Parting Gift

Chera Marcus sat by her husband’s bedside watching John Marcus, in his ninth incarnation, die. His legs no longer worked, he couldn’t lift his arms or himself, and he’d not spoken in weeks. His long face, sallow and waxy from the incurable and irreversible clone cancer creeping through his body, was still youthful despite his fifty-two years, and she couldn’t believe he was dying. He lay on his back, one arm along his side, the other across his chest, a thin vein slowly pulsating in his hand. She touched it, her fingertip tracing it gently. His eyes opened, surprising her.

“I’ve willed my heart to you,” he said, his voice thready, straining against the petrifying muscles of his throat. “You’ll get good money for it.”

Chera let his words sink in, perhaps the last words he would say to her. They sounded poetic but she knew precisely what he meant. The bio-medics didn’t know what triggered clone cancer, the slow petrifying of cells, but hearts from clones like her husband, the only part that remained viable after the clone died were in great demand on the organ market. They could be transplanted perfectly into another human being.

“Don’t try to talk,” she said, folding her hand over his.

But he continued. “Can’t believe I’m dying so soon, leaving you so soon. Marrying you was the only good thing this time around.”

She brushed his hair back so the strands wouldn’t fall into his eyes. He could still move his head somewhat. “Shh,” she said. She stood and went to look out the window. In the merciless blue of the sky, cloud-skimmers flashed silver, momentarily capturing sunlight on their sleek sides.

He expected her to sell his heart. She hadn’t known until this moment he’d written it into his will. She sighed. She was twenty-seven years old, still a first generation human.

He’d told her he was in his ninth generation when they married, and he’d planned to live a full life like the previous eight. Each generation he’d strove to make money and keep himself wealthy, and after eight lives, he was worth a couple million credits, not as rich as might be expected, not royalty rich, not industrial baron rich. “Business reversals,” he’d explained to her. “Stock market losses.” And then had come the trouble with the Internal Revenue Service–interest, penalties, fines, and the seizure of their house. They’d moved to this small apartment in a building John owned, counting themselves lucky he had not ended up in prison. The onset of clone cancer was a final blow, and Chera had kept silent about her own secret, unwilling to add to their sorrow.

She tugged her shawl closer and folded her arms, the bedroom’s chill edging through her, her heart missing a few beats as she contemplated the future without John. She glanced back at him lying in the bed they’d shared. His eyes were closed, but she doubted he was asleep. He’d retreated. He was waiting for death, and she was too.

***

The day after his death, a representative of the Court of the Medical Board accompanied Chera to the hospital mortuary where her husband’s heart was removed and placed in a cold unit for safekeeping. She rode in the limousine carrying John to the crematorium, and afterward, she returned to the hospital and was prepared for surgery.

She had never told John about the weakness in her heart, a weakness destined to kill her before her thirtieth birthday. Lying now in her hospital bed after the surgery, she placed her hand on her chest and felt the sturdy beat of her husband’s heart. His final gift to her would be with her for the rest of her newly-lengthened life, and so would he.

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