Four Scenes From Wieczniak’s Whisk-U-Away, And One Not

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Have a seat, the two of you, and your little girl. You took a taxi here, as I requested? Oh, good. The mall owner, Mrs. Tiffin, she’s always hounding the police to tow away everyone’s cars. I tell her you’re my customers, travelers, you need a place to park overnight — but no, she claims you’re stealing spaces from the Hallmark store. That’s a valid complaint, I guess, since sometimes people are gone for weeks… but I’d like it to be more convenient for you. When you return, you should just step out of the dimensional gate from Perth, Australia, and into your car and whoosh, you’re home! Not sit around this old place waiting for a cab. But I have a taxi driver — a friend of mine, Gregor. He’ll get you back in a jiffy if you call ahead. He’s a good man. Reliable.

I’ll just put in the adjustments here — it takes a good fifteen minutes for the computer to figure out the mathematics of folding space correctly, even with the assistance of the computer on the other side of the gate.

Can I get you some coffee? Fresh from the market square. Organic, better than that tinned stuff. And here’s some apple cider for your little girl. Sweet, but nutritious!

So what brings you to Australia?

Family, you say? A cousin you’ve never been able to visit before? Why, that’s the joy of teleportation! Even if it isn’t really teleportation, you know. But it’s so affordable. Five hundred dollars and your family steps through my gate, you’re bioscanned to check your identity, and poof! You’re in Australia! Not stuffed into a plane with sweaty businessmen and upset babies, no waiting in long lines — just step into a small shop here in Cleveland and step out of a small shop in Perth!

Of course I’m overjoyed! This is my second big adventure, you know. My first was when I emigrated to America as a young boy. Built a good plumbing business. I was always good with my hands. But always, I read magazines such as Popular Science and Wired, always I experimented, and when it turned out that space-folding technology was going small-scale, I sunk my entire life’s savings into this very business. I had to be a part of the future. Small shops transporting people everywhere.

Oh, the airports are installing teleportation gates, but who wants a big, centralized place clogged with lines when you can step straight into downtown Perth? No, you want a Mom-and-Pop shop, like me. And they lie! Oh, they lie. They tell you a ticket to Australia costs more because it’s farther away, but that’s old-scale thinking. It might cost you more if you could go to Mars, thirty-five million miles away — but Perth is only ten thousand miles! That’s so tiny on an interdimensional scale! Those big-box places try to convince you there’s a huge difference, but actually it’s a matter of pennies. Little guys like us keep them honest.

Oh, I know, it’s not that big a price difference. $500 with me, $600 with them. But you know how much I make on each trip? Fifty dollars. That’s it. No, truly! Most of my money goes towards paying off this marvelous machine. Best investment I ever made. I stay late at the shop, reading manuals, tinkering. But oh, you should see my electricity bills! No, trust me, I cut close to the bone. I want lovely families like you to go to Perth and Switzerland and Jamaica and all sorts of places you never could have afforded before. Reuniting families, spreading global understanding… It’s marvelous!

Ah! Here we go. It’s folding space as we speak! Watch the gate! You’d think it’d be more dramatic, but no! It’s like an old television snapping on: dimness, a crackle of electricity, and then — there we are! That’s an Australian breeze coming through the gate. Wave ‘hello’ to Liz. She’s my favorite Australian, she’ll set you up with a hotel if you need one.

What’s that? No, no, little girl, don’t cry. What’s your name, pretty one? Sasha? Sasha Khanina, now that’s a beautiful name. Almost as pretty as you. And you must be, what, eight? Eight and a half, of course, I should have seen that. Let’s wipe away those tears, what’s bothering you?

No, of course the gate won’t close on you while you’re stepping through! We have two full minutes before the fold collapses. What, you think I’d let a little girl get chopped in half? What do they teach children in schools these days anyway?

Here, take my hand. Do you know how to waltz? It’s very simple. Follow my feet. One, two, three, one, two, three… That’s it. Now, follow me and we will dance across the globe. Ready?

Cleveland… to Perth. Cleveland… to Perth. See how we dance across the doorway and back? Just a little tickle as we cross the boundary. Nothing to fear. I do it a hundred times a day. And you, my darling, are doing something so magical you’ll tell your grandchildren about it — the day you waltzed across continents. And now, one more time to Perth… and whoosh, we’re back in Cleveland.

What’s that? You want to dance more? Oh, my love, would that I could, but already my electrical bills will eat me alive. No, instead, I shall hand you back to your wonderful mother, who will take you to see some wonderful relatives. Take pictures with your camera phone, Sasha! If you like, send them to me, I never see enough photos of happy people. Take good care of the Khaninas for me, Liz!

Good bye, my friends. Good bye. And enjoy!

Why, if it isn’t my good friends the Khaninas! And Sasha, my child… you’re so big! How old are you now? Fifteen? Well, you have a maturity I haven’t seen in some twenty-year-olds. Can I get you some coffee? It’s from my friend Trejean, in Jamaica. From his hands to mine, and neither of us left our cities! Still amazing.

