Traveling Without Consequences
Caution: This Science Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Voyeurism,
Desc: Science Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Something new I'm playing around with. It might be in the Greenies universe, but I'm not sure yet. I think this plot is original. If it isn't, I've never read anything along these lines before. In any case, this is experimental for now and, as of yet, I make no promises to continue it.
Scott Foreman sat lucidly behind the controls of the Cessna Skyhawk as it cruised along. The autopilot was now engaged, keeping the aircraft steady on a heading of 72 degrees and at an altitude at 6300 feet above sea level. He had taken off from a small airport in San Francisco fifteen minutes before and was now passing over the coastal mountains of northern California, mountains that were actually little more than tall hills. His destination was the town of Auburn, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, his course roughly following that of Interstate 80, which could be seen snaking through the passes in the hills like a long black snake. Behind him, the sun was rapidly approaching the horizon, still high enough to provide visual flying conditions, but low enough to impart a mellow light upon the landscape. The hum of the engine was a comforting white noise. Scott stretched a little to relieve the dull thrum in his back and then picked up the can of diet, decaffeinated cola sitting in the drink container. He had a sip and then leaned back in his custom-fit seat.
At forty years of age, Scott was about as comfortable in a cockpit as a man could be. Since that day in 1978 when he was fourteen and his father had let him take the controls of a rented Piper for the first time over San Jose, Scott had accumulated nearly 12,000 hours of flight time in more than fifteen different aircraft. He had gotten his private pilot's license on his eighteenth birthday and had flown crop dusters to help pay his way through college. After receiving his bachelor's degree in Aeronautics from the University of California at Davis he had joined the United States Air Force, where the low level flying skills he'd learned dusting crops helped get him into training in the A-10 Warthog — an anti-armor and close support aircraft. His six-year stint as an A-10 pilot — which included 42 combat missions in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 — was by far the most exciting time of his flying career. His life after the Air Force became a little more sedate — at least in terms of piloting skills. For five years he'd worked for Federal Express flying 737s back and forth across the country. These days he worked for American Airlines as the commander of a 767 on the Atlanta to San Francisco run. And of course, there was his private flying, which, until a year ago, had always been done in rental aircraft. The Skyhawk he was now in was the first plane he had actually owned — or at least that he was making the payments on. In only another fourteen years he would have it paid off.
He let his eyes scan over his instruments and then at the surrounding sky, this visual check automatic and instinctual, his brain noting nothing unusual enough to bring to the forefront where he would actually have to think about it. The forebrain, meanwhile, with no flying related duties to tax it at the moment, continued with the thought it had been mulling over since the autopilot had taken control, namely how nice a double Jack Daniels on the rocks was going to taste when he got home. Though he tried not to drink too much — his father was what society liked to term a "functional alcoholic" and he feared becoming one himself — it was the start of a five day off period for him and he craved the mellowing effect a few double Jacks had on him. He had just completed a thirteen-hour workday, including seven hours in the air and two layovers, and he felt he deserved some relaxation. So what if he would be drinking alone? Just because he did that once in a while didn't mean anything did it? It wasn't his fault that, as a divorced man without much social life, he had no companionship to call on.
The ring tone of "Paint it Black" by the Stones began to emit fro his cellular phone jarring him out of his boozy thoughts. He picked it up from the holder on the instrument panel and looked at the display to see who was calling him, hoping vaguely it was Diane, the accountant he had dated a few times after she'd done his taxes for him the previous February. No such luck. The number identified the caller as Janice, his younger sister and sole sibling. Janice was a lawyer who lived in Granite Bay with her "partner" of six years, Doreen. Scott was not particularly close to Janice, not because of her sexual orientation, which, as a California raised man he didn't really give a damn about, but more because of her abrasive, aggressive personality. They were not enemies by any means but the less time he spent with her the better they seemed to get along. Having her call him on his cell phone was a bit of an unusual occurrence. Curious about why she was doing it now, he flipped it open, answering it.
"Hey, Jan," he said. "What's up?"
"He's gone crazy!" Janice barked at him. "He's gone absolutely fucking crazy!"
Scott blinked, taking a moment to consciously order himself to remain composed. "Who has gone crazy?" he finally asked.
"Dad," she said, her voice flirting with a strange sort of hysteria he had never heard her employ before. "Who the hell do you think I'm talking about?"
"Good point," he allowed. Their father, Jim Foreman, was pretty much the only man she would be calling him up ranting about. And he was what most people — Scott included — would consider a borderline mental case. "I assume he's back in the neighborhood?"
"Oh he's back all right," she said. "After nine fucking months! Just when I thought that old coot had finally disappeared for good, he shows up on my doorstep with that weird-ass bitch he calls his wife."
Scott breathed a small sigh of relief before answering her. Ever since their father had suddenly divorced their mother when Scott and Janice were in their teens he had been in the habit of seemingly disappearing from the face of the earth for days, weeks, even months at a time. Nobody knew where he went when he disappeared and all who knew and loved him had long since tired of even asking where he had been when he returned. He would never tell anyone, would say nothing other than he'd been "traveling". He never brought back souvenirs from his travels, nor sent postcards from places he'd been, nor described the things he'd seen or done. He would just stay home for a few weeks at his house on the shores of Lake Tahoe and then disappear again.
At least that had been the pattern until about two years ago when he'd suddenly shown up with a young Slavic woman he called Beilke and announced she was his wife. Beilke, he said, was someone he had met while traveling in Russia, though he firmly denied any insinuation that she was a mail order bride. Since then his travels had become much more frequent, his stays away much longer until finally it seemed he'd completely fallen of the face of the earth. As Janice had pointed out, it had been a full nine months since anyone had seen or heard from him. And now he was back acting strange enough for Janice to be rattled by it. That was remarkable indeed.
"What did he have to say for himself?" Scott asked.
"He's out of his fuckin' mind, Scotty," she told him. "I think he's going to... you know?"
"No," he said slowly. "I don't know."
He heard her take a few deep breaths, as if bracing herself to say something. "I think he's going to... to... commit suicide or something," she finally spit out.
Scott raised his eyebrows. "Dad? Kill himself?" he asked. "That's absurd. Where in the hell did you come up with that from?"
"You haven't heard what he's done yet," she said. "Scotty, he gave me a million and a half dollars."
"He gave you what?" Scott said in disbelief. "He doesn't have a million and a half dollars. I mean, he's well off, but not that well off. I wouldn't go cashing that check just yet."
"It's not a check. He wired it to my account. I have a confirmation number and I called the bank and they told me it's no joke. That money is there and its already been cleared. He gave me a million and half bucks, Scotty. And he says he going to give you the same. He told me he doesn't need money anymore."
"Wow," Scott said slowly, pondering that with a strong sense of unease mixed with wonder. His father had three million dollars to give away? Where in the hell did he get that kind of money? He hadn't been employed since quitting his last job as bush pilot in Alaska shortly before the divorce. His ability to retire at a young age he had always explained as successful investing during his working years — a story their mother had always proclaimed preposterous — but he had always maintained it was a modest amount he had in reserve. Just enough to get by with. He had certainly never hinted that he was a multi-millionaire. And now he was giving away three million dollars? And telling Janice he didn't need money anymore? That really did sound like the actions of a man contemplating suicide. "Did he seem depressed or anything like that?"
"No," she said. "Not at all. He seemed deliriously happy, in fact. That's what scares me about it. That's the final sign they tell people to look for, the final stage they go through before they actually eat the gun or whatever. Once they've actually decided to do it they're depression goes away because they have a plan, a goal. They see the end of it all. Do you understand?"
"Yeah," Scott said, nodding to himself. Now that she mentioned it, he did remember reading that somewhere before, probably in that psychology class he'd taken as an elective back in college. "Did he say anything else?"
"Just that he wouldn't be seeing me much anymore, that he was going to be taking a much longer trip this time." She paused, as if maintain control of her voice. "Scott, he was basically telling me goodbye. He hugged me. Doreen too, and you know he can't stand her. He wished us a long and happy life together and said he hoped it would be happier than his first marriage."
"Jesus," Scott whispered, mostly to himself but loud enough for the cell phone to transmit the word to Janice. "Where is he now?"
"I don't know," she said. "He said his goodbyes and then he and Beilke just left. And they left on foot!"
"On foot?" he asked. "Are you sure?" Janice lived atop a hillside in an isolated, gated subdivision. It was not the sort of place that one arrived at on foot.
"They just went walking off down the street," she said. "And they never checked in or out with the gate guards either. They just showed up. I'm telling you, Dad has completely lost it! He's gonna off himself, Scotty. We need to get hold of him and... do something."
"How are we going to get hold of him?" he asked. "You know he doesn't have a cell phone. And even if we do get hold of him, what are we supposed to do?"
"Have him committed, get him put on some sort of psychiatric hold... something," she said.
"You're the lawyer, Jan," he said. "He didn't actually tell you that he was going to kill himself, did he?"
"Well... no," she admitted. "But..."
"Look," he said soothingly, "if he stopped to say goodbye to you, he'll say goodbye to me as well. He'll show up at my house at some point, don't you think?"
"I suppose that makes sense."
"When he does, I'll talk to him, try to figure out what he's planning, okay?"
"But what if you can't?" she asked.
