The Transference (Chapter One)
A speculative fiction novel by Dave Weaver
I considered my options. I’d been sitting in the roof garden of The Druid pub for a couple of hours, travel brochures spread in a fan before me. I picked one up, gave it a cursory glance and dropped it back on the table. I’d been through them five or six times without making a decision.
Earlier this morning, as I walked down the hillside, I’d squinted up at the early morning sun breaking over the Hog’s Back and pondered the implications. My mind could find no refuge; I was stuck with it. And now I had a decision to make. I could do that at my leisure of course; there was certainly plenty of that. I laughed bitterly then looked back to where I’d last seen Carver. He’d gone of course but the cathedral still crowned the hill with its monolithic presence. The golden angel’s stoic features were as indistinct as ever but maybe the bright sunlight gave her just the glimmer of a smile? If so, the joke was on me.
I’d had a couple of pints now and was debating lunch. Strangely, I noticed the menu stated that there were only fish and chips available. Surely that couldn’t be right though? After all, I could have anything I wanted. Everything was in my own hands from now on, including this menu. I stared at it again but it remained just fish and chips.
I’d already sensed something indefinable had gone wrong when I walked the short distance into Capistrano town. Nothing specific but… I tried to clear my jumbled thought processes and focus but what in God’s name was there left to focus on? And what the hell was I going to do now?
And I do mean now: this next minute, hour, day, ad infinitum.
Life seemed quite simple enough when I’d had my little flat and my little job at the library. I’d had family and friends, well friend anyway. Surely that was enough? The sour taste surfaced in my mouth again. I’d have it all back in a moment if it meant not having to acknowledge the terrible truth; if I didn’t have to sit here now and think the unthinkable.
And Karen? Did I lose Karen or was she never really there for me at all?
It was just two short weeks ago when I set off for the interview with Trans-Port Incorporated. I wish I hadn’t gone, but I didn’t know anything then and I know too much now.
I know everything.
My thoughts were interrupted as a woman’s shadow fell across my table…
I attempted to wipe my misted-up glasses with one hand whilst steering the little red Vespa with the other. As the tiny wheels wobbled on Capistrano High Street’s old cobblestones I must have presented a curious sight to early morning shoppers in the vehicle-free zone. I managed to dodge a couple of them as I swung right towards North Street; a cheeky short cut but necessary if I was to avoid being late for the ‘most important interview of my life’, Mike’s description not mine. I gave an inner sigh because I’d heard it all before. That’s why I worked at the library now. I’d had enough of ‘making something of myself’. Others had gone on to far better things of course. My fellow grad students had all accumulated promising careers and interesting lives but that didn’t seem to work for me. I was okay staying what I was; maybe a bit of a non-starter in life’s hectic race but happy enough with my lot. Who needed pressure anyway?
Well, apparently I did. I’d been offered the possibility of a job I didn’t want and certainly wasn’t qualified to do. My best mate James, definitely one of life’s go-getters, had fixed it up for me while my parents Mike and Joanne had told me in no uncertain terms to ‘go for it’. Foster parents I should say, I lost my real mum and dad when I was ten.
I didn’t stand a cat in Hell’s chance of course. A particularly unlucky three-legged cat that was probably tail-less as well.
Also, apart from being potentially late, I was a bit wired. I’d had the drowning dream again. Pretty stressful, even if you are dimly aware it’s only a dream and that in reality you’re not a small boy clinging onto his last breathe in a swimming pool. I’d had it before, quite a few times actually. No idea what it meant though.
The interview was at the town’s Science Park up by the cathedral. Rather than dwelling on the sheer inconceivability of any positive outcome I turned my thoughts, as I tend to do in times of stress, to Karen. I wondered yet again if she was still living in that posh riverside flat. Karen had told me she was in England, and specifically Capistrano, to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. We’d met at some boring rock concert up at the University halls. I’d asked her for a date, actually we had a few of them; dinner, the cinema and of course I took her to my local pub The Druid. We’d slept together at the riverbank apartment but then almost immediately she’d told me she wanted to cool it. Which was a bit of an ego-basher. We had some painfully embarrassing break-up sex and that had been that. I thought my already frail libido would never recover and I guess the jury’s still out on that. Her last words in their full sonorous West Coast drawl as she shut the door in my face, were ‘Will you be okay Joe?’ ‘Yeah, of course’ I’d lied.
