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By Lisa A. Koosis
Albert Whitman and CompanyCopyright © 2016 Lisa A. Koosis
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This is the memory that visits my dreams.
We're walking through a concrete underpass that smells like piss and stale beer and rotting fish. Marybeth is framed by the rectangle of light at the tunnel's end, her dark hair in ponytails, her eyes hidden behind huge plastic sunglasses — probably stolen from her foster mom's dresser — that should make her look stupid but instead make her look incredibly hot. Her sneakers slap on the concrete, and her knapsack, slung carelessly over one shoulder, bounces at her side.
We step out onto the beach. Dark, flat-bottomed clouds hang low over us, and fat raindrops crater the sand. There's no one here but us and the gulls, which tip their heads back and screech, cries that sound like laughter.
The wind yanks strands of Marybeth's hair free from her ponytails and turns her cheeks pink. She kicks off her sneakers, abandoning them.
We walk along the water's edge. The ocean is all whitecaps. Salty spray wets my face.
Near the jetty, Marybeth plops down onto the sand. She pushes the sunglasses on top of her head and digs in her knapsack, pulling out a plastic boat, red with a yellow sail, the kind every cheapo toy store sells.
"I never had one of these," she says. She smiles at me, one of her weird smiles that I can never decipher as happy or sad or maybe a little of both.
She takes a black marker from her bag and, on the side of the boat, in block letters, writes: ADAM.
And below that: MARYBETH.
She stands, wiping sand from her jeans, and carries the boat to the water.
The ocean rushes up around her ankles, soaking her jeans. A sign on the jetty warns: No Swimming. Hazardous Currents. I want to tell her to be careful, but I don't dare, so I stand beside her instead.
She squats down and drops the ADAM [love] MARYBETH boat into the water. It immediately rides out on a trail of foam.
I think, It's going to sink. I want to make her turn away before she can see it happen. But I don't, and it doesn't sink. Instead, we watch the little boat ride the current out until it's no more than a red-and-yellow speck.
I close my eyes, and when I open them again I'm looking back at Marybeth. She's standing on shore, waving, which makes no sense, except suddenly I feel the motion of waves beneath me, the rise and fall of a boat on rough water.
I wrap my hands around the boat's rail, which shouldn't flex beneath my fingers. But it does, because it's not metal. It's plastic and red. Only now it's life-size.
I lean over the side. Sure enough, there are the words Marybeth wrote.
Except the MARYBETH is scratched out, and now it reads: ADAM [love]
"Marybeth?" I call to her. But the wind swallows my words.
Above me, a sail flaps, the sound sharp and clear. I look up at it, searching for a way to lower it, because it's pulling me away from shore, from Marybeth. But when I look, it's not a sail at all. It's nothing but a yellow dress, catching the wind.
And when I look back to shore, Marybeth is gone.CHAPTER 2
When I roll over, my traitorous body still expects to find her beside me, sleepy and warm. But the only curves my hands find belong to my buddy Jose Cuervo, the bottle mostly empty, and a reeking mound of blankets. My little freaking pearl of a world.
Out in the hall, the intercom for the security gate buzzes.
I shove Jose out of the bed. "Oh for fuck's sake!"
Who is it now? NBC? MTV? StarStreamz? I thought I was done with this. But no, here they are again, probably revving up for the one-year anniversary of her death. Like if just the right amount of time passes, a death is something to celebrate, with balloons and ice cream and stupid paper streamers. Yellow, of course.
My brain races ahead. To five years, ten years, the possibility that they'll never stop. That they'll still demand that I stand in front of their cameras and microphones and keep some piece of her alive.
Here's your news flash, assholes. She's gone. Dead. Not coming back for some ten o'clock special report.
The buzz of the intercom continues — bzzzz, pause, bzzzz, pause, bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz — like Morse code for hornets.
I yank off the sheets and get up, finding last night's jeans on the floor and pulling them on. From the bedroom window, I can see the high wrought iron fence that surrounds our — I mean my — home. But no satellite-dish-topped news vans wait at the curb, no online reporters waving streaming holocams. Not even some hopeful fangirls, thumbs ready to tweet: "I saw him. I saw Adam!" Only a single dark blue SUV stands outside the gate.
I open the window and lean out. "Get off my property."
The intercom buzzes again and this time doesn't stop. Why didn't I disable that damn thing months ago?
"We're really going to do this, huh?" I slam the window shut and head down the hall. In the intercom's monitor, I can see a blond woman waiting. As best I can tell, there's no camera crew, no microphones, just her.
I stab the talk button. "In thirty seconds I call the cops."
She jumps, which gives me a second of satisfaction. "Mr. Rhodes?"
"You heard me. No interviews. Twenty-nine, twenty-eight ..."
"I'm not ..." She shakes her head and her ponytail wags. "Mr. Rhodes — Adam — I'm not here for an interview."
"Then what do you want?" I mean for it to come out angry, rough, the voice of someone in charge. Instead, it sounds small and sad.
