The Virgin Porter

When I was only a small girl, the world changed forever, in - literally - the blink of an eye.

Richard Branson, Virgin's eccentric billionaire CEO, made an announcement one November, and performed a subsequent demonstration the following May, that changed absolutely everything, making our world border-less.

Branson's eccentric ventures were well known, but many were skeptical that the world was on the brink of fantastic discovery. Virgin's press release stated that an innovation on display would 'change the way you travel, forever.' Even up until an hour before the ceremony, one pundit on BBC speculated that a new company was going be unveiled, and that it would be called 'Virgin Atmosphere.'  Other commentators guessed that Branson's airline had found a way to offer low cost, high altitude flights to the masses - a fusion of Virgin Galactic and Virgin Atlantic.

The press event took place in London, near the eye, next to the Thames, on May 25th, in front of hundreds of thousands of onlookers. With cameras running, and a deep pool of press standing by, Branson stepped out from a small yacht. He stepped boldly into the center of an empty area cordoned off by a tall fence and black clad private security personnel who, from the looks of it, weren't messing around. He carried a small satchel. He wore a unitard covered in small dots. His shining blond mane was swept back from his forehead with an item that resembled a black tiara.

"None of you know what I am about to do, so watch carefully. It happens fast." He grinned, and lifted a small, extendable titanium rod from the satchel and set it on the ground. He held up a small clicker, pressed it once, and the rod sprang up to match his height.

"Here we are, here we are," he said, standing straight next to the rod. He kept his eyes open. The next moment, the tiara rolled to the ground and the uni-tard stood suspended in air for a few moments, then blew, empty, into the waiting arms of an assistant. Branson was was simply gone. No flash of light, no sounds, just standing there one moment, and not standing there the next. The rod was still there. Just as everyone stood aghast, it retracted back to its original height. An assistant took the rod and placed it back in the satchel. The only evidence that the billionaire had even been there at all was an empty uni-tard and a black tiara, lying on its side on the ground on the very spot where he stood just moments before.

Stunned silence from the crowd. The television onlookers were speechless at first, then immediately began reporting that Branson's display was a special effects stunt. "We can't confirm or deny what has just happened," one newscaster said. "But it appears Richard Branson has just wasted the public's time."

In reality, what had just ocurred on the banks of the river Thames, under the fabulous wheel, was a miracle of quantum proportions. The technology to transport human DNA intact existed. It wasn't just an issue of capturing molecules. It wasn't an issue of sending them out over airwaves, but rather, a matter of replicating the vanished matter, along with synaptic fluid and brain function, and re-printing the tissue in another spot, and re-starting the electrical signal on the receiving end. It was all very complex, and a bit insane, but it worked.

The moment after he blinked off the pavement in London, Branson was 15,000 kilometers away, in Antarctica. He blinked onto an ice shelf, where a team of reporters (whose equipment was confiscated up to the very moment he appeared in their midst) grabbed greedily for their gear and began furiously reporting the news. Branson had done it.

The titanium rods on either end of the journey were synced with each other to receive the signal and accept the mass, density and chemical composition of the subject, down to every last hair follicle and pore. The recompilation of tissue was able to 'come into being' wherever the receiving rod sensed there was available space. Someone had to be waiting on the other end. For instance, one could not teleport by merely shipping one of the two tethered beam rods in a box, unless an authorized user on the other end calibrated and activated the device. This was a regulation devised to prevent border breaches, sudden wars, and frightening crimes in the dead of night. It was imperfect, but it kept things regulated.

I grew up perceiving this technology like people may have perceived airplanes way back in the early twentieth century. My generation grew up watching old old fantasy movies like 'The Prestige' (where a magician found a way to replicate himself), Cronenberg's 'The Fly' remake, Harry Potter's exciting magic apparitions, and the awful 'Jumpers' (where a bunch of teens found they had magical teleportation powers). These movies were all prescient nods to teleportation. Star Trek arguably planted the seeds for the very genesis of the teleportation research. Pop culture nods to 'beaming' were all around us, even before we were born, so for us, a world where one could be in California one moment and Burma the next was not strange at all.

