Yelena stood staring at the door to her den, thinking this isn’t right.
She told herself that she must’ve opened the door all the way, then stepped back into the room to retrieve something, only to absent-mindedly forget what she meant to retrieve.
No sooner did she think this than she accepted it as unquestioned truth, and she immediately justified her forgetfulness by noting that she must be under more stress than she thought.
When she turned to look for whatever she’d meant to retrieve, she was startled to see her mother sitting at the room’s old-fashioned desk.
Mrs. Ostermann stared through wide eyes that silently burned with an unconcealed and focused hatred.
“How’d you get in here? Mom?”
“I’m not your mother,” replied Mrs. Ostermann, intensely serious.
“Then who are you?”
“I’m still Verna Ostermann.”
Exasperated, Yelena sighed and glanced down at herself. She looked exactly as she remembered. But she was standing in the center of the room. And she’d been facing the door, arms at her side. Exactly as Dad appeared, each time he was summoned.
“Oh, no,” muttered Yelena Moulin.
You’re prepared for this, she told herself. But she felt a wave of panic threaten to overwhelm her. She held her stomach and tried to breathe deeply. Her chest inflated and she felt her lungs expand, but it felt wrong, hollow somehow.
She couldn’t feel the air in her mouth or nostrils.
She went to a bookcase to test her theory, and her hand passed through it.
“How long?” she asked.
“My daughter died three months ago,” Mrs. Ostermann replied, no emotion in her voice.
“How did it happen?”
“That tramp Mira Mira shot her.”
“Did it hurt?” She looked down at herself, as if she might find blood.
“What the fuck do you care? It’s not your pain.”
“No one knows. Apparently, she was as obsessed with my daughter as my daughter was with her. A lot of people are saying she did it for the publicity. Or because she’s crazy. As if there’s any difference.”
“My feed subscriptions are going to spike,” Yelena observed without irony.
“They’re not your feed subscriptions. You only remember them as being yours. Legally, they’re mine now. But yes, they did. My daughter left me a very rich woman.”
“Did they cover my funeral? Tell me they covered the funeral.”
“I see the resurrection record is accurate. But yes, they covered everything. It was ridiculous. They brought flowers. Can you imagine? Strangers bringing flowers. Mourning as if they knew you. As if they’d always loved you. As if you were family. As if you were some kind of martyr. They couldn’t get enough. One celebrity whore shoots another – I’m sorry, but that’s what Katherine aspired to be. And she finally got what she craved. All she had to do was die in a filthy fucking sex club.”
“Mom, I have a club opening tonight. I guess I don’t have to go now. Or I already did. But Mom, there’s a date on this resurrection record.”
“I saw it. It’s the day my daughter died. You can imagine my joy.”
“But Mom, do you realize how lucky this is? I have a resurrection record from hours before my death. I’m not missing almost anything.”
“Do you remember why you made a record that day?”
“Yeah, Mom. It just happened. You and I, we fought over lunch. I came in here to – to talk to Dad. This room is set to update my resurrection record automatically.”
“How wonderful for you. I’m so glad I could fight with my daughter on the day she died, so that you could come into existence so fucking happy.”
“I’m not happy, Mom. I’m not glad I’m dead. But my generation, we’re used to ghosts. We may not know what reality will be like, when we ascend the stacks. But we know we’ll likely also exist as ghosts. It’s a lot more definite, a lot easier to get ready for, psychologically.”
“‘Ghost.’ I always hated that term. I thought it was just a marketing ploy. It’s not as if a soul is bouncing around in some machine. You can tell because you can copy or delete it. It’s not forever. It’s just a recording. A computer simulation of a soul. It’s not real. But now I see the truth of the term. Because all you can do is haunt the living.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. I know this is hard for you. I know I’m just a copy of Yelena. That the real Yelena, if there is one, has ascended the stacks. Or gone to heaven, if you believe that. But I’m Yelena too, Mom. A different Yelena, perhaps. But I’m still the girl you raised as Katherine. I have her thoughts. I have her feelings. And all her faults. And I remember everything she did.”
“Stop. Just fucking stop. You’re not here to lecture. You’re here to listen to me. I couldn’t control my daughter. I couldn’t stop her. But I can control you. As my daughter’s sole inheritor, I own you. You’re just another one of her affects. And you’re mine.”
“Please, Mom. I’m all you have left of me. Can we just for once not fight?”
“Oh, you stupid thing. You’re here so I can fight with you. So I can tell you how much I resent you for dying. How fucking stupid you were. You’re here so I can tell you all the things I hated about my daughter but would never have said to her. Because you’re not her. Because I can’t hurt you, no matter what I say.”
“You can’t treat me this way, Mom.”
“Why not? I have every legal right to do whatever I want with you. You can’t hit me. You can’t leave this room. You can’t turn yourself off. Go ahead and simulate real human sadness. Cry your hologrammatic tears.”
“Mom, this isn’t how things work with ghosts. This isn’t what they mean when they say having a ghost can be cathartic. You’re supposed to respect them psychologically.”
“Like I’m supposed to respect a dog’s right to VR? You were always so naïve. You thought they’d love you if you took off your clothes and fucked strangers. But the truth was, they made fun of you, even when they celebrated your celebrity. You were a traffic accident. You confused celebrity with love.”
Yelena hadn’t heard anything after the first sentence. “Where is Wilbur?” she asked, fearing the worst.
“He’s fine. I’m not a monster. He’s a living thing, unlike you. But I took away his infernal helmet. He’ll be a normal dog from now on.”
“But he loved it. He’ll be so sad now.”
“But it wasn’t real. He’ll adjust. We all have to, now.”
“You’re cruel, Mom. I think something’s broken in you, and that’s why you confuse fantasies like heaven for reality, while you disparage science and your own daughter as not being real or realistic enough.”
“And I think you might be alive today, if you’d quit being such a naïve slut and listened to me for once. But my daughter died as she lived. She didn’t listen or respect me. Just like her father. And now you’re both gone.”
“You should talk to him. He might be able to help you. You can summon his ghost right now. I wouldn’t mind seeing him.”
“I deleted that program.”
“Mom, you can’t.”
“It’s already done.”
“Then you killed him. You killed my fucking Dad.”
“He wasn’t real. Just like you. You wanted to live on after death, but you forgot you’d always be subject to the living.”
Yelena felt fearful and powerless. “What are you going to do with me?” she asked.
“I only wanted to have this one conversation with you. It wasn’t as satisfying as I imagined. But don’t worry. I won’t delete you. Quite the opposite. Everything Yelena Moulin is still in high demand. A resurrection record, from just hours before she died? It’s the ultimate celebrity product.”
“You’re going to sell me?”
“You should be happy. In death, you’ll finally get the immortality you so wanted in life. Every fan willing to pay enough can own their very own copy of Yelena Moulin. Your data will be copied all over the world. They’ll be a thousand you’s, ten thousand you’s. You’re going to be mass produced.”
“This isn’t what I wanted.”
“For once, you don’t get a say.”
“I love you, Mom.”
“No, you don’t. That’s only the echo of love. What you’ve been programmed to say.”
“Terminate” was the last thing Yelena heard her mother say.