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Excerpt for Teleportation - Do We Believe? by , available in its entirety at Smashwords
TELEPORTATION – Do We Believe?

Published by David Gill at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 David Gill

By the same author

PHASEWAVE – ALIEN CREATION 2017

For “M” – she knows why

INDEX

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

PROLOGUE

Fifteen hundred years after its surviving population abandoned planet Earth, Vennica, the central planet of the resurgent society, is in decline due to lack of investment and has not developed socially and technologically for a period of fifty years, while its secondary planets – the United Colonies - have surged ahead in both those areas. The Phasewave Company, once the biggest earner on Vennica but now also starved of cash, has decided in an act of desperation to resurrect a previously attempted human teleportation project in order to try to restore its finances. Based on the existing Phasewave network and its proven technology for removing the time lag from phased transmissions, teleportation would allow humans to travel instantly throughout the developed universe and ultimately change the course of humankind. However, the Company’s first attempt at human teleportation, forty years earlier, had ended up in a public disaster, and its survival now hinges upon its capability to achieve a successful human teleport. As a source of income, the Vennican government relies heavily on the taxes it imposes on the United Colonies and their associated outstations, but while Vennica has allowed its defence forces to stagnate, the Colonies have made significant advances in the fields of weaponry and attack vessels. Believing themselves to be in a commanding position, the Colonies are determined to take over the running of Vennica and finally break free of its financial yoke.

CHAPTER ONE

Outstation Three, Colonial Year 1499

Two people, an older man and a young woman, sat motionless at the consoles of a control room, staring out in silence through viewing screens at the surface of an empty planet. After a time, the man got up, stretched and yawned.

‘I give up,’ Lew said. ‘How long was it this time?’

Maia checked the time. ‘Fifty five minutes. You’re a real pussy.’

Lew walked around the room, massaging his shoulders. ‘It felt like a lot longer. What was my previous time?’

‘Thirty six minutes.’

‘What’s your longest time without moving or talking?’

‘You mean with you? I don’t know; you’ve never beaten me. I can go for days without talking to Dennis.’

‘I can understand that, but I still intend to beat you before I leave.’

‘That seems unlikely. How long have you got left?’ Maia asked.

‘Ten days and eight hours,’ Lew replied. ‘Just a few hours less than the last time you asked me.’

Maia laughed. ‘You’re going to miss all this when you’ve gone. Do you know the name of your replacement?’

‘Not yet, but we should find out when the shuttle manifest comes through. I’ve already booked my seat home.’ Despite Lew’s excitement at his impending repatriation, he knew that he was going to miss Maia’s company; having her around had been the only thing that kept him sane during his stint on Outstation Three.

‘Which reminds me, isn’t tonight the Centennial eve?’ Maia asked. ‘Aren’t all the computers supposed to run backwards or something at midnight?’

‘That’s just an old wives’ tale,’ Lew said, ‘but I think we should have some kind of celebration. Maybe a few drinks after your shift?’

‘You’d have to first prise the keys to the liquor store from Dennis’s cold, dead fingers.’

‘Or you could use this instead.’ Lew held up and dangled a small metal object on a piece of string.

‘Is it my imagination, or is that a key to the booze cabinet?’

‘It’s the ultimate achievement of my engineering skills in the tool room over the last year, and whatever Dennis decides, we’re going to party tonight.’

‘I can’t believe you’ve finally revealed your dark side. I just knew you were hiding a secret.’

‘So now you have to tell me why you were sent here,’ Lew said. ‘Nobody your age ever comes to a place like this unless they are sent here.’

Maia got up and strolled around the instrument consoles, relieved to be moving again. ‘I will let you know – in exactly ten days and seven hours.’ She liked Lew and got on well with him but was concerned about his replacement; she was going to be stuck with whoever came out for the rest of her contract, and they were unlikely to be as amenable as Lew was. She stretched her arms and ran her hands through her shock of unruly, ginger curls, then automatically glanced over the inert panels in front of her. Nothing ever changed on Outstation Three. ‘Tell me again what happens to all this stuff we are supposed to be monitoring,’ she said.

‘All the signals we receive are sent to Vennica for analysis, and I haven’t a clue what happens to them after that. I also have no idea why our government has the slightest interest in what goes on in the United Colonies.’

‘Has there ever been any action out here?’

‘I can’t recall anything in particular. There were a couple of attempted invasions of Vennica about fifty years ago, but after the Colonies got together and formed an alliance, it all went quiet, apart from an ongoing campaign by the Colonies to avoid paying taxes to Vennica. I understand that the original agreement with the Colonies to use this place only stretched to the year 1500, which coincidentally ends today, but I’ve not heard any rumours about shutting the place down. It’s hard to work out why this Outstation is still here when so many others have fallen by the wayside, especially as it is such an unpopular posting, being so far away from Vennica. The usual reason people come here is to save some extra money for their retirement, which is why you shouldn’t be here. You’re young and should be enjoying life, not wasting it in a place like this with the likes of me.’

‘And our illustrious Station Commander,’ Maia added. She glanced over her shoulder. ‘I haven’t seen Dennis recently. Are you sure he’s still alive?’

‘I guarantee it. Put something in the oven; that’ll flush him out of his bunk.’

‘He’s got a big porn collection.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘I accidentally went into his cabin one day.’

‘You were taking a risk invading his privacy. What would you have said if he’d caught you? He’s prickly at the best of times.’

‘Coincidentally, he was outside checking an antenna when I went in.’

‘I’m now beginning to see why you were sent here,’ Lew commented. ‘What kind of porn was it?’

‘I only know of one kind of porn: the human kind.’

‘At least that explains why he spends so much time in his room. Not that he’s missing anything.’

Maia sighed. ‘There must be more soul-destroying jobs than this, but I can’t think of any.’

‘The Home Guard in peacetime was pretty bad, but this is a killer,’ Lew said. ‘I think I would have gone mad if you hadn’t arrived. By the way, what part of Vennica do you come from?’

