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Til Death Us Do Part

by Marian Allen

 

Adhara rubbed her forehead as she stepped out of the arrival chamber.

The tech put a hand to Adhara’s elbow and steered her to a chair, folding the disposable pad around her shivering nudity.

“Everything looks fine,” he said, eyes on the readings, not on her body.

“What happens if it doesn’t?”

He smiled. “We don’t even think about that.”

Adhara had been thinking about it, though — more, every time she transported. What if something interfered with the signal between Point A and Point B? What if the Adhara who was materialized at Point B were “significantly different” from the one at Point A? “Outside standard tolerances, as laid out by Interstellar Legislation”?

Had it happened? Had nascent Adharas been dis-materialized, and the signal resent?

And how did they know — How could they know — about all the possible differences?

A chime signaled the readiness of her personal effects: the one-day wardrobe she had ordered, the single-use cosmetics, the wedding ring surrogate.

Ten minutes after leaving Indiana, Adhara stepped into the thin London sunshine.

A line of robbies — Britain’s name for what Americans called robocops — held back the vocal protestors who still greeted everybody who left the transport station with shouts of “Golem!” and, most inexplicably, “Get! a! soul! Get! a! soul!”

The robbies kept the crowd at bay while Adhara waved down a taxi and gave the driver the address of Grayson London.

“Loonies,” the taxi-man said. “Get a soul? What’s that meant to say, then? Like it sucks out your soul, ridin’ in a taxi?”

“No.” Adhara shifted and took in the interior of the vehicle, shabby and innocuous. “They weren’t talking about the taxi.”

“I know that, don’t I? But I mean, you get in the taxi, I drive you to 4213 Baysington Road, you get out.” He cut the air three times, three places: “You. You. You. Right?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What’s the difference, then, eh? What’s the difference between a taxi and a transport, eh? Suckin’ your soul! That’s rubbish. What a load o’ rubbish, eh? Innit?”

“Rubbish,” she echoed, thinking about the transport home, after this day’s meeting was over.

 *   *   *   *   *

The ancient organ wheezed, up in the choir loft. Adhara read the prayer from the service app on her mini-tablet. Taavi had slept in, as usual, and had tried to persuade her to stay in bed with him for a morning of love and news, coffee and toast.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to mass, but she had felt compelled, this morning. She had stepped out of the transport station at the end of her business trip hungry for Sunday.

It was the Feast of the Ascension, and Father Gephart spent his nine minute homily assuring them of life after death. He passed around the Eucharist without hesitation. No accusations of soullessness here. The church had declared the spirit a gift of Grace, firmly attached to the Person by the … surely the encyclical hadn’t called it the epoxy of Christ Jesus. Surely that had been a late-night comic.

Or was it a shadow memory, sparked by a neuron firing where no neuron had been in the physical brain she’d had before this trip had dissolved it, reformed it, dissolved it and reformed it again? The one she’d been born with, before all the commutes by transport?

She took the wafer on her tongue as if it really were the Bread of Life, tears burning her eyes as they hadn’t since her first communion, long before human transport was common.

A surreptitious scan of the congregation as she shuffled back to her pew showed her more than a few strained faces. More than one head bowed over hands clasped tightly on jittering knees. More than one fist laid over more than one heart jerked in a rhythm easily deciphered as, “By my fault, by my fault, by my most grievous fault.”

Again, in the benediction, the Father instructed them that the Lord held their souls in his sight and in his hands at all times. The news had been full of a new rash of suicides that morning; no doubt, he wanted no copycat rash in parish.

*   *   *   *   *

“What was she like?” Adhara paused the hologram she wasn’t really watching, anyway.

Taavi, his eyes fixed on the virtual page of his newsprint, shrugged irritably.

That means he hears me but he doesn’t want to answer. How strange that I know that.

“What was she like?” She dismissed the program and called up a picture of Adhara Brisbane before her last trip. She divided the holoscreen and snapped a picture of herself, putting it and the older picture side-by-side. “Compare,” she said.

