Brad Beckman had been awaiting this reunion for over a hundred years. He rarely pondered the irony of the fact that he had died at the age of ninety-three.
Cool and white, the reception room calmed his nerves. Subtle traces of sky blue laced the otherwise featureless walls. The mood the lighting and colors engendered reflected Brad's desires. Though Janice had always preferred reds and browns, he remained unworried. Such petty differences in taste meant nothing now.
For the third time in the last five minutes, Brad glanced at the one-way mirror set in a corner of the room. Behind it, his scientists would be observing the proceedings. If, despite their preparations, something should go wrong, he wanted expert help close by.
Not that any reason for concern troubled him. He had hired the best minds available. For nearly all of his adult life he had planned for this moment. Or more precisely, for all of his first life.
Brad tapped the side of his leg in a quick rhythm. When he became aware of that telltale gesture, he smiled and shoved his hand into a pants pocket. He still found it difficult to imagine that a man who had amassed a fortune as large as his and who had helped to mold the course of history should be nervous at meeting an old girlfriend.
Yet he could not deny the truth his body revealed to him.
He had last seen Janice Wilson alive and in person when they were both only twenty-five years old. The parting had been a miserable and painful one for Brad, while Janice had seemed oblivious to his agony and untouched by the disintegration of their relationship. Perhaps that difference explained the butterflies which flitted so vigorously inside of him. He wanted this occasion to end on a much more...positive...note. He had done everything within his power to ensure that it would.
A voice issued softly from concealed speakers. "She'll be arriving in five minutes, Mr. Beckman."
Brad could scarcely believe it. After a century and a year, he was about to come face-to-face again with the woman who had unknowingly influenced his life more than any other single person. The culmination of a dream he had often considered impossible to fulfill was close at hand.
Brad checked his watch. Four minutes. Hesitantly he looked at the mirror and wondered how the men and women there would interpret his nonverbal cues. Finally he grinned. For what he paid those observers, they could bloody well keep their opinions to themselves.
Purposefully, Brad strode towards his reflection. He wanted everything to be right. Carefully he patted at his thick, brown hair. Sometimes he thought he had missed that full head of protein more than anything else. Now he had it back, though, along with the broad shoulders and slim hips he had worked so hard to maintain in his youth. In his dark blue slacks and snug white shirt, he presented an attractive figure. Even after Janice, he had had no difficulty finding women who wanted that body...or at least the wealth which it commanded
Three minutes more to wait.
With nervousness transforming into excited anticipation, Brad stepped back towards the middle of the room. Inhaling a calming breath, he faced the door through which Janice would be entering. He wanted her to see him before anything else.
When Janice had died at the age of eighty-four, Brad had been forced to call in a lot of debts. The body which Janice's husband had cremated had not been that of his beloved wife. Her earthly remains had reached this laboratory within an hour of her death. Brad's agents had not followed her whereabouts for over fifty years only to lose the prize at the end. Besides, what harm had been done? A few doctors and assorted officials had received substantial contributions to their favorite charities. Janice's husband, meanwhile, had gone to his grave believing that those ashes on the mantle belonged to the woman he had bedded for nearly sixty years.
Two to go.
The dummy research company which hid this set-up had been one of Brad's proudest achievements. The finest genetic and biotech scientists in the world had gravitated towards his payroll. Janice's memories -- and when Brad had finally died, his -- had been recorded and stored. Despite inevitable losses -- transmission errors; system noise -- enough remained for Brad's purposes. The boys in white had assured him that Janice would remember the critical periods. She would retain free choice. What did it matter if she forgot the name of her tenth grade English teacher or he his mother's maiden name?
The final minute.
Janice's clone had been grown until the possibility of any genetic defects had been eliminated. Her old body had then been destroyed, and the clone embryo frozen until Brad's turn for resurrection arrived. When that eventuality occurred, both embryos had been placed in the nutrient wombs which would see them to birth. Finally, instead of allowing the newly born infants to establish their own patterns of experience, the scientists had kept them in a kind of suspended -- or more accurately, slowed -- animation. The memories of their former lives had been fed into their brains while their bodies had been allowed to mature to the target age.
It was all inside them now. How they had met. How they had separated. What had come before and what had happened afterward.
This time, though, Brad knew the outcome would be different. This time he was no trusting and vulnerable twenty-five-year-old kid. This time he knew what had to be done.
The door opposite Brad sighed open.
A backlit figure stood there. Tall. Shapely. With long, dark, shoulder-length hair.
Slowly she walked into the room. Her head swung this way and that as she took it all in. Yet she gave no sign of seeing him. The drugs perhaps, Brad thought. As her gaze touched the mirror, Janice paused. In obvious wonder, she moved her hands along the full, firm curves of her youthful body. Sliding her fingertips across her breasts, she smiled.
The smile froze as she saw Brad's image beside her own.
Cautiously, she turned towards him. For a long moment, she stared at him. And then it hit her.
"You...," she said.
Despite his self-assurance of moments ago, Brad felt his heart hammering inside his chest. The hormones he had lived without for so long suddenly rushed back in full force.
