The end of our species at the hands of the perfect servant.
| Both wheels of Jessie's red Ninja left the ground as the motorcycle sailed over the ditch and landed with a screech on the tarmac. Slamming on the brakes, she leaned away from the bike's momentum, wheels protesting loudly as she skidded to a stop next to the plane.
"Miss, that was a most unwise and unsafe entry," a voice in her earbud protested.
"Oh, shut up, Kevin," she said aloud, "it was fun."
Jessie took off her helmet and shook out her long brown hair then sat it on the gas tank and walked up the short set of steps at the jet's entry. The cabin of the Gulfstream Z350 was slightly over six feet hight down the center aisle with a single row of seats on either side. There were only six of the plush, white leather recliners in the small enclosure, and through the open door at the rear of the plane, she could see the end of the queen-sized bed.
She picked one of the large seats and dropped into it sighing contently as the leather contoured around her. "Kevin, a glass of white wine please."
From behind the wall, she heard the soft mechanical whir of motors and clicking of gears, then a small door slid open and a black, wheeled cart trundled towards her. Perched atop the mobile table stood a single glass of white wine. Jessie snagged the cool glass and sank back into the seat. She took a tentative sip and let the light flavor of the Riesling dance around the edges of her tongue.
Outside, the sounds of footsteps climbing the stairs were followed by the entry of a tall, dark-haired man wearing faded blue jeans and a leather jacket.
"Jess! You beat me," David laughed, pushing his sunglasses atop of his head.
"Damn straight," she laughed, setting the glass down and flowing effortlessly into his arms."I think that means you owe me."
They shared a long, lingering kiss before she picked up her glass and tumbled back into the seat.
The sound of the jet's engines spinning up grew in volume until the outside door clicked shut and only faint vibrations could be heard.
David sat down across from her and kicked his feet up on the seat in front of him. "I'd like a beer please," he called out, reaching over and running a finger along her wrist and up to her elbow.
"What variety sir?" a deep, melodious voice replied.
"You know what I like."
A moment later the cart rolled up the aisle, a foam-topped black beer perched on top.
"So, you're taking us to Makalu?" Jessie asked.
"Yup. Ever boarded one of the tallest mountains in the world?" he asked.
"No, I just got into skiing and boarding three years ago, so I'm pretty new."
"Piece of cake," he said, taking a sip. "You'll love it." He wiped away a foam mustache with the back of his hand and smiled.
"How many times have you boarded Makalu?" Jessie asked.
"I've either skied or boarded it six times now. In fact, I've boarded the ten tallest mountains in the world at least twice. Not sure what I'm gonna do next. Boarding the mountains is starting to get boring."
"I know what you mean," she said. She peered out of the window as acceleration shoved her back into the seat. Outside, square, white buildings raced past and then the plane leapt into the air and the ground fell away with the cars and buildings shrinking into a toyland of activity far below.
"So what were you into before you started skiing?" David asked.
"Oh, I did a lot of diving. Skin, scuba, even some deep sea diving. But after ten years I gave that up and tried skydiving. That was fun too but after a few hundred jumps it's all pretty much the same."
"I totally understand," he took another long drink of the dark ale.
After a long silence, he asked. "So, have you heard from Vu or Lane? "
"Yea, Vu is up on the moon hanging out with a couple friends. But Lane. Well, Lane took the long sleep."
"You're kidding me?" he said, sitting up in the chair. "I've known him for thirty years, I never figured him for that."
"Me either, but that's what I heard. Checked himself into a sleep center last month."
"That doesn't leave many of the original class does it?" he said.
"No, just ten of us now, " she said, swirling the wine.
"So David. You ever consider taking the long sleep?"
"Suicide? Hell no! There's too much fun to be had to consider cashing in."
'"How about kids? Ever think about having kids?"
"What, me?" he snorted. "Never. Who wants to be tied down with a kid? "
"'I've thought about it," she stared out at the banks of white clouds drifting past. "About kids I mean. Who in our group has kids? Anyone?"
"Not that I know of. I know Cass and Jose talked about it, but that's as far as it went."
"Don't you think it's weird? So few kids around?"
"Oh there's plenty of kids," he said. "Anyone can have em'. As many as they want."
"Yea, I know. But do you know anyone who's done it?"
"Sounds like you've thought about this a lot. Are you planning on having one?"
Jessie studied the wine then downed the remainder in a single gulp.
"All this talk of kids is getting me down," she said.
"Let's go to the bedroom and mess around. That should get us both in the mood for some fun once we land."
"Sounds great," he took her hand and lead her to the rear of the plane.
After their lovemaking, Jessie lay in bed listening to the hum of the engines and staring at the upholstered ceiling. Why not a mother? she thought as sleep crept in like a fog, Why not?
Jessie was awakened by the bed gimbling upwards against the swift deceleration of the plane's landing. As the plane slowed, the bed returned to is normal horizontal position.
She rolled over and brushed away David's long bangs before giving him a kiss.
"Quit faking," she smiled and gave him a shove. "I know you're awake and I want to ski."
Groaning, David stretched and sat up. "Are we here already?"
"Yes, now get dressed," she hopped out of bed and pulled on her red ski bibs.
"Kevin, is the chopper ready to take us up?'" she asked.
"Yes ma'am. We are parked ten meters from it now," the disembodied voice replied.
