Life Goes On
by Frank Wight
part 1 of 2
As the snow fell, it reflected silver in the light of the house. The Alekseyev’s home was a huge black cube. It’s featureless exterior resembling glossy marble. At the flick of a switch the marblesque walls shimmered and became mirrored, reflecting the snow covered pine forest.
Even though he was inside, Dr. Yuri Alekseyev wound his black dressing gown tighter. Picking up his hot herbal tea he blew onto it, and whilst gazing into the white landscape he took a sip. He sighed. “I miss you, Tazzy.” he whispered.
Focusing his eyes on his reflection, he straightened his back. The haunted eyes that stared back at him seemed capable of creation & destruction in equal measure. Lines of age, experience and sorrow were carved into his face. His tall wiry frame was reminiscent of a wolf — lean, stealthy. Tiring of the self-appraisal he pressed a button on his watch and the glass wall flicked into a gigantic VisiView.
On the screen in front of him a middle-aged woman was running through a busy street. She looked panicked. As she disappeared down an underground hover-way station, the scene changed from an aerial view to that of an internal security camera. This one was closer and her features were more detailed, long blonde hair, and well defined cheekbones. She was crying. She pushed through the crowd and on past the ticket sensor.
The screen flicked again, a third camera angle showed her from behind. She was rushing to the platform as the hi-speed train approached. She didn’t stop.
Yuri watched once more. Longing to understand her actions. He had always considered himself a good husband; generous, caring... devoted!
He recalled the opening night of their last show, “Living the Machine”, when he had presented their works to an unsuspecting world. Guests were shocked and intrigued by the latest artworks to come from the artist couple. Animatronics replaced bones inside corpses in order to re-animate them. Aborted foetuses crawled, and guests were served canapés by remote-controlled cadavers. They had made a fortune that night, and cemented the Alekseyev’s place in the upper echelons of the art world.
So why had she suddenly changed? What had driven her to take her own life? Painfully the artist recollected the phone call only days before.
“I’m sorry, sir. Your wife is dead.”
Yuri reeled back against the wall, only a few centimetres behind him, but it felt like an eternity.
He steadied himself, trying to regain his mental composure. Rubbing the bridge of his nose he readjusted the VisiScreen to hide his tears from the Policeman. “How did she die? Was it another cardio attack, Tatiana had been suffering for some time...?”
“No, Dr. Alekseyev, she fell. I’m so sorry, it doesn’t get any easier telling people this sort of news.” His sympathy was sincere even though his expression revealed he had done this a thousand times.
“She fell into the path of an oncoming train.” He blinked then and looked down to check his facts. “At 21:43 last night, at Maryina Station on the Yamoskvoretskaza Line.”
“What do I do now? Can I see her? Oh god, Tazzy!” The old man sobbed then, openly and in view of the officer, as he hadn’t done since he was a boy.
“It’s okay, sir, she’s at peace now. I’ll forward you the details so you may collect your wife.”
The screen blacked out as he hung up. His choked words mumbled out, “I feel like the loneliest man on the planet.”
* * *
Some weeks later Yuri found himself inside a strange building, guided there by unknown forces. 3-D scenes of touching family reunions punctuated the clinically white walls. A slim, black-suited man approached. His attire was in stark contrast to the sterile colours of the interior.
“Good morning, sir! And welcome to Denuo Dawn.” He clasped his hands almost in prayer, and then extended his arm to welcome Yuri into his unholy shrine. “My name is Artyem Molodin, how may I help you, sir?” The clerk showed all the clichéd mannerisms expected from a salesman.
Yuri regarded him with nothing short of contempt. “Err, hi. I was thinking about my wife. She died recently and I miss her so much...” Yuri looked down to hide his emotional embarrassment, noticing for the first time the stain on his jumper, and wrinkled trousers.
“Quite, sir, have a seat. I fully understand.”
Yuri felt himself again being guided, this time by the shop ghoul towards a discreet booth designed for privacy. The man showed Yuri to a chair and then sat opposite him behind his desk.
“It’s one of life’s most difficult lessons, is death. My own wife passed away some years ago, we’ve been back together for six months.”
Yuri found that reassuring.
