#fridayflash: post-op

This is a sequel to the story from two weeks ago.

The way the hospital was designed, it was difficult and confusing for patients to find the waiting room again after a procedure. No-one in staff uniforms seemed inclined to help him, so Dan followed the signs as best he could. After what felt like at least three too many left turns he found the room where Nora said she would wait for him.

He found Nora slumped on a hard plastic chair, holding a paper cup of what was probably waiting-room coffee. She was so locked away in her thoughts that he had to call her name four times before she looked up. She brightened, but it was the brightness of sunlight hitting a glass wind chime.

"I'm declared healthy," he said. "They did find something, but they did a procedure right away and I'm all right now."

"Procedure? What procedure?"

He held out his hand. "Want to get breakfast?"

She shrugged and stood up. "If you think you're up to it."

"I'm starving. Let's go."

They walked out of the hospital. Nora led him down the street where they had spotted a promising-looking diner earlier.

"I parked the truck in front of it. They had a few spots behind the hospital, but it was so abandoned-feeling, and the chargers didn't work anymore. It didn't feel safe." She paused. "They have a sign saying the chargers are part of the 'authentic nostalgia'. But they still work."

"Of course," said Dan. "They wouldn't be authentic otherwise."

Nora laughed with a sincerity that pleased him.

The diner did evoke a kind of authentic nostalgia as they walked in and found an empty booth. The seats were upholstered in something much like the vinyl Dan remembered from his childhood. The menus displayed on the table's surface took the gloss of the touch screen into account, the better to emulate the plastic-laminated paper of old.

Dan immediately tapped an order for the special, adding a bottle of water as an afterthought. Nora flipped through the whole menu and then wound up ordering the special anyhow.

"Do you think these are real vinyl?" said Nora, rubbing the seat cushion.

"My guess is vat-grown leather. They can get it awfully close to plastic these days." Dan stared out window at their truck, as if he expected it to drive away on its own.

"So you had a procedure," Nora prompted.

Dan's gaze shifted towards where the hospital stood. "Dr. Zavic was right. But," he added, wagging a finger at Nora's stricken face, "the procedure got rid of it."

"Rid of it," Nora said.

"Yeah. I had cancer this morning, and now I don't."

"Just like that? What about follow-up visits?"

"They said I had to drink lots of water for a week and follow this healthy living plan they were going to e-mail me..." Dan fished his device out of his coat pocket and glanced at it. "I got something... yeah, that's it. If you don't mind driving back, I can read it in the truck maybe."

"I don't mind." Dan glanced up as he tucked his device away again. Nora still looked troubled. "What did they do? You were away for less than an hour."

The server — an authentic human being, not the robots like most diners had — arrived with their coffees and Dan's water. "They teleport you. First she scanned me as if she was going to teleport me, but didn't. That let them look for the cancer. Then they teleport you for real, but they just put you back in the same place, minus the cancer part."

"Right, my brother had his appendix out that way two years ago," the server said, setting the drinks on the table. "That's still a pretty new use of the technology."

"But you must have an incision or, or something?" said Nora.

"No. I can kind of feel something's different, but that's it."

"It's really cool," said the server. "My brother's appendix burst on the way to the operating room, and they were still able to fix him up without cutting him open. By the way, is that your truck outside?"

Nora confirmed it was.

"Thought I saw you parking it earlier," the server said to Nora. "You two didn't want to teleport to the hospital?"

Dan shrugged. "Nearest 'port is almost all the way here. By the time we reached it, it made more sense to just keep driving."

"You're farmers?"

"Sixth generation. We were independent, then we worked for Agrisanto. Now they're tanked we own the land and we're independent again."

"I guess that's why you need a truck." A chime sounded from the kitchen area. "That'll be your meals. I'll be right back."

"You'd think these townies had never seen a truck before," said Dan.

"I haven't seen any except for ours," said Nora. "Some bicycles, but no trucks or cars. I guess they're weird now."

Dan grimaced and added milk to his coffee. He stirred the milk in slowly, concentrating on the task.

"You're not telling me something," said Nora. "Did they find something else in the scan?"

"What?" said Dan. "Oh, no, nothing like that." He set the spoon down with exaggerated care on the saucer. "I was just thinking... they can convert a human being to data and then convert them back again, minus whatever they don't want. What can they do with other stuff?"

"Like what?"

"Anything. Remember those spaceships in those old films my grandfather liked? Space Trek or something?"

"Star Trek, wasn't it?"

"Maybe. But their food just came out of those little oven things..."

"Here you go. Two specials." The server set their plates in front of them. "Condiments on the side there. Enjoy. Let me know if you need anything else." The server gave a professional smile and returned to the kitchen.

"Looks good." Nora picked up her fork and glanced at Dan's plate. Then she frowned and set the fork down again.

"What's wrong?"

"Look..." Nora turned her plate so the food was oriented the same way as Dan's.

The food on the two plates was identical in every way.

#fridayflash: edited

"You can just leave your clothes in this bin, Dan. Once you have the examination gown on, you want to go through the door with the green light over it." The nurse pointed with one hand while holding out the hospital gown with the other.

"What's this thing made of?" Dan said, taking the examination gown and rubbing his thumb callouses over the material.

"Cotton-rich paper. It's disposable."

Dan grunted. "I suppose they get ground up and composted."

"Something like that." The nurse went through a door with a red light over it.

"Asshole," said Dan under his breath while he unbuttoned his shirt.

Dan finished undressing and pulled the hospital gown over his head. He was relieved to discover it was closed at the back, just shaped like a giant t-shirt. He folded his clothes, put them in the bin like the nurse had said, and went through the green-lit door.

The room beyond was larger than he expected, and mostly empty. In the centre was a black rectangle of some rubbery stuff with plexiglass walls around it on three sides. Beyond that was a table supporting an array of display monitors and other electronics. A young woman sat on the far side of the machines. She barely glanced up at the sound of the door swinging shut behind Dan.

"Mr. Hodge?" she said.

"Yes ma'am. And you are...?"

"I'm the diagnostician. You can call me Sherry." She waved her arm towards the rubber flooring.

"What do you need me to do?" said Dan.

"Step into the 'porter so I can complete the scan," said Sherry.

"Por... is that thing a teleporter?"

Sherry looked at Dan directly for the first time. "Of course it is. But a medical one."

"Where are you sending me?"

"You're not leaving this room until the examination is completed. Now please, step on. I have a lot of appointments to complete today."

