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By Setve White Shirley Meier
Baen Publishing EnterprisesCopyright © 2007 Setve White & Shirley Meier
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Prescott City had changed.
No, she reminded herself, for the thousandth time but with undiminished irritation. Not "Prescott City." Just "Prescott."
She couldn't remember precisely when, during the past couple of generations, the "City" part had been dropped from popular parlance. But by now the shortened name stood triumphant even in official paperwork and maps. To say "Prescott City" was to declare oneself an incorrigible old fogy. And the Honorable Miriam Ortega-onetime chairperson of the Rim Federation's constitutional convention, subsequently its prime minister for five nonconsecutive terms totaling over forty years, and currently chief justice of its Supreme Judicial Court-was not ready to do that. Even though her one hundred and eleven Standard years arguably gave her every right to.
She shook off the thought. The antigerone treatments to which she was entitled from at least two standpoints-her inarguable contributions to the community, and her residence on a planet the least of whose worries was population pressure-rendered her apparent physiological age a very well-preserved late sixties, and therefore deprived her of whatever excuse senile decay might have provided.
Besides, she told herself,why shouldn't the name have changed? Everything else has.
Nowhere was the change more clearly on view than here, at the window of the chief justice's private office on the top floor of Government House.
A hundred and fifty-five years ago-the Standard years that everyone still used, the time it took Old Terra to revolve around Sol-Government House had been built to house the provisional government of this planet of Xanadu, then little more than a raw new military outpost whose civilian workforce had mushroomed to the point of needing such a government ... but not to the point of needing (or being able to afford) an edifice which would have done credit to some long-established colony world. But Government House had been less a building than a grand gesture-a madly extravagant exercise in what Miriam's mother would have called outrageous chutzpah.
Xanadu had been colonized halfway through the Fourth Interstellar War, when humanity and its allies had faced the very real likelihood of something far worse than extermination at the hands of the Bugs: survival not even as slaves, but as meat animals who knew. It had been colonized because this system, named Zephrain by its discoverers from the Khanate of Orion, had been only one warp jump away from a teeming Bug "Home Hive" system. Those colonists had known full well that they were living on the front lines of a war whose only outcome could be genocide in one direction or the other. By shaping the planet's native stone into neoclassical monumentality, looming above their prefab "cities," those people (Miriam had often wished she could have known them) had made an eloquent declaration of uncompromising commitment: "This world is ours. We can be killed, but we cannot be moved." In the end they had been neither ... thanks to the man after whom they had named this city, and whose statue they had raised on a column.
Thus it was that, after the war, Government House had been maintained but never modified. And when a young lawyer named Miriam Ortega had moved here after her mother's death, to be near her father, Sergei Ortega, the local Terran Federation Navy commander, it had still loomed over all it surveyed, crowning its hilltop in a bend of the Alph River, even though the city had grown enough to finally deserve the name.
Now, though, the waves of galactic cosmopolitanism had finally washed over the Rim. Government House lay in the shadows of kilometer-high towers of plasteel and synthetic diamond. Abu'said Field, which had once provided it with an impressive backdrop, had long since yielded to the economics of efficient land use, and a new spaceport served Prescott from what were now the city's outskirts. But the extensive grounds of Government House remained sacrosanct, despite being almost beyond price as real estate, and one could almost imagine that Commodore Prescott looked down with bronze eyes over an unchanged scene from atop his column....
Except that now there was a second column beside it. Miriam's eyes strayed to the statue that crowned that one, and she could no longer put off her reason for being here-this meeting that had nothing to do with the Supreme Judicial Court at all.
Unconsciously, she took out a cigarette and lit it. Cancer, of the lungs and otherwise, had long since been banished into the mists of history for everyone with access to up-to-date biotechnology. But her first inhalation of smoke awakened a scowl on a face that had never been conventionally pretty even in her youth. (Although, the more you looked at it ...) She angrily stubbed the cigarette out and turned to the two men who had been sitting patiently at the conference table.
"Stupid damned habit," she muttered. "I'm going to quit this summer."
The two men kept straight faces. They'd had a lot of practice at it. They had heard those last six words from Miriam Ortega before each of the last 105 of Xanadu's summers, as it swung around its G5v primary in 0.73 standard year.
As usual, the small dapper man in academic-style civvies did a better job of concealing his amusement. Admiral Genji Yoshinaka, RFN (ret.), had the pure white hair his one hundred and twenty-eight Standard years warranted, but his skin held the finely wrinkled firmness of one who had started on the antigerone treatments relatively late. His features were of the cast of Old Terra's east Asia, and in fact he was that rarest of birds in the Rim Federation: a native of the mother planet. He had always been a master at keeping those features unreadable, and age had not diminished his subtlety.
