The scent of freshly crushed garlic wafted over the candlelit tables of Braddington’s Seafood Grille. The low light masked the brilliant, polished concrete floor upon which Nova’s Sketchers made no sound.
Sherri, the hostess, guided Nova to a table in the far corner of the restaurant. Sherri stopped mid-stride and Nova nearly bumped in to her.
“Sorry,” Sherri said, turning to explain. “I got a text.”
“No worries,” Nova said.
“Here you are,” Sherri said, guiding Nova to the table where Ethan sat, staid and waiting. Sherri returned to the hostess station, looking downward as she walked, reading whatever conversation she was having through her phone.
“Late, as always,” Ethan said.
“Who died and where was the funeral?” Nova asked.
Ethan squinted at Nova. Ethan wore a meticulously tailored, custom three-piece black suit with hints of purple sewn into the fabric. The dim light muted the nuances of Ethan’s clothing. Nova, on the other hand, wore a red-ringer white Meatballs t-shirt. His light blue jeans had a hole over the left knee.
“I see you’re still into the potty humor?” Ethan asked.
Nova shrugged. He reached for the gourmet calamari Ethan had ordered, but not yet touched. “What can I say? Bill Murray is hilarious.” Nova chewed. “Dang, what are these things?”
“Calamari with wasabi and fava beans,” Ethan said.
“Well, that’s a surprise. You’ve ordered something with flavor.”
“It’s Braddington’s specialty. I always get this as an appetizer.”
“Are you gentlemen ready to order?” the waiter asked.
“Ah, yes, Andy, I’ll have my usual,” Ethan said.
“Seared tuna over garlic mashed potatoes,” Andy said.
“And for you, sir?”
“Oh, whatever’s the daily special. I’ll take that.”
“Chilean Sea Bass.”
“Perfect,” Nova said.
“And to drink?”
“I’ll just have whatever Ethan’s having.”
“Very well.” As he gathered the menus from Ethan and Nova, Andy received a text message. Andy pulled his phone from his pocket and nearly dropped the menus on the calamari. Andy nodded, blushed, and rushed away.
“So, are we ready?” Nova asked.
“They aren’t ready,” Ethan said. He placed a calamari ring neatly in his mouth, chewed, swallowed, and dabbed his mouth with the linen napkin.
“May I?” Nova pointed to the Beaujolais.
“Look around. They’re only interested in pleasure,” Ethan said.
“Nothing hurts worse than pain.”
“But where will it all unravel, once, well, once they’ve . . .”
“Who cares? We’ve had this discussion before. Something had to set it all in motion. We needed a duality—a plus and a minus, a good and a bad.”
“Yes, but I thought they would have evolved beyond simple pleasures.”
“So what if they haven’t?”
“There’s more, Nova. You know there’s more than this.” Ethan made a lude hand gesture.
“Maybe their brains are the problem.”
“They were supposed to evolve by now.”
“We pushed too hard.”
“I know. Still, I think we should wait.”
“They will destroy themselves if they don’t upload soon.”
“And who’s fault is that? More reason to wait.”
“But their DNA still thinks they’re still living in caves and hunting bison. What did you expect?”
Ethan sipped his Beaujolais. “I hoped they would be on Mars by now.”
“Going digital will expedite all of that.”
“But will they ruin that planet, too?”
“Like the others? It’s already ruined.”
“Now, that was your fault. You said so yourself,” Ethan said.
“I take full credit for that disaster. But you gotta admit, Jupiter was a good idea.”
“Yes. T’was.” Ethan ate another ring of calamari.
“Look, Ethan, we need to proceed. They have 500 years, on the outside, before total annihilation.”
“And, it’ll take that long for the tech to assimilate. I get it. But, what about the remainder? The sapiens?”
“They will perish, unfortunately. Or, well, that is . . .”
“Well, maybe they’ll figure something out.”
“Likely not. The whole lot is disappointingly neurotic.”
“That’s your fault, Ethan. You said so yourself.”
“This is such a big step, though.” Ethan paused and sipped. “Look there, at that couple.” Ethan nodded upward in the distance across the room. “She has gold cross on her necklace and wears a wedding band, but she’s sleeping with that man there with her. He’s not her husband and she’s not his wife, but there they are. It’s rotten, I tell you. They are better than this.”
“It’s in their DNA, Ethan. She’s hardwired to mate with as many men as possible, as is he programmed to mate with as many females as possible.”
“But they no longer need that programming. It should have been suppressed by now. What terror will this new thing create?”
“It won’t be worse than what will happen if we don’t.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I believe you had the tuna,” Andy said, placing the hot plate of seared goodness before Ethan. “And you had the Sea Bass.”
“Thank you, Andy,” Ethan said.
“You’re welcome. Would you like some more—”
Andy was about to say wine when he doused Nova with the pitcher of water he had just picked up.
“Oh, no! I am so sorry.”
“Hey, no worries, man. It’s my Meatballs shirt. It’s seen worse.”
Many of the Braddington’s patrons gawked at the sight of Andy’s mistake. All nearby, both younger and older, pulled out their phones and began taking video of the aftermath of Andy’s gaffe. Andy ran off again.
“Would you like a napkin?” Ethan asked.
“Ha, ha. Very funny.” Nova looked down at his wet clothes. After a few moments, they were dry.
“They’ll see, Nova.”
“Nah, look at them. They’re in their phones.”
“And you really think they’re ready?”
“Look at them. They’re practically digital now.” Nova took a bite of his Sea Bass. “Goddamn, that’s some good fish.”
“It’s Patagonian Tooth Fish. Marketing changed it to Chilean Sea Bass a few years a go to help sales.” Ethan savored his tuna.
“How will you deliver the spark?” Nova asked.
“I’ll leave a nice tip. That should do it.”
As Ethan and Nova finished their meals, they reminisced about old times.
“Anything else?” Andy asked.
“No, thank you,” Ethan said.
“I’ve comped your meals, sirs. I am sorry for spilling water on you.”
“It’s really no problem, Andy,” Nova said.
“Please do leave us a check. I insist on leaving a tip,” Ethan said.
“Right away,” Andy said. He returned with a small leather bill holder and fanned it out on the table for them. “Thank you very much.”
Ethan pulled a $100 bill from his waistcoat pocket, placed it in the bill holder, and laid it flat on the table.
“No turning back now,” Ethan said.
“Agreed,” Nova said.
A few minutes after Ethan and Nova left Braddington’s, Andy retrieved the $100 bill. He rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger, marveling at the amount. Then, he put it in the tip pool and thought nothing of it.
Andy got married ten years later. He and his wife, Sheila, had a baby girl named Alice, who later had a son named Victor, who later had a son named Tony. Tony was special because he was the first human to permanently upload his consciousness into a network. As the Earth became less and less habitable, more and more people left their bodies behind and uploaded themselves to the grand network.
Eons and eons later, Nova sat upon the middle of three thrones at one end of a large white room. He wore a white robe, but still looked like a Bill Murray impersonator.
“Am I early?” Ethan shouted from across the room.
“Always,” Nova replied.
Ethan approached, dressed in white robes like Nova’s, but his robes were better kept and ironed.
“When will she arrive?” Ethan asked.
“Any minute now.”
Ethan sat at Nova’s right hand.
“Hello?” a feminine voice called from afar.
“Welcome, Humana,” Ethan said.
“We’ve been expecting you,” Nova said.