Dan set his feet shoulders-width apart and folded his arms. It was a stance, he thought ruefully, that was a lot more effective when he was in his work gear and telling off seasonal workers than when he was wearing a paper gown trying to deal with a medical... android. Whatever she was. He made sure he was scowling.

"Lady," he said, "I'm not stepping anywhere until you explain to me what the hell you're going to do with this carcass of mine."

Sherry blinked rapidly several times. "I am going to scan you, but not dematerialise you. Medical 'porters aren't hooked up to any network. Once your data is scanned, the system will analyse it and report any anomalies."

"And then?"

"I'll verify the system's diagnosis and discuss any necessary treatment with you."

"Well, that last part sounds like it will be lots of fun." Dan stepped into the teleporter. "Will any of this hurt?"

"No, it's just a scan. It will feel like you're being teleported, but you won't go anywhere."

"Never been teleported."

"What?" Sherry gawped at him. "How did you get here?"

"Same way I get anywhere — my '63 Ford F-150 Solar. My wife's trying to find a place to park it right now."

"I think there's still some parking in the back..."

"We figured. We're farmers. We're used to having to find somewhere to park."

"Try to hold still. I'm going to scan you now."

Dan saw a flash of white light. Sherry gave quick little taps to the different keyboards arrayed in front of her.

"How long before the scanning starts?"

"Already happened. Just stay where you are, Mr. Hodge... " She pushed a button on one of the control panels. "Have you been urinating blood at all, Mr. Hodge?"

"That's exactly what I've been doing. That's why I went and saw my doctor."

"You have bladder cancer. It hasn't metastasised yet — if it had, there'd be more alarm indicators on the scan."

"Cancer?" Dan felt his knees go weak.

"Why don't you sit on the gurney over there, Mr. Hodge." Sherry pointed to the wall adjacent to the change room.

Dan stumbled to the gurney and sat down. "Cancer," he repeated.

"Yes. The markers are quite definite." Sherry tapped a few more commands into one of the keyboards. "With your permission, I'll edit it out before you leave today."

"Wha?"

Sherry took a deep breath. "You lie down on the gurney, and I wheel you back onto the 'porter. This time we do dematerialise you, but when we rematerialise you half a second later, we don't include any of the cancerous or precancerous cells. It'll feel just like the scan, but you might experience some déjà vu. Are you comfortable with that?"

Dan shook his head. "But how do we treat the cancer?"

"I just told you, Mr. Hodge. The editing procedure removes it."

"What if you take out something you're not supposed to?"

"The system only edits out cells with the DNA markers for cancer. Also, we do another scan immediately after the procedure to verify the data and confirm there are no other health issues. Lie down on the gurney please."

Dan hesitated, then stretched out on the gurney. Sherry strode over, took the brake off the gurney wheels, and pushed the gurney into the teleporter. She checked the gurney's positioning and applied the brake. "Just lie still," she said.

Dan heard her walk back to the control table. He wanted to ask her about the other risks in treatment, but before he could he saw one flash, then another.

"Verifying," said Sherry. Dan concentrated on his bladder. Something felt odd, but nothing hurt.

"Successful. No perforations. Get up when you're ready, Mr. Hodge, and try to drink lots of water for the next week or so. As much water as you can stand."

Dan eased himself into a sitting position slowly. "How do I make sure this doesn't come back again? The cancer."

"The hospital will e-mail you a healthy living guide. You can return through the door you came in, Mr. Hodge. If you don't mind, I'm running late and need to attend to my next patient."

#fridayflash: rotation

Cheryl startled awake, jostling the bed. Beside her, Mark lifted his head off the pillow and raised his eyebrows.

"Sorry," she said. "I thought it was Monday for a second."

"Not yet," Mark said, wrapping an arm over her. "Twenty more minutes."

"So long as the baby doesn't wake up."

"Sh."

"Where are you going tomorrow, anyhow?"

"Um..... Monday... Monday is Sydney."

"Ooooh, nice, bring some sunshine back for me."

Mark kissed her shoulder. A thin wail rose from the nursery.

"So much for twenty more minutes," said Cheryl, sliding off the bed and pushing her feet into her slippers.

"I'll start breakfast," said Mark, sitting up.

Five minutes later, Cheryl entered the kitchen with baby Jeremy on one hip. Mark had set the table and was pushing pieces of bacon around the frying pan.

"Look at that sunset," said Cheryl. "I thought with the shift last night that we'd be right into evening now."

"Not yet," said Mark. "The days are getting longer too, lucky for us. I wouldn't want to be in South America right now. Going to be a while before they see the sun again. Mind if I turn on the radio?"

"I'll get it," said Cheryl, stretching out an arm to turn the kitchen set on.

"And at the chime, it's 7:30 in the morning, all over the world," said the announcer. "Remember folks, we're on global time now. Hope you all set your clocks back twenty minutes before you went to bed last night."

Mark snorted. "Right, like anyone has a manually-set clock anymore. It's like my grandfather always said, 'there's an app for that.'"

"What is an app, anyhow?"

"Short for appliance, I think. You know. A package."

"Ah. How's Jeremy's pablum doing?"

"Almost ready."

Cheryl kept the baby distracted playing peek-a-boo until the food was ready. The radio announcer mentioned global time every time he came on the air.

"Ugh," said Cheryl, pretending to steal Jeremy's nose. "It's been six months already. Surely everyone's used to moving their clocks ahead twenty minutes every Saturday night."

"Anyone who works is," said Mark, putting the food on the table and handing Cheryl a bowl of pablum. "I bet there's still a lot of retired stiffs out there who are calling this Saturday night. Or whatever day we'd be on using the old multiple time zones. We just need to get groceries today, right?"

"Right. I was thinking of 'porting to Seattle, shop the Pike Place market. They'll still get three or four hours of sunlight there. Then we can come back here for lunch and it'll be dark here, so Jeremy'll go down for his nap better."

"Makes sense," said Mark, taking a bite of toast. "So long as the place isn't completely choked with people."

"Why don't we go as soon as we're done eating, and leave the dishes 'til we get back?"

"Might work."

Cheryl added milk and sugar to her coffee and took a sip. "Before I forget again... your Mum called yesterday while you were at Frank's. She wants us to go there for dinner."

"What, tonight? I know you're still on mat leave, but I have to work tomorrow."

