Foreword (an apology)
I most often blog short comedy pieces or political musings (which, intentionally or otherwise, often end up being comical). Although I often think of stories I rarely bother to write them down. This short story is, then, a bit of a departure from my usual, but it was stuck in my head and the only way to get rid of it was to write it down.
Any feedback is gratefully appreciated (even if it is of the “Please don’t write any more stories” variety).
Doctor Montgomery stopped speaking and stood watching the president. She glanced over to her team, who, as instructed, were also keeping quiet. They were undoubtedly the best team her budget would run to, and she was incredibly proud of the work she’d done with them, but getting them ready to speak in the oval office was beyond her skills.
It took the president a clear 30 seconds to notice that she’d gone silent and look up from his phone. He avoided meeting her eyes, held up his stumpy just-a-minute finger and returned to whatever he’d been typing. Eventually he put his phone down and slid it across his desk, and then sat forward in his chair, so that he could see its screen with just a flick of his eyes.
“It’s been really great listening to you,” he mumbled, insincerely, “Really, really, great, and I’ll think about what you said, I really will, but now I’ve got a meeting with Dr Monnygonny.”
“I’m Dr Monnygonny,” snapped Dr Montgomery, who hadn’t previously appreciated the president’s talent for helping people find the end of their tether.
“Yes! No! I’m Doctor Montgomery. Dr Selina Montgomery. Your meeting is with me, and has been for the last ten minutes!”
“That’s great. It’s really great that more women are becoming doctors. Even if they’re not hot, like the lady doctors on TV.”
Selina found herself lost for words, for the first time she could recall.
“Anyway. I feel fine. Really healthy. I’m probably the healthiest guy ever to sit in this office, so maybe you should run along and I’ll see what this Dr Montygonty guy has to say.”
“Sir, I am a doctor of physics. There is no doctor Monnygonny, or Montygonty, or Monnymonny or Montgomery…these are all MADE UP DOCTORS!”
She realised she was yelling and took a moment to compose herself while the president’s eyes darted back to his phone.
“Sir, I’m Doctor Selina Montgomery. I’m a doctor of physics and head of the LL project. As I was saying…”, she gestured back to her slide presentation.
“You’re the head of what, now?” asked the president.
“LL, Mr President. As I’ve explained, Limitless Logistics is the code-name for the top secret project that was started by Transport Facilitation Archive, which was, itself, set up to build on the work of the Pandimensional Research Agency, which was set up by then Vice-President Richard Nixon in 1962…”
“Nixon? That crooked liar. Is he involved in this?” interrupted the president.
“No, sir, he’s been dead more than 20 years. Limitless Logistics was set up by your predecessor who…”
“Yeah, well he made a lot of bad decisions, that guy. He just didn’t know how to make a good deal.”
Dr Montgomery ignored the implied insult and carried on, “…who felt that our work, though highly speculative, would be revolutionary.”
She used her remote control to skip backwards through the last 20 slides of her show.
“Our break-through came in 2010, when we first managed to make practical machines working on the theoretical principles developed by the TFA.”
Her slide-show flashed to what might have been the first hit in a stock image archive search for “scientists 1960s”
“Who are they?” asked the president.
“They’re the founding members of the TFA, sir. From left to right we have professor…”
“Who are the TFA?”
“Well, they are, sir. We have professor John…”
“No. No. I mean WHO are the TFA? Should I know what that stands for?”
“They’re the Transport Facilitation…”
Dr Montgomery stopped and changed her brain down several gears, ready for an uphill struggle.
“Let me give you the 2-minute version, Mr President.”
She walked around his desk and stood beside him, crouching slightly, feeling somewhat like a primary school teacher. She took his notepad from the desk and a pen from her pocket.
“Imagine this sheet of paper is our whole universe, and we’re here.”
She marked a dot halfway across the page, a finger’s width down from the top, and labelled it “Us”
“And imagine we want to go somewhere else.”
She put another dot in line, a similar distance up from the bottom of the page and wrote “Target” next to it.
“If we want to go from where we are to where we want to be, then we have to travel all of this distance.”
She drew a line the height of the page, connecting the two dots.
“Now, that might be a very long way, and it might take us a long time to travel there. But imagine we could do this…”
She loosely folded up the bottom of the page, so that the dot from the bottom of the page was overlaid on the one from the top.
“Now the two places are in the same place, and we can step between them, without travelling any distance at all.”
She let the paper unfold, and looked at the president, searching his face for any signs of understanding. He stared at the page for twenty seconds.
“So, the guy before me funded you to spend 10 years doing orgasmmi?”
“Origami, sir, but essentially, yes.”
“Well, thanks for coming in, Dr Mon…,” he mumbled the rest of the word, “This is going to be the easiest budget cut I ever made. Wait until I tell FOX that the democrats were spending tax dollars teaching people to fold paper. Tax and spend. It doesn’t even look like a swan.”
“WE’RE FOLDING THE GODDAMN UNIVERSE, YOU MORON!” yelled Dr Montgomery. She took a few deep breaths. “The piece of paper” she indicated to the notepad, still in front of the president, “Was a 2-dimensional universe, and we made a short-cut by folding it in 3-dimensional space. But we live in a 4-dimensional universe and can make a short-cut by folding it through the 5th dimension. That’s what the LL project has been working on for a decade.”
Again the president’s face showed no obvious signs that any of this had been meaningful to him.
“Please, sir, just watch this video.”
She quickly flicked through her remaining slides, until she reached one that included the familiar triangle of a ‘Play’ symbol.
The video that started playing showed a split screen. Each side showed a room, although it was possibly two views of the same room, as they looked identical. The walls were grubby white and featureless, other than a black and yellow ‘target’ symbol painted into the centre of each of them. The same symbol could also be seen in the middle of the floor. In the centre of the room on the left sat what looked like a large toy truck, with the bodywork removed and some random electronics added in its place.
After a couple of seconds, a hole opened in the wall opposite the camera in both rooms, showing identical rooms beyond. Another second later the toy truck, obviously remote-controlled, began to move forwards. As it approached the hole in the wall of the left-hand room it could be seen approaching through the hole in the right-hand room. It took maybe ten seconds to complete the journey to the centre-marking in the floor of the right-hand room, where it stopped. A heartbeat later the hole it had come through vanished. The video stopped.
Doctor Montgomery looked at the president, expectantly.
“You made a hole in wall…,” began the president, but she cut him off.
“The room on the left is in our test facility in Los Alamos, the one on the right in a similar facility, just outside Bismarck, North Dakota. In the time you saw, that truck – which has a top speed of 15mph – travelled more than 1,000 miles, sir.”
There was a very long pause. Her team, who she had almost forgotten about, shifted uncomfortably.
“Can I watch the video again?” asked the president, at length. Selina clicked a button on the remote and the short film played again.
“I’m sure I don’t need to list the applications of this, sir,” she began, trying to gauge if she was going to need to do exactly that.
“I will give you a million dollars for the patent to this,” offered the president, looking her straight in the eyes for the first time.
“Mr President, this is a top-secret project, paid for by the United States government. I can’t sell you the patent.”
“Sir, you don’t understand. The United States government owns this. It’s not mine to sell.”
“But you know how to make it work, and you have notes and what-not.”
“Yes, sir, but…”
“Ten million dollars. I’ll write you a check right now. I’ll even use my good-check book.”
“Sir, please…” began Doctor Montgomery, settling in for a lengthy discussion. Out of the corner of her eye she saw her team relax. Their work was done for the day.
“I’m not kidding, this is going to make me a hundred billion dollars!” said the president, as the video concluded.
Silence filled the room, as the assembled staff turned to Steve, their chief, to see how this was going to play out.
“Maybe two hundred billion,” added the president.
Steve stepped up. “Are you sure you’ve considered all of the implications of this, sir?”
“Implications?” asked the president, “You mean opportunities? Vacations – bang! Business travel – bang! Maybe space travel – bang! I could be the first president on the moon. Or on Mars. People are going to love me if I do that.”
“What about the auto industry, sir?” asked Steve, quietly.
“That’s the terrific thing, Steve. No more need for autos. Clean air. Those libtards who prattle on about environments are going to have to admit that I’ve done more for the air – making it clean I mean – than any other president. Man, that’s going to burn them.”
“Yes, sir, they’ll certainly be singing your praises, but the 2 million US citizens with auto industry jobs might not be so happy.”
“There’ll be new jobs for them, Steve. Those jobs were probably going to go to Mexico anyway. Now they can be space miners. Out digging for platonium in the astrid belt. That’s a cooler job than bolting together cars, right? Let the lazy Mexicans build cars if they want to, nobody’s going to be buying them!”
“They might not want to be space-miners, sir. They might want to keep on doing the jobs that, you know, they’re trained for.”
“They could be colonising Mars. Look at NASA’s budget. We could give that to the space-miners if they go and colonise Mars? That would be terrific. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”
“I’m not sure that Ford’s senior management are…”
“And every time someone teleports to Mars another few bucks teleport into my pocket, Steve. Every journey in the world makes me some money!”
“Have you considered the effect on the oil industry of gas sales dropping to zero?”
The president seemed to give this some consideration.
“Those guys will be fine. They’ve got plenty stashed away.”