"I'll do everything I can, Jan," he said. "Don't worry too much. You know he finds it... well... you know... a little easier to talk to me than to you. He'll tell me what he's planning."
"Maybe," she said thoughtfully, although she didn't sound like she'd stopped worrying. "Jesus, listen to me. If you'd have told me two days ago that I would be frantic because that crazy fucker was thinking about suicide I'd of told you you were insane." She sighed. "I guess I have feelings for him after all."
"I guess it takes something like this to show us that," he said. "I'll keep my eye out for him and I'll let you know as soon as I know anything, okay?"
"The minute you know anything," she said. "The second."
They said their goodbyes and disconnected the call. Scott made another check of his instruments, another scan of the airspace around him, and then closed his eyes for a second. He gave a silent sarcastic thank you to his sister and father for giving him something new to worry about.
It was well after dark when he pulled his BMW into the driveway of his two story home. With a push of the remote control button the garage door slid obediently upward on its track, revealing a semi-cluttered three-car garage full of power tools he never used, Christmas decorations he never put up, and a Harley-Davidson Fatboy he rarely rode. He shut off his engine and got out, absently pushing the inside garage door button with one hand while digging out his house key with the other. As the door rattled shut behind him he put the key in the lock and opened the door. On the other side of it was the darkened back hallway that led past a guest bedroom and into the kitchen.
As expected, he was greeted by the steady beeping of the burglar alarm box just inside the door. He had thirty seconds to punch in his code before the actual alarm began to sound. The sound he didn't expect to hear, however, was the sound of classical music issuing from his surround sound system deeper in the house. He never left the stereo system on when he left the house and, even if he had, it most certainly wouldn't have been classical music. He looked at the alarm box and then down the hallway. How had the music come on?
He pondered this question for quite some time, his eyes peering through the darkened kitchen towards the direction of the family room beyond it. There was a light on beneath the doorway in there. He could see its glow on the tile floor. He never left the lights on when he left either. The only conclusion he could draw was that someone either had been in the house... or still was. But how could this person have gotten by the alarm? And why would he or she have turned on classical music?
The alarm panel began to beep more rapidly, indicating he had less than ten seconds to go. He stepped forward and pushed in his four-digit code, silencing it. In doing so, the music became more distinct, enough so he could identify it as Bach, although he could not quite remember the piece. It was the sort of music his father enjoyed listening to, that he had forced upon he and Janice while they were growing up. Was his father the one who had been in there?
He walked slowly down the hall, taking pains to keep his footsteps as quiet as possible. He entered the kitchen and looked around, his sharp eyes searching for anything missing or out of place. Nothing seemed to be amiss but this did little to ease his mind. If he had been burglarized — or was currently being burglarized — was there really anything in this room of the house worth taking? Burglars didn't cart out major appliances, did they?
He stepped forward again, easing across the room towards the beam of light beneath the decorative, swinging door that guarded the entrance to the family room. He put his hand to it and slowly pushed it open, wincing a little as a squeak emitted from the hinges. He looked through the gap created and beheld his family room — the room of the house he spent the most time in when he was home. It was a large room, tastefully decorated with leather couches and mahogany tables. A sixty-inch HDTV was mounted on one wall above a home theater entertainment sound system. The table lamps were all burning brightly and the ceiling fan was turning at high speed. Sitting on the couch, dressed in a tattered pair of denim shorts and a plain white T-shirt, was his father. He was sipping from a water tumbler that contained what appeared to be plain cola but that undoubtedly had a healthy shot of some sort of alcoholic beverage in it. Jim looked up as he saw his son enter the room and a warm smile touched his face.
"Scotty, my boy," he greeted, hefting his drink in a universal salute. "I've been waiting for you."
Scott let out a breath of air and stepped fully through the doorway into the room. "Jesus Christ, Dad," he said. "You scared the crap out of me. How in the hell did you get in here? And for that matter, how in the hell did you get to the house? I didn't see a car out front."
"I'm glad to see you too," Jim replied with an amused chuckle. "And as for the how's and why's of my presence, that will all be explained to you shortly." He stood up, leaving his drink on the end table and walking over to Scott. "In the meantime, son, it's good to see you." He put his arms around him, giving him a fatherly hug.
Scott returned the embrace automatically, though he was as confused and nervous as ever. How had his father gotten in the house without turning off the alarm box? And what was he going to tell him now that would explain all the 'how's and why's', as he put it. "It's good to see you too, Dad. A little disconcerting, but good to see you."
"Disconcerting is my middle name," Jim said, releasing him. "Let's get you a drink."
"Uh... sure," Scott said, forgetting that is was he that should be playing host and not the other way around.
As Jim walked across the room to the oak wet bar installed in the corner, Scott looked him over, marveling with wonder, as he always did, how young and fit he appeared. The man was seventy-three years old but looked fifty at best, maybe even mid-forties. He had a full head of thick, brown hair although Scott — who presumably carried the same genes — had started to lose his in his mid-twenties. Jim's stomach was fit and trim despite the lack of anything resembling exercise and despite a diet that consisted of booze, marijuana, and anything he could shovel into his mouth. This while Scott constantly had to count calories and work out at the gym to keep his beer guy from expanding into something that looked like a second trimester pregnancy.
"Jack on the rocks?" Jim asked as he pulled a glass down from the rack above the bar.
"Yeah," Scott told him. "Make it a double."
"How about a triple? You might need it for our little talk."
Scott considered the matter for perhaps a tenth of a second. "Sure," he replied. "Nothing like a good triple."
Jim opened the refrigerator and shoveled some ice into the glass and then poured a healthy amount of Jack Daniels over the top of it. He then carried it across the room and handed it to Scott. "Don't know how you can drink that shit without a little coke in it," he commented.
"An acquired taste, I guess. Where's Bielke? I talked to Janice earlier and she said she was with you."
"I dropped her off at our new home on the way here," he said. "She had a few things to take care of."
"Your new home?" Scott asked. "You have a home down here now?"
"No," Jim said simply, sitting down on the couch and picking up his own drink.
Scott looked at him for a moment. "Then what new home are you talking about?"
"I'll show it to you in a bit," Jim said. "I think you'll like it. In the meantime, why don't you sit down? Have a couple sips of your drink. We need to talk."
Slowly, Scott sat down. He did as suggested and took a large slug from his glass, relishing the burn of the whiskey as it went down his throat, luxuriating in the warmth it spread throughout his body. He set the glass down and looked at his father. "What's going on, Dad?" he asked. "You had Janice very upset. She said you deposited a million and half dollars into her bank account."
"I did," he confirmed. "And I've done the same to yours as well. I'm liquidating all of my assets in this world and giving them to my two children."
Scott thought about asking his dad where he had gotten three million dollars but decided that wasn't the important question at the moment. "Why," he asked, "are you liquidating all of your assets?"
"I won't need them anymore," he replied.
"I see," Scott said slowly. He licked his lips. "Uh... you're not thinking of doing anything... you know... rash or anything, are you?"
Jim smiled. "You think I'm considering ending it all?" he asked. "Did Janice give you that idea?"
"Well... you know... you're giving all your stuff away and you were just talking about not needing it in this world. What are we supposed to think, Dad?"
"A fair point," he allowed. "I assure you, however, I am not going to be ending it all. On the contrary, I've finally found what I've been looking for all these years and it is time to begin it all. My life, my real life, is just starting."
Scott took another large slug of his drink. "I have no idea what the hell you're talking about," he told his father. "What do you mean you found what you've been looking for? I didn't know you were looking for anything."
"You didn't know I was looking for anything? What do you think I was doing during my travels all these years, my boy? Did you think I was just traveling for the sake of traveling? I was searching for what every man desires, what every man searches for, whether he realizes it or not. I was searching for the perfect companion to spend my life with — a companion I found in Bielke while traveling in Russia. That was the first part of my quest. The second was the perfect home, which I found last year and have been setting up these past months."
"The perfect home?" Scott asked. "And where might that be?"
"Let's just say it's in Maui," Jim replied.
"Maui? You bought a house in Maui?"
Jim laughed loudly, shaking his head in obvious amusement. "Bought a house? How linear your thinking is, my son. No, buying a house does not entail a perfect home as I choose to define it, as any real man should chose to define it. It is not the dwelling or the land that makes a perfect home, but the existence that you carve out. I have carved out my perfect existence on Maui, Scotty, and now that it is complete, I will spend the rest of my life there with Bielke at my side."
"I see," Jim said slowly. "You know, of course, that I have no idea what the hell you're talking about. Anyway, I'm glad you finally found you're... uh... perfect existence. But why all the drama? It's not like we're not going to be seeing you anymore. Hell, Janice takes vacations in Hawaii all the time. And I get free air travel. I'll probably visit you a couple times a year. Hell, maybe more since I'll have a place to stay there."
"Yes," Jim said. "Indeed you will. I will need you to keep me supplied with certain items. Janice, however, will find it a little more difficult to visit me. I don't believe she is ready to see my new home. You, on the other hand, are. You are your father's boy in many ways."
Scott sighed. Just when he thought he was starting to get a handle on what his father was spouting off about, he threw another curveball at him. "Keep you supplied?" he asked. "What are you talking about? And why can't Jan visit you? What kind of weird-ass house do you got there? Are you living in some sort of commune or something?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes," Jim replied. "But that's not important now. As I said, I'll show you my new home soon."
