When he returned to the laboratory, Barker had been fitted with the first of his undersuits and was sitting on the edge of the dressing table, smoothing the porous silk over his skin, with talcum powder showing white at his wristlets and around the turtle neck. The undersuit was bright orange, and as Hawks came up to him Barker said, “I look like a circus acrobat.”
Hawks looked at his wrist watch. “We’ll be ready for the scan in about twenty minutes. I want to be with the transmitter test crew in five. Pay attention to what I’m going to tell you.”
“Lunch disagree with you, Doctor?”
“Let’s concentrate on our work. I want to tell you what’s going to be done to you. I’ll be back later to ask you if you want to go through with this, just before we start.”
“That’s very kind.”
“It’s necessary. Now, listen: the matter transmitter analyzes the structure of whatever is presented to its scanners. It converts that analysis into a signal, which describes the exact atomic structure of the scanned object. The signal is transmitted to a receiver. And, at the receiver, the signal is fed into a resolving stage. There the scanned atomic structure is duplicated from a local supply of atoms — half a ton of rock will do, and to spare. In other words, what the matter transmitter will do is to tear you down and then send a message to a receiver telling it how to put you together again.
“The process is painless and, as far as your consciousness is concerned, instantaneous. It takes place at the speed of light, and neither the electrochemical impulses which transmit messages along your nerves and between your brain cells, nor the individual particles constituting your atoms, nor the atoms in their individual movements, travel at quite that rate.
“Before you could possibly be conscious of pain or dissolution, and before your atomic structure could have time to drift out of alignment, it will seem to you as if you’ve stood still and the universe has moved. You’ll suddenly be in the receiver, as though something omnipotent had moved its hand, and the electrical impulse that was a thought racing between your brain cells will complete its journey so smoothly that you will have real difficulty, for a moment, in realizing that you have moved at all. I’m not exaggerating, and I want you to remember it. It’ll be important to you.
“Another thing to remember is that you won’t actually have made the journey. The Barker who appears in the receiver has not one atom in his body that is an atom in your body now. A split second ago, those atoms were part of a mass of inorganic material lying near the receiver. The Barker who appears was created by manipulating those atoms — stripping particles out of some, adding particles to others, like someone robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“It makes no functional difference — this is in theory, remember — that the Barker who appears is only an exact duplicate of the original. It’s Barker’s body, complete with brain cells duplicating the arrangement and electrical capacities of the originals. This new Barker has your memories, complete, and even the memory of the half-completed thought that he finishes as he stands there. But the original Barker is gone, forever, and his atoms have been converted into the energy that drove the transmitter.”
“In other words,” Barker said, “I’m dead.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Well, that’s what you promised me.”
“No,” Hawks said. “No,” he repeated slowly, “that’s not the thing I promised you. Theoretically, the Barker who appears in the receiver could not be distinguished from the original in any way. As I said in the beginning, it will seem to him that nothing has happened. When it happens to you, it’ll seem to you that it’s you who’s standing there. The realization that somewhere else, once, there was a Barker who no longer exists, will be purely academic. You will know it because you’ll remember my telling it to you now. You won’t feel it.
“You’ll have a clear memory of being put into the suit, of being wheeled into the transmitter, of feeling the chamber magnetic field suspending your suit with you inside it, of the lights being turned out, and of drifting down to the chamber floor and realizing you must be in the receiver. No, Barker,” Hawks finished, nodding to the dressing team, which came forward with the cotton underwear and the rubberized pressure suit Barker would wear next to his armor. “When I kill you, it’ll be in other ways. And you’ll be able to feel it.” He walked away.
He came up to where Sam Latourette was checking over the transmitter, and raised his arm, but stopped himself before putting it around the man’s shoulders. “How’s it going, Sam?” he asked.