“Mr President! This isn’t just about the people who own the oil companies! What about everybody else?”
All eyes turned to the speaker, Tom, who was the most junior person in the room in both rank and age, but who now seemed to have found his stride.
“The whole world economy could collapse! Even if oil collapsing doesn’t do that then how do you run an economy when anybody anywhere in the world can teleport straight into any bank vault they like? And what about them military implications, General Flattenham?”
Flattenham, the head of the joint chiefs, who had been quietly doodling a bombing run in his blotter snapped his head up.
“Ah. Yes. Well, obviously lots of great applications for espionage and…and…so forth,” he offered.
“Espionage?” croaked Tom, “North Korea could teleport a nuke straight into the Pentagon! China could march a million men straight into the heart of DC! Five guys in a cave in Pakistan could send a dirty bomb straight from there to Times Square on New Year’s Eve, like this!”
He snapped his fingers.
“Obviously we’d need time to analyse these options,” stalled the general.
“Are you saying I should invade Pakistan?” asked the President, “Get them before they get us? Those marines are terrific. They could find those five guys.”
“We can have options for you on that scenario within the hour, sir,” chipped in Flattenham, keen to help out.
“Actually, sir, this technology could present insurmountable issues for the service as well,” chimed in Colon Flick, head of the president’s security detail, who was invariably referred to as ‘Con Flicted’
“Issues?” queried the president.
“Yes, sir, issues.”
“What sort of issues?” asked the president, impatiently.
“Insurmountable ones, sir.”
Steve headed off the impasse. “I think the president is asking about the nature of these issue, Con.”
“Ah, yessir. We cannot rule out the possibility that an assailant would use the trans-dimensional travel device to immediately deliver themselves into the vicinity of the prime protectorate, within any security perimeter operated by the service, and deliver an undesirable outcome.”
“Could you, perhaps, be a little more concise?” sighed Steve, who had long since learned that the president rarely heard more than the first ten words in a sentence.
“Somebody could teleport next to the president and shoot him, sir.”
A long pause settled on the room.
“Maybe I should speak to the great guys at the NRA,” suggested the president, “Ask them what we can work out.”
“ARE YOU ALL CRAZY?” yelled Tom, “THIS DOESN’T EVEN NEED TO BE ABOUT GUNS OR BOMBS!”
Everyone standing in the room took a step backwards, even the president shuffled his chair back. Tom noticed and calmed himself a little.
“A suicide bomber – and, lord knows, we’re not short of them – in any major city in the world could open a portal to the heart of the sun. Or to the vacuum of space. Or to a black hole. And, boom, one city less.”
“But there’ll be good guys with a portal to the sun too, right?”
“IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO’S GOT THE PORTAL TO THE SUN, YOU MORO…,” Tom stopped himself short, as everyone in the room looked at him, open mouthed. Everyone except the president, who had asked the question and then picked up his phone.
“It does seem,” said Flattenham, “that the military advantages of this technology would be best served by only us having access to it.”
Steve nodded in agreement, “We can’t put this genie back in the bottle, but if we can keep it absolutely secret then it could give us an enormous tactical advantage.”
“The espionage possibilities alone. Wow!” added Con.
“While the Russians, the Chinese and the French don’t know we’ve got this we can run rings around them,” enthused Flattenham, warming to the subject.
The president’s phone began binging, so quickly that the notification noises overlapped and cancelled each other out. Steve removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Mr President, you haven’t by any chance just tweeted about the subject of this meeting, have you?”
“The American people have a right to know how rich I’m going to be, Steve,” replied the president, not looking up from scrolling through his notifications.
Steve shot a glance at the president then, as if musing to himself, pondered, “I wonder how this is going to affect property prices.”
The president looked up from his phone.
“I mean,” continued Steve, “Who’s going to rent an apartment in New York, if they can instantly commute to Manhattan from Bumwad, Idaho?”
The president slid his phone out of his own reach and leaned forward in his chair.
“I bet it’s going to have a big impact on the hotel trade as well,” Tom chimed in, “Why stay overnight anywhere, when you can be anywhere in the world a second after you leave home?”
Steve gave a slight nod of his head, to signal to Tom his approval at how fast he’d picked up the stratagem, while also making a mental note that Tom was clearly bright enough to raise questions about how he’d got a place in this administration. None of the possible answers suggested that he wasn’t someone to keep a close and careful eye on. Meanwhile the blood draining was from the president’s face.
“I guess there’s no much point building that border wall, either,” added Tom, “In fact, borders of all kind become pretty much obsolete. It really does become a small world.”
“Hang on, kid,” said the president, angrily, rising to his feet, “The great people of America didn’t vote for me to remove all borders. They want their wall. It’s going to be a terrific wall, and it will work.”