"You have pictures?"
"No pictures," he said. "You will have to see it in person."
"You want me to fly out to Maui with you?" Scott asked. "I only have three days off. I don't think I can make it out this week, but maybe at the beginning of next month? I can do a couple of flight trades and get six days off. That way... what?" He saw that Jim was shaking his head.
"We won't be flying there," Jim told him.
"You want me to take a boat to Hawaii?" he asked. "Why? What's wrong with flying? I do it all the time."
"I have a much more efficient means of travel," Jim told him.
Scott raised his eyebrows up, thoughts of his father's mental instability coming to his forebrain again. "More efficient than flying?" he asked. "And uh... what exactly might that be, Dad?"
"It's what I've come to talk to you about, Scotty," he said. "It's what I've come to give to you tonight, to teach you how to use so you can begin your own quest for that perfect existence."
Scott licked his lips slowly. He was now wondering if his father was an undiagnosed schizophrenic babbling on about delusional ideas he thought were real. This conversation certainly had the air of something out "A Beautiful Mind", didn't it? "Dad... I uh..."
"Hold up on your judgments for the time being, Scott," Jim told him. "I know how all this must sound to you and I know you're probably thinking I'm insane. I assure you that I am not and I never have been. I will explain what I'm talking about and then give a demonstration. All I need from you is an open mind for the next few minutes."
"Open mind, sure," Scott said. "I can do that."
"Okay," Jim said. "Do you remember when you were a child and I lived in Alaska? When I worked as a seaplane pilot for Far North Adventures?"
"Yes," Scott said. And it was true. He remembered that well. It had been when he and Janice were in their early teens, about two years after Jim and their mother had divorced. Jim, seemingly going through a vicious mid-life crisis, had quit his job as an airline pilot and had moved to Alaska to shuttle tourists into the farthest reaches of the vast state in seaplanes. It was the last job he would ever work. After doing it for two seasons he had abruptly quit and his "retirement" had begun, and with it, the mysterious disappearances he called "traveling".
"While I was flying for Far North I developed somewhat of a relationship with a band of Eskimos in the village of Atqasuk, which was an overnight stop for us while we were waiting to pick up our tourists from whatever lake or river we dropped them at. We pilots were virtually the only white people who visited this village. Not even the flying doctors went there. It was an isolated place, accessible only by sled or by aircraft. There were people there who had never even seen a white man prior to Far North's use of it as a waypoint. I found these Eskimos fascinating. They were truly wild people, living the life their ancestors had lived instead of the corrupt and despairing life their kindred were living in Nome and Fairbanks and all the other places where white influence and domination had choked them. I took the time to learn their language and to socialize with them. Eventually they accepted me as a white man they could trust. It was then that they brought something to me one night, something they had found in a cave near the village, something that had been buried beneath some rock and had been there for a long time."
"What was it?" Scott asked, his curiosity piqued a bit.
Jim lifted up his shirt and unclipped something from his belt. "This is what they gave me," he said, holding it up so Scott could see. It was a small black box, about the size of a cellular phone, but thinner and less complex looking. It seemed to be made of steel instead of plastic. There were some ventilation holes in the side of it and a few things that might or might not have been buttons on the front. Other than that, it looked completely uninteresting, more like a child's toy than anything else.
"Okay," Scott said. "What is it?"
"It's a teleportation device," Jim told him.
Scott blinked and took a few deep breaths. "A... teleportation device?" he asked slowly.
"That's right," Jim told him. "I'm not sure exactly how it came to be in that cave where they found it. My best guess is a time traveler from the future put it there."
"A... time traveler from the future?" Scott said, backing away from his dad the slightest bit.
"Yes," Jim agreed. "Although why he or she put it there is somewhat up in the air. You see, it was a brand new device, still in its original box. The Eskimos told me it had been wrapped in some sort of plastic type wrap that kept out the moisture."
"It was in the original box, huh?" Scott asked, his tone mild and careful. "That's uh... uh... amazing, Dad." He was now convinced that his impression of a few moments ago had been correct. His father was an undiagnosed schizophrenic and was deep into a complex delusion. The question was, what should he do about it? Was his father dangerous? Should he contradict this fantasy or go along with it until he could call the authorities?
"I'm not schizophrenic, Scotty," Jim said, his eyes showing mild amusement. "That is what you were thinking, right?"
"Uh... no, Dad, of course not," he said, maintaining the careful, placating tone. "If you say it came from a cave in Alaska and it's a teleportation device, then that's what it is."
Jim chuckled. "You should be commended for your tact, son," he said. "I know how this sounds and what you're thinking. When I read the directions for the device the first time I was thinking the same thing. But I'm not going to sit here and try to convince you I'm sane and that I speak the truth when there's a much easier way to convince you. I will give you a demonstration."
"Watch me carefully, son," he said, holding the device up before him. "The way you view the universe is about to change."
"Dad, look..." he started, and then stopped suddenly as his father disappeared before his eyes. There had been no flash of light, no smoke, no sparkling in the body, only a slight popping sound, like someone clapping their hands together. His father was just gone, the only trace of him the indentation in the couch cushion where his butt had been a moment before. And even that was slowly resuming its natural shape.
"Oh no," Scott said numbly, staring at the spot, his mouth wide open, his heart hammering along in his chest with the adrenaline rush. "I did not see that. It did not happen." But he knew he was lying to himself even as he spoke. He had seen it happen and there was no way he could convince himself it was some kind of trick. It was not an illusion, not a hologram, not a sleight of hand. His father had simply disappeared right in front of him. And that clapping sound he had heard... his well-read mind even knew what that was. It had been the sound of air rushing in to fill the space his father had occupied before... before... leaving.
He picked up his drink and took a tremendous shot of it, downing it like it was water, the whiskey burning his throat like fire but going immediately to work soothing his mind. What in the hell was going on here? Where had his father gone? Had he been telling the truth? Did he really have a teleportation device from the future, as mad as that might seem? That was impossible, wasn't it? But then, what he had just seen was impossible too, wasn't it?
A minute ticked by, and then two, and then three, and then four. Scott continued to sit in his chair, feeling the whiskey go to work on his overloaded brain and staring at the spot where his father had been. He had just gotten around to convincing himself that he was the one having the delusion, that he had imagined the entire encounter with his father — this despite Jim's drink still sitting on the end table, despite the classical music still issuing from the speaker — when a blast of air struck him gently in the face and his father reappeared, this time standing behind the couch instead of sitting on it. As had been the case when he had left, there was no lights, no twinkling, barely any sound. One second we wasn't there and the next, he was. He held something in his hand, something about the size of a brick but dull yellow in color. The manner in which he held it indicated it was extremely heavy for its size.
"Forgive me for how long it took," Jim said, walking around the couch and resuming his seat. "I forgot to take a flashlight with me and had to pop over to my house in South Lake Tahoe to get one. It was very dark inside the vault."
"Jesus fucking Christ," Scott whispered. "Dad... you... you... I mean... holy fucking shit."
His father put the yellow brick down on the coffee table, where it landed with a solid thunk. Scott looked at it numbly, trying to credit what he was seeing.
"Is that what I think it is?" Scott asked.
"It is if you think it's a brick of gold bullion from Fort Knox," he said.
"Fort... uh... you mean... Fort Knox?"
"The United States gold reserve storage facility," Jim told him. "Perhaps the most secure place in the nation — even more secure than nuclear weapons and plutonium storage facilities. In less than five minutes I entered it, took a brick of gold worth more than three hundred thousand dollars, and returned to your living room in California. Furthermore, if I chose not to return this brick, they would never know it was gone until the next inventory. Even if they did know it was gone, they would never know what happened to it. Not unless I was so dumb as to try to cash it in."
Scott shook his head, wanting to embrace denial but finding it extremely difficult. He was a man, after all, who tended to believe his senses. "How did you do this, Dad? Tell me it's an elaborate trick of some sort. That this is some well planned out joke you're playing on me."
"No joke, no trick," his father said. "I dematerialized here, was transmitted through the ether to the inside of a vault in Kentucky, and was rematerialized there. As I said, I then had to go to my house and then back to the vault, but you get the idea."
"You were dematerialized?" he said. "You mean... well... what do you mean? Were you broken up into tiny little bits?"
"In a manner of speaking, I suppose. Keep in mind, I know little about how the machine actually works. I only know what was printed in the instruction manual and in the help functions and what little information I've managed to pick up in my travels. But basically, it converts all of the mass in my body, and of course, any possessions or clothing I happen to have, into pure energy, which can then be transmitted at the speed of light, or even at hyper-light speed to other places. It seems that in the future such devices are relatively commonplace. Once I arrive at my destination, it converts the energy back into the original mass or masses and poof, there I am, just as good as new."
"It doesn't need a transmitter or a receiver? How is that possible?"
"The machine acts as its own transmitter and receiver. Again, the physics of it are quite beyond me. Quite beyond anyone who is currently alive, I imagine. The nearest I can figure, the device I have — this one here — originally came from approximately ten thousand years in the future."
"Ten thousand years?"
"At least," he said. "And remember what Arthur C. Clarke had to say about such things. 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'. That is true, Scotty. Oh so true. If I've learned nothing else in my travels, I've learned that."