"H-hi, Janice." He swallowed dryly and cursed himself for that obvious slip. It seemed that no matter how long he lived, the mind inside his brain would always be that of a fumbling adolescent where Janice was concerned.
Janice's smile melted. She stepped closer.
"I should have known," she said. "You never give up, do you?"
"What...?" That was not the attitude he wanted to see.
"Don't you think I knew you kept tabs on me all those years?"
"Well, I --" Helplessly, Brad lifted a hand.
"Oh, I didn't mind so much. Your men were always discreet. It was rather flattering, in fact. Especially when I few older and...not quite as attractive. But this...!" She stretched out her arms and spun. "I never imagined you had this in mind. I didn't know such a thing was even possible."
She sounded happy. Perhaps he had misinterpreted her initial reaction.
Brad smiled warmly, hesitantly. "We're the first. You see, I thought we could --"
Janice held up a restraining hand. "Wait a minute. 'We'? I hope you don't think this changes anything." She stared into Brad's eyes. Abruptly she laughed. "You do! I'll be damned. You do." She shook her head. "I thought you were a self-centered fool when I sold your computer designs to Ed. This," she said, waving a hand in an inclusive gesture, "simply confirms my suspicion. Oh, I'm grateful for the new body and all, but not grateful enough for what you have in mind."
"You ruined me," Brad said quietly. "Then you ran off with Ed."
Janice folded her arms across her chest. "You made a good comeback, though. Your genetics company was the biggest. You were worth billions when I died."
"It took me years," Brad said. He slid his hands into his pockets. "I never got over it. Or you."
Janice shook her head. "Come off it. I wasn't born yesterday."
"No. You were born today."
Janice gave him a quizzical look. "I think I've had enough of this. If you'll just show me the way out..."
The chill numbness he had endured all his previous life extinguished once and for all the small flame of hope Brad had managed to keep alive for so many years. He had tried for a second chance. For her. For him. She had rejected it. He could see now he really was nothing more than a blind, old fool when it came to her. For one who had been dedicated to seeing even painful realities in all other aspects of his life, he had failed miserably in acknowledging the truth of Janice's essential nature; a truth which had been there all along but which he had ignored despite the high costs of such willful evasion.
He pointed towards the right. "If you really want to go, there's a door over there."
Janice frowned. "I feel sorry for you, Brad. I really do." She expelled a long breath. "While I'm happy for this new existence, you had no right doing such a thing to me without my permission. You'll be hearing from my lawyer." With that she walked away.
For the second time, Brad watched Janice leave his life. Only this time, things really were different. As she had once held his heart in her hands, now he held hers.
Brad had insisted that Janice be made as physically perfect as possible. Perfect, that is, except for one minor detail.
He waited tensely.
She might yet change her mind. She might yet realize he was worth the effort to love. She might yet change and...
The door slid open. Without even a backward glance, Janice stepped through it.
Tears welled in Brad's eyes. Even at the end he had tried to twist a fantasy into a reality he knew full well could never be. He had to acknowledge that he remained vulnerable to the all-too-human capacity for believing that the truth was what he wanted it to be. Almost absent-mindedly, he blinked away the wetness from his eyes. Slowly his fingers closed on the small transmitter which rested in his left pants pocket.
"Goodby, Janice," he whispered.
But he did not push the button. The urge to do so clamored for action, yet even as he became aware of and accepted that wish for revenge, its power over him faded.
Puzzled, he drew out the transmitter which would switch off the pacemaker embedded in Janice's chest. He could kill her now in payment for everything she had ever done and not done to him. He could do so before she left the building, and he would never be punished.
Except by himself.
The golden glow that had encased his image of Janice tarnished and died with a whisper. He had spent decades of his life and millions of dollars on someone not worth a second glance let alone a second chance. Why ruin his new existence and his newly won insight with the guilt of a murder hanging over his soul? Even though she lived now only because of his single-minded dedication, it might also be fair to say that he had a fresh beginning only because of her treachery and the drive it had seared into his soul.
If she had not been so callous and so cruel, he would never have established the genetic business that bore his name. He would have had no burning desire to rise beyond the grave. All he had now, all the years that stretched ahead of him beckoned because of the initial impetus she had provided. He could forget her now -- should forget her -- and make the most of the new opportunities that awaited him. A new business venture, perhaps. He had always wanted to move some of his operations out into space. He would never do so any younger. Mars, perhaps... Or maybe even the stars!
He had been foolish once. Even such a blatant error as he had committed, though, did not mean he had to continue with the bitterness which had robbed his earlier life of enjoyment and happiness. He could start over again. And he would.
Let Janice fend for herself, alone and penniless. He had lawyers, too; a veritable army of them.
Resolutely, Brad drew back his arm to throw the transmitter away. For a second he held it in midair. Then slowly he lowered it and smiled.
"It's one thing to be foolish," he murmured, "and quite another to be stupid."
Whistling and tossing the transmitter like a coin, Brad strolled from the room and into a new world.