Kayleigh needed a break from work.
When you need a break from work, sometimes you go to the bathroom. Sometimes you stop by the coffee machine, chat with a colleague while it brews. And sometimes, you straight-up leave the office and walk to a nearby bar. Today, Kayleigh found herself taking that last option. She didn’t normally do this — she felt that, as the boss, she had to hold herself to a higher standard than anyone else, and drinking before the end of the workday was against policy. But today — well, she figured she just really could use a drink.
Kayleigh looked over at the bar. Marble-colored, when she would have preferred a more wooden, Irish pub, kind of vibe — at least for this situation — but again, you only have so many options within a quick walk from work at 3PM on a Tuesday. The bartender had a clean look about him, short-trimmed but still substantial beard, tan — maybe Greek or Lebanese — wearing a black vest with a colorful bow tie that was definitely part of his personal style, Kayleigh thought, rather than any sort of uniform requirement. Kayleigh herself was dressed in a tailored button- down, a vibrant blue tie that she was told brought out her eyes, and a vest — she liked to dress up for work, especially on a day as important as today was to be.
She walked over to the bar and sat down. The bartender looked at her and smiled, as he dried a glass in his hands. He set the glass down, and asked, in a cheery, light tenor voice, “What are we having today?”
Kayleigh thought a second. “Hmm.” What would be a good drink to get at such a venue?
“Could I have an Old Fashioned?”
“Can do!” said the bartender, with a slightly out of place level of enthusiasm. “We make them good here, I promise you.” The bartender paused a second, and then asked, “What sort of whiskey do you want with it?”
Kayleigh hadn’t considered this. She looked at the wall with the whiskeys on it, and then said, “Oh, why the hell not? Why don’t you put in that 18 year Macallen.”
The bartender’s attitude shifted a little. “Look, I don’t really think you want that. First off, I think it would cost over $100, though I’m not exactly sure. Second, I’m not sure it would even go well. Third, I mean, like…”
While he was talking, Kayleigh reached into her wallet and pulled out two very fresh-looking hundred-dollar bills, put them down in front of her, and said, “Make it as carefully as you can. This might be my last drink.”
The bartender broke eye contact and simply grunted acknowledgement. He looked visibly uncomfortable as he made the drink, looking back at Kayleigh several times as Kayleigh blankly stared ahead, still standing. When he got back, he asked, “So, this may be your last drink, you said? You quitting? Is it a health thing?”
She continued to stare. “Sorry,” continued the bartender, “I know that might be a personal question…”
“It’s nothing like that,” she answered. Then she looked the bartender directly in the eyes, her bright blue eyes drilling into his brown ones. “Would you believe me,” she said, in an almost sing-song, playful, tone, as she leaned to one side and smiled, “if I told you, that it was a super-clandestine top secret government spy project?”
The bartender chuckled, and made to walk away, but Kayleigh wasn’t done. “Do you believe in souls?” she asked, and she sipped her drink.
“Souls? Hmm…” responded the bartender.
“Because you see, I’m an atheist,” Kayleigh said.
“Seems reasonable. Most people I know are.”
“But my wife is a Christian,” Kayleigh continued.
“That seems stressful,” the bartender said, neutrally.
“No! We have a very happy marriage!” Kayleigh responded.
The bartender resigned himself to having a longer and certainly more intense conversation than he had anticipated. He turned to fully face Kayleigh again, put his hands on the bar, and smiled. “I’m sure you do,” he said, as inoffensively and earnestly as possible.
Kayleigh continued, “So, as I said, I’m an atheist, but my wife’s a Christian. No big deal most of the time, we have a very happy marriage. She goes to church, has a couple church friends, I tag along every once in a while, or I sleep in on Sundays, or even get work done. Most of the time, it doesn’t come up.”
“But where it does come up, see, is that she believes in souls. She believes that each of us has a soul. And it’s started to make me wonder, you see, if I have a soul.” Kayleigh paused, and became thoughtful looking again.”
“Ah,” said the bartender. “So you’re thinking about converting. And, um, giving up drinking too, then?”