"It's this big local festival. The first bottles of wine are ready from last autumn's harvest or something."

"Seattle and Provence in one day — is Jeremy going to be up to all that travelling?"

"If he gets his nap in between we should be all right. Global time, five PM is five PM no matter where you are."

"So long as we don't stay too late."

"Well, some of us have to get to bed early," said Cheryl, steering a spoonful of pablum into Jeremy's mouth. "Don't we?" The baby laughed. "You didn't have any other plans, did you?"

Mark shrugged. "Just house stuff. Don't need a lunch tomorrow, they're bringing in sandwiches." He splashed some hot sauce on his eggs. "Okay, Seattle, then back here, then France. Sounds like a nice Sunday."

#fridayflash: a long trip

 "How much longer?" Ethan went limp-limbed against his mother in the manner of all tired children.

Grace peered up the line, then craned her neck to check behind them. "We're over halfway now, honey."

"My feet hurt. Daddy, can you carry me? Just for a little bit?"

"Ethan, we told you, Mommy and Daddy have to pull the suitcases. You're a big boy now. Big boys stand in queues all by themselves."

Ethan pouted, but straightened up and placed himself between Grace and Frank as they shuffled forward a few more steps. He reached up to take their hands. Frank manoeuvred the suitcase to his left hand so he could hold on to Ethan's hand with his right.

The next time they moved forward, Ethan went limp, still clutching their hands. Grace and Frank hauled him back to his feet. Their eyes met over Ethan's head, and they let go at the same time.

"But I'm tired!" Ethan was starting to sound snivelly.

"Gran has lots of cushy chairs at her house," said Grace. "It'll be dinner-time when we get to England, and she'll sit you down on one of her dining room chairs with a big pillow on the seat so you can reach the table-top. She said she's making macaroni casserole just for you." The rest of us get roast, she mouthed to Frank over Ethan's head.

Ethan perked up a little when his favourite dish was mentioned, then he sagged again as they moved forward a few more steps. "We just had breakfast before we came to the telly port. It's gonna take us until dinner to get there?"

"No, we'll be there in about half an hour. Remember Mommy told you about time zones this morning when we were having breakfast? When we step on the teleport, it will be just before lunch-time, but when we zap to England, it will be almost dinner-time there. Then we go to the local teleportation queue, and then we'll be just four houses from Gran's."

"Why did we have to come here first?"

"It's the way they regulate it Ethan, you have to go through security and passport control first, and then you can go. Remember last summer we went to Vancouver? Anything more than one time zone you have to go through the checks. Look," Frank said, pointing to a gigantic black and white photo that decorated a section of one wall. "See that? That's the airport we're in now, thirty years ago. Those things sticking out are... are access bridges, that people used to walk on to go to travel. See those pointy machines with the wings sticking out? Those are airplanes. That's how Gran and Gramps came to Canada when they lived here, when I was little. Three hundred people used to get in one of those to travel all together."

"Airplanes," said Ethan. He stared at the photo. "So everyone got on, and then they all telly ported together?"

"There wasn't any teleportation yet. They flew through the air. It took them five or six hours to get to England from here."

"Wow," said Ethan. "That's really slow." Grace took his hand and gently pulled him forward when he didn't notice the people ahead had moved up again.

"See?" said Frank. "We've only been in line for about twenty minutes, and we've got only ten or fifteen minutes more until we're at Heathrow. That's not so bad, is it?"

Ethan was silent for a few shuffles, staring at the photo until they were too far ahead to see it anymore. Grace still had his hand, and she swung his arm back and forth in big arcs to distract him. Ethan giggled, and chanted a rhyme:
Gina Saunders
Sticks and bones
Ground her up
Far from home
When the police
Came out to play
Her head got up
And rolled away
The nerds tried
To make her better
But they’re too late
She’s gone forever!
"That's awful!" said Grace. "Where did you hear that from?"

"School," said Ethan. "Gerald and Charles and Anthony were saying it. Who's Gina Saunders?"

"Someone from a long time ago," said Grace. "She was a thief, and she got a bad scientist to help her get away. But then it turned out the bad scientist was even worse than she was."

"Why?"

Grace flinched. Gina Saunders was the reason the old travel regulations had been reinstated.

"He complained about standing in line," said Frank, coming to her rescue. Ethan scowled up at him, knowing he was being teased but unsure what to do about it.

"Look," said Grace. "There's only three people left in front of us. And then they'll scan our passports and check our luggage, and then we'll step on the pads and zap! we'll be there. It'll be night-time already, and Daddy will call Gran to say we're on our way, and then we'll get in another queue, but a short one, and zap! we'll be on Gran's and Gramp's street."

The person at the front of the queue put their suitcase on the baggage scanner and stepped into the body scanner. The queue shuffled forward.

#fridayflash: malfunction

"Did it arrive?" Jeff set the tablet down on the floor and set it to holographic speakerphone. He watched Grace's head turn towards where the arrival pad must be.

She had her poker face on. That meant he was still trapped.

"Um, the arrival pad received something, yes," said Grace. "So that's better than half an hour ago."

"What do you mean, 'something'?"

"I don't know what you tried to send. Don't bite my head off."

Jeff swore and smacked his fist against the nearest wall. The wall was made of steel three centimetres thick, and it hurt like hell. "It was a sock. Grace, I need to teleport the hell out of here before I lose it."

"The departure pad is sending data now. Things are progressing. Worst comes to worst, they'll send in a rescue team for you. The arrival pad still works, after all. It's not like we can't get supplies to you."

"It will take the team weeks to get here."

"Better than nothing. What the hell did Askworth do to the departure pad, anyhow?"

"He shot it."

"Shot it?"

"With a revolver. You know, a gun. He was aiming at me and I hit the floor before he could pull the trigger."

"Where the hell did he find bullets? Those things haven't been made for decades."

"They're metal. They keep."

The hologram of Grace's head tilted to one side and frowned.

"Take a picture of the bullet damage for me."

Jeff turned off the hologram, picked up the tablet, and took a photo of the departure pad. The bullet had gone right through the shield glass, and swirl of random energy frequencies formed a warped spectrum over the floor, even when the departure pad wasn't active, like now. Jeff wouldn't have stepped into it if his life depended on it.

Grace gave a low whistle. "Yeah, that's going to be easier to just replace and then diagnose back at a shop."

"Can't you just send me the pieces of a new one, tell me how to assemble the thing? I've got time to kill."

