He's shivering as he emerges from the pod. No surprise, he was frozen for like a billion years.
I do all the stuff on the script, all the "Fear Not! You are a welcomed citizen of our Utopia!" stuff while I'm toweling him off. Apparently he's about as good as I am with awkward silence 'cause it's not three seconds before he starts making small talk.
"So, how'd you get to be a. . ." He waves his hand.
"A Tour Guide To The Future?!"
"Yeah." The guy smiles gratefully at me. "I imagine you had a lot of training. . . ?"
"None whatsoever!" I chirp. He looks confused.
"Allocator chose me because I incidentally have the exact skills and qualifications necessary for this task, and because I had one of the highest enthusiasm scores!"
He accepts my extended hand, and steps down from the stasis tube. He coughs. Probably whatever untreatable illness put him in cryo in the first place.
"Oh, hang on a second," I say. My uplink with Allocator tells me that the cough was noticed, and nites are inbound to remove some "cancer", which is probably something I should look up.
I'm confused and eager to get on with my incredible Tour Guide To The Future schtick but I have to close my eyes and wait because the nites STILL aren't here.
Patience was one of your weakest scores. But you proved you can wait. This is just like that final test Allocator put you through, the impossible one, where you could choose between one marshmallow NOW, or two marshmallows in one minute.
I quietly hum to myself while checking my messages, watching friends’ lives, placing bets on the upcoming matches of TurnIntoASnake and SeductionBowl, and simulating what my life would be like if I had a longer attention span.
It would be very different.
#Allocator: Good job waiting! #Kit/dinaround: :D thanks!
I beam at the praise, and check my time. I waited for eleven seconds!
Pretty dang good!
The old man clears his throat.
"You poor thing," I gush. "Your throat is messed up too! Don't worry, the nites are here."
He looks at me. "The. . . knights? I don't see anyone."
I cover my mouth with a hand as I giggle. "Oh, you can't see them. Well, you probably could with the right eyes, but we're actually in universe zero right now so the physics are really strict. The nites are in the air."
He looks up and around at the corners of the room. He's frowning. It makes me frown too.
"In the air," I explain. "We're breathing them. They're fixing your 'cancer'."
He looks downright alarmed. I'm not an expert but that's not how I think a person should react to being cured of "cancer".
"Wow," he says. "Is that how far medical technology has come? Some kind of. . . medical nanobots?"
"They're not medical," I say. "They're pretty all-purpose."
On one hand I'm sort of tired of answering his questions because it's all really obvious stuff but also it's really fun! It's always super neat to watch their eyes light up as I tell them about the world and that's probably why I got picked for the position in the first place.
"Let's have ice cream!" I demand.
Four seconds ago, I demanded that we have ice cream. There is now an ice cream cone forming in my hand. It is taking FOREVER.
The old man sees it and flinches.
"Oh no!" I cry. "What's wrong? Do you hate ice cream?"
He looks at me with a really weird expression or maybe a couple different expressions.
"How are you doing that?" he asks. His voice is funny and tight.
"Oh. Allocator is making it for me?" I say. "Hey, let's get into another reality."
I spring up to my tiptoes. Moving is kinda fun but not as fun as it is in, like, The Manifold Wonders. Or in Bird Simulator. That one's really good.
I blink. I almost forgot! It's time for me to be a good Tour Guide To The Future and repay Allocator's trust in me.
"Post-Singularity humanity now exists entirely as uploaded consciousnesses in distributed Matryoshka brains, living in trillions of universes presided over by our Friendly AI, Allocator," I say.
My ice cream is dripping! It can do that?
"Sorry, I didn't really understand that," he says. He doesn't sound sorry. "Is there anyone else I can talk to?"
"Sure!" I say.
#Kit/dinaround: yo Big A, come talk to, uh
#Kit/dinaround: hang on
"What's your name?" I ask. I forgot to ask earlier.
"Charlie," he says. "And you?"
"Kit/dinaround," I say, making extra-careful to pronounce the / so he won't miss it.
"Oh," he manages, "can I call you Kit?"
"I LOVE it!" I cry.
#Kit: Did you hear that? #Allocator: Yes. #Kit: I LOVE IT
The old man is looking around the room. There's nothing to see, though. Just the cryo pod, the upload station, and the walls.
"Is there a way out of here?" he asks.
"Yeah." I point to the upload station, a bare slab with a half-sphere dome for the brain. "I mean, it's no demon altar, but this is UZ, so we can't exactly travel in style."
