Friday, December 12, 2014

I'm Not The Same Man by William Quincy Belle

To meet his new grandson, Patrick Lindsey must travel far further than he ever has before; by William Quincy Belle.

Patrick blinked a few times and stared at the ceiling. It was well lit in a soft manner, not glaring. Was he supposed to do something? Or was he supposed to lie there until somebody came for him? He didn't recall that anybody had said one way or another. Those who had already done this would be in the know, but him? Maybe it was best to wait until somebody told him what to do.

"Hello, Mr. Lindsey."

A face moved into Patrick's field of vision, as if leaning over the table.

"How are you doing?"

The face smiled at him. It was female. It was the face of a young woman. Twenty-something? She looked young, but it was sometimes hard to tell. She must be an attendant.

"I'm fine, thank you." Patrick turned his head to the left and looked at the room. It seemed modern and clean, functional and yet with a certain style. He turned to the right and saw that the woman stood beside the table leaning over him to look into his eyes.

"Would you like to get up?" She smiled. "Some people feel a little disoriented, but this passes. I'm convinced it has more to do with the sudden change of place as opposed to anything physical. Blink and you miss it." Her smile widened as though she were about to laugh.

"I think I'm okay." Patrick sat up and turned himself at the same time. He swung his legs to the right and pushed himself up. The woman reached out to assist him, then stopped as if she thought he would be okay. She took a step back. Patrick sat with his head tilted down looking at the floor. He turned his head back and forth to the right and left, testing whether or not he felt dizzy. He looked up at the woman. "Yes, I seem to be okay."

"Good," she said. "There's no rush. We don't have another transport scheduled for an hour."

"How many do you do each day?"

"It varies. Sometimes none at all and other days, dozens. A few exceptional times we've done a couple hundred, but that is unusual."

Patrick nodded, trying to process the information. Even though teleportation had been commonplace for more than a decade, he had never done it before. That would be odd to the younger generation. In fact, it might be odd that Patrick had never been off the planet. In this modern day and age of easy space travel, he was still a homeworlder who left all that far-flung gallivanting to the kids. Why go off-world when the world had everything he needed? Did he sound like an old fogey? If he had been alone, he would have chuckled out loud. He stood.

"Nothing to it, Mr. Lindsey." The woman gave him another big smile. She seemed genuinely concerned about his well-being.

"By the way, I'm Katie." The woman had stuck out her hand.

Patrick shook her hand. She had a strong grip, nothing half-hearted. Patrick smiled and said, "Katie, nice to meet you. Call me Patrick."

"Patrick it is." Katie gestured to the far end of the room. "Why don't you step over to the window? Many people like to get a look at where they came from. I admit that it still boggles my mind how all this is done."

"How many times have you made the jump, Katie?"

"I believe I have now crossed the two thousand mark."

Patrick's eyes widened. "You've teleported over two thousand times?"

Katie grinned. "Yes. I guess you get used it."

"Used to it, indeed. I would call you an old pro."

Katie laughed. "Oh believe me, there are many people who have teleported many more times. But yes, that is quite a bit."

The two of them walked to the end of the room and stood at the bay window. The view showed the lunarscape over the outskirts of New New Delhi. It all looked peaceful and pretty with the various lights of the buildings and travel routes shining in the darkness. Patrick looked up and there, looming large in the sky, was the Earth.

"There it is," said Katie. "Three hundred and eighty-four thousand kilometers traversed in the blink of an eye."

Patrick smiled. "The blink of an eye?"

"Okay." Katie chuckled. "I'm waxing more poetic than scientific. All told, your trip took less than thirty seconds: the time necessary to scan your molecules, disassemble them, transfer the data here, and then reassemble those molecules."

Patrick listened, but had a perplexed look. He was trying to understand what Katie was explaining to him. "So I'm not the same person I was on Earth."

"You are exactly the same person."

"But how can that be? You said my molecules were disassembled. That means I'm not the same person I was on Earth."

"Ah, I see what you're getting at." Katie smiled. "You have to appreciate that you, Patrick Lindsey, exist independently from the molecules which make up your body."

Patrick frowned.

"Let me explain," Katie continued. "A table is a table. It, the concept, exists independent of the material it is made of."

"Tables don't think."

"True," said Katie, nodding. "But this exemplifies how something can exist apart from its physical object."

"Okay, so a man," Patrick gestured toward Katie, "or a woman, is an idea which exists apart from an actual man or woman." Patrick turned back to the window and pointed to Earth. "But in this case, is the man standing before you the same man who was back on Earth a moment ago?"

"Did you know, Patrick, that you are not the same person you were when you were a baby?"

Patrick chuckled. "Of course not. I'm all grown up. Supposedly."

"No, I mean more than that. The physical you is not the same you as when you were a baby. In fact, you the man are not the same as you were ten years ago."

Patrick squinted at Katie. "I don't understand. What are you talking about?"

Katie gestured in his direction. "You, the man standing before me, are not the same physical human being as yesterday. Your body has replaced cells, so technically the you of today is not the you of yesterday."

"I've heard of this concept, but the process doesn't necessarily result in a complete replacement."

"True. Cells in various parts of the body divide at different rates so it isn't like there is a new you every thirty days or every year. Fat cells are replaced every ten years, but the cells of the inner lining of the small intestine are replaced every week. The lining of the stomach changes every five days and your red blood cells change every 120 days. Of course, the neurons of our brains do not divide, so this is more complicated. They may die off, but under certain circumstances other brain cells will become neurons. The point of all this is that you exist independent of your body."

