“You can blow it. You can chew it—”
“Whoa-whoa! What are we talking about here?”
Sunny paused. “Gum,” he said. “What did you think we were talking about?”
“Never mind. Go on.”
“I’ve always loved gum,” Sunny said, as he leaned back against Jerry’s desk. “It’s a wonderful invention. Gives you flavor without the extra calories of food. Freshens your breath. And best of all…I find it a better stress-reliever than meditation.”
Jerry gave a silent laugh and shook his head. “Well, now I think you’re going a bit far. How long have you tried meditating?”
“Five minutes, but listen, if it wasn’t going to work for me in that amount of time, then it wasn’t going to work. Gum works right away. I’m a right-away kind of person.”
“Okay, this makes sense coming off the prosthetics project.”
“Right? We’ve done our bit to serve humanity a necessity. Now let’s serve it a luxury.”
“But gum though?”
“I sense you’re not a chewer.”
“I’m a hard mints kind of guy.”
Jerry walked into his own office and around his desk to his chair. Sunny turned to follow his movements, placed his hands on the desk and leaned over just as Jerry took a seat and set his coffee and muffin down.
Sunny drew in a quick breath. “I want to invent a revolutionary new gum.”
“You love gum that much?”
“It’s one of those little things that make my life better that I don’t think about much—but I always put it in my cart when I’m at the market.”
“Okay, okay. So where’s the pain point? What problem are we solving for your fellow gum-lovers?” Jerry motioned to the chair across from him and was unsurprised when his partner pushed his hands off the desk and began pacing back and forth instead.
“It’s a minor thing,” Sunny said, “but sometimes I’m done with a piece and I need to spit it out, but I don’t have a trash can or tissue or scrap of paper handy. So I have to keep chewing.”
“So, some kind of prolonged chewy candy effect? You can chew on it for half an hour and only then does it start to dissolve?”
“I don’t know. That might be kinda weird. Who wants to swallow gum?”
“Yeah, no one wants a wad of gum sitting in their stomach for seven years.”
Jerry took a sip of his coffee, his savoring sip. He’d be absently gulping down the rest later as usual, so he always made sure to take a few savoring sips first. “Okay, so we’re talking flavor, texture, storage…uh, hey, how about making flavors that are gross, like how they do with jelly beans?”
“I thought of that already. Look, it makes sense with jelly beans. You’re only tasting the gross for a few seconds. Long enough to brag about your courage to your friends, but not long enough for it to be uncomfortable. But no one wants to chew on vomit for half an hour.”
“We could make the flavor fade after a few seconds.”
“And then someone is chewing flavorless gum. What’s one of the biggest complaints that gum-chewers have about gum? Loss of flavor.”
“Maybe we can go over what’s already been done. I mean off the top of our heads, no research.”
Sunny nodded. “No research.”
Jerry turned his computer on, hooked in a microphone, and turned on the voice recorder. He recited the day, date, time, and speakers present. “I assume you’ve thought through a few possibilities already.”
“Yes, but I kept thinking of roadblocks and setbacks for each possibility. This is where I could use your help. In figuring out what is realistic. Oh, by the way, you didn’t have anything in mind for our next project did you?”
Jerry shook his head. “It’s your turn.”
“And you wouldn’t mind working on something that might be…frivolous?”
Jerry smiled. “We always find a way to make every project serious business, don’t we?”
Sunny stopped pacing and looked at him. “Do we?”
“Are you sure you don’t want any more time off?”
Sunny shook his head. “No more time off. I’ve had enough. Let’s get to work.”
“Okay…so let’s consider all the different ways gum can be used besides a burst of flavor, or a shortcut to a clean mouth after eating and before the next time a person brushes. What about gum that can deliver medications and do so in a palatable way so that it could replace all orally taken drugs?”
“Sounds good, but…” Sunny wagged a finger. “Problem, what if you don’t lock up your stuff and your kid gets into it?”
“Maybe smart gum then, in a candy shell that will detect the specific genetic profile of the person prescribed the meds, and if anyone else tries to take the med, then the shell will harden and even if swallowed, it will not release its contents. It’ll be passed in the stool.”
“Okay, but…problem. Patients have to consent to testing to establish their genetic profile and have it on file with their doctor and pharmacist. Slippery slope. And now we’re dumping non-degradable drug tablets in the water supply. No, medicine is too…involved. Let’s simplify.”
“What if we try to replace toothbrushing altogether by inventing a gum that really gets in there and cleans teeth, so long as it is chewed for about two minutes? After that the gum begins to dissolve too, letting you know it’s time to spit. People are already substituting after-meal brushing with regular gum.”