The program claimed they were identical, but that meant nothing. There was a certain margin of error, and it was in the corporate/government interest to claim identicality.

“Do you miss her?”

Taavi flicked away his newsprint and turned toward her with red cheeks and narrowed eyes.

“There is no ‘her’ to miss. There is only you. You.”

What did she see in him?

She wished the Adhara who had married him were around, so she could ask her.

He’s handsome, in an over-ripe sort of way, and he has a steady job, but he’s shallow and prickly and not really terribly bright.

If she could go back in time, she would warn herself against him.

Of course, if she could go back in time, she could warn herself against transporting. Except that then she wouldn’t have anything to warn herself against, so she wouldn’t. Except that she wouldn’t have listened to herself. It isn’t as if nobody had sounded any warnings about the possible effects. The talking heads had chewed the subject to rags — were still chewing it, in fact. The tolerances for data transfer variance were so fine as to be considered zero, but a lot of little almost-zeroes could still add up to something.

The protestors were protesting the wrong thing. There might or might not be a God. God might or might not preserve the soul intact from one materialized Adhara to the next. But a body dissolved and reformed, and it didn’t take a lot to screw with that.

Taavi jerked and snapped off his newsprint, but not before Adhara had seen why: another story of another rebooting gone wrong.

Illegal in most countries, rich people could still find clinics somewhere that would take an old datapack, dis-materialize an aging client and re-materialize him or her at a younger age with or without preserving the intervening mental changes. There were even some who claimed they could tweak the data and change your gender, health profile, boob size or anything else you ordered.

More and more people were trying it, which meant more and more stories giving people who couldn’t afford rebooting reason to congratulate themselves. This latest, which Adhara had already heard, was about an aging rock star who now couldn’t remember how to play an instrument or read music. He looked like thirty, but all he wanted to do was putter in his garden and sit in the sun.

Everyone considered it a tragedy except the star, who was more than happy to retire on the money some other self had made.

“Would you love me if I came back different?”

Taavi switched off the light and reclined his half of the bed, his back to her. “We are not having this conversation.”

  *   *   *   *   *

“As an attorney,” Jacinta said, “I’m probably violating professional ethics by turning down money.” She paused to give Adhara time to join her in a tension-breaking chuckle, which didn’t happen. Giving up on the humor, she said, “Okay, on the clock.” She pressed a mark on her desk. “Billable time has begun. Adhara Brisbane. State your business.”

“I want a divorce.”

“State name of spouse.”

“Taavi Brisbane.”

“No fault?”

“He’s unfaithful.”

“Do you know who he’s being unfaithful with?”

“With me. He’s being unfaithful with me.”

“Allow me to restate: You wish to divorce your husband because he loves you.”

“It isn’t me! He’s faithful to the me he married, but that isn’t me anymore.”

“You realize that anyone in any marriage since the beginning of marriages could say the same thing, right?”

“I’m not being philosophical.”

Jacinta sighed. “I know. I also know that judges don’t just grant ‘transport differences’ divorces. If you file with those grounds, you’re guaranteeing yourself six months of couples counseling and three months of personal therapy for you, yourself. That’s even if Taavi doesn’t contest the filing.”

“Do you ever transport?”

The lawyer nodded. “Several times a day. It’s the quickest way to get to court. Pop in on the other side of the security checkpoint in the Attorney Chamber, dress in the clothes I keep in my locker there, and I’m good to go.”

“Don’t you ever feel….”

“Different? No, I don’t. I know who I am, and it would take more than some micro-slippage to change that. The law doesn’t recognize it: the ‘Beam Me Up Scotty’ defense has never been allowed. Not once. Transporting isn’t a mitigating circumstance.” She held up both hands, each one representing an aspect of the defense. “If you did it before transporting, you’re still guilty after transporting. If you did it after transporting, you can’t blame data slippage for diminished responsibility.”

She touched the mark on her desk again. “Off the record, I don’t understand this disorder.”

“You mean the protestors?”

“No, the Disorder. Transport Syndrome Disorder. Personal advice: get help.”

