By Andrew Sharp
I don’t believe in teletransport,” Marcus Byrd said, leaning forward over the table and speaking quietly. A coffee grinder cut into the silence that followed his statement, and the bell over the coffee shop’s door jangled as another customer walked in.
Randy Allan was not the kind of man who allowed himself to show undue surprise. A less controlled person might have jumped up and knocked the chair backward, or pounded the table, or let his jaw hang open. Randy just drummed his fingers on the table and frowned. But he couldn’t keep all the agitation out of his voice.
“Besides the fact that you own a giant share of Teletransport Inc., how can you not believe in teletransport? It happens. It’s foolproof. It’s how we travel. It’s how we got downtown today.”
“It’s not how I got here,” Marcus said.
“How did you get here?”
“Expensive. Bad for the environment. Why?”
“Can you transport a soul?” Marcus asked.
“What are you talking about?” Randy said, frowning.
“You can transport a copy of me, but is it me?”
“Listen here,” Randy said. “You’re half owner, and I’m on the board. We’re supposed to be talking marketing strategy. We’ve already invested 500 billion dollars in this company and in the infrastructure all over the country. It is a very, very bad time for you to suddenly be expressing doubts. What are you doing, turning into one of these fundamentalist religious people who believes that the teletransport machines are evil?”
“Maybe they have a point.”
“LISTEN,” Randy said. The baristas glanced over at them. “It’s been demonstrated over and over. You know that. You step through, you leave point A, you get to point B with all your memories, your body, exactly the same down to the atom. This is not a marketing ploy. We’re not pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The demonstration tours settled everyone’s doubts except for fringe conspiracy theorists and religious wackos.”
“Maybe I’m a fringe conspiracy theorist then,” Marcus said. “There are all kinds of serious implications that people like you, people who should be thinking about them, are ignoring.”
“Like what, exactly?”
“In the micro-moment between deconstruction and reconstruction of your atomic configuration, are you dead?” Terrance asked.
Randy shrugged. “I’m practical. If I get from point A to B, what does it matter? If I can come back from death, who cares? I feel like me.”
“Maybe you can’t come back from death. Maybe you’re just gone.”
“Listen, it’s just like they say — like we say,” Randy corrected himself. “Your ‘soul’ is all your memories and thought patterns. Your desires, your fears, that’s you. It doesn’t matter which atoms you’re using. That’s the whole point. I’ll switch atoms all day long, I don’t care. You’re doing it even if you never go near the machine. Your body is always replacing those cells. Are you the same you 10 years from now when your body has replaced half your cells?”
“Listen,” Marcus said, “I have a very good reason to doubt. Only a couple of people know this, but I was the first one through.”
“So?” Randy said. “I thought it was Walter Franklin, but OK, he got scared and made you go first. Inventor can make the assistant go first if he wants. So what?”
“We started the testing with rats.”
“I know that.”
“ A bunch of them just disappeared. Early on.”
“Maybe in some other dimension somewhere huh?” Randy said.
“That’s not how it works, you know that. Their atoms shredded apart and never reassembled. They’re dead.”
“But you fixed it.”
“Did we? It still shreds atoms the same. You’re just as dead as those rats when you walk through.”
“But unlike them, Marcus, I come back. I don’t care, I’m back.”
“The one time, it malfunctioned with a human.”
Randy was quiet for a few moments. “I didn’t know about that. Killed?”
“What?” Randy clutched the table edge with both hands. “Are you kidding me? And you never told anyone?”
Marcus was breathing faster now. “That machine was flawless, and I knew it,” he said. “I stepped into that machine in a New York lab, and I stepped out in Tokyo microseconds later. But — when I stepped into the booth in New York, nothing happened. Or so they tell me.”
Randy didn’t say anything, so Marcus went on. “It was only fair that as the inventor, I take the terrible risk of being the first person. When I stepped into the machine in New York, I must have thought that it hadn’t worked. But I don’t know. Because that’s when ‘I’ became ‘we.’ In Tokyo, I was celebrating like crazy, handshakes all around with the lab assistants. But then we got a call from New York asking what went wrong. Imagine arguing with yourself on the phone.”
Randy didn’t say anything.
“So which one of us is the real Walter Franklin?” Marcus asked.
“If I believe you — not saying I do, but just for the sake of argument,” Randy finally said, “logically, he’s the real guy, right? He kept all his atoms. Nothing shredded. I mean, that would make you, you’re a …” He couldn’t finish.
“A copy? But his — our company is claiming there’s no question it’s the real you when you step out. Won’t even acknowledge any alternative. You were very eloquent about it a few minutes ago. ‘Your soul is all your memories’ and all that.”
Randy was silent again, drumming his fingers on the table.
“He’s sleeping with my wife!” Marcus said, violently. “I courted that woman. I remember our first kiss. I told her my wedding vows. I remember. I miss her and the kids so badly!” He started to cry.
Randy stopped drumming his fingers and stuck his hand awkwardly in his pocket, and looked around the coffee shop. A man reading the Seattle Times a couple tables over was watching them. Randy flushed.
After Marcus got control of himself, he went on. “She doesn’t want anything to do with me. He convinced her he’s the real deal. She was really upset but she agreed with you and said I was just a copy —” Randy flinched “— and she never wanted anything to do with me. And of course the kids couldn’t see me. I understand that of course, that they couldn’t see both of us.”
“You have leverage,” Randy said. “Hell, you probably had his passport and driver’s license. And you look just like him. You could have ruined him.”
“Why do you think I own half the company?” Marcus asked. “In exchange, of course, for plastic surgery, assuming a new identity, and keeping my conscience pangs to myself.”
“Well …” Randy said slowly. “I mean, why not embrace it? You’ve got a good life. Say you’re a copy, is that so …” he trailed off. Marcus looked like he had been eating bad fish. “Yes, I see what you mean,” Randy finished lamely.
They sat staring at the table.
“Marcus … or Walter …”
“Marcus is fine,” Marcus said.
“Marcus, what exactly do you expect me to do about this? Besides the investment, we’ve got millions of people who have gone through this thing. If you shatter their confidence and they all get some kind of identity crisis, we are finished. Ruined. You, me, and Walter in Europe. And your … kids.”
“I guess I just wanted to tell someone,” Marcus said. “I’m sorry. But … I couldn’t go on like this, watching people incinerate themselves. I don’t know what we can do. I guess, if you’re OK with it, if it doesn’t bother you, go on ahead. Maybe you’re really Randy. Maybe you don’t care if you are or not. But it bothers me. ”
“So what are you going to do?” Randy asked.
“Nobody would miss me.”
“I would,” Randy said. “God, I mean, we’ve been working together for years.”
They walked down Pike Street to the teletransport machine and stopped beside it. A young couple with a corgi walked up, and the man swiped a credit card and punched some buttons. All three disappeared.
“Are you going to get in?” Marcus asked.
“I think I’ll take the light rail,” Randy said.