Scott reached forward and put his hand on the gold brick. It was warm and smooth to the touch. Stamped on the front was the seal of the United States of America. He tried to heft it and found that he couldn't, at least not with one hand. It had to weight at least sixty, maybe even seventy pounds. It was real. He didn't have a test kit to confirm this, wouldn't even know how to use one if he did, but he had no doubt this brick was in fact gold and in fact had come from Fort Knox. "This is incredible," he said softly, still trying to grapple with it. He looked up sharply at his father as something occurred to him. "Is that how you got three million dollars?" he asked. "You've been using this thing to go into banks and steal money and gold?"
"No, not exactly," his father told him. "I simply brought back the gold brick as a demonstration for you. I have every intention of putting it back. But you are right in one sense of the word. The device is responsible for the modest fortune I've accumulated and I suppose you could say I was stealing things." He shrugged. "I think you'll decide it doesn't much matter once you know everything about what the device is capable of."
"It doesn't much matter?" Scott asked. "What do you mean it doesn't matter? How could stealing things not matter?"
"I think you'll find that pretty much everything doesn't really matter," Jim told him. "Not when you come right down to it. That's a fact of life — of lives — that is hard to take sometimes. It can be depressing if you let it. We human so much like to put meaning to everything, so much want everything to have meaning. But we're a ways from that lesson just yet. Let us first discuss the most basic function of the device — the linear teleportation mode."
"No," Scott said. "I think we've discussed this thing enough."
"We haven't even begun yet, Scotty," he said patiently. "How are you to operate the device if I don't show you how to use it?"
"Operate it? Are you insane? I'm not going to operate that thing! I don't ever want to see it again. I sure as shit don't want it scrambling me up into little pieces and shooting me across the country."
"The process is quite painless and quite safe," Jim assured him. "Take my word for it. I've teleported in both the linear and the hyper-light mode thousands of times, maybe tens of thousands of times. It is an instantaneous trip. You blink your eyes here and when you open them, you're somewhere else."
"Not me," Scott insisted. "I don't know what made you think I was going to go somewhere with that, but..."
"Scott," Jim said, leaning forward, "you're letting your base emotions blot out rational thought. Just in the linear mode alone, think of what you can do with this thing. You can go anywhere on the planet, see anything you want. You can even go into space if you want, assuming there is a spacecraft for you to materialize in. Bielke and I have been up to the International Space Station several times." He gave a wink. "Ever wanted to try zero gravity sex? This little baby can arrange it for you."
Scott took another drink of his Jack Daniels, finishing it off. "I can't believe I'm having this conversation," he said. "I thought I was just going to come home and have a few drinks and listen to some music and enjoy my first night off in a week. Instead, my crazy ass father is telling me he's broken into a goddamn space station using a futuristic teleportation advice and that he's boffed a young Russian girl in there. Why is this happening? What did I do to deserve this?"
"You're my only son, that is what you did to deserve this," Jim said. "And you seem to think I'm offering you something unpleasant. Scott, push your fear and superstition to the side and think about this for a moment. I'm offering you the world and everything in it. Quite literally."
"You're offering it to me?" he asked. "You mean you want to give it to me?"
"As I said before, I don't need it anymore. I've done all the traveling I need to do. I have found my soul mate and I have found my home. It is time to pass the gift on."
"That's okay, Dad," he said. "You can keep it."
"No," Jim insisted. "I can't, Scotty. I need you to accept the gift if I'm to continue to live in my home. I'll need you to travel to me from time to time."
"Why?" he asked. "I don't understand. Just take the freakin' thing with you."
Jim sighed. "That is an option, but not the optimum one. As I said before, you don't understand all the functions and benefits of this device. And I refuse to allow you to refuse it until you do understand them all."
"What are you talking about?" he nearly screamed. "Can't you stop spouting a bunch of metaphysical bullshit and just say what you mean?"
He shook his head. "I'm afraid that there's a little too much to swallow without demonstration. Scotty, travel with me. I beg of you. We'll start in the linear mode. I promise it is harmless."
"Dad... I... can't," he said. "That thing scares me."
"Don't you think I was scared the first time I used it? Just take a few trips and tell me what you think. If you don't like the linear mode, if you don't start to see the possibilities, I'll leave you in peace." He held out his hand. "Travel with me, son. The world is ours. Let me show you some of it."
"Dad..." he said, looking at the black device with fearful awe. "I just... I don't..."
"I'll tell you what," he said. "At least come back to Fort Knox with me so I can put this thing away. If you don't like that, I'll bring you right back and never bother with you again. It's just a short trip. We can be there and back in less than two minutes."
He hesitated, continuing to stare at it, wondering if he was really considering such a mad form of transport, wondering still if this wasn't some sort of hoax.
"Two minutes, Scotty," Jim repeated. "There and back. That's all I ask of you for now."
He let out a breath of air. "How would we do it?" he said, not quite committing himself yet.
His father held out his hand to him. "Simply take my hand," he said. "That will join you to me and the machine will do the rest."
"Won't it get our DNA mixed up or something? Like in the movie The Fly?"
Jim found this particularly amusing. He laughed aloud. "I would've thought you'd have more faith in the engineering skills of our distant descendents than that," he said. "The machine is designed to accommodate multiple travelers and even inanimate objects as heavy as two hundred tons. Bielke and I have traveled together many times. Everything always comes out pretty much like it went in."
"Pretty much?" he asked, keeping his hand firmly at his side.
"A bit of a joke, Scotty. Sorry. I promise, you won't be merged with my DNA, you won't be merged with a fly or a bacterium or a virus. You won't even end up wearing my underwear. This machine has a considerable amount of artificial intelligence." He pushed his hand forward a little more. "Now hold out your hand to me."
Scott slowly held out his hand, unable to believe he was doing such a thing. His father's hand grasped it, as if they were shaking. Scott felt his heart hammering in his chest in a way it hadn't done since he'd climbed into an A-10 for his first combat mission of the Gulf War.
"We'd better stand up for this," Jim said, rising to his feet but keeping a firm grip on Scott's hand. As he stood, he pulled a cheap, two-cell aluminum flashlight from his back pocket and switched it on. He handed it to Scott. "We'll need this." He then picked up the brick of gold from the table, seemingly effortlessly. "And we'll need this as well."
Scott stood up too, his legs shaky and reluctant to keep holding him up. "Now what?" he asked.
"Now, we travel," Jim told him with a smile. He moved the hand holding the gold brick to his belt, where the black device was now clipped.
"Is it going to..." Scott started. His mouth stopped as the light suddenly dimmed down. He thought for a second that the power had gone out in his house but then realized that was not what had happened at all. His living room was gone. His entire house was gone. He was now standing in a large, darkened room, illuminated only by the cone of light from the flashlight. The floor and even the walls were made of polished gray steel. All around him were heavy shelves that rose to the ceiling. Installed in each shelf were drawers labeled with numbers and letters in sequence. He let go of his father's hand and stared in awe. "Holy fucking shit," he whispered.
"Welcome to Fort Knox, my son," Jim said. "We're in Vault Six-C on the main level. I will advise you to keep your voice down a bit. Though there are no guards inside the vault, and though we're away from the security cameras and the motion detectors, I can't be sure there are no microphones in here. In the interests of time during my demonstration, I was unable to properly recon the area."
"Jesus fucking Christ," he said, shining the light back and forth, looking up and down the row of shelves. "We're really here, aren't we, Dad. I mean... I mean... we really teleported."
"We really teleported," he confirmed.
"I didn't feel anything," Scott said. "No tingling or unconsciousness... or anything."
"As I said, the trip is instantaneous. Would you mind shining that light over to the right? On that bank of shelves there in front of me?"
Numbly, Scott did as asked. His father walked over to a drawer labeled 9375-D-213 and opened it, tugging quite hard to get it to move. Inside were at least thirty other gold bars exactly like the one he held, stacked neatly in groups of three. There was one missing from the nearest stack. Using both hands, Jim placed the stolen one back in the pile. He then shut the drawer again.
"Amazing," Scott whispered, pondering all of that gold, pondering the fact that he was now standing, undetected, in what his father had called the most secured vault in the United States.
"Isn't it?" Jim asked. He turned back to him. "How do you feel?"
"I feel fine," Scott replied. "I'm not sick or anything."
"No, I mean, how do you feel?" Jim repeated. "Get in touch with your body for a moment. Tell me how you feel."
Scott stared at his father in the cone of light for an instant, wondering what kind of metaphysical bullshit he was spouting now. He opened his mouth to say something, probably something sarcastic, and then shut it again as he realized what his father meant. He felt physically good. Really good. Better in fact, than he'd felt in years. The mild fatigue that usually came from a long day of flying was completely gone, leaving him feeling as if he'd just awakened from a good night's sleep. The dull ache that seemed to always be in his back — the legacy of a profession in which he spent most of his time sitting down — was gone as well. Not just faded, not just eased, but gone. As if it had never been there. "Wow," he whispered, the sense of awe deepening. "What did it do to me?"
"You feel good, do you?"
"I feel great," he said. "My backache is gone, I feel like I've just gotten a good night's sleep." He paused as something else occurred to him. When he'd left, he'd been mildly intoxicated, somewhere between a medium and heavy buzz. That was gone as well. He felt as if he hadn't had a drop of alcohol in days. "The booze is gone too. What happened, Dad? What did that thing do to me?"
