art by Seth Alan Bareiss
English Muffin, Devotion on the Side
by Cat Rambo
When he realized how upset his wife was, George wondered if he might have miscalculated. Normally a quiet and loving partner, she was unpacking the dishwasher with a great deal of clattering and muttering.
"It's not as though you even ever dated her!" she said, slamming a series of mugs into the cupboard.
"I don't see what the problem is," he replied, watching as she swept up the basket of cutlery and began throwing it into a drawer to jangle against his nerves. "I've left you everything. All I did was will her a copy!"
She turned, resting her hands on her hips. "You're leaving her a copy of your personality. Essentially yourself."
"No," he said. "I'm leaving that to you. You'll have me on tape, you'll be able to transfer me into some mechanical form to keep you company. I just thought Janice might like one, too."
"Why?" Mary's glare said she had her own suspicions.
George refused to dignify them with a reply. He'd been faithful to her all his life. A good husband. He could be allowed his own eccentricities, and if leaving a copy of himself, a digital copy created from a barrage of tests and brain scans and gathered data, to an old friend was one of those eccentricities, then he didn't really see where Mary had the right to say much about it. She could leave her own copy or copies to her own friends.
Later, he said as much to Dr. Noor as she fastened electrodes to his scalp. He wasn't sure she was even listening while she methodically dabbed cold cream on his skin before applying each electrode. But as she began fiddling with the dials, she said, "Most people choose to only have one copy made, Mr. Winthrop. It's not that they make the mistake of thinking that the copy is themself or their soul, a way to survive after death. They are sensible about it, creating something to care for their loved ones after they die. But only one." Her gaze was dark and unreadable. "Very rare to make more than one."
"But why?" he demanded. "Why shouldn't I make a thousand copies? Why shouldn't every friend I possess have this remembrance of me. I've got the money to do it, after all."
"Indeed you do," she said, looking at a readout. "But are you familiar with economic theory, Mr. Winthrop?"
He frowned. "Of course."
"There's a very basic law involving resources." Her eyes were still fixed on the machine, her voice was almost detached. "The more there is of something, the less valuable it is."
Defiance and deference warred in his soul. "I want more than the two copies. I'll leave a copy to everyone. Everyone close to me, I mean."
The list he produced, though, was not as extensive as he'd imagined. A few cousins, some friends from work and college, and even a couple of old high school friends. Mary could object all she wanted. She'd see he wasn't just leaving one with Janice as a romantic gesture.
Although of course it was. He'd never admit that to Mary. It was an inside joke between him and Janice, the closest he'd ever gotten to dating her. She'd been so sweet about it. Her fingers resting on his arm as though to underscore her words. "If I had an extra lifetime, I'd give it to you."
His best friend Sam had said, "Man, what a shitty blowoff. You're not worth anything but a hypothetical lifetime." But the phrase had entranced George. What if he'd had multiple lifetimes, what if he'd devoted them to rare chances and possibilities, what might have happened? That was why he was leaving her the copy. A gesture of devotion, not reproach.
And an affordable gesture, really. You can't take it with you, after all. He'd let her know about it, somehow. Maybe see what she was up to nowadays.
He sank back in the padded chair. The gel's faint minty smell tickled the sensitive inner flesh of his nose, but that was the only sensation, really, when he closed his eyes. The faint rattle of the ventilator system, Dr. Noor's gentle humming…
He couldn't open his eyes. He tried. He couldn't move anything. What was going on? He remembered dozing in the chair, nothing after that.
He became aware that his body was changed somehow. He couldn't feel it, couldn't hear anything, but that was his impression, even though he couldn't say how. Changed. Perhaps not for the better. Had he suffered some accident that had left him paralyzed?
A wave of terror crashed into him.
Was he dead?
Was this what being dead was like?
Suddenly he could see. Could see he was sitting on a desk in his lawyer's office. Janice was there, staring at him.