A thought pulses across a sparkling void.
Above the flat panels of rusty metal, particles of light began to dance. The movement became more numerous, more complex, along with the rising wail of long-dormant power cells hidden behind the orange-brown metal walls.
The lights took on pearlescense, beginning to coalesce. At first, just a sketch. An approximation of form. Steadily the lines grew bolder, until at last the scaffold was complete – the lights became fewer and fewer, seeping into and joining the structure, until the room was once more in darkness.
The silence lasted a second, maybe two, before the whirring gears hidden in the wall shrieked into life and bit into their rusted cogs. Part of the wall opposite the light-machine peeled aside, revealing two bio-suited technicians. Between them they wheeled a gurney into the room, their radios crackling with conversation.
“Structure-A5 is complete.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this.”
Between them, the two men detached the scaffold and lay it down on the gurney, in preparation for its journey through Inbound Processing .
“Which room is it, Grant?”
Grant read the scaffold’s destination from an electronic clipboard, and gave a low whistle between his teeth.
“Disembarcation C5. No expense spared with this one, eh?”
“Yeah, and it’s a red tag. We’d better hurry up and get it to De-Flensing, come on.”
The technicians hurriedly wheeled the gurney out of the hulking metal room, into the dim, clanking corridors. Thick trunked cables ran along the bare metal walls, each carrying unimaginable power wherever it might be needed. The sound of the technicians’ steps bounced from the cross-hatched metal floor, reflecting down the corridor and into the darkness beyond. The heat was almost unbearable this close to the Disembarcation suites.
The arrival of the scaffold within the confines of the De-Flensing chamber triggered a thousand dormant systems within the walls of the apparently blank and featureless room. The scaffold was checked and cross-checked. A mistake here could be, at the very least, hazardous to the reputation of the Company. At the far end of the room sat a metal cube, perhaps a meter across on each side. Grant approached the cube carefully and deactivated the security locks. Its metal walls began to sink into the floor, sliding out of sight while leaving their contents behind.
There now stood a cube of pinkish jellylike substance, not quite fully opaque. Grant slid aside the port covers on the nearest wall, and hooked up a feed pipe from the scaffold to the jellycube. Once this was done and the powerlevels began to rise, the two technicians beat a hasty retreat, sealing the entrance behind them.
As the system approached full charge, the feed pipe activated. The jellycube began to pull and tear, before yielding in large chunks. At the other end, the pinkish jelly sprayed haphazardly onto the scaffold, which was turned slowly. The spray gradually lessened, as more and more of the jelly held to the structure, suggesting finally a coherent shape. The feed nozzle changed shape very slightly, and with incredible rapidity, as it sculpted the form onto the bare skeleton.
The dull roar of the machines was soon drowned out by a series of wrenching moans. The shape on the gurney split across a narrow part, and it started to scream.
Outside the chamber, the two technicians waited.
“I fucking hate this bit.”
“Well, look at it this way, at least it doesn’t know what it is,” Grant shrugged.
“I don’t understand why they don’t arrive all at once, you know?”
“Come on Leigh. You know it isn’t like that. Technically they don’t ‘arrive’ at all do they?”
Leigh nodded silently, trying to ignore the wailing flesh developing in the sealed chamber. He remembered when the Doppler Transport System was first introduced. Ostensibly for military and research purposes, the prospect of interstellar tourism had proven too tempting to resist. The principle was simple – the mental processes – engrams – are stored as data and transmitted over the FTL-Net. The traveller’s body is destroyed, then reconstituted at the destination from biomaterials. From there it’s simply a matter of restoring engrammatic data to the new body, and the original traveller goes about their business.
Except the process was not always successful. Sometimes the agonizing memories of reconstruction remained, and the traveller would be traumatized. There was also the possibility that the engrammatic data might become corrupted. There were usually funerals in this case. The new individual created by these errors would usually undergo minor cosmetic surgery to avoid offence. There had even been occasions when old, ‘dead’ individuals resurfaced by chance, thanks to slight transmission errors.
The new arrival continued to wail and gurgle from within the Re-Flensing suite. The process was now in the final stages. Soon the vessel would be complete and its engrams could be re-implanted. Rebellious flesh would be brought back under control.
“Right, Leigh, are you ready?” Grant gathered up the harness and tether and gripped the door handle in anticipation. Leigh nodded, swallowed the lump in his throat, and suddenly the two men were in the room, attempting to subdue to the hooting flesh. It struggled against them, flailing against the harness with thick, mindless ululations – a blank slate waiting for a mind.
It took the combined strength of the two men to strap it to the gurney and wheel it to the Arrivals Lounge, and the waiting family.