Quote-UnQuote (A Short Story)

Posted: October 19, 2012 in Literature/Writing
Tags: , , ,

“You do know you’ll die, right?” He said again.

What, do people get a government stipend every time they use the ‘D’ word? Do angels grow their wings and make unfortunate souls fall in love when that word is said? Not that it mattered now.

Since the end of the universe was announced dying wasn’t something that held any meaning. Or maybe it held more meaning than ever. Whatever, according to the officer in the room with me I’m still going to die no matter what.

If you ever wanted an accurate depiction of how humanity breaks down you no longer had to read it in books or see it in films. You could look out the window at any time and see the entire world glazed over the horrifying reality that, yes, the universe was actually coming to an end.

Science proved it. And the news reported it.

The Announcement was what it became known as. A snappy little title for such a gargantuan event. How journalistic.

With doom of this magnitude there is no recourse. Even someone diagnosed with a terminal, life-destroying illness will always have that what-if moment that keeps hope alive and maybe prays for some miracle fix.

But you can’t fix a dying universe. You can’t hide under a desk or in a fallout shelter like it’s a nuclear attack. When all control is lost and not even the most powerful bodies can do anything but reveal their own frightened humanity the word ‘hope’ is just that: a meaningless word.

“I’m telling you it’s not a good idea. It doesn’t work.” The officer continued, his breath a warm ghost of a life spent devouring cheeseburgers and coffee.

His arms produced pillars as he pressed his fists down onto the table opposite me. His sleeves were rolled up revealing a neat length of fur down his forearms. I couldn’t take my eyes off his gut hanging over the back of the chair where he had been sat originally.

His gun lay on the table; sleeping like a loyal assassin’s pet.

“There are a hundred people in your boat and they’re all going to perish.”

“Ninety-nine.” I said.


“There are ninety-nine other people in my situation.”

I was the hundredth.

It was telling of our species that the demise of everything in existence culminated in a lottery. No longer were people hoping for money and big houses. Now they wanted saving.

A hundred people had been picked at random out of the billions on the planet, alongside the already chosen elite few.

Shortly after The Announcement and life began drawing closer to a dramatic end science had made a breakthrough.

“Even if it did work.The officer continued. “There’s still no evidence that there is anything on the other side.”

They had realised everything we had longed for and pictured in science fiction. Years of research had finally given us what millions had imagined would come to fruition in our lifetime. They had perfected teleportation.

Starting with a single atom they had worked their way up to more complex beings.

A month after The Announcement the first human was teleported, live on TV, from one studio to another. Eventually greater distances were achieved until it was accepted that any co-ordinates could be entered and the subject would move from one plane to another in seconds. It was a solid theory.

The only problem was:

“It only works from other people’s perspective.” The officer was passionate in his tirade. “But from your perspective you will die.”

The theory goes something like this:

Teleportation works on a very physical sense. What comes out the other end – what stepped out of the machine on live, international TV – is (was) a perfect clone of the one who began at the start.

Memories and personalities stored in the brain’s physical casing moved with the rest of the body. Science had it down. What comes out the other end is essentially the same person that went in.


“But it’s just that: a clone.” His tie was loose now. “You are not really you because you die the moment you step into the machine.”

“It works.” I said. “We’ve seen it work.”

“To you yes! But the original test subject is dead. What makes you you is no longer there. It’s not part of your biological make-up. It doesn’t exist in any physical sense so it can’t get teleported with the rest of you.”

My soul. I knew he wanted to refer to it – my consciousness, my essence, whatever you want to call it – as my soul. But no one talks like that anymore. Not even world leaders.

Where were we being teleported to? If you’ve heard of the multiverse theory then you already know where this is going. The theory that there are an infinite number of universes with an uncountable number of galaxies, star systems and planets had been married by scientists with their teleportation plan.

Our universe was doomed, but others may not have been.

This is what the officer meant when referring to the ‘other side’.

