When I wake up, I can't believe that I could have survived: I should've bled out in seconds, and when I saw the tunnel of light, I went all the way through to the other side. I squeeze my eyes shut tighter, trying to keep them from opening up to the world, but an impulse forces them to open.
When they do, I see a woman looking at me, and something about her face is familiar. She looks a little like Diane, but however long I've been in a coma, it couldn't be her. When I tried to resuscitate her, I only sent blood through her mouth when I pressed her chest. I remember the taste of the blood on her lips when I I tried to breathe life back into her. I remember the feeling of her cracked skull giving way beneath my trembling fingers as I tried to hold up her head.
For a long time, I hardly heard the cries of the infant looking on until I realized what she had died for. When I looked back at her covered in blood, I saw the fear in her eyes that would not recognize me, as if it was I who had killed her — and then it struck me that this was my doing. I'd told Diane I'd look after you that night, but as always, I kept putting it off to finish my work, something she'd never caught me doing. That's when the fire must've started. Then I remember.
When Diane was called, she came running from a few blocks away, but she must've barely made it to Sara's room when she began to faint, and went out on the balcony to catch her breath. When she realized how fast the fire was spreading, it was too late to go back inside, and when the fire burst through the window, the only way out was to jump. She'd have had a good chance of surviving the fall, hadn't she needed both her arms to hold Sara on her back. She hit the pavement head first. I listened to the paramedic without saying a word, because I'd already decided what to do. I went back to the laboratory, took a scalpel, and felt my neck for my carotid. As the blood spurt out over the samples, I reflected on how futile my life's work had been, the work for which I'd given up my family, with the excuse that it might help them someday. Then I remember the contract with the cryonics company, and I realize that what seemed like just hours must have been decades. All of a sudden I know who's standing before me.
"Sara?" She was just a year old when I died. Now she looks like a young adult, but for the streak of gray in her hair.
"Father." Her expression goes through a series of emotion. Through a long silence she stares me in the eyes as she seems unsure whether to smile or scowl, and finally she burst out laughing. She bends over to hold me.
"Right back to the very thing you wanted to run away from."
"I just couldn't face you every day knowing what I'd done."
"Perhaps I couldn't either, as I was the one who started the fire. Maybe it's for the best that you didn't raise me, or we'd have spent our lives feeling guilty for each other."
"You're welcome," I say. "How about Diane?"
"She's gone," she says. "But we uploaded part of her psyche, and we can download it into another body along with parts of others most similar to hers. In fact, since she's legally information dead, anyone can already download her on the neuronet. You could do so yourself if you're alright with becoming intergender, so that part of her would always live on inside you. There's also a few neuronauts who have already downloaded her along with similar psyches. They've been waiting for the chance to meet a man from the past. Would you like to meet them?"
I'm trying to settle my thoughts, but they can't find holdfast. They need Diane, the only thing that isn't unknown to them in this world.
"Can't you bring her back the way she was? I just want to make things right, the way they used to be."
"Ludwig," she says, calling me by my name rather than father, "It doesn't matter, not anymore. We could create billions more psyches right now if we needed to, so what difference does one more or less make? She's not even the best match for you that would turn up on the neuronet, and she won't remember anything from her past life, so how would she be different from anyone else?"
"Even if she'd no longer know me, I'd still know her."
"What about her? You're holding on to the only thing you know because you're afraid of the unknown. How do you think she would feel, if everything would be unknown to her? What even makes you think she'd love you back? She wouldn't like it that you tried to make her live that way. In the end she'd probably decide to download other psyches anyway, so sooner or later, you'll just have to accept that it will only be partly her. Soon enough you'll be a very different person too."
I say nothing. Sara stares out into space for a moment, and a few social networking profiles appear before me of people who signed up to be Diane's replacement, each with a description of the techniques they used to reconstruct her psyche as accurately as possible. Elsewhere in their profiles, there is a description of themselves.
"None of them seems anything like her."
"Of course not, that's not the point. Think of them as mediums. They can use hypnosis to become like her. They can also use nanorobots to take on her form."
"Alright, I'll give it a try. I want to know how much is left of her. But we need to talk first. How have you been?"
