The Machine

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The room felt cold. Whether that was an effect of the temperature, or merely some last-minute doubts, I didn’t know. Either way, Alice beckoned towards a seat. She sealed the door carefully behind her and took the other chair. I was facing the window, looking past her. We waited. It took … a while, to say the least. She was smiling.
‘Ready?’ she asked.
‘I guess I can’t say no at this point.’
‘You’re right.’ She nodded with her usual composure, modest but still somehow imposing. ‘The particles - your particles – have now been entangled with their pairs. Now, keeping that entanglement is rather costly, so I’d appreciate it if you’d proceed quickly. That hum you hear is the machines doing so performing their magic.’
I hated that sound. It was menacing. I seem to remember drumming my fingers on the table, resonant with the rain outside, to try and drown it out.
‘I’m just – I’m still a bit hesitant,’ I said. ‘Quantum teleportation… I can’t shake the feeling that it’s just like one of those… What do you call them? Those ancient things…’
‘Fax machines?’
‘Yeah. With a shredder attached to the sending device.’ Alice looked disappointed at my last remark. She eyed me like a child, and exhaled slowly.
‘Okay. That’s what some people would think, naturally.’ Her sarcastic tone was all too obvious. ‘You go in, get killed, and spawn another being with your memories, perfect copies of your cells, that thinks it’s you… But it’s not like a fax with a shredder. We don’t destroy the old you on purpose. It’s just the no cloning theorem. By making that entangling measurement between the entangled particles and your original particles, we necessarily lose information about their quantum states. But the corresponding entangled particles have that information projected onto them. There’s no dispute over who is the real you. You should’ve read all of this. Can you sign the paper in front of you, please?’
I didn’t want to. You don’t appreciate your own fear until you know you might have seconds left. All those years I had said nothing, and in those last few minutes my attitude changed rather quickly.
‘I don’t care how it’s destroyed,’ I said. ‘The information is destroyed, and maybe I'm destroyed. And you can’t prove me wrong.’ It was naïve, but it was all I could say. I could see she was getting exhausted, but she remained calm.
‘Look, your cells get replaced all the time. I think it’s every seven years that there’s none of the old you left. You’re still the same person, or so you think. For all you know, you could die every night when you go to sleep. You’d wake up after a break in conscious thought, and think nothing happened.’ She paused for effect. ‘So will you die? There are only two possibilities: yes or no. No weird superposition involved here. If it’s the latter, you walk away rich and famous. If it’s the former, well, you walk away rich and famous anyway. You won’t notice anything. For all you know, this conversation could be a memory embedded in the mind of new you.’
Her smile had disappeared by this point. She was coldly logical, but that only made things worse. I searched for another argument: a petty one, that I resorted to nonetheless.
‘But what’s the point anyway?’ I had begun to raise my voice. ‘The particles in each location need to be entangled, so it’s not real teleportation, so if you’re teleporting supplies, that’s great, but why humans? Why me?’ She was unaffected by my shouting, which was all the more frustrating. I was standing now, screaming at her. ‘And how do I know it’s safe? What if half of my particles end up elsewhere?’
She spoke quietly: ‘you signed up for this; you are in no place to question utility. And we’ve quantum teleported cargo, often bigger and more sensitive than you. Mice. Dogs. Hell, we’ve teleported an elephant. All arrived safe and sound. There’s no reason you would be any different. We’ve sent them between planets. You’re travelling between two neighbouring rooms.’
We were both silent for a moment. She turned to stare at the clock.
‘Please.’ I was crying. ‘I’m scared.’
She replied, ‘I know.’
I watched the raindrops trickle down the window after that. Countless lights, fading into the dawn, with no-one aware of my ordeal. Why had I signed up for this? The money? Probably. Maybe an element of prestige. Maybe today’s date had seemed too far away ten years ago. Any reasons did not seem like reasons at this point; they were mere fantasies, childhood fantasies, of a man I didn’t know.
‘Are you sure I’ll be okay?’ I whispered.
Alice smiled again. ‘You will.’
I don’t know why I submitted myself just then. Perhaps it was the sense that there was no hope left, or Alice’s apparent understanding, or perhaps that ever-present sound of the machine made me do it. I hated that sound. It was menacing. I signed the piece of paper, and she led me towards the roaring machine.

It had felt like sleep. A deep one, without dreams. It was almost comforting when they had finally induced the coma, to ‘prevent problems arising from activity across the synapses.’ Everything had shut off gradually, and it seems so long ago now. It’s dark in the new location. There is a loud sound, and a light intensifies. The woman stands there, smiling. She beckons towards the door. She says something, but the senses haven’t fully returned. The feeling is almost elation, but not quite. She walks out. I follow.


To this day I hesitate to refer to myself as ‘I’, and yes, that includes this sentence. It’s a strange feeling: to have plenty of money and time, and simultaneously lack a sense of self. I spend empty days and sleepless nights trying to find out who I am.
I know I never will.

About the Author: 
I've always loved physics (predominantly astrophysics) and science fiction. I first ventured into the quantum world a while back with 'How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog' and have since been fascinated by its counter-intuitive beauty.