I have a mawkish tendency to cling on to things. It’s quite pathetic really. For example, I’ve never really left this place. I’ve been on holidays of course. I’ve been to the south coast of France for instance, and Paris by night was incredible. That trip to LA was great although I can’t remember all the details. But I’ve always lived here. It’s just been easier that way.
Maybe that sounds weird for a thirty-year-old guy but I can’t help that, it’s just the way I am. The way I’ve been programmed. Maybe the interview would be a catalyst, open me out some more. Probably not though.
Leaving the town behind I puttered around the foot of Stag Hill. My foster parents had given me the scooter as a graduation present seven years ago. I’d never bothered learning to drive and anyway this was easier, got me around. Besides I still get carsick. I reluctantly replaced the memory of Karen’s long golden hair with an approximation of what I was going to say at the interview. Would I be asked a load of science stuff for instance, hopefully not as it wasn’t really my forte. James had briefed me that the post was largely administrative which suited me fine, rather like my work at the library with cataloguing stuff, writing dull reports, transcribing documentation etcetera. Probably not much bookshelf arranging though, I guessed everything would be on disc. My modest English Lit BA was good enough for that sort of thing but I had no scientific experience whatsoever; couldn’t even remember the school stuff I’d been taught so anything else was really a complete non-starter.
James Peterson is my only real mate these days, which I guess makes me sound rather sad. He’d stayed on after I left to take his PHD and become a lecturer at the university, a stone’s throw away from the Trans-Port complex. I’m not sure how he fixed up the interview with Trans-Port’s boss Professor William Carver, something about him giving a talk to the science grad students and James being introduced and telling him about me. I don’t know, I might have got that wrong. Anyway, Mike and Joanne gave me their customary filial support despite my previous abject career failures and James said he had absolute faith in me to pull it off, which was nice of him but a tad unrealistic. I promised myself I’d buy him a couple of pints in The Druid tonight whatever happened. Once again, he’d proved a true friend.
I glanced down at the stacked roofs of the student flats in the fields below. My eyes automatically sought out the one I’d shared with James. I think I was happiest back then. Reluctantly I jogged my mind back to the interview; I was cutting it fine, even for me. I optimistically stood on the accelerator again as the Vespa’s tiny motor complained. I sensed the cathedral’s looming presence on my right; a hulk of thirty’s utilitarian architecture squatting on top of Stag Hill like a pile of dumped bricks. At last the Science Park’s gates appeared directly in front with a business board dominated by Trans-Port’s logo of intertwined arrows. A small rider beneath them stated that Trans-Port was ‘An Institute Company’ whoever they were.
The uniformed security guard stepped out of his hut as I approached. The brief details of the project that I’d received last week had already evaporated in my mind but I managed to tell him enough to be directed down a sectionalised block of offices full of dark glass and rust running concrete. My instructions were report to ‘A Block: Reception’ but A Block was surrounded by a sea of cars and by the time I’d found a ‘designated motorcycle park’ I was well into overtime. The clang of my helmet hitting the revolving glass door made the receptionist look up from her desk. She listened patiently to my out-of-breath explanation then indicated a plush leather couch.
“You’d better leave that out here.” She pointed to the helmet then spoke into her mouthpiece. “Mr Bryant is here Professor.” She smiled at me. “Would you like a coffee Joe?”
“No I’m fine. Thanks.” I actually felt slightly nauseous from the jog around the car park.
I noticed some enlarged photographs of people pointing out computer graphics to each other and staring fascinatedly at laser beams; the staged images of a successful research company. A little hackneyed by now though, I thought. The frames were fusty and the equipment, though impressively complicated, looked slightly dated, as if the place was desperate to keep up appearances.
A door opened and an immaculately dressed young woman walked briskly up to me. She proffered a perfectly manicured hand and I hurriedly stood to shake it. “Good morning Mr Bryant, welcome to Trans-Port Incorporated. I see you found us awl-right.” I was instantly reminded of Karen’s honey-smooth West Coast accent.
“Yes, no problem. Sorry I’m a bit late.”
“That’s okay. If you’ll follow me then…’ She marched back to the door she came through.
Professor Carver office was almost as large as the area we’d just come from but he filled it well. A big man with strangely small hands, a brutish white crew cut and granite-like features Carver seemed immediately intimidating.
