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art by Agata Maciagowska

The Subatomic Fiber-Optic Deconstruction/Construction Transportation Chamber

Dylan Otto Krider is a freelance writer residing in Broomfield, CO whose work has appeared in Asimov's, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Skeptic Magazine, and other publications. Born in Jelm, Wyoming, a town of ten people, he personally raised the population ten percent. He placed first in the Asimov Award and won the grand prize in the Writers of the Future Contest. He has also written over 100 dub scripts for ADV Films. His website is dylanottokrider.com.
Would you be the first to climb onto the device? Would you proceed if you fully understood the scientific principles upon which it is based?
What is it about the device that troubles you? Is it the flashy lights on the control panel? The eerie hum of the machine as it powers up? Is it the slight nod of the technician, inviting you to step on as he stands safely behind shatter-resistant Plexiglas?
Or is it the strange glow of the mist that swirls about the chamber you have just agreed to enter?--that is, if you're still committed to this project. If you haven't decided to back out.
Perhaps your reservations come from the knowledge that this strange glowing mist is no mist at all, neither vapor nor gas, but metal, trillions of microscopic robots perched and waiting for your atoms to come within range?
Though its technology is complex, its function is simple: a computer pulls apart your atoms one by one, logging their exact locations into its memory banks before sending the information over a fiber optics cable to another device, identical to the first, which simultaneously reconstructs you, atom by atom, molecule by molecule. If you stepped onto the Subatomic Fiber-Optic Deconstruction/Construction Transportation platform located, say, in your living room and were sent across the country, beneath the ocean to another continent--if it reproduced you precisely down to the molecular level in some office, say, in Greenland, or Cairo--what difference would there be? What variation could possibly exist?
The conclusion is difficult to avoid--it is you. Exactly. Atom for atom.
So what is it that bothers you about this new ability to travel with the ease of a fax or phone call? Why would you pass up the opportunity to cruise at the speed of light? Could you possibly sneer at an eight-minute commute to the sun, with a 4.7 millisecond pit stop at a communications satellite?
But that's not really the way it happens, is it? You're not transported so much as Xeroxed, an exact duplicate of the New York you molded in Egypt. But it is you in all the ways that matter. That's you there in the Subatomic Fiber-Optic Deconstruction/Construction Transportation chamber, your genes, your body, your brain and memories, atom-for-atom. It's you in every way, every aspect, save one: it's not your atoms. Your atoms are back home in storage, reduced to fifteen dollars worth of calcium, carbon and tap water with a sprinkle of phosphorous. Your oxygen has dissipated--the Subatomic Fiber-Optic Deconstruction/Construction Transportation Chamber will have to pull that from the air when you return. You are now the cost of a movie ticket or lunch at a moderately priced downtown restaurant including drink, tip, and modest dessert. You are carrying someone else's carbon and calcium and tap water with a touch of phosphorous and oxygen pulled straight from the air--perhaps the one who used the Fiber-Optic Deconstruction/Construction Transportation Device before you?--if you weren't the first, a test pilot wanting to make the history books.
So the question becomes the difference between any two atoms. Does knowing that the atoms in your body at this moment are not the same ones that were there a mere month ago make it any easier to climb onboard? Does the understanding that you are a constantly changing, evolving machine, adding and replacing its atoms as a normal par for the course, with every meal? Do atoms vary in their ability? Size or quality? Does every atom have its own particular eccentricities? Personality?
This isn't necessarily a consolation as you hear the hiss of the Subatomic Fiber-optic Deconstruction/Construction Transportation Chamber door, and step upon the Subatomic Fiber-optic Deconstruction/Construction platform, into the strange metallic, subatomic mist. After all, it is you that is in the chamber, you who will be torn apart, you who will be reduced to a few buckets of murky water. Even though it is you in the desert on the other side of the world in every way that matters to the universe, being torn apart matters to you--the you that is here, now, for that brief instant before you do not exist, except as a flow of photons through a fiber-optics wire.
The difference is not physical. You may be looking in the wrong place. It matters in the realm of the psychological, the theological, the metaphysical. Perhaps what bothers you is that you'd like to believe there is something more to you beyond your atomic make-up that can't be transported or copied by a Deconstruction/Construction Transportation Device. If the device works, then what makes you you is not even the atoms or the things that make you solid and material. You're merely an arrangement, a collection of locations and movements that make up your mind, body, and memories. Like music, you exist not in the molecules themselves but the sound waves that travel through them, manipulating each set of atoms for a brief time before moving on, but a pluck of the string, a vibration in space-time that plays its one note before fading. Complex?--yes--sophisticated?--even more so--but vibrations, nothing more, regardless of which matter you choose to move yourself through.
It's not too late. You still have time to step off the Subatomic Fiber-optic Deconstruction/Construction Transportation Device. No one will think the less of you. No one has to know--but you hear voices outside the chamber. Has someone come to rescue you, to stop you before it's too late? But they are happy voices, voices of applause and congratulation as the door begins to open, and you realize they are speaking Arabic. Then any doubts about the machine's effectiveness are forgotten, along with your fears of glitches and malfunctions.
One for the records. You've made history.
So what is it that disturbs you now? Is it that the device works?
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 13th, 2012


In my creative writing program, I was one of the few students who did not feel compelled to try (and fail) writing in second person. My theory as to why these experiments never succeeded was second person only works if that is the best way to tell the story, and all my stories could be told better in first or third.

Years later, I thought of a transporter where, unlike Star Trek where your atoms were converted to energy, at the desired destination you built an atom-for-atom duplicate of the person who stepped on the transporter, then put the originalís atoms in storage to be used to build the next person traveling the other way.

For some reason, that single change disturbed me. It forced me to consider if I was indeed just the sum of my atoms, or there was something beyond the material--a soul, perhaps?

I tried writing the story in first and third person with characters waxing philosophical, but the question was always too far removed. Eventually I realized to bring the question home, I had to force the reader onto the transporter pad to consider having their own atoms taken apart and living on as a copy.

In essence, you are the main character because it is you facing the central conflict of deciding what makes you, well, you. Once I understood that, second person was the only way to tell this story--and therefore, the first story in second person I ever wrote.

- Dylan Otto Krider

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