May 5th 2023
I open my eyes. It’s great news that I have eyes to open. It’s even better news that I can register that fact. I’m able to open eyes and mentally process stimuli. Very good signs.
Around me I can see, not where I closed them, but Lakshmi’s lab on the other side of Bangalore. The familiarities register quickly. The worn-out analog clock with the logo of a long-bankrupt lab supply manufacturer, cameras set up to record every detail of today, the photos and drawings of Lakshmi’s kids that plaster the wall above her desk.
I’m here. I’ve made it. Delight floods through me. My mind starts to race with the sheer magnitude of the moment. I start to say the words I’ve thought about every night as I fall asleep – my own little version of “one small step for a man” when I’m stopped by motion out of the corner of my eye.
Lakshmi rounds the corner from her bank of monitoring devices and into my line of sight. Instead of triumph, her face is a mask of horror. At that moment something inside me clicks and I realize: I can’t say the words I’ve prepared. I can’t say anything at all.
Now come the bad signs. Tears jump to the eyes of my closest friend as she takes me in. A cloud of white clad technicians forms rapidly behind her.
“Get back to your stations,” she tells them with an icy firmness that leaves no room for anything but immediate compliance. I notice the medical team are the exception. They rush towards me, but I cannot turn my head to see where they go. A very bad sign indeed.
I should feel chaos in this room that is the focus of the Earth’s eyes, but I feel strangely calm as Lakshmi kneels in front of me, bringing her dark eyes level with mine. She must read the wildness and the questions there.
“Aditi, you made it,” she whispers to me. She remembers herself and speaks louder for the cameras. “Please blink twice now if you believe your consciousness is present in this room.”
I flutter my eyes at her and resume my silent demand for more information.
“We have a partial success. Dr. Patel has successfully been transported from one side of Bangalore to the other in an instant. Her consciousness appears to have travelled. So has most of her head, torso, one arm terminating at the wrist, and both legs terminating mid-thigh. Further evaluation is underway,” Lakshmi reports as evenly as possible.
I see a flash in the lower left of my vision, confirming that the medical team must be attending to my apparently missing limbs. Fear begins bubbling up from my stomach. This did not happen in the animal tests. I try to turn my head to look but find it difficult.
“Dr. Patel,” Lakshmi says sharply “please focus on me. We are doing our best to help, but you should be aware that your survival does not look probable. As agreed, we need to get as much data from you as possible. Your…mouth did not make it. Moving forward, please blink twice to signify yes. Look down for no.”
I blink twice, trying to save Lakshmi from the pain she is fighting so hard to hide.
“Do you feel pain?”
I look down. That’s not the agreed upon order of questions, but I can’t imagine what I look like. I hope my nieces and nephews are not watching our live broadcast. For once I hope my sister succeeded in distracting my mother. I hate to think of my whole family gathered around our TV, spilling their chai in horror.
“Do you know where you are?”
I blink twice and can see Lakshmi’s relief.
“Can you feel the rest of your body?”
I look down.
“Can you see me?”
I blink twice.
“You know why you’re here?”
I give her a long look and blink twice.
“You made it. It’s not what we wanted, but you made it. Are you proud?”
I blink twice. I am so proud. Obviously, I would have preferred to step off the teleportation pad whole, confident, and strong like the explorers we watched on Star Trek reruns as we huddled around small TVs as children. Even like this, missing pieces, unlikely to survive, and unable to declare my victory to the world, I am still the first human being to have been moved as energy and matter from one place to another. My heart could burst. It might – I don’t know if it was structurally compromised in transit.
Lakshmi continues to ask me questions about what I can sense, think, remember. She has me count and look at shapes to establish how many of my mental faculties have made it. I do my best to answer, but my mind is already elsewhere. I remember arguing with Lakshmi about which of us would be the first to try. I insisted that she play the Aldrin to my Armstrong just in case it ended like this. Her two daughters deserve their mother. Her research was the turning point. She’s the one who deserves to live to accept the Nobel Prize.
She’ll do it. I know she will.
Time passes. My blinks grow lethargic. My mind wanders to Madam Curie with her drawer full of radium, to the rockets becoming balls of fire. When I open my eyes again Lakshmi’s face is close to mine. What she’s saying now is just for me.
“Aditi, you’ve given us the data. You’ve done it. We’ll take it from here. We’ll figure out how to fix it. I promise you.”
I take comfort in the fact that even though I’ll never get to say them, the words I had ready are still true. We’ve never travelled farther without a step. I’m sorry I couldn’t take us far enough, but I close my eyes believing that tomorrow we will go farther.
Jessica Andrewartha writes fiction and plays from her home in Seattle when she’s not chasing her son, dog, or cat, working her day job in tech, or enjoying what’s really more of a TBR room than a TBR pile. Her short fiction has been published in Utopia Science Fiction and on Every Day Fiction. More information at jessicaandrewartha.com
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