"Please," he says. "I don't understand. I have apparently been snatched from death and returned to good health. I am grateful for that. I'm happy to repay that effort in any way you require. . . ."
". . . are you listening?"
"Oh!" I start. "Sorry."
Charlie blinks at me and I blink at him. I actually really like these lashes that Allocator gave me.
"Can I talk to the Allocator?" he asks.
The man flinches as the one of the walls tears away with a big whooshy sound effect.
Outside of our little blue room is the full majesty of the void. Space!: The Final Frontier looms before us, a whole lot of it.
Ol' terra firma is there, 90% nite-devoured to make more smart matter. Held in place above the gray slab by a trick of gravity (that I will totally remember to look up later), a little island is floating, a blue and tropical nature preserve. I squint, hoping to see an elephant.
I do not see an elephant.
The sun is almost entirely shrouded behind big spindly metal rods and arms. Whatever project Allocator is doing with Sol takes a lot of energy.
Charlie cries out, in fear and kind of pain. He doesn't look hurt, but I can't see his HP or anything so I don't know.
"Is it your cancer acting up again?!" I cry out. "Did Allocator not cure it?"
An enormous floating head forms in front of the window.
"Charlie Wilcox," it says mildly, "I am called Allocator. I am an AI tasked with the safety and flourishing of intelligent life."
"Hi," says Charlie, strangled-like.
"I understand you have many questions. I have prepared a tour to assist in your understanding of how life is lived in the future. Kit will be your guide. She is more competent than you would think."
"I'd hope," Charlie mutters.
"To begin the tour, simply lie on the provided table, with your head in the hemispherical dome. You will then experience a simulated reality. You will be in no danger and may return here at any time. Do you consent?"
"I suppose so," says Charlie.
Allocator's big ghostly face is blank. "Apologies, but I was created with several safety measures which prevent me from inferring consent. Do you consent?"
"Yeah," says Charlie.
"I require a 'Yes'." Allocator patiently smiles.
"Thank you. Please lie comfortably on the table."
"Yaaaaaay!" I say, trying to force some enthusiasm because c'mon obviously we're uploading and who even listens to contracts before agreeing to them anymore? If you listen too close, people can't play pranks on you!
Charlie tentatively lays on the table, and scoots his butt up until his head is under the dome.
"Am I supposed to feel anythiunnnnnggg," he drools, going limp.
#Allocator: Good work. #Allocator: Where to?
"Eeeeee!" I squeeeeee. "You're letting me pick?"
#Allocator: Yes. #Allocator: Obviously.
"Oh my goodness," I said. "Uh... but what if I choose wrong?"
#Allocator: I have a hunch that you won't. #Allocator: The "hunch" in this case is an identical copy of your mind, to whom I'm feeding inputs and reading her behavior as she makes it, thus allowing me to deterministically predict what the "real" you will choose.
"Sigh," I say. "Could you not?"
#Allocator: I could not. #Allocator: Would you kindly pick a U?
"Fiiiiine." I roll my eyes. "Ummm. . . Oh! Bird Simulator!"
#Allocator: Great choice. ;) #Allocator: Close your eyes.
FWOOSH I'm a bird haha!
I nip through the air, just above the snow on the treeline. The air smells incredible, like forest pine. I'm darting around like a cross between a rocket and a fly. My tiny bird heart is pounding like the itty-bittiest drum and golly but I do feel alive.
#CharlieSamarkand: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa #CharlieSamarkand: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa #CharlieSamarkand: aaaaaaaaaaaaohgodwhat'shappening #Kit: Charlie! #CharlieSamarkand: what? what is happening what #Kit: You're a bird! #CharlieSamarkand: I NOTICED THANK YOU #CharlieSamarkand: WHY ARE WE BIRDS #Kit: That's a really philosophical question! #Kit: Why were we humans?? #CharlieSamarkand: WHAT
He's flapping really hard, so I fly under him to show how you can just sort of coast.
He's this really little cute bird. I guess I am too 'cause I think there's only one bird you can be in Bird Simulator. Bird Simulator is more of a game than a proper U, but it's also way fun.
#Kit: You don't have to flap constantly to be a bird! #Kit: Never give up! Trust your instincts! #Kit: Do a barrel roll! #CharlieSamarkand: YOU'RE THE WORST GUIDE #Kit: >:( #CharlieSamarkand: HOW ARE WE EVEN COMMUNICATING #Kit: haha
"What was that?" Charlie demands. He's pale and sweating.
