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Glitch

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she's left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella series, beginning with The Continuum, is available from World Weaver Press. For more info, visit wendynikel.com/
I'd been working at the T-Port station for three weeks before I saw a glitch.
It was a lousy job: no benefits, long hours, and as boring as weather channel reruns. The station, which was conveniently located between the airport, the Amtrak station, and a 7-11, was two bus transfers from my apartment, but my old bandmate-turned-"responsible adult"-roommate had threatened to kick me out if I didn't start pulling my weight, so... there I was.
Thousands of times a day, some businessperson or travel-blogger or snowbird would enter the back room, squeeze themselves and one small "carryon" into the state-of-the-art machine, and with a press of my remote's TELEPORT button and a puff of dust, they'd be off to their destination. Simple. Easy. Mindless. Perfect for a pink-ponytailed, dragon-tattooed college dropout like me, who'd rather eat live spiders than endure yet another customer service job.
Across the room, Supervisor Seth (whose directive never to call him that only made me do it more) gave the nod, and I pressed TELEPORT to whisk a greasy-haired businessman off to some important meeting. Instead of disappearing, though, the man just twitched and remained solidly, impossibly in place, briefcase in hand.
Well, that was weird.
"Did you press RESET first?" Supervisor Seth asked.
Remembering if I'd pressed RESET after the last TELEPORT was like trying to remember how many times I'd blinked today. "Maybe?"
Supervisor Seth cursed and radioed the destination. "You got Jeffrey Bloomsburg?"
"Got'im," replied the voice on the other end.
"That's impossible." I gestured to the man in the machine, now frowning at us and tapping his watch. "Jeffery Bloomsburg's standing right there. It didn't work. We have to run it again."
"That's not how things work here," Supervisor Seth said evenly.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Boss says you've had firearms training."
"So?" I'd gotten my conceal-carry permit when I'd moved to the city, and the interviewer had specifically asked about it during the interview, but I'd just figured that was because this was a shady neighborhood.
Supervisor Seth held out a weird pistol-looking thing. "Works just the same. I'll tell the rest of 'em we're having technical difficulties, while you disintegrate that guy."
"What? Hell no. I can't disintegrate a guy."
Supervisor Seth raised his eyebrows. "What do you think you've been sweeping out of the machine all these weeks, fairy dust? It scans 'em, then disintegrates 'em on this end and reconstructs 'em on the other end, consciousness and all. 'Cept when some idiot skips the RESET; that causes the disintegration function to glitch, and you're left with a mess like this one to clean up. Didn't you read the orientation packet? The non-disclosure agreement?"
That'll be the last time I skip the fine print.
"Do they know they're being disintegrated and reconstructed?"
Supervisor Seth snorted. "You think anyone would travel this way if they knew how it worked? Now hurry up; we'll have a bunch of unhappy campers on our hands if we don't stay on schedule."
The disintegrator shook in my hand as Supervisor Seth left the room. I tried to pull myself together, but all I could think of is how much this was not what I signed up for. Also, how weird it was that there now existed two Jeffrey Bloomsburgs, completely unknown to each other, with matching IDs and credit cards and fingerprints. No wonder they wanted me to get rid of this one; with two of them out there, it wouldn't take long for everything to come to light, and as much as I'd love to stick it to The Man, I knew I couldn't go up against T-Port alone. They'd have me disintegrated before I could say "ethical responsibility." I wondered, belatedly, what else that NDA said.
"What's going on?" Bloomsburg's yell was muffled through the glass. "I have to get these census documents to Washington. If I'm late, I'm demanding a full refund, plus compensation for emotional distress. I have a good lawyer, I'll have you know."
Ugh, what an awful guy--the kind of customer who's practically asking to be disintegrated. I could do it, too. One poof and he'd be gone.
Too bad I didn't have the guts.
"Sorry, sir," I said sweetly, tucking the disintegrator into my waistband and leading him from the machine. "The T-Port's malfunctioned. We'll refund your credit card. Out this way, please. Perhaps you can still catch a flight to Washington?"
"Your manager will hear from me!" Bloomsburg yelled as I slammed the back door on him.
"Oh, I'll bet he will," I muttered as I grabbed the remote. Careful not to press RESET, I stepped into the machine, set the destination for the next-nearest T-Port--which happened to be on the other side of town--and took a deep breath.
If what Seth said was true, then New-Me would have my consciousness and therefore know exactly what to do: grab my life savings, pack my things, and have a rental gassed up and ready to pick up Current-Me within the hour.
Because like I said, with two Jeffrey Bloomsburgs out there, it wouldn't take long for everything to come to light, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn't go up against T-Port alone.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, October 26th, 2020


[Ed's note: With respect to the groundbreaking work of the great James Patrick Kelly.]

- Wendy Nikel
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