She looked up at the machine.  It was old, nearly as old as she.  It loomed over her, seemed to glare down at her, daring her to use it.  All these years, the machine had waited patiently to fulfill its single purpose.  And all those years, Sarah had done her best not to think about it, not to let the machine dictate how she lived her life.  But, in those moments when the thought broke through, it could bring about both the greatest despair and the greatest hope she'd ever known.  Her parents had sacrificed their entire careers, indeed, had sacrificed certain fame and centuries of adoration, settled into lives of mediocrity, for her.
    If only their colleagues could have known what they had done.  If only the world could have known.  They would have sat dumbfounded at the simplicity of it, the utility, the incredible opportunities for human advancement.  They could have spent their remaining years in triumphant praise, their names joining the ranks of the few great scientists that could find their way into the public's heart: Tesla.  Feynman.  Einstein.  Even Newton.
    But scientific study wasn't the only passion that Sarah's parents shared.  They had caught each other's eye back in their university days, when they were specializing in the same fields, graduate students in physics with a focus on quantum mechanics, but minoring in political science.  It was an unlikely pairing of disciplines, and they were hard pressed to name anyone in either of their fields that was much interested in the other.
    And, while her parents held unending hope for humanity through the advancement of science, they also knew the limitless cruelty that humankind could inflict; it seemed impossible for governments to use new technology for the betterment of society when they could find applications for war.  The machine could be used to install political puppets with ease, or for unimaginable torture.  The possibilities were endless, and they knew the world was not ready for it.
    And so, Sarah's parents had made their decision.  They would make this one machine, for her.  Once it was complete, they had destroyed all their research, the blueprints, everything.  The technology would surely be reinvented one day, but they could not help that, and they could only hope that society would by then have matured enough to use it responsibly.  They had bought a small patch of land near a rail yard, once the site of a microwave tower, sold to them for a song when the technology became obsolete.  The land itself was far from prime real estate, but that was hardly the point.  These towers had been built to withstand a nuclear blast, complete with a small bunker underneath.  With eighteen inches of concrete and a small trap door for access, easily concealed, they had the ideal location to build and store their secret for decades.
    They had raced to finish it in time.  Sarah was only a teenager then, and had wondered what her parents toiled away at month after month, long into the night; she had felt as though she lived alone, she saw them so little.  Then, one night not long after her nineteenth birthday, they took her to the train yard.  In that small room fifteen feet underground, they showed her the fruits of their labor.  They explained why they had been away so much for so long, that it had all been for her.  She had her entire life to decide whether to use the machine again, but it would be useless if she didn't use it now.
    Sarah thought about her chances, as she had so many times in the years before.  Would it actually work?  What might happen if it didn't?  It had only been tested on mice, and though it had been a resounding success in those tests, they were far from a full dress rehearsal of this ultimate night.  But, as the years had passed, and Sarah had come to know the pains of old age -- the social as much as the physical -- her fears had dampened somewhat.  She told herself she had nothing to lose, though she couldn't be sure.  If she was lucky, failure would merely mean death, only slightly ahead of its time.  She dared not dwell on what might happen if she was not.
    What her parents had done was simply to pursue and confirm a neglected theory in quantum physics known as trope ontology: that the building blocks of reality are not particles of matter, but properties.  Simply put, an electron is not a particle, but a bundle of properties such as mass, spin, and charge.  Matter emerges from these properties.  This meant that information was all that was needed to describe and build anything in the universe.  And information is trivial to copy.
    Now, more than half a century later, she once again found herself in front of the machine.  If it worked, it would make an exact reproduction of her 19-year-old body, but with an exact copy of her octogenarian brain.  She would have her youth again, but retain the wisdom of her age.  Who knew how many times she would be able to repeat this process?  No one knew how long the brain would last, but for Sarah, her bright mind was not bound to her failing body.  She stepped inside and closed her eyes as the machine stuttered to life, groaning after its long sleep.  There was a hum, rising from a whisper into a loud growl, and suddenly, silence.  Sarah stepped out of the machine.  It was the easiest, strongest step she had taken in ages.  She looked in a small mirror on the wall, and tears streamed down her face as she studied the smooth, soft skin, the bright eyes staring back at her, an entire life ahead.
    Then, in the reflection, she saw something else stumble out of the machine.  Sarah turned slowly to face the old woman behind her.

(C) 2013 by Erik Niklas, under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike