Past Lives, Present Tenseby Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
"A fertile [set-up] for SF fabulation." (Publishers Weekly)
Fifteen all-new stories of famous personalities reborn through genetic manipulation. Featuring: Elizabeth Moon, Carole Nelson Douglas, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Jerry Oltion, Rod Garcia y Robertson, Margaret Ball, Janet Berliner, David Bischoff, Gary Braunbeck, Lillian Stewart Carl, Nina/i>
"A fertile [set-up] for SF fabulation." (Publishers Weekly)
Fifteen all-new stories of famous personalities reborn through genetic manipulation. Featuring: Elizabeth Moon, Carole Nelson Douglas, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Jerry Oltion, Rod Garcia y Robertson, Margaret Ball, Janet Berliner, David Bischoff, Gary Braunbeck, Lillian Stewart Carl, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Tom Knowles, Sharan Newman, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, and Sandy Schofield
- Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.28(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.91(d)
Read an Excerpt
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Even before Tsering developed the procedure, his reflection no longer looked right. Chime really had been his other half, and when she died, leaving behind a pale and waxy shell that, unanimated, bore no resemblance to the woman he loved, his face in the mirror looked at least half as empty as hers had.
Still, he could not bear to let go of her shell. His family was long dead and he had no close friends to urge him to let the past go and allow her remains to be cremated. That was not in the old way of his people anyway. In the wintry times in Tibet, when the ground was far too hard to bury ordinary folk, bodies would be given to the wild animals. All life was one, a flowing stream of consciousness, if only a person had the discipline to swim that stream; and so giving the vessel of a departed spirit to other living creatures was a good act.
Perhaps, but Tsering could not part with her. So he did his own variation on another tradition, that in which the beloved rimpoches, the holy lamas, were mummified, and their remains would help guide the way to their next incarnation. The mummification techniques had been crude, but he had the means to have her body cryogenically entombed in the underground laboratory he had built for himself on the site of a former underground bunker the US government had built during the Second World War.
Then he calmly turned his back on her and returned to work. Unlike many Western scientists,however, he did not feel that science and faith were mutually exclusive. He had perfect faith that in the manner of the old high lamas, Chime would show him where next she should go and how to find her.
Her work sat as she left it when she became ill. Behind her tomb was the great image of the lotus, which, when lit, you could see was contained within the pupil of an eye, reflected in the pupil of another eye, to infinity.
Chime and he had met in premed classes at Columbia, but as he branched off into genetics research, she became intensely interested in opthamology and in repairing and rehabilitating diseased and damaged eyes and optic nerves. The minute ways image and light were transmitted to the brain fascinated her. Later, she delved into how that stimulation affected not only visual perception but other sorts of psychological perception as well.
Of the two of them, though his name was better known, she was the more brilliant. Even such deep and groundbreaking research as she worked on was not enough to entertain her active mind (now quiet?), and she had begun expressing the more spiritual side of her work in her art. The lotus was an older piece, but one it was easy to live with.
They had no children. Her eggs were stored, of course, along with his sperm. To make use of them would make him a single father. He had no experience, and no beautiful Chime to use her insight and strength to raise a child. Cloning was an option, even though it had been outlawed in the civilized world, at least for animal life, but he did not want a child replica of Chime. He wanted her. He wanted the Chime he had lost, mature of mind, heart, and spirit. In a way, she was still with him.
Chime always used to remind him when to eat and sleep and bathe, and it seemed to him, when he looked at her floating in her tomb, that when mealtimes came, her head was slightly inclined toward the stairs. When he had been working too long, the repose on her dead face reminded him to sleep. Sleeping, he dreamed of her.
He usually did not dream. He rarely remembered his dreams. Generally they were extremely abstract and convoluted, which was fine with him. He had always been surprised that Chime dreamed in color, with sound and, sometimes, she said, taste, touch, and smell. But increasingly, since her death, he had been having those sorts of dreams. Usually, they were like memories, but on this night, when she appeared, he knew somehow that this was no memory, but a ghost.
"You have to take better care of yourself," she said. "We have a lot to do." She was wearing something white. Her lab coat.
