“Why were the Grays making hybrid offspring with Jeremy’s D.N.A?” Chloe asked.
“Who knows,” Chett said with a sigh. “Maybe for military applications. The Grays have been in conflict with any number of civilizations for millennia. Some of the hybrids splintered off and went rogue, apparently. It just made more problems for everybody. Especially me.”
“But it doesn’t make any sense. Jeremy wasn’t exactly the gung-ho G.I. Joe type.”
“Well, Chloe, maybe they were going to raise an army of liberal arts majors to stagnate the economies of their enemies,” Chett offered.
“You’re a jerk, you know that? What kind of deal did you cut with the Grays anyway?”
“They figured out they were in a simulation awhile ago, and they made extraordinary efforts to communicate with us in the external world. They were mostly concerned about the tenuous nature of their reality. After all, we could simply unplug them, and lights out. Good night, Vienna. They wanted a seat at the bargaining table, so to speak. But, we didn’t take them seriously,” Chett explained.
“So why would they help you now?”
“In return for their assistance, they get to upload the brain emulations of a few Grays into our quantum mainframe. Their species gets to endure indefinitely, albeit, in a very different capacity. And I get to leave this ridiculous video game once and for all.”
“They have the technology to do something like that? Upload entire brain emulations to the physical world?”
“Yeah. The emulations are encoded in the quantum state of the nuclear spin of photons. The Grays will transmit the encoded data in a series of powerful light pulses, and as long as the Programmers are on their toes, they should be able to capture the information down to the last qubit.”
“And just like that, a unique, sentient mind suddenly exists on a hard drive in another reality,” Chloe mused.
“It’s slightly more complicated, but that’s basically it,” Chett said.
“What about me?” Chloe asked. “We both know the Grays put a tracking device in the base of my skull. You only need me long enough for them to lock in on our location.”
“There is information in your memory that could be useful to us. It would be beneficial to have your brain emulation transmitted and stored at one of our facilities. The Council will have the ultimate word regarding your final assignment. Of course, they’ll consider any opinions I might have on the matter. I’d put in a good word for you.”
“I don’t think so, Chett. I mean, your world is either going to be overrun by a parasitic artificial intelligence, or the soulless autocrats are going to win the day and put everybody back in their hermetically sealed bubbles. I’ll stand pat, thank you.”
“Suit yourself. But, we both know how things are gonna end here.”
“There’s your ride,” Chloe said as she pointed to the sky. It was a spherical craft, roughly fifty feet in diameter. It touched down silently in the middle of the clearing.
Chett waved frantically at the craft and yelled, “Right here! Over here!”
“Jeez,” Chloe said, “they see you already. Quit acting like such a noob.”
“Sorry. I’ve never interacted with them directly before. I’ve always had a intermediary.”
“Yeah, you’re welcome,” Chloe said. “And they don’t stand on ceremony, so just walk right up.”
“Thanks, Chloe. I wish things had turned out differently.”
“They do . . . in some other simulation,” she said as she walked back into the forest. She picked up the trail easy enough, and reveled in every step. Chloe was alive, and even the mosquito bites seemed like little treasures bestowed upon her to remind her of that fact.
Chett’s Chevy was right where they had left it – stuck in the mud with the keys still in the ignition. Chloe gently nudged it forward in first gear, and then abruptly threw it into reverse. It took a few tries, but she was able to rock it out of the rut and back the rest of the way down the shabby logging trail.
Not long after she got going west on the county road, she stopped to pick up a hitchhiker. The stranger had long gray hair that was in a braided pony tail. She was wearing bell-bottom jeans and a Grateful Dead sweatshirt.
“Thanks for stopping,” the woman said as she hopped in. “My name’s Martha.”
“Glad to help. I’m, Chloe, by the way. Where you headed?”
“It doesn’t matter. I just wanted some company for the grand finale. Oh, I just love this song,” Martha said as Don McLean’s American Pie started playing on the radio. “Do you mind if I turn it up a smidge?”
“It’s the grand finale, and a stolen car to boot,” Chloe said. “I don’t care if you blow out the speakers.”
Martha turned the dial all the way to the right, and they belted out the verses at the top of their lungs as the world boiled away, leaving only a vast inkiness all around them. They were unafraid as the last of their conscious thoughts turned to static, and finally, went quiet.