The salesman continued, “If I may, I would like to take some details about your wife’s passing... and return! If you please, sir...”
“May I take her full name, date of birth and date of death?”
“Her name was Tatiana Elizabeth Alekseyev, she never told me her birth year; women can be so secretive about their ages, you know? But we celebrated on the 25th of September. She died on the 25th of March, this year.”
“Okay, I’ll just scan the deaths directory, and... Ah, yes, here we are...” His features remained expressionless, thought Yuri, as if he had been face-sculpted. He looked up from his computer, “Normally you would need consent from any other existing relatives, but it seems you are the only kin, is that correct, sir?”
“Indeed.” Molodin repeated, whilst typing.
“Do you have a DNA sample? If not we can usually synthesize, but 99% of people have some hair or skin. Once we even had a father bring in his dead son’s scab collection! It’s quite amazing what can be achieved. The synthesizing process is an extra cost though, naturally.”
“A less natural thing than this I couldn’t imagine,” Yuri replied, “but yes, I have some hair. Tell me: will she be just like Tatiana? Will she resemble her exact likeness?”
Molodin continued, “We can prematurely age her to be the age she was at death, or if you prefer she can be a little younger...” His gaze lingered, “Would you prefer..?”
Yuri’s brow furrowed. “The same age would be just fine, thank you,” he snapped, “Tell me how it works.”
“Well, the process is threefold. First up is Incubation. The DNA in placed in an artificial womb for nine weeks; our technologies are greatly accelerated compared to Mother Nature’s... The second stage we call Fountain: we age your loved one to the required time period. This takes approximately a day for each year of aging. It’s truly incredible and unique to Denuo Dawn.”
Artyem Molodin continued reeling off his sales blurb in a relaxed manner. Yuri listened intently, fascinated by the process.
“The final stage is what we call the PIP, the Personality Imprinting Process. We gather as much information as possible about our subject via our Archive Team. They accumulate character data and build a maquette of the subject.”
Yuri began to feel a little lost, “A maquette? How do you mean? Will she be able to remember me?”
“Oh yes! With today’s digital history info we virtually guarantee it. The Archivers imprint imagery gathered from your lives. They use both photos and film footage. Location information is used to replicate accent. We also utilise work history, education and social interests. Much comes via receipts and social networks, as well as our own artificial memory data programmes for language and general knowledge, habits, qualifications, likes & dislikes. The only different thing will be her star sign! Unless you wish to coincide her rebirth with her first birth?”
“Oh, I don’t care about that!”
“Typical Taurus are we, sir... Ha-ha. Now then, with the basics explained do you have any further questions or shall we move on?
“One question: will she love me?”
“Sir, of course! If she loved you in her previous life, then she will love you in the next. When she sees you again, all those holiday films and photos, romantic poems, gifts you bought her, all this and more will be absorbed into her new personality, present in her memory. When she sets eyes upon you again these will be the thoughts she has!
“If you wish to alter her personality — God forbid — then that can be arranged too. It is a slightly different credit graph, but can be done nonetheless; we’ll talk about payment plans later.”
“Okay, so you can alter her memories if desired?” Yuri said.
“Sir, we are strictly bound by the Milan Convention guidelines.” His expression hardened, “In essence we can filter her new personality, but under no circumstances can we add new experiences or personality traits. For instance we could not, and will not build her personality to hate the King for instance, or programme her to be an assassin. No, but we can filter.”
Sweeping his hair back he locked eyes with Yuri, “Only last month one gentleman desired to bring his wife out of life-retirement, but with one slight alteration.” Conspiringly, he looked around and leaned forward, half-whispering, “He wished her to have no knowledge of the manslaughter charge held against him for his wife’s death.” They held each other’s gaze for a second before Molodin continued, “So you see we can leave things out, but never add in..” As he leaned back his jovial smile returned.
Yuri said, “I think I understand. Are there any risks involved, I mean maybe she’ll hate me? Or try to kill me for bringing her back?”
“Back? Back, sir? Back from where? The ‘Long Sleep’ as we like to call it — until the glorious resurrection! That you will be responsible for! Imagine her joy at being in your arms once more. That insatiable longing and hunger of your heart will evaporate upon seeing her again!”
