Soul Train

train tracks

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?”

“I drove.”

“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?”

“Copied.”

“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.

Fallen Reader

pages

By Tamara Shoemaker

Apparently, I’ve been ruined as a reader for all time.

Grrrrr!

Back in the day, I used to sit down with a nice, fresh book from the library. I’d rifle through the pages, inhaling the scent (you fellow book lovers know the scent to which I’m referring — you Kindle lovers who never crack a book will not understand), and I would crawl onto the couch or the bed or the floor or the park bench and settle in for an unparalleled flight of fancy.

The authors never made mistakes. The tone, structure, narrative style never even hit my radar. I simply immersed myself in the story and digested every word with absolute satisfaction.
Fast-forward a few years. I wrote a book, then two, then three, then four, five and six. Every word was studied, every adjective used, then discarded, then used again. Sentence patterns were read, and reread, flipped around, reversed, turned upside-down, then right-side-up. Books were read aloud until my throat ached and my voice rasped. The overuse of adverbs galloped through my nightmares.

Plot lines! Oh, dear goodness, the torture of a hole in my plot line!

A college professor once told me (and perhaps it wasn’t an original quote, but the first time I heard it, it came from him) that to be a good writer, I had to be an avid reader. I took that to heart. Every night for years, after the kids were in bed and I’d closed up shop for the day, I crawled in my bed and cracked open a book. The hour didn’t matter; it might have been midnight or one or two in the morning. I would still read.

Sometimes, I would only make it through two paragraphs. Most often, a chapter. A particularly engrossing book might have kept me awake till four in the morning as I’d tell myself, “Just one more chapter. That’s it.” Until the next cliffhanger, and then I’d burn some more of that midnight oil and keep going.

But the simple, relaxing enjoyment had flown.
Now, I study every adverb, every adjective. “Why did they put ‘slightly’ in there? It would have made a stronger sentence without that word!”

The occasional typo presents itself, and I smirk. “See, I’m not the only one.”
I grow green with envy when a particularly interesting adjective or simile pops up. “Now why couldn’t I have thought of that first?”

I went with my husband to see Catching Fire, the second story in The Hunger Games trilogy. My enjoyment of the movie was tinged with the fact that jealousy ate away at my innards.

Fie on thee, Suzanne Collins! Why must you come up with such an interesting story?

All joking aside, if I had a choice whether or not I would begin this journey again, this relationship with my keyboard, I wouldn’t refuse it.

Yes, it does affect my view of other literature, and yes, it is often frustrating that I can’t simply sit and enjoy.

But on the flip-side, I’ve known few activities more enjoyable than the pleasure of allowing my fantasy unparalleled freedom, of constructing a world in which other keen readers, like myself, can wander freely. Perhaps I will never be another Suzanne Collins, author extraordinaire, but I am Tamara Shoemaker, weaver of ideas.

And I’m fine with that.

Tamara Shoemaker’s books include “Broken Crowns,” “Pretty Little Maids” and “Ashes, Ashes.” She lives in Virginia with her husband, Tim, and their three children.

The Nations Underfoot

By Andrew Sharp

Two books have greatly shaped my thinking about the history of the United States, and they vary wildly in style. One speaks in barely suppressed rage, and the other calmly analyzes.

The calm one is “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,” by Charles C. Mann. He examines new scholarship that contradicts the story about how the “New World” was lightly populated by roving “savages.” Instead, Mann reports, it was full of established agricultural communities, permanent settlements, and highly advanced cultures.

The enraged book was “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” a horrifying (if sensational) account of how the last few of the North American native cultures were exterminated in the West. It’s full of stories of greed, lies, betrayal, and cold-blooded murder that often amounted to genocide.

If the Americas were not wilderness, then “settlement” is the wrong word. In the interest of accuracy, we need to use the word “conquest.” And then we need to confront the way in which that conquest was done, and ask if some justice is overdue.

While “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” certainly has a sensationalist slant, painting the white advance with as black a brush as possible, it contains a great deal of uncomfortable truth, along with an invaluable telling of events through the eyes of the conquered, not the conquerors.
You could argue that the U.S. war on American Indians was bad, but it might not have been quite as bad as the book says. If saying that theft and murder were exaggerated helps you sleep better at night, by all means dismiss this book. But that doesn’t work for me.

A simpler way to examine the issue is to ask yourself, “Would I switch places with these people? If my ancestors were the original inhabitants, would I be pleased that things turned out as they did?” You can nit-pick over some of the generalizations made by historians sympathetic to Indians, but to argue that whites had a right to all the land they ended up with is not sober historical analysis. If you’ve never read the Cherokee appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to avoid deportation from their lands, I recommend you take the time.

The United States has held itself up as a “city on a hill,” an example for the world to see. It’s no wonder, then, that we have had to gloss over our history.

Henry Whipple, chairman of the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the wars with the Sioux, summed it up well.

“I know of no other instance in history where a great nation has so shamefully violated its oath. Our country must forever bear the disgrace and suffer the retribution of its wrongdoing. Our children’s children will tell the sad story in hushed tones, and wonder how their fathers dared so to trample on justice and trifle with God.”*

The scope of the injustice perpetrated calls for more than regret and apology. It calls for practical steps to make restitution as much as possible. Although cultures cannot be unmurdered, things that have been stolen may be returned. Why do we return art and jewelry stolen by Nazis but not return Indian land? World War II occurred only decades after the Indian Wars.

Far from being comfortably buried in the remote past, the defeat of the American Indian occurred in the late 1800s, decades after slavery had been abolished. Apache warrior Geronimo died in 1909 (a year after Ford began manufacturing Model Ts). Red Cloud (Oglala Lakota) died the same year. Scattered armed uprisings continued until 1924. To put this in perspective, my grandparents (most still living) were born in the 1920s. There are still people alive — albeit very few —who were born while Geronimo was still living. My father remembers visiting an elderly woman who had gone out to the West on a stagecoach around the time of the Western Indian wars.

Many American Indians today live marginalized on small reservations, a sort of glorified cattle corral, where they have no real chance to rebuild a nation (or sovereign tribe) in any dignified sense of the word. You can argue until you’re blue in the face that it’s their fault if they aren’t making meaningful lives for themselves (many of these arguments are encores of “drunk worthless savages”). But would you be happy if your people had the leftovers?

Any honest attempt at genuine restitution is likely to be very painful, as is only natural when attempting to redress great pain. It will also be complex and difficult to sort out.

But it’s past time to start.

*http://ndstudies.gov/content/estab​lishment-great-sioux-reservation

Fleeting

By Tamara Shoemaker

who takes care of my heart
afterward?

before, when your curls patterned the crib sheets,
and you shrieked
in the terrors of dark sleep,
i held you, a bundle in my arms,
rocking a gentle rhythm
to the sleepy sound of brahms.
before, when the sky’s gold
could not compete
with the brilliance of your smile,
your first A, the reward of your efforts.
before, when you brought him to the door,
his flowers clutched in nervous sweat.
i watched as you timidly
carved your name in his heart.

who takes care of my heart
afterward

as I stare at the empty bed,
the sheet spread in unfamiliar neatness,
a wrinkle-free reminder that you
will begin all over with someone else?

then it will be you who wrestles
with the mistress that is time,
and at last, it will be you who,
like me,
bows your head to her uncompromising pursuit.