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by Rune Lai

The land created by Mother Brain was rich and full of bounty. It was not uncommon for people to indulge themselves in leisure, and indeed some thought it strange that anyone should wish for more energetic pursuits. But one such man loved to learn as well as to entertain. His friends pressed him at parties and festivals. Play on, they would say, and give us a good song of love and romance.

He was a handsome man, with night dark hair and sky blue eyes. Popular with most everyone he met, there was not a better singer in all of Camineet. Orpheus would raise his voice in praise of the rush, the moment, when love would emerge at its height, but oftentimes he would sing of days long past, of the plight of one girl against a tyrant king. The latter songs were not always as popular, but he and his clan wore history about them as surely as any garment. He loved the tale and to pass on the timeless triumph of hope and determination.

One day he found someone who loved the tale as much as he. He first spotted her at a festival, then another party, and even in the halls of the university at which he studied. She was always there, each time he thought to perform he would catch a glipse of her somewhere, somehow. He thought he might have gone mad, but a trip to the school psychologist assured him that he was quite sane, although perhaps a tad obsessed. The doctor offered some medication, but he brushed it off. He wanted to find her, not to forget about her.

When next he saw her he broke off in the middle of song to catch her. What a sight he was, crashing through the crowd before she could slip away once more! But he caught her arm and asked if he might have her name. She gave it and when he queried, agreed to meet him the next day.

They met not only that following day, but many more thereafter. She became his muse, his inspiration, and she in turn saw to it that his art, be it history or music, did not consume him. Six months later Orpheus married his Eurydice.

The coming years passed blissfully. She bore him two children, a boy and a girl. He completed his studies and became a doctor of history. He sang not quite so frequently in public now, but often for his wife and children. The family moved from Camineet to the tranquil suburb of Nesha on the neighboring planet Motavia. Mother Brain herself approved the arrangement, knowing his academic skills would be of use to the nearby Kueri University. Not long after they arrived, his beloved gave him welcome news. She was expecting a third child.

A new home, another addition to a happy family, and a chance to teach the legends he found so fascinating--it seemed that he had all that he could wish for. He woke each morning thankful for what he had, because even in the glorious society of Mother Brain, he knew he was blessed.

But blessings do last not forever. The labor trials for the third child were terrible, and the doctors concluded that the child could not be born by natural means. The umbelical cord had wrapped around the babe's neck. It was suffocating. And his wife had begun to hemorrhage. Without surgery neither would survive. At first he was hesitant, not because of distrust of the doctors' words, but because he could not find his voice to speak. But his darling Eurydice nodded at him, as if to say everything would be all right. So he gave his consent and kissed her lightly on the forehead, promising to be there when she woke.

The hours passed, and he waited. He shifted in his seat, changed positions, called his neighbors to see how his other two children held up. The kids were fine, he was told. They were playing with their friends and simply waiting for when Mommy and Daddy would return. The cheerful news saddened him, though he said nothing as to why. He only looked at the door to the surgery room and knew that the answer would have to come soon.

It did.

They could not save her, they told him. She had gone into sudden cardiac arrest, but not to worry, there was still a chance to revive her. It was in Mother Brain's hands now. Better news though, they saved the babe, a tiny child; sickly looking. They had already placed her in the natal ward with the other newborns. The lack of oxygen resulted in some damage to her nervous system, but she had good odds to survive they told him.

The news of the baby brought bought pain and relief, but what mattered to him now was his wife. The doctors allowed him to go to her holding room, a cold, metallic place full of computers and tiny little lights. No one was here to stand beside her, but he could. It didn't matter if she was dead, Mother Brain's technology boasted the ability to restore the dead if activated quickly enough. Cloning biology worked wonders for the deceased organs. He forced himself to be calm.

"Greetings," said Mother Brain. Her great voice came from all around him, but he barely moved from the chair in which he had settled himself. "Why have you come here?"

"Because I can't bear to be parted from my wife," he replied.

"She is dead."

"But you govern all of life and death, and it is within your power to release her."

And Orpheus sang then. His voice was still good, despite the tremors in his chest. Weary, yearning, and tearfully haunting, his music could rouse a miser to charity, or touch the core of a computer's heart. When his song ended Mother Brain said:

"I see why you cannot abandon her. Very well then. Leave here and do not come back. Reviving someone is a delicate process. When your wife is ready, she will follow."

There was nothing else to be said. He bowed to her wisdom and left the room. He walked through the hospital, thinking to see his newborn then go home to his two children. But as he walked, he started to wonder, would Mother Brain keep her promise? Cloning dead tissue had gotten better over the years, but it was not completely foolproof. Perhaps if he could look at her one more time, just to be sure she was okay. After all, Mother Brain had spoken to him, or he thought she had, and something did not feel right about that. Mother Brain did not talk to ordinary citizens like him! Did she?

His steps became faster, more frantic. The corriders seemed long and endless, a path to nowhere in the land of the dead. Finally he found the holding room and with an abruptly delicate motion, pushed the door open.

"Eurydice," he whispered, stepping inside.

She turned to him, suddenly awake, suddenly aware of the tubes racing down her body and the cavity in her belly. If she felt pain, her face held only sadness.

A stark computer voice cried: "Room has been opened. Initiating emergency shutdown."

His beloved looked at him, eyes wet with sorrow against the pale ghost of her face. Trembling, she tried to reach for him, but hadn't the strength. "Orpheus..." she said, falling back upon her bed, "if only you could have believed..."

He shouted for help, for Mother Brain to answer him, for someone, dear God, to revive her. But the room was silent, not even the hum of a computer marred her repose. Orpheus fell to his knees and wept, but no song now would recover his Eurydice.

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