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Human Extinction Agency: Erosion - Part 4

Copyright (c) 1998 Phaedrus; All rights reserved

The opinions of the characters in this story are not those of the author.

As ^} approached the cabin, Paul Foster was nowhere to be seen.

"Hello, Mr. Foster," he called, but there was no reply.

^} began to feel yesterday's enthusiasm evaporate. Even if Paul had decided to forfeit, he would probably do it by some sort of deliberate action, not by merely refusing to cooperate. Was he well? Or... ^} did not want to contemplate the "or". There had been no suicides among his clients so far, not even any accidental deaths. He knew how inevitable it was that he would lose one, had tried to steel himself to it. But he had to admit that he felt an emotional attachment to many of the humans in his care. He could accept the forfeitures as they came; they were a loss of potential, but at least the humans would still have their new lives. But to lose that without even having the chance to experience it...

"Mr. Foster?"

Then the cabin door swung open, and Mr. Foster emerged.

He was on his hands and knees. He was completely naked. And he was holding an object in his teeth.

And, as ^} watched in silent fascination, Paul crawled over to him, dropped the object--which ^} now recognized as one of his papers on the wolf, carefully rolled up--near ^}, and rolled onto his back, arms folded up, hands bent down. Even his ears fit the position--wide, alert.

But he was not smiling.

^} considered his options, for perhaps a second. There was simply no appropriate reaction to this. Finally, he decided that the thing to do was to ignore it... at least as long as Paul did not decide to urinate on himself. That would simply require a response.

"Paul, would you have any interest in climbing Mount Everest?"

Paul didn't flinch or hesitate. "Why, no, I don't think so. Why do you ask? Is it the sort of thing a wolf is likely to be doing? I don't recall reading about that in this helpful literature."

This is the problem with humans, ^} mused. It is difficult to tell when they become insane.

"Anton has... another of my clients has organized an expedition for late April. Two of his climbing partners have pulled out of the project. I am attempting to recruit replacements."

"You know, if the Titanic were sinking beneath the waves, you would be trying to put a shuffleboard tournament together."

"No; I would expect that the tilting of the deck would interfere with the game."

"These damn ears must not be working right. I could have sworn that you just made a joke."

"I do not like to make light of your situation. But it is difficult for me to think seriously while you insist on remaining in that position."

"This is what you're doing to me. This is what you're making me. I have to deal it every moment of every day. If you can't deal with it for a few minutes at a time, then that's your own damn problem."

^} paused, wishing he could take a deep breath. "Mr. Foster, our meetings tend to end quickly and abruptly. Before we go any further, would it be possible to discuss your brother for a few moments? He is concerned about you."

"Isn't that nice." Paul replied softly, with a trace of bitterness. Then, more firmly, "So, what's he planning on doing once you shut down the bookstore he spent his whole life dreaming about?"

"Actually, I have worked out an arrangement in that regard. We are attempting to produce a database of as much of your literature as possible. A large number of the books in Luke's store are rare, and some of them are quite... unusual. Since he is familiar with the material, I have managed to arrange for him to coordinate the task of compiling it. He seems excited about the project."

Paul remained silent for a few seconds, as if considering that. "I don't understand why you're doing that, but I'm glad you are. Who knows? Maybe there's something in one of those books that can convince you just what kind of genocidal jackasses you're being."

"I would not be surprised if that was one of the motivations of those who organized the project. There are divisions of opinion in my people, just as there are in yours."

"And what do you think?"

"That is a difficult question, Mr. Foster. I have seen the irrevocable harm done to this planet. I agree entirely that drastic action was needed. I agree with the central idea of the current action. I disagree with many of the details."

"But you still think that killing us all is a pretty damn good idea."

"No, I do not. But we are not killing anyone. I can understand your viewing it in those terms, but changing someone and killing someone are two different things. You will still have full lives ahead of you, though they will not be the lives you had anticipated."

"Bullshit. Suppose I told you that, before yesterday morning, you were a completely different person; I turned you into what you are now. Are you really saying that your old self wasn't murdered?"

