Transference: A Novel - Book excerpt 1
The messages on the entry signs of Beyond the Clouds Travel Center were concise.
TICKET HOLDERS: RIGHT. TICKET PICK-UP: LEFT. TICKET SALES: CENTER. LOCAL AND DISTANCE TRANSFERENCE: ALL STATIONS.
Bly moved toward the left of the hall, having managed to secure his last minute DT reservation via a hovi offer from a kisan unable to travel that day. They connected via RT to finish the transaction.
“Have a great time,” his seller said, before he uploaded the ticket to Bly’s hovi. “You travel often?” he asked.
“Never,” said Bly.
Bly bid the seller a quick goodbye, watching the kisans open mouth melt in the RT space before he could say what Bly expected, which would be a comment along the lines of “You’re kidding, aren’t you?”
Talking about his novice travel status wasn’t something Bly yearned to do with yet another stranger. Yes, he’d done a few local Transferences in controlled environments. But never, as this travel center boasted, “beyond the clouds.”
Bly thought of his local Transferences, all in mynies. Like most new travelers, the otherness of the physical abilities of the host had fascinated him. The feeling of ears moving in strange dance-like swivels at the will of the mynie, easily pulled into play by the dozens of unfamiliar muscles. An awareness of just how loud, shocking, and at times, even painful, noises could be. An equally strong understanding of how many sounds unknown to the kisan ear were a constant to the mynies, and the reason for their hunting prowess. The nearly-beyond-hearing squeak of a tiny creature meters away, and the distinct whoosh of displaced air as prey hopped from one patch of ground to another.
Bly turned his thoughts back to the present as he approached one of the cheerful young attendants, one stationed at each of six low-gated entryways to the travel rooms beyond. A short tisani kisan, with feathery grey tufts peeping over his shirt’s neckline, greeted him as he approached.
"Welcome, sir! Your ticket please?"
Bly handed him the ticket which the attendant scanned with a palm-attached apparatus. The attendant peered at the screen on the device, nodding.
"All right, I see this is your first time doing a DT.” The attendants’ voice had risen in pitch to match his rise in wonder, and he quickly composed himself, realizing his proclamation had caught the attention of others in line. He continued at a lower volume and pitch. “I see you've been through your orientation so everything’s in order. You can come right in.”
The attendant stopped short as he peered at the screen.
“Hmm. Well, actually your orientation was – is this right?”
He shared the screen with Bly, showing him the date. Bly nodded. The attendant whistled.
“That was some time ago. But, things are pretty much the same. Well, there are a lot more web colors to choose from, and actually it’s a smoother ride now. You ok with your orientation being so long ago? Yes? Ok, then please validate right here to indicate you understand I offered you a delay in your travel date, and a more up-to-date orientation? Which I’m doing now. Anyway. You ok with that, sir?”
Bly nodded again and pressed his thumb against the proffered screen.
“Thank you, Mr.…, um,” he looked at the screen, “Mr. Goodin.” The attendant swept his arm and hand behind him. “Please follow the indigo smoke trail. Down the hall, make a right, and then about halfway down that corridor. You're in Room 3-2-3. It's got a glowing blue door. You did request the blue webbing, yes?”
“I said it didn’t matter.”
"Right, ok. Blue is what you’ve got. That’s 323. Indigo smoke, sir."
Bly tilted his head toward his destination but didn’t move.
Bly nodded again at the attendant. “Thank you for your help.” He started slowly forward, turning to smile briefly when the attendant called "Are you all right, sir?" The truthful answer would have been "Feeling faint, actually." Not the answer they wanted to hear, and an answer that would have delayed his trip, so another nod would do.
Though it had been some time ago, Bly clearly recalled the orientation. He and fourteen other would-be travelers had reclined in soft enclosures meant to simulate the Transference experience. The orientation teacher, hands clasped, earnest as she strolled the classroom, talked about the need to relax the muscles of the body, and to concentrate on pleasant thoughts as the Transference began. Bly knew he possessed a mind that wandered like his teacher, constantly touching ghosts of problems; new, old, real, imagined.
He’d been the oldest person at the orientation. Generally, the only people at distance Transference orientations were those who had come of age and were allowed to finally have the experience.
He’d left the training wondering if he could manage to clear his mind for the process. He had. He had accomplished local Transference. He saw similarities between the Transference and using his Reader abilities, since that also involved sharing thoughts with others. So perhaps this would work out.
At home, he’d prepared for the DT. He projected a moving image of lavender clouds on the ceiling and watched them ebb and slide, letting their beauty and motion fill his mind. He’d also done the same exercise outside, with real clouds. He could now conjure the relaxing image at will. Though the decision to make this trip was spontaneous, he felt ready.
