“I — I don’t understand,” Margot said. Her voice wavered as she tried to make sense of the situation; her breath made small puffs of vapor in the frigid cloning chamber. Through its clouded glass wall she could see only a shadow, but she knew that shadow was Michael. “We’ve been married for twelve years. We have two sons together! I remember –“
A speaker crackled near her ear. “The memories in your head are hers. Your brain has been imprinted with her synaptic pathways, recorded shortly before she died. Surely you can remember that?”
It was the parts she didn’t remember that proved all of this to her. Gaps – she didn’t know how long – broken only by days or hours of lucidity as she lay in a hospital bed, as her condition declined. “But I’m fine now.” She pounded on the glass with her fist. “You fixed my body.”
A pause, then the speaker again. “She … Margot, the original Margot … died two days afterwards. She only regained consciousness once. It took five weeks after that to grow your body from a biological substrate. Your DNA was created from a corrected copy of her encodings, not from her original material. You won’t die of the same genetic disease.”
Not from her original? “This is my body!” Margot raised her voice in protest, and it rang within the chamber.
“But it’s not her body,” Michael replied. “There’s no part of you that’s a direct connection to her, any more than a fax of the Declaration of Independence would have any connection to the original. Any more than if we reverse-engineered the Empire State Building and then made another one from our blueprints. You’re the Ship of Theseus, but there never was any part of the original Margot in you. I thought I could feel differently, that I could see you as the same woman I exchanged vows with. Back from the dead! But you were built from blueprints, not propagated from a plant cutting. I could build a hundred more clones of her, imprint the same memories upon each of you, and no one would ever know that none of you are the original … except, I would know. I do know.”
Her body shivered, her mind raced, but through the sea of thoughts one thing remained clear. “I love you,” she said to the shadow.
“I loved Margot with everything I am,” Michael answered quietly. “You and I, we’ve never met.” His voice had a note of finality. “You have a long life ahead of you. Go.”
Fluorescent lights flickered to life outside the chamber, and the shadow departed with the darkness. A minute later the door to the cloning chamber hissed and slid open. Margot wasted no time in pulling herself free of the cramped cylinder, the liminal boundary between the end of a life remembered and the beginning of a life created. Her feet touched floor for the first time, her lungs breathed ambient air for the first time, and yet it reminded her of the hospital room where she had died.