^] briefly considered that. "The issue, as I would see it, would be continuity of experience. If you were to change my personality and my memory to the degree that I could not remember or recognize what I had been before, then it could be said that my old personality had been killed. But the alterations we are making are not of that nature, unless specifically requested."

"'Unless specifically requested'? So if somebody is feeling suicidal, just kill 'em off; is that it?"

"I have never made a change of that nature. I would discourage it as much as I possibly could."

"How fucking nice of you."

"What would you do? Do nothing, and let someone commit suicide, and not have any life at all?"

"I would stop and ask what kind of outfit I was working for that would leave me with those two choices, that's what the hell I would do!"

"I have asked myself that question, Mr. Foster. But I must ask one of you in return. Do you think that your country's conflict in Vietnam was a noble cause?"

"Now? Hell, no. At the time? Who knew?"

"Then why did you choose to volunteer to serve in a cause that you were not sure of?"

"Do you normally make a practice of digging into the private lives of your 'clients'?"

"No. Your brother mentioned it during our conversation."

Paul said nothing; but his eyes seemed to get just a bit darker.

"Why would you volunteer to serve in a war under those circumstances?"

"Because friends of mine were dying over there. And if I didn't go, somebody else would have to."

"Exactly. If you were not there, it would not mean that the war would not have happened. It would mean that someone else would have taken your place, and they might not have done the job as well."

"I see where you're going with this. And you know what? It's bullshit. We were going there to move some people off a piece of land. Maybe it was stupid--hell, yeah, it was stupid. But if the VC had given it up, that would have been the end of it. We weren't going over there to wipe their whole race off the face of the fucking earth. That's what you're doing. That's the outfit you're signed up with. And if you want somebody to buy your if-not-me-then-someone-else line of crap for that outfit, go to Argentina and find some Nazi in a nursing home, because I'm not interested."

"How many species have your kind wiped off the face of the earth, Mr. Foster?"

"I already told you that. Too many. And you know what? If you had done this fifty years ago, it might have almost made sense. But just when we're finally starting to figure it out on our own, you show up. No warning. No 'You're starting to get the right idea. Keep it up or you're gone.' Just 'Bye-bye.' What kind of sense does that make?"

"Perhaps we should have intervened directly sooner. But, at the time we did intervene, species were still being destroyed at a rate of several per day. Do you excuse someone of a crime because they seem to be committing it a bit less often these days?"

"No. But do you kill someone who's just started to atone for what they've done?"

"No, you do not. And that is why we are not killing anyone."

"Oh, that's right. Taking away everything that's important to us, destroying our future, and letting us spend the rest of our lives thinking about what we've lost is so much more humane, isn't it?"

"No individual's future is being destroyed--changed, yes, but not destroyed. People will lose things that are important to them, yes, and that is unfortunate. But they will still have a chance to find new things important to them, if they so choose--and isn't that a better fate than what so many other species have had?"

"So you're saying those are the only two choices? Bullshit! If you have the power to turn us all into animals, step-by-fucking-step, then you can turn us into humans that don't burn down rain forests. Why throw out the bad with the good?"

"We thought about that, long and hard. But the bad and the good are so very close to the same thing with you. It runs so deep in you; that same initiative that leads you to discover so many things leads you to destroy so many things. So many of your good inventions lead so inevitably to the bad. We could turn you into something that you would still physically recognize as human... but mentally, it would be farther from what you are now than what you are becoming. If changing you to other species is bad, how would changing you to something so very different be any better?"

Paul did not answer. He slowly stood up, and turned his back on ^}, and did nothing for several long seconds. And for a moment, ^} thought, Perhaps I have finally reached him.

And then Paul turned around, and ^} knew from the look on his face that he had not.

"You know, I'm really trying to care. I really thought I did care. I'm really trying to feel so very sorry for all these horrible things we've done. And you know what? I don't care. I don't feel sorry. And do you know why? Because all those horrible things you're talking about are things I've already given up. I don't have a car. I don't buy rainforest beef. I hunt, and I grow some vegetables in back, and I boil water from the stream. I don't kill anything I don't need to live. A friend of mine brings me bullets and underwear once a year, and that's about it. I'm your people's wet dream. And I get the same punishment as everybody else. Nothing I've done means a damn to you. So why the hell should it mean anything to me?"