What? Yes, things are a little more hectic these days. You’ll have to forgive me, but the computers have gotten so fast. It’s nice they can do the necessary calculations in under five minutes, but it leaves so little time for visiting! I barely get time to offer someone a coffee before they’ve stepped off to Aberdeen! Not like you, of course. You, I make special time for.

Oh, business is good, thanks for asking. See this shiny new gateway? I took out another loan for it. Those awful Vortechs franchises, they’re everywhere. Have you seen their commercials, with the world turned into a block of Swiss cheese? They think of their customers as mice! And their stores, the same everywhere, all fluorescents and white plastic. So cold. Tchuh.

So, people don’t like the waits. I have to go quicker, quicker, Mr. Wieczniak — as if spending some time in pleasant company before stepping through a gateway is an inconvenience! You’ve tasted my cider, Sasha — what do you think?

That’s very kind of you, Sasha… but I wish you wouldn’t use that word. I don’t like the term ‘pop-shop.’ But perhaps I should! After all, if this is a Mom-and-Pop teleportation shop, I am the Pop, eh?

Why don’t I like it, Sasha? Well, to call a dimensional folding point a ‘pop-shop’ just seems disrespectful. This glorious gateway took thousands of man-years to think up — the brightest scientists and the best engineers, wracking their brains, working together to devise perhaps the most terribly clever thing in a long history of clever solutions. And yes, maybe you walk through this dimensional fold in a pop — but all the tiny things it took for this to happen are understandable!

To reduce its name to the amount of time it takes to travel ignores the amount of time it took to devise. And that’s why I dislike the term. It makes all this human effort seem like magic.

Yes, yes, of course you understand. I’ve told you how it works enough, haven’t I? And of course you want me to explain all of my gateway’s upgrades! We’ll start with — no, no, your parents are shaking their heads. Here, would you like to program the coordinates instead? Look how quick it calculates! Watch your fingers fly!

How long will you be staying in Perth? All winter vacation? It’s so nice you’ve become so close with your distant cousins. Though I guess they’re not so distant any more! Here, bring them some raw milk cheese from Ohio’s Amish! I drove down to get it — you have to with them, of course. Such a treat for the Australian Khaninas!

Okay, the gate is opened. Say hello to Liz for me, have a good — what’s that, Sasha? You wish to dance across the globe? Oh, my love, every time I think, “Oh, she’ll be too mature for this silly game,” and — you say never? Well, you are fifteen. That’s old enough to maybe be forever. It doesn’t matter, take my hand.

Cleveland… to Perth. Cleveland… to Perth. Just a little tickle as we cross the boundary.

Sasha! What are you doing here? Where are your parents, you’re crying, you—

All right, yes, I’ll read it. But—

Sasha.

You got in. You got into MIT. Oh, my lovely one, you’re going to be an engineer! That’s marvelous, I always said you had the brains to do anything. And you’re going to major in dimensional engineering.

No, no, I’m well, I just need to sit down. Fetch me that box of Kleenex, would you? Look at me, now we’re both crying, how silly when we’re so happy.

My Lord, Sasha, this is so good for you! There’s a lot of work for dimensional engineers these days. They’ve already opened up permanent gates in the major cities for commerce, you know. Now they’re discussing walking-gates for people. They need bright young women like you to help make the gates safer and more efficient — we’re burning far too much energy to keep them open and the fracturing leakage needs to be kept down. Such a solid career. You’re young, you don’t know what a boon this will be, never lacking work. You are the future, little one.

What do you mean, you’ll miss me? That’s crazy talk. Any time you want to visit, talk to the independent teleportation shops in Cambridge! They all know me. You’ll have to walk for a bit, I know, those awful Vortechs shops are everywhere now. But find a real shop, one with a beating heart, and I’ll cover your expenses. Maybe you can even tinker with this old darling, yes?

…the money? Oh, we’re a small Mom-and-Pop operation, but never worry. For you, it’s covered.

Yes, yes, you must tell your friends. Go! Run! No, wait — let me open up a gate to Liz, she’ll get you a taxi. Tell your cousins in person! Surprise them!

There’s the gate. It opens so quick these days. Soar, little one! Persevere! Triumph!

Oh my Lord, if it isn’t Mrs. Sasha Khanina, Ph. D. Oh, let me hold you! You’re a boon for old eyes, you really are. It’s so good to see you, and…

This little one must be your daughter, Lydia!

Of course, I knew. I read all about you. See that picture on the wall? I’m sorry, my eyes don’t see the dust as well as they used to, let me Windex that off. But yes, that’s you on your graduation day. I tell all my customers, ‘That’s Sasha Khanina, she works as a chief engineer on DuPoint’s intracity gates, she’s forgotten more about these machines than I will ever know.’

I’ve read all your publications on my datapad. Sometimes they get a little arcane for me — the technology is more complicated and the brain isn’t what it used to be. But I read over and over again. I get the gist. It makes me proud.

