"You mean that she'll accept you, wholeheartedly, as her mother."
"She will, Skip, and she'll be right. You, thinking me a fraud, will be mistaken. Please try to understand. For thousands of years, we thought death the end, even though we knew of cases in which that had been untrue. Until we could raise the dead ourselves, we refused to believe that death was not necessarily final."
Almost unnoticed, the train glided from the station.
"You call me Skip."
She smiled yet again. He felt that he should by now have come to detest that smile, but found that it enchanted him instead. "I do, Skip, and I shall continue to do so."
"Chelle calls you...?"
"Mother." She sat down on the lower bunk.
"Then I'll call you Mother Blue."
Her eyes flashed. "Not without a quarrel. I have never used Charles's surname, and I most certainly don't intend to begin after going though a world of nonsense to terminate our contract. I am Vanessa Hennessey. You may call me that. Or Ms. Hennessey. Or Vanessa. But not Essy or Vanie or anything of that silly sort."
"Vanessa, then. I don't know where Chelle's mother is buried, but it should be easy to find out. Suppose that I do, and that I take Chelle there and show her the grave - her real mother's grave. What would you do then?"
Vanessa laughed. "Why should I do anything? Why should my daughter do anything, for that matter? I was dead, and now I'm alive. Pay close attention, Skip. You haven't been thinking."
"I'm listening," he said.
"Are you? We'll find out eventually. Every brain scan I ever had - and there were a good many of them - has been uploaded into the brain of a living woman whose own brain was scanned and wiped clean. Once it had been done, that living woman became me, the woman sitting across from you now."
"Ms. Vanessa Hennessey."
"Exactly. I'm so glad you understand."
This time it was he who smiled. "Who is legally dead."
"An error that could be corrected by any competent attorney. Surely you know that a person missing for seven years can be declared legally dead. You must also know that those people sometimes turn up, after which the record is set straight."
"I paid a small fortune to have you resurrected."
"A very small one. Yes."
He wanted to pace, as he had so often in court. "Thus it's against my interest not to accept you myself."
The delightful smile. "I'm glad you understand."
"Thus I shall venture one more question, and no more. None after this. Currently, I am paying the company by the hundred-day. I paid for the first in advance."
She nodded. "That's standard."
"Suppose I stop paying?"
She laughed. "As you will, eventually. I understand that. Let's say when you stop paying. We both know that you will. I'll be returned to Reanimation. My brain will be scanned and wiped, and the earlier scan uploaded."
"You'll be dead."
"I will. But I will die secure in the knowledge that death is not final - that if ever I'm wanted enough, I can be recalled to existence." Smiling, she turned to look at the factory buildings and city streets they passed. "I'd heard that these things were wonderfully fast, Skip. But hearing it and seeing it... How fast can it go?"
"Sixty-seven kilometers an hour. Or so they say. That's almost twice as fast as the fastest motor vehicles, so I wouldn't be surprised if they were stretching the facts a little."
"It is. We're riding on a thin film of air, which is what makes the energy expenditure feasible. These cars are very light, of course. They say four men can lift one."
She laughed and clapped like a delighted child. "I'd love to see that done. To really see it, I mean, with my own eyes. They do all sorts of tricks on tele."
* * *
Excerpted from Home Fires by Gene Wolfe. Copyright © 2011 by Gene Wolfe. Excerpted by permission of Tor Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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