Have they changed their minds? Or have their minds been changed?
Death is no longer the end. Those who prepare, and can afford it, may have their memories and personalities digitally preserved. The digitally stored population can interact with the world of the living, remaining part of their loved ones’ lives. They can even vote.
Except – someone’s in charge of the code. Someone who may have an agenda.
After the young and vital Thea dies and is stored, her husband Max starts to wonder about changes in her preoccupations and politics. Are they simply the result of the new company she keeps? Or has she been altered without her knowledge and against her will?
And if Thea is no longer herself, what can they do?
Targeted Age Group:: general adult audience
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Many decades of reading science fiction has led me to view current events and reports of upcoming tech through a science-fiction lens. I don't remember the details, but suspect the trigger was a description of a SF novel or short story.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I'm fortunate that my subsconscious takes care of most of the work of generating characters. 🙂
“Did you take your sun pill? I hate it when you get burned and I can’t touch you for days.” Thea bustled about, packing up her kits for the sand art competition and the surfing afterward. Max watched her with amusement and some admiration. She could not exactly be called efficient in her movements, but her energy and speed got the job done in record time. And she had energy to spare.
“Is it OK with you if I under-dose a bit? I’d like to get a bit darker. Give the ladies that smoldering-Italian thrill.”
Thea blew him a kiss and tossed him a beach towel. “It’s your sweet body, love. Smolder away—metaphorically speaking. Where’s my mix tape?”
“The chip’s on our dresser next to your lucky sand dollar.” Max swallowed a lump in his throat. That his artist lover allowed him to choose her inspiration music for every competition, and even to surprise her with it when they got to the beach, never ceased to move and amaze him.
“Race you to the van!” While he’d been woolgathering, Thea had bundled everything together except the surfboard waiting in the garage. She slipped by him, her lithe figure disappearing through the doorway and her hoot of laughter ringing in the hall. He dashed after her, bumping the doorway and rattling the door in his haste.
Of course she got there first. She almost always did. He didn’t mind.
They were early enough that Max was able to get a spot looking down at Thea’s assigned area, with enough room for the surfboard and all Thea’s gear, and high enough up that he could also turn and watch the waves. Thea ran off to find out the competition’s theme; Max sat cross-legged on the blanket, his head back to let the sun warm his face, the view behind his closed eyes a deep red-orange. The waves rumbled and hissed, breaking and receding, and the breeze brought him the smell of salt and sun-heated sand, and the squawking cries of the gulls.
Soon he heard Thea’s footsteps pattering closer. He opened his eyes and looked up at her, beaming, the sun behind her lighting her hair in a halo. “It’s perfect! The theme today, it’s dragons! Like the tattoo you designed for me last year! This is going to be my day!”
Max worked to control his expression. It always made him nervous when people, even Thea, said things like that. But while she would be indulgent about his superstitious pangs, she was far too logical to feel the same, and he had no desire to distract her or dampen her glow. He focused on her shining eyes and was able to smile back at her. “It’s your kind of day, baby. Now go make it yours.”
She dropped down on the blanket beside him, threw her arms around him in a quick firm hug, kissed his cheek hard enough to almost knock him over, then sprang back up again and ran to start her sculpture. Max watched her, relishing the pumping of her legs and buttocks. . . . His pill! He hadn’t taken it yet. He scrambled in his bag for the bottle and dry-swallowed the capsule. No way did he want to be too sore for them to tumble and grapple and roll when he finally got her to bed tonight.
He glanced at the waves again, tumbling and rolling into shore, and took a few deep breaths before he turned to watch Thea haul buckets full of damp sand up the beach to her site.
* * * * *
Thea paused to dribble more water on her growing sculpture, then stood, stretched, and looked up the hill to where Max was sitting. He saw her movement and waved, then wiped his hand dramatically across his forehead. She laughed. Okay, it was hot out! She grabbed her water bucket, stepped away from the sculpture, and dumped the water over her head, then grinned up at Max as she shook the water out of her hair. She couldn’t be sure of his expression from that distance, but she thought he looked wistful at the thought of cooling down. She pointed to the ocean, then back to him, then to the ocean again; but he shook his head. He would stay and watch and root for her until she was done.
* * * * *
“First place! First place! YES!!!” Thea jumped up and down, waving her arms, looking incongruously like a cheerleader, while Max whistled and clapped. He took yet another picture of Thea’s completed sculpture: twin dragonets hatching out of the same egg and looking toward each other, the mother’s intricately patterned tail a barricade curled around them. Meanwhile, Thea, not content with the actual trophy, quickly sculpted a sand replica next to the trophy itself. Max photographed that as well, then grabbed Thea and hoisted her into the air, squeezing her tight before setting her down again. She grinned ear to ear, then grabbed him as soon as her feet touched the sand and hoisted him in turn. She carried him a few steps up the hill before dropping him and running ahead to her board. All those hours of concentration, with only a quick pause for a sandwich, and she still had energy to spare.
