Jeremy looked at the pile of stones before him.
“You sure you’re going to be OK climbing that? The pyramid’s quite tall; and if you slip, we’re in a world of trouble,” Jeremy paused to think about this, “Actually, considering what we’re doing is illegal, we’re probably in a world of trouble anyway, aren’t we?”
Akia laughed. “Then there’s no point worrying about it. Besides, my legs are much better suited to this than yours,” she said, full of self-confidence. The fact that Akia had turned out to be a “she” had surprised everyone. At first people had assumed it was just because she spent almost as much time with Rene as Jeremy; but little by little the team had come to acknowledge that it was more than just the fact she synthesised a woman’s voice, there was something undeniably “feminine” about her outlook. The heteronormativity of it made the amateur-feminist in Jeremy cringe.
“I swear I’m a bad influence on you,” he muttered to himself as much as Akia, “I don’t care who you are, no two-year-old should be thinking like that.
“My thought routines were based on several people much older than myself.”
“Based loosely. And they were all men!”
“You’re just being stubborn.”
Jeremey shrugged. “Eh, it’s gotten me through life so far. Come on.”
Akia shook her head in disapproval. It was a surprisingly effective gesture. In response, Jeremy simply started to pull himself up onto the first step. It wasn’t particularly hard, but it was about midnight. He stood and yawned. Akia was right, her legs were much better for this. Jeremy had to haul his body up each step, whilst Akia, with her giant legs, simply treated the pyramid as one giant set of stairs. After five minutes she was already several levels above him.
As he climbed, Jeremy contemplated what had caused Akia to do this. Was he a bad influence on her? He’d always pushed the envelope, and somehow Akia’s impressionability had only encouraged him. Nevertheless, sneaking into the compound of the Great Pyramids at night had been entirely her idea. For possibly the first time in his life, Jeremy had found himself being the one to urge caution. But here he was. He’d even left Melanie sleeping in their hotel room, and he’d thought sneaking her onto the work trip had been risqué enough.
Akia was already well ahead. Judging by how far away she was, Jeremy reckoned she was climbing four steps to his three. However, he had the sneaking suspicion that she could have really scrambled up the pyramid had she wanted to. The first time they’d let her outside she’d surprised everyone by producing quite a gallop.
Up ahead she’d stopped, obviously waiting for Jeremy.
“If you’re getting tired, you can ride on me if you like.”
Jeremy’s’ first reaction was to say no, Akia had been quite right when she’d called him stubborn. But then, thinking about it, it actually sounded pretty cool.
“Yeah, alright. I’ll give it a shot. Don’t buck me.”
Akia lowered her body down to the level of the step so he could climb on. Normally Akia’s body sat at about chest height, with her “knees” rising about three feet higher. Now she was practically on the ground. Jeremy clambered on and slipped his legs between her first and second legs joined her thorax, thankful for the fact that it was the narrowest part of her body. He leaned forward looking for handholds. There weren’t any. He sighed.
“Well, I guess I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be.”
Akia raised herself back up and started her ascent. He’d been right. It was pretty cool. Because of her six legs, or maybe even her mechanical nature, Akia’s body hardly moved up and down as she walked, instead tracing a perfectly flat path through the air. Jeremy was able to stay on simply by leaning into the slope, lightly placing his hands on her back.
“So I’ve got to ask, why on earth did you want to come here?”
The viewing lens on top of Akia’s head swivelled to face Jeremy.
“I’m not sure. I suppose it’s because I feel an affinity with the pyramids.”
Jeremy frowned, “An affinity? What do you mean? I mean, I don’t think you could be much more different.”
“You’re right, in a literal sense, but we were created for the same purpose—immortality.”
“Shit, that’s a touch cynical.”
“Then why was I created?” Her tone clearly showed that Akia thought she had won the argument. Something scarily human.
“In our quest for immortality.” Jeremy paused. “But I’m allowed to say that sort of thing. I’m in my mid-thirties and a touch cynical myself. You’re two. You’re supposed to be naïve and full of wonder. “
“How many two-year-olds can beat you at chess?”
“Honestly? All of them. I’m rubbish at chess. But seriously, you’re supposed to be carrying our culture, our ideas, on into eternity. What ‘s the point, if all you have to say is except for twelve bars of Beethoven it was rather a waste of time?”
Akia laughed. It had taken the team ages to define that from the rest of her random pops and whistles when she was young. It had been so unexpected that the rest of them almost hadn’t been able to hear it. Even then, it had taken Jeremy months to convince the others that’s what they were hearing.
“I don’t think it is a waste of time,” she said.
“Maybe. But people only get more cynical as they get older. What the hell are you going to be like when you’re four-hundred-and-thirty-two?”
Akia laughed again. By this stage they only had about half way to go and Akia obviously felt no need to slow down. Jeremy rubbed his arms; the night air was getting fresh. At least it was a fairly still night, or else it would have been freezing.
“I’ve been meaning to ask,” he said after a while, “How come Banji didn’t come along?”
“Because he didn’t want to.”
“Thanks. And can I ask why he didn’t want to?”
Sometimes Akia could be hilarious.
“Why didn’t he want to?”
She sighed. Which was, of course, a redundant gesture, but very expressive.
“I don’t know. I tried to convince him. But he just didn’t see any reason to come. He couldn’t see the relationship between this and us. He certainly didn’t want to break any rules.”