Her image warps as she leans in toward the camera. "My name is Dr. Trixie Elloran. I'm the scientific director of a very special research project, and I'm here with a proposition I know you'll want to hear. If you'd please let me have five minutes — five minutes, Adam — I promise you'll find it worth your time."
As if my time is worth anything.
As if she can possibly say something that matters.
Way down in the pit of my belly, something churns. And maybe it's boredom or curiosity or just being tired of the silence in this damn house, but before I can stop myself I hit the release for the gate.
The woman gets into the SUV and drives through the gate. By the time I reach the front door, she's knocking.
She isn't dressed like a reporter. No voice-of-authority, five- o'clock-news clothes, but also not the I'm-thirty-but-trying-to- look-twenty-hipster/interviewer look that you see on most of the net streams. And with her white blouse and faded jeans, the messenger bag slung over her shoulder, she isn't dressed like a doctor either.
When she extends her hand to shake mine, I turn away.
"Five minutes." I step aside to let her in, making a point of looking at my wrist only to realize I'm not wearing a watch.
She heads immediately into the living room and sits in one of the armchairs without waiting for an invitation, as if she knows one won't be coming. She puts her bag on the floor.
"Why don't you sit?" she says, like this is her house instead of mine ... instead of Sunshine's.
My heart pounds. "No thanks."
It's been ages since anyone besides me sat in this living room, and for a second I see the room as she must: thick dust on everything, pizza boxes — some still hiding petrified slices — on the floor, the stained couch, sweaty T-shirts caught in the cushions, bottles everywhere.
But she keeps her eyes locked on me. "I'll cut to it."
"Good idea, lady."
She nods. Her voice is soft but direct. "Adam, what if I told you we could give Sunshine back to you?"CHAPTER 3
"Lady, what kind of bullshit joke ...I?" I take a step toward her. "Are you wearing a mic?"
She just sits there, calmly watching me. "Adam —"
"Your time is up." I grab my phone from my pocket and tap 9, then 1. "Get out before I call the cops."
But she doesn't move. She just says, "I'm not with any television show, and this isn't a joke."
I tap the second 1 and let my finger hover over the green Call icon. Do it, I tell myself. Did you lose your motor functions, loser?
Maybe it just feels good to have someone to yell at.
"No? Then maybe you didn't get the same memo as the rest of the world, because Sunshine is dead. So tell me. How are you going to 'give her back'?"
And even as I say it, there's a small, pathetic voice somewhere in my brain that's saying, Tell me. Please tell me.
"I would like to explain." She leans forward. "If you would like to listen."
My finger shakes, a fraction of an inch over my phone, but I stand, silent, both listening and cursing myself for listening.
"I'm with Project Orpheus. We're a private research venture dedicated to advancing scientific knowledge of genetics and neuroscience. Our DNA and our brains. The two things that make us who we are.
"We're doing amazing things there, Adam." She whistles. "We're developing cutting-edge techniques: hormone-driven accelerated aging, artificial wombs, memory reconstruction. We've created implantable memory archiving chips that will be affordable to everyone. These are things that nobody else in the world is even close to attempting."
I shake my head. "I don't understand."
"Let me say this." She smiles. "Our ultimate goal is to give the world the greatest gift it will ever get. The ability to bring back the people we've lost. And we want to start with Sunshine."
I drop down onto the couch and let my phone fall from my hand. I want a drink, and then I want to go back to sleep. And when I wake up again, this will have been just another drunken dream, one that'll fade and leave me to the routine I've carved for myself in this post-Sunshine world.
"Don't screw with me, lady." My voice shakes and it pisses me off.
"I promise you I'm not." She sounds so sincere that my throat tightens. "What I'm offering isn't magic. Science can't bring Sunshine back from the dead, you understand. Flesh decays. But we have the" — she smiles a hesitation — "means to reconstruct the Sunshine that we all knew and loved. Exactly as she was."
Exactly, I think. "You're talking about ..."
"Last time I checked" — which, okay, was maybe never — "we cloned sheep, not people."
"We're there now, Adam."
"Is that even legal?" I ask.
She shrugs. "Oh it's against, shall we say, the advice of the government. But we have a state-of-the-art facility in a private, offshore location."
"So it's illegal," I say.
She waves that away, as if it's a minor detail.
I sag back against the couch. "This is nuts."
"It is," she says. "But it's real."
We stare at each other for a minute while I try to process even a small fraction of this, while I try to process the fact that I'm even having this conversation.
"And you want to bring back Sunshine?" I finally say.
"Sunshine," she says, "is our ideal candidate. She's our proof of concept, Adam. There are thousands of people all over the country hooked up to MAP machines even as we speak, their memories saved and ready. And some of them — well, some of them have loved ones with very deep pockets who would pay anything for the ability to bring them back from the dead, memories and all. But they aren't going to just hand over their money on our word. If we can resurrect Sunshine, Adam, put her back on the world stage exactly as she was, that will be the ultimate validation of what we're doing."
"So you just bring back a dead girl, stick her on a stage, and ask her to sing? And then what? You tell the world she's a" — I hiccup over the word — "a clone? You tell her she's a clone?"