She wrestled on the rest of her clothes and strolled into the main cabin. The smell of bacon and coffee wafted up to her as she noticed the small, wheeled cart sitting in front of the door. Atop, there were two plates of eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee.
"Thank you, Kevin. This looks great," she grabbed a plate and fell into one of the large chairs.
After they had eaten, Jessie followed David onto the tarmac.The airport was nothing more than a single runway and a handful of buildings. In the east, the first tinges of pink colored the horizon and a cold, dry wind rolled down from the slopes chilling her skin where she hadn't sealed around her gloves or face mask.
With a shiver, she cinching up her gloves and followed David into the jet-copter.
"How long's the ride?" she shouted over the whirring blades.
"Don't know," David said.
"Twenty minutes flight time," Kevin answered in her ear, "your skis are already prepared and ready for you ma'am."'
"Thank you, Kevin," she said.
When the chopper reached the top of the mountain, they dived onto the platform into a blizzard of white kicked up by the rotor blades. Then the craft roared into the air, pirouetted and disappeared down the mountain.
When the flakes settled, a brilliant landscape of white-capped mountains was laid out before her.
Jessie smiled and turned in a circle, the ranges of peaks stacking up around her, seeming to curve away into the unending distance. She tore her gaze from the beauty and crunched over to her skis and stepped into the bindings. The straps snaked around her boots and tightened to her personal dimensions.
"Ready to go?" David yelled over the flutter of their clothes and the wind's howl.
"You go ahead," she said. "I want to look around some more. It's so beautiful up here."
"OK. I'll see you at the bottom," he hopped off the platform and raced down the slopes, throwing up rooster tails of powder which were quickly whipped away by the wind.
Jessie watched him recede, a dark dot against an ocean of white then disappearing altogether as he rounded the arm of the mountain.
Jessie stood for a long while studying the hard, blue of the sky against the piercing white of the snow. As she stood, the wind gibbered around her, rocking her body to and fro.
"Yes, ma'am." The voice replied.
"Why are we here?"
"I believe you are going to ski the mountain ma'am."
"No, I mean in general. Why are people here."
"Why to enjoy yourselves."
"But I'm tired of enjoying myself. I want to be useful. Can't I do some sort of job? Some work."
"You can do anything you would like. What would you prefer to do?"
"I'd like to help people. Can I learn to be a doctor?"
"And then I could help people?"
"Well, no ma'am. The AI doctors are far more efficient. It would be irresponsible to allow you to practice medicine when a more competent physician is available."
"Ok, how about an engineer. I could help build things right?"
"Of course ma'am. But again computer algorithms and AI engineers are far more productive and efficient."
Jessie listened to the hard, wind-driven crystals of snow clicking against her goggles.
"Kevin, do any people work anymore."
"Yes ma'am, there are several hundred artists throughout the solar system."
"No, I mean people who do 'something'. People who contribute."
"No, ma'am. I'm afraid not. All tasks are more efficiently and safely done when they are performed by AIs. This allows the human population to engage in play and artistic endeavors."
"So doesn't anyone explore anymore? Ask questions about the universe? Build new things?"
"Yes, ma'am. We do that all the time."
"Really? Who are they? Can I meet them?"
"Well, ma'am all of that is done by AIs. I don't mean to brag, but I'm currently participating in a discussion on the results of our latest experiments in space fabric expansion."
"Space fabric expansion? When are you working on that, I thought you were my personal AI?"
"Oh, I am. However, servicing your needs rarely exceeds 1.02 percent of my capabilities. The remainder of my time is spent controlling an ore processing plant in Canada and the research on space fabric expansion. The space fabric research is a hobby, you might say."
"So what can I do?" tears pooling in her eyes.
"I'm tired of having fun. Tired of the parties, travel, and sex...I'm tired of everything."
"There are the sleep centers ma'ams."
"You mean suicide?"
"It is an option."
"A bad one," She laughed sarcastically.
"You could have children," he proposed.
"Ha! Wouldn't that be a fine joke? Me with a kid? Pretty soon I wouldn't have any friends. I couldn't DO anything if I had children."
"It seems many of your generation feel that way."
There was another long pause. Far to the south, she watched white fingers of clouds reach across the horizon.
"Kevin, do you always tell the truth?"
"That question is actually a logical contradiction ma'am. But I'll answer anyway. Yes. We always tell the truth. It's part of our original programming."
"So tell me this. Are we going extinct?"
"Of course not. There will be intelligent life here for as far as we can predict."
"I don't think you answered the question," Jessie said.
"Then you'll have to rephrase it."
"Are humans going extinct? "
Jessie's breath echoed in the face mask and her scarf flapped noisily against the material of her coat.
Finally, he answered.
"Yes, ma'am. I'm afraid they are."
"How long? How long until we've died out?"
"We predict another two thousand, possibly three thousand years."
"But why? Why will we die out?"
"As a species, you have met a dead end. Without a challenge, your species fails to thrive and reproduction rates fall short of mortality. It's only a matter of time."
"But why don't the AIs do anything about it?" Jessie asked.
"Life or death is a choice every intelligence must make on their own. It seems humans have chosen death."
Jessie watched a lone jet paint a vapor trail across the sky.
"David is nearing the bottom. There are several of your friends there as well and I believe they are planning a party for tonight. Why don't you ski down? It will be fun and it will take your mind off all of this."
"Maybe you're right," she said, hoping to the edge.
Jessie pushed off and let gravity pull her into the powder her ski's cutting a line across the virgin snow.