"Phone — call Jack."

I'd probably get a ribbing from my best friend, who has been saying for years that I was unmarryable. I don't mind. If your high school sweetheart doesn't turn out to be your lifelong love (and, let's face it, in most cases they shouldn't), I see no reason to just jump in with both feet with the first person you meet after graduation. I'm no better at solving the (gotta take time to know each other well)/(shouldn't spend too much time on the wrong person) dilemma than anyone else; add to that, my mostly solitary lifestyle doesn't cause me to convert strangers at even the average rate, and you get that I've not gone through a lot of potentials in my thirty two years. But now I think I may well have found her.

The house phone bonged in that incredible way that phones have: barely audible, a sound not like any other in the natural or manmade worlds, a sound that Modern Man agrees could not possibly have any other meaning than that the phone has something to tell you. I'd heard that a team of psychologists and physiologists had worked for several years perfecting it.

"Doctor Doyle is in the lab with a do not disturb, but you're on the exception list. Shall I request a breakthrough?"

"No, just have him call me when he's done."

I'd known Sarah for almost three years now, and I'd been working up to the conclusion for a couple of months that I needed to ask her to marry me. Lately I'd been wondering how people know when to pop the question; if the other person is usually expecting it; if there's a presumption or certainty that the answer will be yes when one asks. I guess men often want to stage a production of some kind, and that may give away their intention, subconciously at least.

bonggg"Doctor Doyle is calling."

"Allow it — Hi, Jack."

"Hola, Trevamigo. Qué pasa? How's things?"

"Things are great! I called to tell you that I'm finally getting married!"

Felicitaciones! You're marrying Sarah?"

"Yep. Tomorrow, with a reception here at 1600. Can you make it?"

"Sure. I've got a meeting in Sydney in the morning, but I can catch the tube and be in Santa Barbara by about two. So how'd you propose? Tell me all about it."

"Well, you remember she's an archeologist. I invited her to join me on a walk yesterday, and took her around some of the old Chumash sites. I had something elaborate all planned out, but while we were walking along the beach, the sun hit just right and she saw this big sparkle from a pile of leaves at the base of the cliff. While I was groaning inwardly, she reached in and pulled out the diamond ring I'd hid there earlier. Let me tell you, it took a minute to convince her that I'd planned to find it and give it to her. But when I got down on one knee, that convinced her!"

"That's great, Trev. I've always thought that you and she might end up together."

"Yeah, me too. It looks like she's the person I've been hoping for all my life. But I'm still going to follow the plan I've always said I would. Last night, after we celebrated for a while, I got down to the details and said I wanted to start out with a two year term. Kinda like investing, you make the plan ahead of time so you don't get carried away in the moment. Of course, she had a more romantic gleam in her eye, but she agreed. And we're both confident that it will go on after that."

"I knew you'd stick to your plan, but I'm going to reserve right now the privilege of throwing you your fifty year anniversary bash."

With a laugh, I said "I'm going to hold you to that!"

* * * * *

"Here it is" I said to Sarah, seeing the Notary Public sticker in the window. I held the door open and followed her in; the little bell tinkled again as the door closed.

"May I help you?"

"We need to record a marriage."

"I thought so! I can always see it in the eyes when a couple comes in. Have a seat there. Do you have a contract and affidavit prepared?"

"Yes, here they are. Standard two year marriage."

The gentleman looked over the papers. "Hmm, yes. And with a doctor's certificate of reproductive suppression, good for two years and dated yesterday. I see one for the gentleman, but not for the lady…."

Sarah looked in the folder she'd returned to her satchel. "Oh, it didn't come out with the others. Here it is."

"Very good. And you have identification? Good. It'll take me a moment to record all this in my journal."

Sarah and I took the opportunity to spend about half an eon looking into each other's eyes, until the notary subtly cleared his throat.

"Mr. Valdez, please raise your right hand. Do you swear or affirm that you enter into this contract of marriage with full consent, have disclosed to your intended spouse the existence of any children or heirs you might have, and that you are not currently married, with the exception of this being a renewal of a current marriage to this same spouse?"

"I do so swear."

"Ms. Romero, please raise your right hand. Do you swear or affirm that you enter into this contract of marriage with full consent, have disclosed to your intended spouse the existence of any children or heirs you might have, and that you are not currently married, with the exception of this being a renewal of a current marriage to this same spouse?"

"I do so swear. I do!"

The notary turned his journal around on the table, and we each signed.

"Congratulations to you both. There's an eighteen dollar fee to record this in the public record, payable in Liberty Dollars or any other gold or silver money. I waive my notary fee for marriages."

I counted out eighteen dollars in silver certificates, and then dropped a one ounce Silver Liberty in the notary's hand. He shook our hands and we were off to the small celebration that I'd planned for friends and family.

* * * * *

"Congratulations again, Trevor. I'll see you later."

"Okay, Miles. Thanks for coming."

The party had finally wound down; all of the guests were gone except for Jack, who didn't count. He came up and put an arm around me.

"It's been a good year, eh Trev?"

