"When do you know when you're finally dead? How many times can you be brought back before you're no longer the original you?" said Lazar, just before opening his eyes.
He was laying in a large bed with linen sheets and mahogany bedposts. The bedroom was large and open to the vast gardens that surrounded the house. Songbirds trilled and insects buzzed in the endless tropical summer.
"Is that what you have to say to me?" said Mizuki as she stared coolly at the man in the bed. She was tall and thin, with a short crop of wavy sea-green hair, out of which poked a pair of grafted artificial cat ears that responded to her emotions. It was an out-of-date affectation but she liked how it pegged her origin to a specific era.
"I feel like plastic," said Lazar. "Why'd you get a cheap body? You just want to torture me."
"You destroyed the last one, your organic facsimile," she said with a slightly gleeful twitch of her cat ears, "in twelve days. I'm not paying for a full job if you're just going to ruin it." She let her gaze drift off into the gardens.
"When will you get the message that I don't want to do this?"
Lazar sat up, scrunching himself up towards the headboard, and shivering. It was a common reaction to a new body. Mizuki sauntered off towards the entrance to the garden.
"You are bound to me, legally. You know that," she said. "But I realize you don't want to be cooperative. I'm leaving for Iceland. You can have the house. I won't bother you. But if you kill yourself again, know that I will bring you back. I will bring you back, always." She venomously spat out the last word. "You know what you have to do."
With that she went out into the brightness of the garden and disappeared in a swirl of gauzy curtains. Lazar sighed. A headache was forming inside his left temple. Unfortunately the usual medications didn't work on artificial bodies. He got up and stretched, feeling around the confines of his new body.
"Ugh, a common worker model," he said.
It was the body made for brute labor. Short and strong, but with only a ten year warranty. Such models were cheap, and were often used by factories that copied the mind of an excellent worker and replicated it thousands of times into numerous bodies. The real advantage was that they required minimal downtime. The mind of course still required sleep, but this was capped at an hour a day, and much could get done in that time.
"Ten years," he said. "Maybe I'll just wait her out this time."
He spent the first three months catching up the latest news, movies, and internet memes, then took to laying in bed listening to the birds. He missed eating food. A few months later, Mizuki's lawyer visited, who arrived unannounced and sat next to Lazar's bed until he awoke. She was a short, fat woman, but an original.
"Hello," she said. "I'm--"
"I know who you are," said Lazar groggily. He felt clumsily around the bedside table with his hands.
"You don't wear glasses," she said calmly.
"I know that," said Lazar angrily. He withdrew his hands and rested them on his chest. "What do you want?"
"If you know who I am, you should know why I'm here."
Lazar considered her words, then closed his eyes.
"I know that both you and Mizuki want to end this...well...whatever this is."
"Hell," said Lazar definitively.
"Yes, well, I can only imagine."
"Of course. I bet you think this is paradise, getting to live forever."
"Maybe not forever."
Lazar suddenly sat up and crossed his legs.
"Why did she pick you? I mean she's had plenty of lawyers over the decades--the centuries now--and most of those were resets. Why did she pick an original? You're so...junior."
"That's true, I am junior. I've been at my firm for twenty years. The heads have each been there for over one hundred years. They regard this case as frivolous, but Mizuki pays well, and so I am here. The young lawyer with nothing to lose, everything to prove, and time to waste."
"Hmm," said Lazar, interlacing his fingers. "What is your name?"
"Opal Unger. Esquire."
"Really," said Lazar flatly. "Well, Opal, I have a confession to make. Actually I've told Mizuki this dozens of times, but she refuses to believe me. She thinks I tell her this confession out of spite, because I hate her. And it's true, I do hate her, but the confession is the truth and there is no spite involved."
"What is your confession," said Opal, her eyelids fluttering slightly, and her teeth clenched.
"That there is nothing to tell her. I have no information to give up that would end this the way that she wants."
"This is a divorce. I suggest you give her what she wants, especially if it is just information--"
"But it does not exist!" shouted Lazar.
"What?" asked Opal.
Lazar crept from the bed. He was still fully clothed from the previous day, except for his bare feet. He padded across the room and dragged a chair from the wall towards Opal. He sat down opposite her, within the leg-cross distance acceptable for rival politicians.
"When we were married," he said gravely, "we had a child. This was just at the beginning of the reset era."
"I didn't realize you were quite so old--"
"We are," said Lazar. "Our child--our daughter, was sick. The affliction was rare and incurable, what it was, I don't know anymore, except that it was a genetic flaw. I think it goes by a different name these days. Mizuki arranged to have her mind uploaded for a reset, but as co-parent, I needed to sign my consent as well. I had my reservations about doing it, and I did, just to make Mizuki happy, but due to a paperwork error, my consent was misplaced. At the moment of death, the reset procedure was done."