By the time I was a teenager, the technology was rare, highly regulated, but already deeply ingrained in mass consciousness. Everyone wanted to do it. I made it my focus in school. I majored in teleportation technologies in college, one almost nobody dared to tackle. It required multiple degrees, including chemical engineering, advanced nuclear physics, genetic studies and sociology. I was 29 when I graduated, and along the way, I became an expert on the history of the program and developed a distaste for the technology. Some of it was awe inspiring, and some of it was utterly horrifying. Oddly enough, what I learned about teleportation in school convinced me that I never, ever wanted to do it.

Twenty full years of hard research led up to Branson's London Eye Teleport. The still-classified history of teleport (or 'beaming') experimentation, and decades of soft research were made available to a small number of scholars like me.

I also learned all there was to know about the onset of quantum experiments in matter transference and reproduction. At the very start of initial cold lab tests, subjects often vanished and never returned. Subjects who re-appeared often lost various body parts. Early test volunteers blinked in as walking skinless musculature, mouths open in silent screams. Other even less fortunate subjects blinked in without their bone structure, or with disjointed bone arrangement, whereby they collapsed in sad clinking heaps of sobbing, moaning, monstrous noise. I watched the videos and had nightmares for months.

The lucky subjects blinked in only missing toenails and fingernails. Neither were volunteers under the age of 18 and over 40. All volunteers were sworn to secrecy. Doctors on the project were especially amazed to find all subjects had lost their cavity fillings and scars. Certain blemishes and warts had a habit of disappearing, or re-appearing somewhere new on the same body. People with heart monitors were not allowed to be test subjects, but it was later found that advanced damage to organs was often alleviated on the other end of the matter transference. Genetic defects or predispositions could not be altered or shifted, and neither could missing limbs. Tissue deterioration, to the extreme disappointment of scientists, could not be reversed. Teleportation was not the key to eternal life, but it was the key to a very short journey to the Bahamas, if one so wished.

One side effect was inevitable and - for some - very embarrassing. All subjects, even if they teleported out wearing full regalia, always re-appeared in the nude. The genetic coding in their tissue, down to its age and density, was being scanned and reconstituted, so while moving cloth was not impossible with the technology, moving a person and their clothing was too complex a task.

Much later in their testing cycle, rods were equipped with advanced accelerometers gauging the speed at which any rod traveled. Any tissue blinking into being on a moving car, or an airplane, matched the relative speed of the rod, so teleportation could be performed onto moving vehicles with no disparity between the speed of the subject and the speed off the vehicle. This was key, and it signaled an important landmark in research, leading to the first mass produced batch of rods in Europe.

After ten years of secret study, and ten years before Branson made his famous leap, the tests left the laboratory and ventured into the wild. Chemical engineers and molecular physicists worked arm in arm with statisticians, cartographers, and strategic planners to come up with a way to communicate signals down to the last digit. The titanium rods had to be placed at either end of the journey, so (for instance) it would be impossible for someone to teleport themselves inside of a volcano unless a rod with a matching signal were placed there deliberately and fed accurate instructions by someone on the other end. The titanium resisted extreme heat, cold, and brutal punishment, so there was almost no place on earth that could not be reached. The re-emergence of human tissue was set so that the person would be reconstituted in a place the rod's spatial sensors deemed 'safe' to go. This minimized the chance of people beaming inside of mountains, cars, or god forbid, other people. It happened, yes, but it was rare, thanks to the way the rods were programmed.

When I received my final degree, I was offered my own set of rods as a graduation gift from an Agency linked to one of my professors, a man who had crushed on me for years. Even after graduation, the poor stuffed shirt was still trying to get in bed with me. He knew the technology's real value, and he figured a gift as valuable as a beaming rod would ensure him my eternal gratitude.