"What, you were a mechanic before you were an Interpol agent?"

"Well, no."

"Look, your boss still wants the report about what happened and what the status is."

"At least that will give me something to do." Jeff sat on the floor and glanced over at Askworth's corpse. The blood on and around it had mostly dried, which was something. "Do they want the body, or could I try and send Askworth over to you?"

"Um, maybe put him in the freezer or something?"

"Thanks." Jeff cut the connection.

Askworth's lab had two freezers. One was for his experiments, and one was for food. Neither of them was near big enough to hold a human body.

Jeff tossed a lab coat over Askworth's face, and wondered how he was going to make it through the next few weeks with his sanity intact. He punched up the report writer on his tablet and started figuring out what to make official.

#fridayflash: morning

The alarm woke Andy when it always did, way too goddamn early. A quick glance through the sheer bedroom curtains found the blue-black sky of pre-dawn staring back at him. For the thousandth time he grieved that beds were always at their warmest and most comfortable just when you had to leave them, then slowly eased out from under the covers. Michelle muttered and rolled over on her side of the bed, but didn't wake up.

Andy quickly pulled on his uniform coveralls and a thick pair of cotton socks, then grabbed his tablet off the nightstand and stumbled to the washroom. There was the usual text from Donna, confirming she was on her way to the hub. Good, because he was running a little late. He propped the tablet up against the vanity mirror and glanced over the local weather and news while he shaved and brushed his teeth. When he saw how cold it was, he slipped back into the bedroom and found his favourite pair of thin wool socks by feel.

Socks and tablet in hand, he made his way to the front hall, checking in on the kids as he passed by their bedrooms. They were both fast asleep. He hoped for Michelle's sake they would stay that way until she had a chance to get ready for work and wake them up.

He pulled the wool socks over his cotton ones. His work boots were a bit tight with the extra layer, but not painfully so. He shrugged into his fall coat, checked his tuque, gloves, and wallet were stuffed into the pockets he remembered putting them in, and headed out.

By the time he walked to the hub, the sky had turned the dark grey of pre-dawn, and he could see a lighter streak in the east, just above the stands of pine trees that surrounded the town. Andy palmed the entrance lock and let himself into the break room.

The only person in the room so far was Donna. They nodded a greeting to each other, and Donna cocked her head to point out she had already left his first coffee on the nearest table. Andy picked it up and, between sips, helped her lay out the boxes of doughnuts and yogurt cups on the counter. Donna had already put the bread beside the toasters and started the big coffee maker. His and Donna's brew came from a small maker with a schedule feature that she always prepped at the end of every shift.

The rest of the crew arrived in twos and threes, checking if the coffee was ready and helping themselves to breakfast. Walter sat with Andy in their usual spots, watching Andy use his tablet to run an RFID scan on his toolbox.

"You always check it before you go home," said Walter. "Why do you check it again in the morning?"

Andy shrugged. "Shit happens." He glanced up and saw a pale sunbeam filter through the nearest window.

The entire crew was now sitting at tables, drinking coffee and sharing news with each other over their tablets. There were a few conversations, but mostly people watched holograms together and made comments.

"Okay, but did you see the speech she gave two days ago? Here..."

"No shit, eh?"

"If that asshole gets red-carded one more time this season..."

"Flip that to me, will ya? I'm gonna send it to Trudy. That's hilarious."

Andy's tablet flashed red. "Schedule's here." He swiped his way down it. "Sonuvabitch."

"What?" said Walter. His own tablet had just flashed.

"Frank's got us going to Saskatoon and Orlando this morning, and then Phoenix and Montreal this afternoon."

Walter snorted. "Want to call him up?"

"Better." Andy tapped a few spots on the tablet. Frank's head appeared as a hologram above it.

"Hey guys," said Frank. "The schedules are just getting distributed now."

"We know," said Andy. "Any way we can rearrange ours? Do the warm-weather places in the morning, then the cold ones this afternoon? Or the other way around?"

"Sec." Walter and Andy watched Frank's head glance down at an unseen display. "Like that, you mean?" Their tablets flashed red again.

Walter checked his screen and nodded at Andy.

"Thanks boss," said Andy, and cut the signal.

"So now it's Orlando/Phoenix, and then Montreal/Saskatoon," said Walter.

Andy grunted. "That'll make the walk home less harsh."

The two men drained their coffees and put the cups in the dishwasher on the way out. The locker room was noisier since it was awkward for the crew members to work a tablet and put on their weather gear at the same time.

Andy and Walter pulled their toolboxes to the departure pad.

"Got the map?"

"Closest working pad is two blocks south."

"Two blocks? Doesn't sound like a nice neighbourhood."

They took turns holding their tablets up to the departure scanner and teleporting.

Walter shook his head as they got their bearings and started walking to the broken pad stop. "Look at the cracks in the pavement. You'd think if they weren't going to use it for driving anymore, they'd put paving stones or gravel or something on top."

Andy spotted a row of mangy-looking palm trees in the distance, highlighted by the brilliant blue of the morning sky. They were walking by rows of old hotels, now converted to low-income housing. Since teleportation had become the norm, most families just teleported straight to Disney World in the morning and went home in the evening. Only the diehards who wanted to go to more than one park stayed overnight, usually right at the Disney resort.

"Some places are adjusting better than others. I just hope this isn't another vandalism."

Walter shrugged. "Ours is not to wonder why."

#fridayflash: data-driven

"Because it doesn't work that way!" Fenmore would have banged his head on his desk if it hadn't been a video call.

On the main screen, Detective Gordon was staring at the camera like a bulldog trying to decide where to bite first.

"Teleport Inc.'s machines gather all the data there is to know about a person when they step onto a departure pad and tap that keycard," he said. "Your network knows their height, weight, hair colour, what's been left stuck between their teeth from lunch. You know what's in their purse, their wallet, what the shape and size of the skidmarks in their underwear are."

"More or less, but — "

"So you have all this data about a person when they use your network to teleport. And you Teleport Inc. folks, you're careful. You've never lost anyone yet, never forgotten to give them their fingernails back on the arrival pad. You have to have data archives."

"Not the way you're thinking of."

"What I'm thinking, Dr. Fenmore, is that under the Criminal Information Act, I don't need a warrant to demand the data I'm asking for. I don't need you to give me the logs of the past week. Just the one. Gina Saunders. I have her DNA sample right here. You find me the record, we know where she last teleported to, and we'll continue our investigation from there."