Now the trip was imminent. He passed doors of different colors as he walked through the knee-high indigo haze, the vaporous lines interlacing with other colored smoke paths. Some of the tiny rooms were occupied, some being tidied. The variously colored, shimmering doors were closed, but glimpses of each interior could be seen through O-shaped windows. A flash of reddish hair in a room of green light. The face of a balding traveler, smiling broadly, cheeks twitching, eyes closed, enveloped in flickering strands of lemon-colored illumination.
The blue door was slightly ajar to Room 323 and he entered. The white-walled space was bare except for the observation instrument, suspended from a corner. Kisans in a central monitoring room, unseen to the travelers, watched through the telescopic tube dubbed “the eye.’”
From the orientation he knew he should shut the door and wait.
"Welcome, Mistah Goodin! Ah you ready for your trip?"
It was a disembodied voice, also expected because of the orientation. What was unexpected was the lilting accent of the woman on the speaker. It was pleasant, a voice from the Central Islands, not often heard locally.
Bly’s reply was confident, disguising, as he often did, the truth of his feelings. “All ready.”
"Please allow your body to relax, Mistah Goodin. We don't want you comin’ back all achy. All rahty now, jes’ be calm, and loose, and we'll begin wrappin’."
Bly tried to relax but knew he felt, if anything, quite stiff.
Bly heard the "click, click, click, click" sound Beyond the Clouds employed to signal the process was beginning. He breathed in deeply. “Lavender clouds! They’re so lovely, so peaceful! They're so…”
Fine strands of baby blue light extended from the room's corners, reaching like tentacles toward him. More threads emerged at an increasingly rapid rate from ceiling, floor, and walls, wrapping Bly with spider-like expertise.
The strands, strong, held Bly, making only the faintest indentation on his skin as he was enveloped and lifted. Soon, only Bly's head remained unwrapped, an incongruous bump in the mass of pulsing blue.
"There you go! Now, the eye is trained on you and will be monitorin’ your trip. If we notice any unusual movements that indicate your discomfort or fear while travelin’ with your host, we'll disconnect you and credit you for the balance of your trip. If you do transfer successfully and land in a sleepah, you will be refunded half the cost of your trip."
Sleepers were animals who slumbered during the entire Transference process. It happened often.
Geenah clicked off the sound to the observation room for a few seconds while she turned to her co-worker, just entering the booth, and shook her head. "Ah don't know about this one." She clicked the sound back on. "Just to confirm, Mistah Goodin, you’ve chosen “squirrel” for your visit, is that raht?"
Bly nodded his head. Squirrel was all that was available at such late notice. At least he didn’t have a luck-of-the-draw ticket. Although Transferences could miss intended destinations, those who paid for a certain animal would get a refund if they didn’t reach the host they’d chosen. L-T-D ticket holders had to accept trip results. They paid significantly less, but there were L-T-D horror stories about spending entire visits running inside a hamster wheel. Some enjoyed the wheel visits. Visitors felt the hamsters’ euphoria while running, and the jiggly scenery made more than one visitor, secure in his web, erupt into giggles.
Like everyone else, Bly had wanted a cat, but cat visits by the general public were limited. He read in the promotional copy that a squirrel, especially at the time of year he was visiting, should be mindless fun, like a joy ride. It had been that or “small dog” and he wasn’t in the mood for that bumpy, noisy, mind trip. Another plus was that the squirrel visit had a better chance of being human-free, which sounded fine to Bly.
In the observation area Geenah and Perrin made small adjustments to the web. “Personally, I can’t stand squirrel visits,” said Perrin. “Too much dashing around.”
“Don’t ah know it, darlin’? Ah’m glad this job gives us choice of host.”
In the glow of blue light, the web’s strong, flexible strands moved easily with Bly’s slight movements. Since the body in the web could react in a similar manner to the distant host body, the web needed to withstand vigorous twitching and jumping.
"All raht. We're all set then, Mistah Goodin. You jes’ relax now and get ready for your trip beyond the clouds. Have a great one!”
The lights dimmed slightly, not because it had anything to do with the process, but, like the “click, click, click” sound before the webbing, this particular travel port thought staccato sounds and lights fading added to the romance and excitement of the experience. The words “Enjoy Your Trip Beyond the Clouds!” appeared in smoky lighted letters on the wall opposite Bly. A low hum began, reverberating through the cocoon. "Lavender clouds," thought Bly. "Lovely lavender clouds…"
In the monitoring room, Geenah shook her head. "Ah'd say he's a no go. Look at the way his eyes ah all screwed up."
Her companion, Perin, frowned.
"I dunno, Geen. I know you're good at spotting them, but I say this is a go-go. Look, he's relaxing now. The no-goes are rare lately, and we just had one yesterday. What’re the odds?"