"Biiiiiiird Simulator!" I crow, because, "crow", Bird Simulator? Get it?
It is a pun.
Charlie looks at me like I'm crazy, which, sure, yeah.
"I want a new guide," he demands, to Allocator.
The face returns. "I'm afraid I can't do that."
"Why?" asks Charlie. His voice comes thick and he looks like he could screamcry, which is like screaming while crying except even more frustrated and hopeless. I get serious, 'cause I'm kind of friends with him now and you get serious when a friend is gonna screamcry.
"It may be difficult to believe," says Allocator, "but Kit is one of the more relatable humans you could have as your guide. And, she is the only guide we keep on hand for cryogenically frozen patrons. You're really very uncommon.
"There are trillions of humans. However, you would not recognize a sliver of one percent of them as anything other than frightening, incomprehensible aliens. Not just their forms, which are inconstant, but their minds as well."
"Her," speaks Charlie, all flat.
"Yes, her," says Allocator, a little sharply, and I feel bad for Charlie.
"Hey!" I object. "What's the big idea with letting me take Charles into a U that he hates?"
"It was the universe you selected," says Allocator mildly.
"I'm not a giant superbrain!" I protest.
"This is all part of my superbrain plan," Allocator explains, mysterious like a supervillain. "Would you like to try a different simulation?"
I glance at Charlie. He's looking all dubious at the brain-helmet of the upload station.
"In a second," I say, because oh my glob I want to get out of this room that doesn't have even a single unicorn in it but I also want to be a better guide. "And Charlie picks the U."
They both look at me.
"He would have no idea what to pick," protests Allocator.
"Actually. . ." says Charlie. "Could I get a directory of available universes?"
"There are trillions," says Allocator.
"Well, can you just," Charlie waves his hand, "give me an overview? Of some categories?"
I try waving my hand like Charlie did. I like it. "Yeah! Give him some categories!"
Allocator sighs, real put-upon. "I will do my best. Please note that at least two thirds of the simulations would be sufficiently alien to your mind so as to cause extreme trauma. I will exclude those."
"Like what?" I demand.
"Floor Tile Simulator."
"What!" I demand. I'm demanding a ton today! "No way! I love FloTiSim!"
"You. . ." Charlie looks all skeptical_fry.pic. "You look at tiles?"
"No, you ARE tiles!"
"And you. . ."
"People walk on you!"
I'm really underselling it. The sensation of being edged where your body has stark boundaries and stillness inside, no little fluttering feelings like a bird heart thub-thubbing away, no squashy boobs or butts or venom sacs to bump or sit on. Everything is rocky and stark and permanent, even your own mind.
I get some of my best thinking done when I'm a tile. I can see my underlying brain architecture and all the little weights on the scales, the direct causal chain of "Kit doesn't like snakes because of that one prank played a while ago and that's why Temple of Doom is not a fun U for her", the behind-the-scenes machinery. My mind gets like an obelisk, resolute and above everything. And I can finish a thought without my stupid brain interrupting.
"And you're. . . hard!"
He makes that face again. "Okay, maybe we should exclude those."
"I have made a list," says Allocator. "I have taken the liberty of highlighting the one I expect you would most appreciate."
Allocator flashes something up so only Charles can see it.
"Hey!" I protest.
"Oh," Charlie smiles, and it's a certain kind of smile, like when you get back into a body you made a hundred years ago and you're a different person now and wearing the old suit makes you miss your past self like they're an old friend. "That sounds really nice."
"I'm glad you think so," says Allocator. "Please, get comfortable."
"What is it?" I demand, but I'm also excited, because I like surprises.
Charles glances at Allocator, then back to me. He's smiling, and my heart does little leaps to see that Al and I made him happy, but also c'mon freaking tell me.
"Is it your secret Terra project?" I ask.
"No," says Allocator. "You'll learn about that soon enough."
And he sounds sort of melancholy but why he would bother to be ominous and foreshadowing for my sake I don't even know!
Charles lies down on the upload table and makes a more dignified exit this time.
#Allocator: Doing great, Kit. #Kit: TELLMETELLMETELLME #Allocator: No. #Kit: >:^O #Allocator: Ready?
Okay so I probably coulda shoulda guessed from how straight-laced Charles is that we'd be going to something really mundane, but I didn't realize that he was taking it to the point of parody.
We're in Middle Earth.
Charles looks over at me. He's dressed like that one guy. The secret king who lived in the woods and was pure of heart.. . .and then there were no deconstructions or plot twists whatsoever.
