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Prime movement

a short story by Summer Hale

Teleportation is easy. That is, building a teleporter is easy. It’s only slightly more involved than building a crystal radio. A schoolkid with the right tools and a few hours to spare could make one by hand. A lot have, in fact. It’s a popular science project. Technically it’s the sort of thing that could, if you were very unlucky, dump a chunk of coronal plasma into a crowded gymnasium, and so parents in the Politburo with too little to keep them busy raise a fuss when schools allow it, but space is big, and that hardly ever happens.

What’s not easy is controlling teleportation. The math is so involved it takes centuries to get a handle on — it’s no wonder only the People and the Echoes are any good at it. Ordinary computers take weeks even for simple shifts, so we have to use special processors hard-wired for the job. The housing you need to give a drive core instructions is a mess of magnetrons, lasers, and other heavy-duty scientific tools, operated by some of the most complex software in the galaxy. And you just cannot meaningfully control teleportation from deep down in a planet’s gravity well; at least, not with any science this side of the Counterspin.

What’s downright impossible is understanding teleportation. Because this is the thing about it. Teleportation makes no goddamn sense. Nothing in any theory of physics accounts for it. It flies in the face of what we know to be true, have experimentally verified to be true about causality and cosmology. It is not possible to travel faster than light. But in this one little chunk of the universe that we call “the hyperspace volume,” or “the fictitious reference frame,” the law doesn’t apply.

And the scariest part? Nobody knows where the tech came from. Not the drive core design, not the math. As far as you go back in history, it’s just sort of there. Ships unearthed by archaeologists from ten thousand years before the Zyahua warlords took to the stars have the same drive housing, the same teleporter cores, and similar programs in their firmware. There are gaps, sometimes big, wide, ten-thousand year gaps, but if you keep looking back through history, you always find teleporters. It’s like they were always there. No matter how many times we forget them, we dig up an old hyperdrive and figure it all out all over again.

There’s no way science could have built these things. There’s no principles to their operation beyond their own intrinsic laws.

And yet, they’ve been the backbone of interstellar civilization for what seems like an eternity.

I don’t know about you, but that scares the living daylights straight out of me.