"No," she says. "Of course not. Discretion is in the best interest of everyone, most of all the people who will want this technology. And beyond that, there will be ironclad nondisclosure agreements. Our prospective clients are people who stand to lose a lot, Adam. They know how to keep their mouths shut."
"So you do what then?" I ask.
"Well, truths can be bent, and particularly in the instance of Sunshine, people are eager to believe." She pauses and then says, "So here's a for instance. Maybe Sunshine was weary of the spotlight. Maybe she faked her death, and now ... Now she's changed her mind, and she's ready to come back to the public that loved her."
She's right about this much: truths can be bent, and people believe what they want to believe. Including me.
"Now here's the thing. We've had the ability to recreate a physical body for years, even to artificially age it. And maybe that's enough for a pet — the body, the basic shell, the potential that exists in DNA. But a person? We aren't just genetics, Adam. The joys. The tragedies. Our collective experiences — our memories — that's what makes us who we are."
I take another breath. "Still listening."
"Good," she says. "I'm sure you're aware that before Sunshine was taken off life support, the hospital had her hooked into the MAP?"
Her question takes me instantly back to the hospital. I'm slouched in a chair in a dark-paneled office trying to listen to the doctor as he explains how the MAP, the Memory Archiving Port, a sort of neural computer, will download and preserve her memories, in case her brain swells, in case the cells are dying even now. If she wakes up, he tells me, and the pathways in her brain cant connect to the places that tell her who she is, where she's been, the MAP can return them to her. Except all I can hear is the word "if" — if she wakes up — and my brain is screaming, She's dying, she's dying, she's dying.
I pull myself back to the now and rake a hand through my hair. It feels greasy and way too long. "Yeah. I knew about the MAP."
"The MAP has another benefit. Sunshine may have died, but her memories didn't. We've acquired them, and we can implant those stored memories into a" — she meets my eyes — "into Sunshine. She'll know you. Her memories will be Sunshine's memories. Her thoughts will be what Sunshine — your Sunshine — would have thought."
"If you can do all this, then why are you here?" I narrow my eyes at her. Because here it comes. "You want Sunshine's money?"
"Money?" She surprises me by laughing. "No. And I will tell you this first. The project will go forward with or without you. No matter what you say, it's already started."
"You mean ...?" The words won't come.
"Her new body has been" — she hesitates — "born, created from nothing more than a few stolen skin cells, Adam. It — she — is currently undergoing an artificial aging process. We're already implanting memories into her, starting to form her into who she'll eventually become."
"Sunshine," I say.
She nods. "Sunshine."
Her words penetrate. But it's like those first few seconds after you cut yourself really badly, when you see the blood but you don't feel the pain.
"But here's our dilemma," she says. "Even with the MAP, after the oxygen deprivation from the drowning, some of Sunshine's memories are corrupted, incomplete. Have you ever watched television and had a blip in the cable signal? All of a sudden the screen fills with random pixels? That's pretty much what I'm talking about, and it could jeopardize our project. That's where you come in, Adam — completing her memory set. The person who knew her best of all." She looks at me as if I'm an adult, capable of making a decision, and not some reeking, hungover kid whose whole life has been an epic fail.
"Whatever your fucking-fantastic science can do, Dr. Whoever-You-Are, she's still dead. And I'll always know she's dead."
She doesn't answer, and she doesn't seem at all disturbed by my outburst. She leans over and rummages through her bag, pulling out a tablet and sliding it across the coffee table toward me. At the motion, the screen winks on.
She nods toward it. I hesitate and then pick it up.
The image on the screen is one I recognize. And well I should, since it made a tour of all the major media outlets a few months ago. It shows me on my knees by Marybeth's grave. But I wasn't crying. I was falling-down drunk.
"Keep going," the doctor says.
I want to tell her to go to hell, but instead I swipe to the next image, which is a black-and-white shot of me, fist ready, running at a cameraman. The caption reads: NO CHARGES PRESSED AGAINST GRIEVING GUITARIST.
I drop the tablet back onto the table.
"This can be a second chance for you too." She drops a business card on top of the tablet. It's completely blank except for a phone number. "And looking at the path you're on, you'd be foolish not to take it."CHAPTER 4
After Dr. Elloran leaves, the house feels strange. Maybe because every unbelievable word she spoke haunted this place with hope. But she didn't take the hope away with her when she left. Oh no. She left it here, and now it's like a goddamn ghost following me around.
Sunshine. Alive again.
Not Sunshine, my brain whispers. Marybeth.
This is crazy.
Sick crazy. A-worm-wriggling-around-my-brain crazy.
I walk from room to room, the Hope-Ghost drifting behind me. I don't know what I'm doing. But that's nothing new.
I pick up the business card and put it down again about thirty times.
From the closet, I grab my old laptop and plug it in. After it groans to life, I SmartSearch "Project Orpheus." But all that comes up is a dead link for some old band from like 2016.
Excerpted from Resurrecting Sunshine by Lisa A. Koosis. Copyright © 2016 Lisa A. Koosis. Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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