Latourette looked around. “Well,” he said slowly, “it’s transmitting the test objects perfectly.” He nodded toward the attendant cradling an anesthetized spider monkey in his arms. “And Jocko’s been through the transmitter and out the receiver here five times. The scan checks perfectly with the tape we made on the first shot today, and within the statistical expectation of drift from yesterday’s tape. It’s the same old Jocko every time.”
“We can’t ask for more than that, can we?” Hawks said.
“No, we can’t,” Latourette said implacably. “It’ll do the same for him.” He jerked his head in the direction of the dressing table. “Don’t worry.”
“All right, Sam.” Hawks sighed. “I wouldn’t propose him for membership in a country club, either.” He looked around. “Is Ted Gersten with the receiver crew?”
“He’s up working on one of the signal modulation racks. It’s the only one that didn’t test out. He’s having it torn down. Say’s he’ll have it rewired tonight in plenty of time for tomorrow.”
Hawks frowned thoughtfully. “I’d better go up there and talk to him. And I think he should be here with us when Barker goes in for the scan.” He turned away, then looked back. “I wish you’d cycle Jocko through once more. Just to be sure.”
Latourette’s lips pinched together. He motioned to the monkey’s attendant with a clawed sweep of his arm.
Gersten was a spare man with leathery features and deep, round eyesockets whose rims stood out clearly under his taut facial skin. His broad, thin lips were nearly the color of his face. When he spoke, they peeled back from his teeth to give an impression of great intensity. His voice, in contrast, was soft, deep, and low. He stood gently scratching his iron-gray hair, watching the two technicians who were lifting a component chassis out of its rack, which had been pulled out of the array and set down on the gallery floor.
The test-signal generator’s leads dangled from the service rack overhead. Other pieces of test equipment were set down around the three men. As Hawks came walking up from the ladder at the end of the gallery, Gersten turned and watched him. “Hello, Ed.”
“Ted.” Hawks nodded and looked down at the work being done. “What’s the problem?”
“Voltage divider. It’s picked up some kind of intermittent. Tests out fine for a while, then gets itself balled up, and straightens out again.”
“Uh-huh. Sam tells me you’re O.K. otherwise.”
“O.K. Listen, I’m going to need you on the transmitter with Sam and myself when we scan the new volunteer. Want to come with me now?”
Gersten glanced at the technicians. “Sure. The boys’re doing fine.” He stepped clear of the test instruments and walked down the gallery toward the ladder, beside Hawks.
When they were out of earshot of the technicians, Hawks said, casually, “You may have a lot to do tomorrow, Ted. No sense wasting time on a wiring job tonight, when you could be sleeping. Requisition a new divider from Manufacturing, messenger express delivery, and send the old one back to them. Let it be their headache. Either way, you’d have to run complete tests all over again anyhow.”
Gersten blinked. “I should have looked at it that way myself, I think.” He glanced at Hawks. “Yes. I should have.” He stopped and said, “I’ll be right down after you, Ed.” He turned and walked back toward his technicians.
Hawks lowered himself down the iron ladder, his shoe soles tapping regularly and softly. He walked back across the laboratory floor, where Latourette was watching the instruments above the tape deck of a castered gray cabinet connected to a computer, and occasionally calling for the computer technician to read out his figures. The spider monkey was once again in the attendant’s arms, stirring drowsily against his chest as the anesthetic wore off.
Hawks watched silently as Latourette compared the taped readings with the data being given to him by a technician from the receiver crew, who was operating another service computer.
“All right, Bill,” Latourette said, turning away. “But let’s run both sets together for comparison, now. Let me know if anything’s off.”
The technician nodded.
“Well,” Latourette said to Hawks, “as far as I could tell from the rough check, your friend Barker still has the equipment one hundred per cent behind him.” He looked toward the spider monkey. “And Jocko certainly looks healthy enough.” He turned back. “Where’s Gersten?”
“He’ll be right down.” Hawks looked up at the galleries. “I wish I knew Gersten better. He’s a hard man to understand. He never shows more than he has to. It’s very hard to accommodate yourself to a man like that.”
Latourette looked at him peculiarly.