Sarah heard, and from the middle of the room said loudly, "You bet it has, Jackson. And before the next year is up, he's going to agree to much more than a two-year contract! We're going to be one mind, one body, forever!"

In a stage whisper, I said "She doesn't know how right she is." Then more privately to Jack, "I want to visit you in the outback sometime very soon. I've got something serious to talk about."

* * * * *

It was the next Tuesday that I got home from work early, shaved and showered, and stepped into the tube for Sydney. It was pretty windy, and well into autumn there, and I realized I should have dried my hair before I left. But I managed to survive the several minutes until the tube car for Perth arrived; there I immediately I got a taxi to lift me out to Jack's place in the Little Sandy Desert.

It was early afternoon and he hadn't eaten; he insisted that we get a bite to eat and chitchat before I brought up whatever had brought me down to him. He packed a lunch and we walked out to a stone bench that he favored, mostly for contemplation, but also to share with the rare special visitor.

When he'd downed the last of his Hop Thief ale, I jumped right into it.

"Jack, you always keep me in the loop as to what you're doing here, and I read the few papers that you publish, and I think I've got a good read on where you are now. In fact, I'd bet that you're way beyond what you've told the public — I could see a look of alarm start forming about three layers down in the dermis of his face — and I want in. All the way. I'm sure you've fused some test subjects by now."

"Trevor! Geez, I'm… well, you're right, but geez, we're talking about nematodes here! Mice! Yeah, a rabbit." He was talking around a broad smile now, his pride getting the better of him. "And a couple of goats."

"And… primates?…"

"Okay, stop twisting my arm. Yes, I've had unqualified success with macaques, which led me to chimpanzees, also completely successful. So what are you really getting at, as if I can't guess."

"Sarah and I. We're all set to enter into a lifetime contract, but dammit, we want to be married. There isn't enough life for us together as it is, even if we didn't have to be apart to live parts of it. We want to be one person."

"Well, now, Trevor, I don't know if that would happen, even if everything went perfectly. Yes, I have irrefutable evidence that the one surviving organism had knowledge from both itself and the other, and also that personality traits from both were now exhibited by the one. But I don't know what it was like for him. Uh, them."

"Exactly! You don't know. You can't know until you perform the procedure on humans. Now are you ready to do that? Or not?"

"Umm, well … yes. The procedure definitely works as far as doing whatever it actually does, and is quite safe now. Assuming, of course, you look at the bodily death of one of the participants in the right way. There's nothing more to be learned from doing it on more animals. But geez, Trev, you?"

"Yes, Jack. Me. Me and Sarah. I'm willing to risk it for the big payoff. I haven't broached the idea to Sarah yet, which will obviously take some time, but she and I think alike in this. I've occasionally mentioned the work you're doing and I can see the excitement in her eyes."

Jack remained silent for a couple of minutes, while I waited patiently. Finally he stood and said "Give me a few minutes, Trev." He took out a packet of tobacco and packed his pipe, and slowly wandered off into the scrub brush. I watched him chart a random path back and forth across my field of vision for about a half hour, finally munching on the last apple from the bag to keep my fingers from drumming dimples into my leg.

Eventually, he came to a stop, bent over to bang his pipe on a rock, and strode back to me in a straight line. He rested one foot on the arm of the bench and looked me right in the eye.

"You know, Trevor, there are other issues. Legal issues. At the end of the procedure, one of the two organisms that went into it is dead. One of you, you or Sarah, will be dead, your body anyway. That brings up plenty of civil issues with respect to the claim that you are both still living, which will be unprecedented; but it also might leave me in a bit of a sticky wicket, criminally."

"Surely you'll be protected, Jack. I'm sure that whatever standard protocol for medical experimentation on volunteer human subjects that there is will cover you. I wouldn't ask you to, and wouldn't let you, do it otherwise."

"Well, you're probably right. Let's put that aside for now. Have you thought about what the legal status of the two of you will be afterward? Do you expect the State to consider you a married couple? I'd guess the best you might hope for is that one of you is declared dead and the other just goes on as the same person as before. That might not matter much, since you and Sarah will be together in any case. But remember also, we don't know what your psychology will be. I don't know if you'll be talking to each other like in the movies, or if your minds will actually become one. What if that's the case, and the mind someday decides that the procedure didn't work and it's been hallucinating that it did. There'll probably be people who ascribe the fantastic story to grief and try to "help" you through it."

"Sure, Jack, there are plenty of unknowns. As you said at the outset, you don't know how the subjects will relate after the procedure. But after Sarah and I go through it, you will know, because we'll tell you. The legal stuff, well, we'll prepare the best we can and see it through. Jack, my friend, I want this. Tell me you'll agree to it, so I can talk to Sarah. There's no point in that if you won't do it. Who knows, maybe she'll let you off the hook by saying I'm crazy. Not!"

"Okay, Trev. You've got me."

* * * * *

"What's with the cop outside, Jack? Are you sure that's a good idea? I thought the witnessed affidavit was fine."

"I've still got those, but I want the sheriff to be an eyewitness. The government doesn't like it if you leave them out."

"Okay, it's your show. We're ready. You still have no idea which of us will come out of this?"