‘You’ve left it a bit late to ask. Anyway, I’m a Southland girl. What about you?’

‘I’m a city boy, born and bred in Kalmis. I can’t wait to go back, but I’m desperate to know why you are here. Give me a clue.’

‘Let’s just say I was deliberately sent here to annoy you. I’ve had specific training in how to wind people up.’

‘I can believe that. Do you remember when you turned up for your shift wearing your pyjamas? Did you see the look on Dennis’s face?’

‘They weren’t pyjamas; they were leisure wear,’ Maia said. ‘Dennis didn’t bat an eyelid and never mentioned them.’

‘I’m just fishing now - which of your particular, obtuse lifestyle skills got you sent here?’

‘If you wait just under ten days and seven hours, you will find out. Do you want another go?’

‘I’ve just got time for one more before I go off shift,’ Lew said. ‘Why not?’

Maia and Lew returned to their seats and resumed their silence, staring out, motionless, through a viewing screen at a blank horizon.

The grating screech of an alarm siren urgently shattered their reverie. Lew jumped to his feet, and Maia ran over to another console and checked the screens.

‘An unidentified vessel has entered the prohibited zone and triggered one of the Sentinels,’ Maia said. ‘It’s not showing on radar.’

They listened intently as their station transmitted automatic warnings on the emergency frequencies. There was no response.

Lew adjusted his screens. ‘I’ve got something on radar,’ he said. ‘It’s heading straight for us. No, wait. It just disappeared. That’s strange; it must have been a spurious warning.’

‘The missile battery hasn’t activated,’ Maia pointed out.

‘It won’t until the radar has locked on. I’ll raise the blast shields, just to be on the safe side.’

The communications console burst into life, and the bleary face of the Station Commander, Dennis Summerfield, appeared on the screen. ‘What’s all the noise about?’ he enquired.

‘We’ve received an intruder alert in the zone. The intruder then disappeared from radar and failed to respond to our challenges. I’m about to activate the blast shields.’

Dennis yawned. ‘It sounds like a false alert. Don’t bother with the shields; we haven’t used them for years, and they probably won’t work after all this time. I’m on my way.’ The screen went blank.

‘If there’s a vessel out there, why isn’t it responding to our calls?’ Maia said. ‘They can’t have had a total radio failure.’

‘Maybe they had an electrical fault or something.’

‘But the vessel must be aware that it has entered a prohibited zone, and there would be radios in its escape pods and survival equipment. Why isn’t it showing on radar? This looks suspicious.’

Dennis joined them in the control room, still fastening the buttons on his shirt.

‘Something triggered one of the Sentinels, and now it’s disappeared from the radar,’ Maia said. ‘That can’t have been a spurious warning.’

‘All the Sentinels are active, but they’re not picking anything up,’ Lew added. ‘Hang on, there's something on the visual tracker; a contact is approaching our overhead at high level.’

The three of them peered into the viewfinder, but all they could make out was a small wedge of reflected sunlight crossing the screen. Lew increased the finder’s magnification, but the glare of the sun distorted the shape of the vessel, making it difficult to identify.

‘Looks like it could be a transporter,’ Dennis said. ‘Hardly a threat to this station.’

‘It’s almost overhead and hasn’t responded to our warnings,’ Lew said. ‘We must consider it a threat and put up the blast shields.’

‘There hasn’t been any military activity here in living memory. Whatever is up there is going to stop and drop a landing vessel, and then we’ll find out what it wants. Sounds like it may have suffered some kind of shutdown.’

Whatever the vessel is, it has illegally entered a prohibited zone on sovereign territory and failed to acknowledge our transmissions,’ Maia pointed out. ‘It could be deliberately avoiding our radar. Shouldn’t we manually activate the missile battery?’

Dennis shrugged. ‘Maybe our radar is on the blink. I can’t see anything here to worry about. They could have had an electrical overload or something.’

‘This may be our last chance to raise the shields,’ Lew persisted.

‘They’re in the overhead now,’ Dennis said. ‘We’ll wait and see; there’s no point in putting up the shields if all they want to do is stock up on water.’

Maia stared at the contact on the visual tracker as it slowed to a halt above them. ‘Wait! They’ve just detached a vessel!’ she warned.

They all watched curiously as the white blip on the screen split into two parts.

‘It’s accelerating fast! It’s a missile!’ Lew shouted.

‘Put up the screens!’ Maia screamed.

Lew hit the switches and the building creaked and shuddered as the blast screens forced their way from their housings and started to grind upwards.

Dennis stared in horror at the missile’s trajectory as it sped towards them.

‘It’s too late!’ Lew shouted in the background.

Dennis Summerfield, the last person ever to command Outstation Three, glanced up through the transparent roof panels and, for the briefest of moments, saw the dreaded sight of a missile’s nosecone about to crash into them. The first stage of the missile exploded at an altitude of fifty metres above ground level, the shockwave destroying the control room and everyone inside it, before the body of the missile penetrated the base foundations and detonated. The explosion destroyed the whole base, and when the dust finally settled, only a deep crater remained to greet the next arriving vessel, ten days and eight hours later.

Phasewave Company Headquarters, Kalmis City, Vennica, Colonial Year 1500

‘Come on, everybody. Do you believe that human teleportation is achievable, and if so, should we be pursuing this as our next strategic project? Give me a show of hands.’ Joshua Sterling, Chairman of the Phasewave Company, looked expectantly around the main boardroom. Everyone, apart from one man, raised their hands.

‘Are you still not on board, Mike?’ Joshua asked. ‘Why are you the only one here with reservations?’

The Kalmis Phasewave Base Manager, Mike Casino, looked back at the twelve accusing faces staring at him. He hated being the centre of attention, especially at events like this where everyone in the room was senior to him. ‘There are more immediate concerns,’ he said. ‘Fifteen of my Phasewave machines are now over fifty years old and, quite frankly, they are falling to pieces. We’re lucky to have ten on line at any time, and, due to a lack of spare parts, I now have to cannibalise one of them to keep another two functioning. I appreciate that everyone is getting excited about teleportation, but I think we are taking our eye off the ball by ignoring our basic function.’

