Rapid Transit

by E.S. Strout


Cal Tech scientists today succeeded in teleporting a photon across 3.28 feet of space and created a replica photon. — Cal Tech press release, October 22, 1998

1

Thursday, 21 May 2009
Dr. Vincent McGill’s subatomic particle physics laboratory
U.C. Irvine campus. 1030 hours:

The complex apparatus shut down with a faint hiss. TRANSFER COMPLETE glowed in green from the computer CRT. “How did we do, Annie?” Dr. McGill asked.

“Six rats. All looking good,” Professor Ann Casey said as she lifted the reinforced plastic cover of the reception chamber.

The inquisitive white rodents poked whiskered pink noses through the grillwork of the cage and sniffed the air.

“Our first mammals, Vince,” Ann said. “Abrams and that bunch at U.C. Davis are still doing cockroaches and frogs.”

Dr. McGill handed her a fax.

“They just teleported a rabbit?”

Vince nodded. “Bigger, but only across a room. We go cross-campus.”

Casey tucked a loose strand of auburn hair behind an ear. “Your addition of beta particle emissions to the molecular discohesion and transmission process looks like the key.”

Vince nodded, smoothed his graying mustache with a fingertip. “We’ve come a long way from single atom or light beam teleportation experiments of the 1990’s.”

“Beth wants to send Chazz next.”

“And if he survives?”

“Then one of us, maybe,” Ann said.

“Perhaps we can get Dr. Russo to volunteer.”

“For what?” Dr. Elizabeth P. Russo asked as she walked in. “To spring for lunch? I think it’s your turn, Annie.”

A nod. “You’re right. Back in twenty.”

2

1120 hours:

“In-N-Out burgers, animal style,” Ann said. She plopped the takeout bag on Dr. McGill’s desk.

“My favorite,” Beth declared as she grabbed a french fry.

Lunch passed with amicable nonscientific discussions. Then Russo asked, “Volunteer for what?”

Vince gave her a blank stare. “Say what?”

“Eidetic memory, you know. I remember almost everything. Quote Professor Vincent McGill, ‘Perhaps we can get Dr. Russo to volunteer’.”

“I was joking, Beth.”

She grabbed the last dill pickle. A grin illuminated her pert green-eyed features. “I’m not. I volunteer.”

“We could offer one of the graduate students a couple hundred bucks,” Vince said. “I’ll bet Natalia would volunteer.”

“R. & D. would never approve,” Dr. Russo said. “For me they would.”

Dr. McGill said, “If Chazz does okay, you’re on.”

She raised a fist. “Yes!”

McGill’s cell chirped. “Okay, we can do it now. We’re all here.”

“What for?” Ann asked.

“Security. Our request for a coded entry system for our labs here and at the Gottschalk Clinic was approved. Alan is bringing the setup over now.”

3

Security Chief Alan Parker laid a sheet of paper marked off into three squares on a lab bench and placed an ink pad next to it. “Right index finger only. Roll side to side, then lift and press on the paper square next to your name.”

“How do fingerprints replace a key card?” Dr. Casey asked.

“State of the art, Professor. These prints will be incorporated in a conductive silica gel pad. Your door’s electronic locking mechanism will respond only to either of your fingerprints. Just press on the pliable gray square next to the door. I’m planning to have them installed in both labs by 1700 hours.”

Dr. McGill said, “That’s great. Thank you, Alan.”

4

Gottschalk Clinic Lab, Friday, 22 May, 0930 hours:

“How’s Chazz doing, Beth?” Ann asked over the intercom.

“He’s asleep.”

“What did you give him?”

“Phenobarbital in his banana,” Dr. Russo said.

“Good. The molecular disassembly program is set for remote activation. Come on over. Ask Natalia or one of the other grad students to keep an eye him.”

“On my way.”

The transfer took a second. Chazz gave a stuporous blink, scrambled from the transfer chamber and leapt into Dr. Russo’s arms with a chatter of greeting. “Glad to see you, too,” she said.