"Nope. I think Heisenberg's ghost is always present at these procedures. Okay, Trevor, Sarah: take a couch and we'll get started."

The last thing Trevor saw was his best friend withdrawing the needle from his arm. One way or the other, he knew he'd wake up with Sarah.

* * *

Sarah opened her eyes and took in the large, school-style clock near the ceiling showing 4 o'clock straight up. Five hours. She lifted her head and looked at the double evidence that she was still in her body; that meant —

Rolling her head to the left, she saw Trevor on the other couch. Sleeping peacefully? No hon, I'm right here with you. Her involuntary yelp and ear-to-ear smile brought Dr. Doyle to his feet and awakened the snoozing deputy. Doyle took a light hold of Sarah's left wrist and peered into her eyes. Satisfied, he turned to the man lying still behind him. It was immediately obvious that the body no longer housed any vital force. "Don't bother, Doc. Trevor's here with me."

The deputy was standing next to Doyle now. The doctor heaved a big sigh of relief. Now to make absolutely sure. "Officer, you have the envelopes?" Just before administering anesthesia to Trevor and Sarah, Doyle had instructed the deputy to tell each a random word of his own choosing, and then write each one down and seal them in separate envelopes. He now withdrew them from his Eisenhower jacket and selected the one labelled "Trevor".

Doyle double checked that the video recorder was running, then said to Sarah, "Please tell us Trevor's code word." Gaucho. "Gaucho." "Louder please," said the deputy. "Gaucho." Doyle repeated the word loudly, then the deputy showed the envelope to the camera, ripped it open, and held up the slip of paper within. "My God!" escaped his lips as the camera focussed on the word "gaucho" clearly written in black Sharpie.

"Let's be complete. Open Sarah's envelope." Doyle didn't want anybody claiming that Sarah and Trevor might have been given the same word.

Rip. Pull. "Eskimo."

Jackson smiled and squeezed Sarah's hand. "It worked! It's over." As the doctor started filling out a death certificate (with an unprecedented caveat added), Trevor piped up in Sarah's mind. "Over? The hard part may be just beginning."

* * * * *

"All, rise. This court is again in session."

"I've given a great deal of thought to this case, as you might imagine. It is possible that history will be made in this courtroom today, but it is not my job as a judge. I have tried to keep my deliberations focused narrowly on the procedural issues before me, and hope that the substantive questions, which may alter our society for all time to come, will be answered by the wisdom of the people. That said, I have taken judicial notice of the larger issue.

"The outcome of this case will also have direct bearing on other issues in this jurisdiction, and the chief judge has ordered that I will decide them all together.

"In the matter of The State of California vs. Jackson Doyle, on the count of manslaughter, I find the defendant not guilty. The death of Mr. Valdez, if dead he be, was an unfortunate effect of the pursuit of new medical knowledge, in an experiment to which he fully consented. I would like to express my disapproval of the District Attorney's decision to file a charge in this case; his discretion did not require it and I think the hypothetical Reasonable Man would not have done so.

"I have three prayers before me.

"First, that the will of Mr. Trevor Navarro Valdez be set aside, in favor either of his former will which he replaced with the current one, or of a ruling that the current will is invalid and that he was de jure intestate. There is a contention that the unusual clause of time limitation on the event of death makes for an incentive for the sole beneficiary to cause that very death, and here we are with Mr. Valdez "dead" and Ms. Romero involved, to put it mildly; indeed, there has been some suggestion that she conspired with Dr. Doyle to arrange his passing.

"While I have previously declared Mr. Valdez legally dead, I did so while concluding that he entered into this experiment possessed of his faculties; and, I have expressly refused to declare that the experiment did not result in the achievement of its stated goal.

"Thus, I reject the prayer and rule that the current will of Mr. Valdez, naming Ms. Romero as his sole heir, is to be accepted as valid.

"Second, that I create by judicial fiat a new legal person, consisting of the complete union of the natural persons Mr. Valdez and Ms. Romero and corporeally bound to the body currently belonging to Ms. Romero. I reject the prayer with the comment that the questions raised by this unprecedented situation, and the implications of deciding them along the lines desired by Ms. Romero, Dr. Doyle — and also Mr. Valdez — are in the bailiwick of the legislature. It is left to them to debate, and hopefully to bring to bear the best wisdom they can gather, and somehow lead our society to come to grips with this new technology.

"This next is solely my personal opinion, but I want it in the record. Based on exhaustive and skeptical examination of the evidence, I believe that Dr. Doyle's experiment was in fact successful and the natural person known as Trevor Valdez is here with us now. I will be forwarding the record of this trial and all of that evidence to the members of the State Assembly and Senate with a request that they immediately begin work on dealing with it. I also make myself available to testify before them.

"Finally, that the legal name of Sarah Tamara Romero be changed to, and that she be henceforth recognized as, Sartre Rana Valero. The prayer is granted; the county recorder is hereby directed to enter it in the record and to cooperate with all state and federal authorities to do the same, in accordance with his normal procedures.

"These trials are concluded."

Trevor and Sarah were happily oblivious to the ruckus in the courtroom.

# # #