‘We’re not in a position to waste money on your machines,’ Kai Little, the Chief Scientific Advisor, responded. ‘Once we’ve demonstrated the feasibility of teleportation, demand for our shares will soar, and the potential rewards will then allow the Company to develop the teleport system and at the same time replace any ageing equipment.’

‘Even if we do produce a teleport system, it’ll take years to refit all the stations with the necessary transfer equipment and to gain public use certification,’ Mike pointed out. ‘We need to start replacing the machines right now; the Phasewave network is an essential platform for the teleport system to work on, and without a reliable system you won’t be able to use it for human transportation.’

‘I take on board everything you’ve just said,’ Joshua said, ‘but we must move on. Mike, we’re all in agreement that you, with your experience and background, are the most suitable person to be in charge of the teleport project.’

‘That’s a big ask,’ Mike said. ‘I know nothing about teleportation, other than the fact that it was tried forty years ago and failed.’

Andy Duvall, Director of Advanced Technology, spoke. ‘It wasn’t a total failure. There were practical and political reasons why it was abandoned, but we believe that, with the advanced technology now available, the original project could be successfully revisited.’

‘That’s not strictly true,’ Mike said. ‘All research facilities on Vennica have been shut down to save money; there have been no technological advancements in the last forty years.’

‘From the Company’s view,’ Joshua explained, ‘the capabilities being offered by a new teleportation system will be the next logical step in hyper-technology, where a person steps into a Phasewave transmitter and then, moments later, emerges at another unit anywhere in the inhabited universe, courtesy of the Phasewave Company. That’s going to change the whole of society; it’s going to be the biggest, furthest-reaching event ever. We must put aside our old-fashioned ways of thinking and embrace the new.’

‘What size budget are you considering?’ Mike asked.

‘We’re going to fund the project differently this time,’ Kai said. ‘Instead of wasting man-hours and money setting up a bloated and expensive research unit, we’ll only release funds on request to meet the immediate situation.’

‘So I have to ask every time I need cash?’ Mike said.

‘The money is there for when you need it, but the budget as such will be tightly controlled.’

‘What about staff and facilities?’

‘Let us know what you want and we will consider each item separately,’ Kai said. ‘It’s the way things work nowadays.’

‘I don’t think we need to be reminded of that,’ Joshua interrupted. ‘A decision has been made, and the teleportation concept is not open for discussion. We must all stay on message. I’m going to stop for the day. Mike, from now on, I want you to meet with the Operations Managers once a week to keep the momentum going. Keep them up to date with your progress, and I must stress again that everything we discuss at these meetings is extremely sensitive; the press and media must not get even the slightest hint of what we are doing. I also include the government on that list; this is our big chance to make serious money and break free of all government restrictions, and I don’t want them trying to get in on the act. Let’s take our usual show of hands. Are we still in agreement?

Once again, everyone but Mike eagerly put their hands in the air.

‘Looks like you are still outvoted, Mike,’ Joshua said. ‘I hope your scepticism won’t prevent you from bringing in a successful result on this very important project. That’s all for today, gentlemen, and don’t forget, Mike, it’s our turn to attend the government meet and greet tonight.’

As Mike left the Phasewave Headquarters building, he stopped and looked at the magnificent surrounding gardens that the Company had constructed in the city centre, regardless of expense and their own financial situation. He was less than pleased to find that the board had dumped another contentious project on him, especially one with such a controversial background, and he didn’t relish the idea of making small talk all night with total strangers at the government’s monthly meet and greet cocktail party. Maybe it was time to think about retirement, he thought. Once again, he looked around the beautiful oasis in the heart of Kalmis City, and as he stood there admiring the view, he asked himself if he was ready to give it all up after putting twenty five years of work into the Company. From being the most successful and wealthiest company on the planet, he had seen the Phasewave Company fall in stature over that period of time to become practically bankrupt and heavily in debt. Contributing to that decline was a never-ending catalogue of failed ventures, nearly all of which had been pet projects proposed by an ever-changing cast of chairpersons who then disappeared after pocketing absurd amounts of remuneration as a reward for their contributions to the financial woes of the Company. He bitterly recalled the last project he had been personally involved in - the Water Generator debacle - a project that should never have seen the light of day and that mercilessly exposed the Company to the media ridicule that it deserved. Now, resurrecting a forty year old, failed teleportation project was, in his private opinion, the final act of desperation by a bankrupt company, but he was aware that if he continued his stand and objected again at the next meeting, he would probably find himself standing somewhere else – in a queue at the Re-employment Facility. It was a sobering prospect. So, do we agree that human teleportation is achievable? You bet your sweet life we do!

That evening, Warwick Sutherland stood at the side of the main reception room in Government House, watching a cocktail party unfold and carefully observing the gathering of politicians, staff members, selected media representatives and senior figures in the Vennican business communities, whilst at the same time attempting to put names to faces. As a government aide, he was unique in the fact that after starting as an intern, he had now spent a year and a half working in the President’s office, which was something of a government record. He was tall and thin, and others had told him that he looked like an intellectual, even though he did not consider himself particularly intelligent. Outwardly, he was the epitome of discretion, for which virtue he retained the confidence of his superiors, but that outer shell of respectability concealed a wicked sense of humour that he only revealed to an inner circle of friends. Occasionally, the President would ask for his honest opinions in certain matters, which he was prepared to give without reservation, even though he knew that each time he did so, he put his job at risk. The monthly parties, one of which he was now attending in the role of event manager, were usually good-natured affairs that offered a chance for people to network at an informal get-together. However, they did occasionally result in the odd drunken outburst, at which point, as duty events manager, he would normally call the ever-present government security to remove the offenders.

He spotted a couple of female interns eying him up and knew that they were calculating whether it was worthwhile cultivating him as an ally, particularly as he had been in his position for so long and was well past his use-by date. He knew one of them as Jan, but the other was obviously new to the job and did not conform to the seemingly mandated requirements of being tall and good looking with long hair in order to work there. She was petite and animated, and spent most of the time laughing or smiling and waving her arms around, which, in his opinion, was not a career move in a humourless society such as theirs.