"That seems a little strange," said Patrick.

"I guess. But it goes a long way toward explaining what happened to you during teleportation. I've done it over two thousand times so, by your reasoning, you are definitely no longer talking to the Katie who was born twenty-five years ago on Earth. Whether it's me or you, neither one of us is the same person we were at birth.

"Teleportation changes the underlying supporting structures of our being, but our essence, our spirit, the personality of the person is transferred to a new location. What are we but a thought process? There has been work in the field of neural intelligence where a human brain has been actually transferred to a computer system. Yes, we think of artificial brains, but what is it when you take a brain and give it a supporting structure not made out of flesh and blood but of artificial mechanisms?"

Patrick looked out the window, rubbing his chin. "This is a lot to consider, Katie. Maybe if you had talked to me several years ago, you might have eased my mind. I confess to have been a little leery about teleporting because...well, it seemed dangerous."

Katie nodded. "While I can't say that any system is one hundred percent perfect, I will say that the rate of incidents is so low, it is negligible. Effectively nonexistent." She chuckled. "Would I have done it as much as I have? Heck, I'm more likely to be hurt getting out of bed in the morning."

Patrick shrugged. "Sure the incident of mishap while teleporting may be less than getting out of bed, but I'm familiar with getting out of bed and that familiarity gives me a sense of safety. Teleporting? How could the idea of dissembling your molecules in one place and then reassembling them in another place be considered a reasonable thing to do? I'd like to keep my feet on the ground, thank you very much."

Patrick put his face almost flush up against the window, trying to see as much as possible.

"Any plans?" Katie said. Her voice sounded friendly and chipper.

"I have twelve hours before the flight, so I thought I would do a tour of the base."

"Excellent idea. Do you have anything set up?"

Patrick turned to Katie. "The people at the agency back on Earth were very accommodating and have taken care of everything. I'm supposed to meet my guide at crossroad 45B, wherever that is, at 14:15. I am free to do whatever I want as long as I report to flight bay 6 by 22:00."

Katie nodded. "I can help you out with directions." She pointed out the window. "If you look over there, you see flight bay 6. The portal is currently closed. And..." Katie now turned and pointed toward the sky somewhat to the left of Earth, "over in this direction your ship will do its bridge entering the wormhole for Alpha Centauri."

Patrick raised an eyebrow. "You know?"

"I was speaking with my counterpart back on Earth and he mentioned you were doing the grand tour to visit your son and daughter-in-law at their new posting."

Patrick shook his head and smiled. "They couldn't accept something close to home. No, they had to go halfway across the galaxy. It's been two months since my grandson arrived and this will be the first chance I've had to see him. Geesh, the things a grandfather has to do these days to see his own flesh and blood."

Even though Patrick was trying to keep a straight face, the corners of his mouth kept curling up in a half smile. He was feeling proud of himself. Not only had he done teleportation for the first time in his life, he was making his first step off the planet a big one by going four light-years to another system.

"I trust this first trip might give you the taste to do a little exploring closer to home," Katie said. "We have an entire solar system right here which deserves a look."

"This old-timer is something of a fuddy duddy, but maybe the saying is wrong."

"Saying?"

"That you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Maybe I needed to get my feet wet." He turned to look at Earth hanging in the sky. "I have to admit that the old place is pretty comfortable. Sort of like an old pair of slippers."

Katie chuckled. "I guess. But mix the two together and you can have the best of both worlds: something new and different and still...the old familiar pair of slippers." Katie checked the time on the wall. "You have ten minutes to get over to crossroad 45B. Your bag has been teleported up separately so, with your permission, I'll see to it that it gets delivered to flight bay 6."

"Thank you."

"By the way..."

Patrick looked at Katie. "Yes?"

"If your tour finishes up earlier and you'd like to take a break, the flight bay has a nice lounge area with recliners. You can sit back, relax, even nod off if you'd like."

"Katie, you've been most helpful." Patrick stuck out his hand to the young woman.

Katie shook Patrick's hand. "My pleasure. I trust you will have a great visit with your family." She stepped toward a door. "If you follow me, I'll get you pointed in the right direction. Crossroad 45B is easy to find."

"Okay." Patrick followed Katie. The adventure had started and so far things had been pleasant. He had to admit that, despite the teleportation, he felt the same. Was he the same? Okay, maybe not the same molecules but still the same - How did Katie put it? - the same essence? Then again, he hadn't even thought about the fact that the current Patrick, the Patrick who had teleported, wasn't the same as the Patrick of ten years ago. He wondered how our essence exists regardless of the underlying supporting molecules and that maybe we also have spirits which exist beyond the realm of the physical.

Patrick shook his head. This was all too complicated. He had a grandson to see for the first time, but at least now, he knew it wouldn't be the last time.

3 comments:

  1. A lovely gentle story, told with great skill and peppered with intellectual stimuli via the posing of commanding philosophical and scientific conundrums. The heart remains the ancient narrative of the old needing to take risks to remain connected to the young who in their new worlds give us the future. Beautifully written, thank you,
    Ceinwen

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  2. invitingly written and cleverly posing questions as to our mortality
    like the expressions: home worlder and off world
    even in the future we´ll still have the same concerns
    well done

    Michael McCarthy

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  3. Nice mix of the familiar and the yet to come, all seen from the eyes of someone who's comfortable with their life as is, and yet driven by the yearn to see his grandchild, sets off on a new adventure. Good read!

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