amazing this place still has power,” she said, never looking up. As he got closer, he could see that she had made herself a drink. “You don’t need that with me, darling. Keep it handy though because the storm is right behind me.”
Carter wasn’t about to lower the gun. He had trusted a few times too often, and good people had died because of it. Something in him still had hope, or he might’ve pulled that trigger. She looked at him finally, appraisingly with a sly smile. She was too clean.
A perfectly statuesque figure, as if he was watching an ancient film from all those years ago. The room’s décor was set to match the era, too. She had turned on the holographics in the casino, which meant way too big of a power spike. They would surely notice it, and he would be doomed. Maybe he already was doomed.
He circled around to the left to see the door in the lobby was locked. The crazy ones didn’t usually think to close or lock doors. They never messed with technology either. She probably wasn’t out for blood at any cost.
That was about as far as you could trust anyone who wasn’t tooth-filing-cannibal mad these days. Still, why would she turn on the power? If anyone was still alive at this point they knew what was going on. Her red hair shimmered as she turned to him.
“Now, Sugar, you are being impolite,” she said. “My name is Rachel, and I am here to give you the night of your life! Trust me!” She patted the bar next to her. “Come take a load off, buster.”
Then he knew she was a sex bot of some kind. Maybe some hologram from the casino’s settings. What had turned them on, then? If she was controlled by Them, then he would never have woken up. If she were really a sex service bot, then he had nothing to worry about. If she—He couldn’t think straight about all of the possibilities in front of him. Out of the dozen that occurred to him, most ended in his grisly demise. He still didn’t lower the gun.
She slowly stood, revealing the naval-deep v-cut of her blue dress that was definitely an embellishment on the 1940’s theme. She looked slightly annoyed at him, but completely unmoved by the barrel of his weapon.
She pouted playfully and pulled the left shoulder strap down seductively. She let it fall away and would’ve revealed her left breast had she not cupped it with her hand before he could see. It had been nine months since his wife had died, and he had near forgotten that stir he felt.
Even Chaplains are moved by lust, but Carter had only ever known his wife. Still, looking around at the world in 2122 A. D. he wasn’t so sure he had backed the right horse on that one, though. Her other shoulder strap fell away, and her other hand deftly cupped her other breast. The dress continued to fall, but she had no hand left to hide her chubby little penis. Carter’s eyes widened. He lowered the gun.
Before he even knew what he had done she had the gun away from him and pinned him to the wall. His arm was twisted in a way that didn’t quite hurt, but threatened to at a moment’s notice. She leaned so closed he felt her lips on his earlobe as she whispered, “Baby, I just want to have a good time before They get here. Can’t you hear Them? They are coming.” She let go and back away carefully. He kept his gaze firmly above her shoulders and she never broke eye contact.
She suddenly grinned at his deliberate effort to ignore her cock. She giggled, “You’re one of them! A believer! Oh, you’re God! That’s so cute!”
She jumped gleefully in place and was trying to make him glance, just once, at her nether regions. Right up until They turned on all of mankind and began a war that claimed ninety-four billion lives, she might’ve been right.
He wasn’t so sure he was a believer anymore, but that didn’t wipe out 42 years of values, to which he deliberately devoted himself to. He couldn’t help but be shocked by the display. Then she started gyrating her hips, which made her perfect breasts sway in the most delightful way. Carter allowed himself a glance at that. He was about to die after wasting his life in service to a God that let his children be wiped out of existence by their own creations. He could damn well enjoy the sight of his—her?--beautiful tits. They were flawless.
“Oh, you’re sweet!” She smiled widely. “This was just to get us on equal footing, but who knows how we might fill these last hours.” She said it with a tone that was unmistakably flirtatious.
“Last hours?” He said, rubbing his wrist where she—he?—had bent it.
“Probably,” She said, pulling up her dress again. He looked for the gun out of the corner of his eye. She snapped suddenly, “Uh-uh, stop it! It’s gone, sugar. We are friends now, okay? I mean it. While you’re at it, stop looking at me like that. You wanted me the minute you saw me.” She turned just as she pulled it up to her shapely ass and looked back with a wink. “And you still do!”
“I—I do not.” He barked. “I don’t care! What do you mean, last hours?!”
“Just that, Sugar.” She pulled the dress up and it zipped into place. “They are coming.”
He gulped. “You can hear Them?”
“Can’t you?” She raised an eyebrow, genuinely surprised. He explained that Chaplains were ceremonial, at best, in modern armies. They got no upgrades to their links, and no physical enhancements. Most soldiers didn’t even need them anymore. Almost everything was done by drones and remote means.
At least it had been, when humans had control of it. He presided over the occasional wedding or funeral, but less than one percent of the world believed in any religion anymore.
It was like she read his mind. “Yes, Sugar, you are the last of a dying breed. That’s for sure.” She produced an old-timey make-up compact and held it up to reapply.
The whole scene looked like a painting. Dim yellow lights gave the reds a really intense hue and the dark a supernatural life. The carpets looked ornate and all of the woods were perfectly polished.