Much to his disappointment, I had no intention of using the rods. I had never beamed in all of my time researching the technology. I even tried giving them away. The Agency that supplied the rods somehow found out, and responded that the devices had been calibrated to my specific genetic profile - which I had submitted upon entering the advanced genetics curriculum - and could not be used by anyone else. I was strongly encouraged to keep the rods, and I did so. I kept them in my flat, in the back of a closet, in a sealed bin.

My boyfriend, Gordon, encouraged me to do a test beam in our flat at a distance of ten meters. I refused. I told him that ten meters or ten thousand miles, I would never do it. I was an expert on the technology, and he was not, and I was unconvinced that it was safe. He knew this, and respected my decision for a while, but I could tell he was disappointed in me. He was fine at first, and then began badgering me about it every day. I became irate after he at last tried to manipulate me into doing it. As a last resort, he even tried to set up the devices for his genetic profile, but he only received an electric shock when he tried to open up the device.

In my college courses, where I taught Genetics and Sociology, I did my best to keep the student body informed about what I knew, without pushing them either way. My personal mission was to keep people skeptical about the ubiquitous global phenomenon. It was a losing battle. Even students who understood the dangers of beaming still had an overwhelming urge to do it. I petitioned Parliament almost daily with letters and petitions designed to urge stricter regulations on human teleportation. I argued that the very essence of humanity was being altered to an unnatural evolutionary state, but I was branded a crackpot by my colleagues and ignored - or so I thought - by everyone else.

Once beaming licenses became available, Gordon - along with the whole of humanity - signed up immediately.  The waiting list was outrageously long. The cost for a six month provisional teleport license was fifty thousand Euro. Credit card debt skyrocketed as people from all walks of life desperately signed up for a place in line. Everyone wanted a chance to move about the earth at will. The cost for a license renewal and two year utility teleport license was around one hundred thousand Euro. The result was, predictably, that the wealthiest citizens had rods set up around the globe almost immediately, and the poor continued to travel the old fashioned way. Many simply FedEx-ed their rods to exotic locations around the world, where authorized partners calibrated their devices. This, in effect, set up 'A to B' routes, which could be changed as long as the rods' locations were changed.

All this instant globe trotting resulted in various degrees of mayhem, from the slightly amusing to the horrifying.

One case regarded a girl in Indonesia who had her internet love overnight his beaming rod in a box, whereupon his nude body blinked in next to her, in the privacy of her bedroom. You know what happened next. Her parents were furious when they found out, and although he beamed out in time to avoid their wrath, they made their daughter ship the rod back to him.

In another case, a Wall Street investment broker forced his secretary to smuggle his beam rod into the womens' sauna at her gym. The aim was for the for the broker to beam in suddenly, naked, among the women, and 'get lucky' with one of them. Something went horribly wrong. In what is still considered a freak accident, the rod's spatial sensors got confused - possibly by the water vapor in the air - and the teleport caused half of his molecules to fuse with the water vapor. This wasn't the worst part, though. He beamed in on top of a poor women who was relaxing on a bench, and their bodies - his puffed, water-engorged one, and hers - were fused into a single, scrambling, shrieking creature. The awful thing had to be put down by the FBI in an act of mercy, and the story was largely covered up and re-emerged as an urban legend. That sort of thing did happen, but thanks to regulation, and peoples' fears of freak accidents, it was quite rare.

Teleporting was largely performed behind closed doors, and it became a thing as common as using the loo - that thing everyone does but no one talks about. Subjects were able to bounce back and forth in either direction, which was highly convenient, but regulations stated only one round-trip teleport per day would be permitted. All the same, the world felt a whole hell of a lot smaller. A portion of the world's population began blinking in and out of spots throughout planet Earth. These spots were private, indoors locations, so the phenomenon was not witnessed often. The global aftershock from this emerging technology was felt almost immediately.