"Well, as far as the booze goes, that can be seen as either an unpleasant or a pleasant side-effect of teleportation, but it is a constant one. Any intoxicants or poisons in your system are deleted when you are reassembled. This has the effect of instantly sobering you. As for the aches and pains and fatigue, that too is a side effect. Any minor flaws in your DNA and any damage to your body systems are repaired by the computer prior to reassembly. Thus, the inflammation in your vertebrae and disks has been fixed, any arteriosclerosis plaque in your vessels was removed, any arthritic joints were fixed, and any pancreatic or liver damage was repaired. Any fillings in your teeth are now gone and the teeth themselves are as good as new. If you had any harmful viral or bacterial infections brewing, they too were removed. If you'll take a look at your stomach, you'll find that the scar from your appendectomy is gone as well."
Numbly, Scott reached down and lifted up the bottom of his shirt. Though the moderate beer belly he'd developed over the past few years was still there, the six-inch scar that was the legacy of the inflamed appendix he'd had removed fifteen years before was gone without a trace. "Jesus," he whispered.
"Are you starting to see how I stay in shape?" Jim asked with a chuckle. "This one trip you took, Scotty, has probably increased your natural life span by at least forty years. If you'd like, we can reduce your body fat content, improve your eyesight, strengthen your muscles, including your heart, we can even reverse the graying and the hair loss you are experiencing, although you will have to wait for the new hair to grow in."
"This little machine does all that?" he asked, still trying to come to grips with the fact his father had just repaired most of the effects of natural aging.
"That and much more," Jim said, "although those things I just mentioned are options, not default settings like the damage repair. As for the sensation of having just awakened from a good night's sleep, part of that is reaction to the repairs that were made — after all, your heart, your muscles, your entire body, have just been made more efficient — but mostly it's because you have, in effect, gotten a good night's sleep just by traveling. When you are reassembled, all the effects you usually get from sleeping are automatically performed."
"You mean... you get a good night's sleep just by traveling?" he asked, imagining the possibilities of that.
"Well, for the most part," Jim said. "Now you may think it is theoretically possible to never sleep again, to simply teleport from one room to the other whenever you get fatigued, but, in practice, you can only do this for about a week or so. Your brain still requires REM sleep on a regular basis in order to catalogue the information it has gathered, to clean out the subconscious and so forth. Failure to get some actual sleep once in a while will cause things like irritability, delusions, paranoia, and, eventually out and out hallucinations and insanity. So do be careful with that sort of thing."
"Jesus," Scott repeated, pacing back and forth in the small corridor, his mind spinning, on overload. This was some very heavy shit his father had just dragged him into. Some very heavy shit indeed. "So you're saying..."
"I'm saying that this device opens up the world for you," he said. "And it makes sure you'll be around long enough to enjoy it. And that's only the surface. I still haven't shown you the best part."
"What's that?" Scott asked, excited in spite of himself.
"Well, how about we find a little better place to discuss this," Jim suggested. "Are you willing to travel a little further with me? Or would you prefer to go home and forget about this little device."
"Let's travel a little further," Scott told him. "I think I'm starting to see what you meant, Dad."
"I thought you might." He reached down on his belt and fiddled with the buttons on the device for a moment. "Now then. Hold out your hand again."
Scott did so, almost eagerly this time.
Jim took it. "Let's travel," he said, and pushed the button.
The dim darkness of the vault instantly gave way to sunlight so bright he had to close his eyes against it. The air was pleasantly chilly, with a steady wind pushing against his face at fifteen to twenty knots. The air smelled of sea salt and the ground below his feet was hard and rocky. He took a few breaths, letting go of his father's hand as he did so, and then slowly opened his eyes to see where he was now. As his eyes became accustomed to the light and adjusted he felt that last breath freeze in his throat as saw the view.
"Wow," he whispered in awe.
They were up high in the air, standing atop a flat, rocky plateau with sharply sloping cliffs falling away before them. He could see the ocean, which one he knew not, stretching out to the horizon in the direction he was facing. Dozens of ships could be seen dotting the surface of the ocean, tankers and cargo ships mostly, but the odd warship and cruise ship thrown in for variety. From this height they looked tiny, like ships seen from an aircraft in flight. To his right and far below he could see gently rolling plains and beyond that, a large, urban cityscape, complete with hazy pollution, that stretched off to the horizon in that direction.
"Where are we?" he asked his father as he took everything in.
"South Africa," Jim told him. "Atop Table Mountain on the Cape of Good Hope to be exact. Over to the right there is Capetown."
"We're in South Africa? You mean... we're really in South Africa? We're really on top of Table Mountain?"
"We really are," Jim confirmed. "I have a host of different places I like to travel to for meditation or relaxation, or just to take in the view while making love to a woman. I had to choose one in the eastern hemisphere right now because it's daylight here, about 7 AM, if I'm not mistaken. As you can see, the sun has just come up and the air is a bit on the brisk side since it is autumn this far south of the equator."
Scott continued to look around in awe, pondering the fact that even the fastest commercial airliner would take nearly eighteen hours to fly from California to Capetown, South Africa but that he and his father had made the trip in a millisecond. "This is just mind-blowing, Dad. Absolutely fucking mind-blowing."
"This is one of my favorite meditation places. The view is inspiring, isn't it? Unforgiving sea contrasted with wildlands and one of the largest metropolitan regions on the continent. You can see everything from up here, although in this time you run the risk of the odd climber being up here. We were lucky today."
"In this time? You mean during the day?"
"Something like that," Jim said. "As I said, we're merely in linear travel mode at the moment."
"You keep talking about linear mode and hyper-something mode. What does that mean?"
"We'll cover that later," Jim replied. "No sense overloading your senses all at once. Let's have a seat and talk a bit." He walked over to some boulders that were stacked about five feet way. He waved Scott over. "C'mon, son." He reached into an inner pocket of his shirt and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He shook one out and then offered the pack to Scott. "Smoke?"
"You know I don't smoke, Dad," he said, grabbing a seat on the boulder next to his father.
"But you used to, and presumably you enjoyed it, didn't you?"
"And why did you quit?"
"Because it's bad for you," he said as if talking to an idiot. "I didn't want to die of cancer or emphysema."
Jim chuckled again. "That's not really a concern now, is it?" he asked. "The next time you travel any damage caused by the cigarettes you smoked will be automatically repaired. So, spark up, why don't you? It helps one to think."
Scott found he had no argument to counter that with. His dad was right. Why shouldn't he smoke? And a cigarette would certainly go down well about now. He reached out and took one, putting it in his mouth.
"That's my boy," Jim said, utilizing a butane lighter to fire up his smoke. He took a few puffs and then handed it across to Scott."
Scott fired up as well, taking a few tries to get it lit against the wind and coughing over the first inhale. He took a smaller drag the next time and relished the sensation of nicotine coursing through his veins, making him a little dizzy in a pleasant sort of way. He stared out at the ocean far below and took another drag, increasing the dizziness. He then looked at his father. "What if there would have been a climber up here?" he asked. "What would he have thought, seeing us appear out of thin air like that? Or what if we'd materialized right where he was standing? You know? Two objects trying to occupy the same space? Would that be dangerous?"
His father seemed impressed by his questions. It showed in his face. "Well," he replied, "in the first place, it's impossible for you to materialize directly atop another person or object. The machine probes ahead to the landing area before transmitting you and makes sure that doesn't happen. It also makes sure the landing area in question is still there. You will never arrive fifty feet above the ground, or six feet below it."
"The machine probes ahead?" he asked incredulously.
Jim nodded. "It sends a pre-signal to the landing area, probes the vicinity, and then reports back prior to the main transmission. It takes about a tenth of a second or so. And as for other people being in the vicinity, it is possible to transmit where others are nearby — I did that in your living room, you'll recall — but I have the machine set to secrecy mode, which means it will find a place out of view of any human eyes or any other means of detection."
"It does all that?"
"That's how it found an unobserved place in the vault at Fort Knox to transmit me and then us. The vault is lousy with security cameras but we were dropped in a place unobserved by them."
"Then how come it let you appear in my living room right in front of me?"
"I overrode the setting for that particular trip," he said. "The machine has a multitude of options, as I've mentioned. It takes quite some time to learn some of the more obscure ones."
Scott took another drag of his smoke, a deeper one this time, which caused him to have to fight the urge to cough. He exhaled the smoke, watching it torn away by the wind, secure in the knowledge that he would not be harmed by it. "How long did it take you to learn everything this device can do?" he asked his father.
"More than a year," he said. "And even after that, I still kept stumbling across options I was not aware of for many years after."
"Wow," Scott said. That was even more complex than learning the flight and navigation systems of a Boeing 767. But then, this device certainly did a few more things than a 767, didn't it? Yes, it surely did. "You mentioned an instruction manual?"
"I did, and I will give it to you and allow you to read it, but..."
"It's written in English?"
"It is," he confirmed. "It would see that in the world this particular device came from, English is the primary language. There are, of course some nuances and words you won't understand, but, surprisingly, there are not many of them."
"What do you mean, in the world this device came from?"
"We'll go over that later," Jim promised. "For now, we're just focusing on the basics of teleportation. In any case, what I was saying was that the manual is not very large. It merely explains the use of the device and the basic functions. Most of the actual instructions are in the help screens within the device menu itself."
