“So they just disappeared?”
“Only explanation, sir.” The sergeant said. “There are two ways out that corridor, and my men…sorry, people…er, team”—the sergeant was still coming to terms with the captain’s mandate on how the security services were to be formed—“had ‘em both covered.”
“Any footage?” Said the captain.
“Most of that section is still awaiting repair, sir. Still ain’t been fixed since the Aryyon attack, sir.”
“Much of the station hasn’t, sergeant.”
“And the girl is OK?”
“Yessir. Hardly fazed her at all, sir. She’s tough, that one.”
“She certainly is.”
“Can’t see why they’d be after her though, sir. No family, no money, no connections. Pretty unremarkable, seems to me.”
“She’s a little more remarkable than you might think.” He said as he glanced down at the floor. There was a small puddle forming on the metal under the sergeant’s shoes, and a tenacious dribble had broken off from it and was trickling towards his own. “Sergeant, I can’t help noticing that your shoes are soaking wet.”
“Yessir. That would be the, er, sprinklers, sir.”
The captain looked up again, leaving a hard silence that suggested it should be filled as quickly as possible with further explanation.
“Small fire sir,” the sergeant continued. “Two, actually. Lab geeks are looking into it but they’re saying they’ve already found traces”—he consulted his notebook—”of various low-density alloys and plastics, and an accelerant. Whatever those things were, they didn’t want them found.”
The captain pinched the bridge of his nose, went to say something then thought better of it and let the thought out as a sigh. Looking up, he settled on: “Did you find anything else?”
“Sir.” The sergeant consulted his notebook. “Two pair of damp dark synth-leather loafers, sizes 11 and 13; two pairs of socks; two credit chips—only a few credits left on ‘em, sir, and all black. We, er, checked.”
“I’m sure you did, Sergeant.”
“Two pairs of synth-cotton pants, black; two synth cotton shirts, green; two illegal density-12 pistols.” The sergeant shuffled nervously, suddenly wanting to be anywhere else but where he was. “And, er, two pairs of underwear.”
“Good grief, man! You mean to tell me that, wherever they are, they’re bloody naked?”
“Believe so, sir.”
It was getting worse. There was a pause as the captain let it all sink in.
“Any maintenance access on the corridor, Sergeant? Hidden doorways? Loose panels activated by pulling on a small marble bust standing on an ancient mantlepiece, that sort of thing?” Asked the captain, with more hope in his voice than he was aiming for.
“No sir. No mantlepieces on that corridor, far as I know.” Said the sergeant. “Plus, there’s no reason to enter those passageways starkers, sir. Maintenance never ‘ave.” He added helpfully.
“Quite.” The captain leaned back against the console behind him, folded one arm and stroked the fist length white beard that decorated his chin with the other. “So, two human men running down a corridor. You and your team lose sight of them”—The sergeant went to interrupt but the look in the captain’s eye suggested that this was a bad idea—”and by the time you reach them they’ve vanished into thin air, leaving only two small burn marks of something they clearly destroyed in a hurry and a pile of clothes and belongings. And you say there is nowhere on that corridor that they could have gone?”
“No, sir. And, beg your pardon, but if they had gone somewhere else, we prob’ly would have ‘eard about it by now, seeing as they was naked and all.”
There was a longer pause.
The sergeant coughed again.
“Something you wish to say, sergeant?”
“Well, sir, I’m not one to believe in fantasy, but there are those rumours about Titus Fabrications—“
The captain nodded. The sergeant had taken his time, but he had gotten there eventually. “Yes, sergeant, I’ve heard them too but until we have any proof, let’s not add grist to that particular mill, shall we?”
“Grist, sir? Mill?”
“Never mind. Just keep those ideas to yourself, sergeant. Who else knows about this?”
“Me and the 3 others what chased ‘em down. Thought you’d want to be the first to know, sir.”
“Yes, very good…Johnson, is it?” Said the captain. “You did well bringing it here first. Make sure that it stays between the five of us for the moment until we…figure out what’s going on.”
“Yes, sir,” said Sergeant Johnson.
“Let them know immediately that, on my orders, they’re not to talk about this operation to anyone. Thank you Johnson, that’ll be all.” Said the captain. The sergeant saluted and headed to the express elevator, leaving the captain alone in the large room with the faint hum of the life support computers. He turned back to the main console and staring absently at the bank of screens which were glowing reassuringly green.
“Computer,” he said. It beeped an affirmation. “Locate Commander Worthington and ask her to come down to Life Support. Also, who’s the most qualified quantum physicist we have on board?”
“Professor Eduard Malakov, Head of Astrophysics and Quantum Research at the Academy.” Said a soothing female voice.
“Upgrade his clearance for this deck for the next hour and send him down too.”
The rumours of a breakthrough in teleportation had been flying around for decades. It was a favourite topic at small-colony bars and Neural Net message centres all over the galaxy.
Most of the Milky Way’s scientific community had come to believe that teleportation was an impossible technology and a fool’s errand and the galactic stock prices of Titus Fabrications took a tumble every time the subject was brought up.
There was one small group of renowned quantum physicists who had risked their reputations and come out in tentative support of the idea. One experiment had even gone as far as providing proof that it was possible at an extremely small scale, although the mathematics involved was so dense and impenetrable and the equipment required so expensive and specialised, that few took the time to fully understand it, let alone recreate it.
Those that did were generally convinced and the support for it grew marginally, but they couldn’t compete against those that simply read the abstract, skimmed the report looking for any small error, then issued an official-sounding press releases deriding it as scientifically invalid. These derisions—often motivated by professional jealousy and community politics—were hungrily picked up by lazy science writers and spread as fact.
Titus Fabrications’ refusal to comment didn’t help matters, nor did their secrecy and security protocols which had reached paranoid levels.
Up until about eight Earth Months ago, the captain had been paying close attention to the debate, searching for any hints of signal within the continual barrage of noise. His last attempt had involved reading the various papers about the theory but his limited understanding of the science meant that he had quickly given up and he hadn’t thought about it since.
Except now a guard and his team had chased down a group of failed kidnappers, cornered them in an inescapable corridor on the far side of the station only to find that they had managed to completely disappear, leaving behind a pile of clothes, two small piles of ash and everything they were carrying.
This sudden and as yet unexplained disappearance of two human men on his station would not only mark the beginning of the captain’s difficulties, but would also prove to be the least of his worries.