Luxury class cabins in ships, trains and planes were greatly reduced. Many transportation agencies were scuttled, or federalized, depending on the country. Train and plane schedules decreased. The auto industry suffered. Beam points - the destination spot where one's beam rod could be permanently inserted - became prime real estate. They were placed in small compartments throughout major cities like Tokyo and Hamburg for a premium. They were placed in box seats at the theater and at stadiums. They had to be shielded - after all, subjects teleported in as nude as Adam or Eve, and indecency laws clearly outlawed public exhibition. Commuting became less common, as executives just beamed into their offices. Tattoos lost their permanence: they disappeared once you beamed out and back in, so the need for permanent ink lost its luster.

Using beam technology to wage war was, at the least, impractical. Weapons and armor could not be beamed in with people any more than tanks or planes could. The devices of war were still very much used, but the flesh and blood operators had become intransigently divorced from the metal behemoths. There was always the case of spies being smuggled in, and of course, the fears of terrorism hung large over the whole teleportation industry, but it was really difficult to marry the flesh with compatible genetic material that could do any sort of damage. In the meantime, I continued my letter campaign to Governments around the world, urging them to stop the madness.

Skype's video communication service, widely impacted by the decreased use of telecommuting software, re-branded itself as a safe alternative to beaming. Its ad campaign used slogans like 'Don't Go to Pieces - Use Skype' and 'Don't Stick Your Rod Where It's Not Wanted - Use Skype.' This didn't do much good. By the time I turned 35, beaming was much more common. It was not unusual to see people standing by rods and blinking out, while their friends grabbed the rods for them and ran off. Additionally, it was common to see teleporters' friends standing on a sidewalk, holding a rod and a blanket, while their friends beamed in.

Gordon got his provisional beam license a few years after we were married. He was really the model for what was happening all over the earth. The cute scar that I used to love to rub along the small of his back had vanished. His gentleness vanished. He kept trying to get us to beam together, like it was a kind of kinky act, and I kept refusing. I think that's why we finally split. I wanted my scars. I wanted my original tattoos. I felt that something indescribable and unique was being lost in the translation of matter, but I couldn't put it into words. Gordon, on the other hand, didn't think so much about it. He only wanted to see the world in the blink of an eye. He, like the rest of the world, hated walking, hated driving, hated waiting. Despite all this, I still loved him.

The day Gordon beamed in to sign the divorce papers, I pleaded for him to stop. He looked unnatural. He had what we scientists called 'Advanced Teleportation Syndrome,' or ATS. His eye sockets had grown closer together. His hairline was lower down on his forehead. His skin had a strange baby-porcelain sheen to it. His teeth were mottled with brown stains. It was easy to perceive other Londoners like the walking mannequins they had become, but seeing my husband that way killed me. I begged him to cease the teleportation one last time. He just shook his head and blinked out.

That evening, I sat at my kitchen table and poured myself a generous snifter of brandy. I sat and stared at myself in the large mirror across the room. The woman in the mirror, sitting with her brandy, glowered back at me. I hadn't bothered to look at her in a while. Her eyes were puffy and red from crying. Her hair was pulled back in a loose knot. She still wore her Oxford Genetics Symposium jersey, worn from years of use. Her body was still spry, but curled up on itself. Her face - my face - was all cheekbones and high brow with arches like bridges. Mine was the face of weary skepticism.

My eyes drifted to my only visible tattoo. It stretched along my neck: a twisted curl of thorns woven in with an inscription to Gregor Mendel. The ink all over my body was faded and worn down, but it was mine. It was a chronicle I didn't want to lose. I wanted so badly to keep crying but I was seized with the uncontrollable urge to go look at the rods.

I stood and felt dizzy. I got a hold of myself and walked to the rear of the flat. I lifted up a few heavy bins from the closet and lowered them to the floor. I sat at the edge of the bed and pulled up my jersey and slid down my trousers. I snapped open the bins, and there they were, covered in dust. They were old models, still grey and silver. They hadn't been touched since Gordon's failed attempt to use them years before. I wondered if they'd still work. My genetic code was immutable but, with years of refusing the technology, and more than a few swallows of brandy in me, I wondered if my metaphysics had stopped being compatible.