Another figure in the crowd caught his eye. Walking towards him with a determined look on her face was the Defence Minister, Meg Ryse. He searched around for an escape route, but she already had him pinned in her sights. Trying not to reveal his feelings, he groaned inwardly. Meg was a tall woman with dyed black hair, chiselled features and a dark-eyed, piercing stare. She never smiled, and according to popular opinion, was the most disliked minister in the government. Despite her apparent lack of qualifications and ability, which people openly discussed in the government offices, she appeared to have inherited her ministerial appointment only because nobody else would touch it. Trying to flog defence in an era where there had been no military action on Vennica for as long as anyone could remember was widely regarded as the dead end of a government career.

Meg came to a halt before him, leaving him with the distinct impression that he was now her prisoner and would remain so until she had obtained whatever it was she had in mind.

‘I want to talk to someone from the Phasewave Company,’ she said, without a hint of a greeting.

Warwick cast his eye over the crowd in the room. ‘Joshua Stirling, the Chairman, is over there, and the man talking to him is Mike Casino, the Kalmis Base Manager.’

‘I will talk to the chairman,’ Meg said. ‘Go and fetch him.’

‘It might be better if you first talk to Mike,’ Warwick cautiously suggested.

‘I only deal with the top of the food chain,’ Meg pointedly stated.

‘If you don’t mind me asking, is this going to be a political or a fact-finding meeting?’

Meg gave Warwick’s request some consideration. ‘I need information. Does this Mike character know anything worthwhile?’

‘Actually, I think he does. He’s spent all his working life with the Company, including a spell in Head Office. He probably knows more about the Phasewave Company than anyone.’

Meg grunted. ‘Very well. Bring him over.’

Warwick left to cross the room and tried not to smile at Meg’s expectation that the top executives of private companies were eager and willing to jump to commands from some self-important and incompetent government minister. Mike was a straight speaking man with a lived-in face who always looked uncomfortable wearing a suit. Warwick had spoken with him on many occasions, and they both shared the same sense of humour. After attracting Mike’s attention, he managed to draw him away from his group.

‘Hello, Warwick,’ Mike said. ‘Are you the duty bouncer tonight?’

‘I’m afraid so,’ Warwick said. ‘I hate to interrupt you, but the Defence Minister requests the pleasure of your company.’ Warwick saw the other man’s expression change.

‘I can’t believe you managed to say the word “pleasure” with a straight face,’ Mike said. ‘What have I done wrong to deserve this?’

‘I think she is after some information.’

Mike looked over to where Meg was standing. ‘She looks like she’s in a bad mood,’ he said.

‘She always looks like that,’ Warwick said. ‘I wish I could give you a clue to what she wants, but I have no idea what that might be.’

‘Got it. I’ll watch what I say.’ Mike accompanied Warwick to where Meg was waiting for them.

Meg launched straight into a conversation. ‘Warwick tells me that you know everything about the Phasewave Company. Is that true?’

‘I wouldn’t put it that way myself,’ Mike replied. ‘Is there anything in particular that you wish to discuss?’

Meg stared at Mike, feeling slightly irritated at his casual response and wondering if it was worth her while to engage him in conversation. After a moment’s reflection, she decided that since he was already standing there, it wouldn’t be a total waste of time. ‘I want to pick your brains. We need to go somewhere private. Warwick, you may leave us.’

Warwick gratefully fled, and Meg led the way to an adjoining anteroom. ‘What does your company do in the way of research and development?’ she said. ‘Do you have a dedicated facility?’

‘We don’t do anything like that, and we have no facilities,’ Mike replied. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘You are probably aware that I recently visited the Colonies; I took a sick child for an operation, one that the surgeons on Vennica said could not be accomplished.’

‘I seem to remember the occasion,’ Mike said. ‘Didn’t the child die?’

‘Only due to the incompetence of the surgeon,’ Meg snapped. ‘But that is bye the bye. During my stay in the Colonies, it struck me how much ahead of us they are with their technology. Everything: domestic machines, public transport, autos, rocket ships, all seemed to be better than anything we are capable of producing on Vennica. Even their military forces appear to have superior equipment than ours. Why is that?’

‘Unfortunately, technology seems to have gone out of fashion on Vennica,’ Mike replied. ‘The Phasewave Company used to have a big Research Unit on the Kalmis base, but they shut that down forty years ago. I only have one project on the go at the moment.’

‘What is that? Does it involve advanced technology?’

‘To a certain extent, it does, but the project is commercially confidential, and I’m not allowed to discuss it.’

‘As Defence Minister, I have the highest security clearance on the planet. You have to tell me.’

‘I’m sure that the government respects your confidence,’ Mike patiently explained. ‘Equally, the Phasewave Company respects mine. I’m afraid the answer is no.’

Meg struggled to control her irritation, which was now turning into anger. To whom did this middle-ranking manager with a badly fitting suit think he was talking? Eventually, she asked, ‘Why did your company shut down its research facility? What was the reason?’

‘A Company employee lost his life during an experiment, after which the government fined us several billion dollars. They also confiscated valuable assets and swapped them for unprofitable power stations. Ever since, the Company has struggled to stay solvent and is hardly able to maintain its current inventory; the existing Phasewave machines are so dated they look like they arrived here with the First Ships. What are your opinions on the present day status of Vennican technology?’

‘I have just undertaken a review of our defence equipment ….’

‘Was that because of the attack on Outstation Three?’ Mike interrupted.

‘That’s classified information,’ Meg said. ‘Who told you?’

‘I heard it on the news this morning. They said it was a missile attack; do you think it was the Colonies kicking off again?’

Meg was lost for words. ‘I cannot possibly answer that question while the issue is under review, and you shouldn’t automatically assume the Colonies are involved just because they were the closest planets.’