"I miss you so much," he said in the dream, and reached for her. "I don't want to wake up."
"If we're going to be together again, you have to wake up," she told him. "If you want to free me to be with you, you must look not only at your own work but at mine. Come, I have something to show you."
She actually took his hand this time. It was very cold. He still wore his clotheshe always slept in them these days and he stank, but he didn't care and it didn't seem to bother her. In this dream, she didn't smell very good either. She didn't stink so much of death as of the chemicals used to preserve her body. He followed her down the stairs, and he knew that his feet weren't touching steps, so he must be dreaming. She took him to her worktable. Her computer was on.
She didn't go to her computer, however, but picked up an oddly shaped piece of glass, faceted. "You see this?" she asked.
"Yes. It looks like those crystal sun-catchers you liked to hang in our windows." They shot rainbows throughout the room on sunny days. She loved the rainbows on rainy days, too. They sent her into blissful speculation about light refraction, which he often ended with lovemaking.
"That's where I got the idea. It's of a very special sort. You see here, the honeycomb effect? It's a prismatic in a way, but instead of sorting light into its colors, it separates other things into their essential components."
She handed him the glass, and he held it up, looking at her through it. But the ghost in the lab coat had vanished, and he found himself looking at his wife's corpse in the tank-tomb, through the glass. Her face was reflected in the facets, each facet the same face, another expression, each pore, each hair, containing many many faces. He realized the expressions weren't different, but as soon as he focused on each enough to see it, it had changed from the one he had focused on before. There were living Chimes in motion in each tiny segment, magnified for him to see.
"What is this?" he asked, and, sadly, did not expect an answer from the dead woman in the tank-tomb.
But there was a note written on the computer screen. "There is only one moon, but it reflects in many lakes." He remembered this saying from the teachings of the lamas and nuns who had taught Chime and him as children. It was the poetic explanation for the Tulku, the survival in a new living being of the soul of a deceased person. Commonly, the Tulku appeared in only one living person in each lifetime, but sometimes, it scattered and parts of it appeared in several people. He looked up, back through the prism, and the message was suddenly very clear to him.
Now he struggled to awaken as he had struggled to sleep before. When he did wake up, he was surprised to find that he was not in bed, but where he had been in the dream, standing beside her worktable. The computer was on, but there was no glass such as the one he had held in the dream. The image of such a glass, reflecting the same person millions of times over, was beneath the Tulku proverb. It did not take him long to discover what this represented, nor to coordinate it with a facet of his own work that had eluded him previously. But once he knew what it meant, he knew one other thing. This was nothing that could be done in a basement laboratory, no matter how well equipped. To make this manifest was something that would require money in far greater quantities than he possessed.
He used his computer to send a message, explaining what he needed to a former colleague who was now majority stockholder and CEO of a corporation with laboratories almost as multifaceted as the glass in his dream.
* * *
They sat in darkness, having come in after the promotional video had begun, dominating one wall of the boardroom.
They were featured in the video, in life and in death, showing the inspiration and instigation of the blending. The film Wilhelm Wolfe had made was a re-creation of their first meeting when Tsering explained what he needed from the company, to the completion of the blending, when the material taken from a few of Chime's cells allowed her to join Tsering at long last.
The members of the audience were among the wealthiest people in the world, people who had gathered in person at the invitation of their friend and/or business associate, Wolfe. He had insisted that they must come personally and also insisted that they sign a complicated document forbidding them to disclose anything they heard in the room. In an atmosphere where industrial espionage was the rule rather than the exception, it was rather an empty gesture, but a dramatic one.
The drama was further enhanced when Wolfe began the film by saying, "The information contained here is so revolutionary, so challenges what we know of the corporeal and psychological aspects of life itself, that it should not leak to the public. If it does, there will no doubt be a cry from the segment of the population that closely resembles the peasants with torches in Frankenstein movies to ban its development and use. Its applications would be as bound up in government regulation as cloning, and its potential never fully realized. And yet, ladies and gentlemen, this discovery comes closer than any other to proving, for the first time, the existence of what the religious call a spirit and its survival after death."
