She looked up at the machine. It was old,
nearly as old as she. It loomed over her, seemed to glare down
at her, daring her to use it. All these years, the machine had
waited patiently to fulfill its single purpose. And all those
years, Sarah had done her best not to think about it, not to let the
machine dictate how she lived her life. But, in those moments
when the thought broke through, it could bring about both the
greatest despair and the greatest hope she'd ever known. Her
parents had sacrificed their entire careers, indeed, had sacrificed
certain fame and centuries of adoration, settled into lives of
mediocrity, for her.
If only their colleagues could have known what
they had done. If only the world could have known. They
would have sat dumbfounded at the simplicity of it, the utility, the
incredible opportunities for human advancement. They could
have spent their remaining years in triumphant praise, their names
joining the ranks of the few great scientists that could find their
way into the public's heart: Tesla. Feynman.
Einstein. Even Newton.
But scientific study wasn't the only passion that
Sarah's parents shared. They had caught each other's eye back
in their university days, when they were specializing in the same
fields, graduate students in physics with a focus on quantum
mechanics, but minoring in political science. It was an
unlikely pairing of disciplines, and they were hard pressed to name
anyone in either of their fields that was much interested in the
And, while her parents held unending hope for
humanity through the advancement of science, they also knew the
limitless cruelty that humankind could inflict; it seemed impossible
for governments to use new technology for the betterment of society
when they could find applications for war. The machine could
be used to install political puppets with ease, or for unimaginable
torture. The possibilities were endless, and they knew the
world was not ready for it.
And so, Sarah's parents had made their
decision. They would make this one machine, for her.
Once it was complete, they had destroyed all their research, the
blueprints, everything. The technology would surely be
reinvented one day, but they could not help that, and they could
only hope that society would by then have matured enough to use it
responsibly. They had bought a small patch of land near a rail
yard, once the site of a microwave tower, sold to them for a song
when the technology became obsolete. The land itself was far
from prime real estate, but that was hardly the point. These
towers had been built to withstand a nuclear blast, complete with a
small bunker underneath. With eighteen inches of concrete and
a small trap door for access, easily concealed, they had the ideal
location to build and store their secret for decades.
They had raced to finish it in time. Sarah
was only a teenager then, and had wondered what her parents toiled
away at month after month, long into the night; she had felt as
though she lived alone, she saw them so little. Then, one
night not long after her nineteenth birthday, they took her to the
train yard. In that small room fifteen feet underground, they
showed her the fruits of their labor. They explained why they
had been away so much for so long, that it had all been for
her. She had her entire life to decide whether to use the
machine again, but it would be useless if she didn't use it now.
Sarah thought about her chances, as she had so
many times in the years before. Would it actually work?
What might happen if it didn't? It had only been tested on
mice, and though it had been a resounding success in those tests,
they were far from a full dress rehearsal of this ultimate
night. But, as the years had passed, and Sarah had come to
know the pains of old age -- the social as much as the physical --
her fears had dampened somewhat. She told herself she had
nothing to lose, though she couldn't be sure. If she was
lucky, failure would merely mean death, only slightly ahead of its
time. She dared not dwell on what might happen if she was not.
What her parents had done was simply to pursue
and confirm a neglected theory in quantum physics known as trope
ontology: that the building blocks of reality are not particles of
matter, but properties. Simply put, an electron is not a
particle, but a bundle of properties such as mass, spin, and
charge. Matter emerges from these properties. This meant
that information was all that was needed to describe and build
anything in the universe. And information is trivial to copy.
Now, more than half a century later, she once
again found herself in front of the machine. If it worked, it
would make an exact reproduction of her 19-year-old body, but with
an exact copy of her octogenarian brain. She would have her
youth again, but retain the wisdom of her age. Who knew how
many times she would be able to repeat this process? No one
knew how long the brain would last, but for Sarah, her bright mind
was not bound to her failing body. She stepped inside and
closed her eyes as the machine stuttered to life, groaning after its
long sleep. There was a hum, rising from a whisper into a loud
growl, and suddenly, silence. Sarah stepped out of the
machine. It was the easiest, strongest step she had taken in
ages. She looked in a small mirror on the wall, and tears
streamed down her face as she studied the smooth, soft skin, the
bright eyes staring back at her, an entire life ahead.
Then, in the reflection, she saw something else
stumble out of the machine. Sarah turned slowly to face the
old woman behind her.
(C) 2013 by Erik Niklas, under Creative