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art by Jonathan Westbrook

Do I Tell Her?

Steve Peck is an evolutionary ecologist, but writes science fiction on the sly. His publishing history includes lots of scientific work, including publications in American Naturalist, Newsweek, Evolution, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Biological Theory, and Biology & Philosophy. His magical realism novel, The Scholar of Moab, was just published by Torrey House Press. He has a juvenile fiction book called The Rift of Ryme, published by Cedar Fort Press, and a novel due in March, A Short Stay in Hell published by Strange Violin Editions. He has won several awards for his stories including first place in the Warp and Weave Science Fiction Competition and Honorable Mention in the 2011 Brookie and D.K. Brown Fiction Contest. This year he was nominated for the 2011 Rhysling Award for best science fiction long-form poem.
She is sitting in the library, reading. I see her face glowing in the soft light of the magazine. The familiar face I've known every nuance of for the better part of my life. She blinks twice deliberately, turning the page. As she does so, I see the radiance of the screen flicker in her face. Her legs are curled beneath her on the cozy, lab-grown-leather chair. She notices I'm standing in the door watching. She smiles, then goes back to reading. Should I tell her? I can't decide. The ethical debate is all over the map. Even the professionals don't have a clue and have not reached a consensus. The insta-polls on the highest hit sites are split 50-50. Although, "Ethics Now!!" is running 60/40 in favor of telling her.
I watched her with the boys this morning. They were laughing about our holiday in Austria when she fell into the stream while trying to jump across it. A video replay from my headcam leaps onto the kitchen screen--one of the kids must have accessed for the hundredth time. It is funny. She makes the leap, lands on the other side on both feet, and then spins her arms frantically as she loses balance and falls backward into the stream. Even I join the laughter.
Do the kids know? No. Just me. And it's eating me alive. I didn't think it would make a difference. But it does. Those who say it doesn't are lying. Or something. I can't just let it go. This is not my wife.
But then, why tell anyone? The boys need never know. How will it affect their relationship? What will it do for them to know? Her lab need never know. She'll continue to lead the research team as she always has. Clearly, they don't need to know. What about her? Should I tell her? I think she could handle it best. But then I thought I could handle it too. It never seems far away. And I'm mourning her. I didn't expect that. I'm mourning and sad and burst into tears at odd times. When she asks what's wrong, I can't tell her. I just say, stress. She believes it. She has seen it in me before. But in reality, I'm grieving. My wife is dead and she least of all can offer me comfort. Unless I tell her. Maybe she'll mourn her too.
It happened while we were hiking the Alps. A freak accident. An errant rock knocked loose from someone above. We wanted to see the last glacier. She had to see it. I don't know why. Something she got in her head and just wanted to see. Then the rock. The size of a car tire, it came bouncing down and hit her in the chest. Just like that she was gone.
The team was there in less than twenty minutes--plenty of time. They micro-scanned her brain, took the genetic sample, frapped the epigenetic signatures, and asked me if I wanted the copy made. I was the designated go-to person in her living will. Actually, we had not talked about this much. But I did not want to lose her. And really, this was for me and the boys, not her. What would she care? She was dead. So what if we brought an exact copy of her back into the world? It was not really her from her own first-person point of view. She was only who she was to those of us who knew her. Those who loved her. Those who appreciated her contributions to the world.
When they asked, I said yes.
When she woke up, a new thing in the universe, they had planted an extra month of memories about our hiking in the Alps and a plausible story of how she had passed out from heat exhaustion. And we went home.
She looks up from her magazine again and asks if I'm OK. Tears are in my eyes. I blink them away. I walk into the room trying to smile. I come over and sit on the arm of her chair and ask what she is reading. I look down, stunned. I catch my breath--it's an article from Bioethics on "Fresh Copies." A Fresh Copy--that's what I'm married to. Does she suspect? Why else would she be reading articles on this?
Then she looks at me, her eyes wide, moistening too. She says with forced calmness, "Look. I can't stand it anymore. Remember last year, when your appendix burst?..."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 16th, 2012


I teach bioethics and I started wondering what ethical issues might come into play if you could actually make a copy of someone (including their neurology). The technology may be here soon. Already people are making mico-scans of brains and cloning is making progress. It may not be long before the elements of this story could actually take place.

- Steven L Peck

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