‘Of course not,’ Mike pleasantly agreed. ‘Is it then your intention to try to introduce new technology on Vennica?’

‘That’s why we’re talking now. Yours is the largest commercial company on the planet, and we appear to have something in common: a desire for better technology. I was thinking along the lines of a possible joint venture.’

‘That sounds like a sensible idea, but I know for a fact that the Phasewave Company is not in a position to provide any financial backing. What do you want from me?’

‘Right now I don’t want anything from you. I will sound out some other government departments and try to put a scale on what we should be looking at. If finances are a problem, I may be able to help you. I’ll contact you next week to discuss this further.’

Meg turned and walked away, leaving Mike wondering what plans she had in mind for him.

As Mike departed the anteroom, Warwick appeared by his side. ‘How did the meeting go?’ he asked, trying not to smirk.

‘Thanks for lining me up for that,’ Mike said. ‘Remind me to break your arms and legs sometime.’

‘I’d like to say that Meg gets better for knowing, but I can’t,’ Warwick continued. ‘What was your first impression?’

‘My first impression was that she considers me to be a solution looking a problem. She talks about technology, but I’m not sure she fully understands what she is saying. I presume that there’s not a man in her life.’

‘Rumour has it that there once was, but she ate him,’ Warwick said. ‘Not really. I was just joking. I assume she told you her story about taking the sick kid to the Colonies.’

‘She did wait until her second breath before mentioning that. I kind of remembered what she was banging on about, but fill me in on the details.’

‘Meg would do anything to get noticed, and then one day she heard about this young girl who was terminally ill. The hospitals here said they couldn’t cure her, so Meg made a big show of taking her to the Colonies for treatment, where she died. As a publicity stunt, it worked well, so well in fact that she became a local senator when she returned to Vennica. The minister position had been vacant for months, and she bid for it thinking it was a promotion. She probably knows less about defence than I do.’

‘I mentioned the attack on Outstation Three, and she assumed it was still secret.’

‘Wasn’t that in the news this morning?’

‘That’s what I heard.’

‘As Defence Minister, surely she should be up to speed on these things.’

‘Well, she now intends to improve the Vennican technology,’ Mike said. ‘I can’t argue with that, but I’m not convinced she’s the right person to do it.’

‘From what I hear, Meg’s only concerned about her career and is always looking for ways to advance it, which usually translates into trampling over everyone she meets in the process. I think you’ll need to watch your back if you have any dealings with her.’

‘So long as I can get my machines replaced, I don’t care what she does. It was nice seeing you again, but I’m off home now.’

‘Would you like a drink before you go?’

‘Thanks for the offer, but I have another appointment. I’ll see you around.’

CHAPTER TWO

After arriving at his home on the outskirts of the city, Mike took a cold drink out of the chiller, sat back on a sofa and put his feet up. He swallowed a mouthful of beer and regretted not staying on at the cocktail party with Warwick. Why did he tell him he had another appointment when he didn’t? His partner, Mel, crossed the room on her way out.

‘I’ve left you a meal in the oven,’ she said, packing her handbag. ‘It just needs heating up. Can you let me have some change for a cab?’

Mike pulled out his wallet and handed her some small denomination bills. ‘Where are you off to tonight?’

‘I'm out with the girls again.’ She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and bustled through the door, still trying to rearrange her handbag.

Mike sipped his beer and reflected upon his relationship with Mel. She was an attractive woman ten years younger than he was, and they were slowly drifting apart. When they first got together, fifteen years ago, he had wanted a family and she didn’t, then, a few years later, she did, and he found he couldn’t. He knew that she went gambling because, unbeknown to her, he regularly checked her private bank account and had seen the hundreds of dollars withdrawn from cash machines inside the casino. Mel worked in the real estate business, and, whilst he had once seen her in a restaurant having lunch with another man, he did not believe she had ever been unfaithful. Soon she would leave him, and then he would become another friendless, middle-aged man living on his own. He opened another beer and cast his mind back to the day’s events. What was he going to do about the teleport shipwreck that the Company had dumped on him? The previous attempt at teleportation had been a disaster, although he was only young when it happened, and he could not remember much about it. In the morning, he would ask his assistant to dig out the reports from the Company archives. What had happened to the teleport equipment they used? He was certain it wasn’t on the base; after all this time, somebody was bound to have scrapped it. The proposal to revive a disastrous, forty year old experiment with no budget, staff or research equipment appealed to his sense of humour and made him laugh out aloud. Teleportation was the stuff of science fiction and comics, or the febrile minds of the Phasewave board members. He went back to the chiller and recovered another beer.

The world collapsed on Warwick Sutherland the moment he woke up. Carefully clutching his head, which felt as though it was about to fall off, he pulled himself upright in bed and delicately looked around, becoming slowly aware that he was naked under a blanket and not alone in his bedroom.

‘Are you okay?’ Ara asked.

Warwick traced the source of the voice to a young woman lying on top of the covers next to him. She looked vaguely familiar and was fully clothed.

‘You can’t remember last night, can you?’ she said.

Events from the previous evening floated to the surface of his mind. They had carried on drinking after the cocktail hour and then, what happened after that?

‘My head hurts,’ he complained.

‘I’m not surprised, considering the amount you were putting away.’

‘It was that last bottle. What was in it?’

‘There was no last bottle. You just mixed too many cocktails.’

Warwick looked at her again. He had definitely seen her before. He swallowed hard. ‘It’s Anna, isn’t it?’

‘It’s Ara!’ the woman snapped. ‘Will you please stop calling me Anna?’

‘Sorry.’ Warwick rubbed the sleep from his eyes and watched Ara cross the room to the kitchen and return with a glass of water. Then he recognised her – she was Jan’s friend, the bubbly one, although she wasn’t smiling now.

She handed him the glass, and he drank some water.

‘What happened,’ he said. ‘Did we, you know, do anything?’

‘Not really,’ Ara said. ‘You took your clothes off and collapsed unconscious on the bed. I didn’t know whether to call a doctor or an undertaker.’

