One of the other Friday Flash Fiction writers suggested this title and challenged the others to write a story to match. This was my attempt.
Alex sat in the departure lounge and tried to wipe the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, but a combination of the humidity and his own terror had slicked his whole body with perspiration and the movement achieved nothing.
He sat back, taking a deep breath, trying to bring the thumping of his heart under control. Alex looked at the white ceiling, high above, then closed his eyes. He could feel a vein throbbing in his neck, sweat trickling down the inside of his leg and a dry rasp in his throat.
He ached for a cold drink and a soft breeze.
He longed to escape.
The departure lounge was a vast, impersonal space. White walls, smooth apart from the regular bubbling out of glass bowls behind which lights were recessed, rose from a polished white floor to the white roof. Those, like Alex, who were waiting for their hyperspace trip, sat on regularly spaced white benches that rolled forward slowly as each traveller came, in turn, to the white door marked “embarkation”.
The guards, a mixture of meat and metal, sidled along, trying to appear nonchalant. Alex noticed, though, that their movements became more tense as they approached the hyperspace gate. Was it fear of the machine? More likely they were just preparing for a fight.
Few of these travellers went quietly on their journey. Some fought, some screamed, some begged, some collapsed into a faint. Alex admired the few who managed to face their fate with stoicism. He watched one man stand, straight-backed, and march forward without a rearward glance or pause.
When it was his turn, Alex knew he would fight.
Here’s how hyperspace works.
First open a gate to an alternate universe. That’s easy, really. The complicated bit is to open a gate to a specific type of alternate universe. What you want is the kind of universe that never experienced that mysterious moment of acceleration known as inflation. The best thing, indeed the only good thing about such universes, is that everything that ever existed is almost immeasurably close together.
Now map your alternate universe. That can take a surprisingly long time, because even though everything in this universe is packed into an area so small that the human mind really can’t comprehend the smallness, it is still everything in the universe and it is very hot and moving very fast.
When you’ve got your map, plot a route from the part of the universe you’re in to the part of this tiny, hot, alternate, universe that corresponds to the point in your own universe that you want to visit. Now, just make another gate, this time an exit.
Now simply step through your first gate, nip across the very small universe to the other gate, and then step out to, almost, instantaneously appear anywhere you want in your own universe.
Or it would be if you weren’t trying to pass through a microscopic space that’s about as hostile to human life and it’s possible to imagine.
So, everyone who passes through hyperspace has to die. Not for very long. But still they have to die. They lie down, have their mind ripped from their still conscious brain and then get blasted across the tiny alternate universe as a stream of information before getting pumped into another body and waking up.
Hyperspace wasn’t a popular way to travel. Only the truly desperate or those forced to use it would pass through a gate. Almost no one gated twice.
Alex lay on the table and stared up into the mechanism that was about to rip his mind from his living brain. Tears ran down his cheeks and he felt the hot shame of piss run down the inside of his legs.
“I don’t want to die,” he begged.
“Traveller Alex Ramirez Alfonso de Cuellar,” the AI had a sweet, girlish voice. “Hypertravel apologise for the slight discomfort that you are about to endure, but we assure you that the pain passes very quickly and that the risks involved in this procedure are very significantly overstated by the media.”
“I don’t want to go,” Alex struggled against the restraints but they gave no hint that they would release him. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“It is recommended that you try and relax,” the girl’s voice said. “Artificial stimulants are contra-indicated, but a patient’s mental state prior to travel is shown to have significant impacts on their long-term mental stability.”
“Let me go!” Alex wrenched with all his strength.
The AI paused.
“Prepare for transport,” it said, the sweetness disappearing from its voice.
The constable had being doing this job for a long time and he’d seen it all. Most came out of the gate screaming or weeping, a few laughed endlessly, others roared in anger and defiance, swearing their revenge. Some came out silently, but those usually had to be carried out, their eyes glazed with that distant stare that suggested that something important had been lost in the transfer.But Alex Ramirez Alfonso de Cuellar walked out of the hyperspace gate straight-backed and steady. He even managed a tight-lipped smile.“Senor de Cuellar?” The constable approached and held out a hand, which was firmly shaken. “Welcome to Phoenix.”“Thank you,” Alex said. “I’m very happy to be here.”
There was a pause as the Constable looked at his prisoner.
“If you don’t mind me saying so, Senor, your hyperspace jump seems to have left you remarkably untouched.”
Alex looked up.
For a moment the Constable thought he saw something flash – perhaps all the fires of a tiny, trapped universe – in his prisoner’s eyes. And then he saw that whatever had once been Alex Ramirez Alfonso de Cuellar was long gone.
He reached for his gun.
But he was much, much too late.