But these were theories. These were ideas brainiacs had published in articles and scientific journals to be lauded over by academics and used to spearhead what became known as the Movement Project. We love titles don’t we? Nothing officiates a grand scheme like a moniker that everyone can refer to so they don’t have to think about what it involves.

The officer sat down and wiped his brow with the back of his hand.

“Look,” he said softly. “you are the envy of the entire world right now.”

He was right. I had been picked through no influence of my own and that made me the subject of global hatred. The officer sat in front of me was part of a team that had been dispatched to keep me safe from mobs and jealous citizens.

“We can only hold off so many people at once.” He said.

Spoken like a true man of the law.

“There are nearly a hundred people all over the world who have others trying to protect them from a fate that I’m sure I don’t need to describe to you.”

He took a sip of water, warm now from his clouded breath.

“I take it you know about the suicides.”

I nodded.

The pressure of being one of a micro percent of the Earth’s population to be given, what many believed to be, a second chance in an untapped, unexplored universe was a great weight. I know. Several of the original winners were not fond of the limelight and had opted out. Some quick. Some not so quick.

The papers were quick to talk about it.

But the ruling body that presided over the Lottery needed exactly one hundred people for the Movement Project so they redistributed a new batch of random tickets to their chosen winners.

Why one hundred? Who knows. Maybe because it looks good written in big letters as part of a headline. Not that the press meant anything now.

“You know what it feels like.” The officer said. “And you know I’m right when I say that if you step into that machine it will be no different than staying here and waiting for existence to collapse.”

Death either way.

I knew where he was going with this.

“You want the ticket don’t you?” I asked.

He sighed, his nearby glass of water steamed up.

“I don’t want your ticket.” He said. “I just don’t want you to have it.”

I knew he was lying. They always lie. He wanted me convinced that being part of the Movement Project was as much certain death as staying behind. But everybody was curious.

“We want to destroy the ticket.” He said. “We can make you disappear, fake your death so another ticket will be sent out. You’ll still perish when the universe ends but at least you’ll live a little longer.”

“In hiding.”

“It’s still a better life than fizzling away in that machine!”

He stood up and held out his hand to me.

“Hand me the ticket and we can change everything so you won’t have to deal with what’s happening outside right now. It’s a brief window of opportunity to at least go on for a little while longer.”

“Why destroy the ticket?” I asked. “Why not fake my death but still keep me on the project? Why do I need to relinquish my ticket?”

“Oh come on! Billions of people will be watching you night and day right up until you go through with it. You think they won’t know that it’s you after you’ve had your face over every newspaper on the globe?”

He was lying again but still he wanted me to hand it over.

“I know you want my ticket so you can take my place.” I said.

“No that’s not tr-”

“-it’s okay.” I interrupted his defence. “I’d want to do it too.”

I stood up to meet his gaze at a more comfortable level.

“I know you want to be part of Project Movement even if you’re not sure what will happen. I also know that those suicides you mentioned aren’t true.”

“What do you mean?”

“I worked as a journalist. I know those other winners were given the same deal you are offering me now. None of them were given a choice. I wasn’t given a choice when my name was called. And now I’m here I’m being given the same limited options again that don’t favour me.”

I swiped the gun from the table before the officer could react.

“Stop!” He pleaded. “Don’t…”

“Don’t what? Don’t shoot? If I walk out of here I walk right into a mob that wants me dead. If I take my place in Project Movement I walk into a machine that will only clone me. If I stay behind I get to witness the end of time.”

I held the barrel to my temple.

“And if I pull the trigger I end it now in this room.”

Either way death. Dying. I die. Cha-ching another royalty check. The secret word.

What decisions we’ve been left with. What an existential hell we’ve been handed to us. Our lives are overstimulated by decisions that may or may not be our own. If we let ourselves wander without an agenda we perish. If we let fate or good fortune tell us what to do we perish. If we let authority figures bully us into a set way of thinking we still perish.

We always perish.

If I hold the gun to my head then I perish. But at least I make the choice. And so I clicked the trigger.

Decision time.


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