He caught up with her as she lifted it onto her head; she put it down again to grab his hand and pull him close for a kiss, then asked, “Do you want to ride with me for a bit? I’ll take it easy.”
“Naah, I’ll just body-surf with the other land creatures. You go out and rule the waves.”
* * * * *
Thea rode the crest of the wave—a beautiful big wave—almost all the way to shore, then jumped off and grabbed the board to head out again, letting the receding water take her along. She lay on the board and paddled out farther, to give herself an even longer ride next time. The sun beat down, but the water was cool, the breeze cooler. All the temperatures and sensations and sounds and smells blended together in a perfect cocktail of sensation. If she could bottle this day, she’d douse herself with it over and over.
Had the digital storage company made any progress lately with its environmental simulations? And should she respond to the RFP for software contractors to join that effort? Working on music so much had been terrific, and it was something she could share with Max, but her computing skills needed some exercise as well.
Time to pay attention! After a few waves not worth bothering about, here came a good one—not monstrous, but worth the trip. She scrambled up on her board —
For a moment, she thought her board had somehow struck her in the head, but she could still feel it beneath her feet. Had another surfer ridden into her? But along with the piercing pain in her head came a horrible nausea, worse than the flu, worse than the time she and Max had eaten that chowder . . . .
Something terrible was happening.
* * * * *
Max scanned the waves, looking for Thea—paddling out, waiting for a wave, riding it in—and couldn’t find her. Just how far out had she gone?
Then he saw her board. Just her board, gliding on in as if it had decided it could do without its rider.
He raced down to the water, tripping and stumbling on sand, shouting her name, whipping his head left and right.
And then he saw something tumbling and bobbing and, finally, bumping onto the wet sand.
Thea, crumpled in a ball, gasping and moaning.
Max dropped to his knees and put his arms under her shoulders and knees. He had to get her out of the surf before she breathed in any—any more?—water, but what if moving her did more damage than whatever had already happened?
To his unutterable relief, he saw lifeguards converging on them, two with a stretcher, one with a standard medical kit, and another holding some less familiar device., They slid Thea onto the stretcher with smooth swift motions while one gabbled something into the phone on his wrist. Then the man holding the strange device fastened it somehow to the top of Thea’s skull.
An ambulance came rumbling along the beach, people in swimsuits scrambling out of the way. The guards handed Thea over to the EMTs and practically threw Max in after her, and they screamed away down the beach.
“ . . . an aneurysm. I don’t see any indication of external injury, no impact with a surf board or anything of that kind.”
Max had been sitting in the waiting room long enough to imagine an entire lifetime without Thea, day by day, year by year, his birthday, her birthday, making music alone, turning to share with her and finding no one there. . . . When he could bear no more, he relapsed into memories of their life together: high school, the final blissful release from high school, college apart, his quitting college, his joining her, college together, quitting together, finding the first miserable apartment, finding the next apartment, setting up the studio, getting a client, losing the client, getting more clients, panic that Thea might be pregnant, excitement that Thea might be pregnant, blank deflation when Thea wasn’t pregnant . . . passing a wedding chapel and abruptly running in to get married, then making it up to their friends—if not so successfully to their families—with a truly epic reception party . . . Thea and her computers, music and more music, the succession of birthday tattoos . . . Would he ever be able to give her the next tattoo?
And finally, the weary middle-aged doctor had come to talk to him, sitting in the faded orange chair beside his own, and he was too stunned and exhausted to ask the right questions.
“How bad is an aneurysm?”
She had that almost-neutral sober expression they must practice in medical school. “Most of them are bad. Some of them are worse. This is one of the very bad ones.”
Max stared at her, dimly aware that he had forgotten how to breathe. He managed to gasp in some air. “I don’t know what to ask. Tell me what you’d answer if I asked the right questions.”
Maybe she did. But he couldn’t concentrate. A few words got through: surgery . . . poor prognosis . . . odds against survival . . .
His face felt frozen. And he had stopped breathing again.
Had Thea stopped breathing? Was that why he couldn’t seem to breathe?
“Are you saying she’s going to die?”
“I’m afraid that outcome is likely.”
Max started to his feet and walked away from the words, toward the window, or the door, or anywhere except next to this doctor who was saying something utterly unacceptable. But as he moved away, he thought he caught another word, a hideously incongruous one: “ . . . lucky . . .”
He must have misheard. He would assume he had misheard, and not ask her to repeat it. Because if she had said that he was lucky, or that Thea was lucky, no matter what the reason, then he would probably try to kill her with his bare and trembling hands.
Instead, he turned, slowly, and asked as steadily as he could, “Were you trying to explain something to me just now?”
His expression must have warned her. She paused, looking for the first time like a vulnerable human being; then said, in carefully measured tones, “I was trying to explain how important it was that your wife has already been recorded.”
He stared at her some more. “Recorded? What does that mean?”
And then, suddenly, he understood.
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