Fighting the Philosophical Leopard
Does no one else see it like me? I mean, for Christ's sake there are enough Christians and so on out there that they ought to have realised what they're doing, and they say I'm the only one. They say I'm a mad fanatical terrorist because I try to blow up the booths. I say they're killing themselves and I'm trying to stop them playing God.
It's been five years now since they were invented, since that bright spark over at Virtual finally worked out what he'd been doing wrong. Now don't get me wrong, I couldn't care less if they replicate machinery and use it for a postal system. That's fine. They send pieces of chocolate out down the TV line and into your home for you to sample, that would be fine too, even though that's said to be too expensive. But I don't care.
No, when that guy at Virtual finished his work and went on prime-time TV and 'ported himself across from one studio to another, that was when I worked it out - that was when I realised what he was doing. They gave all this stuff about breaking yourself down into your constituent atoms and recreating it at the other end, and the energy cost, and how much could be done once the new "sun-buster" plant was up and running, but they didn't tell you the real truth. They didn't tell you that you died.
I knew. I phoned them up that evening. I spoke to a pretty girl who told me that they weren't doing a question and answer session, and would I please express any fears on video and send them down to their discussion department. So I duly recorded my beliefs, and sent them off. I still believed they'd listen. They'd only allowed one person to die, then, and that was the guy who invented it, so it didn't really matter. He should've known better.
They were still interviewing him, asking him how he felt when I finished the tape. "I feel fine," he said. "Except for butterflies in my stomach. The machine copied them too." The audience applauded and laughed. I was sure someone just told them to.
I went to work as normal for the next two days, and waited expectantly for some reply to my message, but none came. The third day I took off as a holiday, and went to the TV company. They told me I couldn't see anyone, and to get lost. That's when I started getting an idea of what I was up against.
I sent vids to every daily except the Sport, which I had a terrible feeling would publish whatever I sent them, but wouldn't do my case any good. None of them published, and I was left the next day fuming as I flicked through them all. Not one had the guts to recognise the truth.
So I went to the church. I spoke to my vicar, and told him what I thought. He was an old man, and the only complaint ever levelled at him was that he was too nice. He told me that I should send my thoughts to the dailies, and that I should speak to the TV company, and that if I was really certain - a point he emphasised, as he obviously didn't understand what was going on - I should go to the company and talk to them as well.
The guy at Virtual actually took the trouble to see me. Seems he had booked two weeks in his diary for "Talking to Cranks", and I had an appointment. He'd heard of me already, which was flattering, and had already seen a couple of my vids, so I dispensed with the explanations.
"You're killing people."
"No I'm not. Look, I don't believe in the Christian stuff, but I got in a friend of mine who does, and chatted with him about it. He says that there's no proof to what you're saying."
"You're creating soulless people and killing the originals."
"I can only repeat what he said, but he says that there's no reason to believe that the soul doesn't travel along the line as well, and you're the same person when you get out as when you go in."
"But you can create a duplicate, can't you?"
"Not of a person, the energy would be too much. You need the breakdown of the first one to power the creation of the second."
"That's it!" I shouted at him. "You've admitted it. It's a second person."
"No it isn't. I'm the same person I was yesterday."
"No. You just think you are."
"Hell. What's the difference?"
He genuinely didn't understand, I couldn't see a way of proving it to him, so I tried an earlier tack again. "But if you had enough energy, you'd be able to create a duplicate."
"So you can clone people?"
"Yes." He still didn't see what I was getting at.
"So you're creating souls. You're trying to become God."
"Look, mate," he said, slapping me on the shoulder. "I don't believe in this soul stuff, except for James Brown of course." He laughed. "I just do the science, and other people use it. You don't want to, that's your look-out, but other people do, and I'm one of them. You're not going to stop us, so give up."
It was true, I wasn't going to stop him, but he was already dead. But there were others I could save, others around who hadn't become soulless yet, and I had to try.
I spent the next two weeks trying to work out what to do. I sat in front of the TV, watching the men in suits describing what life would be like with the new systems, with instantaneous travel to all major holiday locations, and travel to the moon for holidays as soon as NASA got a 'porter up into space, and even major cities would soon have 'ports to replace the railways. British Rail's managing director said he'd seen it coming and had already signed a major deal with Virtual for exclusive use of the 'ports in Britain, and said they would be releasing price-schedules for the 'ports as soon as the price of the units became available. There were interviews with businessmen who said their lives would be changed completely now they could get to work in half an hour rather than the usual three. Even the adverts were up-beat. No one was sparing anything in making this a publicity exercise.