The little ape’s physical exam, x-rays and MRI revealed no abnormalities. “Well done, all.” Dr. McGill said.

Beth said, “Let’s do me now.”

“Not so fast,” Dr. Casey said. “You will need a physical exam, chest x-ray and MRI first. Your last ones are six months old. Plus we need your upgraded molecular matrix for the computer.”

“Come on, Ann,” Dr. Russo complained. “I feel fine. Chazz is fine too. Besides, those guys at U.C. Davis are less than six months behind us.”

“This isn’t a race, Dr. Russo. We’re talking homo sapiens here,” Dr. McGill cautioned.

“An evolutionary step above the chimpanzee. We’ll wait the required three months for observation of Chazz. There may be unanticipated obstacles. Safety is our primary concern.”

“Yes,” Ann reminded her, “we share ninety-six percent of our DNA genome with the Great Apes. It’s true that most of the remaining four percent is duplication, but a few have no known purpose as yet.”

“Oh, all right,” Beth agreed with a contrived pout. “It’ll take that long for our R. & D. pencil pushers to approve research-related imaging appointments and DNA mapping.”

“And have them schedule you for follow-up exams after your excursion,” Ann Casey added.

“Excursion. I like that.”

“Beats the heck out of ‘beam us up, Scotty’,” Dr. McGill said.

5

Wednesday, 26 August.
Gottschalk Center transmission Lab. 1030 hours:

Beth viewed Dr. McGill’s new movie posters that adorned one wall of the lab with an odd smile. “Vince has a weird sense of humor.”

“Those are classics. The Fly, 1958, with David Hedison and its 1986 reincarnation with Jeff Goldblum,” Dr. Casey said. “Vince knows a couple of Hollywood execs who donated them.”

“Did you ever watch the ’86 version? The one where the Jeff Goldblum character turns into a...”

“Not lately.” Dr. Casey rested a latex gloved hand on the transparent cover of the transmission chamber, held a finger to her lips. “Relax. The chamber is contaminant free, and you’re wearing sterile O.R. scrubs.”

“I’m okay.” Her eyes closed, breathing regular. “The nembutal. It’s working . . .”

Ann gripped her hand. “We’ll see you on the other side. Safe trip.”

“We have a go, Vince,” Dr. Casey addressed the intercom.

“We’re green board here, Ann. Beta particle emission optimal. Dr. Russo’s molecular matrix is in sync. Whenever you’re ready,”.

“Copy. Detaching monitor leads. Sealing chamber lid now. I’m go here.”

An eyeblink later a few wisps of mist swirled in the empty chamber.

6

Physics lab receiving area, twenty minutes later:

“Monitor leads reconnected. Vital signs all within normal limits,” Dr. Casey said as she viewed the screen. “B/P 110/75, pulse 78, resp. 12, Body temp 98.4. Hmm. This EKG trace looks odd, Vince. Take a look.”

“It’s normal sinus rhythm. Probably a misaligned chest lead. Wait one. She’s coming around.”

Dr. Russo’s eyelids gave a flutter. “How long?” she mumbled.

Professors McGill and Casey viewed the computer readouts with satisfaction. “Two seconds,” Ann said.

“U.C. Davis, eat your hearts out.”

Beth stepped from the receiving chamber trailing a half dozen monitoring leads, took a deep breath. “We got any coffee?”

Vince handed her a steaming cup. ”Fresh brewed.”

She took a swallow as Ann detached the leads. “Back in five.”

7

“She’s been half an hour,” Dr. Casey said.

Vince gave a soft tap on the dressing room door. “You okay, Dr. Russo?”

She cracked the door, gave him an ecstatic grin. “Just checking to see that everything is still in the right place.”

Ann reattached the leads, viewed the monitors. “All vital signs in the green. EKG still has that odd little twitch, but it’s still normal sinus rhythm.”

“I’ll get the electronics geeks to have a look.”

