"This is the last call for Jaunt-701," the pleasant female voice echoed through the Blue Concourse of New York's Port Authority Terminal. The PAT had not changed much in the last three hundred years or so - it was still gungy and a little frightening. The automated female voice was probably the most plesant thing about it. "This is Jaunt Service to Whitehead City, Mars," the voice continued. "All ticketed passengers should now be in the Blue Concourse sleep lounge. Make sure your validation papers are in order. Thank you."The upstairs lounge was not at all grungy. It was wall-to-wall carpeted in oyster gray. The walls were an eggshell white and hung with plesant nonrepresentational prints. A steady, soothing progression of colors met and swirled on the ceiling. There were one hundred couches in the large room, neatly spaced in rows of ten. Five Jaunt attendants circulate, speakingin low, cherry voices and offering glasses of milk. At one side of the room was the entranceway, flanked by armed guards and another Jaunt attendant who was checking the validation papers of a latecomer, a harried-looking businessman with the New York World Times folded under one arm. Directly opposite, the floor dropped away in a trough about five feet wide and perhaps ten feet long; it passed through a doorless opening and looked a bit like a child's slide. The Oates family lay side by side on four Jaunt couches near the far end ofthe room. Mark Oates and his wife, Marilys, flanked the two children. "Daddy, will you tell me about the Jaunt now?" Ricky asked. "You promised." "Yeah, Dad, you promised," Patricia added, and giggled shilly for no good reason. A Businessman with a build like a bull glanced over at them and went back to the fodder of papers he was examining as he lay on his back, his spit-shined shoes neatly together.
From everywhere came the low murmur of conversation and the rustle of passengers settling down on the Jaunt couches. Mark glanced over at Marilys Oates and winked. She winked back, but she was almost as nervous as Patty sounded. Why not? Mark thought. First Jaunt for all three of them. He and Marilys had discussed the advantages and drawbacks of moving the whole family for the last six months - since he'd gotten notification from Texaco Water that he was being transferred to Whitehead City. Finally they had decided that all of them would go for the two years Mark would be stationed on Mars. He wondered now, looking at Marilys's pale face, if she was regretting the decision. He glanced at his watch and saw it was still almost half an hour to Jaunt-time. That was enough time to tell the story ... and he supposed it would take the kids' minds off their nervousness. Who knew, maybe it would even cool Marilys out a little. "All right," he said. Ricky and Pat were watching him seriously, his son twelve, his daughter nine. He told himself again that Ricky would be deep in the swamp of puberty and his daughter would likely be developing breast by the time they got back to earth, and again found it difficult to believe. The kids would be going to the tiny Whitehead Combined School with the hundred-odd engineering and oil-company brats that were there; his son might well be going on a geology field trip to Phobos not so many months distant. It was difficult to believe ... but true. Who knows ? he thought wryly. maybe it'll do something about my Jaunt-jumps, too. "So far as we know," he began, "the Jaunt was invented about three hundred and twenty years ago, around the year 1987, by a fellow named Victor Carune. He did it as part of a private research project that was funded by some government money ... and eventually the government took it over, of course. In the end it came down to either the government or the oil companies. The reason we don't know the exact date is because Carune was something of an eccentric - " "You mean he was crazy, Dad?" Ricky asked. "Eccentric means a little bit crazy, dear," Marilys said, and smiled across the children at Mark. She looked a little less nervous now, he thought."Oh." "Anyway, he'd been experimenting with the process for quite some time before he informed the government of what he had," Mark went on, "and he only told them because he was running out of money and they weren't going to re-fund him." "Your money cheerfully refunded," Pat said, and giggled shrilly again.
"That's right, honey," Mark said, and ruffled her hair gently. At the far end of the room he saw a door slide noiselessly open and two more attendants came out, dressed in the bright red jumpers of the Jaunt Service, pushing a rolling table. On it was a stainless-steel nozzle attached to a rubber hose; beneath the table's skirts, tastefully hidden, Mark knew there were two bottles of gas; in the net bag hooked to the side were one hundred disposable masks. Mark went on talking, not wanting his people to see the representative of Lethe until they had to. And, if he was given enough time to tell the whole story, they would welcome the gas-passers with open arms.
Considering the alternative.
"Of course, you know that the Jaunt is teleportation, no more or less," he said. "Sometimes in college chemistry and physics they call it the Carune Process, but it's really teleportation, and it was Carune himself - if you can believe the stories - who named it ?the Jaunt.' He was a science-fiction reader, and there's a story by a man named Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination it's called, and this fellow Bester made up the word ?jaunte' for teleportation in it. Except in his book, you could Jaunt just by thinking about it, and we can't really do that." The attendants were fixing a mask to the steel nozzle and handing it to an elderly woman at the far end of the room. She took it, inhaled once, and fell quiet and limp on her couch. Her shirt had pulled up a little, revealing one slack thigh road-mapped with varicose veins. An attendant considerately readjusted for her while the other pulled off the used mask and affixed a fresh one. It was a process that made Mark think of the plastic glasses in motel rooms.
He wished to God that Patty would cool out a little bit; he had seen children who had to be held down, and sometimes they screamed as the rubber mask covered their faces. It was not an abnormal reaction in a child, he supposed, but it was nasty to watch and he didn't want to see it happen to Patty. About Rick he felt more confident.