"But it doesn't work that way," said Fenmore. "We're exempt from the CI Act, because we're considered transportation, not communications. And our data is encrypted. And you can't just 'access' it, because we deliberately stored it in such a way that it can't be queried like a regular database. It's sent redundantly, but not all redundant streams have the same data, so even if one stream gets hacked a hostile force can't go and kidnap someone by re-routing their data..."

"We don't want access to the live data, doctor," said Gordon. "Just the archives. Saunders was last seen at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst on 17 August. We want you to check the archives for then..."

A laugh cracked out of Fenmore's throat. "The seventeenth? That was six whole days ago. Are you kidding me? We only keep stuff for thirty-six hours. Detective, that data is long gone, even if it was legal for me to help you. Do Canadian police still keep notes on paper too?"

Detective Gordon glowered at him. "You better be telling the truth, Fenmore."

Dr. Fenmore tapped his desk in a few different places. "Just sent the documentation proving it. Nice talking to you, Detective Gordon."



Dr. Fenmore made a point of using all the locks on his front door, even though the detectors would let him know if anyone was within five kilometres of his house.

He checked that the arrival pad was completely powered down, then prised off the cover panel and reconnected the wire he'd loosened a week ago. He replaced the cover panel and powered up the pad. The machine ran through boot-up and self-diagnostic processes for a minute or two, and then there was a white flash over the pad itself.

A young woman stood on the pad, her fedora and trenchcoat dripping water onto the rubberised sensor surface at her feet.

"Amazing," said Dr. Fenmore. "Toronto hasn't had any rain since the day you left. How do you feel, Gina?"

Gina Saunders shrugged and stepped off the pad, doffing her hat and coat at the same time. "Fine," she said. "Felt just like a regular port." She noticed the coat rack by the door and hung her hat and coat up. "How long was I gone?"

"Seven days in total," said Fenmore.

"And no-one figured out where I was?"

"The broken circuit meant you registered as arrived on the network, but you stayed in the local cache until I re-connected the wire just now."

Gina raised her eyebrows. "And you think no-one's going to question that the pad was off-line for a week?"

Fenmore shrugged. "Technically it's a lab machine. They're not supposed to be up all the time."

Fenmore watched her check out his living and working space. She ran her hands over his worktable as if she expected the sensors to recognise her hands. As if he'd leave all that data open for access by just anyone. Suddenly she froze and held her hands up close to her face.

"What is it?" said Fenmore.

"I was wearing light blue nail polish when I left Toronto. Look." She flipped the backs of her hands to face him. All the fingernails were bare.

"Oh, that," said Fenmore. "Well, you know, being a man, and not one who wears that sort of thing, I don't have any nail polish remover handy, so I just edited it out of the data record. You understand."

"What, they don't have pharmacies in Australia?"

"If I'd bought cosmetics, it would have shown up on my transaction records. Some marketer or another would have flagged the data, and then it could have gone anywhere. The whole point is to hide the fact that a woman is living here."

Gina frowned. "I figured I'd just find my own way. That last job means I've got loads of credits saved up, even after I give you your share. I just can't spend them in North America without getting flagged."

Dr. Fenmore smiled. "We're in the outback, Gina."

Gina glanced out the living room window. "Looks like it."

"The teleporter pads are the only means of transportation in or out of here. I got rid of my car as a sign of good faith when I joined Teleport Inc. Anyhow, petrol hasn't been for sale within a thousand kilometres of here for two years at least."

"Okay, so I'll teleport out. It's a risk, but if I have to, I have to —"

"You don't understand," said Dr. Fenmore, a little too loudly. "The company hired me to work on secure network nodes, so private areas with teleportation pads couldn't have just anyone using them. The departure pad only responds if it's going to teleport my DNA. It won't take anyone else's. If I so much as have some of your dead skin cells on my sleeve, the departure pad will edit them out."

He watched the information sink in. She was far more pretty than intelligent, this one, but eventually she understood.

"How far is it to —"

"Five hundred kilometres."

More pretty than intelligent, for certain. Prettier still with a pale face.

#fridayflash: the first


She was just about what he'd expect in a lady scientist. Mousy hair, weak blue eyes, too pale and angular to be pretty. She spoke passable German, though, which was nice. It meant they didn't have to use one of those translation apps on her tablet. He hated those. They always butchered the nouns.

"Mr. Schwartz," she said, smiling and extending her hand. She asked him to sit down, so he did, giving the room a quick once-over at the same time. It just looked like a regular office space. So they didn't intend to use him as a lab rat quite yet.

"May I call you Ernst?" she said, glancing down at her tablet.

"Do I get to call you Gertrude instead of Dr. Abramovic, then?" he said.

Her smile widened. "It's Gerry for short."

"I'd prefer Mr. Schwartz, Dr. Abramovic."

She didn't react the way he expected. The smile dimmed, but a trace of it remained as she tapped a few things into her tablet.

"Mr. Schwartz, I represent the company that runs the teleportation network you, ah, used professionally until recently."

"You mean the shipping business that I got sacked from."

"If you like."

"I'm not going to try to commit suicide with it again if that's what you're worried about."

Dr. Abramovic shook her head. "No no, I'm not a psychiatrist. I specialise in anaesthesiology, actually."

"The only thing I was anaesthetised with was about two litres of vodka. A little out of your area of expertise, I'll wager."

Dr. Abramovic set her tablet down on the table and very deliberately pushed it to one side. She leaned forward on her elbows and looked him straight in the face. "Mr. Schwartz, my employer hired me to find out exactly what happened when you teleported with that shipping crate. You are the first living creature ever to be teleported, and we need to know exactly what happened to you, how it affected you, and what your perceived experience of it was."

He snorted. "My 'experience' was that one moment I was drunk and trying to off myself by running onto a pad just before Frank threw the switch, and then the next moment I'm just as drunk, but now I have this customs officer screaming at me in Afrikaans."

She leaned back in her chair. "Let's start with the basics. Have you always lived in Hamburg?"

"Born and raised."

"And you started as a dock worker in April 2043, correct?"

"Sounds right."

"Why did you choose the profession?"

He shrugged. "My uncle got me in. It's a living, or at least it was."

"Mr. Schwartz, we are paying you twice your old salary to participate in our research."

"So like I said, my uncle got me in."

"When teleportation replaced ships, you worked on loading and unloading containers from the teleportation pads."