The audience buzzed with varying degrees of disbelief.
But the film was persuasive in its scientific explanations of the process involved. The film explained what had been done under the company's auspices to develop the discovery and demonstrated why Wolfe's claim might be valid.
Afterward, the disbelief was replaced by a still rather skeptical wonder and in some voices, on some faces, the beginnings of a sort of hopefulness.
Wolfe thanked them for their attention, and said, "I'm sure that now you would all like to meet our expertor experts, as hetheyprefer to be called. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Dr. Chimera. Doctor?"
They rose and walked with Chime's grace to the podium. Reflected in the mirror that had formerly held the images from the video was a seemingly ageless and sexless Asian individual who only slightly resembled the scientist who often appeared in the film. This person, unlike the scientist in his initial interview with Wolfe, was no longer careworn and stooped from exhaustion and depression.
This person instead exuded the serenity that one always supposed a true Zen master would possess, smiled with a quality the audience members had never or only rarely seen beforea true and deep happiness so compelling that no one wanted to turn from it. To do so would be to miss learning how it might be attainable for themselves, or at least how it had come about. In this world, such happiness was the closest thing to magic any of those who could buy anything they desired had ever seen.
The audience, as jaded and skeptical a group as ever was asked to weigh the merits of thousands of programs begging for their money, applauded once more, for no reason except to welcome the charming person before them. Dressed in a plain black tunic and trousers, wearing instead of a tie a round pendant of faceted crystal, the person's twinkling, kind brown eyes tilted shyly from under square-cut black bangs in a stylish version of a bowl cut that gave this person the look of a tall Asian childa child young enough to be androgynous in appearance. But the hollow cheeks beneath the jutting cheekbones lacked the roundness of youth and spoke more of many kinds of long hungers than of fashion.
"Greetings," Dr. Chimera said. The voice was somewhere between a tenor and a contralto, with both a light breathlessness and smoky undertones. "As you have seen in the video, the discovery that one's life memories, as well as the memories of the shape and health of one's ancestors, are encoded in our DNA happened early in this process. You have seen how that particular sequence was isolated, decoded, and rendered transmittable in our laboratories. There were aspects of the project, however, which could not be tested on animals or by computer, but had to be tried first on a human being. This is not legal, of course, and one cannot do it unless one has the power of the government, perhaps, with a captive prison population or armies to play with. But this process had great personal implications for us and so we decided that we would experiment first on ourselveson myself. As you can see from the lack of bulky bandages, it did not turn me invisible, from my stature that I was not shrunk away to nothing, and from my smile, I hope, that I have not become a monster."
Chimera said all of this with great good humor that caused a ripple of laughter in the audience.
Dr. Wolfe had carefully choreographed this presentation. It was his idea to rename as Chimera the being that had been Tsering before he adapted Chime's research to allow him to take into himself that part of her DNA which retained who she washer memories, inherited and acquired, both nurture and nature.
"Of our own transformation, Dr. Wolfe made more videos. Few births have been as well documented as our rebirth and reunion!"
Wolfe showed more film clips of the Tsering he had known, of Tsering and Chime's wedding, which he had attended. Of Tsering as he had been before the research and the transformation took place. Of the process itself all they saw was Tsering sitting in a chair while a machine that looked like a highly specialized version of the one an optometrist used to examine the eyes was fitted to his face. Immediately afterward, he fell asleep to awaken sometime later as the person presently addressing the audience.
"You see us now as we have become once rejoined, ladies and gentlemen," Chimera continued. "Whole at lastagain, but in one body rather than two. No, we do not have conversations within ourselves any more than Tsering did before, or than Chime didthere are always those inner voices, in all of us, making choices, plans, and decisions. The difference we have as Chimera is that now the voices more often agree."
There was polite laughter around the room. "Now we will retire for a commercial break brought to you by Dr. Wolfe and his laboratories."
Half the room turned to watch Chimera strollpractically floatout the door. The scientist exuded so much that each of them had longed for, worked for, that had eluded them throughout their lives. Two or three rose as if to follow, and question.