After lunch Dr. McGill removed a packet of paperwork from his briefcase. “I’m applying for additional grant funds. I just need all of your signatures.”

“Are we including a space station lab?” Dr. Russo asked.

Vince flipped pages. “Paragraph twelve-a.”

“Yes. Looks good.” She grabbed the pen and inked a quick scrawl next to her name.

“I’ll submit these at the R. & D. Office. Be back in half an hour. You guys go ahead and review the video disc.”

The phone beeped. Ann answered, listened. “Okay. Dr. Russo will be there.”

“What?”

“R. & D. says you’re clear to go for x-rays and MRI at noon.”

“Vince must have leaned on somebody.”

8

1300 hours:

“Did your imaging tests turn out okay?” Dr. Casey asked.

“They had an emergency case. They’ll call,” Dr. Russo said.

The land line buzzed. “Teleport Lab, Dr. Casey.”

“Al Parker, Dr. Casey. There’s a problem with one of the signatures on the new grant request.”

“Mine?”

“No, Professor. It’s Dr. Russo’s. If she could stop by, I’ll have a copy for her to sign. It’s no big deal. You know how picky the Office of Budget Management gets. Undotted i’s, uncrossed t’s . . .”

“Our tax dollars at work, Alan. Could you bring them over, please?”

“Be there in five.”

“Problem, Ann?” Beth asked.

“You need to re-sign a copy of the grant documents. Something with the signature.”

9

1415 hours:

“This is a forgery,” Dr. Russo raged. She tapped a finger on the document. “Not even close.”

Security Chief Parker, Dr.’s Casey and McGill eyed the signature for only seconds. “I agree.” Ann said. “Clumsy one at that. Definitely not Elizabeth P. Russo’s.”

Parker opened a folder and laid a document on McGill’s desk. “Here’s her signature from the security request hardcopy back in May.”

There was no match.

“This is B.S.,” Russo screamed, an octave above middle C.

“Who else has access to these documents,” Dr. McGill asked.

“Twenty or more,” Parker said. “R. & D., Board of Regents, the Dean’s office. And the feds, of course.”

“Any of them pissed off at you, Beth?” Ann Casey asked.

“Administration can’t stand me.”

“Anyone from U.C. Davis snooping around?” Dr. McGill asked.

“A microbe couldn’t get past our security,” Alan Parker said.

“Please check again, Alan.”

“My guys will start collecting signature samples.”

“What then?” Professor McGill asked.

“I know a handwriting expert with the Irvine Police.”

One hour later:

“We think it’s a forgery, Dave,” Parker said.

The fingerprint expert compared Dr. Russo’s known signature with the forgery, using magnifying lenses. “I see what you mean,” he said. “It’s odd.”

“What the hell do you mean odd?” Dr. Russo demanded.

“Can’t say for sure,” Dave said, his eyelids in a puzzled squint. “Just strange.”

“When will you know something, Dave?” Ann asked.

He gathered up the documents. “Gotta look at the employee signature database. I’ll call when I’ve checked it out.”

10

The land line buzzed. “Dr. Russo here.” A pause. “What do you mean, unusual? Dammit. Okay, I’ll be right there.”

“Problem?” Vince asked.

“My x-ray and MRI results. Be right back.”

Thirty minutes later:

Dr. McGill’s cell phone chirped. “Vince, it’s Beth. I’ve brought Dr. Raymond with some very unusual films to show you and Annie.”

“We know Mike Raymond. Bring him on in.”

Silence.

“Dr. Russo?”

“Ah, I have another problem. I can’t unlock the door.”

“Try again.”

Her voice quivered with annoyance. “Vince, I’ve pressed the fingerprint pad six times. I keep getting an ACCESS DENIED message on the screen. Oh, no. Now it says SECURITY ALERT.”

She tried three more times as Dr’s McGill, Casey and Security Chief Parker watched.

“Glitch in the system,” Parker said. “I’ll get the techies up here.”