"Sure."

"2043 to 2053... that's a ten-year career, and you've never been late or disorderly on the job before, until two weeks ago."

He stared at the table and clenched the fist he held on his lap, so she couldn't see. "My wife left me."

"I'm sorry to hear. But Mr. Schwartz, why come in to work at all? Why not just call in sick?"

He gave a short laugh. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Dr. Abramovic nodded. "All right. That's not entirely relevant to the teleportation part, but I was curious. Thank you for explaining."

He couldn't think of a single polite thing to say to that.

Dr. Abramovic slid the tablet in front of her. "The security camera's files show that you were completely on the pad before the switch was thrown. That may have saved you from losing a limb or two."

"Pity."

"I compared the logs of the departure and arrival pads. You were in transit for about two hundredths of a second. I know that's a very short interval, but do you remember anything that may be from when you were in transit?"

Schwartz shook his head. "I had just run onto the pad. I was facing the shipping container. Maybe if I'd been looking out to the loading area, or watching Frank... maybe I would have noticed something then."

"And your own account plus the one in Johannesburg indicate that you were indeed still intoxicated when you arrived... Did you feel more drunk, or maybe less drunk, than before you teleported?"

"I damn near threw up when I realised what had happend, but I was probably about as gone as I was beforehand. Nah, no difference."

"The exam Dr. Gutman gave you shows you're in about the same shape as you were last September, when you had your annual physical..." Dr. Abramovic frowned into her tablet and tapped a few keys. "Mr. Schwartz, I'd like to have you take some tests over the next few days, maybe include some brain imaging. Are you comfortable with that?"

"Sure. You are paying me to be a lab rat, after all." Schwartz pulled out his own tablet. It wasn't as big or as new as Abramovic's, but he kept it in a hand-embossed leather case.

They recorded a series of appointments, and Schwartz left.

After he stumbled onto the tram that would take him home, he found a window seat and pressed his forehead against the cool glass.

The teleport had just felt like he had blinked quickly, and in the interval all his surroundings had changed. Quick and simple as that, it was true. But... he remembered the shock of the change in temperature and humidity, the assault of all the new smells, the abrupt shift in room tone.

He'd thought he'd succeeded at first, that he'd died. A half-remembered myth came back to him, about how the dead simply passed to a different world just like the one they'd come from, how the newly-born of our world were the dead souls of another world beyond. There really had been a very brief moment of joy before that idiot bureaucrat had started screaming at him.

But there had been something. Before the joy, after Frank had thrown the switch. That sensation of blinking. And within the blink... Schwartz squeezed his eyes shut.

He knew it now. That fraction of a moment, born of his anger and shame and self-pity, that selfishness and loneliness he had felt. It would affect the lives of practically every person on the planet. In two hundredths of a second, he had changed the course of history.

#fridayflash: newsmagazine story v2

This is the "happy" version of the same story I wrote for #fridayflash last week. It's more like what I originally had in mind when I got the idea, but overall I think it wound up being a good exercise doing the two different versions.

May 2068: small-town life in the late 21st century

HORNPAYNE, ON — Jane Fenton wags her finger at me. "It won't be the first time there were no physical roads into this town," she says.

The first road was built in 1958, over a hundred years ago. Before that, the only way in or out of Hornpayne was by rail. Rail was why the town was built to begin with — the town marks the farthest point between the major rail stations to the west and south that a diesel engine can go before it has to be refuelled. By the turn of the century, Hornpayne boasted not only rail and road access, but an airport as well. More people worked for the local logging company than the railway that founded the town.

The rail, the road, and eventually the airport will all be phased out, because as of tomorrow Hornpayne is officially switching from being a railway division point to a teleportation service hub.

"That was one of the perks of moving here," adds Roger Fenton, Jane's husband. "This town had the highest teaching salaries in the province. Basically it was isolation pay." He grins.

We're sitting around their kitchen table, drinking coffee. Roger and Jane have lived in this town for their entire marriage — fifty-two years next month. Jane worked for CN Rail, and Roger was an English and History teacher at the local high school. They are Hornpayne's oldest residents.

Tomorrow, Jane will come out of retirement for one day to help officially shut down the railway and start up the teleportation maintenance office. "There's a comment field on all of the rolling stock maintenance logs," she laughs. "I'm half-curious and half-dreading what people are going to enter for the last time they have to fill them in!"

I ask if there's going to be any kind of "last train" ceremony, similar to the "last spike" events that marked the building of the railway in the nineteenth century.

"We're having a waffle breakfast," says Roger. "It's a working day, but the community thought it would be a nice way for the crew to start the new work. Then Jane will give that speech she's been working on, she'll collect the old logs and hand out the new task lists, and people will start heading out to do their jobs." He sips his coffee. "Then the retired stiffs like me will help clean up from the breakfast."

"Once you're done making your video," says Jane. Since retiring from teaching, Roger has become the town's archivist, and got special permission from Teleport Inc. to record the first-day events for posterity.

Aren't they worried about the town being so dependent on employment from a foreign company? Teleport Inc. is based in Australia.

Roger shrugs. "The whole idea of 'foreign' has been radically redefined in the last hundred years," he says. "Besides, thanks to the Americans in the last century, Canadians are used to having a branch plant economy and making it work."

The Hornpayne maintenance division will be responsible for the maintenance of all of the pad hubs on the North American continent. "We're in a great location," says Jane. "We're in the Eastern time zone, but just barely. So people can work regular day hours and cover the whole territory without getting too much pad lag." The geographical advantage is extra-appropriate, she points out, since it was for the Canadian rail system that time zones were invented.

Do they think other businesses will be promoted by the pad maintenance hub being here?

"Definitely," says Roger. "Anyone who likes the great outdoors would love to come here as a tourist, winter or summer. People love to fish and swim here in the summer, and ski or snowmobile in the winter."

"There's the commuter aspect too," says Jane. "Pads mean you can live anywhere. People who like the salaries of big-city jobs but not the lifestyle can live here and commute easily." She pours herself more coffee and shakes her head in wonder. "Everyone who lives near a pad has a commute time of less than twenty minutes. Even if they're going to the other side of the world. Who'd have thought we'd see the day?"

"I'll sort of miss it, though," says Roger. "Travelling."

"What do you mean?" says Jane. "We're going to Berlin next month."