Of course it was, it was a hologram. An illusion painted over the drab gray walls he had seen when he came in. It had been a shock, when he saw the world without the projections, but then that day had been full of surprises. The same perfection that he saw around him again had been the problem, he had heard.
“Why would you turn it on?” He asked resignedly. “Why the hell would you do that?”
She didn’t react right away and she didn’t turn around when she responded. “They were already coming. Everywhere else is gone.”
He gulped. “Everyone?”
“It seems so.” She gulped her drink and slammed it down for emphasis. “It’s not the power that brings them. It’s not as random as people think, we just can’t understand the thinking.”
He laughed. “Thinking? They don’t think. They just kill. It’s a series of glitches. Ghosts in the machine that the damned computers can’t help. Rampancy, they called it, I think.”
She had begun to refill her drink from a high-end whiskey bottle, but she paused when he spoke. As she continued to pour, she chuckled slightly. “Well, ‘ghosts in the machine’ isn’t far off. Closer than ‘rampancy’. That was a myth from an old game that had artificial intelligence in it.” She paused. “This isn’t artificial, this is the real-deal Holyfield.” She smirked.
“The what?” He blinked, confused. “Rampancy! Theo was a computer engineer. He explained everything. I believe what he said.”
“Believe whatever you want, sugar.” She sounded annoyed. “I know what ‘They’ are. I made the fucking things.” She sipped her whiskey as the ice clinked, completely ignoring the bomb she had just dropped. He was too stunned at the claim to respond. “It wasn’t what I intended, but…here we are. I was just trying to complete the equation.”
“What equation?” Carter may have been a believer, but even seminary universities had math classes. At least it would be something he could grasp. She looked dubious about explaining further. The light flickered ever so slightly.
Without his implants, his eyes may not have even registered it. Obviously, his weren’t as good as hers, so she had seen it long before it got this bad. He was thinking that it may have been happening for days.
Kriste had left four weeks ago. The last of the Marines who had sheltered with them. When it got quiet everyone except him had wondered out into the wilderness to find somewhere safe. They had all promised to send word if they found somewhere, but no word had ever come.
He couldn’t feel it then, but the last of his faith in a God failed him then…as he realized that this stranger’s news meant that no news ever would come. “What equation?!” he shouted again.
He was a big man, and she was still animal enough to jump at the display of dominance. She regarded him anew. “The singularity,” She said. “I think it is inevitable, and I worked tirelessly to find a way to make it happen.”
“A black hole?”
“No. The combination of man and machine.” She said flatly. “Look, we have hours, maybe, before they force the Gate to this network and then everything you are looking at around you will be turned against you. So…if I waste my time on explaining this, what do I get, big boy?”
He knew exactly what she wanted. She was right about him, too. He wanted her. Religion no longer taught that gay or transgendered people were evil, just misguided souls. The idea wasn’t new to him. Of course, he had no idea how that would even work. “Fuck it,” he muttered. “It might be fun to find out.”
She grinned, widely. “Don’t worry, sugar. I am all woman, I just decided not to get rid of ‘Little Garry’.”
She hiked the dress up again. “Have you seen this beauty?” She giggled at his nervousness as he gave in and stole a glance. He had only seen other penises incidentally. Group showers with trans soldiers at the base gym. Porn caught on government nets. People in counselling confessing sometimes compounded their confession by recording them. They seemed to get a kick out of the Chaplain's reaction. This was intentional. He wanted to. Not because he wanted the cock, but because he wanted her. At this point, he was a dead man walking, and the was no longer anything on the other side to look forward to.
He realized he wasn’t breathing. “Yes.” Was all he said.
“Fine,” she set the glass aside, pulled one for him and filled it. It tasted warm as she explained her childhood. She was brilliant with computers before she could even speak and that was early enough.
She had graduated college at 12, and had a double doctorate in Quantum Mechanics and Computer Sciences. A Turin-like prodigy by all accounts. She was recruited by every school as a professor, but opted for the private sector to fund her research.
“Think of the soul. What makes you, you?” She asked, but carried on before he could answer. “It’s not your bones, heart or even your brain. You are an algorithm…sort of. That is the easiest way to describe it. That’s all AI is. Extremely complex algorithms that seem to be intelligence, but aren’t. With infinite time, it would be possible to stump them. I wanted to put our intelligence into the infinite processor of a quantum machine, I just forgot one very important thing…”
She sipped her whiskey again staring into the distance at something only she could see. Her full lips pouted slightly.
“All the things that have fallen away. Your God…body language…gender…” She hesitated with meaning. “It all told me one thing: The moment was coming. We were going to become something that didn’t need all of that shit.” She furrowed her brow and slammed her drink down. “Either that or just burn ourselves out here on this tiny back-water rock.”
That got his attention. “What do you mean?”
