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art by Richard Gagnon

Mortless

Henry Szabranski lives in Buckinghamshire, UK, with his wife and two young sons. This is his second story published by Daily Science Fiction. Read more at henryszabranski.com.
Simon would not say goodbye this time. He had worked hard enough, sacrificed enough, paid enough, to not say goodbye to his wife ever again.
He leaned his head against the glass wall of the pod and stared inside at River's freshly printed body. She looked up at him, smiled and said, "I love you."
Simon turned to the technician monitoring the pod and, if he hadn't feared it might interrupt the ongoing transfer process, would have crushed him in a grateful bear hug. "It's going well. She can talk. She recognizes me."
The technician nodded, his thin face impassive, lit by the neon glow of the monitor pad cradled in his hands. Morton, his name tag read. Simon fought the sudden urge to laugh. Mortless would have been more appropriate.
"It looks like it, this time." Morton's voice was as lean and dry as his face. "She was presented to us very late, though. The damage to her cortex is extensive."
"It's a miracle they found enough of her at all." Simon turned his attention back to the resurrection chamber. The body inside was not the one pulled from the plane wreckage: that had been damaged beyond recognition and repair. The grim-faced paramedics who delivered the burned remains warned she had been dead for at least ten minutes before they had been able to initiate the transfer process... but against all the odds, here was River, stirring again, looking up at him and saying she loved him.
Thank God he had invested in the new life-recorder technology. River had protested, at first. "It's creepy. I don't want anything like that inside me." She still refused even after he had explained the process, how the nanowires would infiltrate and capture the ongoing workings of her brain. The brochure clearly stated it was painless. In the end Simon had to insist. And when Simon insisted, he usually got his way.
And a good thing, too.
He smiled, and a tear dribbled from his eye. No more goodbyes today.
"Talk to her. Ask her something." Morton nodded at the pod, his eyes on the traces gyrating across the screen in his hands. "It'll help re-establish her memories and assist with the diagnostics."
Simon frowned. The technician made it sound like his wife was like some piece of machinery, a crash-repaired automobile that needed re-tuning. Still... he was paid to be the expert.
"Hey, Princess." Simon's breath fogged the glass of the pod. "How are you feeling?"
"Sleepy." She yawned and stretched, and the sludge inside the chamber sloshed from side to side. It looked like a mud bath, an exotic spa experience.
"Can you remember anything? About the accident?"
New River closed her eyes. "I was in the Learjet." She smiled. "I was going to see Gustav." Her glistening smooth forehead crinkled. "We had argued." Her eyes fluttered open and stared at him, piercing, heart-breaking blue. "You and I. We argued."
His heart sank. Not again.
"You didn't want me to go." Her smile faded. Her eyes grew hard. "You forbade me."
He shook his head. "This is wrong. Wrong."
"I was leaving you."
"Please, River, no."
"I hate you. I never want to see you again."
He turned to the technician. "Doc. Something's wrong."
Morton examined the display on the side of the pod. "Vitals look good. Best we've had so far."
"She still remembers Gustav. I thought you said this time you had erased all the memories?"
Morton sighed. "Listen. I keep telling you. It's not what this system is designed for. It's for preservation, not erasure."
The familiar anger welled up in Simon's breast. "And I keep telling you, I want her memories edited. I want her to forget that scumbag forever. Never met him, no knowledge of him. Can't you get it right? Don't I pay you enough?"
"It's nothing to do with money. Just because we can capture and replay a holographic snapshot of the mind doesn't mean we can selectively edit it. Not without doing damage to the neural pathways...."
Morton's defiance only stoked Simon's fury. "Do you know who I am? Do you know how much I'm worth?"
The technician gave him a cool look. "Yes, Mr. Nightingale. I know exactly who you are and how much you're worth. None of which matters if the data from your wife's brain capture is too complex to manipulate." He drew himself up. "If the authorities knew what we were doing, if the police ever found out...."
"They won't find out. Ever." Simon's fists clenched. Only the certain knowledge it would be counterproductive stopped him from seizing the technician. "Start again."
Morton groaned. "We've tried six times already. This is by far the best result we've had. Each time the capture data becomes more degraded. It may not work again."
"I said, start again. Or look for another job."
Morton began to protest, then saw the expression on Simon's face and stepped back. "As you wish." With obvious reluctance, he tapped out a sequence on the pod's control panel. Lights flashed red. An alarm began to sound.
River's face fell slack. One eye rolled, listless. Her mouth twitched, as if undecided whether it should smile. "Love you, Gus. Love you."
"You should leave now," Morton warned. "The unit is going to recycle the resurrectee material. I'll call when the next one is ready."
Simon felt the technician's hand on his arm, but he pulled away. "No. This time I'm staying."
"I lulloo," the not River said. It grimace-grinned, and Simon's stomach turned. Already the flesh was dissolving, following the failed mind back into the darkness from where it had been raised.
He pressed his cheek against the smooth surface of the pod. It felt cold. Very cold.
"Goodbye," he whispered.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012


This story was the result of one of the regular prompts set by the writing group I'm a member of, the Self-Forging Fragments. On this occasion it was a musical prompt, "Singing Under The Rainbow," by World's End Girlfriend. To me, the track evoked images of an awakening, a gradual disintegration, of eventual loss.

- Henry Szabranski

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