"Oh visiting, sure, but travelling... you know, like the time we took the train from here to Vancouver... those days are gone," says Roger. "You know — watching the world go by while you sit at a window and drink your cocktail. And air travel — people are going to miss that, you watch."

Jane shrugs and sips her coffee. "Can't stop progress," she says. "Maybe if you're lucky, you can nudge it a little so it doesn't run you over, but that's about it."

#fridayflash: newsmagazine story

The #fridayflash after this, I wrote the "happy" version of this story as I had originally intended. It was a good exercise to do both versions.

May 2068: Is small-town Canada disappearing?

HORNPAYNE, ON — "This is nothing," Jane Fenton tells me. "You should hear the stories about living here before they built the road."

The road was built in 1980, almost ninety years ago. Before that, the only way in or out of Hornpayne was by rail. Rail was why the town was built to begin with — the town marks the farthest point between the major rail stations to the west and south that a diesel engine can go before it has to be refuelled. At its height at the turn of the century, Hornpayne boasted not only rail and road access, but an airport as well.

"We used to have over twelve hundred people living here," adds Roger Fenton, Jane's husband. We're sitting around their kitchen table, drinking coffee. Roger and Jane have lived in this town for their entire marriage — fifty-two years next month. They are Hornpayne's oldest residents. Tomorrow, they will be the first family to be teleported out as the town officially shuts down and quietly wipes itself off the map.

They are philosophical about the changes. "This place was founded as a railway division point," says Roger. "Sure, other industries grew up here, like the logging, but now that there's no more rail..." He trails off and sips at his coffee.

Jane tries to fill in the silence. "Back in the early 1900s, when the town was founded, it was to support a relatively new technology — rail — in a relatively new country. Canada was only forty years old when Hornpayne was established. Now we're living through another major period of technological change. Vat-grown lumber means the logging industry has been killed off, and teleportation means no more rail or air travel."

"This is a wonderful place in the summer," Roger says. "Lots of boating, swimming, fishing... and in the winter, people ski and snowmobile all over. Great place for winter sports."

"But it does get cold," says Jane.

Roger shrugs. "It's Canada," he says. "It gets cold."

It's the cold that ultimately drove the decision to abandon Hornpayne. Teleportation pads don't work in weather colder than -12 Celsius, and even since global warming took effect the town has seen weeks each winter with temperatures colder than -20. The population is too small to justify having more than one indoor pad hub, but its layout makes walking to a hub in the depths of winter impractical. It's too small, too closely structured around the now-obsolete petroleum lifestyle.

Tomorrow, Roger's and Jane's neighbours will help them load the belongings they haven't already packed onto transport skids. First, their possessions will go into the specially-equipped, petrol-burning transport truck sitting in their driveway. The truck will be driven to the pad hub by a member of the relocation crew. Roger and Jane were offered a lift in a friend's car, but have decided they will walk the short distance to the hub instead.

"It's a way of saying good-bye," says Jane. "You know, see everything properly one last time."

When the truck gets to the hub, its cargo will be off-loaded onto the transport pad and sent to Sault Ste. Marie, where the Fentons have chosen to re-locate. They were married there, and have adult children who live in the area.

Roger and Jane will use the people-departure pad to follow their belongings to the Sault. Meanwhile, the transport truck will be pulling into their next-door neighbour's driveway to be loaded with another household's worth of belongings.

Jane starts to take a sip of coffee, then sets the mug down and says, "Oh! I almost forgot. I have cookies to use up. Please have some with us."

She rises and pulls a bag of cookies out of an otherwise-empty kitchen cupboard.

"It's always hard with moving," says Roger. "I remember the night we moved in here, we got into town after all the stores had closed and we couldn't get groceries until the next morning."

There are six chocolate chip cookies left in the bag. Jane puts two in front of each of us. "What about breakfast for tomorrow?" I ask. "By the time you get your things to your new house, it'll be almost lunchtime."

Jane smiles. "The community is putting on a waffle breakfast at the hub," she says. "I guess we'll get something to eat before we step on the pads. The relocation people said they'd do the cleaning up for us."

The pad hub will remain in place only long enough to secure the buildings and ensure nothing hazardous to the local environment has been left out in the open. The last load the petrol-burning transport truck will carry in Hornpayne will be the dismantled pad hub. Its driver will use the soon-to-be decommissioned highway to return to the relocation base in Thunder Bay.

I ask the Fentons what they think will happen to the town in the future.

"People still might come up here in the summer," says Jane.

Roger grunts and shakes his head. "Nobody uses cars anymore," he says. "Hardly anybody uses snowmobiles anymore, and they don't have the range of a car anyhow. Air travel is gone, even if the landing strip at the airport was maintained, which it won't be..." He sips his coffee, shakes his head again. "Nope," he says. "No-one will come here anymore."

"It's a pity," says Jane. "It's such a beautiful town."