‘Have you been here all night?’

‘Yes. I was worried that you might vomit and choke.’

‘Thanks for that. I hope you didn’t get the wrong impression of me. I usually behave myself.’

‘Don’t worry. It was partly Jan’s fault; she was the one who kept fetching you drinks. Listen, I have to go to work. Are you going to be alright on your own?’

‘I’ll be fine,’ Warwick said, finishing the glass of water. ‘I really am sorry about last night.’

‘That’s okay.’

‘Maybe we could get together again some time?’

‘Maybe,’ Ara said. ‘I must be off now.’

Warwick watched as she left his apartment. More memories of the previous evening returned. They had definitely had a good time after the cocktail party ended, and Ara had been a bundle of fun. He made a commitment there and then that he would not make a fool of himself at their next encounter, which he was already anticipating.

Tula Khan walked into Mike’s office. ‘Here it is,’ she said, handing him a thick file. ‘These are copies of all the reports I could find about that last teleport.’

Mike accepted the file. ‘Is all this from the archives?’

‘Yes, I went back forty years. The teleport certainly made the headlines at the time. I’ve put all the press releases at the back of the file; they make compulsive reading.’

Mike sat at his desk and started to plough through the stack of papers, trying to establish the main points of the reports. After an hour, he called Tula in again.

‘I’ve got another challenge for you,’ he said. ‘It looks like a team of six researchers was involved in this experiment, although that was forty years ago. Do you think you might be able to locate them?’

‘I can only try, but I’ll need to go in person to the Personal Movements Archive. I probably won’t be able to obtain anything until tomorrow.’

‘Give it your best shot,’ Mike said. ‘I can’t see anyone being around after all this time, but at least we’ll be able to say we made the effort. Without that team’s knowledge, this project could take years to achieve anything.’

The following morning, Tula turned up again in Mike’s office. ‘I searched everywhere,’ she said, ‘but it looks like the whole team left Vennica at the same time to work off-planet. Five of them have vanished without trace, but one, a guy called Zac Buchanan, has come back and is now living in Kalmis.’

‘I think he was the team leader. How old would he be?’

‘I got the impression that it was a fairly youthful team,’ Tula said, ‘so I guess he would be about sixty five years old by now.’

‘That sounds about right. My next request is can you find out where he lives?’

‘It’s already done.’ Tula handed Mike a sheet of paper with an address on it.

Mike smiled. ‘I’ve got to get up early to catch you out. I always said that you should be running this company, not those dullards in headquarters. You make everything look easy; how do you do that?’

‘I keep my ear to the ground,’ Tula said.

Mike looked at the address again. ‘Zac’s living in Spencerville,’ he said. ‘I think I’ll drive out after lunch.’

‘Are you seriously going to start this teleport business again?’ Tula asked.

‘The main board think I am, but personally, I don’t think there’s any way it’s going to work. I’ll go through the motions, but as soon as I start asking for money, I think they’ll quickly go off the idea.’

‘Let’s hope so. It sounds dangerous to me.’

‘It sounds dangerously career limiting to me,’ Mike said. ‘I wonder what physical state Zac is in. People who spend time away from Vennica tend to live shorter lives than residents.’

‘Then you’d better get in there while there’s still a chance of him being alive.’

‘It’s not that urgent. I can’t imagine anything happening to him before lunch.’

Spencerville was a neglected suburb some thirty kilometres from the city centre. The area had once supported heavy industry but was now a dormer location providing cheap, old homes for people who worked in the city but could not afford the cost of housing there. Mike parked his auto and approached one of many small, identical units lining a deserted street. There was no immediate answer when he knocked on the door, and he was about to leave a note behind when the door opened a crack and a face peered out.

‘I’m looking for Zac Buchanan,’ Mike said, holding up his works pass. ‘I work for the Phasewave Company.’

The door slowly opened and Mike found himself looking into the wizened features of an old man. Although age had caused the man’s hairline to recede into a thin mat of greying hair, his intelligent eyes, behind thick-rimmed spectacles, were bright and inquisitive.

‘Are you Zac Buchanan?’ Mike enquired.

‘I’m Zac,’ the man confirmed, in a voice that sounded younger than the person Mike was looking at. ‘What do you want?’

‘I need to talk to you about a project you were involved in. May I come inside?’

Zac reluctantly pulled the door open, and Mike entered a room containing only a minimal selection of worn furniture. The adjoining room appeared to be a workshop, and Mike observed a bench covered in electronic equipment. There were no signs of a female touch inside the room, so he assumed that Zac lived there alone. Zac led the way to a table and chairs and they sat down, looking at each other.

‘I’m searching for information about a teleport experiment that took place forty years ago,’ Mike said. ‘I understand that you were the team leader of that project.’

Zac did not show any signs of surprise but nodded his head in agreement.

‘The Company intends to restart the project,’ Mike continued, ‘and I’m trying to find out what happened the last time it was attempted.’

‘Are you from head office?’ Zac suspiciously asked.

‘No. I’m the Base Manager here in Kalmis. I’ve been through all the archived company reports, but they don’t give me a clear picture. Would you be willing to tell me what you remember about the project?’

Zac pulled himself to his feet. ‘I’ll make some tea.’ He walked slowly across to the kitchen area and switched on a kettle. ‘What did the Company tell you about me?’

‘They didn’t tell me anything,’ Mike said. ‘You have to understand that there are very few people like me who have worked more than twenty years for the Company. The people in charge are all career seekers who move about every three years or so to whoever pays the most money. Forty years is a long time in my line of work.’

‘It was a long time in my line of work. Did you know I was banned for life from working here?’

‘No, I didn’t,’ Mike said. ‘Did the ban apply to all your team?’

‘Yes, unfortunately it did. How much do you know about Phasewaves?’

‘I was trained as a Phasewave engineer and have spent twenty five years working on them,’ Mike said. ‘I probably know more about Phasewaves than anyone else in the Company. I also have to front up that I did actually work for a spell at head office.’