^} pondered this for a long time.

"I am terribly sorry, Mr. Foster. I can understand your feelings, and I can only agree that they are justified. I can understand your feeling that you are being punished along with the rest. But I would ask you to consider it in another way. You will still have your full human intellect. Your lifestyle, in many ways, will not be changed... and in many ways, you will be better equipped for it. Even as you currently are, you should not need to boil your water, and your hearing should help you to find food. When the change is complete, you will probably be an even more effective hunter than you are now; and you will not need bullets, or anything else to tie you down. Is that truly such a horrible thing?"

"Your people must think so. Or do you make a habit of helping people against their will?"

"I suppose that depends on the people. And on the help."

There was silence.

"Mr. Foster, this is a personal question, and I will understand if you choose not to answer it. But I am curious. If none of this had happened... if I was the only nacalite on this planet, and I had come to you and offered this, as a free choice... what would you have done?"

"We'll never know."

"I suppose that is true, Mr. Foster. I am sorry. I will leave you in peace now."

^} began to move away. This was not the way a meeting was supposed to end. But he needed to think.

"Wait. Before you go."

^} stopped, surprised. "Yes, Mr. Foster?"

"Luke. What is he now? Wait; let me guess. He forgot to choose, and he's a tree frog."

"You are closer than you think. Apparently, he did forget about his appointment, until one of his employees happened to ask him when it was scheduled for. He then apparently broke a number of traffic laws in his haste to reach the office, and arrived with a police officer in pursuit. As it turned out, he had also misremembered the day of the appointment; it was actually scheduled for four days later."

"That would be Luke, all right," Paul said, and it appeared to ^} that he actually smiled for a moment.

"To answer your question, he has chosen the coyote. His stated reason was that they 'can go just about anywhere, and eat just about anything'; apparently he plans to do some traveling."

"Then I guess he won't have changed much at all." The anger crept back into Paul's voice. "Is he planning on Canada again?"

"I am sorry, Mr. Foster; I should not have phrased it in that way. You are referring to his travels during the war?"

"Yes. His travels that started when he was drafted, and lasted until the amnesty. Those travels."

"He was very apologetic about that time. Mr. Foster... if you do not mind my saying so, your brother does not strike me as the type who would make a successful warrior."

"Neither was I."

^} considered that, tried to picture Paul Foster as the sort of human his brother was. He could not.

"Mr. Foster, your brother is very eager to talk to you, face to face. I could arrange--"


^} paused, stunned; then he understood. Paul was probably embarrassed about his physical appearance.

"I understand. But I could provide you with a telephone, and you could--"


^} was so dumbfounded at this answer, he almost asked the human to repeat himself.

"May I ask why on earth you would deny your own brother's request? Are you still that angry at your brother's actions so many years ago?"

"Angry, yes. That angry, no. It was a stupid war in the first place. And I'd be the first to tell him so."

"Then why..."

"Why do you think, you idiot? When was the last time you saw a wolf and a coyote hanging out at the watering hole together? You're already taking everything else away; do you really expect me to have a nice teary reunion with Luke, just in time for you to come along and take that away too? Are you that desperate for a damn fairy-tale ending? Fuck off!"

"I am sorry, Mr. Foster. I was only trying to honor your brother's request. I... will see you next month."

And with that, ^} finally left. And this time, Paul did not call after him.

^} had wanted to say "I understand"; he had even started to say the words. But he did not understand, and he was beginning to despair that he ever would. What technique could possibly deal with this?

There was so much pain in Paul. So much needless, pointless pain. There had to be some way to ease it, something ^} could do. But everything he tried seemed to wind up increasing it instead. How could he help someone who was so determined to refuse to be helped?

Words from a few minutes ago came back to him.

Or do you make a habit of helping people against their will?

I suppose that depends on the people. And on the help.

The protocol was very clear. Personality was never to be changed, under any circumstance, without the specific request and consent of the human.

But, in certain ways, "personality" was a very ambiguous word...

It was a pity that the stage-two transformation was almost a year away. He would have to give very careful thought to it.

There were so many things to think carefully about...

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