Doctor Hao sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Do you believe in the soul, Evan?”
“The soul…that part of you that makes you unique. A part of us that lives on after death?”
“I haven't thought about it.”
“Sure, you have. When you were laying in that hospital bed all those years ago, you didn't think about what comes next?”
“I guess so. I remember not wanting to die and wondering if my life to that point was all that there was.”
Chen grinned. “Well, my grandfather was a Daoist from Fuzhou and he taught me that every person has a soul with two parts—the hun and the po. The hun is your spiritual soul—the part that leaves your body after death. The po is your corporeal soul—the part that remains with your corpse after you die. He believed Tian, the divine spirit, could punish bad people by taking away their po—depriving them of their memories and mental ability. This is how people went crazy, they lost their po. If you lost your hun you would die. Together they form the hunpo, or the complete soul, and we require both for life.
“He also believed you could restore the dead to life by returning their hunpo to their body. Ancient Daoist priests had a magical pill that would cure disease and illness and cause the hunpo to re-enter a dead person's body and restore them to life. This was possible because the hun and po are an intrinsic part of who we are and if our body is alive, then they must reside within it. Likewise, without our hunpo we cannot live.”
“That's all very interesting, Chen but what does that have to do with me?”
“Don't you see, Evan? My grandfather and his Daoist traditions were right! As a scientist, I have struggled with this for a long time but I know in my heart there is more to us than just our physical form. Our memories, our personalities, those are the essence of who we are. If I were to chop off your arms and legs you would still be you, right?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And what if I gave you new arms and legs grown from someone else's DNA, would you still be you then?”
“Yes…I think so.”
“What if removed your heart, your lungs, your liver and all your other organs and replaced them with those from another person—would you still be you then?”
“Of course, I would still have my brain and that's what makes me unique,” Evan answered.
“But your brain is just another organ, a mass of tissue that stores information. Is it the mass of tissue or the information it contains that makes you unique?”
“It's both I would say. Every brain is unique because of the neural pathways that form over our lifetimes.”
“Yes and those pathways form to store information. If I create an exact copy of your brain, even if from someone else’s DNA, haven't I recreated the unique storehouse of information that makes you who you are?”
“I see where you are going but I am just not sure, Chen. I just can't get past the fact that this brain inside my head is just a copy of the one I carried around for the first fifty-nine years of my life. It's not mine, it’s just a facsimile.”
“You're wrong, Evan. We gave you that magic pill, and the minute we restored your consciousness, your hunpo found its way back into your body. You are the person who your mother gave birth to and everything you became thereafter. You are you! You just happened to have had a full body transplant along the way but, just like the amputee who gets a new arm, you are still the same person.”
“Did you really give me a pill?”
“No, I am just extending the metaphor.”
“Oh, just curious. So, what you're saying is that memory, personality and spirit are all the same thing, and together they add up to the soul?”
“Not quite. We are born with a soul, and our personalities and a lifetime of memories are forever bound to it…and our soul forever bound to them. What I am saying is that we are beings of energy that take physical form for a time. Our physical form can change but the energy imparted to us at the moment of our creation defines who we are forever.”
Chen leaned forward again to whisper in Evan's ear. “What I am saying is that you didn't really die, Evan. Your energy left your old body but our technology—the technology you helped to create—allowed us to capture and store that energy until we could return it to a new body. I'm saying that our technology gave you a second chance, and you must never doubt yourself again. There is a reason you're here, Evan, embrace it.”
“Having a lively conversation, I see?” Administrator Nayak said as he walked into the room carrying a dome-shaped plastic container.
Chen and Evan sat back in their chairs and stared at the administrator, wondering how much he had heard.
“Don't worry, we aren’t listening. That may be commonplace on Earth these days but we still respect the right to privacy here.”
The administrator sat the container in the middle of the table. “Here is your meal. Hamburgers with French fries and…”—he removed the lid from the container—“chocolate shakes.”
The contents of the tray looked nothing like hamburgers and French fries as Evan remembered them. On one side were two multi-layered cubes about four inches square. Next to the cubes were two piles of orange strips that resembled sweet potato fries. Next to those were two boxes that looked like the beverage containers on the spaceship.
“Thank you,” Evan said as he reached for a cube.
His cube had white, brown and green layers that, when viewed from the side, kind of resembled the bread, meat and lettuce of a hamburger. He turned it over in his hands several times and sniffed it before taking a timid bite.
“Is anything wrong, can I get you something else?”
The bite dissolved in Evan’s mouth and he was pleasantly surprised at the taste of bread, beef, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup and mustard—it tasted like a hamburger! And not a bad one at that.
“No, this is great. Thank you.”
The administrator turned toward Chen, “Can I get you anything else?”
“No, thank you.”
“Then I will let you two get back to your conversation. I haven't heard from the council yet so we are still waiting. Do you expect Yin to be here soon?”
“It depends on if our contact is here.”
“Well, if you will give me his name, I can find him for you. Keeping track of people at this facility is part of my job.”
“Ummm,” Chen hesitated, “his name is Adee…Adekunle Gbadamosi.”
“Ahh yes, I am quite familiar with Admiral Gbadamosi. I wasn't aware that Endeavor was on its way back. Last I knew it was cruising the Inner Belt and wasn't due back here for at least another two weeks. I will check into it for you and see if I can't have the Admiral come pay us a visit, if he's here. We'll find Yin and bring her here as well.”
“I would appreciate that,” Chen said as he took a bite of his burger.
Evan shoveled a handful of fries into his mouth as the administrator left the room again. Like the burger, they tasted surprisingly good, although they had a slight flavor that Evan didn't normally associate with French fries—the first thing that came to mind was parsnips.
Opening the boxed beverage revealed a cold but not frozen liquid that tasted as good as any chocolate shake Evan could remember. Within minutes Evan had gulped his food down and was staring at Chen's fries.
“Help yourself,” Chen said. “You are clearly much hungrier than I am.”
Evan grinned as he helped himself to a handful of Chen's fries.
“Hey, what do you expect? It's hard work moving into a new body.”
Evan slurped his shake. “Plus, I think my hunpo has a monster sweet tooth.”
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