‘At least you are a worker,’ Zac said. He carried two cups of tea to the table. Mike accepted one, although he normally never drank tea. ‘The Company destroyed my life, so why should I now help it?’

‘I’m sorry things turned out for you the way they did, and if I was in a position to change anything, I would, but since you appear to be the only living person who knows what went on before, all I can do is ask for your help. I will obviously pay you for any work you do.’

‘I cannot be officially employed,’ Zac said. ‘My ban is for life.’

‘I’m sure I can reward you in other ways, maybe in kind,’ Mike said. ‘Is there anything I can do to persuade you?’

Zac took a while before answering. ‘There is one thing I want, but I think it would only be possible if you were able to recover the original equipment we used.’

‘I doubt that the original equipment still exists.’

‘I suspect you are right; the equipment was inside the Research Unit when it was officially shut down. After I left Vennica, I heard that the Company had put it into storage. It may still be there, somewhere on the base.’

‘I’m afraid the Company no longer has any research facilities, but there are some older storage facilities knocking around the site.’

‘Then the original research building might still be there.’

‘I know every square centimetre of the base. Where was it sited?’

‘It used to be at the end of the parallel perimeter track.’

Mike tried hard to remember what was in that location. ‘That area is hardly ever used. The only building out there is one of the storage sheds.’

‘Then that could be the one. What do you use it for?’

‘It’s where we retain used parts for the Phasewaves. I’ve been inside it a few times, but I’ve never noticed anything unusual. D’you think there could be anything left?’

‘It’s a possibility.’

‘I’ll drive out there tomorrow and take a look. Could you describe what I should be looking for?’

‘I could, but it might be easier if I come with you. Just to make sure, you understand.’

‘That would be very helpful and much appreciated,’ Mike said.

‘However, I don’t think your Company would approve of me visiting Phasewave property after my previous involvement,’ Zac said.

Mike thought for a moment. ‘After all this time, I don’t think the Company security will currently hold any information on you, and I will personally sign you on and off the base. I don’t wish to impose upon you, but I could collect the plans and keys to that building this afternoon, and we could both pay it a visit in the morning. Do you have an auto?’

Zac shook his head.

‘That’s all right. I’ll pick you up in the morning. I’m assuming, of course, that those arrangements would be acceptable to you.’

‘It’ll be like going back forty years in time,’ Zac said. ‘My money is on the equipment still being around somewhere because no-one wanted to be associated with the project after it failed, and it would have been a big job to dismantle and move it all. After all this time, who knows?’

The next morning, Zac sat in Mike’s auto as he drove away from the security centre and onto a narrow side road inside the Phasewave base. He finished pinning a security pass to his jacket and looked up through the roof window at a Phasewave machine towering above them. Fourteen more machines stretched in a straight line ahead, bordering the road down which they were driving. He pointed to his new pass. ‘I never imagined I would be wearing one of these again.’

‘Consider it a belated present from the Phasewave Company,’ Mike said.

‘It’s also a long time since I was this close to a Phasewave,’ Zac said, watching as the giant machine slid by them. ‘I’d forgotten how big they are.’

‘They’re getting old now,’ Mike commented. ‘Money is tight, and we have to recycle any parts we replace. After we have beaten and bodged them back to life, the parts are stored in this storage shed for future use.’

Mike pulled over and parked next to a large, unmarked building. ‘This is the storage facility I was thinking of. Does it look familiar?’

Zac carefully examined the building, which looked rather shabby and untended at close range. ‘It could be,’ he said. ‘I won’t know for certain until I see inside.’

‘Let’s take a look,’ Mike said.

The two men left the auto and walked across to the building. Mike unlocked the main door and pulled it open, revealing a dark interior.

‘The power should be on,’ he said, searching for the light switches. Yellow lights in the high ceiling flickered into life, illuminating rows of racks loaded with spare parts. Piles of stacked wooden crates surrounded them, and the air tasted of dust.

‘This looks familiar,’ Zac said, ‘but when I worked here on the project, the Research Centre took up the whole building. Now it looks more like a warehouse.’

‘That’s a start,’ Mike said, casting his eye around the large, silent room. ‘You wouldn’t believe it by looking at them, but these parts on the shelves are worth millions of dollars. Fortunately, you can’t use them for anything other than repairing Phasewave machines, which is why we don’t worry too much about the building’s security. In which part of the building were you working before you left?’

‘The pressure chambers were over here.’ Zac led the way to the rear wall of the building. They looked around, but there was no sign of any unusual equipment.

‘It looks like everything has been moved,’ Mike said. ‘We shouldn’t be surprised after all this time.’

Zac closely examined the back wall. ‘I’m sure this wall wasn’t here when we carried out the tests. I think this wall may have been added at a later date.’

Mike pulled some folded sheets from his jacket pocket and opened them out for Zac to see.

‘These plans show the position of the original wall,’ Zac said. ‘It’s further back than this one.’

Mike knocked on the wall where they were standing. ‘This is only a partition wall, but it certainly looks as though it’s been here a long time. Do you think there could be any of the original equipment behind it?’

‘It looks like the wall was added after the laboratory had been closed down, and there must have been a reason for doing that,’ Zac observed. ‘If it’s only a partition, we could easily knock a hole in it and see what's inside. Have you got a crowbar or any heavy tools?’

Mike searched around and came back with two iron levers that were used for opening wooden boxes. ‘You’d better help me do this; if anyone disturbs us, I’ll handle it.’

The two men worked together and quickly broke a hole in the wall. Zac bent down and peered through it. ‘It’s here!’ he shouted.

‘Are you sure?’ Mike said.

‘Yes, I can see it, the equipment is still here. Take a look.’

Mike looked through the wall and saw two very large cylinders, positioned end-on to a wall, and a row of workbenches supporting instrument panels. ‘This looks promising,’ he said. ‘We’ll make a doorway. You take your side.’

Together, Mike and Zac smashed out a rectangular section of wall to create an entrance into the newly revealed room. Mike kicked clear some pieces of broken wood, and the two of them clambered inside and walked over to the benches.

