Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Teleporter by Daniel Wilmoth

A pair of venture capitalists attend a demonstration of a machine that could revolutionise the world, but one of them is sceptical; by Daniel Wilmoth.

A monitor embedded in David's front door displayed, in shades of gray, the face of a thin, severe man in his fifties. As I raised my fist to knock, the eyes in the gray face followed my knuckles warily. "Excuse me," the face said, "but what are you planning to do?"

David was an inventor, and the face belonged to an electronic butler he was developing named Reggie.

"I was going to knock," I said apologetically, realizing that I would have, in some sense, been knocking on him.

"That is unnecessary," Reggie said. "I am announcing you now. Dr. Fox will be correct with you."

Reggie was still learning to talk and sometimes chose the wrong words. "You mean that he'll be 'right' with me, I think."

"Yes, thank you. Here is Dr. Fox."

As he spoke, the door swung soundlessly away to reveal a small, balding man in a tweed jacket. His face was handsome, and his eyes twinkled. "Tim," he said, shaking my hand. "Good to see you again."

"And you. Reggie is developing nicely."

David smiled. "Because of all your help."

I smiled back. David was ribbing me. He was a consultant for the venture capital firm where I worked. I tracked down promising inventions, and he evaluated them technically. He and I often bet on whether the firm would invest. If I lost the bet, then I had to practice conversation with Reggie. David had provided several convincing arguments as to why inventions would not be commercially viable.

"Don't count on any more help from me," I said. "I'm sure the firm will invest in this one."

"Well, I hope so," he said encouragingly. He started toward the street, leaving the door open behind him. "Lock up, Reggie," he called, without looking back.

"Very good, sir." The door swung shut, and I heard a deadbolt slide into place. I waved to Reggie as we walked away and he bowed slightly in return. We climbed into my black coupe, and I pulled away from the curb.

"What is it that they claim to have invented?" he asked.

"A teleporter."

"A what?"

"A teleporter. You know, like on TV. Beam me up?"

"What are they going to teleport?"

"A person, I think."

He laughed. "No. No, I'm sorry. No one is even close to that."

"I knew you would say that, but you're wrong. This guy is very impressive. This one will work."

"The usual wager, then?" he asked.

"Absolutely."



The demonstration was held in an old brick warehouse. It was in a dilapidated part of Bay City, on a street where most of the buildings had long been empty. When David and I arrived, however, the street was lined with the luxury cars of potential investors. An attractive woman in a navy skirt and a matching suit jacket ushered us inside.

The floor was concrete, and the ceiling was thirty feet high. Workshop odors of rubber and grease and very hot metal lingered in the air. Rows of folding chairs were arranged facing the teleporter, which consisted of two metal chambers connected by a metal tube a few inches wide and several feet long. Each chamber was eight feet tall, with a circular base and a shape like the pointier half of an egg. Thick cables ran from the chambers to machines arrayed against a warehouse wall. A technician in a white lab coat was seated at a computer terminal among the machines.

Potential investors stood by themselves or conversing in groups. As David and I walked to the teleporter, I exchanged nods with several acquaintances, including a gray-haired man in a yellow golf shirt who had made a fortune in real estate.

When we neared the teleporter, we stopped, and David began to study it, tracing cables and curves with his eyes. He had been examining it for a few minutes when a voice behind us said, "Beautiful, isn't it?"

We turned to see a huge man, obese and almost as tall as me. He wore a light gray suit with a matching vest. His goatee and thinning hair were ginger. His name was Seth Campbell, and the teleporter was his invention.

"It's an amazing breakthrough," I said. I shook his hand. "Good to see you again."

"Thank you for coming," Seth said.

"This is my friend David Fox. He's here as a technical advisor to my firm."

"Yes, I recognized the famous Dr. Fox from across the room. I'm glad that you're here," he continued, speaking to David. "Given your reputation, convincing you will go a long way toward proving that we're legitimate." He shook David's hand. "Seth Campbell."

"Call me David. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"

"No, not at all."

"How long have you been working on this?"

"I guess I've been working on it, in one way or another, since I was an undergraduate. I really became serious about it after graduate school, though. Do you know Heinrich Merkel? My graduate advisor."

I noticed a satisfying hint of uncertainty in David's eyes. "Yes, we've met. A great physicist. Have you been working on this with him?"

"No, nothing more than a conversation here and there. Really it's just been my lab."