The first commercial 'port opened between Heathrow and JFK, and was designed to take up to three-thousand people per day at roughly two per minute. Within a week it was up to full capacity, and Virgin Transatlantic Virtual announced that a second 'port would open on the same route within six months.
I went to see the 'port in action, to tell people what it meant. I stood in front of the check-in desk, shouting to be heard over the muzak, hoping that even one person would understand what I was saying. Mostly they groaned, and make snide remarks about religious extremists and how I ought to be arrested. A policeman came up to me at lunchtime and told me to move along. I asked him what I was doing wrong, and he said I was causing an obstruction. He also said that if I didn't move I'd be arrested.
Just as I was leaving, a young woman ran up to me. She was mid-twenties, with shoulder-length blonde hair and bright blue eyes. She had a bad complexion, with quite a few spots, but her teeth were bright white, and she had a lovely smile. "Excuse me," she said, getting her breath back. "I was listening to what you were saying back there. Do you really think it kills us?"
"I know it does."
"Then why doesn't someone tell people?"
"I'm trying to. But no one listens."
"What about the TV? They're saying it's safe."
"That's because they're paid for with sponsorship, and Virtual accounts for a good proportion of that money."
"But the BBC? They aren't sponsored."
"No, but this is news, and the government censor the news nowadays. Face it, no one wants to tell the truth. I've tried. I've sent vids to everyone who might publish them. It's down to me."
She looked at the queue of people slowly filing into the 'port, slowly walking towards their own deaths, and then back at me. "What can I do to help?" And so was born the anti-teleport lobby.
At first we distributed vids ourselves, buying the cheapest blanks we could find and recording the straight facts, hoping to tell a few people. As the days went by, more and more people joined us, and our numbers were growing exponentially. It seemed that people believed us after all, just not the people in power. That's when the government first expressed an interest.
It was a man in a black suit who came round to my house. He knocked loudly on the door and waved a holo of himself with the words "Home Office" sitting a couple of inches in front of his face. I let him in.
"Do you have a license to be running an organisation like this from your home?"
"You don't need a license."
"You do if you're distributing such literature from your home. You need a production license to be producing distributed vids, and your tenancy agreement requires that you do not have such a license, which would after all imply that you ran a business from here."
"But I'm just giving them out."
"To people you don't know. Unsolicited. It needs a license, son, and if you don't have one you'll be arrested. Simple as that."
"I've nothing more to say. Just thought you ought to be warned. Do hope you understand." He walked out.
Oh, I understood all right. They were getting scared because I knew the truth. That's when the idea dawned on me. I spent quite a lot of my spare money bribing an official at Virtual, who agreed to give me a list of all the people who had been into 'ports so far, and a link so that I could get their names in future. I wanted to know who was still alive and who was already dead.
We didn't stop publishing, but I stopped copying the tapes at my house. One by one, the Home Office guy visited each us, but we kept moving the gear around, and we finally came to the solution of hiring a garage. Several of us had tried to get licenses, but for some reason our applications were refused. The official line was "No more amateur publication licenses are available at the moment. Your request will be placed in a queue, and you will be contacted when one becomes available." I knew the truth.
They were turning nasty, and a couple of our members had been arrested and beaten up. They couldn't touch me, though - I was becoming a star, at least in my area. Most of my block knew me now, and most were members of my organisation. They kept the place clear of police, and they crowded around anyone trying to get near me. They understood. We were right, and more and more people were understanding. Despite no TV coverage or daily coverage whatever, the queues on the 'ports were getting shorter. Virtual was saying that was because there were more 'ports, but we knew. The people were listening, and they understood. We were right.
One day a man came to see me - a recent member. He went through the usual frisk at the entrance to the block, and a gun was removed. It was passed to me when he was shown in.
"Illegal possession of firearms," I said to him. "Serious offence. Why shouldn't I report you?"
"Because I can help you," he said, in a rasping voice. "Assuming you're for real."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Do you really believe what you're saying?"
"Absolutely. It's the truth."
"What do you think about the people who've used the 'ports?"
"They're already dead. We have a list of them, to make sure we don't waste our time trying to save any."
"So killing them isn't murder?"
It seemed logical, although I hadn't thought of it like that before. Like killing an animal, I suppose. "No."
"Then maybe we can do business. My name is Ken. I used to work for the software department at Virtual..."
We spoke for over an hour, discussing the ins and outs of the 'ports. He was on our side, and had left because he didn't approve of the project. He had stayed long enough, however, to put a final back-door into the network which controlled the 'ports, the global net over which the transmission of the atomic structures took place. It was a purpose-built network of eighty-four satellites, all running the new X2500 networking protocols, all absolutely guaranteed to get the data from one end to the other. Unless the door was activated.
