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It's a TRAP

D. Roe Shocky is a science fiction author who occasionally wanders to the other corners of the speculative fiction map. When he isn't writing, he spends his time trying to convince himself he's a runner so he can eat more cookies. Proudly made in Chicago. You can follow him on twitter @droeshocky or find his work at warmup pages.com.

My time had finally come, and it was all I could do not to piss myself. I stood sixth in line now in front of the TRAP--Temporally Reductive Atomic Projector--about to be vaporized, transported halfway across the galaxy, and reassembled.
There was a gasp, clipped off by an electric CRACK
I took another step forward in the queue. Fifth in line.
The draft was an awful institution, but I've never been one to skirt the rules. I couldn't stand spending the rest of my days playing born again just to get conscientious objector status. I never believed in a soul, now or ever. It can't be measured, can't be observed, can't be isolated or modeled or tested, and therefore can't be destroyed, either.
Fourth in line.
People used to volunteer to colonize the out-worlds, and probably still would. Idealists and wack jobs, for sure, and those who didn't hit their rebellious teenager phase until their early twenties--late bloomers. But probably some regular people too, just looking for a change. Everyone needs a restart at some point, and moving 15,000 lightyears away significantly reduces your chances of running into your old coworker at the grocery store. The TRAP has midlife crisis written all over it.
But this--
--this was all the result of politicking, partisanship. Stump speeches and sound bites. A failure to implement term limits.
Now we're stuck with the draft. Your number comes up, and in an instant, snap, you pop out on some colony world you've never heard of--at random, no less--with no ticket home. I know there's a population bottleneck and all, but there's got to be a better way.
It's already the greatest migration in history by a factor of fifty, and yet everyone enters the TRAP alone.
The out-worlds need sustained genetic diversity, they say. The colonies can't survive without diverse minds to maximize their potential to innovate. I've heard these arguments. But then how come there are no senators here TRAPing with us? None of their kids are here, or their campaign donors. That's something I can object to without compromising myself. Self-consistency is the only thing you can ever rely on.
There was a smell of ozone and burnt hair.
"Next. Step up to the line."
The TRAP was smaller than I expected. It was just a block with an aperture. For some reason I had always imagined it would be spinning, or humming, or wrapped in cables and coolant vapor. It was a little anticlimactic.
And then it hit me like a medical diagnosis, like fingers in a car door, like black ice. That most arcane of fears.
I had always managed to put the idea out of my mind, that most insidious of all dark thoughts, but now, in a textbook demonstration of bad timing, it clawed its way to the forefront of my consciousness like a grizzly defending its cub: what if there were no out-worlds? What if it was all a lie?
The TRAP opened. I was saturated in hot blue light.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, March 4th, 2019

Author Comments

I began writing this piece as a throw-away warmup exercise, just to get the juices flowing. I started with the first line exactly as it is now, and I wrote the first draft from there with as little forethought as possible--a free-write. As is often the case, I surprised myself with the outcome.

Whether the TRAP is a lie or not is up to the reader, but the important takeaway is to give it some thought before getting in line, so to speak. We may feel more comfortable when we avoid thinking about difficult issues, but it's unwise, as it leaves us unprepared and overexposed when we are eventually forced to confront them.

- D. Roe Shocky
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