Kayleigh blinked. “No, none of that, she would probably be more confused than anything else.”
“And what’s she do?” asked the bartender. “Does she have a very, er, spiritual line of work, too?”
“That’s the thing!” Kayleigh said, more enthusiastically than expected. “She’s a freaking neuroscientist. If anyone should have very clear reasons not to believe in souls, it’s one of those. Her colleagues really don’t understand it, some of them have even told me so.” The bartender nodded.
“But that’s not what’s important here,” Kayleigh continued. “Do you know about Star Trek?”
“I saw an episode or two,” responded the bartender.
Kayleigh said, “So the teleporter, where it takes you apart and puts you back together somewhere else, you remember that? Now, isn’t that like killing someone and then building a new person? Or do they have a soul, outside of them, that isn’t attached to a particular location?”
“I don’t think I remember it quite like that.”
Kayleigh resumed, “When I was a little girl, my father built a treehouse for my brother and I. And one day he — I mean my brother — started jumping straight from the treehouse to the ground. He’d always land fine, and I was nervous to do it — which was quite an embarrassment for me, because, you see, I was the older sister.
“And I’d get right up to the end of the platform, and I’d not be able to jump.”
The bartender nodded, confused about the conversation but on more familiar footing now. “I went bungee jumping once. You just have to do it. Once you do it, it’s suddenly fine.”
“That’s right,” Kayleigh said, nodding. “So finally I did. And I instantly regretted it, but I was already on the way down. And afterwards, I was fine. I was completely fine.
“And when we went to sleep, you know, they had this prayer they used to teach us. It was a little poem.
“Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep
But if I die before I wake
I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.
“I went through a phase where I’d be terrified to fall asleep. I’d just be terrified. What if I died in my sleep? But I always fell asleep, and when I woke up the next morning, I’d be fine. Like my cat. Although, I think, I think I killed my cat…”
Kayleigh was crying at this point. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. She had barely touched her drink this entire time. The bartender was completely flummoxed, and looked around, trying to see if anyone else needed anything. Everyone seemed to have drinks, and one of the couples was now assiduously making out. He could deal with that later. He turned back to his confusingly distraught customer.
Kayleigh sighed, and reached into her bag and placed two small, black boxes on the table. She opens one of them. “You want to see what my company built? What I dedicated my life to research and program and build? The secret government project I led?”
She didn’t wait for an answer, opened one of the boxes up, and lowered her drink into it. “You take something apart at the source, just convert all its atoms into a digital signal.” She closed the lid and pressed the button. “Then, on the other end, new atoms and molecules are built exactly the same way, but they’re new, different atoms and molecules, built out of the air around the receiver, just arranged according to the digital signal.”
At this point, she opened up the other box, and lifted her drink out of it. “Cool magic trick,” said the bartender. “My nephew can do that one too, I think. Maybe not with a drink though.”
“This isn’t a magic trick,” said Kayleigh. She looked around quickly. “It’s an actual teleporter, I already put my cat through one. And, my cat was destroyed. Turned into a digital signal. It died. But then, on the other end, he was completely like normal. It’s my turn next. I guess I’ll die. The current me will be destroyed. But the version of me on the other side won’t think like that, I guess. It won’t care. It will be a person, I think, but will I die, or will I feel like I’m jumping? Will that new person actually be me?”
“My wife says it’s OK. My wife says my soul isn’t in the actual atoms, but something about the structure of the atoms. Then she started talking about philosophy and Platonism and, you know what, I didn’t understand any of it. I’m a practical woman, you understand. But I led this project, and I have to do it. Souls or no souls, death or no death.”
At this, she downed her entire drink, and slammed it on the table. She exhaled loudly, made a slightly awkward fist gesture, picked up her machine, and walked into the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes later, she hadn’t come out of the bathroom. The bartender walked over, knocked on the door. No response. He tried the knob — it was still locked. He was trying to get Kayleigh to respond when he saw her walk into the bar.
“It was just like you said,” she said to the bartender. “Once I jumped it was fine.”