He needed money to bribe people so that he could get access to the satellites, and we provided that money. At six o'clock that evening, for the first time, someone failed to arrive at Heathrow. The regular stream of passengers just stopped. The whole system was halted, and I watched the passengers murmuring, slowly coming to understand what had happened. The vid-links between Heathrow and JFK switched off, and the officials started talking fiercely into their own personal comms. People began to panic, and apart from a few die-hard businessmen, everyone deserted Heathrow's terminal 7.
I left in the crowd, but I realised my mistake. They'd seen me on the cameras, and they knew it was me.
Nothing more happened for a few weeks. British Rail pressed ahead with their installations, despite the safety reports, and the incident was discarded as 'teething-trouble'. The dailies started reporting statistics, including 'ports and air-travel, and conclusively proved that 'ports were safer. People started to return, and British Rail opened the new London-Birmingham Express Teleport by sending the Transport Minister through. He never arrived.
We'd been watching it live on TV, and the coverage stopped a second after the minister went into the 'port in London. They tried to make out that this was just a normal commercial break, but we knew. We'd set it up. They'd said it was going to be live, and we'd planned it perfectly.
The next day I was amazed to see pictures of the minister leaving the 'port at the other end. Walking home to his wife and children. They had to be faked, so I travelled down to his constituency that day to try to find him. He was 'unavailable for comment'. I checked with his neighbours, who hadn't seen him that day. He'd gone on holiday or something, they said. They seemed vague about when he'd be back.
Unbelievably, people seemed undeterred by the obvious failure of the 'port, and the line became profitable within days. British Rail opened five more, and the list of the dead was becoming unmanageable. It would soon become easier to keep a list of those who weren't. Of the seventy-million people in Britain, over eight million had died within the first three months. Most of them had only travelled to find out what it felt like. They'd died to see what it felt like to die. At £83 a time. I felt sick.
We had the ability to switch off occasional passengers, but nothing more. The networking software re-routed too quickly to do more, so we planned something bigger. All the 'ports were connected together, so if we could instantly send one object into all of them, and that object was a bomb, we could take the network down in a second. Ken could do the software, and he knew a guy who could get the explosives. We needed a lot, and we needed access to a 'port. We chose Birmingham New Street. It was close, and I'd had a friend who'd worked there when it was still just a train station. He was dead now, of course. I tried to tell him, but he hadn't listened. One of these scientific types who believed in progress. I was sorry to see him go. He still doesn't understand, but then he wouldn't, would he?
On the day, we got our stuff together and went, entering the station by the back entrance. We waited underground, by the disused main line, until 3 a.m. The station closed up for the night, and we left our hiding place and climbed up the escalators. The escalator steps were really tiring to walk up, just the wrong distance apart to get into a good rhythm. I was trembling when we reached the top. There was a single guard on the 'port entrance, and we knew we had to take him out before he pressed his alert button or it would be finished before it even started. Any alert would shut down the 'port to prevent anyone getting away.
I stood, watching, until someone whispered "now" and the guard fell over, a tiny smear of blood on the wall behind him.
We ran towards the 'port, and turned it on. It glowed brighter than the surroundings, and then the main floodlights on the corridor switched on. I thought for a moment that someone had pressed the wrong button, but then I heard them.
"Lay down your weapons and put your hands in the air! You are under arrest! Move and we will shoot!"
We turned round, and saw fifty armed policemen standing across the corridor. Ken stood up and began shooting. He took longer to fall than he spent firing.
The rest of us surrendered.
They took me to a cell by myself and began asking questions. They said someone had betrayed us. They didn't say who. I told them the truth, and they seemed to believe me. They said I'd be 'ported to London in the morning for charging, and they didn't understand why I went ape on them. Before I was even tried I was being given the death sentence. I kicked two of them, and nearly got out before they knocked me out.
They revived me in the morning, just before we were due to go, and I struggled again. I pulled as hard as I could, and kicked and shoved, but I couldn't get free. They were grinning all the way to New Street, and paraded me in front of newsmen. At least I'd finally made it onto the TV. Finally they acknowledged our existence.
There was a short delay in the usual passenger service that morning. They seemed to take pride in what they were doing. I shouted that they were killing me, and that they should take me by train, but they didn't listen. I didn't expect them to.
They threw me inside the 'port and closed the door. I struggled to get free for a second, and then remembered. I sat down and prayed. One last prayer, for my soul. I was aware of the cameras zooming in on me. Someone said this would prove if I was right or not.
I'm in prison now, and they keep telling me I'm the same person. I just say back to them "But I'm not. I'm dead. I may feel the same, but then I would, wouldn't I?"