“And by people, you mean me?”
Jerry shrugged. “What about texture then?”
“Gum is always gummy, so maybe nothing there. People come to gum knowing what they’re asking for.”
“So, no crunchy or smooth gum?”
Without stopping his pacing this time, Sunny turned to Jerry, frowned, and stuck his tongue out as if tasting something bitter.
“What if it’s like mood gum?” Jerry suggested. “It can detect the presence of certain things in a person’s saliva that get released during times of stress or bliss. And it reacts to that by giving the person what they need in that moment.”
Sunny turned his mouth down and nodded. “Hmmm…intriguing.”
“Maybe color-changing gum—has anyone done that yet? And flavor-changing too. So you pop it in and it’s green and tastes like mint. Then you keep chewing and the mint fades and the green fades and it starts turning purple and tasting like grape. And so forth.” Jerry took a bite out of his banana muffin.
Sunny stopped again and turned his head toward Jerry. “I feel like someone has done that already. Does the technology exist? Because if it does, it seems like it would have more important applications.”
Jerry swallowed. “Like what?”
“I don’t know. It just sounds…impressive.”
“So maybe we’re on to something.”
Jerry started laughing. He knew what that “maybe” meant. “What? That’s not enough for you? Half a second ago you said it was ‘impressive.’”
“We’re still thinking inside the box. Flavor, texture. We need to do something new, like the person who thought to put tooth-whitening functions into gum.”
“Except we want our thing to actually work.”
“Hey, it works. I mean, I think it’s more about preventing tooth-yellowing than actively whitening but that’s still something.” Sunny shook his head. “I don’t know why I’m having such a hard time with this.”
“Nobody needs gum.”
“Nobody needs it,” Jerry said. “And nobody wants it so bad that they’d care about crazy flavors or sensations—except for that satisfying cooling sensation. But that’s already being done and done well, by existing products. So…what’s the angle?”
Sunny sighed, and they were both silent for a few moments. Jerry started doodling a mind map on the legal pad he kept on his desk, starting with “gum” at the center and making branches for “flavor,” “texture,” and “other.”
At some point, Sunny got tired of pacing and settled in Jerry’s chair. He watched the mind map forming with the suggestions and discussion they’d already covered. He leaned over it. “Wait, what if there’s a way for the energy of chewing to be put to work? Like nanobots in the gum are powered by the act of chewing. But powered to do what?” He sat back.
“And where would we get these…nanobots?”
Sunny chuckled. “The judges would like to remind Doctor Joshi that we are at the no-idea-is-rejected stage of the brainstorm.”
Suddenly, he sat up. His eyes widened slightly.
Jerry’s eyes narrowed. “What are you thinking?”
Sunny grinned. “Does your friend still work in the exotic matter lab over in the physics wing?”
Sunny and Jerry worked at the Institute’s main campus, which spanned a sprawling fifteen thousand acres. The physics “wing” was actually a group of buildings clustered near a large lake. They had to drive over.
Sara Darego, a lead researcher on the Institute’s efforts at “alternate transportations,” and Jerry’s childhood buddy, listened to Sunny’s brief explanation of his new project idea.
“Well, my son would definitely be ecstatic to try some new kind of gum,” Doctor Darego said, smiling. “He just turned nine.”
“I would say that we might get him a belated birthday present,” Sunny said, “but I don’t think you’d want your son anywhere near what I’ve got in mind.”
Doctor Darego raised a brow. “Oh?”
“Jerry’s told me that your group is working on teleportation. You’ve gotten pretty far.”
Doctor Darego nodded. “Not far enough to publish any papers in public journals yet. But we’ve managed to reliably teleport raw materials and even living animals.” She pointed to a mouse who was nibbling on what looked like cracker crumbs. “She’s gone through about a dozen times and by all accounts is none the worse for wear. We actually haven’t lost a single mouse…yet.”
“You think it’s only a matter of time?”
“No method of transportation is completely safe…yet.” She grinned.
“That’s what you’re aiming for.”
“Why not? A hundred percent is a good number.”
“Have you tried it out yourself, Doc?” Sunny asked.
Doctor Darego pressed her lips together as if in mild frustration. “They won’t let me…”
Sunny pointed to her. “…yet.”
Jerry shook his head. “I didn’t realize you guys were so far advanced on this. You’re awfully mellow for someone who’s sitting on such a huge history-making, history-changing, history-exploding invention.”