Sara laughs. "Ludwig, you don't have to pretend to have any more interest in me now than you had before. We've always been strangers, just like any other two random people. But that's alright."
That silences me for quite a while. "At least you don't call me Mr. Adler."
"Keep this up and I just might," she says with a grin.
"You have to admit you're being pretty familiar with me. Why are you even here?"
"Everyone's familiar with each other nowadays."
"Then why are you here?"
"I work here."
"Is that a coincidence? Your father goes into cryostasis and you go on to work at just that."
"Your being in cryostasis did make me wonder what it would be like to go through that. I thought you might still have been conscious, and it made me think really hard about what makes someone conscious. I became a psychologist, and when people started being revived, I really got into it. Everyone who's woken up here has some interesting story to tell about their last moments of consciousness."
"I remember I still felt guilty, as if the guilt would follow me for all eternity. When I moved into the light, I gave myself up to it entirely because I wanted to stop being me. It was the only way to get away from the guilt."
She looks at me empathetically. "Soon you won't be yourself anymore. We're all changed everything about ourselves. There's no other choice, because that's the only way we can still interact. That's why you and I really have nothing in common anymore. But we could transfer my 1-year old psyche into a clone, if you want."
"Perhaps Diane would want that."
"Why of course, because unlike her, I actually respect her. Anyone will treat her like a hero. I've told her she can come in."
All of a sudden I'm not so sure anymore. Now I'll have to face an even greater guilt, when I tell Diane that I've failed Sara once again.
"She knows," Sara says, seeing my doubt. "In fact we know each other. She's been revived sooner than you. There was no demand for you before that."
I still can't my head around the idea of Diane being part of someone else's mind.
"Why would anyone want to sign up for this?"
"They're neuronauts." She shrugs. I stare at her. "They want every experience. And part of the reason they're doing it is so that you might upload your own psyche to them as well."
A woman walks in through the wall, which disappears before her and reappears behind her. She and Sara hug.
"Ludwig, this is my friend Sylvia. We met when she came here to convince revivees to upload their near-death experiences. And you know who this is," she says to Sylvia.
"This is my husband," she says with a laugh.
"Could you just stop?"
"Wow, taking ourselves serious are we?" Sylvia says. "How quaint." It's such a strange feeling that they would deny our identity like that, as if we're all supposed to transition from one into another as if they were nothing but costumes.
"Didn't you say you gave yourself up to the light?" Sara says. "Try to remember that feeling." She comes over to me and lays her hands on my temples.
"Close your eyes and remember."
I try and do as she says, and my nanobots make it all come back to me as if I were experiencing it for the first time. The light becomes ever brighter as I come closer until I feel how it burns me away, and I become one with the light that shines from all there is. For a moment, I pass out, and at some point I hear a voice say "It is time."
When I open my eyes again, I see Diane is standing before me, hugging Sara.
"Diane?" I say, as soon as she lets go.
"Ludwig," she says, trying out my name, as if she's not sure of how it's pronounced.
"Do you remember me at all?"
"No," she says. I lower my eyes. She comes over to me and holds my hand and looks at me intently. I look back up at her. "But I feel like I know you somehow, as if you're part of me that was torn away and our edges still fit together." She interlocks her fingers with mine, but her eyes are sad. It feels just like her energy.
"We'll never have whatever we had before, but when I see at what all these people have together, becoming one and then several again, I don't know what to make of it. Perhaps we lost something that none of them will ever have, or perhaps what took us all those years really takes them only moments."
"No, don't let them get into your head."
For some reason, the way she says this feels the same way as when I saw the light, how I will keep falling into it even though I knew it will be my undoing. We hold each other close, and as we telepath, we seem to float away. Without our past, all that is left of us is our current, the pattern in which we each feel and think right now, and as our thoughts and feelings flow into each other, the patterns begin to combine into one. Now I recognise her, the energy in her that forms the basis of her being. I had so often seen it from afar, but never been able to touch it.
"Let's go outside," she says. She lays her hand on my shoulder and nudges me out of the bed. I'm moving ever so slowly as I try out my new body for the first time, but find that I feel more fit than I ever have before, and it feels like it takes no effort to stand at all, as if I could stand for hours and never get tired. I don't know where to go in this world, but Diana walks me through the wall, into the common room of the clinic.

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