Speculation (Short Story)

This is another story I entered into a competition that I didn’t win and am now posting here. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide what merit (if any) it has. I am quite conscious of the fact that early attempts at writing fiction will more than likely be terrible so it is better I get better here without forcing anyone to read it. 

‘The soul doesn’t exist.’

Dr. Greenwald stated bluntly before continuing, ‘Every thought, emotion and action is a product of processes conducted in the physical brain. Simply because we are still far from a full understanding of these processes, doesn’t mean we should speculate beyond the knowledge without good reason. Especially with hypotheses that are impossible to test, which includes all ideas found in religion and other superstitions.’

His assistant Julie sat across from him, unable to cease returning his intense gaze as he spoke to her. She had heard this or something like it many times before and hadn’t meant to provoke her mentor again. In truth, this was done more out of worry for him than any strongly held beliefs of her own. Though not as passionately, she agreed with him but she couldn’t shake the feeling that this time he was going too far.

Dr. Greenwald’s outlook wasn’t untypical of his profession or his circle of friends. He had been working as a physicist since his early twenties. He was a young prodigy who had passed quickly through school and university as a teenager and soon found himself well provided for by a succession of supporters in the corporate world. This was not merely a result of his talents, as he was also handsome and even without his towering intellect; he would have had a great career in marketing.

Henry Greenwald’s charisma was not simply the mask of a fraud as is all too common. He was certainly not immune to over-promising his patrons or exaggerating to the media but he had been making head-turning discoveries since he had struck out on his own in his early thirties. Had he not, the money would have long ago dried up. Now, in his mid-forties with streaks of grey spreading either side of his undiminished head of hair, he was about to unveil to the world what would certainly put him in the history books.

Teleportation was an idea that had stubbornly remained in the realm of science-fiction from the 19th century and well into the 21st. Whether imagined as objects or people being converted to light and transported at high speed or just magically whisked away without explanation, it was a fascinating concept that had captured the imagination of millions. Julie was seated before the man that had already made it possible. Dr. Greenwald’s method was different to how it was imagined but the result was the same. Matter would be copied and destroyed at one point before being reformed at another. The all-important specifics of the process were not something even Julie could explain in layman’s terms. Indeed, although herself an accomplished scientist and a vital gear in Greenwald’s human machine, she herself was unable to follow his often maddeningly quick mind.

He had successfully tested the device on a pencil, a mug, and a leather jacket; the latter as a prelude to animals. Each test had been both expensive and frustrating. The frustration came from hundreds of adjustments to the machine that followed each test as well as the inevitable break-downs and errors. There were also the often long waits for custom pieces of equipment which could be sourced anywhere from one hundred to many thousands of kilometres away.

The often long times spent waiting for these parts was where Julie had really got to know. Henry. She had grown to love him and this love was returned though Julie had to share it with the true love of his life. She couldn’t be too jealous as she shared much of the same passion.

This meeting where Julie had provoked Henry simply by considering the possibility of a soul was an odd one. At the rare times when everything was running and nothing was missing, Dr Greenwald would not spend more time than was necessary to finish his always modest lunch before going straight back to work. This was a rare moment that had come when he was forced to relax before conducting his ultimate test.

After a wood, porcelain and repurposed cattle, he had tried it on an unfortunate rabbit before trying again on a more fortunate one. One would have thought the first successful test would be the time to celebrate and his backers with their minds ever on their stock value would have certainly agreed. But Henry was adamant that it must first be demonstrated on a human. Despite his unwavering skepticism, he was fond of illusionists and didn’t want to be compared publicly (and unfavourably), to one. Making himself part of the experiment with a select group of friendly media identities present should prevent this.

Whatever his detractors might say about him, none would dare call him a coward. He was to be the first human test subject. The money men shared Julie’s concern but this was more out of a desire to protect their investment than any genuine concern for his safety. They had told him they would have no trouble procuring a test subject of less importance but Dr. Greenwald (again to his credit), would have nothing of it.

‘All I’m saying Henry, is that the areas where we lack knowledge are the areas where we should be most cautious,’ Julie finally and rather meekly responded.

Henry could see the concern in her eyes but was moved to continue. ‘Where would we be today if the great men of science had always stopped at the threshold of the unknown? We wouldn’t even know their names let alone enjoy the advancements and comforts they brought us.’

Seeing her worry, he added, ‘Julie, I understand your concern but it simply must be this way.’

As if on cue, his name was called and it was time to begin the experiment. He was up and off before Julie could nod as if reassured. She finished her now lukewarm coffee in a quick mouthful, brushed herself off and followed after him at a distance.

‘What was once considered an impossible dream from science-fiction is now a reality!’
The showman in Dr. Greenwald was moved to speak and although only to a small audience, the occasion demanded it.

‘Did not Jules Verne imagine the great ship Nautilus as an ocean home to Captain Nemo and his crew to escape from the world into the depths of the great oceans? Do we not now have such craft that can do this and more? Did not Verne also imagine man going to the moon? Did we not also do this a mere century later? What we are doing today will bring teleportation out of dog-eared paperbacks, television and computer games into the real world. What today is unbelievable will tomorrow be normal!’

The applause was subdued but enthusiastic as most of those same hands quickly returned to their tasks once he was done. The journalists were pleased with his passion and appreciated his brevity as even at less than a minute, it would be cut more in editing.

Greenwald nodded to Julie and proceeded to the machine. The fortunate rabbit had been caged and placed on a small table nearby by Julie for luck. Henry didn’t live by anything so uncertain but thought it helped with the presentation.

He stepped onto a large circular elevation in the floor which despite being very real, still looked like something out of science fiction. He turned towards the small group of spectators and added, ‘Just think, if today I can move from one place to another, why not one time to another next?’

He was silent again and adjusted himself and turned and nodded to Julie and then the
technician at the control panel. The confidence that had radiated from him since their
lunchtime conversation had never left him. The machine began a gentle humming and
technicians stood or sat at their stations.

A green light flashed, the humming grew louder and there was an unsettling but normal flickering on several monitors displaying information to their nervous but focused operators.

Dr. Henry Greenwald stood in one place and then he was gone from that place and stood in another.

Only briefly did he stand because he then toppled over. There were hushed gasps, a single scream and then a flurry of activity around him. He was warm. He had colour in his skin. He was breathing. His heart was beating. But he wasn’t there anymore and he never came back.

If Dr. Henry Greenwald were still with us, he would not regard this as proof of the existence of the soul. He would insist that there must have been a mistake somewhere in his calculations. The human body is far more complicated than a rabbit and certainly a pencil. Was everything that was destroyed copied successfully or were vital elements at the molecular level missing?

‘This doesn’t mean we should speculate beyond the knowledge we have without good

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