“My husband didn’t leave the portal! How the hell do you expect me to calm down?” Page told the BT worker. The uniformed woman’s head didn’t even raise from the hand that cradled it. Her only reply was a yawn, and then to shuffle a pamphlet across a cracked perspex booth.
‘Help, My Family and/or Friend Was Lost in a Portal.’ Page’s body shuddered as she held it, the gravity of her situation starting to press on her. The pamphlets were all over the waystations, just like those adverts with the annoying jingle on television.
She’d just never thought she would need one.
“I don’t want to read a pamphlet, I want my husband back!” Page took a deep breath. “We’re here for my sister’s wedding, we can’t be late.”
“British Teleportation apologises for the inconvenience, but we are not liable for any issues that result due to problematic teleportation events. These include, but are not limited to: disappearances, splicing –”
The woman continued, but Page tuned out. She remembered the promoted posts on social media and the rushed disclaimer at the end of the adverts reminding all users of the danger. And the form she signed when she got her teleportation transit card that said she understood the risks.
But the odds had felt so low. It was safer than crossing a road in the day of cars. And portals were just so convenient.
Before the woman had finished, Page asked, “So, is there a lost and found for missing people? When can I expect to collect him? I’m sure you need my phone—”
The attendant cut her off, in the tone of a woman who’d given the same speech many times. “Only one in a thousand portal disappearance victims return, and fewer than one in ten of those return alive.”
Page flinched as if slapped, then dropped the pamphlet to the floor. The worker was right. Everyone knew the statistics from the jingles, just like they knew portals were statistically safer than air travel.
But it didn’t help if you were one of the statistics. Edward could be anywhere in the universe after the portal cast him out, perhaps even where her socks, spare change and charger cables went. The chances of him stranded somewhere with air and water were slimmer than hearing a rose petal fall down a well.
Page’s knuckles whitened gripping the booth as she realised the last thing he would ever say to her in that rich timbre voice was, “Get a move on, we’ll miss the starters.”
The attendant coughed, unable to look Page in the face. Her voice softened ever so slightly. “Under the delay repay clause, I can offer you a refund on both of your monthly tickets. Your next week’s travel will be free. I’m sorry I can’t offer you more.”
Page couldn’t think or feel as she slid her card across the cubicle to the lady. For some seconds she felt nothing except shock, as disorientating as being stabbed in the stomach. Then it went numb, so much feeling that she couldn’t feel anymore.
“Thank you for choosing British Teleportation. We hope to see you again.”
Pocketing her card, Page didn’t feel the cold as she left the station and headed to the wedding. She had lots of things to focus on, the speech, the seating plans, anything other than what had just happened.She reckoned she would try a different portal station on the way home. A five-minute walk was worth not revisiting that booth. She briefly considered the full three hour walk home, but what were the odds of another glitch on the same day? And in any case, she couldn’t ignore a week’s free travel. That would be wasteful.
About the author:
Rick Danforth is a BSFA award shortlisted author from Yorkshire, England, where he works as a Systems Architect to fund his writing habit. When not working valiantly in the plot mines, he can be found doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a type of involuntary yoga with uncomfortable pyjamas.
His short fiction can be found in Hexagon, Translunar Traveller’s Lounge, and many other places.
Most weeks he claims he will soon return to finish his debut novel, but so far these claims have proved unfounded.