“But if we need to tell them how rich you’re going to be, sir,” teased Steve sadistically.
“Maybe I won’t tweet for a while,” conceded the president. Then, pressing his intercom button, “Get me clean-up-Kelly!”
“I’m not even sure you can buy the rights to technology developed by the military budget,” mused the general, before the others sushed him into silence.
When Steve entered the oval office the president was asleep. He hadn’t simply leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, he’d gone for a full, face-first, slump on his desk, using one of his arms as a pillow. He was snoring at quite some volume.
The junior treasury agent, who was seated opposite the president, turned and gave Steve a panicked look. Steve nodded and jerked his head towards the door. The agent leapt up and headed in that direction.
“Come back in an hour, we’ll fit in your briefing then,” whispered Steve as the agent passed him.
Steve positioned himself in front of the president’s desk.
“Mr President, Israel has launched a nuclear attack on Lichtenstein,” he announced.
The snoring stopped for a few seconds, to be replaced by mouth-smacking, and then resumed.
“Mr President, Panama has invaded Texas and is holding the vice-president hostage”
“Muh, wha? Co’ ba’ la-er”
“Mr President, CNN is reporting that there were only 5,000 people at your inauguration.”
“WHAT!” yelled the president, on his feet and already pointing the remote at the TV.
“Welcome back, sir,” said Steve, who was constantly delighted that his high-profile job had not, as he’d feared, stopped him torturing dumb creatures, but instead actively presented many daily opportunities for him to do so. He moved over the TV and turned it off.
“I have good news and bad news, sir. The good news is that the matters we discussed in Tuesday’s meeting are resolved.”
“Tuesday? Was that the meeting where we ordered pizza?”
“No, sir, that was this morning’s prayer breakfast.”
The president thought about this momentarily and then laughed.
“Ha, that’s right. Those Muslim guys sure didn’t appreciate the sausage pizza, did they? I really showed them.”
“You certainly did, sir,” conceded Steve, and then added, “Although, technically, they were Buddhists.”
“Muslim, Buddhist, what’s the difference?” asked the president, waving his hand dismissively, “They don’t share our proper Christian values, and that makes them savages. What was Tuesday’s meeting?”
“The one where we discussed the technology you were stealing from the government, to make yourself the richest man on the planet, while causing hardship to millions, Mr President.”
“Can you narrow it down at all?”
“The meeting about the teleporter technology sir. That meeting.”
“We’ve sorted the issues? That’s great. I was just worrying about those issues when you came in. This is terrific news, the best news. America is going to be really great. I’m going to rule the world.”
“Yes, sir,” said Steve, suppressing a smile, “That’s the bad news.”
The president looked at him, still rubbing his hands together.
“It turns out,” continued Steve, “That there is no Doctor Selina Montgomery, or a Limitless Logistics project, or anything else she claimed. She appears to have been an impostor who gained access to the White House fraudulently.”
“WHAT?” yelled the president, “This is supposed to be most secure place in the country! Which idiot let this happen?”
“Well, we’re still investigating, sir, and while I’m confident that we will pinpoint the culprit, or culprits, who failed to properly check her story, but I think we’re going to have to admit that some of the recent hiring decisions you’ve made personally have been people who are sub-optimal for their roles.”
“You’re trying to pin this on me, Steve? I’m one of the world’s greatest businessmen. I never make a bad decision. Name me one thing wrong with any of my hiring decision!”
“Well, sir, does the phrase ‘Hire that blonde with the great rack’ ring any bells?”
“Who am I supposed to have said that about?”
“Well your diary secretary, for a start.”
“She’s right outside the door!” protested the president, “You can’t expect me to look at somebody ugly all day!”
“Also, several members of the security staff, two members of cabinet, the head of the NSA…”
“Hey! She was really keen on the second amendment! These are all good hires. People at the top of their game.”
The door suddenly opened and Titzi, the diary secretary, ran in. She looked at the two men in surprise and then did a quick scan of the room.
“Sorry, Mister Prescient, I forgot this wasn’t the bathroom.”
She turned and ran out, leaving the door open behind her. The president groaned and turned to look out of the window, into the garden.
“She’s getting better, sir. At least we don’t have to have the chaise lounge cleaned this time.”
The president let out a long and mournful sigh.
“So, there’s not going to be any teleportation, then?” he asked.
“No, sir, I’m afraid not.”
“OK. You can go now Steve.”
Steve waited just long enough to watch the president sink his head into his hands and then headed out, through the outer-office. He had just reached the far door of that room when he heard yelled from the oval.
“WAIT! SHE MUST BE REAL! SHE CASHED MY CHECK!”