Here is a story I wrote a few years ago. I had to bike home for a small emergency in the middle of the afternoon one day, and while it was a wonderful autumn afternoon, perfect for biking, and driving a car wouldn’t have saved me any time due to parking issues, I was still wishing for a faster means of transportation. I started thinking about it and realized that just about anything has its own set of problems and drawbacks. I decided to write a story about a form of transportation that most of us dream about – teleportation – and while I was debating whether it would be fantasy – magic – or science fiction, I realized that it didn’t matter. I was still using something currently impossible and inexplicable. Then I thought about a quote from Arthur C. Clarke : “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I took it from there.
“Emma! Don’t you dare let go of my hand again! You’ll end up in Tibet or something!”
“My bags! Where are they?!”
“Move it along, folks, nothing to see here…. Hey Harry, hurry up with that mop and bucket! And yes, I said to bring the hazardous wastes kit!”
And above it all was the electronic sound of the announcement system broadcasting on an endless loop: “Please keep all extremities within the transportation circle at all times. Please make sure you are touching all baggage and small children traveling with you when transportation begins. Please make sure that you key the correct destination code for the operators. We are not responsible for lost bags, children, or mis-keyed destination codes. We are not responsible for the results of left-behind items or extremities…”
Jessie sighed, brushed her hair out of her eyes and shifted from one foot to the other as she waited in line for the next available transport circle. She was only going across town to her apartment, and the hop itself would take seconds, but she was starting to think she could walk there by the time she could get to the front of the line. At least she wasn’t loaded down with baggage like the long-distance travelers.
She watched as a man and a woman squeezed themselves, ten bags and three small children onto the platform holding the transport circle. Despite their best efforts, some of the bags were still hanging over the edge.
“Sorry folks, either do this in two loads or yer gonna end up slicing them nice suitcases in half and then where will ya be? Or one a them kids! Better to pay the extra than that happenin’!” the platform operator said jovially.
The parents muttered and grumbled and then arranged themselves into two separate groups. Jessie sighed again. Just another delay…these transport circles were never on time. The city really needed to build more of them.
The line shuffled forward. Jessie reminded herself of the old stories about busses, subways, trains and airplanes. This really was better than that. It had to be.
“Coming through…Emergency team, coming through!” Several Emergency Medical Technicians came barreling through with their gear. Jessica winced and hoped it was just a finger that had been caught outside the circle during transport, not something larger. She wished that this transport center had the plastic shields that descended around the rings during transport like the newer, nicer centers did. There were far fewer accidents that way.
Two more people came by, following a transport official. They looked very distressed and were chattering away at the man in a language that Jessie had never heard before. They must have keyed in the wrong code…or the system was screwed up again. The powers-that-be claimed that all the mis-keys were the error of the person keying the codes in, but Jessie wasn’t so sure about that.
Jessie was near the front of the line now. She watched as a woman with a small child stepped onto the nearest circle. The woman was holding the little girl’s hand gently in hers, and with her other hand she gripped a bag. She nodded, then shimmered slightly and disappeared. The little girl was left holding onto air and had time for one loud shriek before she too shimmered and disappeared.
The platform operator shouted to someone, “Hey, check an’ see if the kid ended up with mom, would ya? If she didn’t, then start a Lost Kid Search! When will these parents learn ya gotta hold onta them kids tight or they’ll slip away at the last second! Next!” He shoved the key pad at the next person in line.
Jessie thought that if she ever had a child with her for transport, she’d tie the kid to her before she even got near the platform. Lost children were way too common. So were lost bags, but the bags didn’t get scared and cry. In fact, she could hear a kid crying right now – probably got transported somewhere different from the parents. Jessie still didn’t understand how that happened; something to do with the transport centering on one person, they said, and anyone else not touching them in the same transport sometimes got a corrupted version of the code. Something like that, anyway. Jessie thought they could fix it if they really tried.
An official led a howling little girl, the same one who had been on the platform earlier, up to the operator. “Here’s the kid. Ended up right over there. See if you can call up the mom’s code and I’ll deliver her.”
The platform operator grumbled, but a few minutes later the official, with the tear-streaked child in his arms for safe-keeping, shimmered away.
Finally it was Jessie’s turn. She was really, really tired and so ready to get home. She swiped her commuter card, dragged herself to the keypad and typed in her code. Then she stepped on the platform and nodded to the operator. As she felt the transport begin, she got a mental flash of the keypad in front of her and her fingers keying in the digits…She had a sinking feeling she was about to go home the long way – via Outer Mongolia.
-Jane Wolfinbarger © 2008