“Mr Joe Bryant.” The woman told him redundantly.
“Good morning Professor.” I began.
The granite broke as the brown eyes took me in and the large jaw formed a smile. “Please call me William, Joe.” He spoke in a deep yet soft Scottish baritone. “Your friend James Peterson has already told us a good deal about you so I’m treating this more like an informal chat than an interview.”
“Oh, right.’ This was already deviating from what I’d expected. I noticed two metal-framed photographs on the wall behind his head. One was of Carver at some important looking conference shaking hands with assorted science luminaries. The other, more strangely, was a faded scene of a mud-spattered boy’s rugby team grouped around a huge trophy. There were no family portraits on the glass desk but there was a small picture of a white rabbit in a silver frame engraved with the name ‘Oscar’.
Carver seemed to lose his train of thought and I realised I should say something fast to reconnect it, no matter how lame. “I see you’ve got my CV, Professor Carver.” I pointed at a crumpled A4 page poking out of a plastic folder.
Carver glanced at it. “Yes. Very interesting.”
He was patronising me. Truth be told he was right; I was a lightweight. Since graduating from Capistrano University I’d taught English Language to foreign students at the local Tech, worked in tele-sales, then insurance, then a small promotions group (if three people could be called a group). Eventually I’d been only too grateful to accept the position of Assistant Librarian in the ugly sixties building at the top of North Street. Now here I was at Trans-Port being interviewed for a job that was undoubtedly beyond my limited capabilities. I knew nothing of science and my competency even in the fields I was familiar with was at best limited. It hurt more than I’d care to admit but I was a complete fraud and wasting this good man’s precious time. It had been a stupid idea to come here and the interview, or whatever it had been, was already as good as over. I should make my excuses and leave.
But as I stood up Carver also jumped to his feet. “Right, nothing to be gained hanging around here. I think we’re ready for the grand tour. Claire, if you’ll also attend?”
“Of course, William.” Claire, who hadn’t bothered introducing herself, opened the door for Carver then walked beside me as we made our way down a corridor of blurred figures trapped behind darkened glass. As we went she turned suddenly to me. “I’m Claire by the way, seeing as William hasn’t formally introduced us.”
“Joe Bryant.” I replied, stupidly.
“Yes, I know,” then in a voice I was sure she’d lowered so Carver wouldn’t hear. “I know who you are Joe.”
She paused for a moment forcing me to stop as well as she placed a hand on my arm. She studied me then frowned. A laugh shook her curly black locks. “Never mind.” She promptly continued walking. Carver hadn’t appeared to notice.
‘What a bizarre manner’ I thought. Distracted, I bumped into Carver’s broad back. We were now in the middle of an open plan office full of cubicles and laptops. There was a sign stating ‘B Block’ on the wall. The area was empty and the giant screens hanging down from the high ceiling were dead. Like the pictures in reception, there was a fine layer of dust on everything. Business appeared to be not so hot at Trans-Port Incorporated.
“It didn’t used to be like this,” Carver said and I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or to himself. “Things were better once and they will be again.” He looked round at me. “Trust me.”
“Shall we show Joe the rest of the complex?” Claire asked, as if intentionally nudging him out of some past reverie. “Including the Projection Chamber? Its ready to go as you ordered.”
Carver hesitated, as if still lost in the moment. He seemed to gain focus. “Yes, let’s do that.”
She nodded. “Security have been informed and the crew’s standing by.”
“Good, well done Claire. This way Joe.” He strode off again.
I hesitated and looked purposively at Claire but this time she kept her eyes pinned on Carver’s back. “Watch out for William,” she murmured, “don’t underestimate him.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just mean…” She half turned to me but there was no smile this time. “That I’m here for you Joe, remember that.”
“Okay, I will. Thanks.”
We followed Carver to a set of double glass doors at the end of the room, which swung apart at the swipe of his security card then through another workspace, this time ‘C Block’, which was identical to the previous one and just as empty. After one more set of doors and one more card-swipe we were in a kind of hanger. There were some offices in the corner but apart from a collection of hefty looking electrical cables the entire area consisted of just two identical dark grey plinths set a few yards apart with a thick mesh-lined glass wall before them.
Carver pointed it out. “Shatterproof glass.”