“Perspective, Jerry. Throughout history, humans have invented ways to move faster and faster. First by domesticating animals that move faster than us, like horses. Then by building machines that could move faster, like automobiles and airplanes. We have also found ways to traverse environments that would be otherwise inhospitable to us—space, for example. Or even just the seas and oceans on our own planet. All of those advances required leaps in our basic understanding of the world, and on developing applications and technologies that could take advantage of that understanding. As I see it, teleportation was inevitable.”
She went on to explain how the process worked. Most of the details about quarks, gluons, force carrier particles, and spatial apertures went over Sunny’s and Jerry’s heads. But they understood the gist. The object or subject to be teleported was infused with a specific energy signature that primed the whole object or subject. Then the primed object or subject had to be placed inside of something called a “coordinate box.” The box contained the coordinates of the destination in three dimensions. A similar box was set up at the destination location. The second box was not necessary for the teleportation to work, but it helped to contain and protect whatever was being teleported. And it served as a quality control measure, to determine the accuracy of their coordinate calculations.
The need for the coordinate box at departure was one reason that there were currently size limitations to what could be transported.
“There’s also this,” Doctor Darego said. She took one of the mice out of her cage and placed her on the benchtop. She pointed to another benchtop across from them, on which was a napkin with a tiny piece of cheese. Doctor Darego pulled a remote control from a drawer and pressed a button on it. A pinpoint green light began blinking on the opposite benchtop, in the vicinity of the cheese. The mouse saw the light, turned her head toward it, and suddenly vanished.
Directed by Doctor Darego’s finger, Sunny and Jerry looked at the opposite benchtop, where the mouse had reappeared. She was single-mindedly chewing on the cheese.
“Line-of-sight teleportation doesn’t require the coordinate box.”
“’Coordinate box’ sounds dry,” Sunny said. “You should just call it a portal—I know it’s not—but it’s easier to wrap my head around ‘portal.’”
Jerry crossed his arms. “You’ve got a lot of mice here that look the same, Sara,” he said. “How do we know you’re not just really good at misdirection and illusion?”
“I thought you might say that. I’d be happy to set up a demo if you’re interested in investing in our project.”
“Come on, Sara.”
She grinned and held out her hand. “Give me something unique you’ve got on you, like that watch.”
Jerry put a protective hand on his watch.
Sunny pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket. It was the sheet from the legal pad that Jerry had outlined their new invention idea on. He folded it up so that she couldn’t see the contents and handed it to her.
Jerry gave him a considering look. But he wasn’t really worried that they would lose any of the ideas he’d written down.
“How long does the infusion process usually take?” Jerry asked.
“And does it hurt?”
Doctor Darego answered as she put the teleporting mouse back in her cage. “That piece of paper will only be about ten minutes. And it’s a few hours for a mouse—no indications of pain. But the bigger the object or subject, the longer the infusion. For a person my size, it might be half a day. We won’t know until we start human testing. The infusion itself doesn’t take that long, a few moments actually. The time-consuming part is generating enough infusion energy for the size and…properties of whatever or whoever is being transported.”
Sunny and Jerry watched the infusion process, though there was nothing to see. The energies involved were not visible to the unaided human eye. Ten minutes later, they watched as the folded piece of yellow legal paper jumped from the inside of the coordinate box to the last-minute location of Jerry’s choosing: a random open spot in the hallway where he stood, waiting for the paper to appear. When it did, he brought it back into the lab and unfolded it to show that it was the same page.
Sunny turned to Doctor Darego. He touched the fingertips of one hand to the other and raised his hands before his face. “Doctor, we’d like to join forces with you.”
“It wouldn’t work,” Doctor Darego said.
Sunny had just made the simple proposal that chewing gum serve as the method of infusion, from within rather than from without. The gum itself could be infused with the teleportation energy and if that energy could be stored in the gum, a person chewing that gum could become infused.
“For one thing,” the doctor said, “you’re assuming that the energy can be stored.”
“You’ve got some smart people on your team, Doc. I believe in you.”
“For another thing, you’re assuming we can get even and complete penetration of infusion by a person chewing gum.”
“It’s inside the body—the mouth anyway. Wouldn’t that help?”
“Actually, the mouth isn’t technically ‘inside’ the body,” Jerry said. “We’re like donuts. There’s a hole going through you from your mouth to your anus. All of that is actually exposed to the outside world. It’s not an open hole. But still…a hole.”
Sunny frowned. “That’s great, Jerry. Now that’s all I’ll be thinking about from now until bedtime.”