"The device menu?"
"Exactly," Jim confirmed. "I'll show you that in a minute. For now, however..." He pulled the device from his belt and held it in his hand. "Let's just go over the device itself."
Scott looked at the small black box in his father's hand. He had only gotten a glimpse of it before, now he was able to examine it in detail. It looked so amazingly simple. There was a large red button on the top of it. Next to that was a smaller, white button. On the face of it were four more white buttons, small ones, numbered 1,2,3, and 4 in simple black print, arranged in a square. Below this, near the bottom of the device, was a slightly larger, green button with an M printed on it in white. And that was it. There was nothing that resembled a display screen, a battery level, or even a battery compartment.
"The device is made of an advanced alloy," Jim told him, turning it this way and that. "It is virtually indestructible. You can hit it with a sledgehammer, submerge it in water or even acid, burn it with a blowtorch, and it will not be harmed. The only thing you don't want to do, is lose it."
"I see," Scott said, pondering that little tidbit. Though he had no reason to think his father was exaggerating, it was still hard to believe. What kind of alloy was that indestructible? Something much stronger than aircraft aluminum or the titanium used to make certain submarines. It would be stronger, even, then the depleted uranium that the 30-millimeter slugs he'd shot out of his A-10 were made of, and that was the densest metal available on Earth.
"The device is powered by an advanced micro-fusion generator chip," Jim continued. "From what I understand, the device generates the electricity it requires — which, as you can imagine, is considerable — by drawing in elements from the atmosphere and then fusing them for energy. This is something that is far beyond even the theoretical physics of the day but that is apparently very common in the far future. The vent holes you see are for absorption of these elements, not for ventilation of heat."
"So you never have to change batteries?"
"You never have to change batteries," he confirmed. "Let's talk about the range now."
"How far you can travel. We'll discuss the hyper-light mode later, but in strictly linear travel, which is how you get around the world, the range is limited to five light seconds."
"Five light seconds?" he asked, grappling with that concept.
"A light second is how far light travels in one second, or, about 186,000 miles. Five light seconds is roughly 930,000 miles, or about four times the distance of the moon. This means you can visit any structure in Earth orbit or lunar orbit, but not much else."
"So you can't visit Mars or Venus then?"
"No," Jim said. "And why would you want to? You would materialize and instantly die from the poisonous atmosphere or the heat. There's not much fun in that, is there?"
"I suppose not."
"And if you do decide to visit space, stick to the International Space Station while in strictly linear mode. That's the only place you can materialize unprotected currently. The space shuttle is possible as well, but it would be a bit hard to appear there privately. I'm sure you appreciate that this device must be kept secret, right?"
"Right," Scott said seriously. He could imagine what certain very powerful people, most notably his own government, would do to get their hands on such a device, if for no other reason than to prevent other countries from utilizing it.
"So anyway," Jim continued. "The five light second range puts you within reach of anything and anyplace on Earth and above it. As I told you earlier, it's currently set to secrecy mode, which means it will automatically drop you outside the detection range of any human beings or electronic devices capable of recording the materialization. If the machine does detect either humans or recording devices that could observe you, it will either abort the transmission, automatically adjust the transmission to put you in an unobserved portion of the same place, or will halt the transmission and ask you what you want it to do. This all depends on menu options, which will be different under each circumstance."
"Menu options," Scott said. "You keep mentioning that. How do you access this menu? I don't see a screen on that thing."
"It's holographic," Jim replied. "And quite complex, I might add. We will get to that in a minute. First, do you understand the range and the transmission protocols?"
"I think so," Scott said. "Five light seconds and it won't drop you where you can be seen or detected."
"Unless you want it to," Jim said.
"Unless I want it to."
"Very good. Let's move on to the buttons."
Scott nodded, leaning a little closer.
"This button," Jim said, pointing to the large red one on top of the device, "is what is known as the home button. No matter where you are or what you are doing, whether you are in linear mode or you've used hyper-light mode, it will bring you back to whatever you have programmed as your home. In my case, that location is programmed as my house in South Lake Tahoe. My living room to be specific, although if the cleaning crew happens to be there at the time the secrecy mode setting will automatically select another, unoccupied portion of the house. When I give the device to you, I would suggest you set your house in Auburn as the home."
"So if you pushed that button right now," Scott said. "You would vanish and reappear in your living room?"
"Correct," Jim said. "As you can imagine, it's a very handy button to have. You don't have to worry about waypoints or menus or coordinates. One push and you're home. It works well in an emergency, particularly if you've been injured somehow and need to be repaired by teleporting, or if you've fallen off of something, or if you're in a plane that's about to crash, or something along those lines. Remember, any damage to your body can be repaired simply by teleporting a single time. Just make sure you don't get so injured you are knocked unconscious or killed instantly."
Scott looked a little warily at his father for a moment, wondering just what he was getting into. "Where exactly do you travel that you have to worry about those sorts of thing?" he asked. "Have you been visiting Iraq or something?"
"Places that make Iraq look like Utopia at times," Jim told him. "But don't worry about that right now. That's advanced study. Do you understand the function of the home button?"
"Yes," Scott said.
"Okay, then, let's move on to the transmit button. That is this button here on top, next to the home button." He pointed to the unmarked white button. "This does pretty much what you would expect. It's activates the transmission mode. It is what you push in order to execute a travel order you've either programmed through the menu or punched up on the keyboard. It must be used in conjunction with one of the other functions. Simply pressing it by itself will do nothing."
"Okay," Scott said slowly. "I think I get it. It's kind of like the enter key."
"Exactly," Jim said, smiling at the reference. "And that brings us to these four numbered keys here on the front. Those are what you use to access pre-programmed locations. You pre-program those locations, obviously, in the menu and of course you can access and transmit from the menu as well. These are mostly so you can punch in where you want to go quickly, and without anyone seeing what you are doing. For instance, that is how I left your living room. Earlier today I programmed the Fort Knox location into my list of linear destinations. It was assigned number 4-2-2-1. I simply punched in that sequence — and believe me, you will quickly learn the numeric pad by feel — and then pushed the transmit button. Poof, I disappeared right before your eyes. Of course, I then found myself in the dark so I pushed the home button at that point and traveled to South Lake Tahoe. Most of the time that elapsed on that trip was me looking for a goddamn flashlight in my kitchen drawer and then changing the batteries. Once I had the light, I pushed 4-2-2-1 and transmit again, and then I was back in the vault, able to see this time. Once I had the gold in my hand, I punched in 2-2-3-3, which is the code for your living room. Poof, I was back, although standing that time since I had been standing when I left."
Scott continued looking at the device in fascination. He took one last puff of his cigarette and then dropped it on the ground, crushing it with the bottom of his shoe. "So that means you can program in... uh..."
"256 locations," Jim told him. "In truth, that's about two hundred more than you can reasonably be expected to memorize and recall at a moment's notice. You'll find that, in practice, you only use the keyboard commands for ten or twelve of your favorite places in each linear mode. You may have many more stored and available for keyboard access, but you won't remember their numbers and will have to go into the menu to call them up. Once in the menu, it's easier just to select where you wish to travel and then hit the transmit key. The menu will automatically close when you teleport."
"Uh huh," Scott said. "And my living room is one of the places you've memorized? How often to you visit my house?"
"That is the first time I've been in your house uninvited," Jim said, his tone indicating he was somewhat hurt by the accusation. "I only programmed a number in for easy return during our talk."
"I see," Scott replied, ashamed of his statement. "Sorry, Dad."
"No problem, Scotty," he said. "No problem at all. Let me show you a few of my favorite places real quickly, just so you can get the feel of the device."
"You want me to teleport us?" he asked, suddenly scared again.
"You have to do it sometime," Jim told him, offering him the device. "Just be sure I'm holding your hand when you push the transmit button, okay? I'd hate to get left atop Table Mountain and have you not know how to get back to me."
Scott licked his lips nervously but took the device from his father. To his surprise, he found it extremely light, less than an ounce he estimated. Despite this, it felt solid in his hand, solid and sturdy. "Okay, what do I do?"
"Well... let's see," Jim said contemplatively. "Let's remain on the daylight side of the planet, shall we? How about you punch in 1-2-2-3? That's another of my favorite meditation spots."
"Where is it?" Scott asked.
"Now that would ruin the surprise, wouldn't it?"
"I guess so," he said nervously. He looked down at the device in his palm, at the white buttons with the numbers on them. He put his finger on the 1 button and pushed it. There was no beeping or booping or any other noise to indicate it had been activated. Somehow this didn't surprise him. He then pushed the 2 button and then did it again. Next was the 3 button. The sequence was complete.
"Now remember, take my hand," Jim warned.
"Right." He held out the hand that was not holding the device. His father took it. He took a deep breath and then moved his thumb so it was hovering over the transmit button. He rested it atop the button for the briefest moment and then, mentally deriding himself for being a pussy, pushed firmly down on it.
Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, Capetown, and the wide blue ocean all vanished right before his eyes, replaced with another view, this one just as majestic. Once again, they were up high in the air, standing atop a rocky surface. Only this time, the surface was much smoother, showing the hand of mankind manipulating it. It was a structure of some sort, an ancient structure of impressive girth, and they were inside of it. The walls were made of solid stone and had large windows cut in all sides, giving an impressive, 360-degree view of the entire landscape. In the direction they were facing was the slope of a large hill leading down to a gully. All around them were other rolling hills covered with green vegetation. Off to both sides a massive stone wall stretched up and over these hills and out of sight. Spaced at regular intervals, usually at the hilltops, stone structures were atop the wall, obviously to serve as lookout points. Scott realized they were inside one such structure.
"The Great Wall of China?" Scott asked as he took in the view.
"Indeed," Jim told him. "A section that is about eighty miles north of Beijing, in a very rural, difficult to access area. Since there are no roads out here, not many people visit this portion of the wall. It is untouched by human encroachment, weathered only by time. You can see the view as the ancient Chinese did as they watched for invading Mongols from the north."
Scott found himself overcome with wonder and delight as he looked out over rural China, as he pondered his father's words. The sensation was much more than he'd felt upon materializing atop Table Mountain. He had been too numb then, his mind still grappling with the reality of what he'd always thought an impossibility. But now... now he was standing in a guardhouse on the Great Wall of China. He was standing there, atop a structure he'd always wanted to see in person, but he had expended no effort to get there. He had paid no travel agency to arrange the trip. He had dealt with no bureaucracy to get travel documents in order or to obtain a visa. He had not ridden in a cramped aircraft for eighteen hours. In fact, less than twenty minutes ago he had been sitting in his own living room, sipping a drink. Nor would he have to stay in a foreign hotel and deal with the reverse of all the bureaucracy and travel in order to get home. If he wanted to, he could be back home in less than a minute. Or he could go somewhere else, see something else. Now he was starting to understand what his father had meant when he'd told him the world was his. The world really was his. The Taj Mahal? He could visit it right now. The pyramids of Egypt? He could materialize atop one, or deep inside one if he wished. Stonehenge? He could pop over and have a picnic lunch there. Easter Island? He could have his dinner there.
"This is awesome, Dad," he said, staring at everything, pondering everything. "This is just... it's just..."
His father was grinning. "It is, isn't it? I remember my first few travel experiences. I suspect I looked about like you do right now. Are you beginning to see this device as I do, Scotty? As a gift? As something to be revered, not feared?"
"Yes," Scott said. "I do. Thank you for sharing it with me, Dad."
"I'm not simply sharing it with you, Scotty. I'm giving it to you. And as beautiful as the view is, the lessons must continue. Let us pop back to your living room, shall we? There are less distractions there."
He nodded. "Okay."
They each had a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other as they sat on Scott's couch. From the surround sound speakers, classical music was still issuing. The teleportation device was sitting on Scott's lap, waiting for him to utilize it.
"Now I've already put you down as an authorized user in the menu," Jim explained to him. "Your DNA was cataloged the first time I teleported with you and the machine will now allow you to use it for any function."
"So... you mean other people can't use it? Someone can't just pick it up and accidentally pop into your living room?"
"Well, I would advise you not to leave this machine lying around where someone could pick it up. It is undoubtedly the most valuable and unique thing on this entire planet. But, in answer to your question, no, only the owner — which is currently logged as me — and authorized users — of whom you are the only other one — may utilize the device on your own."
"Bielke can't use it?" he asked.
He shook his head. "The potential for misuse of this device is tremendous. I don't even trust Bielke, as much as I love her, with that sort of temptation. But I do trust you, Scotty. I've raised you to be a good man. I know in my heart that you will use it as it is intended."
"As it is intended?"
"It is intended to travel with, to enjoy life with, to forge an existence for yourself. Those things it should be used for."
That wasn't exactly what he'd been expecting to hear. "Not for the betterment of mankind?"
"Fuck mankind," his dad said in all seriousness. "It can take care of itself... or maybe it can't. The idea is to make your life rich and fulfilled and to benefit those you deem worthy. As I told you before, you'll find that not much really matters. There really isn't a great scheme of things, much as we like to believe there is."
"I'm not sure what you're talking about."
"You will," his father said. "It will become clear soon, after we enter hyper-light mode."
"And what is..."
"Later," Jim told him. "For now, we have one final button to cover, the most important button." He pointed to the green button on the bottom. "This one here is the key to everything this device does and is capable of. It's the menu button. Pick up the device and push it."
Scott set his drink down on the table and picked up the teleporter. He hesitated. "What's going to happen?"
"You won't travel anywhere," he said. "It just brings up the holographic menu interface. From there, every function can be accessed."
"Okay," Scott said slowly. He extended his thumb and pushed the button. Again there was nothing audible to indicate something had happened. But something visual certainly took place. Oh yes indeed. A globe of the earth suddenly popped into existence before him, about a foot from the tip of his nose. The globe was about eighteen inches in diameter and extremely realistic looking, the continents marked with thin black lines and the countries neatly labeled in small print. He was looking at the western hemisphere. A red dot was visible in the United States, right about where the Sacramento region was located. Off to the sides of the globe were dozens of small rectangles, they too floating in mid-air. Each was labeled with a word. Scott's eyes registered a few of them — SECURITY, VIEW MODE, ANATOMICS, and ZORDON OPTIONS were but a few. Floating above the globe were two larger tabs, one labeled LINEAR MODE and the other HYPER-LIGHT MODE. The linear mode tab was currently lit up. Floating below the globe were two more tabs that read CLOSE MENU and TRANSMIT.
"This is a hologram?" Scott asked, staring at it in awe. "It looks solid, like I can reach out and touch it."
"It is solid," Jim replied. "At least in a manner of speaking. And you can reach out and touch it. In fact, that's how you make it work."
"Wow," he said, tentatively reaching out towards the globe, but withdrawing before he actually made contact. "I won't mess anything up, will I?"
"Nope, only the transmit tab will cause you to actually teleport from here, and only if you've programmed in a location to travel to. And even if you did do that without me holding onto you, you know how to get back, don't you?"
"2-2-3-3 and transmit," he answered.
"Right," his dad replied. "Later on I'll have you program your living room in as the home destination. But for now, don't be afraid to touch anything and experiment with the menu tabs. That's the only way you're going to learn."
"Okay," he said, but still didn't move his finger forward.
"Lets start with first things first," Jim suggested. "The globe. You'll notice it looks fairly realistic?"
"Yes," Scott said. "I did notice that."
"That's because in a way, it is realistic. The globe is a real time projection of the Earth. For ease of use, anything you likely wouldn't be interested in has been removed from the picture — things like clouds and fog banks and orbiting satellites and the moon. The night side has been lit up as well. You can put those things in if you want, but trust me, it's easier without them. Also, for ease of use, the current political boundaries have been drawn in. As you zoom in, local divisions and cities will be labeled with names as well."
"When you say real time... do you mean... like... real time?"
"Indeed I do. You see, the machine is not idle as it sits there. It is constantly scanning within its functional range with hyperwaves. It is, in effect, a huge camera that can see everything — kind of like a panoramic camera. The dot in north central California is, of course, where you currently are. As you start to zoom in on a particular place, the hyperwaves will concentrate more heavily in that region, to the exclusion of places you're not looking at. That way, you can get a completely detailed picture of where you want to go."
"I'm not sure I followed all of that, Dad," Scott told him.
"Well then, I guess I should have you demonstrate it to yourself. You can look at anything on the planet. Anything. Pick something for me."
Scott looked at him, wondering if he were serious. "Anything?" he asked.
"Anything," he assured him.
"Hmmm," he said, intrigued. He couldn't seem to think of anything. Impulsively, meaning it as a joke, he blurted, "How about the women's locker room over at the gym?"
His father didn't seem to think it was a joke, however. He grinned. "You are certainly your father's boy," he told him. "That's as good a place as any. Take your finger and..."
"Wait a minute," Scott said. "I was just kidding."
"I'm not," Jim said lecherously. "Let's check out some poon, my boy. Use your finger and draw a circle around the Sacramento region."
"You're serious?" Scott asked.
"I'm dead serious. Do it."
"Wow," Scott said. This was unbelievable. He turned back to the globe and slowly extended his index finger. He made contact with it just north of the dot in California. Slowly, he began to move it in a counterclockwise circle. As his finger moved, a thin red line stretched out behind it. The circle extended from the edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the eastern fringes of San Francisco Bay. To the north and south it extended from about Redding to Fresno. When it was complete, he withdrew his finger. The circle remained in place but nothing else happened.
"Tap your finger once inside that circle and it will zoom in," Jim advised.
Scott did so. The globe suddenly vanished and was replaced by a flat, three-dimensional view of the geographic area within the circle he'd drawn. As his father had told him, it was a detailed map, in full relief. In the portion where the Sierra Nevadas were, on the right side, the mountains rose up from the surface. There was even snow upon them. In the valley itself, the land had contours, lakes, rivers, streams and creeks. Thin black lines represented highways and freeways. Where the cities were located, the buildings were not visible, but the geographic boundaries were all neatly drawn and each labeled with its proper name, which seem to float in the air a few inches above the map. Sacramento, Stockton, Redding, Vallejo, Roseville, Rocklin, Auburn. Even the lesser suburbs — those areas unincorporated but populated — were labeled as well. Carmichael, Fair Oaks, El Dorado Hills, Meadow Vista. To the left, right, above, and below of the floating map, all of the menu tabs remained in place, just as they had been when the globe was there.