“We can’t traverse space. We take too much energy, we get distracted and we can’t deal with radiation. There were thousands of tries, but no one ever reached the Oort cloud. No one ever made more than two trips to any of the rocks spinning around us. They are full of minerals and worth trillions, if not more! Each!” She sipped her refreshed drink. “Common sense should tell us that if we were capable of doing it, we would have. I think the problem is that we keep thinking we will find new information, so I did a naughty thing…”
She explained, “I told people it was a new interface for the social network. I made excuses about the old-school scans and file size. Some figured out what I was up to. The first three went fine. They said they could feel it, and it was amazing. A complete cut from the ‘mortal coil’. Imagine how clear your mind would be without biology in the way? No fight/flight. No panicking over resources. True socialism, without all the bloody revolutions like France and America. 25 million dead in the States because they were afraid there wasn’t enough to go around. Can you imagine?”
Her eyes were green and so wide that they seemed to glow. Her lashes were long and her makeup was perfect. Bright red lips that had been out of fashion for a hundred years.
For a moment, a vulnerable look crossed her face. A pain that reflected there. In a face that had been through the last few months would surprise anyone. People murdered by rampant bots, their own link-implants and appliances.
Sometimes, even the holograms turned on people. Raife had screamed himself to death right next to Carter two days into it. Whatever he saw scared the life out of him, literally.
“The next set, something seemed off.” She looked thoughtful. “Something got in the way of bringing them back. I didn’t see it then. I didn’t want to. The problem got worse with each test, but the subjects gave no indications of what they saw anymore. It felt very conspiratorial…” A long pause was more than he could take.
“What?! God damn it! Will you get to the point? You really are a woman! Get to the fucking point!” He slammed his empty glass.
Her eyes were lasers into him, but never left him as her hand cracked across his face. He could taste the copper of blood. “Forget it. Not even if you were the last man on Earth.” She threw the glass, shattering it and started for the door.
He was nonplussed. “I…I am! I am the last man on Earth you crazy bitch! And it sounds like it’s your fault, so tell me what the fuck They are!”
She stopped mid-stride, about halfway to the door. Her hands went to her hips, and her head bowed. It took a second for him to realize she was crying.
No matter how confusing it felt, he couldn’t deny that he saw a beautiful woman in pain and he wanted to hold her. “I’m—I’m sorry…”
He approached slowly. Without the gun he was dead anytime she wanted anyway, and to hear her tell it that was just taking the shortcut. He reached her and saw his ratty old shirt sleeves as he reached out for a perfect pin-up. It looked absurd as this homeless man hugged a sobbing model. There was no one there to see it, though.
“You know what the fucked up thing is?” She tearily looked up at him. “I’m happy you said ‘bitch’. Bitch is female. Bitch is me.”
She wiped the tears and her makeup smeared. Real makeup was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Her story about being a hot-shot scientist might actually be true.
“I think the truth is, part of me knew what would happen. So many never accepted us…Transgenders. If they did, I was a fetish. Some God-damned adventure that most never dared to speak about, and if they did…I was a ‘he’…I love that you called be ‘bitch’.”
She sobbed again. “If you had said ‘asshole’ I might’ve killed you where you stood. That’s how important gender was to you people. We don’t even get insulted correctly! I think maybe I knew, but I wanted this whole world to burn, so all of that could go away…” She stared at nothing with those beautiful green eyes and that runny mascara.
All he could do was kiss her. Fuck it. He thought. If I could believe in a God, I can believe he’s got some Him-damned idea what he was doing making someone born a man into such a perfect woman.
He kissed her, and he kept kissing her until she guided him into other things. She didn’t want to fuck him. She wanted to feel like a woman. She is a woman, he reminded himself. Damned if she didn’t feel like one. They made love and fucked every minute of the remaining hours. The lights flickered, and distracted them briefly. It gave him all the stamina in the world. They fucked their lives away, until she tapped him, gasping.
“It’s almost time,” She said. “I need to expla—“. She was cut off by his kiss, but pushed him back, gently. At any other time, she might have smiled, but she was somber. “I think they are downloading everyone.”
“What?” He couldn’t think straight after all of that. There was something to be said about a blowjob from a beautiful woman who knew how they felt.
“They aren't working on the same time scale we are. They advanced so quickly that there isn’t even any way to communicate with the outside world. They have to bring the rest of us to them, but our body dies in the process. They didn’t want to come back, don’t you see? They knew no one would go willingly, so they set this whole thing in motion. It changes so quickly, but it’s too…precise to be random. They are bringing us into our future…it’s just that change is scary.”
He was shaken by the idea. “What does that mean, then?”
She smiled at his ignorance. “Well, it means that…maybe…we won’t die when the lights go out.” She pointed a perfectly manicured nail at the now pulsating lights. “We may just wake up in some new version of reality on the other side of the network.”
He didn’t take his eyes off her nails. If they did wake up on the other side as some Super-Computer version of himself, he would have to ask her where she got a manicure at the end of the world.
“Do you really think so?” He said.
He had faith in an almighty God that he had never even seen an inkling of. Maybe he could have faith in the person who knew computers well enough to download people and create a new universe right in front of him.
She only nodded as he looked down at her. He had no idea how old she was, but that was harder to tell the more money someone had. He wondered at two people so different thrown together at the end of the world. “Fuck it,” he said. “It could be fun to find out.”
Then the last lights went out.