“It’s mucus membranes though,” Jerry continued, “so it can absorb some things far more easily than skin can. Let’s just assume you’ve figured out how to store infusion energy in a stick of gum. Would it work? Could someone just chew the gum and be infused? Would they need to swallow it so it could move through the whole system? Would it be slower than external infusion?”
“Storage of infusion energy has always been part of the big picture. But we had to prove the teleportation first. Now that we have, it would make sense to start working on storage solutions. But…gum?”
“I was thinking,” Sunny said. “Maybe it’s not the gum itself that is the storage material, but something—nanoparticles maybe—spread throughout the gum. Then the chewing action could serve as a…regulated release?”
Sunny elbowed Jerry. “She’s interested.”
Doctor Darego nodded. “I am.”
As other members of her team took over the honing of long-distance teleportation, Sara Darego began to work with Jerry and Sunny on developing a method of stabilizing and storing the infusion energy for teleportation in nanoparticles, and triggering infusion through the mechanical act of chewing. Their efforts were closely monitored by the Institute. If they succeeded, it meant that anyone who obtained a sufficient sample of their gum would at the very least be able to perform line-of-sight teleportation.
It’s not as if the gum would ever be sold in a convenience store. The technology and expertise required to manufacture it in even small amounts would limit attempts at reverse engineering. But it was right to consider all concerns, and to attempt to address them. So the trio had proposed developing some kind of tether laced within the gum itself, that would keep a person from teleporting farther than a few feet, unless they were within the confines of a coordinate box.
Only five years after they started, they had their first batch of gum. There was no tether. And infusion efficiency was low. It would have taken the equivalent of forty sticks of gum to infuse enough energy for a person to teleport. And they had only managed to make twenty sticks. By that time, teleportation using what they now called “classic” infusion had proceeded to the human testing stages. The initial volunteers suffered some mishaps that were never observed in the mice. Nausea, vomiting, earaches, a general sense of disorientation that lasted for hours after a jump. The maladies sounded similar to what people experienced with other modes of transportation: car sickness, sea sickness…air sickness.
Medications and methods of mitigating the teleportation sickness were developed. Most human volunteers found the infusion process intimidating. They had to lie in a contraption much like an MRI machine, only for hours and hours. Most could fall asleep, and they didn’t need to keep completely still, so infusion became a night-time process, with the volunteers teleporting in the morning. Some wanted to travel long distance. Others wanted to try their hand at line-of-sight teleportation. All volunteers were painstakingly vetted. The infusion energy only lasted for one long-distance trip, or up to three line-of-sight transports. And the volunteers were placed in isolated and controlled environments while infused. But there was still the risk of one of them getting it into their heads that they might try teleporting without a coordinate box to somewhere outside of the lab. And there was still a risk of someone succeeding.
It was certainly possible to teleport long distances without a coordinate box. It was the infusion, not the coordinate box, that made teleportation possible. But the danger to both the teleporter and the public was too great to even consider training anyone to try. The danger to the teleporter was likely greater. Without a coordinate box sending the teleporter to a clear and safe location, the teleporter might end up in the middle of traffic, or the middle of a wall.
All volunteers were given the admonitions. And the vetting process worked, because all volunteers heeded the warnings, including the members of the research team who were interested in trying it out for themselves.
Jerry, Sunny, and Sara had all volunteered and taken at least three teleportation trips each.
“I really hope I’m not the one and only person who experiences a really embarrassing side effect…like spontaneous urination,” Sunny had said before the first time he went through.
“Better that than appearing on the other side with a toe missing,” Sara said
“We’re ready for you to go through, Doctor Reddy,” the teleportation technician said, giving Sunny a thumbs up.
Sunny had glanced at Sara in a look of last-minute panic. “Has that happened?”
Then he vanished, and ended up in a coordinate box on the other side of the country. Not only had he not spontaneously urinated, but he had suffered only a moment of dizziness before walking it off. Sara came next and she stumbled out of the box, complaining that the world was spinning. She seemed to be experiencing severe vertigo, and had to be assisted to a chair. As he watched Jerry arrive and immediately vomit, Sunny began to wonder if it was a problem that he hadn’t reacted as badly.
And he began to wonder if they could add some anti-nausea medication into their gum.
“Teleporta-gum,” Sunny said.
Sara tried. “Transgum. Transporto-gum?”
Jerry shook his head at the two of them. They were all having dinner at a new restaurant that had opened on the campus and was supposed to have the best chocolate cake on the planet, developed on one of the Institute’s European campuses.