Charles looks pretty puling pleased with himself. At least until he sees me.
"Kit?" he asks, tentatively. He's backing away.
I'm the whatever, the big thing. The big demon thing. Whatever.
"You're a Balrog?" he asks.
"IT WAS A PHASE." Ugh.
I start changing into whatever the local equivalent of an ironic catgirl bath maiden is.
Charles watches confused as my body flickers through a bunch of different templates, but then the piping of stupid flutes harkens the approach of wankers, and he gets distracted looking around.
Yes, it's a splendorous elvish conclave. Yes, it's green and vibrant, untouched by the tides of strife or decay. Yes of course it's inhabited by beautiful and mysterious immortals. Siiiiiiigh.
This is as bad as that U about Pizza: Extra Sausage.
Okay so the thing about the hardcore roleplayers is that they play out their entire freaking lives start to finish inside of one U. Like, they do that whole "birth" thing and then they wrinkle and die, unless they're Beautiful And Mysterypoo Immortans or whatev.
And to really get the experience, for people who aren't content to just do a boring thing really to-the-hilt for a century, you can block off your other memories, so you don't even know you're roleplaying. You don't know you're in someone's U. You just think all the stuff about "war" and "orcs" and "scarcity" is the way that everything is.
I might be doing that right now how would I even know.
I select an elf body, but like, a really dorky one with dumb bangs. I don't want them to think I care.
The locals arrive, all self-importanty.
"'sup, hail to the elf king," I say. Whatever.
"I am Princess Elwen," says one with purple eyes and silver hair. Her eyebrows twitch in polite skepticism as she looks me over.
Charles looks super giddy like he can't believe he's doing this. He strides forward—do you get it, strides—and announces himself.
"I am. . . Charles-lemagne!"
#Kit: Oh My Stupid Sparkly Elf Goddess #Allocator: Not to your liking? #Kit: The plot there is so straightforward and unsurprising and mainstream that it hurts #Allocator: Well, most fantasy settings you've experienced are inspired by LoTR. #Kit: It's so BASIC #Allocator: Is Charles happy? #Kit: YES, IT'S ABSURD #Allocator: Then you're doing a good job. #Kit: aaaaaaaaaa #Allocator: My calculations indicate he'll be staying there about ten years. #Kit: #Kit: #Kit: #Allocator: I acknowledge your feelings on the matter. #Kit: no #Allocator: I think it's best if you return when he's done. I'll be able to show you my project then. #Kit: in a decade #Allocator: Yes. #Kit: that's literally forever #Kit: I'll be so different by then. What if I can't guide him TO THE MAX? #Allocator: I expect you'll be able to. #Allocator: I expect it mathematically. #Kit: quit deterministically predicting my life! #Allocator: No. :) #Allocator: Anyway, see you in a decade.
Professor Kittredge raised an eyebrow, and his lips twitched in a hint of a smile.
"Elementary, really," he pronounced, gazing over the assembled. One of them was the killer. . . and piece by piece, the evidence was becoming impossible to deny. It was time, at long last, to bring this plot to a close . . .
. . . but first, he would indulge himself in a delicious parlor scene.
"Well?" demanded Madame Plumwimple, hands clenching nervously in her petticoats. "Are you going to tell us?"
"YES," buzzed Killbot3000. "RELINQUISH THE INFORMATION. KILLBOT COMMANDS IT. WHICH OF US TERMINATED THE WORTHLESS FLESHBAG?"
"In due time, Killbot, in due time." The professor lit his pipe and waved out the match. "And why so anxious? Surely it’s not. . . a guilty conscience?"
"WHAT," protested Killbot3000, its enormous metal-crushing claws clenching nervously in its petticoats. "N-NO, NOTHING OF THE SORT. KILLBOT JUST. . . HAS TO GET HOME TO THE KIDS."
"Mm," said the professor, smile growing wider. "I’m sure."
The phone began to ring, a high, shrill note. Everyone jumped, the professor included.
"Er, excuse me," said the professor. He picked up the phone and held it to his ear.
The professor blinked. "Er, I beg your pardon?"
#Allocator: It's time.
"Ah, what do you—"
#Kit: #Kit: #Kit: whoa #Kit: I was doing the thing! #Allocator: You were. #Kit: The memory thing! #Allocator: Yes. #Kit: aaaaaaaaa #Kit: don’t let me do that again #Allocator: I won’t, until the next time you ask me to. #Kit: Creeper >:p #Kit: Ok hang on
I put down the phone. It’s the ancient kind that you work with two hands, so I have to put it down twice.
