Notes on the Burning Place

Will McMahon

1. A slate of aging celebrities announce a deal with Ray-Ban to turn their souls into a hyper-exclusive line of designer sunglasses. The glasses are expected to slowly become available over the next 10-25 years; pre-order bids hit eight figures.

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2. After realizing the social implications of his discovery, Dr. Farid Hassan resigns his university position and moves to a remote house on the Greek island of Chios. When tracked down by a reporter, he jokes, ‘I’d have killed myself in disgrace, but, well, you know…’

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3. Dr. Mikaela Hu, Chair of Sociology at the University of Michigan, describes the scientific discovery of Hell and a persistent human soul as, ‘along with the French Revolution and the discovery of penicillin, one of the most globally transformative events in human history.’

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4. Whether the ‘soul’ is generated by the brain or pre-exists it is a source of debate – research is inconclusive. What is clear is that an entity made up of a previously unknown form of energy detaches from the human organism and disappears between 45 seconds and 3 minutes following brain death. Before the contributions of Dr. Hassan, it was unknown whether these entities persisted at all and, if so, in what form.

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5. The average human soul can be captured and extruded into roughly 18 grams of carbon-based material. This material is noted for its durability and high energy density.

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6. When Dr. Hassan finally manages to entangle the soul of a terminally ill volunteer and track its transition, he and his team discover the first, and so far only, known destination for post-mortem human souls. It is a dimension thought to contain the remnants of between 64 and 73% of all humans who have ever lived – and they are burning.

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7. They are burning, some in the materials industry begin to note, really exceptionally slowly.

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8. Jewelry is a popular choice. Statuettes, either of the deceased or of animals or religious figures, also remain a mainstay of the soul-printing industry. Other fads rise and fall in popularity. One start-up promises to make ‘the sharpest and most durable lightweight chef’s knife in the industry,’ but two years later enters bankruptcy following a scandal on the undisclosed co-mingling of client souls. Soul-printing technology becomes a more accessible part of the funeral industry as billions clamor for a way to escape the burning place. The expense does, however, remain out of reach for many. For the fearful poor with little other choice, there is the option to sell their soul for industrial materials – keeping it safely in this dimension and generating a small sum for their family. A variety of ancillary financial markets crop up, including ‘death-day lenders.’

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9. Boeing pioneers the use of soul-printed material for composite reinforcement in aircraft manufacture. The adoption of the practice across the industry is credited with reducing incidences of in-flight structural failures by over 60%. At 18 grams of carbon nanotubing per individual, roughly 400,000 human souls are integrated into the global aviation industry per year. Nearly three times that number are utilized by the maritime shipping industry.

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10. Penalties for drunk driving and other automotive negligence sharply increase world-wide. Of the leading causes of death tracked by the World Health Organization, vehicular fatalities are the top non-disease-related entry, and by far the most sudden. Accident victims constitute the largest single group of individuals whose soul-printing orders go unfulfilled, even as first responders begin to be equipped with the requisite machinery in high-income countries. In several European nations, this provides the final impetus to ban human-driven automobiles for normal civilian use. In the United States, it leads to a new category for damages in personal lawsuits.

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11. The Catholic Church, along with most sects of Christianity and Islam, condemns soul-printing as a mortal sin. Holding to the immortality of the soul, they reject theories that the missing 27 to 36% of human remnants have merely been consumed by the flames and use their absence to justify belief in another destination – namely Heaven or Paradise. They exhort their followers to die naturally and accept divine judgement. Majority Christian and Muslim nations have no lower incidence of soul-printing than comparable countries.

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12. In the initial paper announcing his team’s discovery, Dr. Hassan argues that there is no evidence suggesting the so-called ‘souls’ engage in conscious thought, let alone sensory experience, as the simple energy constructs lack any detectable nervous system. Therefore, it would be baseless superstition to conjecture that these remnants were in any way aware or suffering. This portion of the paper is largely ignored by the sensationalist articles written in the days following its publication, and Hassan resigns two weeks later, after finishing letters of recommendation for his staff.

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13. Countries which engage, officially or unofficially, in the execution of prisoners quietly expand their use of the practice.

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14. A new age cult founded on Neo-Platonic ideals gains momentum in the English- and Spanish-speaking worlds. There is a revival of traditional religion in Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, particularly Shintoism in Japan, and a variety of re-interpretations of the meaning of the soul in Buddhist and Hindu thought. Adherents of Daoism are the most likely to answer that soul-printing is morally acceptable, and the least likely to engage in the practice themselves.

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15. An international treaty bans the use of human souls in either fuel or incendiary weaponry. 182 countries are party to the convention. The United States signs the treaty, but the Senate fails to ratify.

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16. The theft of soul-printed objects becomes common in the Western world, with thieves using social media posts of grieving loved ones to identify and locate targets. Motives range from personal malice to the emergence of a thriving, fetishistic black market. The crime becomes a felony in every jurisdiction and carries mandatory minimum prison sentences in 41 U.S. states. It becomes taboo to discuss the exact appearance of one’s soul-printed objects outside of family and close friends. The thefts persist.

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17. Following a general strike, the French government passes a law providing state-funded soul-printing for all French citizens. An attempt at a similar strike is violently put down in Colombia one month later. In the following year, several high- and middle-income countries create programs of their own. This results in a modest increase in price for souls sourced from lower-income countries for industrial use, but by then much of the benefit has been replicated in more mundane materials through ongoing research and development.

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18. Psychologists disagree on the link between the reorganization of the global economy around soul-printing technologies and the generation-upon-generation increase in anxiety and social alienation among young people. The trend itself is rarely disputed.

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19. Teams of scientists funded by governments, universities, and the world’s religions continue to search for additional dimensions and the missing dead. Seven of Dr. Hassan’s former assistants ultimately lead programs of their own. Their research is so far inconclusive.

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20. A reporter visits Dr. Farid Hassan for a 50-year retrospective on his discovery. Hassan is 92 years old and lives on a hill overlooking the Aegean. The interior of his home is painted with vivid depictions of the many religious hells. As she conducts the interview, the reporter pretends not to notice the myriad hand-written notes, alternately sociological and autobiographical, dotting the walls of the cottage. At the end of the interview, the reporter asks if he has made plans for the capture of his own soul. ‘No,’ Hassan says, smiling softly. ‘I think I am going to take my chances.’ ∎


Will McMahon is a union organizer and writer living in Brooklyn, NY. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and others. Will’s literary interests include social science fiction, historical fantasy, surrealism, and labour fiction of all kinds. His greatest work is in the genre of incendiary union flyers. Find Will at will-mcmahon.com

Dan McNeil’s short fiction has appeared in several print and digital publications, including Alien Contact, Alienist Manifesto, Antipodean SF, Bewildering Stories, Fugitives & Futurists, Full House Literary Magazine, Misery Tourism, Plutonics Journal, Sein und Werden, Word Riot, and Zygote in My Coffee. His art has appeared in Fugitives & Futurists and Kenji Siratori’s Hyper-Annotation #001.

Find Dan at: The McNeil Variations, Twitter, Instagram, and Mastodon.


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