The mouse trials with the teleportation gum were in full swing, and as successful as the classic infusion methods. Sara and Sunny were already giving their product a name.
“Pop,” Sunny said. “Bubble gum pops, right? In teleportation, you’re popping from one place to another…”
“Zapper gum. You zap from here to there.”
“How about ‘They’ll never let us get away with it gum’?” Jerry said, before popping a roasted Brussels sprout in his mouth.
“Why not?” Sunny said, chewing on his ravioli. “The tether works—in mice anyway. We can’t get them to go across the room unless they’re in a portal box.”
“We haven’t had any major accidents. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“What a jinx.” Sara said. “Why are we friends with this guy?”
Sunny frowned. “Or…why is he friends with us?”
“We’re the worst.”
“We’re so reckless.”
Jerry raised his glass of lemon water. “I really hope that tether works…for everyone.”
Sara and Sunny nodded and raised their own glasses.
When Sunny saw the technician running toward their suite from the end of the hall, he turned to Jerry. They were both sitting at a benchtop, going over some data. They glanced at the phone hung by the door. There was no blinking light indicating a missed call. They’d been sitting there for at least ten minutes after the last teleportation trial. The technician burst into the room.
“Where’s Doctor Darego?” she asked.
Sunny buzzed the isolation room, where Sara was setting up the next trial.
“What’s going on?” Jerry asked.
But the technician would say nothing while they waited for Sara to come out. A moment later, Sara entered the main part of the suite, and the small smile on her lips faded as she looked from the technician to Sunny to Jerry.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
And this time, the technician answered. “One of our subjects is at the door to the building. Security won’t let her in, but she insists on coming in and being infused for teleportation immediately. She’s asked for Doctor Shell, but he’s out of town.”
Sara nodded. She was Doctor Shell’s back-up. She began to walk toward the doors to the suite, asking the technician questions that she did not have answers to, the first being, why did the subject want to be infused.
As the doors to the suite closed, Sunny turned to Jerry. “Should we follow?”
Jerry stared ahead. “She’ll call us if she needs us.”
“Jer, is this the other shoe dropping?” Sunny’s voice was quiet.
They should have gone ahead with the trial. And followed up with Sara afterward. But nothing like this had happened before. Some of the questions that the Institute psychiatrists and psychologists asked about teleportation began to loom in Jerry’s mind.
What affect would teleportation have on the human psyche? Would it lead to any departures from sanity? Would it warp one’s sense of reality? Would there be immediate affects? Delayed affects? How delayed?
All volunteers were required to follow up with check-ups on physical health, mental health, social health. Any and all health parameters were being monitored. But only issues that might affect the teleportation program or public health overall were ever reported to the approved individuals in the program. Volunteers were probably having difficulties with teleportation and its after-effects. But whatever those difficulties were must have been personal and manageable.
Neither Jerry nor Sunny could focus on their work while a potential crisis related to that work was in progress. They had just decided to go down to the security station at the entrance to the building when the phone that hung near the door rang.
Sunny flinched. But then he strode forward and answered the phone. “It’s Sara,” he said, putting the phone on speaker.
“Do we have any batches of the untethered gum?” she asked. “I need you to bring it to the address I’m sending you. I need it now.”
Jerry and Sunny exchanged a glance.
“Are you calling from a car?” Sunny asked. They could hear the revving of a motor and road noises.
Jerry leaned toward the phone. “Sara, we’re not authorized to take any of that gum outside of this suite.”
“I’ll take responsibility.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works, buddy.”
“I know. I’ll make the phone calls to the Director while I’m on my way, but we don’t have time to wait, Jerry.”
“Can you tell us what’s going on, real quick?” Sunny asked.
Sara explained briefly. In a breach of protocol, she gave them the code to disable the alarms on the suite’s vault, which contained all the batches of teleportation gum they had made. Sunny hung up the phone and went to grab an empty sample bag while Jerry went to fetch an early batch of gum.
There was a crowd gathered below the high-rise. A few news cameras pointed up to the roof, and a few others pointed to reporters who stood facing away from the building, describing the newest developments in the situation.
Jerry peered up at the sky where a construction crane protruded from the roof of the building. Perched on that crane was a figure. That figure was a young man.
Jerry had already known that before they arrived. Just as he knew the young man’s name and the name of his fiancé, who had come rushing to the doors of their building, begging to be infused for teleportation.
Reporters and witnesses were speculating about how the man had ended up there. Was it a suicide attempt? A stunt?