I held the rod in one had and placed it on the floor. I took the other rod and tossed it our the door of the bedroom. I heard it clatter across the hardwood. I stood, my heart pounding. I felt strangely aroused, and it scared me to death. Fifteen minutes passed. Then, something raw and angry hit me, and I kicked the upright rod to the floor and collapsed on the bed, and fell asleep.

All night, I endured a long dream that ended horribly. In the dream, I had succumbed to my urge to teleport. I was blinking in and out of various locations. Each time I blinked, the world turned upside down, and I felt like I was swinging from monkey bars. For a while, all my professors from the many years of college were all there to greet me whenever I appeared in a new place. None of them had aged a day. They were there to cheer me on, but I noticed that they were all wearing lab coats and gripping their beam rods between their legs and stroking them. I was ashamed and embarrassed to see this, so I kept beaming out, and back to a new place, again and again.

As the dream went on, I traveled everywhere. I saw exaggerated versions of Machu Picchu, windmills in Scandanavia, a South African slum, the Nile, sprawling office complexes in Bangladore and Manila. In the dream, I was exhilarated. At last, I settled down in an impossibly nice hotel room in my home town of Devon. I gazed in the mirror and saw myself for the first time since the start of the dream. To my horror, I was monstrous - a gaggle-toothed wraith. My hair was thinning and scraggly. I could see through the skin in my face and a skull beneath. The long muscles of my tongue writhed all the way down my throat. My lungs compressed and filled like frail paper bags. My eyes were black. I screamed.

And woke to the ringing of my phone.

I picked it up immediately. It was from a generic, re-routed PRI trunk... entirely untraceable.

"You'll stop the letter writing, Portia." a voice hissed nastily in my ear. "You will stop today. You will dismantle your attempts to derail teleportation." His voice lowered. "If you don't, you will meet us. You will not enjoy meeting us." The next sound I heard was a click, and after that, the call terminated.

I jumped from my bed and ran to the mirror and touched my hands to my face. They were still shaking. My tattoos were still all there. My face was worn, but firm.

"Thank god," I whispered, over and over. "Thank god, thank god."

Over the next year, I only stepped up my campaign against beaming. In that time, thanks to privatization and deregulation, the teleport industry grew from a fantastical fad, a wealthy indulgence, to an unmissable human experience. Buses and cars stopped being crowded. I rarely saw my old friends on the street. Flying was no longer necessary. People still flew planes, but it was only for the thrill of experiencing air travel. The one teleport per day rule was no longer regulated, and people blinked their genetic material and synapses in and out hundreds, if not thousands of times per day.

In white collar jobs, employees beamed in naked, and got dressed in their cubes, now much like department store fitting rooms. Consequently, people saw less of each other at work. In labor, construction, and manufacturing jobs, workers still rode the bus in or drove. The sense of community among the impoverished working poor, those who couldn't afford to obtain or renew their beaming licenses, grew stronger. The white collar teleporters, however, grew more isolated from each other in their professional dealings. Many of them didn't see the need for human interaction in commerce. It was as if travelling and dealing with other people in the flesh was something to tolerate, and now that they no longer had to travel, there was no point.

By the time I turned 40, my students at the college blinked in for minutes at a time, then blinked out without any spectacle. Most of them paid their friends - or just poor sods who could not afford their own rods - to pick them up and carry them to predetermined spots. I saw these rod caddies as rickshaw operators for people who had grown too dependent on beaming to do it themselves.

Once the indecency laws blocking public beaming were overturned, the beam points didn't need to be fixed, shielded or private. This resulted in a flurry of silent appearances and disappearances of naked human figures. I often walked in the park by my flat on the way to meet friends, and during that walk, I'd glimpse hundreds of bodies blinking in and out along my route, sometimes uncomfortably close. Naked human figures looked like names in a chat room all around me, popping in and out, never stopping to make substantial gestures or even look in my direction. This stunning visual tableau became a part of the human ecosystem and a part of my world, although I felt like a complete alien in it.

