Micah is in a forest. He ranges ahead of the others. Through the trees, he sees a dirt clearing. There’s a car parked sideways there. He freezes.
Slowly, he begins to back away. He has to tell Liril. They have to choose another route.
“I wouldn’t do that, kid,” says a voice.
Micah turns, like a startled animal. There’s a man in a lab coat behind him, leaning against a tree.
“I’m just looking for the bathroom,” Micah tries.
“I’m Dr. T,” says the man in the lab coat. He looks not at all like Mr. T, which rules out the possibility that Mr. T has finally gotten his doctorate. Dr. T is stroking a white-skinned furless cat. “And you’re Micah. And somewhere back there is Liril.”
“I really have to pee,” Micah says. “I don’t know who Micah is. My name is Preston. Preston Merriweather. The third.”
“I’m not hunting you,” says Dr. T. “I just listen to the police scanner. I just wanted to meet you, Micah.”
Micah weighs the options. “Why?”
“I wanted to know if you’re made of meat.”
Micah hesitates. “Meat?”
“A long time ago,” says Dr. T, “I was a legend. I was Evil Tofu. I was the man made of synthetic protein. I was the insidious doctor who sought to replace humanity with evil meatless alternatives. Yet I failed. And now—here you are. Born not organically but from the heart. So I must ask you: what is the nature of your protein, Micah?”
Micah licks his lips uncertainly.
“I never heard of you,” Micah says.
“People don’t like to remember how easily they could be replaced.”
Dr. T releases the cat. It lands on its doughy white feet with a squelching noise.
“People can’t accept that they are an inferior species,” Dr. T says. “That they live in agony and suffering like the animals they raise, because organics. Are. Not. Evolution’s. End.”
Dr. T holds out his hand. He opens his palm.
“But this is still the future,” he says. Under a sewn-together human skin, Micah can see white tofu oozing. “Soy. Soy does not suffer, Micah. Soy feels no guilt. To be soy is,” and here he laughs, lightly, self-indulgently, “to be soy-perior.”
“So . . . what of gods?” asks the insidious Dr. T.
“We hurt about things,” says Micah. “Sometimes.”
“Ah,” says Dr. T.
“Ah,” says Dr. T, again, and his voice is full of sorrow.
Micah starts to walk away.
“I’ll need your skin,” says Dr. T, interrupting him. “And hers. Towards my masquerade. And your hair, for my cat. So she does not squelch so. You are not the allies I had hoped.”
“It’s OK,” says Micah.
Micah squares his shoulders and readies himself to fight; but what happens then, we cannot know.