“You excited?” asked Marc in front of me.
“Huh?” I replied articulately. My attention was rapt on a pudgy fingered woman who was scolding her child for crying. The boy could not have been any older than five or six years, and his mother’s anger was only making him cry louder.
“Are you excited about the trip?” asked Marc again as if he were the one talking to a six year old.
I brought my attention back to where I was and with it returned the sickening feeling I had been having all morning. “Yeah, it’ll be fun,” I said with less enthusiasm than he was expecting.
“Fun?” he looked at me as if I was from a different planet. “Craig, we’re going to Australia. This is going to be more than fun. I promise its going to be the trip of your lifetime. You’re going to love it. I know this great little spot on Bells Beach where the surf and the women are perfect.”
“It sounds fun.” I tried to muster up more excitement for the idea but I couldn’t quite get it past the lump that was forming in my throat.
“Trip of your lifetime.” Marc turned back to peer toward the front of the line. “I hate these security checks. What exactly do they think they’re going to find?” he muttered under his breath.
I was absentmindedly running the thin starched belt-like rope through the fingers of my left hand. It ran from one black pole to another being held together by nothing but small clasps. It separated the lines of people as they waited their turn to pass through the security check up ahead. It was such a small and flimsy obstacle, like the kind of thing you would see at a bank while you were waiting for the next teller. I could walk right over it and it would only prove to be a minor inconvenience. There was nothing holding me there, in that line, or in that place. I could just walk out and never look back.
“You okay, bud?” said Marc. His face was suddenly close to mine. “You’re looking a little pale.”
“I’m fine,” I lied.
We took another step forward with the line. Like a giant caterpillar the throng of people were slowly progressing forward and I could hear the minimum wage TSA agent speaking to a person not more than fifteen people in front of me.
“Step forward and raise your hands,” said the officer in a monotone voice as she waved a wand over the tall business man. “Are you carrying any firearms, restricted food, wood products or exotic metals with you today, sir?”
“We’ve been friends since the third grade, Craig,” said Marc drowning out the security officer. “I know when your lying. You’re nervous about the trip aren’t you?”
“Its not the trip itself,” I admitted, “it’s getting there.” My left hand was gripped around the snap that held together the belt-like barrier. As I talked I played with it, hooking and unhooking the simple plastic clasping mechanism.
“You’re worrying over nothing. You’re going to be perfectly fine.”
“Maybe we should have flown.” I looked ahead to the slow moving line, and wished it would move slower. We were now ten people from the front.
“Flown?” ejaculated Marc with a laugh, “and spend 25 hours couped up in a tin-can. No thank you.”
“I just mean, how safe is it, really?”
“You’re starting to sound like one of those nuts you see on the news.”
“No,” I quickly said, “I’m just a little nervous. I’ve never used a TTP before. I don’t know how comfortable I am with the idea of having my body atomized and transported to the other side of the world.”
“According to the statistics driving a car is more dangerous than trans-teleportation.”
“I heard that its not really you that comes out on the other side. They say that the machine really disintegrates the real you, copies all your information, and then uses it to create an exact replica of you at the other end of the machine.”
“If its an exact replica, doesn’t that mean it’s still you?” said Marc like I was crazy.
“What if its not?” There were four people ahead of us now in line. “What if it’s just some person with all your memories and your personality, but it’s not you. I’m me, what if the person you meet on the other side is me, but not me.”
“Philosophy was never my best class,” said Marc. “Besides, I use the TTP all the time when I travel for work. I’m still me,” he said with a laugh.
“How can you be sure?”
Marc was silent as if considering my thought and for a minute I thought I had got him. Instead, he just broke into a wide grin and clapped me on the back in the way that he always did when he was dismissing my ideas. “Its going to be fine, Craig. Trust me.”
I hated when he dismissed my ideas with his grin and back slap, like I was a child who needed comforting. Worst yet, he knew it annoyed me, but it also reminded me that it was my friend standing there in front of me. I never questioned that. He was Marc, right down to his idiosyncrasies. He was every bit the abrasive, loud, and sometimes dense man I had always known. He tapped his foot when he was nervous and showed off his big lop-sided smile to any woman who passed.
Maybe he was right, I told myself. I was just being ridiculous. The government never would have approved TTP travel if it wasn’t safe.
“Step forward,” said the squat mannish woman dressed in the blue TSA uniform. Marc put his bags on the machine and did as he was instructed. “Raise your arms. Are you carrying any firearms, restricted food, wood products, or exotic metals with you today, sir?”
“No, ma’am.” Marc gave the woman his biggest grin yet.
She never noticed as she finished waving the wand over his body. “Clear,” said the officer as Marc moved forward. She turned to me. “Step forward.”
By the time I got my bags and joined the line for the trans-teleportation booths I was calmer. I knew I was just over-analyzing. I always over-analyzed everything. Millions of people used the TTP a day. None of them ever came out different. None of them ever talked about dying in the machine. At most people said it was nothing more than a tickling sensation.
I held onto that reassuring thought as we made our way through the terminals and got in line for the NY to SYD TTP booth. I did some deep breathing and by the time I stepped onto the glossy metallic floor I was feeling much better about everything. After all, people had the same doubts about the airplane, the automobile, and the train when they were first put into use. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that people even had the same kind of doubts about the horse-drawn carriage.
My calm shattered like glass once the heavy plastic doors closed around us. They locked it with a final and deafening click. I realized that I didn’t even want to go to Australia. It had all been Marc’s idea. I was more than happy to sit at home. I was seized by the sudden urge to jump at the doors and throw my body against them until they crashed open, but I was sure I didn’t have the strength.
They looked like thin plastic but they were reinforced and coated with a special polymer that made them as hard as steel and able to withstand the force of the trans-teleportation field. There were stories of people so desperate to get out of TTP Booths they broke several bones in the attempt. They were of course promptly arrested afterwards for trying to damage government property.
I looked around at the dozen or so others standing in the booth with me. None of them were panicked or even seemed the slightest bit distressed. Most were chatting lightly or looking around with a disinterested glaze in their eyes. Marc saw me looking and mouthed the word, “relax,” which he followed promptly with a lop-sided grin, though it could have been directed at the pair of college girls behind me.
“Please stand still,” said a calming female voice. “Bioscans in process.”
Almost as one everyone in the booth stopped chatting or moving and stood stock still as the attendant had showed us in the instructional video. With my left hand, I clung to the slick plastic handle of my luggage as if it was a life raft. The grip was digging into my palm but I barely noticed as the bluish light of the bioscan passed over me. I felt a sort of tickling sensation.
“Bioscan complete,” said the automated voice again. “Transport initiated. Have a safe trip.”
My nerves were suddenly on fire and the world went white…
“See,” said Marc as we stepped out of the the retrieval booth in Kingsford Smith Terminal, ” and it didn’t even hurt.”
“I kind of tickled,” I said, the tension of the trip finally leaving me. “I guess you were right.”
“Of course,” he said laughing. “C’mon I know this great little place down in the harbor to get some lunch. I’m starving.”
“Right behind you,” I said as I grabbed my bags in my right hand. The stress of the trip was quickly being replaced by the excitement and euphoria of being halfway around the world. My worries suddenly seeming childish.