Dr. Casey said, “Thanks, Alan. Let us know.”

“Did you injure your fingertip, Beth?” Vince asked. “Burn, paper cut, anything?”

She held the index fingertip up for examination. “None of the above.”

Dr. McGill nodded. “I agree. Take two deep breaths and exhale slowly. Let’s see what Mike has.”

11

Michael Raymond clipped a film up on the lighted view box behind Dr. McGill’s desk. “This is the chest x-ray from Dr. Russo’s physical, May of this year and before her recent transit. Completely normal.”

He placed another film next to it. “Now this one from today.”

“It’s backwards, Mike,” Ann said.

“That’s what I thought at first, but look here.”

Dr. Russo’s name and I.D. numbers on the film were not reversed. “This is a condition known as situs inversus. Her heart is on the right-hand side of her chest.”

“That would explain the EKG anomaly,” Vince said. “She has dextrocardia.”

“Dextrocardia, my ass,” Dr. Russo protested. “I’ve never had an abnormal x-ray. You’ve seen them all, Mike.”

Dr. Raymond nodded in bewilderment. “I have. Think this is strange? Wait till you get a load of the MRI’s.”

He clipped up another series of films. “This is one for the journals,” he said. “Situs inversus totalis. The major organs are reversed, too. Liver on the left, spleen on the right, and so on.”

“Wait one,” Beth screamed. “All of Chazz’s tests came back normal after his excursion.”

“I’ve re-examined those as well. Normal,” Mike said.

“I’d better let Abrams know,” Dr. McGill whispered to Ann. “A genetic on-off switch present in our genome but not in our simian ancestors, probably tripped by the discohesion step.”

She nodded. “Good thing you requested more grant funds.”

Dr. McGill’s cell chirped. “Dave Cook here, Vince. Took a while but I’ve got it.”

“You’re on speaker with us, Dave. Go ahead.”

“I missed it at first glance. It’s Dr. Russo’s. Her signature is dyslexic. Written backwards in an almost illegible scrawl. ”

“This is insane,” Russo muttered.

12

Dr. Casey raised a hand. “Dr. Raymond, didn’t you just say that all of Dr. Russo’s organs are reversed?”

“That’s right.”

“And her cerebral hemispheres as well?”

“Yes. She’s a mirror image.”

“It’s been a while,” Ann said, “but part of my early training included neuroanatomy. The motor cortical areas would be reversed, but the cognitive memory functions of the anterior cerebral hemispheres are independent of the motor cortex.”

“Got it,” Beth said. “They would continue to support my usual sensory perception of body part spatial orientation?”

“Yes,” Dr. Casey said.

“Be right back.” Dr. Russo stepped outside and shut the door.

A second later it opened with a decisive click.

“Gimme a pen and those documents,” she said.

Her signature was perfectly legible.

Dr. Casey nodded. “Looks good. A little opposite tilt from her previous, but normal.”

“Do you foresee any problems with converse handedness, Beth?” Dr. McGill asked.

”I’ll let you know.”

13

One week later:

Dr. Russo mopped her forehead with a sleeve, pounded on the computer keyboard with savage strokes. Text spewed from the Hewlett-Packard printer. She grabbed each new batch and scribbled briskly on each page.

Dr. Casey grabbed a seat next to her. “Anything I can help with, Beth?”

She exhaled a forlorn sigh. “Thanks, Annie. This problem is mine alone.”

“Vince told me the R. & D. hierarchy just finished their review of our teleportation project to date. We hadn’t listed my unforseen complication in the Possible Side Effects section. They couldn’t find anything to cover it in any of their hundred or so manuals.”

“And?”

“I have to re-sign all original copies of all my work on Rapid Transit. And redo my handwritten marginal notes. For continuity, they said.”

Dr. Casey nodded. ”University bureaucracy in action, Beth. Perhaps you should just consider this a left-handed compliment.”


Copyright © 2008 by E.S. Strout

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