The other man could hardly have presented a more striking contrast. Fleet Admiral Sean F. X. Remko, TFN, was still on the active list-although, at one hundred and forty Standard years-he was beginning to think the unthinkable about retirement), and his bear-like frame was clothed in the Rim Federation uniform. That uniform was essentially the black-and-silver of the Terran Federation Navy ... but the TFN of seven and a half Standard decades ago, forgoing the changes in style that had since overtaken the parent service-a sartorial eccentricity fraught with political meaning. Similarly, the beard that had been fashionable among male TFN officers then still adorned a face that reflected more ethnic strains than just the ones his name suggested, for Remko was a product of the melting-pot slums of New Detroit, and his bass voice still held harsh residues of an accent that conferred no great prestige.
"All right," Miriam said with the breezy informality that came naturally to her, and which she could permit herself in this company. She sat down at the head of the table. "I declare the trustees of the person and estate of Fleet Admiral Ian Trevayne in session. Thank you both for coming. If there's no objection, I'd like to dispense with the usual financial report. Instead, I've called this special meeting to discuss the latest medical evaluation I've received from Dr. Mendez and his team."
Instantly, the two men took on a look of focused alertness.
"We haven't seen this evaluation, Miriam," said Yoshinaka carefully. Remko emitted a confirmatory rumble.
"I know, and I'm sorry I haven't had time to make it available to you in advance. But I felt we should meet without delay." She paused with the unconsciously dramatic instinct of a veteran politician. "You see, it appears that we may be able to discharge the trust's primary purpose in five Standard years."
They stared at her with the incredulity of long-deferred and often-disappointed hope.
"Let me review the basic problem," she hurried on, while they were still speechless. "Essentially, it is as Dr. Yuan explained to us before his death fifteen years ago, except that since then, advances in medical technology-about which you can read the details later-have now raised the chances of him surviving the thawing process to about eighty-five percent."
Yoshinaka cleared his throat. "Well, Miriam, this is certainly encouraging news. Thawing him out, as you put it, from the cryogenic bath Dr. Yuan used-without the usual elaborate workup-to preserve his life during the Battle of Zapata has always been half of the problem. But only half."
"Right," Remko nodded. "Even if the thawing does succeed, it just brings us back to the reason Dr. Yuan froze him solid in the first place: the battle damage that he took at Zapata!"
"Yes." Yoshinaka nodded, and began to itemize. "Extensive radiation damage, especially to the lower body. Spine severed just below the fifth vertebra. Not to mention the effects of extreme anoxia, concussion ..." Yoshinaka trailed off miserably as he saw the look on Remko's face, and belatedly remembered what the man under discussion had meant to the burly admiral.
But Remko surprised him. He brought his expression under control and spoke steadily. "That's right. And to all that, you have to add the damage done by the quick-freeze itself. Not that I'm criticizing Dr. Yuan, mind you. It was all he could do. But ..." He made a baffled gesture.
"Yes," Miriam acknowledged. "Dr. Mendez admits that even today the procedure would be risky in the extreme. Even if he survived it, the chances are that he would suffer permanent impairment-especially in light of the radiation damage, which the freezing did nothing for."
"Well, then, we're back where we started," declared Remko.
"Not altogether. What Dr. Mendez is proposing is that we avoid the risks by not even attempting to salvage this body."
Yoshinaka was the first to grasp it. "Cloning?" he breathed.
"The crucial point," Miriam replied obliquely, "is that Dr. Yuan didn't entirely forgo the workup to cryogenic freezing. He couldn't omit it for the brain tissue, given the potential for really irreparable damage. So he did a crash job. And Dr. Mendez has been able to confirm that the brain itself is essentially undamaged."
"Just a moment, Miriam," Yoshinaka interrupted. "I think I see where this is heading. And while I'm certainly no expert, I am aware that selective cloning and force-growing of organs and tissue is almost routine by now. I also have no doubt of the ability of Dr. Mendez's people to graft a 'bridge' into a severed spinal cord, and to make the necessary neural connections. But we're talking about a lot of replacements, each one carrying a potential for rejection or other failure. So we're still faced with the mathematics of cumulative risk."
"Actually, Genji, you don't quite see it. We're not talking about a bunch of transplants, but only one: the brain itself. Granted, it's a highly-indeed, uniquely-complex transplant. But Dr. Mendez is confident he and his people can do it."
