prompt: beam, title: where someone has gone before in misc. flash fiction

  • Sept. 22, 2022, 12:16 a.m.
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  • Public

Most technological advances become routine after a decade or two. It’s a quirk of our incredibly short lives. It needs to work like that for people to not go crazy. The wheel or radio, the internet or even faster-than-light drive, we got used to it. If you were born after the spread of warp-speed travel, by your adulthood, it was as common-place to you as farming grain in Mesopotamia, as lead plumbing for upper-classes in Imperial Rome. It just was. It always had been, always would be, as far as you were concerned. Even though the former was entirely false and the latter quite likely untrue as well. Our lives so damnably short, we’re susceptible to the delusion that progress is an arrow shot forward, unable to regress or even slow down. Ever onward. If you were born in a dark age, say the Bronze Age Collapse, you would have no conception how far everything had devolved, let alone how traces of that progress were being partially preserved in foreign lands. You’d be back to near square-one and any changes in your lifetime, you’d absolutely believe it were the very first time someone brewed beer or stored electric energy in a chemical cell. With life expectancy at par with syphilitic mayflies, how could we hope for any perspective? We’ve acclimated quickly to almost everything that ever was invented. Almost.

The transporter was different. The instantaneous teleportation of sentient organisms is different. Our very blood knows it should not be and the first time someone goes through it, it feels like a terrifying thrilling miracle. The thousandth time you were transported, it still felt weird, glorious and impossible. Oh, you get better at hiding that reaction, the flinch like science is getting away with something, because you’re a professional, but that recoil never goes away. That instinct is wise and the root cause of that reflex is the same reason why nearly every ranking Federation engineer is either a shattered neurotic like Chief Miles O’Brien or a functional-alcoholic like Commander Scott. Because they know transport doesn’t work that way.

The transporter doesn’t scramble you into data then descramble it back on that planet, with three guys in red shirts around you about to die. It copies you then transmits a copy of your essentials down to the surface with the murderous yet alluring green babes. There’s a closet off to the side of the transporters, not on any ship schematics, the horrible secret those engineers hold to protect the Federation’s military and economic hegemony. That’s where your old body goes to be killed and incinerated, creating the illusion of teleportation. That’s why you can’t ever quite get used to the miracle. That’s why the person pushing the buttons winces just a touch when you say “Beam me up!” with a nervous smile. They know what actually happens. That’s why they rant or drink.

They’ve somehow found their own way to get used to the horrors of the transport age. Almost.

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