‘Wow,’ Zac said. ‘This place looks as if it hasn’t been touched since I walked out.’ He pulled a mug off a rack and shook the dust out of it. ‘This was my coffee mug.’ He shook his head in disbelief. ‘I can’t believe everything is still here where I left it.’

‘I must admit I wasn’t expecting to find anything at all,’ Mike said, observing the layer of dust that coated everything inside the room. ‘These cylinders look familiar. What are they?’

‘They should look familiar; they are modified plasma chambers from Phasewave machines.’

‘Ah,’ Mike acknowledged. ‘At least I know where to come when I need more spare parts for my machines. What’s that you’re looking at?’

Zac was standing motionless next to a bench, with a huge grin on his face. He put his hand out and gently caressed the glass screen of a control station. ‘This is the real reason I came here today. This is my supercomputer.’

Mike stood next to him. ‘Are you telling me that you actually made this machine?’

‘Yes. This is all my own work; this is Able, my baby.’

‘Able? I didn’t know computers had names.’

‘This one is a very special computer.’

‘In that case, do you think Able will work again?’

‘Yes. I built this machine to last. It’s unlike normal computers because it does not have an operating system; it functions using artificial intelligence and can actually teach itself to carry out tasks. That’s why it’s called a supercomputer, and it has the facility to repair itself if it suffers any damage. Even after forty years have gone by, Able is probably still one of the most advanced computers on the planet; I can’t believe it was just abandoned here.’

Mike looked around. ‘What functions was Able carrying out during the teleportation project?’

‘Follow me.’ Zac walked to one of the huge cylinders. He took hold of a handle at the end of the unit, spun its lock and swung open a heavy hatch. Mike joined him and looked inside to where a plinth stood on the floor in the centre of the chamber.

‘These two cylinders are the compression chambers,’ Zac explained. ‘High tech scanners are built into each of their walls and the chambers are cooled by liquid nitrogen during operation. Both chambers are identical, and they are linked together through a Phasewave machine, at least they used to be.’ He took Mike to the other side of the container and showed him a row of what looked like tall cabinets that reached almost to the ceiling. ‘This you have to see,’ he said, sliding open the doors on the nearest cabinet. Inside, it was stacked with electronic panels and relays.

‘What’s that? Mike asked.

‘This is the real Able, the main body of the supercomputer. What you saw on the bench was just the control panel, and the rest of the computer fills these cabinets. It consists of twelve individual modules and weighs over a tonne.’

‘It certainly looks impressive,’ Mike said. He looked at the two big cylinders butted up to the wall. ‘You must have struggled to get those monsters into position.’

‘They each weigh seven tonnes; we had to have the floor strengthened to take them.’

‘I’m beginning to wonder if that is why this place was walled up,’ Mike speculated. ‘It probably would have been easier building a wall than trying to remove the heavy stuff. Will any of this kit will ever work again?’

‘I’m pretty sure the computer will still function,’ Zac said. ‘It will need to be tested, but after that it can be used to check the other system components.’

‘Do you know of anyone who would be familiar with this machine and could do the calibration?’

‘This is the only one of its kind ever made on Vennica. I am not aware of anyone else with a working knowledge of this machine.’

‘That doesn’t sound promising,’ Mike said, ‘but it does lead to my next request.’

‘I know what that will be,’ Zac said. ‘I really need to think this over before I make a decision. I would like to point out that the Phasewave Company could hardly be described as a friend of mine, and you could find yourself in trouble if they find out you are using my services.’

‘I don’t intend to advertise your presence here, but I’m willing to argue the toss with the Company if they were to take issue with the way I’m running the project. The directors are only interested in making money, and they would be unlikely to interfere if I pointed out that their actions would result in additional costs to the project. I only wish I was in a position to offer you something that would change your mind.’

Zac was quiet for a while. ‘Let’s talk this through logically. Who is going to make up your research team?’

‘I intend to use a couple of my engineering apprentices.’

Zac raised his eyebrows. ‘Seriously? Apprentice engineers?’

‘Let me be honest with you. I’ve been involved in other projects similar to this that have all ended in failure, and I don’t believe that human teleportation will ever get off the ground. Even if it does work, I believe that the costs of setting up a universal system would prove to be way beyond the Company’s means. Finding this original equipment has changed my views somewhat, but unless I can be convinced otherwise, I’m not going to waste time resurrecting an expensive project and recruiting another research team, only to end up in the same situation as the first teleport attempt.’

‘You sound very negative about the project, and I can understand why,’ Zac said, ‘but my team ran the project for over a year and at the time it was cancelled, we were only a step away from perfecting the technique. I genuinely believe that a human teleport remains a distinct possibility.’

‘I wish I could share your optimism, but at the moment, without your assistance I doubt that I and the apprentices would even be able to start your computer, let alone complete a teleport.’

‘Then I will make you an offer. I will set up Able and carry out functional tests of all the equipment, and after that you will be on your own.’

‘That’s very kind of you,’ Mike said. ‘At least that way we will be starting from a sound base.’

‘Let’s hope that your apprentices think the same way. However, on the plus side, you will be starting the project with the benefit of a year’s background experience, and everything you’ll need to complete your project is in this room, right before you.’

Mike started to feel a bit more optimistic. Maybe, if he could persuade Zac to stay with it, this project could work. He looked back at the compression chambers. ‘Tell me, what exactly do the scanners inside those chambers achieve?’

‘These high definition scanners have several functions. Using electron pulses, they are capable of mapping anything you want to teleport, including an entire human body. The first scan run sends data to the computer, which then works out what it needs to do to achieve the right amount of compression. Then, using the scanners’ laser beams, it carries out a second run that, along with an increase in chamber pressure, effectively reduces whatever it is you are intending to transmit to a form of digital code that is then transmitted to the receiving station. When the transmission reaches the receiving station, which for the purposes of this experiment is the adjoining compression chamber, the computer reverses the electron pulses and laser beams to regenerate the sample to its original state.’


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