"I guess you could say the Jaunt came along at the last possible moment," he resumed. He spoke toward Ricky, but reached across and took his daughter's hand. Her palm was cool and sweating lightly. "The world was running out of oil, and most of what was left belonged to the middle-eastern desert peoples, who were committed to using it as a political weapon. They had formed an oil cartel they called OPEC - " "What's a cartel, Daddy?" Patty asked.
"Well, a monopoly," Mark said.
"Like a club, honey," Marilys said. "And you could only be in that club if you had lots of oil."
"I don't have time to sketch the whole mess in for you," Mark said. "You'll study some of it in school, but it was a mess - let's let it go at that. If you owned a car, you could only drive it two days a week, and gasoline cost fifteen oldbucks a gallon - " "Gosh," Ricky said, "it only costs four cents or so a gallon now, doesn't it, Dad?"
Mark smiled. "That's why we are going where we're going, Rick. There's enough oil on Mars to last almost eight thousand years, and enough on Venus to last another twenty thousand ... but oil isn't even important, anymore. Now what we need most of all is - " "Water!" Patty cried, and the Businessman looked up from his papers and smiled at her for a moment.
"That's right," Mark said. "Because in the years between 1960 and 2030, we poisoned most of ours. The first water lift from the Martian ice-caps was called - " "Operation Straw." That was Ricky.
"Yes, 2045 or thereabouts. But long before that, the Jaunt was being used to find sources of clean water here on earth. And now water is our major Martian export ... the oil's strictly a sideline. But it was important then."
The kids nodded.
"The point is, those things were always there, but we were only able to get it because of the Jaunt. When Carune invented his process, the world was slipping into a dark age. The winter before, over ten thousand people had frozen to death in the United States alone because there wasn't enough energy to heat them."
"Oh, yuck," Patty said matter-of-factly.
Mark glanced to his right and saw the attendants talking to a timid-looking man, persuading him.
At last he took the mask seemed to fall dead on his couch seconds later. First-timer, Mark thought. You can always tell.
"For Carune, it started with a pencil ... some keys ... a wrist watch ... the some mice. The mice showed him there was a problem ..."
Victor Carune came back to his laboratory in a stumbling fever of excitement. He thought he knew how Morse had felt, and Alexander Graham Bell, and Edison . . . but this was bigger than all of them, and twice he had almost wrecked the truck on the way back from the pet shop in New Paltz, where he had spend his last twenty dollars on nine white mice. What he had left in the world was ninety-three cents in his right front pocket and the eighteen dollars in his savings account . . . but this did not occur to him. And if it had, it certainly would not have bothered him. The lab was in a renovated barn at the end of a mile-long dirt road off Route 26. It was making the turn onto this road where he had just missed cracking up his Brat pickup truck for the second time. The gas tank was almost empty and there would be no more for ten days to two weeks, but this did not concern him, either. His mind was in a delirious whirl. What had happened was not totally unexpected, no.
One of the reasons the government had funded him even to the paltry tune of twenty thousand a year was because the unrealized possibility had always been there in the field of particle transmission. But to have it happen like this . . . suddenly . . . with no warning . . . and powered by less electricity than was needed to run a color TV . . . God! Christ!
He brought the Brat to a screech-halt in the dirt of the door yard, grabbed the box on the dirty seat beside him by its grab-handles (on the box were dogs and cats and hamsters and goldfish and the legend I CAME FROM STACKPOLE'S HOUSE OF PETS) and ran for the big double doors. From inside the box came the scurry and whisk of his test subjects. He tried to push one of the big doors open along its track, and when it wouldn't budge, he remembered that he had locked it. Carune uttered a loud "Shit!" and fumbled for his keys. The government commanded that the lab be locked at all times - it was one of the strings they put on their money - but Carune kept forgetting. He brought his keys out and for a moment simply stared at them, mesmerized, running the ball of his thumb over the notches in the Brat's ignition key. He thought again: God! Christ! Then he scrabbled through the keys on the ring for the Yale key that unlocked the barn door.
As the first telephone had been used inadvertently - Bell crying into it, "Watson, come here!" when he spilled some acid on his papers and himself - so the first act of teleportation had occurred by accident. Victor Carune had teleported the first two fingers of his left hand across the fifty-yard width of the barn.
Carune had set up two portals at opposite sides of the barn. On his end was a simple ion gun, available from any electronics supply warehouse for under five hundred dollars. On the other end, standing just beyond the far portal - both of them rectangular and the size of a paperback book - was a cloud chamber. Between them was what appeared to be an opaque shower curtain, except that shower curtains are not made of lead. The idea was to shoot the ions through Portal One and then walk around and watch them streaming across the cloud chamber standing just beyond Portal Two, with the lead shield between to prove they really were being transmitted. Except that, for the last two years, the process had only worked twice, and Carune didn't have the slightest idea why. As he was setting the ion gun in place, his fingers had slipped through the portal - ordinarily no problem, but this morning his hip had also brushed the toggle switch on the control panel at the left of the portal. He was not aware of what had happened - the machinery gave off only the lowest audible hum - until he felt a tingling sensation in his fingers.