How a vulture helps in the invention of Star Trek's transporter.
| Alec shook his head in exasperation. "Dammit, Vic! I'm the obvious choice," he said forcefully. Long ago, he had tired of arguing with Vic about the project. "It has to be done eventually. I've teleported before. No one else knows exactly what to expect!"
Vic's knotted brow deepened. "You don't really know, either," he pointed out.
"Better than most! Besides," Alec leaned palms down across Vic's desk for emphasis, "we've done every damned thing else!"
"I know, Alec," Vic sighed. "I was there, too. It was my theory you used to build your machine."
Alec smiled crookedly, his eyes glazing as he reminisced. "And we've been successful from Day 1."
"Our high points have been great," Vic agreed quietly.
"We first teleported a rock on January 16, 2026," Alec said excitedly. "Then, a year later, we did a flashlight battery. Afterwards, when it worked, it set us ahead--five, maybe eight years!"
Vic groaned. "I know. . ."
"Then, we started on plants," Alec rambled on, lost in his own thoughts. "After that, animals! Finally, after fifteen years of work, I teleported successfully."
"I know our story, Alec. What's the point?"
Deflated, Alec sat down across the desk from Vic and shook his head. "My point is, the only thing we've yet to try, is two people. I'm the obvious choice as one. We just need to select a partner."
Vic nodded slowly. "I'm a step ahead of you. The decision has been made."
Alec smiled at Vic and remained silent, while his mind raced. Why does he always get perverse pleasure from being so melodramatic, he wondered to himself. Finally, he said, "Well? I'm waiting. Who's going with me?"
"How do you know you're going?"
You son of a bitch, he thought, leaning back with his arms out, palms up. "OK. I'll bite. Who's going?"
"Me and. . ." He waited.
"We're going to teleport you and a buzzard from the 50-yard line of the stadium to the parking lot."
Alec smiled. "A buzzard?"
"A turkey vulture, to be exact."
"Why a buzzard?"
"You'd prefer a chimpanzee? It's more similar to you, physiologically and genetically, than a buzzard is."
Alec pondered that silently for a moment. That makes sense, he thought. It will be safer. We've moved two animals together successfully before. No weird mutations ever rematerialized. And, by doing two species this different, there's a lesser chance of mixing the molecular and genetic information. He drummed his fingers for a few more minutes on the window sill, staring across Northern Indiana University's snow-covered campus to the venerable football stadium. The scene of the university's greatest athletic successes had, for the previous several years, been the scene of the university's greatest scientific successes, too. Finally, Alec turned back to Vic. "When do I go?"
It was a typical wind-swept March day in South Bend. Mud sloshed underfoot as Alec walked toward the teleportation platform, on the floor of Northern Indiana Stadium. Gray skies threatened rain, or maybe snow.
He smiled quietly to himself, remembering the first time he stepped on this field. He was a freshman running back. It had been a blustery September Saturday, back in 2016. With the Fightin' Scotsmen already leading the University of Southwestern Michigan, 52-17, he took a pitchout from the back-up quarterback, faked left, cut right, and ran like hell. Sixty-seven yards later, he spiked the ball to the ground and threw his arms in the air. The first time I touch the football in an N. I. U. uniform, he remembered thinking proudly, and I score a long touchdown!
Or nearly did.
Too bad the play started on the 28-yard line. The Wolves recovered his fumble in the end zone.
Alec never became the big football hero he had envisioned. But, he earned his spot in N. I. U. football lore. No matter how dubious.
He was ready to make history on the same field all over again!
During the previous two years, Alec had teleported several times from the midfield platform to places all over Northern Indiana, even as far as the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. He never got used to the tingling sensation, or the short, intense pain he got each time he teleported. Teleporting hurt, badly. But the pain was neither long-lasting, nor debilitating.
Alec sat near the sideline, staring at the platform, as he did before each teleport. Someday teleporting will be as common as driving a car, he thought smugly. And I had a major role in it. It was the same thought he had before every teleport. It helped him psych himself up. It made his mind do something--anything--other than focus on the fact that he was going to allow Vic to break his body down to its very atoms, convert those atoms to energy, shoot the energy 250 meters through thin air, to be reconverted to matter, and put back together again correctly. At least, he hoped it was correct. A frightening thought, if he allowed himself to think about it. But, he didn't let himself think about it. He thought instead about his 25-year-old football career, and how an ankle injury combined with a bone-headed fumble to derail it.
Finally, it was time. The turkey vulture was wheeled out in its cage and set on the platform. Alec mounted the platform and stood beside the cage, careful not to touch it. If he touched it, the computer might read the cage and his arm as one item, and fuse them.
His stomach cramped. He was ready. He nodded. Vic moved the controls. Slowly, Alec's vision blurred, and he got the normal tingle starting in his arms and coursing throughout his body. Finally, all he could see was the grayish blue nothingness that came with being in transit. Next, he felt the short, intense pain. He could never exactly describe where it hurt. The pain didn't last long enough.
Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, the pain returned, far sharper than ever before. He tried to scream, but he couldn't make a sound in transit. He felt as if he was being torn in half.
The pain stopped, but only for a moment. Then, it came back, even more intensely. But this time, it felt as if he was being crushed or squeezed tightly.
Slowly, vision returned. He felt strange. He stretched his arms, trying to pull the kinks from them. He felt odd, cramped. He stretched again.
This is strange, he thought, blinking. Everything looks so crisp and clear!
He stepped sideways and shook his arms again. He hopped down from the platform and cautiously looking around. The people who were standing beside the platform when he rematerialized had rushed to the platform. Something must be wrong, but he couldn't see over them.
He jumped, throwing his arms open wide. The people were looking at the human who had rematerialized with him. Strange how he no longer thought in words, but in images. Or that's what he would have thought, if he had bothered thinking about it at all. Instead, he was looking down at the human lying on the platform. He could see everything so well from his vantage point, circling high above them. The male human lying there was obviously dead. And he looked absolutely delicious.