To Yuri it all sounded too good to be true. A memory pricked his thoughts, “But have you had any errors? I remember seeing something a few years ago about a berserk dog?”
The salesman smoothed his tie between thumb and forefinger, “I don’t recall that incident, sir, but let me assure you that our pet regeneration service and our human services are extremely safe! Although Re-Incarning is a fairly new science, rest assured that we at Denuo Dawn are at the forefront.”
“I’ll give you an info pack in a moment that explains the entire process as well as containing many testimonials from happy customers.” Shuffling around his desk he produced a small key-fob and a holograph leaflet. “Now then, may I take your address and contact details?”
Yuri’s thoughts of returning home to his gray, sloth-like existence did not appeal to him. What have I got to lose? he thought solemnly. Nothing, nothing without Tazzy. “My address is 1616 Belaya Panki. 6739908D3.”
Molodin’s eyes didn’t leave his keyboard, “Lovely, okay... And how would you like to pay, sir?” Now their eyes met again.
Lifting his head, Yuri cast his eyes on the ceiling, exhaling breath. “So what’s the damage gonna be? You mentioned payment plans earlier?” He looked back at Molodin, catching the glint in his eye.
“Indeed, indeed... The initialization process is a standard 25 million Crowns. That includes a fully conversational 3-D model of your loved one! You can see just how her personality will act. The DNA extraction and imprinting phase that I briefly spoke of earlier, and the incubation license, process & birth cost 75 million.” His gaze intensified. “The actual hard work, if you will, of growing and imprinting your loved one is a further 100 million Crowns.”
Yuri hadn’t realised it would be that expensive. He tried to hide his shock, unsuccessfully, as he shifted uncomfortably in his chair that almost seemed designed to make him do so. “That’s a hell of a lot of money, Molodin.”
“Sir, yes, but we can make a payment plan to suit every personality. Broken down into manageable pieces so you can pay back what you can afford on a monthly basis, with a very real and low rate of interest.
“Typically, most go for a fifteen-year payment plan, with the option to pay in full on a windfall or if you win the Sol-Lotto!” A charming but transparent smile appeared on his face and vanished almost as soon as it had appeared. “The minimum deposit is five percent of the total — so that’s... 100,000 Crowns, if you go for the standard package.”
He paused before continuing. “Of course, if you can’t wait the mandatory months for re-gen, then we can put you on one of our Express Plans starting at only 250,000 Crowns more.”
Yuri was starting to feel his anger increasing. How was it that his happiness, his wife was held in this stranger’s palm!? The phrase ‘Can’t buy me love’ popped into his head.
Quelling his frustration ruthlessly, he swallowed and said, “It’s a hard decision, Arty. I miss my wife. She was my life. Without her, nothing really matters. I can afford the standard package with the five percent deposit. If I pay that today, and give you this...”
He pulled out a handkerchief and placed it on the desk. Unwrapping it carefully he revealed a lock of blonde hair tied neatly with a blue ribbon, “Then how long are we looking at? Six months from today is it?” The sight of the hair unnerved him, and Yuri felt close to tears. Absently his thoughts drifted onto how he wouldn’t use the handkerchief to dab the tears.
“Look, Mr. Alekseyev — I understand this is a hard decision, and a very personal one. But can you put a price on happiness? Or love? No. You can’t. If you pay the deposit and hand me your wife’s hair, we can begin extraction immediately.
“From the date the deposit transaction clears it will take approximately ten to twelve weeks to build the holographic personality. We will need you to come in, in a few days time, to answer a questionnaire on your wife’s behalf. This will help determine our search criteria. Or you can answer online, if you like. So what do you say?”
“Mr. Molodin, you have yourself a deal.” Yuri smiled for the first time in months. The feeling saturated his face and spread to his stomach — he felt excited!
Gently tapping the desk, Molodin revealed a fingerprint reader. “If I could just take your PrintFile, then we can proceed, sir.”
With the transaction completed, Yuri left Denuo Dawn’s showroom, feeling light-hearted. With his mood lifted and his mind distracted, he failed to notice Molodin’s supervisor lean in and request Alekseyev’s complete history file.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Frank Wight