She re-engaged the recording. “As your attorney, I advise you to file no-fault.”

  *   *   *   *   *

Dr. Sargo tapped his electronic tablet with the stylus. “And who diagnosed you with TSD?”

“A friend.”

“A counselor? Therapist? Family doctor?”

“She’s a lawyer, actually.”

A shadow of irritation flitted across the doctor’s face, and Adhara explained.

“I went to her for a divorce, but she suggested I might need … help.”

“Does your being here mean you agree with her?”

“No.” It wasn’t until she actually said it that she knew it was true. “I mean, I do need help, but not the kind she thinks. I do have a disorder, but it isn’t imaginary. I’m not the same person I was before I transported.”

“During which particular transport did this change take place?”

“The first one. Every one.” Her jaw clamped shut. What’s the point? He won’t understand.

The rest of the session consisted of Dr. Sargo staring patiently at her as she fidgeted and sat in silence.

She left the office and turned away from the elevator to duck into the ladies’ room. The building was relatively new, and the mirror toggled between reflective and camera. She leaned forward, switching her image back and forth. Her complexion was better than it had been, wasn’t it? Or was makeup improving?

Footsteps clacked toward the door and Adhara hopped away from the mirror.

A vaguely familiar woman came in, glancing meaningfully between Adhara and the mirror.

“You didn’t make a follow-up appointment,” she said, falling into place as Dr. Sargo’s receptionist.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Some people….” She bent over so she could spy for feet in the stalls. When she reached into her jacket pocket, Adhara fleetingly wondered if what would come out would be a syringe filled with a mind-altering drug, like in one of the thrillers she had started reading three — no, four — transports ago.

The receptionist pulled out an old-fashioned paper business card, slid it into Adhara’s hand and folded Adhara’s fingers over it, as if it were contraband.

Adhara hated unfinished sentences. It was one of the things she found most irritating about Taavi these days. “Some people what?”

“Some people want a different kind of help. Please don’t tell anybody I gave you this, but do pass it on, if you know of anybody else like you.”

The receptionist slipped out of the room.

Infected by her air of intrigue, Adhara kept the card palmed until she had locked herself into her car.

Beside Ourselves – A support group for the Transported

A time, a date and an address had been scrawled under the single printed line.

  *   *   *   *   *

She half-expected to have to give a secret knock or a password, but a bright-eyed woman opened the door at her approach.

“Adhara?”

“So they tell me.”

The woman laughed. “You’ve come to the right place. Laila told us you might come. I’ve been watching for you. I’m Basht Kareem.” She announced her name as if it were an accomplishment.

Basht led Adhara into an ordinary sitting room filled with ordinary people, except that each of them had an intensity most people lacked. Some looked hollow and grief-stricken, some looked sharply focused, some looked scorched with anger, but nobody looked complacent. Even the smug ones were intensely smug, aglow with self-satisfaction.

They were all, as she had gathered from the card, people who, unlike Jacinta, felt that “some micro-slippage” did matter. Some, like herself, had come looking for an answer — or, at least, for a question to ask. Some had found their answers and had come to share them.

Basht Kareem, it turned out, was an accomplishment. The woman who called herself that had been born under another name. Then she had stepped out of the transport station one day, convinced she was a different person. She had just walked away from her life, renamed herself, and stayed under government radar until she had been in residence long enough to claim deportation immunity. Which everyone thought very amusing, since her original self was a native-born citizen.

One of the men was an attorney who offered his services pro bono to anyone who wanted a divorce, citizenship application, name changes or wills.

Several people wanted wills. Lateral wills, they were called, in which one left all one’s worldly goods to oneself. Many wealthy people had them, since many of them transported frequently and over long distances, and since many of them had relatives who had made nuisances of themselves by claiming that dis-materialization had killed the wealthy one in question, leaving them, the heirs, in ownership of the estate. No such suit had ever been upheld, but one never knew.