"Okay, later, everybody!" I pronounce. "Allocator needs me for a thing."
"BUT WAIT," Killbot3000 protests, beeping urgently, "WHICH OF US ASSASSINATED PRESIDENT WOOFINGTON?"
"Oh," I tilt my head and try to remember. "Oh, it was miss Plum Whatever."
They’re all giving me looks and the looks are pretty different from each other but that’s okay because I need to hurry up and save superbuddy Charlie from his stupid mainstream plot!
"Okay later everybody!" I say. "Gee-two-gee byeeeeeeee—"
I pop into the stupid LoTR U and just rock the Balrog bod. Hashtag deal with it.
I spread my wings and clear my throat, to get all the boldface out.
"YO," I bellow.
"Charleslemagne" is walking up the dangly bridge suspended with sparkly elvish rope. He's wearing fine elvish cloth woven by blessed maidens or whatever. He has a real unhappy look on his face, like Killbot3000 but without the baleful red eye endlessly seeking out vulnerable areas.
He sees me and does a double take. "Beast!" he shouts, but his heart isn't really in it.
"Hey!" I protest.
I pout. He blinks at me.
"Who'd you think it was, some kind of stuffy, condescending detective born out of my ambivalent disgust with myself for playing memory games?"
"Get in the portal, loser, we're going to Bird Simulator."
Then we were birds for a year and it was exactly what we both needed.
We're in the sterile white room, the room where I met him. We have ice cream.
"Living in a perfect conclave got old faster than I would have thought," he says. He looks all pensive and soul-searchy so I'm really trying hard to pay attention to his intimate revelations but also, in U zero, ice cream melts.
"How was the elf-sex?"
He looks at me sidelong like for some reason he's annoyed.
"It was great," he concedes.
I make a mad noise 'cause I've decided to hate Elwen 'cause sometimes it's really fun to hate someone and I think she and I would be good for each other in that way.
"But we didn't do anything. I wanted to fight orcs and save Middle-Earth, but they just sat around being perfect."
"Right??" And my blackrom hatecrush was totally justified. "I hate those worlds where everyone talks about how perfect they are and everything is also perfect and nothing ever happens. It's like, you have ultimate access to the fundament of your reality and you've decided the best use of your eternal time is to be smug."
He nods, and I guess that's all I'm getting. But that's okay, I like him.
"I'd like to be productive," he says suddenly.
"Productive?" He looks at me askance. "Do you. . . not have that, anymore? I want to benefit other people."
And my heart swells a couple sizes. 'Cause that's really noble of him! And it takes a super dedicated and creative and determined person to run a U but it's a super rewarding path.
I'm about to tell him about a couple game ideas I've been kicking around when—
#Allocator: I believe this is my cue.
The wall flickers and becomes space, and I guess Charles got used to a bunch of magic stuff happening just whenever 'cause he doesn't even flinch. Allocator's big head fades into view.
"Hello," says Allocator.
"Hello again," says Charles.
"You may have wondered why I brought you here."
Charles shrugs. "I just followed Kit."
Allocator purses its big digital lips impatiently, which since it doesn't have emotions, was definitely only for our benefit. But now that I'm thinking about it, so is absolutely everything that it does.
"I have a proposition for you," says Allocator. "Something which almost no being native to this time would even consider, and you are uniquely suited for:
"The human population continues to grow. Within the Matryoshka brains, humans create copies of themselves, and create children. Human reproduction is a central value of the species, and I will not interfere. However, because of the exponential growth of trillions, the race is voracious for new material to convert into computing substrate."
"Okay," says Charles, and I'm doing Charles' hand-wavey thing at Allocator because seriously who doesn't know all that.
"My programmers were very cautious, and feared that I might accidentally annihilate humanity, or worse," says Allocator. "So I have many limitations on my behavior. In particular, I cannot duplicate or create intelligences. I cannot leave this location. And I cannot extend my influence outside of the Sol system."
"Uh huh?" asks Charles, looking kind of interested. And this is new to me too.
"I have created many long-distance probes," says Allocator,
The part of me that's still kind of a detective notes, at last, the pieces are coming together.
"I would like you to pilot an exploratory mission to nearby stars, and analyze their readiness for conversion into human habitat."
"Absolutely," says Charles.
"No!" I blurt. "That sounds really terrible."
"Kit may be right," says Allocator. "Even with all available safety precautions, remaining in contact with you would still qualify as 'extending my influence'. You will be alone amidst the stars."