Oh, no, never apologize for absences, Sasha! You’re gating around the world, installing the latest technology, fine-tuning very complex devices… It’s good work. Hard work. And raising a family, too! Let us never forget, family is the most important thing. I know in your heart you meant to visit, and that’s enough for an old man like me. I get your Christmas cards. They make me smile.

And you, little one? It’s an honor to make your acquaintance, Miss Lydia Khanina. Your grip is so firm! You must be… eight? Oh, eight and a half, of course, I should have seen that. What’s that, Sasha? She’s at a special age? What age?

…the age you were when you went through a gate?

Now, you can’t have kept her from gates all this time, Sasha. The world is too small these days, you must have brought her through… Oh, good, you did. Now that anyone can step from Cleveland to Paris on a special walkway, it would break my heart to think she’d never been to the great cities of the world. That’s the wonders of technology, the way gates have brought everything so close. Have you taken her to New Washington yet? So much effort, yet it seems so simple. Sending those automated bots millions of miles to construct a gate, and now anyone can pay ten dollars to walk to Mars. In my childhood, I thought we would colonize the galaxy through rockets, but no — it’s gates…

So there’s no need for me, Sasha. My gate is old, it goes only to cities without permanent gates installed. I keep it mainly to keep me company — some people still don’t go to Vortechs. I get by. Better than a retirement fund, I suppose. And surely DuPont has better and faster—

They don’t dance. Ah.

Well, we’ll open the gate — no, not to Liz anymore, I’m afraid. She had to become a Vortechs franchise to keep her head above water. They don’t let me use their network. I can’t blame her, she has to do what puts food on her table, but the new man in Perth — well, Perth’s suburbs — his name is Mike, he’s almost as nice. I’ll open the gate.

Here, little Lydia, do you know how to waltz? It’s very simple. Follow my feet. One, two — oh, no, she ran straight through. She’s not afraid of gates, is she? To her, they’re as natural as the air and sky.

I guess we’ll have to show her how to waltz. Take my hand, Sasha. Ready? Cleveland… to Perth. Cleveland… to Perth. Look how elegant we are!

What do you mean I have a visitor? That’s crazy, nurse — nurse — I’m sorry, I forget your name. What is it again? Peter, that’s right. Peter the day shift nurse. My memory, it’s not what it once was, but at least I know your face. And you must have me confused with someone else. I don’t have visitors.

You’re certain it’s for me? Mr. Wieczniak. You checked? Well, all right, it’s probably a creditor or something. I—

…Sasha.

Oh, I wish I could say it was good to see you, Sasha! But I didn’t want you to see me like this. Look how thin I am. I can’t even walk. I — I was hoping to slip quietly out of this world, like a man exiting a busy party.

How have you been?

No, me, I — it’s the usual tale. You know it is, you’re in the field. Those old gateway models, they were unshielded. We didn’t understand the dangers of dimensional fracturing. It was harmless for everyone else, thank God, a couple of zaps twice a year wouldn’t hurt anyone, but for me? Dancing between gateways a hundred times a day? I’m lucky to have lived as long as I did. Few of the original operators are, really. It’s a blessing. They give me good drugs.

What? Where’s my wife? I never had a wife, why would you think that? Oh. No, Sasha, that’s just a saying. I was a small store, everyone called it a Mom-and-Pop operation. But there was no mom. Who’d want a crazy tinkerer like me? I was never home, I was up all nights reading science books and fine-tuning my gateway… I’d have made a terrible husband. I’m glad no one had to endure my meanderings.

No, what am I saying? It’s awful, Sasha. I’m alone in this hospital and I’m scared and I don’t have anyone to be with me, and I’m sorry, it’s just been a bad few months. You’re such a good girl. I shouldn’t put my troubles upon you.

No, of course I don’t want you to leave. Now that you’re here. Please, I couldn’t be happier, it’s a solace. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for finding me. Thank you for remembering me.

You know, it’s funny, Sasha. I’ve been reading a lot about religion ever since I got sick. It’s all a bunch of hooey, of course. I’ve read too many books about science to believe there’s some crazy all-powerful man in the sky who’s interested in us.

Still, I can see the appeal. The Buddhists believe in reincarnation. You walk out one door, you walk in another. Life to death, death to life, and back again. I like to believe that if we could sit and watch it all from the right viewpoint, it would be like a glorious waltz, everyone dancing in and out again. And…

I’ve been holding myself here so hard, Sasha. I should let go, I know. The drugs only help a little. I tell myself I’m just going through another doorway, that’s all, just a little step to someplace I’ve never been, but… maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not.

Please, Sasha.

Take my hand.

end article

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Ferrett Steinmetz

About Ferrett Steinmetz

A firm believer in the "apply butt to chair, then fingers to keyboard" philosophy, Ferrett Steinmetz writes for at least an hour every day - which helps, he promises. He is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers' Workshop and Viable Paradise, and has been nominated for the Nebula Award, for which he remains stoked.