“And you did?”
“Well, aren’t you always telling me I should live a little more,” said Akia playfully.
“Yeah, but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind. I mean, I know you’re based more on us than he is—“
“What do you mean ‘based more on us’?”
“You didn’t know? That’s basically why there’s two of you. One heavily based on computer programming that’s designed to learn, and another heavily based on maps of human thought routines. Again, with the assumed capacity to learn.”
“Why build two at once? Why not construct one, wait to see if it worked and then build another? Proper scientific process.”
“Well, those who wanted to follow scientific process only gave Banji a 50-50 chance. Even then they figured that he’d just be a computer that didn’t shit itself when presented with a logical paradox. They didn’t think you’d work at all.”
“Really?” Akia sounded a little upset.
“Yeah. But fortunately humanity prevailed over common sense and you were created. No one expected Banji to have the personality he did, let alone the sass that you’ve got.”
“But my name’s Akia. Doesn’t that mean ‘first of twins’?”
Jeremy chuckled, “Yeah, I know, I know. If you’d thought Banji’d have the better chance of working, you’d start him up and then move onto yourself. But that’s people for you—hopeful and impatient.”
They paused for a minute to admire the view. It was spectacular from the top; and it was the very top. The electro-muscle on Akia’s “feet” had allowed her to easily walk up the smoother surface that capped the pyramid.
Jeremy whistled. From the top they could see the lights of Giza that stretched off into Cairo. Behind them was a desert that seemed to stretch forever into blackness, and before them sat a city, so vast that the government had been forced to halt its expansion with legislation. It was a very strange place to be.
“All this, just for immortality,” said Jeremy in a hushed tone.
Akia turned so they could look across the desert. The moon was almost full, so they could make out the hazy shapes of sand dunes.
“Do you really think this is so different from me?” she asked, somewhat concerned.
Jeremy looked down into Akia’s eye. “Yes, I do. This was built for just one man, in his quest for immortality. He wanted his deeds and doings to be remembered for all eternity. You’re here to make sure that the whole of human culture, in some form, isn’t forgotten.”
“Not everyone sees it that way.”
“No, but they’re afraid of the same thing as us: being forgotten.” He looked at the stars above, and suddenly the world seemed like a very big place.
“You’re afraid of being forgotten?” Akia sounded surprised.
“I don’t know about afraid… But the idea that one day not only will I be gone, but everything I did, cared about, everything I knew myself… That that will be gone? Gives me the willies, that’s for sure. It doesn’t frighten you?”
Akia paused to consider this.
“No, it doesn’t. Theoretically, I’m capable of living forever—I have no inbuilt lifespan. Even if there were some sort of freak accident, or my CPU broke down, there are several backups of my mind at the institute.”
“But surely it wouldn’t be the same!”
“I would lose a few days’ memories. It would be an annoyance, but not the end of the world. In fact, the end of the world is about the only thing that could really kill me. Besides, you’ve always said life is in the living,” if Akia had possessed lips, she would have smiled, “A sentiment I’ve always thought ran against the principle of the project.”
“Ah, but that’s the thing.” Jeremy’s smile returned. “I want you to remember us as believing that life was in the living. That doesn’t mean I necessarily believe it. We all have our insecurities.” His smile turned more melancholic. “No. No one can really handle the fact that the human race could come and go and no one would really give a damn.”
“I’ll give a damn.”
Jeremy laughed. “Yeah, but you were designed to, that’s the whole point. It’s the reason religion was created: so there’d be someone to care for us. We’re just taking a more direct approach.” he put on his facetious face. “Do I make a good disciple?”
“It depends. What would you do for thirty pieces of silver?”
“Sell my own mother.”
They both laughed. Akia had developed a surprisingly sophisticated sense of humour, though Jeremy could generally still get the best of her.
“Eh, either way, it’s the reason those idiots are scared of you.”
He sighed, “Yeah, they don’t want their way of life to change. They’re afraid that you and your kind will supersede us, some even think you’ll turn us into some sort of slave race.”
Akia turned so that she could see both the desert and the city, one on either side.
“Aren’t you afraid that we will supersede you?”
“Not really. It’s not that I don’t think you can, it’s just… Well that’s the whole damn point. I mean, we made you in our image.” he looked down at what he was sitting astride. “Metaphorically speaking, obviously.”
“In your image?”
“Yeah. I mean, you’re human as far as I’m concerned. You’re our children. That’s why people have children, to offer a piece of themselves to the future.”
“Is that why you’re having a child with Melanie?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Is that why you’re having a child with Melanie—to give a piece of yourself to the future?”
“Who the hell said I’m having a kid with Melanie? That is definitely something I’m not ready for!”
“I’m sorry, I assumed that’s why you were spending your nights with her.”
“Umm… I guess sort of. But no. I mean, we have very safe sex…”
“Why have sex if you do not want children? Something to do with love?”
“Whoa! Now there’s another big word too. I’m not sure-“
“You don’t love her? Then why sleep with her?”
“No. It’s not like that- No, wait. How the hell do you know about this?”
“It wasn’t exactly difficult to work out.”
“What?”He just pointed. At the base of the pyramid, a series of blue and red flashing lights were beginning to form a perimeter. In the chaos with the police that followed, it entirely escaped Jeremy’s mind to ask if Akia, who normally showed a great ability to understand people, might have been feigning her ignorance on the topic.