29 June 2012

#fridayflash: the first


She was just about what he'd expect in a lady scientist. Mousy hair, weak blue eyes, too pale and angular to be pretty. She spoke passable German, though, which was nice. It meant they didn't have to use one of those translation apps on her tablet. He hated those. They always butchered the nouns.

"Mr. Schwartz," she said, smiling and extending her hand. She asked him to sit down, so he did, giving the room a quick once-over at the same time. It just looked like a regular office space. So they didn't intend to use him as a lab rat quite yet.

"May I call you Ernst?" she said, glancing down at her tablet.

"Do I get to call you Gertrude instead of Dr. Abramovic, then?" he said.

Her smile widened. "It's Gerry for short."

"I'd prefer Mr. Schwartz, Dr. Abramovic."

She didn't react the way he expected. The smile dimmed, but a trace of it remained as she tapped a few things into her tablet.

"Mr. Schwartz, I represent the company that runs the teleportation network you, ah, used professionally until recently."

"You mean the shipping business that I got sacked from."

"If you like."

"I'm not going to try to commit suicide with it again if that's what you're worried about."

Dr. Abramovic shook her head. "No no, I'm not a psychiatrist. I specialise in anaesthesiology, actually."

"The only thing I was anaesthetised with was about two litres of vodka. A little out of your area of expertise, I'll wager."

Dr. Abramovic set her tablet down on the table and very deliberately pushed it to one side. She leaned forward on her elbows and looked him straight in the face. "Mr. Schwartz, my employer hired me to find out exactly what happened when you teleported with that shipping crate. You are the first living creature ever to be teleported, and we need to know exactly what happened to you, how it affected you, and what your perceived experience of it was."

He snorted. "My 'experience' was that one moment I was drunk and trying to off myself by running onto a pad just before Frank threw the switch, and then the next moment I'm just as drunk, but now I have this customs officer screaming at me in Afrikaans."

She leaned back in her chair. "Let's start with the basics. Have you always lived in Hamburg?"

"Born and raised."

"And you started as a dock worker in April 2043, correct?"

"Sounds right."

"Why did you choose the profession?"

He shrugged. "My uncle got me in. It's a living, or at least it was."

"Mr. Schwartz, we are paying you twice your old salary to participate in our research."

"So like I said, my uncle got me in."

"When teleportation replaced ships, you worked on loading and unloading containers from the teleportation pads."

"Sure."

"2043 to 2053... that's a ten-year career, and you've never been late or disorderly on the job before, until two weeks ago."

He stared at the table and clenched the fist he held on his lap, so she couldn't see. "My wife left me."

"I'm sorry to hear. But Mr. Schwartz, why come in to work at all? Why not just call in sick?"

He gave a short laugh. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Dr. Abramovic nodded. "All right. That's not entirely relevant to the teleportation part, but I was curious. Thank you for explaining."

He couldn't think of a single polite thing to say to that.

Dr. Abramovic slid the tablet in front of her. "The security camera's files show that you were completely on the pad before the switch was thrown. That may have saved you from losing a limb or two."

"Pity."

"I compared the logs of the departure and arrival pads. You were in transit for about two hundredths of a second. I know that's a very short interval, but do you remember anything that may be from when you were in transit?"

Schwartz shook his head. "I had just run onto the pad. I was facing the shipping container. Maybe if I'd been looking out to the loading area, or watching Frank... maybe I would have noticed something then."

"And your own account plus the one in Johannesburg indicate that you were indeed still intoxicated when you arrived... Did you feel more drunk, or maybe less drunk, than before you teleported?"

"I damn near threw up when I realised what had happend, but I was probably about as gone as I was beforehand. Nah, no difference."

"The exam Dr. Gutman gave you shows you're in about the same shape as you were last September, when you had your annual physical..." Dr. Abramovic frowned into her tablet and tapped a few keys. "Mr. Schwartz, I'd like to have you take some tests over the next few days, maybe include some brain imaging. Are you comfortable with that?"

"Sure. You are paying me to be a lab rat, after all." Schwartz pulled out his own tablet. It wasn't as big or as new as Abramovic's, but he kept it in a hand-embossed leather case.

They recorded a series of appointments, and Schwartz left.

After he stumbled onto the tram that would take him home, he found a window seat and pressed his forehead against the cool glass.

The teleport had just felt like he had blinked quickly, and in the interval all his surroundings had changed. Quick and simple as that, it was true. But... he remembered the shock of the change in temperature and humidity, the assault of all the new smells, the abrupt shift in room tone.

He'd thought he'd succeeded at first, that he'd died. A half-remembered myth came back to him, about how the dead simply passed to a different world just like the one they'd come from, how the newly-born of our world were the dead souls of another world beyond. There really had been a very brief moment of joy before that idiot bureaucrat had started screaming at him.

But there had been something. Before the joy, after Frank had thrown the switch. That sensation of blinking. And within the blink... Schwartz squeezed his eyes shut.

He knew it now. That fraction of a moment, born of his anger and shame and self-pity, that selfishness and loneliness he had felt. It would affect the lives of practically every person on the planet. In two hundredths of a second, he had changed the course of history.

15 comments:

  1. Loved that an anaesthesiologist could be mistaken for a psychologist. Because they're so interchangeable!

    Thought it was curious to describe "he flung himself onto the tram" - actually thought it was a suicide attempt until I reread it.

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    1. Yeah, I didn't like the "flung" line either, but "stepped" or "entered" seemed like too-wimpy verbs for a guy like Schwartz -- I just edited it now for another variant that is hopefully less ambiguous.

      Abramovic became an anaesthesiologist because I'd just read about one that was studying "awareness episodes". I think when it came to studying the physical effects on teleportation, someone with that kind of specialty might have an edge.

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  2. Brilliant sci-fi.

    I think maybe it was the vodka that helped him to arrive there in one piece... I mean, drunks usually fall without hurting themselves, so maybe the same laws of physics apply to teleportation.

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    1. Might have! It would certainly be something they'd need to iron out before offering travel options... otherwise, can you imagine the complementary drink budget?

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  3. This was great! I'm with Steve, I think the vodka helped. It dulled his senses and brain functions, so there wasn't as much to transport as otherwise. They'll need Dr. Abramovic for subsequent tests.

    It surprises me that he was the first living creature. Mice and insects hitch rides in shipping crates all the time.

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    1. I think Abramovic is being diplomatic -- first living creature that might get the company in trouble legally if anything bad had happened, more like!

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  4. Wow life would never be the same again! and beam me up Scotti! will be everyone's catch phrase ^_^ Good story!

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    1. Thank you! And I think you're right that even in 2053, Star Trek will be a strong part of pop culture.

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  5. Great story. I enjoyed the dialogue and thought you sketched the characters well.

    Have you ever read Tiger! Tiger! by Alfred Bester? That's a great sci-fi in a world with teleporter pads.

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    1. Thank you for mentioning Tiger! Tiger! The Toronto Public Library has a copy for reference only, but I'll have to scout around.

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  6. I really liked the flow of this story. I had no idea where it was going and I loved the ending! The back and forth between the two characters was realistic and engaging. Great story!

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    1. Thank you! This is pulled from one paragraph of an earlier teleportation story I wrote (The Timeline). I just always thought the guy deserved his own story.

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  7. It seems to me that he changed the future more than he changed history, but that's a minor quibble. I really enjoyed this.

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    1. Thanks for quibbling -- I added three words to make it less ambiguous (I hope). Glad you enjoyed it anyhow!

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  8. Feels like a slight blend of teleportation and time travel...although if I had a superpower, teleportation would be it!

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