Lost in Transit
'Don't Beam Me Up, Scotty!'
MichaelAnderton, the European Commissioner for Transport (Teleports), stared in disbelief at his desktop texter: 'Another malfunction New York Teleport non-arrival of JohnPemberton. I will be with you in fifteen minutes. It was signed by his Director of Operations in London, MikeRoberts.
This had been the third such malfunction at New York in as many weeks but this time it was no ordinary Joe lost in the ether; John Pemberton was the Western Sector Secretary of the European Union virtually the President of what used to be called the British Isles, France, the Iberian Peninsula, Belgium, and the Netherlands. At forty-eight years of age he was one of the most powerful men in Europe, strongly tipped to become President of the Union itself. Now he had gone missing God knows where!
He looked at his watch; fifteen minutes Mike had said. The journey by teleport from London Heathrow to the Berlin Headquarters of the Union would take a mere three or four minutes; as befitting the importance of the teleport service, a special terminal had been installed at the headquarters building for the use of officials and staff. It would take longer to clear security and take the express lift to his office on the fourteenth floor.
Waiting for his colleague, Anderton gave thought to the invention of teleporting that had quite literally shrunk the world. Early in the twenty-first century there was much concern voiced over the impact on the planet of CO2 emissions, the over dependence on oil, and the ever increasing enlargement of airports with its effect on the environment. Politicians and scientists of many nations were engaged in seeking solutions to these problems. None would have suspected that an unknown Professor of Physics at a Swedish university would solve these several problems at one fell swoop!
Professor Ernst Bokemper was a German-born scientist who had settled in Sweden following his appointment to the Department of Physics at the University of Stockholm in 2011. He became Emeritus Professor of Physics in 2020 and devoted his retirement to the process of dismantling, transmitting and reassembling matter by the means of (as he described it) 'teleportation'. In 2032, his invention was introduced to an astonished and ultimately grateful world. Sadly, ProfessorBokemper died two years later before the true value of his discovery was fully realised and implemented. However, as is always the case, others took up the cause and developed his ideas, taking the invention further and faster than its creator could ever have conceived. The aeroplane took two world wars and half a century to establish itself as the primary means of global travel; ProfessorBokemper's discovery achieved the same result in less than two decades.
A knock on his office door and the arrival of his Operations Director from London interrupted his reverie.
"Hello Mike," come in coffee?"
Anderton motioned his secretary who had arranged for coffee to be provided.
"Nasty business this, Mike, what's the situation?"
Roberts pulled a face. "Not good I'm afraid. As you know there have been three 'non-arrival' incidents at New York this past month alone, but believe it not, thirteen such incidents in the last twelve months way out of kilter with the system as a whole.
Of the thirteen incidents, including the one at the beginning of this month, five missing passengers have been located elsewhere in the States three in Chicago, two in Washington DC all none the worse for their experience. The other eight have never been traced. Perhaps they arrived somewhere safe and sound and are yet to be located or don't want to be found we pay a generous compensation package to their next of kin as you know or, they've simply, disintegrated." He grimaced as he said the word.
"And what of Pemberton?" Anderton asked.
"We're searching the system now," said Roberts, "he travelled in a single pod as usual, but in a cluster of six pods the new standard family despatch from London to New York, but only three of the other pods were occupied by his wife and sons - he had been given VIP treatment by virtue of his position. The arrival was confirmed to London but on opening the pods Pemberton was missing. His wife and sons were delivered safely without any problems. It's possible he's been misdirected but this has never happened to a cluster despatch before, all the others were single pod deliveries."
"Surely with his high profile misdirection would be reported right away?"
Roberts nodded, "I agree but I've got a team checking the entire system even as we speak. If they find anything they'll let me know right away."
"How hopeful are you?" Anderton insisted.