Wilhelm Wolfe cleared his throat. "I apologize for not having a longer question and answer period. But both Tsering and Chime, as I knew them before, were intensely private people. It is a mark of how critical this research is that they came to us to develop it and permitted all aspects, including the final joining, to be filmed and documented. I will avoid being overly technical in my explanation, though technical data will be available for any of you who choose to invest in this process for yourself. As you have seen, once the memory code has been rendered transmittable, the process is a simple matter of a painless retinal scan imprinting the new code through the optic nerve into the brain cells, much as visual experience is processed. The sleep, period is required for the brain to integrate the new memories and process the material it has received. As this discovery has taught us, the brain is only the most immediate receptor and transmitter of the data and memory that an individual uses in making decisions, developing attitudes, and exhibiting what we call personality. All of that material, and this is the crux of the initial discovery, ladies and gentlemen, I repeat, all of that material, and the way it was processed by the brain, is also stored in each and every individual molecule of each and every cell in the body. Of course, with the death of the body, there is cell death, and the loss of much of the material. But some cells essentially remain intact long after death and it was these we used to find the memories of Dr. Chime.
"As you have seen in the film, after awakening from the sleep, Tsering immediately began exhibiting characteristics formerly identifiable as those of his late wife. The results of their integration you have already witnessed. The complete fulfillment of findingor in this case recoveringthat missing part of himself has caused Dr. Tsering to become Chimera, a result which, as you can see, has resulted in a joy seldom witnessed in this day and age, and also, I can tell you, in his intelligence being more than doubled, as well as his energyand incidentally, his fortune. Since becoming Chimera, my friend has developed broader interests than the science that consumed both Tsering and Chime and has prospered because of it.
"But as amazing as Chimera is, hetheyare only one example, one experiment. What we need to do here today is to find an ethical way to recruit volunteers as well as to market our research without attracting undue attention from the media until we are ready to do so. You all know what happened with cloning and the universal banning of the cloning of human beings, depriving the world of any possible benefit from the process. We must be very careful that our investment in this project is not similarly disregarded by political peasants with torches before we have explored its full potential value to humankind."
"Fine, Wolfe. But what about the hazards? What if with someone else, theerunion isn't as happy? After all, Drs. Tsering and Chime seemed to be pretty happy and knew each other pretty well before all this happened. Is the process reversible?" The speaker was Andrew McCallum, whose talent for helping money to breed money had made him, by the age of thirty, one of the wealthiest single individuals in the world. He had begun as a boy with an investment of a hundred-dollar inheritance from a grandmother and with care and an uncanny intuition that looked a lot like luck had nourished that meager amount into his current fortune. The only formal education he had was the beginning of a liberal arts degree and his CPA certification. Like many self-made men, he was a skeptic.
"We believe that it is, yes, for a brief period of say, three to six weeks after it takes place," Wolfe said carefully.
"On what do you base this belief?" McCallum asked, leaning forward slightly.
"There's already been a significant body of medical work to eradicate other sorts of memories and experiences, or at least prevent them from unduly affecting a personality. Great strides have been made in subduing naturally occurring multiple personalities as well these days. This, after all, is the introduction from the outside of a code not naturally occuring in the individual's own genes. It is entirely possible that in the case of Chimera, the results were made more dramatic by the close association of the two subjects, as you've suggested. We have also had some limited success with temporary restoration of normalcy in two cases of Alzheimer's and a head injury resulting in total memory loss of members of our staff. I say temporary because the disease and the injury continued to cause deterioration of the mechanisms that encode and retain these memories onto brain cells and ultimately the subject's own DNAthe material was introduced repeatedly and lost repeatedly. But should the body's mechanical functions be restored, we could also restore the memory at this point."
A murmur went through the crowd, many of whom were of an age to have parents succumbing to Alzheimer's.
"Perhaps our first investment should be in repairing the damaged mechanisms then, Dr. Wolfe," Miriam Markowski suggested. Both of her parents, from whom she had inherited the bulk of her personal fortune, including her interest in the corporation, were under care at the moment.
"We are pursuing that already, Ms. Markowski," he said. "But we can do much more than that. We could become our parents if we wished"
She shuddered elaborately. "Who would wish that? I've lived all my life with a horror of becoming my mother!"