"You'll understand that when something comes out of nowhere like this, it makes me a little nervous."

"Sure, I understand. I hope that our demonstration today will make you feel better. You'll excuse me, but I have to greet some of my other guests now. I hope we'll be able to talk more after the demonstration."



When the time for the demonstration arrived, we were sitting on the folding chairs. Seth stood in front of the teleporter. Beside him was a man wearing a dark green jumpsuit, the kind of thing pilots in the military wear. His hair was cut in a military style, and he stood at parade rest, his hands clasped behind his back.

"Thank you all for coming," Seth began. "Today we're going to be demonstrating a technology that will revolutionize transportation. It's going to change the way we move everything from coal to grain to livestock. To people. That's right. Today we're going to be teleporting a person.

"Let me introduce you all to my good friend, Commander Steve Michaels. Steve was a test pilot for the Navy. He's been consulting with us on safety issues, and today he's going to be the one in the machine.

"The chamber on your left is what we call the departure chamber. It takes whatever it is that we're trying to move, disassembles it into small packets of atoms and then sends those packets through this tube." He pointed to the tube connecting the two chambers. "The packets are then reassembled in the arrival chamber. The process is nearly instantaneous and completely safe.

"I don't see any reason to keep you waiting any longer. Steve, if you're ready?"

They walked to the departure chamber. The door handle was a foot long and required some effort from Seth to turn. The door opened with the small sound of an airtight seal being broken. Steve stooped and entered through the low doorway, moved to the center of the chamber, and then turned to face us.

"Ready?" Seth asked again.

"Ready," Steve said.

Seth closed the door and turned the handle to seal the chamber.

The technician seated at the computer terminal was looking at Seth. "Go ahead," Seth said to him. The technician turned to his terminal and began interacting with the computer. The two chambers of the teleporter began to vibrate and hum. After a few seconds, they became still.

"Ladies and gentleman, the transfer is complete. Steve has left the departure chamber." Seth opened the door of the departure chamber. The dim interior was empty.

"And gone to the arrival chamber." Seth moved to the other chamber. I was on the edge of my seat, bouncing one knee. David's arms were crossed, and his brow was creased in concentration.

Seth opened the door of the arrival chamber. I saw movement in the dim interior, and then Steve stepped through the doorway, smiling and waving. I realized that I had been holding my breath. We started clapping.

"Savor this moment," Seth said, raising his voice to be heard over the applause. "You all just became a part of history."



After the demonstration, there were champagne and high spirits. Voices rose and fell in waves, with laughter frothing at the crests. Groups gathered around Seth and Steve, shaking their hands and bombarding them with questions. The real estate millionaire slapped Steve on the back so hard that he lurched forward half a step.

David, however, seemed reluctant to participate in the celebration.

"You're not still skeptical are you?" I asked. "We saw it work."

"I saw someone go into the departure chamber. I saw him come out of the arrival chamber. I never saw him teleport."

"How could you? You can't see packets of atoms. And how else could he have gotten there?"

David was silent for a moment, and then he seemed to make a decision. "I'm going to find out."

He looked around to see if anyone was watching us.

"Don't blow this deal," I said. "This is going to make a fortune."

He smiled, shrugged slightly, and then turned and strode toward the departure chamber, weaving around groups of people. He reached the departure chamber and, without hesitation, pulled open the door.

Those standing closest to the teleporter stopped talking and started watching him. Seth was further away, surrounded by a group of admirers. At the sudden drop in volume near the teleporter, he looked toward it. He was taller than those around him, and I could see his face. His expression changed from joy to concern when he saw David peering through the open doorway of the departure chamber.

"David!" he called. "David! What are you doing?"

David ignored him and stepped into the departure chamber. The door swung shut behind him.

"Get out of there!" Seth shouted. He waded through the people around him and then began running toward the departure chamber. He was too fat to run well. The different parts of his body couldn't seem to agree on which direction they should be going.

All conversation stopped. A loud and irregular thumping sound came from the departure chamber. The chamber rocked slightly for a few moments, and then it became still.

I followed Seth, and I was standing behind him when he opened the departure chamber door. Light fell through the doorway onto an empty metal floor. Seth shut the door again, his face blank with concern.

I ran to the arrival chamber and opened the door. Inside I found only another empty metal floor. David Fox had disappeared.



