The building where they're doing the brain scans isn't that far from campus, so it's not hard for Margaret to show up a few minutes early. She brought some homework to work on if they're not ready for her yet, but it turns out she's too excited (and maybe also nervous) to focus on Engineering Systems Design right now. She double checks the room number in the recruitment email and knocks.
"Hmm. Maybe. Smarter doesn't explain all the monsters, though."
"Yeah, I don't know. Could they be some kind of attempt to find a form of life that can survive down here indefinitely? I would really need to read up on the WAU's design to come up with anything other than crackpot theories."
"I wouldn't call ones like the beast in Lambda or on the Curie life."
"What would you call them, then? I guess there's no rule saying we can't call them 'undead'."
"Something like that. I'd call them trouble, and in our way. The one at Lambda wasn't very talkative, anyway. If that's the WAU's vision of the future, count me out."
"Yeah. . . . I'm glad I've got my whole mind in here and not some kind of . . . mashup."
"Agreed. I still don't get how you ended up here like this."
"I wish I had internet access so I could look myself up and find out what my first life was like. I probably lived for decades and died of old age before the comet hit."
"There might be some way to find out at Theta. Actually, speaking of, we're almost there." Catherine pauses. "Hmm, that's strange, the docking system's reporting that it's out of service. I'm going to set us down outside, can you look around and see about getting the doors open?"
"Sure." Once the ship is down, she cycles the airlock and takes a look at their surroundings.
The escape vessel fills with water again and then the hatch opens up to reveal the sub is sitting on some kind of loading dock outside the largest pressure lock Margaret's seen yet. The gigantic metal doors must be 10 meters across, large enough to swallow the escape sub whole. The area is more brightly lit then outside some of the other bases, with large flood lights on posts illuminating the loading area, as well as a track leading off into the near distance where there's some kind of other structure a bit further from the base. However, Margaret doesn't have much time to take it in before there's a voice from what looked like another pile of discarded equipment at the base of one of the light poles. "Hello? Where is everyone?"
Oh no, Margaret thinks as she comes to a stop next to the equipment, another person stuck down here. She's tiny and cute, but it doesn't look like she can walk. "Hello. I'm Margaret; what's your name?"
"Robin, Robin Bass. Theta Field Service Technician. I don't think I know you, are you from Omicron? We weren't sure if Catherine would be able to get over and scan you all."
"It's kind of a long weird story; basically I ended up in Upsilon and I've been making my way down. How about you, do you know how you got here?"
"Yeah, I do. It's pretty incredible, right? Just like Sarang said. I've got to say, this isn't quite what I thought the Ark was going to look like but...it's amazing to be here."
"Wait, are you talking to me from inside the Ark? I didn't realize it had a way for people in there to contact the outside." Though now that she's thinking about it it makes a lot of sense to include it, though somewhat less sense to have one of the speakers be out here.
"I guess this must be it inside, right? I had imagined it looking different, but maybe Catherine included a model of Theta, just in case people got homesick or...something? I'm still figuring out how to move around, though. Pretty incredible, though, right?"
". . . Okay, how sure are you that you're in--I mean, that you're speaking from the Ark right now? Because it's possible your scan got run twice, the WAU or something has been running a bunch of scans, and I think I'm in the real Theta. And, uh, your body doesn't look like the sort of thing most people would design for their avatar--though obviously if you did design it that's cool, it's a matter of taste."
"Got run twice? But that can't be right--I'm me, and Sarang always said there could only be one of us. That's why...well, that's why it was important to kill yourself after the scan, right? I hope Catherine didn't get too much trouble from that, Strohmeier really didn't like it when somebody killed themself after a scan. Are you sure you're not in the Ark?"
Margaret isn't going to pretend she doesn't understand the impulse not to exist down here, especially when you're already existing somewhere else. But--"Wait, why can't there be two of you? The scans are computer data, right, so they should be copiable?"
She's seen, in science fiction, the idea that scans of people would require quantum information that couldn't be copied across regular hardware, but it wasn't very plausible--a Turing machine is a Turing machine--and her brain scan wasn't with a quantum computer.
"Wow, you really aren't from Theta, there was a lot of talk about this. I hadn't realized anyone from Upsilon made scans--did the Lambda salvage team manage to make it to you? Anyway, the data may be copiable, but Sarang's whole realization was that there can only be one of you at a time. To have continuity and have the version of us that's in the Ark now be...well, us, you had to kill yourself before the scan is activated. Otherwise, the version of you outside would still be you, and the one inside the Ark wouldn't be."
"Uh. I think that is probably just false? What would it mean for one scan of you to be you and another one to not be? It's not like either one can tell that the other exists if they're not interacting with each other." That last bit she knows firsthand even apart from it being obvious--Catherine didn't know if she was running in the Ark or not.
"I don't think I can do justice to explaining it, you'll have to ask Mark if you see him. But it's like there's only one version of you that's continuous and real, right? One outside, and then one in the Ark. You don't want to survive your copy inside the Ark, you want your copy inside the Ark to survive you, so it's important that you make sure that you don't, so that the Ark copy when it's initiated is definitely you."
That's nuts. Margaret's not a scientist or a philosopher or a native of this time period but that is in fact an entire trail mix of nuts. Still, if the Ark copy is immortal and living a decent life with other people, and the outside copy is just accumulating experiences of being doomed, experiences that will never make it to the future anyway, maybe it comes to the same thing.
"I think," she says diplomatically, "that it's possible to be real in two places, but if you only want to be real in one, and have a single complete thread of experience, that's a very reasonable preference to have."
"I don't know that's true--I mean, it worked, I'm here now, and if it worked without killing yourself, there should be forty or fifty more people in here with us."