Light laughter again, and agreement.
"But there is no reason why we could not also become anyone else, as long as there is enough DNA surviving sufficiently intact to retain the code. We have already taken the liberty of examining specimens from several sources deceased for varying lengths of time and find that what we require remains for hundreds of years after death. By which I don't mean that one would actually become someone else, of course, simply that one would retain their memories and understand attitudes and characteristics from an insider's viewpoint."
"Like mind reading across the centuries?" Lady Margaret Dooley-Smythe asked. Lady Margaret was the financial and astrological adviser of the richest woman in the world, the present queen of England.
"Or past-life regression? As in the Bridey Murphy case?" Ms. Markowski asked.
"Bridey Murphy hoax!" scoffed Finn, a rock star with Ph.D.s in corporate law and electronics and who was not known to blow all of his money on drugs or trashing hotel rooms.
"Or is this more like channeling orexcuse me but one has to ask, Wilhelm, possession?" Lady Margaret asked.
"You are referring to psychological processes and possibly pathologies, Lady Margaret," Wolfe said. "Whereas the process we're discussing is totally biologicalalbeit biology that somewhat controls the psychology of human beings. There are always variables, of course. That's why we are trying to find more subjectsmore people who feel that their lives could be more complete if joined with that of another, not in marriage, as Tsering and Chime were at first, but within the same body, enhancing abilities, expanding the scope of knowledge, talents, experience. For the sake of legalities, the donor subject must be deceased, of course, and, if a person existing in this lifetime, would need to be your own next of kin. Otherwise, the next of kin of the deceased donor might be expected to raise objections in the event that the `joining' became public knowledge. But think of it, ladies and gentlemen. Other donors, not next of kin, could be anyone from as recently as thirty years ago to several hundred years ago. The only condition is that there are some viable cells remaining."
"Who'd you alloy with yourself, Wolfe?" McCallum asked. "P. T. Barnum? Excuse me but I have a few other things to do."
Shortly afterward, during the film that showed busy men and women culling samples from clothing or other personal items in the basements of museums or ancestral homes, the room was empty.
Wolfe returned to his office, where Chimera sat sipping tea, reading some of the reports of cell-gathering expeditions McCallum's films would not allude tograve-robbing expeditions, essentially. Bribes to groundskeepers and local politicians, significant donations to churches whose yards, walls, and floors contained suitably celebrated remains, and even larger donations to the charities, governments, or pockets of officials of third world countries had gleaned twenty-three specimens of verifiable authenticity.
Chimera smiled at Wolfe, who frowned in return. "We should like to go on some of these field expeditions ourself," Chimera said. "These people have had some wild adventures acquiring the donor cells. We're rather tired of being cooped up in laboratories all the time."
"Think you could use a breath of some fresh mausoleum air, eh?" Wolfe asked.
Chimera wrinkled his nose, one of the less masculine facial expressions Tsering had been sporting since the blending with Chime. "No, perhaps not. But some of the remains are buried in fairly exotic places, and we have been so involved with our work, ever since college, that we have not traveled much. It would be good to visit some of these museums and monuments, to learn a bit about the outer culture of humanity as well as the inner workings of its tiniest components. It occurs to us that seeing our fellow beings through a microscope is a bit like only seeing the world through a camera lens. Enlightening, perhaps, but limiting."
"Well, after that"Wolfe jerked his head in the general direction of the boardroom"you may have a lot of time on your hands, once the project folds. We may have the discovery of the millennium on our hands, but there's no viable market for it. Given security restrictions, we made the best presentation we could make and no one believed us."
"They believed us," Chimera said. "Some of them did, anyway. But surely you anticipated that they would be confused and even frightened by what they heard and saw?"
"No, not really. I suppose I could have had a psychologist present but that's all subjective anyway and, besides, I wasn't frightened or confused by itI was tremendously excited. I expected the same reaction from other people of imagination and intelligence."
"Ah, good," Chimera said. "Then who of these donors do you think you will choose to join you?"
