by Jason Gibbs
“There is no such thing as a soul!”
“Well, that was emphatic. Can we at least ask…”
“No, that was the last question I am willing to take.”
With that, the minister stormed off the stage, leaving the press shaking their heads and laughing. It was a game they liked to play with the new appointees, and normally they didn’t get such a good response.
“I know Simkins, I should have held it together, but those press people, they’re like rabid…”
“Don’t worry minister, here is your coffee. Also, Mrs Youre is on the line.”
“The Prime Minister?”
“Yes, minister. Here she is…”
With that Simkins switched the mirror over and Roberts was face to face with his boss.
“Roberts. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Ah, Prime Minister, um, I, I’m sorry, I should have been prepared…”
She laughed, and then smiled at him. He realised she was having as much fun as the press people.
“Don’t worry Roberts, that was actually perfect. Your last two predecessors were too cool, I think the press were starting to wonder. Your, let’s call it a performance, yes, your performance was brilliant. They’ll be chuckling to themselves for months. And not bothering about the other stories,” she stared at him.
“Yes, Prime Mini…”
“Your job Roberts, is to keep them off the scent for as long as possible. We know this is going to get out, but we’ve managed to keep a lid on it for three years, and we’d like a little more time. My people tell me they think they only need a couple more months, but they said much the same last year. You hold on. Do whatever is necessary.”
She cut off. Roberts was tempted to swear but held himself back. She might reappear, and his day had been getting worse since she’d called for him that morning.
As he was driven back to the ministry he stared into the middle distance, remembering the brief feeling of joy when he’d received the call. He was finally getting noticed. He assumed it would be a junior position, but, the only way was up.
Instead she’d sat him down and told him straight, “Roberts. You are cannon fodder. The likelihood is you’ll do this and be consigned to the back benches for the next decade. But your country needs you, I need you, are you willing to do it?”
There was obviously no answer to that. He’d nodded, trying to look serious and ministerial.
“You are going to be our new Minister for Galactic Transport. The fourth in 18 months so my aides tell me. The last three are… well the wilderness would probably be preferable. They slipped up. You must not.”
He just stared at her. The job was a poisoned chalice, and yet nobody knew why. Ministers just didn’t last. Maybe it was the souls thing?
“Now, I only have five minutes, so I’m going to give you the fast brief. Your team in the ministry will give you background, but this is so important you need to hear it from me. Firstly, the official line is that there is no such thing as a soul, and YOU WILL STICK TO IT. DO you understand?”
There was a sharpness to her smile. He nodded understanding.
“We have had some issues with the replication technology with teleports, this is true, but we believe that it is the central computer. There’s a bug, a switch set to one, nothing more. And you will not entertain any notion otherwise. Got it?”
“Yes, Prime Mini…”
She’d stood up, and ushered him out, newly minted, a proper minister, and yet, a sword hanging over his head. The previous minister had lasted 17 weeks, so at least he had a target.
“Right, so, Simkins, can you explain to me what the difference between the official line, and the unofficial line actually is, so that I might avoid abject humiliation next time I’m up in front of the press?”
“I’m afraid not Minister.”
“There is no difference.”
Butter wouldn’t melt.
Roberts took a deep breath. “Fine, tell me what the issue is, and why people keep mentioning souls.”
Simkins eyed him, but then clearly decided to take pity on him.
“Well Minister, do you know how the transportation works?”
“Yes, yes, brain ports, we get one put in, it maps the brain, a plug sucks the map out, spits it across the communicator and then we’re printed by a giant 3d meat printer at our destination.”
Simpkins nodded, though Roberts thought he detected a slight grimace.
“Quite so minister. Though we tend not to use such… colourful language. We’ve been doing this for some years, more than a decade of commercial licence in fact. In the beginning we had strict rules, only one copy of a person at a time. Obviously when the original person was, um, transported, they ceased to exist in their first location…”
“Why?” Roberts asked, he’d always wondered.
“We believe it’s the mapping process. Nonetheless, from a legal perspective it makes it easy, one legal person, transports to another location, no duplicates, no… dare I say it, clones.”
They both shuddered. Not worth thinking about that.
“Right, so what about the souls.”
“Minister please let me explain,” said Simkins sounding a little pained.
“Yes, sorry Simkins, go ahead.”
“And then two years ago there was the De Freito case, and suddenly the floodgates opened.”
Roberts looked blank. “Um, if you could just remind me?”
“De Freito claimed that his human rights were being violated, because of the restrictions he was unable to be at home with his family and travelling at the same time.”
“Ah yes, I seem to recall something…” said Roberts, though he really couldn’t.
“So, they tried to send him to his destination, and a copy back round, and it failed. He threatened to sue, it got a little ugly, and then… there was a small mistake and he ended up at a terminal station, which is at least a decade away from being able to send him back.”
“Of course, minister. The tests didn’t stop there, they just found some more amenable subjects. But what they found was that no matter what they did, there could only ever be one copy of a person in the galaxy. The data would duplicate, triplicate or whatever, but whichever copy arrived first would be the person, even if the time difference was almost nothing. The other copies would just… fail.”
“Ah, this is that glitch the Prime Minister mentioned, something to do with a switch.”
“That is the official line, Minister. They are concerned about the fallout if people start thinking they have souls again. Can you imagine?”
The wars of religion had been brutal, and religiosity was frowned upon in these enlightened times.
“What do they think it is?”
“Well, they have performed many experiments, even putting two ports into one candidate. Nothing worked, no matter what they do, only one copy of a person can ever exist.”
“Do they know why?”
“Yes, they’re fairly certain now. Empirically, there is a single point, a sort of essence of a person, which cannot be duplicated.”
Roberts nodded wisely.
“Ah, excellent, and what are they proposing to call this?”
Simkins looked at him with an expression approaching pity.
“A soul, minister.”