The two men stared at her. For once, it was Remko who spoke first.
"A ... a full-body clone?" His voice held a succession of emotions: incredulity rising to horrified realization and then to revulsion.
"Miriam," Yoshinaka said sternly, "we all want this. But you, of all people, should know the law on the subject of human clones: they are legal persons, with all the rights pertaining thereto. In fact, this very legal principle provided the incentive to develop the technology of selective body-part cloning. To use a clone of oneself as a ... a source of spare parts is as illegal-and, I might add, as morally leprous-as using one's child for such a purpose. And if this is true of chopping organs out of such a clone one by one, it must apply equally to taking the brain out of it and putting another one in!"
"I don't know anything about legalities," Remko growled. "But I do know the admiral wouldn't want to have anything to do with this!" Whenever Remko said the admiral in that particular tone of voice, there was no doubt in anyone's mind which admiral he meant. "It's ghoulish! He'd rather be ... the way he is now." He gestured vaguely toward the city, in the direction of the medical center whose subbasement held an obscenely coffinlike tank, perennially filmed with frost.
"Of course I'm aware of the legal precedents," Miriam said evenly. "With all due modesty, I must claim a better knowledge of them than either of you. And I also know how he would react to what you think I'm suggesting. Actually, I think I can claim a better knowledge of that as well."
That silenced them. They had only been Ian Trevayne's friends and comrades in arms. Miriam Ortega had been his lover.
"In fact," she continued, "when Dr. Mendez broached the idea, I raised all the objections you've thought of-and also a few you haven't-in the strongest possible language." Both her listeners knew what that could mean in Miriam Ortega's case. "He hastened to assure me that what he was offering was a way around these very difficulties. He believes that by a special application of the techniques used to produce individual organs-a kind of 'reverse engineering'-his team can produce a full body clone minus one organ: in this case, the brain.
"The clone would be effectively anencephalic-incapable of any higher brain functions. In effect, it would be born 'brain dead.' Now, for a very long time-I'd have to look it up to tell you just exactly how long, but certainly reaching back to the dawn of the Space Age, before the discovery of warp points-the definition of 'death' has been legally settled. In those days, you see, it had become possible to artificially keep a human body 'alive' by the traditional definition-a heartbeat and a pulse-after the brain function had irrevocably ceased. So the definitions had to change. A brainless clone will be legally dead, and therefore will have no rights. It will be kept in that state while it is brought to maturation-a process which can be accelerated by a factor of four, which is why I mentioned the figure of five years. That's how long it will take to grow the clone to the physiological age of eighteen to twenty, while keeping it exercised with the same techniques used for other forms of long-term life support, to prevent muscular deterioration. At that point, we transplant the brain."
"So," said Yoshinaka slowly, "his fiftyish mind will wake up inside a twenty-year-old body."
"His own twenty-year-old body," Miriam said firmly. "That's what makes Dr. Mendez so confident of his ability to perform the transplant."
"But ... Well, as I said before, I'm no expert. But I seem to recall reading somewhere that if a clone is produced from postembryonic cells-cells taken from an adult, that is-then the clone's cells may 'wear out' faster, resulting in premature aging."
"Oh, yes; that problem has been recognized since the early days of cloning, more than five centuries ago. But today we have the antigerone treatments to counteract it."
"All right. You and Dr. Mendez have obviously thought this through. And just as obviously, you believe you have thought through the legal repercussions." Yoshinaka held up a hand as the chief justice started to speak. "Yes, I know. It's your field. But hear me out. I don't doubt you're right in principle. But are you sure your desire for this to happen isn't clouding your judgment about whether this will really stand up to a legal challenge? There may be a revulsion from it on ethical grounds, whatever the law may say. As Sean said earlier, there's something about the whole idea that seems-"
"Ghoulish," Remko repeated, but with less vehemence than before.
"Yes. And you should know, Miriam, that when people want badly enough for the law to produce a certain result, they can usually find a way to make it do so."
"Of course. I know all about the 'court of public opinion.' And I'm counting on it!" For the first time, she flashed the expressive smile that had never lost its power to transfigure her face. "Have you forgotten who it is we're talking about? And what he means to the people of the Rim Federation? If you need a reminder, just go to that window over there and look down at the second column out front, beside Prescott's."
This silenced them. Of course they hadn't forgotten. How could they?
Excerpted from Exodus by Setve White Shirley Meier Copyright © 2007 by Setve White & Shirley Meier. Excerpted by permission.
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