"I don't understand," said Opal.
"The procedure was done, but since the hospital couldn't find my consent, they erased her. I think they were worried about being sued by misappropriating a mind. Anyway, they found out the error within a few hours, and approached me. Mizuki was grieving and wouldn't talk to anyone. We had never been reset before, and the procedure was very new, so we didn't know what was in store for our daughter. It felt as if, at the time, that she was definitely dead. And she was. So they talked to me, and told me they had made a horrible mistake, and that I would be compensated accordingly. And then I looked in on Mizuki, and I couldn't tell her. She was pitiful. I couldn't tell her our daughter was dead."
Opal reached out and put her hand on Lazar's knee.
"What did you do?"
"I lied of course. At first it was that we couldn't afford the new body. Then it was that the procedure had been recalled. Then it was that we were getting too old to raise a child. Worst of all I suggested having a second child to replace our daughter, since the law allowed for it in such extreme cases. She saw through my lies, and there were a lot of arguments. She thought I was punishing her for passing on her flawed genes. Then I told her what really happened. All the layers of lies had done so much damage that she didn't believe the actual truth. We grew apart. And in the divorce, she asked for the access number for our daughter's reset files, and for full custody. But I can't give her something that doesn't exist."
"I see," said Opal. "And you've told this to my firm before?"
"Many times. You have the hospital records in your files. You must have seen them though."
"I was not given the files, just a verbal account of this case." Opal twisted her fingers around the armrests of her chair.
"You must really be junior," said Lazar.
"No, it's not that. It's that the firm doesn't care. Mizuki is extremely wealthy, as you know. They will milk her. They have. If the divorce ever gets finalized, then...then the cow wanders away."
Lazar smiled wanly.
"I do love her you know. I did. It was a short time we were friends, and such a long time we've been enemies."
"Can't you try again with her? Isn't there anyway you can convince her of the truth?"
"I think she knows, deep down. I don't think there's anything I can do to let herself admit to the truth. Her grief has boiled into itself for too long."
"And she won't let you go."
"I've been done with this life for over a century. I crave the infinite quiet."
"There's not much I can do. Which is exactly what I came here to do."
"There is, actually. I think," said Lazar, leaning back into his chair. "You are an original, and a recent one."
"Thanks, I think..."
"You don't get paid well, do you? Although at one time, lawyers got paid very well compared to the average person."
"The heads of the firm pay themselves handsomely."
"And have enough money for deluxe reset bodies--organics even. But you don't. You might never be able to afford a reset."
"I can get the procedure done," said Opal, bristling slightly.
"Yes, but without the money or family connections, you won't be able to afford any type of reset body. At best you might get a year-warranty model. An extra year to tick off your bucketlist items, or perhaps a year to work twenty-three hour days so you can afford an upgrade. Brutish."
Red rose in Opal's face. Lazar grinned.
"I don't mean to offend you," said Lazar. Opal smiled quickly. He continued. "I'd like to offer you an alternative. I don't have the money that Mizuki does, but I've accumulated enough for many resets." He paused, trying to gauge whether Opal knew where he was going with his argument. "The bodies will come courtesy of Mizuki."
"You want me to become your daughter," she said.
Lazar raised his eyebrows.
"No, in fact. No. I can only imagine how Mizuki would treat our daughter--and she would know it wasn't her. They shared secrets. Mizuki was a lot closer to her than I was, I'm ashamed to say. When she got sick, I withdrew, but Mizuki," his voice cracked, "she was devoted. She made every minute she had with her count. She was at her bedside through it all. And I--I couldn't be there. I couldn't stand it." He looked at the ceiling. "Sometimes I think this is my punishment for being a bad father."
"You protected your heart," said Opal.
"That's what I tell myself when it wears on me. But that truth too, feels like a lie."
"So then you want me to impersonate you."
"You'll be able to do as you like. I can tell you all about me, and Mizuki won't know it won't be me."
"It is the worst sort of fraud," said Opal. "The law is very clear on the matter. Even your proposition of me is illegal."
"It has to be discovered, in order for it to be a fraud."
Opal stood and straightened her suit.
"I'll see myself out," she said, bowing slightly.
"You decline?" asked Lazar.
"You want to add more lies to your layers of lies. I'm not sure this is the strategy that will allow you to escape your punishment."
Lazar lowered his gaze to the floor. She continued.
"I will visit you again. I won't tell anyone what you asked me. We can be friends. And maybe, through that, your burden will be less." She turned and left. Lazar crossed his legs and interlaced his fingers, thinking.