Schrödinger's Souls

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"Don't," I said.
Newman was reaching for the power cycle icon on the data projection screen. A small red alert icon blinked below.
"Why?" he said. "They're in transit. They’re not people." But he dropped his hand.
His fingernails were bitten, and grubby, like his clothes. He was scrawny and his eyes looked sunken and tired.
The control room was silent.
Security waited outside. They would storm the place if I signalled them.
Not yet.
"Not people? Debatable," I said.
"The Pope says otherwise."
"Not my Pope."
"Martian Catholic. I know you wanted Roman. Not many Christians up here. I'm who you get."
Newman glared. “They tell you what I wanted?"
"I couldn’t make sense of it. Why don’t you tell me?"
He put the gun down on the desk, but kept his hand on it.
I was pleased he put it down.
Here, a couple of kilometres under the Martian surface, a stray bullet could not reach the surface and breach the dome.
But the data projection screen showed that seventy-three thousand people were still in transit, and I didn't know how we could save them if a bullet damaged the controls.
Or if he reset them by pressing the power-cycle icon.
Newman sighed. "A year ago, I came to Mars. I wanted somewhere less crowded: clean air, no crime. Mars domes sounded like Heaven. Transit gave me a long-term contract. I might as well have signed in blood."
"You think you made a mistake? I'm sure we can get you back to Earth." I was a priest, not a negotiator, but I wanted to help.
He snorted. "I don’t want to go back. Have you been there?"
"Born there. Came to Mars as a child."
"Do you remember Transit?"
"I was a baby.”
"You know how Transit works?"
"I don’t commute to Earth. I know only what I read," I said.
"Transit on Earth? You strip off, machines wash you and seal you into a capsule. Feels kind of spongy and slick. Then you wake up in a capsule here."
"That’s what I’ve heard."
"You notice they call it Transit, not teleportation?"
"Thousands commute from Mars to Earth every day. The name’s not a big deal," I said. Was I humouring a conspiracy junkie? My profession encouraged confession, after all.
“In the capsule, they scan you,” he said. “Mainly your brain’s precise molecular chemistry: it’s how your memories and personality are stored. They also scan your DNA."
"Then they kill you. Freeze-dry you down to zero-point energy instantly.”
“Why do that?”
“They’ve mapped trillions of molecules in your body. They must recreate these on Mars immediately. Uncertainty ramps up exponentially, particularly in the brain.
“Zero-point minimises particle movement, reduces uncertainty. It buys them a few nanoseconds, long enough to secure a Bell lock on corresponding tangled particles on Mars. The AIs here use the mapping to print a new body from your DNA and brain chemistry.”
Newman stood up, started pacing. “Elapsed time from entering a capsule on Earth to emerging from a capsule on Mars? Ten minutes. Of this, time spent mapping and printing your body? Ten minutes. Transit itself is literally instantaneous.”
He looked down at the gun again. “But who arrives on Mars? Not you: a copy."
"You have continuity of personality, don't you?” I said. ”Go to sleep on Earth and wake up on Mars."
“They tell you that. But since I arrived, I was uncomfortable. Something felt wrong."
"What was it?”
"I didn’t know. Then I read Faust."
"Man who sold his soul to the devil?"
"Yes,” Newman said. “Mephistopheles promised his heart’s desire. Faust pledged his soul. Faust thought he wouldn't miss it, but by Christ he did.”
“What has…?
"I took a Transit contract. They killed me on Earth and recreated my body on Mars. But AIs can’t recreate a soul.”
A sudden flash of dread gripped my stomach.
“You’re missing your soul?”
Newman nodded. “Before, it was a vague feeling. An uncertainty. Now I am sure: my soul has gone. And knowing hurts.”
"Hurts how?"
“Like a relentless ache behind my eyes. Can’t sleep, can’t eat. Nothing tastes good. I hate other people’s company. I hate Transit for taking my soul.”
"So you seized Transit Control for revenge?"
Newman frowned. "No! I need my soul back. I needed a priest to take me seriously. This was the only way I could do it."
"Ok, I’m here. What do you want?"
"An exorcism.”
I sat down by a desk. "Exorcism wouldn’t work.”
“Why not?”
“Exorcism drives spirits out, it doesn't bring souls back."
"Help me!” He pointed again at the data projection screen, “or I’ll abort the current transit. Seventy-three thousand people."
The red alert light in the corner of the data projection had turned green.
A signal.
"They’re safe," I said.
"When you came in here, Transit started routing these people to other stations. They’ve finished."
“Ah.” Newman offered a grim smile. “And there is nothing you can do for me?”
“Sorry, no.” I shrugged.
“But I can’t bear it, you see?”
He put the gun in his mouth and fired.
I haven’t slept much since. It’s not the trauma.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an unease, an uncertain feeling.
I coped by becoming a priest.
But I am no longer uncertain.
I know.
Knowing makes it real.
Newman had lived with uncertainty.
Knowing killed him.
I want my soul back.
But it’s gone.
I feel its absence in every breath, every moment.
It hurts.
It’s unbearable.
I’m not alone.
I see the same pain in some other faces. It doesn’t comfort me.
I saw Newman. Under his contract, they printed a new copy of him based on his last Transit.
Before we met.
He didn’t recognise me.
But I saw the same pain behind his eyes.
It never ends.
Even in death.
This is Hell.
The devil’s name isn't Mephistopheles.
It’s Schrödinger.

About the Author: 
I'm a business consultant, trainer and presenter who occasionally has a go at real work, like writing.