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Saturday, May 19, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Our Range in Time,” by Jennifer R. Povey

In some ways, what I remember are the least important things. The first dance at the wedding. The...

Yeah. Things like that, the flotsam and jetsam of a life lived, if not well, then at least without complications.

Which might be why I’m hesitating now. They say they can give me another life. More time, to live over, to try everything again. I just don’t know whether I should. Whether I really need that time.

That’s what we don’t realize, any of us. We have so much space and we have so much time. They’re the same thing I ramble. I think it’s because I’m old. Still reasonably healthy, but old. The brain goes last, they claim, unless you have something wrong with it.

Pheh. It goes first, or maybe it’s the mind that goes, the mind that flows into new patterns. It’s the weight of memory, and they can’t take that from me. Well, they could, but then it wouldn’t be me. No continuity. No difference from dying.

I stand up. I can still do that, although it’s harder than it used to be. I walk out onto the balcony, stiffly. Four legs in the morning, two in the day. I’m in the evening and I need my third leg, the cane. But at least I don’t float in a chair like most people my age.

I know I’m going to do it. I don’t actually want to die. Nobody does. Even somebody who’s over a hundred, well over a hundred. Who has had most of his organs replaced, with plastic and metal.

They have better now. They can regrow everything, rejuvenate it. Now even us old farts can be brought back to a semblance of youth. Old eyes in young heads. Used to know an actor like that. Young guy, but his eyes always looked like he’d got them from his grandfather. I don’t remember his name.

Will I get those fragmented memories back? That would be getting more time too, and the decision is made. I might get them back, I might lose them, but I choose life. I choose time. I choose not to die. With this, I can start again. Do something different. Do something new.

Maura stopped reading the note and shook her head. Her grandfather. He’d tried the most experimental rejuvenation.

It had wiped his memory. They were retraining him now, putting him through school again. It was better, she supposed, than being dead, but reading his notes and his journals made her wonder. Made her think about it. Would she have done the same thing?

If they were right about how it worked, then she would not have to. She had visited him again that morning. At least now he believed her when she told him who she was. At first he had looked at his face in the mirror and insisted he could not be anyone’s grandfather. And flirted with her, which had been so embarrassing.

Time. He had put it down to increasing the time you occupied. An interesting theory and thought. Everything she did at the clinic was about that. And it had been she who had got him into the trials, when he was finally dying, when replacement parts weren’t enough. She still was not sure, reading the last note again, whether it had been the right thing.

No. It had been his choice. Doctor Morson was in the doorway.

“We’ll get the kinks aired out, you know.”

She nodded. “How about mechanical augmentation? Maybe we can store the memories...”

“They haven’t lost their memories. They’ve lost the indexing system.”

She frowned. “Which would mean they might still be accessible. Have we tried dream therapy?”

“Working on it now. I have all the patients who will cooperate keeping diaries.” He frowned. “I still think it beats being dead.”

“Oh, definitely, but it feels as if we gave them more time in one direction whilst robbing them of what they already had.”

“You read his note again. About time and space.”

Maura nodded. “Yeah. He was a smart guy. Heck, he still is. And maybe this time he’ll go into something completely different.”

Even if he had his memories, the time they had given him would be more than enough to get another PhD. Heck, with the way lifespans were going, one wouldn’t be enough to do interesting work any more. She frowned at that. Not everyone was smart enough to get a PhD, and what would they do? Robots did most of the menial work. Except waiting tables. People had never really warmed to robot waiters and only fast food joints used them. Well, she had seen them bus tables in higher quality places.

“That...hrm. Wait.” He paused. “I think you have something.”

“Have what?”

“Why some subjects are retaining memories and others aren’t. It may not just be a factor of physical brain age after all. Did your grandfather ever talk about wanting to do something different?”

“All the time. I think it’s why he agreed to the rejuvenation. He said he wanted to get another degree, in a different field.”

Morson nodded, then abruptly grinned and fled the room. He did that...he was a brilliant man and brilliant men went off on their little tangents. Not much could be done about it. Maura was just left wondering what his idea was.

No. She understood it. He was implying that the people who had lost their memories somehow, subconsciously, wanted to.

For her, it would not be an issue. She was young, and would never need the kind of wholesale cellular regeneration her grandfather had gone through. Well, unless she was in some kind of bad accident.

Accident victims almost always lost chunks of their memories, mind, although not generally all of them. They had put that down to trauma. And some of the very old had already lost their memories. There was an ethical twist. If somebody was far gone into senility, did they have the right to rejuvenate them anyway? Most of the ones they had done had lost their memory. Of those who kept it, one had committed suicide. It had felt like a slap in the face to her family.

Maura just thought that maybe she hadn’t wanted to live. There were actually people arguing that suicide should become a human right, at least if you were over a certain age. She wasn’t sure how she felt about it.

Was losing one’s memory a form of suicide? She swiped a hand across the smart desk to sleep the computer and went to see her grandfather.

He was staying in a sort of student dorm right now. Not that he couldn’t survive on his own per se, so much as he had to relearn everything academically. Basic skills like tying shoelaces had survived.

She didn’t call him grandfather. “Clark?” she called as she knocked on the door. He didn’t want to be called grandfather. She didn’t blame him, not when he looked no older than she did. It might be that generational terms would fade out.

“Come in!”

When she did, she found him in his living room doing an old fashioned, cut cardboard jigsaw puzzle. Of just the kind he had once loved. “You still like puzzles.”

“They feel right, somehow.”

“Clark. You wanted to change. Before. You wanted to try something new. And you weren’t sure about living longer.”

He turned to face her, puzzled. “And I lost...”

“I don’t think you lost your memories at all. I think you blocked them. And I wanted you to know that if you want a fresh start, then it’s fine.”

His face broke into a smile. “Maura...”

“It’s fine. You’re alive, and that’s what matters.”

“...and is it okay if I want to get my MD and work in the clinic?”

She laughed. And then she stepped over and hugged the most brilliant physicist of his generation. “You’ll be the best.”

And from then on, she did not even call him grandfather in her mind. But at the same time she remembered who he was deep in her heart.

Jennifer R. Povey is in her early forties, and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband. She writes a variety of speculative fiction, whilst following current affairs and occasionally indulging in horse riding and role playing games. She has sold fiction to a number of markets including Analog and written RPG supplements for several companies. She is currently working on an urban fantasy series, Lost Guardians.

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