Human figures blinked in and out along boulevards, into trees, hanging out windows, clutching rods, jumping out of buildings, blinking out as the rods clattered to the asphalt, where waiting caddies or friends picked them up and shoved the rods into large bags. Mass coordination of teleportation relay races took place everywhere. They played out as motion flash mobs, with rods instead of torches. Internet use was long antiquated, as were telephones, but I still used mine. I ignored a flurry of calls from a blocked source. I figured it was the nut who tried to scare me the night I got divorced, but I didn't care. The world was a big place, and people were far too wrapped up beaming themselves around to pay much attention to me.

It crossed my mind more than once that society hadn't really changed all that much from that fateful day under the London Eye. I set about with a more direct approach to my students. I breached an ethical wall in doing so, but I could no longer choose. I showed them awful videos of teleportation accidents. I discussed symptoms of ATS in more detail than I had previously. I filmed my lectures and put them up on the web. It didn't take long before I tapped a hidden vein of anti-teleport sentiment. A few of them were old friends whom I had been very close to in my twenties, who had drifted away. Others were former students who had spent several years beaming around the world and were beginning to feel strange. Either way, I found myself the unlikely head of a growing number of activists around the world.

A full two years passed. Odd calls to my phone increased. Some were threats, some were indecipherable gibberish, but I ignored most of them. I knew the Agency was likely behind them, and I wasn't sure what they were capable of, but my campaign of education was plowing ahead on its own momentum. I had a sense that teleportation was decreasing. I wouldn't have been able to stop it if I tried.

Last Monday, on the way to my first class, a black BMW with tinted windows injured me on the boulevard. I narrowly avoided it, but it skimmed me, knocking me to the ground. I climbed onto my feet, and saw the vehicle spinning around the corner. I broad pain spread out all along my left hip and thigh, and my head was bleeding. I heard the squeal of tires and an unmistakable sound of that engine from just around the block, so I clamored across the walk to the safety of a building before it could see me.

Panicked and panting heavily, I peered out the fogged glass and saw the shape of a figure striding along the street. The threat I had shrugged off for years was real, and had finally decided to strike. The figure returned back and got into the car, which sped away. I waited an hour or so, then slid out and headed home. I ran to my room and began packing a carry case. I spent some time staring into my closet, sighing deeply. I reached into the bin, pulled them out, and shoved them into the case.

Taxis simply didn't exist anymore. Buses ran once a day. I had no choice but to walk. All the way to the North London station, I gazed frantically about me. I kept expecting a car, or at worst, its driver, to emerge from the shadows and get me. All around, humankind blinked in and out in a kind of frenzied pattern typical for the middle of the day. I was desensitized to the sight of caddies holding rods, figures blinking in and out next to them.

By noontime, I reached the station and bought my ticket for the 12:05 Eurostar. Just as I stepped from the massive waiting area, a convergence of men and women slid into the room. I didn't have to guess; I knew they were Agency. These people exhibited extreme cases of ATS. Their eyes were at odd angles from their noses. Their hair seemed to grow sideways. They were searching for me.

I hoisted my bag across to the train and ducked in to the middle car. I scanned the car and approached the sole passengers, an older African gentlemen and a young girl. I got down on one knee and and smiled at them, and asked them how they were. It came to me then that the old man was clearly blind, and that the girl was likely his granddaughter.

"Hi love," I said to the girl. My voice broke apart with fright. "My name is Portia. I need you to do something very special for me. Can you do that?" I clutched the old man's hand. "Can she help me, please, sir?" I pleaded. I began to lose it.

"We don't beam." he replied disdainfully.

Through the floor, I felt vibrations from footsteps in the adjoining car. They were near. I didn't have time to wait.