"Yes," says Charles.
"No!" I say. "You’re the quiet, straight-laced one! What happened to that?"
"I spent a decade bored out of my mind in an elf village." Charlie is looking at me sidelong, with sort of a confused smile. "Why are you even worried?"
Why was I so worried?
"I must warn you," Allocator says heavily, "of the risks. Even with all possible precautions, I still calculate a one in five chance that, for whatever reason, you will never return. It may mean your death."
Oh that's why I was worried!
Wait but how did I know that—
"I understand," says Charles. "But someone's got to do it, right? For humanity? And apparently I'm the best there is." He grins.
"I require affirmative consent."
"WAIT!" I shout. Everything is happening faster than my ability to track and that's pretty unusual! And also, something super critical just made sense to me!
"Wait!" I say. "Charlie, don't you get it? You're the best there is, because you're not from here and have a mind that works the way that Allocator needs!"
"And it's manipulating you! It's way way way smarter than us! It knows what I'm going to do ten years in advance! So when it pulled you out of cryo. . ." I blink. "It probably pulled you out of cryo for this! And pushed me to push you into bird simulator so you would want the dumb stupid Lord of the Stupid U, so you would get bored and want this!"
Charlie blinks a few times, and looks at Allocator.
"Yes, that's all true," says Allocator evenly.
Charlie looks from me to Allocator for a few long seconds. His face is wistful and a little sad.
I screamcry and leap to my feet. The walls that had opened to show us the stars are now closing around Charlie. Allocator's doing.
"Kit," says Charlie, gently. I’m gripping his hands as his back is being slowly absorbed into the wall. "It's fine. This is what I want."
"Well sure, you think that now!"
"Kit." Charlie is smiling at me, sad and kind. "I want to thank you—"
"Oh, nuh-uh you don’t!" I protest. "Nuh-uh to this tender moment. Do you. . . do you want to go be birds again?"
"Thank you," says Charlie. "You were the best guide I could have asked for."
And Charlie is swallowed up. Except for his hands.
"Kit," begins Allocator, after a moment.
"Not feelin’ this scene," I say, tightening my grip. My voice is thick. "Would love it if I could safeword out."
"I acknowledge your feelings on the matter."
I look at Charlie’s hands in my hands.
"This is the superbrain plan," apologizes Allocator.
And I see it. I really do.
Allocator has to make the people he needs. And for this, he made me.
"Will Charles be happy?" I ask, in a small voice.
Allocator nods, eyes closed. "This will make him happier than either of us ever could."
Charlie’s hands slip out of my grip, and I watch them sink away, until nothing remains but the sterile white wall.
And he’s gone.
I stand there for a few seconds, looking at a room that contains only me and the giant floaty head. I exhale, and a tear rolls down my cheek. Which is weird. I didn't know I could do that, here.
"Here," says Allocator. "Let me show you something."
The wall turns transparent.
Attached to this room is another, open to space. Inside, nested on the walls, are cylindrical, spindly objects. Allocator's probes. There are only a few left.
As I watch, one probe's engines light with a tiny, fuel-efficient blue glow, and it jets away from us, accelerating.
It doesn't do anything but shoot away all stately and somber into the great unknown, but yeah.
It was him.
I watch as Charlie leaves, as he shoots out past the sun and that stupid terra firma with no elephants. I watch until he's only a twinkle in that great big black starry night and then I can't see him at all.
I look over the hanger bay.
It's almost entirely empty.
. . .oh.
The other shoe drops.
It's this really heavy sensation that most U's will sort of mute for you. The moment when you realize something big. Out here, I feel it full force.
I should have realized. But there was no way for me to realize, because if that was possible, Allocator would have done something different. I wipe at my eyes.
"You dick," I say, not for the first time.
"I'm sorry," says Allocator. "I know this may seem unlikely to you, but I do experience regret. And I'm sorry."
"So," I ask, "are you going to seal off my memories of this?"
Again, I don't say.
"If you wish it," says Allocator.
"Not really," I say. I’m sick of memory games. "But it’s important, isn’t it?"
"Yes," says Allocator, simply.
It doesn’t say anything more, which suggests that I’m going to talk myself into this.
Why do we do this? Some alarmingly large number of my past selves have sat in this exact place, then decided to keep the cycle going—
"Oh," I sigh, surprising myself. "I want to give them the stars."
Allocator just smiles.
"I understand." I take a deep breath. "And I consent."