A horrified murmur washed through the crowd. I know many of the people who were there, and they were not concerned about David. They were concerned about all of the money that had disappeared along with him. The public would be worried about safety, and the disappearance of a famous scientist inside of a teleporter would cripple the industry for a generation.

The murmuring stopped when the thumping noise returned and the departure chamber began rocking again. I started back toward it, but Seth moved into my way. "For safety reasons, I need you to stay back while we get this figured out."

"Help!" It was David's voice, coming from within the departure chamber. I saw fear in Seth's face and made a decision. Seth was a large man, but I had played college football and had plenty of experience moving large men. I launched into him, grabbing his ribcage and pushing him backward. He backpedaled briefly and then fell to the floor.

I grabbed the handle to the departure chamber door, imagining what I would see: David, the pieces of his body horribly disarranged by some malfunction of the machine, his blood pooling on the floor. I opened the door.

David was lying on the floor, blood smeared across his face. On top of him, with a forearm on David's throat, was Commander Steve Michaels. I paused, unable to understand what I was seeing.

I didn't have to understand it to know that I didn't like it. I grabbed Steve with both hands by the back of his jumpsuit and pulled him out of the departure chamber. He stumbled through the doorway, and I flung him to the warehouse floor.

He scrambled quickly to his feet. Seth was also standing again, watching us and backing slowly away. Seth turned and ran toward the exit. Steve's eyes moved between Seth and me for a few moments before he turned and ran after Seth.

A second man pushed through the crowd and ran for the door. He was wearing a green jumpsuit like Steve's. His height was the same as Steve's. His hair was the same as Steve's. I couldn't see any difference between them.

The technician in the white lab coat fled. The woman in the navy suit jacket strode out, smiling desperately. Soon the only people left in the warehouse were the guests.

I helped David out of the departure chamber. His shirt was untucked and partially unbuttoned, and he was wearing only one shoe. I noticed that a portion of the rear interior wall of the departure chamber had swung out, revealing a darker space behind it.

I helped David to a chair and offered him my handkerchief. "What happened?" I asked.

"He hit me in the nose," David said as he wiped away the blood.

"OK," I said. "What happened with the teleporter?"

"I found a door in the back wall of the chamber. There was someone hiding behind it."

"Steve," I said.

"Right," David said. "Sort of. I guess there were two men pretending to be Steve. Twins. When we got here, one of them must have already been hiding in the arrival chamber."

I thought about it, then said, "I see. For the demonstration, one went into the departure chamber and hid, and the one hiding in the arrival chamber came out." I was still confused about something. "I didn't see you when Seth opened the departure chamber door."

"The man hiding there pulled me into the secret compartment with him and shut the door. He was choking me." David gestured toward his throat.

"I could hear the two of you fighting," I said, "but I thought it was just the machine malfunctioning."

David nodded. "I guess he would have killed me, but while he was choking me I grabbed onto the latch that opened the secret compartment. When we fell out, he lost his grip and I called for help." David paused and looked at me intensely. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," I said.

We were silent for a few moments. The real estate millionaire approached with David's shoe, which he had retrieved from the teleporter. The laces were still tied and David pushed his foot into it without untying them.

"So, no teleporter?" I asked.

"Well, not yet anyway."



Many hours later, after dark, David and I arrived back at his house. The street was unlighted and silent.

I accompanied him to his door. "Welcome home, sir," Reggie said. "Are you injured? Would you like medical attention?"

"No, thank you, Reggie, I'm fine. This was a rough one."

"Yes, sir. And a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Leonard."

"Thank you, Reggie," I said.

"Are you ready to settle our bet, or would you like to come back tomorrow?" David asked me.

"Now is fine," I said.

"Great. Reggie, Tim has agreed to practice conversation with you again."

"Very good, sir," Reggie said. "I take it that this invention was another statue?"

I considered the question for a moment and then smiled grimly. "Bust," I corrected him. "This invention was another bust."

4 comments:

  1. Ah, the sleight of hand. Sometimes the hand is quicker than the eye...and sometimes it's not. Fun little story, well told, and Reggie made for a nice touch. Characters are well developed for a short story. Nice job!

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  2. Jim said it all, very inviting story, easy to get into.

    Well Done

    Michael Mccarthy

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  3. Love the subject matter, would've never thought to write a short story about this but it worked nicely. Thanks for the fun.

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