#fridayflash: the timeline

  • 2039: Scientists working at the University of Melbourne successfully teleport a coffee cup from a dedicated departure pad to a dedicated arrival pad. Later that same year, they work with another team in Wellington, New Zealand to teleport another coffee cup, this time with a note in it laying bets on which team will win the Rugby World Cup. The New Zealand team confirms the coffee cup and note arrived safely, and in their original states. This proves that a) long distance teleporting is possible and b) teleporting two things at once will not "blend" them or stick them together. The Australians win the Nobel Prize for physics that year, but lose their bet.
  • 2040-2045: Development of the technology continues. Pads may now be built large enough to accommodate a shipping container.
  • 2047: The first commercial teleportation pads are rolled out around the world. Ship's captains, seamen, and freight airline pilots demonstrate in New York, Hong Kong, London, Mumbai, and elsewhere, claiming the technology will destroy their industries.
  • 2048-2053: Shipping via teleport becomes the norm for anything but very large items. Several industries are transformed as shipping costs flatten — the Australian corporation founded by the scientists uses a global flat fee, scaled only by the size of the item to be shipped, rather than weight or distance.
  • 2053: a dock worker in Hamburg shows up for work drunk, gets sacked, screams he's going to kill himself, and runs into a departure pad just as a shipper hits the teleport button. Much to everyone's complete shock, he arrives in Johannesburg with the shipping container alive and unharmed. The teleportation company owners hold an emergency meeting to discuss human and animal transport on a large scale. The South Africans arrest the dock worker for entering the country illegally, and decide the least expensive thing to do is deport him back to Germany the same way he arrived.
  • 2053-2055: Countries around the world start using teleportation as a method of deporting illegal refugees en masse. Human rights groups complain that often people are deported to countries they did not come from, without being able to speak the local language and with no means to either return to their home country or find a new safe haven.
  • 2056: the teleportation company applies a global firmware upgrade that checks the DNA of any organic matter on the destination pad. If more than two kilos of it belongs to any single human, the pad will not operate until it is removed. Shipping companies complain this slows transmission speeds to unacceptable levels — one tenth of a second instead of one hundredth.
  • 2057: the first "parallel" teleport networks are set up using discarded and reverse-engineered components. After two fatal accidents, one involving a political leader who encouraged the alternative network, the Australian company decides to allow licensing and franchising of the pad centres. They insist, however, that there be one global network, pointing to the problems caused with the Internet when countries tried to split off and form their own.
  • 2058: the first public transportation pads are rolled out. No more than four people are allowed on a pad at once, and destination keycards have to be paid for in advance. Most pads are for only one person to use at a time. 
  • 2060: Suburban areas around the world get retrofitted so that their residents can walk to the nearest pad centre in a reasonable amount of time. The average fitness levels of North Americans and Western Europeans improve for the first time in decades.
  • 2062: The automobile and train industries run a smear campaign against teleportation, resurrecting the old twentieth-century slogan "Getting There is Half the Fun" and claiming teleportation uses more energy and is more polluting than internal combustion vehicles. Unfortunately for them, the scientists who own the teleportation company have been studying energy consumption and the total carbon footprint of their technology almost from the start, and have hard numbers (and a good ad agency) to refute this. They start a counter-campaign aimed at families: "Never have anyone ask 'are we there yet?'".
  • 2065: teleportation leads car driving in terms of kilometres travelled. More and more neighbourhoods are becoming "car free zones".
  • 2070: most countries have laws banishing the few remaining cars to rural areas. No one notices much.

#fridayflash: freedom

Here's this week's #fridayflash. Please leave comments/critiques!

John glanced at the clock on the microwave. He still had fifteen minutes to get to work. No problem; it was only 7:30, and the queues wouldn’t be that long this time of the morning.

He yawned, slugged back the remains of his coffee, and stuffed the last bite of toast into his mouth. Fortunately he’d had the wherewithal to leave his overcoat, hat, and briefcase by the door; it was a habit he was trying to keep, but some nights he forgot. He pulled his work keycard from the outside pocket of his briefcase and stuffed it in his overcoat pocket — the people behind always hated it when someone fumbled for their destination ID. On the way out the door he grabbed his house keycard from the row of hooks by the door and tapped it against the scanner in the hall to lock up.

On the street there were a fair number of people at the cafés and fast food outlets getting breakfast, but the commuter queues were only three or four people deep on the boulevards. A streetcar grumbled by with commuters who had less than the minimum transport length of ten kilometres to travel. John checked his pocket watch, which told him it was 7:40. He supposed he had enough time to get a coffee to go; the stuff at the office was awful, and there weren’t any cafés handy nearby.

There was a long queue at his favourite café, maybe a dozen people, but it moved quickly. John waited for another streetcar to pass so he could cross the road to the transport boulevard. He paused to admire the street. In some neighbourhoods they had just built right on top of the old parking lanes, but where John lived the old lanes had been resurfaced with paving stones — nicer for people to walk on than plain old asphalt. They’d added some trees in cement planters too. It looked good. You’d hardly know that ten years ago cars used to run on the same streets.

John picked a queue that looked like it was shorter than the others, then waited his turn. The commute was moving well this morning. A woman in a blue suit and a grey fedora was directly in front of him. John met her often, but didn’t know her name. He nodded hello when she noticed someone was behind her and glanced back. She smiled at him, and John smiled in return. Maybe in a few more weeks he would get a chance to ask her name.

It was the woman’s turn to commute. She stepped through the turnstile doors onto the pad, made a quarter-turn to the left, and reached back to tap her work keycard against the scanner. John always had fun watching how people used the transporter. Some people positioned themselves to suit the location of the departure pad. Some people planned how they would look when they arrived. The woman vanished in a burst of white light.

The turnstile doors hummed and the indicator light turned green, telling John the woman had transported to her destination and it was now his turn. He pushed his way through the doors, letting two fingers hook through his briefcase handle while the other three held his cup of coffee in the same hand.

Through the glass walls that surrounded the transport pad on three sides, John could see a young couple struggling with a beat-up couch on one of the oversized cartage pads. He rolled his eyes and wondered why they didn’t just rent a furniture cart like normal human beings. “Always has to be someone doing it the hard way,” he muttered to himself.

He reached into his coat pocket and tapped his work keycard against the scanner.

He was never sure if he actually did blink, but it felt like he had. One moment he was standing on the boulevard in front of his condo building; the next he was in the lobby of the office tower he worked in.

John stepped out the exit doors of the arrival pad and glanced at his watch. 7:45. He was doing well. He still had fifteen minutes before the morning status meeting.

He walked to the elevator bays and tapped his keycard against the elevator scanner. The elevator ascended to his office’s floor and he got out. As he reached his desk, he could hear Mike from Accounting complaining about his commute again.

“Twenty minutes today,” said Mike to Agnes, who was doing her best to pretend she was interested. “Twenty minutes, at seven in the morning! Don’t you think that’s insane?”

“You have to learn to keep calm about it, though,” said Agnes. “The cops are starting to crack down on queue rage.”

“People should be ready,” said Mike. “If they’re in the god-damned queue, they should be ready. Otherwise they’re just part of the traffic problem.”

John started his computer and sat down, leaning back and taking his first sip of coffee. It was still too hot to drink, so he hung his coat and hat up and made sure he was ready for the morning meeting while he waited for it to cool down.

“Hey John,” Mike called from across the office floor. “Got lunch plans today?”

“Just going home.”

“You always go home.”

“It’s cheaper and the food’s better.”

“Even with paying for transport four times a day instead of two? Are you sure?”

John grinned and headed back to his desk.

He checked his e-mail, dashed off a few quick replies, then locked his computer to go to the conference room for the status meeting. As he got up, he took a quick glance at his desktop wallpaper.

It was a photo of his father with his first car — a petroleum-burner that had constantly needed repairs. Whenever he took a good look at the photo, John remembered what his father had said when John was growing up: “You’ll never know. You’re never going to know what it feels like, to get that kind of freedom from owning a car.”

No, no he wouldn’t.