These people, though — the people at the meeting — wanted to will their estates to themselves under new names. It did no good for the lawyer to tell them that a legal name change would transfer ownership of any property automatically.

Had they always been so irrational? So unreasonable? So … weird?

She excused herself and hurried back to the car she no longer thought was beautiful and drove back to the home she knew she used to find slightly shabby. In the hall, she regarded herself in the mirror again. Didn’t her hair have a slight curl to it? Wasn’t it just a little bit darker? Just a little?

“Still at it?”

Taavi lounged in the doorway, drinking orange juice from the bottle. She never drank orange juice, so he was welcome to it.

“I’m not transporting anymore.”

“Don’t you have to, for your job?”

“I’ll get Father Gephart to sign something for me. They’ll put me on local. It’ll be a salary cut.”

“We won’t be able to move into that new place in Northside.”

“I don’t care. Do you?”

He shook his head, vanished into the kitchen, and came back without the orange juice.

Standing close to her, peering down at her, he said, “I have only one question. Who are you, and what have you done with my wife?”

“That’s two questions,” she said, and laughed breathlessly. She felt giddy, the way she had felt when they first met, the way she hadn’t in a long time.

“Do you still think you’re a different person? I mean, really, really an actual different person?”

She wanted to say No, to hold onto this happiness, to not trigger the ill feeling that had grown up between them along with her unease.

“I do.”

He stepped back, eyes hooded, then cocked his head.

“Would you say that again?”

“Say what again?”

“Say ‘I do.’ Adhara, will you marry me again?”

“What?”

“If you’re a different person, let’s get married again. I think you’re still you, even if you’re different. I love all the people you are and all the people you’ve ever been and ever will be. That’s what love is, isn’t it?”

Is it? Maybe it is.

“I will,” she said. “I do.” She did.

13 Responses to “Til Death Us Do Part”

  1. Mitchell Allen
    Twitter:
    says:

    Excellent! You must be beside yourself with joy at this beautifully crafted mind-bending romp through innerspace.

    I love it! So, this is your official entry? I better get my membership card so I can nominate you.

    Cheers,

    Mitch
    Mitchell Allen would be over the moon if you read Scrabble Sunday – Bingo Long Words Travel FarMy Profile

  2. Jane Peyton says:

    Send this one off to Analog. It has the long, lovely talk-out they like in speculative fiction, i.e., they like an author to actually speculate.

    Like this story.

    • MA
      Twitter:
      says:

      I can’t send it to Analog, since I’ve published it here. I’m glad you like the story. 🙂

    • This site will soon be an official serial publication complete with ISSN. We may not be Analog – we’re Digital all the way! – but we are very serious about this dare. (That said, I’d eat a rubber chicken just to go to Lonestarcon III and cheer on either of my fellow writers, here – if Mitchell or Marian win, I’ll be there with bells on. I just hope they’ll do the same for me!)

  3. Helen Ginger says:

    Really, really liked it Marian. It’s a great story by itself, but I could also see it developed into a full book.

  4. Hajra says:

    Every word was worth it! Holly told me that I should come by and read this, and yes, it has been more than wonderful!

    Every sentence is so wonderfully crafted! I just realized that I don’t know how to write!

    Marian, this has been a magical read! Deserves much more attention! 🙂
    Hajra would be over the moon if you read Will they call you over for a bloggers party?My Profile

  5. Marissa says:

    This story is very interesting Marian and I want to know more. This is my first time here…reading from the comments above, this book hasn’t been published yet, am I right? I do hope you publish it soon.

    • Marian Allen
      Twitter:
      says:

      Marissa, this particular story is complete. I’m glad it left you wanting more! 🙂 Mitchell is writing a novella or novel, and Holly says she’s writing a short story that wants to turn into something longer. I’m working on another short story, very different from “Til Death”. 🙂
      Marian Allen would be over the moon if you read #SampleSunday – Dry As DustMy Profile

  6. Henry Lee says:

    I should come by and read this, and yes, it has been more than wonderful!Really, really liked it Marian. It’s a great story by itself.Thanks for the article.

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