Picture of the Soul

Reggie burst through the doors of the lab pushing a cart piled high with boxes sprouting wires and circuit boards like some sort of electrical porcupine.

“What the hell is that mess?”

Mark rose from the table where he was soldering a circuit board and walked across the robotics lab to where his friend was unloading the cart.

“This mess, as you so kindly referred to it, is the culmination of three years of research and over one hundred hours of electrical engineering. This, dear colleague, is a low energy quantum plasma interferometer.”

“Can you translate for the poor roboticist in the room?”

Reggie placed a tripod between himself and Mark and clamped an ungainly device which had started life as a video camera before being turned into something more akin to a mad scientist’s idea of a camera.

“Fine; it’s a camera which can take a picture of the energy field interpenetrating the human body, the soul if you will.”

“The soul? Reg, we’re scientists; you don’t expect me to believe you can photograph someone’s eternal soul.”

Reggie rolled his eyes. This was why he hated to dumb things down for people; the alternate explanation never properly satisfactorily communicated his intent.

“Of course it’s not the soul. That’s just the best analogy. Do you remember Kirlian photography? “

“Wasn’t that the aura stuff they did back in the 70s?”

“Right. A Russian researcher named Semyon Kirlian found that if an electrical current was run through a photographic plate and an object placed on it an electrostatic corona could be photographed. Back in the day they thought it was an aura or some other sort of psychic phenomena but it was really just the electrical arc around the object. It was totally worthless in terms of scientific value but it set me on the right path.”

Reggie hooked cables to the camera and between the jumble of equipment boxes while he spoke.

“Kirlian thought he was seeing auras but what he was doing was interacting with the existing electrical field of the body—well, that and oils, dirt and whatnot. He just didn’t have the right equipment. There is an energy field that surrounds and penetrates the body.”

“The Force right?” Mark grinned at his own wit.

“Moron. No, not the Force; can I finish? There is an energy field generated by the human body but also it seems to extend well beyond and exist independently. It exists on a quantum level. My interferometer can detect this field, measure it and even image it. I call it a quantum plasma because it seems to act like a plasma but exhibits effects that are better described by quantum mechanics. Think about it, if we can prove this is real and not just an artifact of my equipment we can find ways to manipulate it. Ever heard of quantum entanglement? Well that could finally explain things like déjà vu and clairvoyance.”

Mark appeared suitably impressed and nodded sagely.

“So have you actually tested this thing?”

“Only on the quantum plasma that exists around us. I did do a few imaging sessions of fruit flies from the bio lab and while it was interesting it wasn’t much to see; they’re flies after all. I expect that a human subject will provide one hell of a show.”

Mark eyed the souped up camera and then looked back at his friend with suspicion.

“So what; are you planning to take a picture of my soul?”

Reggie stopped connecting cables and looked up at his friend with a moue of near disgust.

“I didn’t do all this work to take a picture of you first. No, dummy, I need a witness and someone to operate the machinery. I intend to be the first human whose quantum plasma is successfully imaged. I think my plasma field will make the perfect cover image for Time magazine once I publish and become famous.”

“That’s you Reggie; always humble.”

“Planning for the future my friend. Now will you do this for me?”

“Sure, show me what to do.”

Reggie fired up the laptop which controlled the entire system and soon the equipment was humming and lights blinked on the various faceplates. He typed a complex series of commands and then straightened up.

The screen showed dozens of lines of computer code and ended with a simple word: go. The cursor blinked next to the letter o.

“I’ll stand over there,” Reggie said, pointing at a clear space against the wall. “All you need to do is line the camera up with me; there’s a viewfinder to help in alignment. Then just hit enter to start the program. The image will be shown on the screen and  saved to the disk.”

“Sounds simple enough,” Mark said as Reggie crossed the room.

“It’s funny,” Reggie said. “There are primitive tribes who believe that cameras can steal the soul and here I am about to capture the image of that very soul with a camera. Science once more surpasses superstition.”

Reggie stood against the wall and after a moment placed his fists on his hips and cocked his head upward in what he considered a heroic pose.

“I’m ready for my close-up Mister DeMille.”

Mark shook his head at his friend’s tacky hubris and hovered his finger over the enter key.

“Say cheese,” he said and pushed the button.

The computer screen filled with racing lines of code. In seconds the code dump was replaced with an image of Reggie in his hero pose. Swirling cloud-like shapes moved around and seemingly through his body. The shape was suffused with colored light with sparkling globes of energy zipping through the cloud like electrons around a nucleus. It was the most beautiful thing Mark had ever seen.  Reggie groaned as if someone had punched him in the stomach and on the screen his image bent forward, losing its hero pose.

“Something wrong Reg?”

Mark looked up from the screen to see what was wrong with his friend. Reggie snapped back to rigid attention. Mark saw small points of light coalescing around him, whizzing erratically around and through his body just like the lights in the plasma image had done. The lights continued their orbits for a moment and then began to stream toward the camera. One by one, faster and faster, until they became a steady stream of light, they poured from Reggie’s body into the camera. Reggie made sounds like he was choking. His body bucked as if each ephemeral light were somehow pulling a piece of him with it as it fled to the camera.

In moments the spectacle ended. Reggie slumped against the wall, panting. Mark glanced back at the image on the screen. The swirling cloud-like plasma no longer contained swirling lights. The structure of the plasma began to fray and drift away from Reggie like smoke. In seconds the plasma image was gone and Reggie stood against the wall with no sign of the plasma effect.

The image winked out and the command line returned showing the word: end.

“Reg, are you okay?” Mark took several steps toward his friend but stopped when Reggie’s face turned toward him.

Reggie’s face was slack. The skin appeared to hang from his skull, the underlying muscles no longer shaping the features as normal. Reggie’s eyes opened. The entire eye was a dead white; no iris or pupil was visible. Drool fell from Reggie’s lips and spattered the floor.

A sound came from the equipment beside him; a keening wail. Mark felt a shiver run through his body. He could hear a faint word, “no”. The word stretched out, attenuated as if moving into the distance, like a lost soul falling forever into darkness.

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