"Now zoom in further," Jim told him. "Bring in the Auburn area. Then you'll start to see streets and buildings."
He did so, drawing another circle around Auburn and tapping it. The map became a closer view, more detailed. As Jim had said, he could see the streets now, the main ones labeled with their proper name. Even the larger buildings, such as the courthouse and the Wal-Mart were visible.
"And closer still," Jim said.
He drew another circle, this one around the section of Auburn where he lived. Now every street was labeled, every building, including his very house, a stark relief on the map. Trees and bushes could now be seen, as could swimming pools and patios. To his astonishment, he could see tiny people moving about in some places, could see cars driving back and forth along the streets. Near the airport, tiny planes were circling around, waiting their turn to land while others on the ground were waiting their turn to take off.
"This is a live shot?" he asked in amazement. "These cars are really driving in these spots right now? These people are really walking around where I see them?"
"You got it," Jim confirmed. "As I said, the hyperwaves are concentrated intently upon this region and are ignoring the rest of the planet."
"How close can you zoom?"
"As close as you need to. Now zoom in some more. Do you see the gym building yet?"
"No," he said. "But I see the strip mall it's a part of."
"Zoom in on it."
He reached out and drew another circle, this one around the strip mall in question. When he brought it in, it was like he was looking at a shot from a helicopter hovering a thousand feet above it. Cars moved back and forth in the parking lot. People walked to and fro, close enough that he could make out their sex and what kind of clothing they were wearing. He could see steam and smoke coming out of the vent pipes of the various buildings.
"Now that you're this close," Jim said. "Tap on the gym building itself. That will isolate that particular building and give you a schematic of it."
He did as suggested. The view of the strip mall disappeared and was replaced by a zoom of the building only. The roof was now gone and black lines, outlining each of the rooms, took its place. The people inside were not visible as yet.
"Tap on the main workout area," Jim told him. "That will give you an overhead of the room."
He did so and suddenly he was looking at a shot of the entire gym. He saw all of the exercise equipment, all of the people in it. He saw the television sets, most of which were tuned to the Kings/Lakers playoff game that was underway. It was like a camera had been installed in the ceiling, but, at the same time, it was not. The view was not two dimensional, as would have been the case with a video feed, it was in full color and three dimensions. The people, the equipment, everything in the room had depth to it. He saw men and women running on stationary bikes and jogging on treadmills. He saw them pumping weights on the machines and sipping from water bottles. It was like he was actually hanging from the ceiling of the room, looking down on them.
"You'll notice there are now controls on the side of the hologram," Jim said.
Scott looked and, sure enough, there were protrusions on the side of the view. One was a wheel with a + on one end and a — on the other. Another was a trackball of some sort. It was not labeled with anything. The last was a small joystick that looked like it could be operated with one finger. It was not labeled either. "What do they do?" he asked.
"The slider is a zoom control," Jim said. "The trackball is so you can move about the building. The joystick is to change your orientation, like if you want to look from the perspective of standing on the floor, for instance. Play with them a bit. Move around the building and check things out."
Scott did as suggested, putting his right hand on the controls and manipulating them one by one. He zoomed in a little, so he was just above the floor, and then used the joystick to tilt the perspective to that of someone actually standing on the floor. Still using the joystick, he was now able to look around, up and down, just like someone turning his head.
"Now move around a little," Jim said. "Check the place out."
He put his finger on the trackball and began to move it. The view began to move down the walkway between two rows of stationary bikes. On his left and right, men and women were pumping away at the pedals, most of them looking at the television screen above them. One of them was a particularly attractive brunette woman. She was dressed in tight fitting spandex and a sports bra. Scott stopped and turned towards her, zooming in a little more.
"She's a hottie," Jim said appreciably. "You ever tap any of those women down there?"
"No," he said. "Most of them are quite shallow, I've found. I usually just keep to myself there."
"But you like to look," he said. It was not a question.
"Oh yes," Scott agreed. "That's the main reason I don't just buy my own treadmill."
He turned forward again and began to move along the walkway once more. As he did so, a large middle-aged man dressed in gray sweats and dripping sweat was heading in the opposite direction directly toward him. He moved the view a little to the right out of instinct and — though he should have known better — he actually expected the man to move to his right as well. But the man didn't know there was anything to move out of the way of. He grew extremely large, blotted out the view for a moment, and then disappeared.
"He ran into me," Scott said.
"No, he ran into nothing," Jim replied. "You're not really there, remember? All he did was pass through a concentration of hyperwaves. He noticed it no more than if he'd passed through a particularly dense concentration of regular radio signals."
"I see," Scott said. "So no one will have any idea I'm there? No feeling of being watched or anything like that?"
"None whatsoever," Jim assured him. "Now, how about we check out that locker room you were so eager to see."
"Right," Scott said enthusiastically. He began to move in that direction. It was near the far end of the room and he followed the walkways, making lefts and rights at the intersections. Several times people walked right through the view, blotting it for a second and then disappearing. When he came to the swinging door that guarded entrance to the room, he stopped, hesitating.
"You can go right through the door," Jim said. "You don't have to wait for someone to open it."
"Oh, of course," he said. He moved forward again. The view blotted as he passed through the doorway and then cleared. He was now in a short corridor. He turned left, moved a little forward, and was suddenly in a place no man was meant to tread. He hesitated again. "Are you sure we should be doing this?" he asked. "I mean... this is an invasion of privacy."
"So?" his father asked him bluntly.
"Well... it's wrong... isn't it?"
Jim simply shrugged. "You're not hurting anyone. You're just taking a little peek at something you've always wanted to see. No one in there will ever know you were there and their lives will be unaffected by what you're doing. So why not do it?"
That answer seemed too easy, to accommodating, too much like a twisted rationalization. But all the same, Scott allowed himself to accept it. After all, he did want to see the inside of the locker room, didn't he? "I guess you're right," he said. He moved the view forward again and turned the corner into the main locker room.
There were three rows of lockers on the right side of the room with a wooden bench that ran the length of each row. On the left side of the room were six shower stalls, each with privacy doors. In the back of the room was an enclosed bathroom area that, if it were like the men's locker room, would contain four stalls. The locker room was not particularly crowded, which was somewhat of a disappointment. Directly in front of him was a chubby woman in her fifties. She had just finished putting on an obscenely tight set of spandex and was fixing her hair. In the next row over, a mid-thirties woman with an impressively fit body had just finished dressing after her shower and was putting her sweaty workout clothes in a gym bag. He turned towards the showers and saw that all of the doors were standing open, all of them unoccupied at the moment.
"Not exactly what I was hoping for," Scott said.
"Yes," Jim agreed. "You'll find that reality very rarely lives up to the fantasy in your mind. You were probably thinking everyone was going to be nude and attractive and that a few of them might even be dyking out, right?"
"Well... uh... yeah, I guess so," he admitted.
"Sorry to spoil your illusion. If you wait awhile, however, I'm sure you'll see someone undressing and showering. Perhaps even someone you would want to look at. I would suggest, however, that if you really want to use the device for pure voyeurism, there are much better places to look in on than a locker room. Hotel rooms for instance. If you go room to room in any large hotel at pretty much any hour of the day or night, I guarantee you will see a variety of nudity and sexual activity, most of it quite conventional, some of it quite shocking."
"You've done this?" Scott asked.
"A thousand times," Jim assured him. "I have the same sex-drive and voyeuristic tendencies of any man, and this device is a voyeur's dream. But we digress. You can look at naked women and fornication later. For now, I'm teaching you how to use the device. Suppose you wanted to teleport to this locker room now that you've looked at it."
"Okay," he said, pondering what a stir that would cause if he were to suddenly appear in the woman's locker room.
"All you would have to do is push the transmit tab on the menu or the transmit button on the device itself and you would appear there. In the current privacy setting it would teleport you to a back portion of the room where you were out of view of anyone. That's the easiest way."
"Right," Scott said.
"You can also lock this location in by pushing the LOCATIONS tab on the right lower side. See it?"
Scott looked over at the tabs on the right side and found one marked LOCATIONS about three-quarters of the way down. Curious, and remembering his father's advice to experiment, he pushed it. The locker room remained in place but all of the tabs on both sides disappeared and were replaced by new ones, only a few this time and only on the left. They were marked, STORED LOCATIONS, SAVE LOCATION, TRACK THIS LOCATION, LOCATION SETTINGS, and EXIT TO MENU. In smaller letters, floating just above the main display, were the words, This Locations menu applies to linear travel only.
"As you can see," Jim told him, "the menu is pretty user friendly, for the most part. If you wanted to save this location, all you would have to do is push the SAVE LOCATION tab. It would be assigned a four-digit number and you would be asked to give it a name. If you don't wish to give it a name it will be named for its geographic coordinates on the globe."
"Give it a name? Is there a keyboard or something to type it in?"
"No, there's a voice interface. All you have to do is speak what you want it named. And keep it simple. Call it, gym locker room or something along those lines."
"I see." He pushed the EXIT TO MAIN tab and the menu returned to normal.
"Okay," his dad said now. "Let's zoom back to the globe and have you pin down a location you can actually travel to. Push that tab marked REFRESH MENU."
He did as he was told and the basic lessons continued.