"When you see this light, can you enter this code?" I thrust a piece of paper into the girl's small hands. "And then..." I handed the rod to both of them, and gazed over at the girl. She was shaking.

I continued, my voice growing frantic. "When you see the light go on, can you watch for the light, please. When you see the light, can you please, please, slide this lever, here?" I pointed twice at the calibration switch beneath its flip-up panel.

Others were now in the train car, moving up the aisle on either side. They couldn't see what I was doing yet, so I whispered to the old man and the girl.

"Keep it hidden for now. When you are alone in the car, please look for the light. Please do what I say. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

I stood up and backed away. I was quaking in fear. All around me, translucent people with misshapen features converged on me. I knew what I had to say.

"If you want both my beam rods, they're right here!!" I yelled, raising my bag and pointing at it. "I won't ever give them to you. You'll have to catch me to get them, you sick bunch!" I pushed past the ATS crowd to my right. They tried to grab at me.

A few of them spoke and breathed into my ear as I passed. One man, an Indian whose skull gleamed beneath his face said "We'll catch you, wherever you are" One woman, whose ears had somehow drifted up near the top of her head asked me "Why are you running?" again and again.

I ran down the train platform as it pulled away, and headed back into the station. The bruise on my side throbbed.  I didn't want to stop, not until I was out of immediate danger. A crowd of the Agency's ATS bunch were gaining behind me. A few figures in hoodies with rods tried to flank me. I pushed past them, only to smash into two malformed beamers who blinked right in front of me. They grabbed at my blouse. I shook them away and kept running.

I ran through the streets outside the station. I made more sure to avoid the caddies, as wherever they ran, the teleported freaks were sure to follow. A dense mist descended in between the buildings. The sky overheard was drained of color and threatened thunder, a dreary black and grey. My blouse was wet with sweat, my breathing labored. I was tired of running. I knew it wouldn't be long before they caught me.

I hit the park and headed out across the grass. Figures from all sides gradually materialized through the mist. Other forms, nude and lithe, blinked near me and reached out.

I dropped to the grass and threw my bag open.

"Here!" I shouted, as they approached. "Here! Wait!" I stood with my rod in hand. A bone numbing cold whipped across my skin. They came in from all sides. The urge to cry overcame me. I flipped the calibrator and the sensation of lurching and falling hit for a brief moment, then stopped. The sharp snap of rubber bands exploded all over my body, and I woke, as from a long nap.

I stood, naked, in the middle of a train car. Nothing but darkness out the windows. It was incredibly warm. How had I slept standing up? I hadn't slept, no... I was awake. I was just in the park, and now on the... my god. I laughed out loud.

I wasn't alone. My nakedness suddenly dawned on me. I ran to a set of seats to my right, and spun to see the little girl standing in the aisle. Her eyes were wide, and she held the tall titanium rod against the floor. The switch had been pulled down. Her mouth hung open.

"The light went on!" she exclaimed. "I stayed awake and the light went on and I pulled it, see?"

I gave the girl a look of deep gratitude.

"I'm tired..." she said. "Can I go to sleep now?"

"Thank you, love. Thank you, thank you. You are a wonderful little girl. You have earned long, wonderful dreams. Go to sleep now."

Her grandfather was already fast asleep in his chair. She climbed up with him and drifted off. We were the only ones in the car. I grabbed a blanket from the overhead bin. I wrapped it around my body. I felt strange. I leaned back in my chair and gazed through the window. Somewhere out there, beyond our car, was the dark interior of the chunnel, and not far beyond that, the cold waters of the Atlantic. My reflection was unnaturally smooth and clear in the glass. My neck was bare. The tattoo was gone. All my marks had vanished. The scrape on my side - gone.

The train sped for Paris. I faced an uncertain enemy somewhere in Calais, or sooner. I braced for it. I had a renewed vigor, one that no doubt came from my teleportation, but also from the sense that I had left some part of myself behind forever, in a park in London. For that, I was sad, deeply so, but I braced for that too, afraid but hopeful.


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