I looked more closely. Poised above the first plinth was a metal tube stretching up into complicated technical apparatus hanging from a gantry across the ceiling. The second stood on it’s own. There didn’t seem to be any point to either of them.
Carver noticed my attention. “What do you suppose all that is? You’ve presumably read the project’s basic outline that we sent you?”
I remembered just enough to hedge a vague reply. “Some kind of particle acceleration device; maybe creating an electro-magnetic force field? I’m sorry...”
“Well, nice try. You do realise we’re talking about teleportation of course.”
“Yes I’ve read something about that, theoretical of course.”
“Hmm, well it’s not theoretical anymore. Would you like a fuller explanation?”
I glanced over Carver’s shoulder at two approaching figures. “Okay.”
“Actually we’re about to give you a demonstration anyway. He glanced around. “Ah, here’s Professors Harding and Steiner. Dorothy and Christian, allow me to introduce Joe Bryant.”
I studied the white-coated scientists as they awkwardly shook hands with me. Steiner was a non-descript man in his early-forties. Harding was taller than him, a handsome if slightly hard-faced fifty-ish with greying wavy hair. She turned a quizzical smile on me as the other hung back.
“Joe, it’s nice to meet you. We’ve heard so much about you, I mean about all the candidates.” She gave Carver an awkward glance he appeared to miss.
“Dorothy, I was hoping you might provide our guest with a brief summation of how this thing works, just the ‘theoretical’ part of course.” He smiled at me and I wondered if he was taking the piss.
“Certainly William.” She turned to me. “As I’m sure you’re aware, successful teleportation requires the binding energy of the atomic force that holds the nuclei together to be reduced to pure radiation.”
I nodded helpfully. I hadn’t been aware of that actually.
“I won’t confuse you with theories of spin and entangled particles but suffice to say we have found a way to capture that radiation in the form of a photonic beam, a ‘Projection Beam’, then move it to a new location and rematerialize it back into its original atomic structure. That could be just a few yards away as in our demonstration or potentially the other side of the world. When the total process has completed we will have achieved successful matter transference; what the layman would refer to as teleportation. Do you understand?”
“I understand what you’ve just told me but I don’t really see how I…”
“Anyway, let’s begin,” Harding cut me short, “after all, seeing is believing. If you’d all put these on to protect your optic nerves,” she produced a set of eye-protectors from a bag slung over her shoulder, “and take a seat over there.” We sat down on a metallic bench behind the screen.
“George, would you mind placing Einstein?” Dorothy asked a young man wearing a brown lab-coat who had quietly appeared out of nowhere. George produced a ragged-looking teddy bear from a plastic bag and placed it on top of the left hand plinth. It sat at an acute angle threatening to topple over, its one glass eye staring inscrutably at us through the thick screen.
“Are we all ready, ladies and gentlemen?” Carver asked, as if introducing a cabaret act. “Very well...” He made a twirling motion with his finger and the room lights dimmed. A wide window appeared high up along the far wall showing a long spot lit room. Vague silhouettes moved inside. A low mechanical whir came out of the darkness followed by rapid clicking sounds as the first plinth was picked out in a dull cone of light.
“Set up complete.” A wall-mounted speaker informed us. “All readings check green; ready for Projection to commence.”
“Carry on Control Room.” Carver replied, jutting out his jaw.
The cone became a powerful white beam. I squinted, trying to make out Einstein’s shape, but the teddy bear’s form had already become an insubstantial phantom, like dust particles trapped in sunlight. The intense beam shut off. The tube was empty.
“Have you got it?” Carver asked.
“No problem,” the speaker confirmed, “we’re shifting capture…now.”
The random light points reappeared on top of the lone second plinth. I watched, mesmerised, as they coalesced back into Einstein. The light reflecting on its glass eye gave the toy a look of reproach at the indignity of its short journey.
Carver gave an enthusiastic and slightly childlike clap and the rest of us joined in. As the wall lights came up I found myself studied by the scientist. “I trust you enjoyed that? You’re lucky, not many get to witness a full Projection. We’ll go back to my office now for a quick chat then we’re finished for today.” He jumped enthusiastically to his feet and marched off.
I noticed Claire had already left. I was under the growing impression we’d met before today; unlikely of course but then Capistrano really was quite a small place.
Especially when you’ve spent most of your entire life there.