"Andrew McCallum suggested I'd already joined with P. T. Barnum," Wolfe said with a derisive snort.
"Barnum isn't on the list," Chimera said levelly and quite seriously, Wolfe saw.
"Just a momentyou aren't suggesting that I?"
Chimera shrugged. "Not at all. We had a deep and urgent need for this processso deep and urgent that we created it, something we were uniquely able to do. Others who have had the same need have not been so lucky. They have had to live on, perhaps go crazy, die maybe, from the loneliness."
"That's right," Wolfe said. "People lose husbands and wives all the timeother family members as well. It's part of life."
"And yetwe had each other before Chime's death, which was more, much more, than most people ever have. Did we feel the loss more deeply than they because we had once had the emptiness inside ourselves filled by each other? Or do others feel it as deeply and are never able to fill it?"
"I like it," Wolfe said, to cover his embarrassment at being talked to in this way by his old friend. Tsering had always been the listener in their college days. The most he had spoken to Wolfe in all the time the two had been acquainted had been when he came to ask him to help finance the research. The two had become closer in some ways since thenhad spent more time together, certainlybut none of this psychological sort of thing. A chill went through Wolfe as he realized that Chime really was part of who Tsering was at every moment, in every thought, not just as part of their mutual science project. That reality had not occurred to him before. "Why didn't you bring this up to them?"
"Perhaps we would have if we had thought of it then. It was only now, speaking to you, friend, that it occurred to us."
"Well, bringing back any of my wives wouldn't help, even if any of them were dead," Wolfe said, laughing.
"That's true. You've not had happy marriages, have you?"
"No," Wolfe said flatly, and began shuffling papers on his desk.
"But marriage, romance, these are not the only relationships people would find what they lack, surely? More often, would it not be with a great teacher, someone you admire, probably even someone of the same sex who chose a different path than you?"
Wolfe looked up impatiently. His impatience did not seem to register with Chimera at all. Chimera was staring out the bank of windows behind Wolfe, over the tops of the other buildings to the sky beyond. "I really wish you had brought all this up to them instead of now. Maybe I should have given you more time to prepare but we need to start recouping some of our expenses soon."
Chimera looked back at him, the almond brown eyes both laughing and sad. "You will, Wilhelm," Chimera said with surprise, as though there had never been any doubt. "They will go home and think about what we told them and talk to the people in their lives and think of what it would be like if there were someone altogether different involved, who would change all of the things that make them unhappywho would make them like us. And one or two at least will be courageous enough, unhappy enough, to return and want to know more. We will talk with them then, and they'll decide to do it. And if all goes as we have every reason to think it will, they will be happy and they will tell others ..."
Wolfe thought that was an unusually naive view of humanity for such a brilliant personpeopleas Chimera, but then, both scientists had isolated themselves with their work and each other for most of their adult lives. Didn't even watch much television or pay attention to the news, from what Wolfe gathered. And yet, they had found a peace and wholeness twice in their lives that totally eluded Wolfe. He had never considered his restless energy as anything but a positive driving force before, but looking at Chimera, who was anything but a failure by anyone's standards, he began to wonder.
"You're serious?" he asked. "You think I should think about going through the process? Findingsomeone else?"
"Certainly not, if you don't feel the need of it," Chimera said. "It would be a mistake for someone who already has everything he needs." Chimera laid histheirhand on Wolfe's arm, again in a very feminine gesture Wolfe would never have associated with the reserved Tsering. "It's only that, well, if you had been through what we've been through, you wouldn't need a sales pitch with those people, and you wouldn't need to think about the bottom line. You would be able to tell them what you received in your own words, from your own heart."
"Yes, but you didn't tell them that, not the way you're talking to me."
"Maybe that's because they were in a group. Maybe we should have done this one at a time. Anyway, we'll be seeing some of them again soon, and we can talk to them this way then. Excuse us now. We haven't had much to eat today. Would you care to join us?"
"No thanks," Wolfe said, and returned to his work, relieved that Chimera said nothing else about him personally undergoing the process. After all, who would he want to share his consciousness with? Not Barnum or his ex-wives, certainly, but who?
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