Hollow Robin enters, perched in the center of an ungainly contraption, half steel exoskeleton and half spaceship cockpit. Ungainly struts and braces support his shoulders, back, and one leg. A dozen keyboards and display screens, real and virtual, orbit around him.
Underneath all the gadgetry, he is an undistinguished middle-aged Anglo, not quite paunchy but certainly soft around the edges. His skin is pallid, his long hair and scraggly beard so pale that they might as well be translucent. His eyes, behind thick lenses, are watery blue-grey. Hollow Robin's body is one that fades into the background, recedes until almost lost in the machinery. Damien thinks that Robin prefers it that way.
Robin faces Damien and, characteristically, begins his conversation in the middle. "In evolutionary terms, what's the most successful creature on our planet?"
Mahlowi shakes her head. "Amoeba," she says, confidently.
Robin frowns. "Wrong, both of you. The most successful creature on Earth is the mitochondria. A billion years ago, they swam into the first cells, and they've been there ever since. They have their own DNA, they reproduce independently -- and they're present in every plant and animal cell that exists. Mitochondria comprise more than five percent of the living mass on the planet."
He stares, hard, at his own right hand. "They only change by slow mutation. Genetically, my mitochondria are more closely related to those of a fruit fly, than I am related to my own brother."
Mahlowi gives him a sweet smile. "So what's the point?"
"Who's to say that our actions might not be motivated by the trillions of mitochondria in our cells, for their own devious mitochondrial schemes? What we perceive as consciousness and free will, might merely be by-products of what our mitochondria are doing."
"It seems to me," Mahlowi says, "that the effect would be the same, either way."
"Ah, but it's only your mitochondria making you say that."
copyright (c) 2008, Don Sakers
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