"Well," replied Roberts, "the numbers are on our side. Since we commenced the system back in '37, more than twelve billion passengers have used the service worldwide. During this time, we've 'lost' only 728 passengers some of which were later found, not where they expected to be but safe and well. Of those, 283 were untraceable or were never seen again casualties of the system if you will. Why, the numbers don't even show up in the statistics! Teleporting is undoubtedly the safest, surest form of transport ever devised. We lost more people every year in aeroplanes, not to mention road deaths and train crashes."
Anderton had to agree. Since the inception of teleporting, the mass movement of persons had never been safer or more certain. But not only people, consumer goods too were transported around the world in a fraction of the time previously and at a much lower cost. ProfessorBokemper's experiments had begun with the transportation of inanimate objects but had led to experiments with small animals all of which had proved successful. It was only after his death that some brave soul tried to teleport a human being himself as it turned out! The experiment was a success.
After this the more adventurous wanted to be part of the action; some folk however, remembered a film that was made in the mid-twentieth century called The Fly and still shown on cable television, in which a scientist experimenting with the transportation of a human (himself) by means of deconstructing matter and transmitting it from one chamber to another some twenty feet apart and reassembling it to its original condition. The whole thing went horribly wrong when a fly entered the 'transmitter' chamber together with the scientist at the start of the experiment, and a fly with a human head, and a human with a fly's head found themselves in the 'receiving' chamber. Presumably, Professor Bokemper never watched television!
Gradually however, even the most sceptical were won over as cheap, safe, quick and efficient travel replaced all the older methods.
Anderton returned his attention to the matter in hand. "What happens to those who are never found 'disintegrated' you said?"
"We simply don't know," Roberts conceded, "the men in white coats offer and test their different theories but no proper, satisfactory conclusions have been reached. Perhaps they never reassemble that's the disintegration theory. Or they reconstruct in a manner unable to support their being and they die as a result. It really doesn't bear thinking about. But you use the system, I use it, our families and countless others use it successfully every day. The downside is a mere aberration in the figures."
Anderton sighed. His Operations Director was right.
"Have the media got wind of this?"
Roberts shook his head. "I wouldn't think so it's too early."
"Good. Try to keep it under wraps over the weekend. I'll prepare a holding statement if anything breaks. Keep me fully informed won't you. I'll need to put my report before the Assembly next week, probably on Wednesday or Thursday. Either way let me have your report by Monday at the latest if you will."
The amorphous mass that was once John Pemberton viewed the scene in front of him with dismay. A jungle clearing with a lake, or at least a pool, perhaps fifty metres distance. A chance to slake his raging thirst. He discovered that he did have mobility but
without arms or legs he could only drag this body, such as it was, slowly and painfully, slug-like toward his goal.
Equally painful was his remembrance of the past few hours; he had intended to take his wife and two sons to New York for a short break. Didn't everyone travel by teleport these days? In his job, he and his staff used it two or three times a week. Of course, he has read about the recent spate of malfunctions at the New York Teleport, but the system's safety record was almost 100%. All forms of travel involved some risk but teleporting was a hundred, a thousand, a million times safer than flying as was the case twenty years ago. People used the teleport instead of their cars. Even trains, that held sway for more than two centuries, were now only seen in museums or among a fraternity of enthusiasts; and aeroplanes, apart from recreational use, were consigned to history.
Pemberton realised that he would never be found. Thisthis body, would decay or be eaten by animals. He has almost reached the water and his thirst become rampant within him, causing him to ache in every fibre of his being. At last, he reached the lake. He saw his reflection in the still, clear water; a single eye in a hump of flesh; a ghastly dull mess of his once-human form, a nothingness. But worst of all was his awareness of himself, his brain still active and his intellect intact. And as he looked at himself he saw that he had no mouth! The thirst that had driven him so far could never be satisfied!
He decided to drown himself and with a final effort, he thrust himself into the water until he was completely submerged. Instead of cooling him, the water burned and death escaped him. His eye remained open and he saw the sun through the water above him. He became aware of nothing save his pain, his memories, and the sun shining through the rippling water.
Time passed; not a religious man, he found himself praying for death...