First responders had just arrived. Firefighters were making their way up to the roof as their captain stood below assessing the situation. Paramedics waited nearby. Police appeared to be interviewing witnesses.
Sara was already there. She made her way toward them. She hadn’t managed to reach the Director by the time they arrived at the high-rise.
“Give us the gum,” Sara said. The young woman whose fiancé was trapped on the roof stood beside her.
She had planned for the two of them to chew the gum, teleport up, get the young man to chew some gum so he could be infused, then help guide him down—or just grab him and teleport to safety, if he was scared or unwilling.
“Wait a minute,” Jerry said. “You’re going to try to teleport from down here?”
“We can’t get any closer,” the young woman said, her face pale. “They won’t let us into the building.”
“I’ll need to get him to let go of the crane,” Sunny said. He looked at the young woman. “So he can teleport with me. What should I say to him to get him to trust me? Should I tell him you sent me?”
Jerry looked at Sunny. “What are you—Sunny, what did you do?”
“Infusion with this batch takes fifteen minutes,” Sunny said looking at the young woman. “Disabling the alarms took us between seven to ten minutes. That’s why Sara left with you and had us bring it after. But we don’t have any more time to waste, do we?”
Even as he spoke, the crowd gasped. They all looked up. The young man as still on the crane, clutching it with both arms, but gusts of wind were shaking the crane.
“How many times have you teleported?” Sunny continued. His voice was calm. “I’ve done it a dozen times now. And I don’t get sick.” He glanced at Sara. “I don’t get vertigo. I don’t throw up.”
Jerry had been driving, but he’d been sitting right next to Sunny through the whole ride. He hadn’t seen Sunny take anything out of the sample container.
“You took it before we left, didn’t you?” Jerry said. “When we were loading it.”
“I’m ready to go now,” Sunny said. “I’m not afraid of heights normally, but that looks high. I should go. I should get him.”
Jerry turned to Sara. “Sara, we need to let the trained rescue workers do their work. We’ll only make it worse.”
“Wait a minute,” the young woman said. “If it takes fifteen minutes…what if he can’t hold on that long? What if your weight makes the crane break?”
“I’ll teleport up and just get him. He shouldn’t have to take the gum.”
“No,” Sara said. “That’s not possible.”
“How far does the infusion field extend?” Sunny asked. “I chewed half the batch we made. Enough for four people. If I hold him close enough, it’ll work.”
The young woman looked between Sunny and Sara. “Is he right? Will it hurt him?”
“I’ll take some gum up with me,” Sunny said. “In case I can convince him to take it and wait fifteen more minutes. But if that doesn’t work, I’ll grab him and go. I don’t have to come back down here. I’ll just pop over to the roof.”
Sara was shaking her head. The crowd gasped again. This time there were screams too. The crane arm was bobbing up and down.
Sunny looked up at the roof. “He can’t hold on forever.”
Then, he vanished.
Jerry gazed up at the roof, his hands grasping his head, his fingers clutching his hair. His best friend was up there now. A figure had appeared at the base of the crane. To everyone else, it probably looked as if someone from the roof had hopped up on it. Their eyes were on the young man. They didn’t gasp when Sunny appeared. They murmured, and tried to see if the new figure was a firefighter.
The new figure, Sunny, took a step out onto the crane. He reached his hand out toward the young man, but the young man didn’t move. Jerry blinked, and suddenly Sunny was right in front of the young man. The crane bobbed again. And now, the crowd did scream. Firefighters were on the roof. One of them climbed onto the base of the crane. The firefighter seemed to be tethered with a rope, in case he fell. Sunny had no such tether.
Sunny was reaching out with one arm. But he couldn’t reach with both. He had to use one arm to hold himself against the crane. Or else he would fall. The crane was bobbing too much. Jerry couldn’t see how his friend could get the young man. He glanced between Sunny and the firefighters who were quickly securing the crane. There was one poised and ready to move.
Jerry willed Sunny to turn around and see that the firefighters were coming, that he could teleport off the crane and let the firefighters rescue the young man. They were coming.
If Sunny would only get out of the way, the rescuers were coming.
The wind had calmed for the moment. The rescuers were coming.
Suddenly, the young man dropped.
There were screams and shouts from the crowd.
But Jerry’s eyes were on Sunny.
He reappeared just behind the young man.
“Oh no,” Jerry whispered.
Sunny wrapped his arms around the young man.
And they both vanished.
There was chaos and confusion in the crowd. Everyone saw the two falling men vanish. Jerry made his way to the paramedics van. Sara climbed upon onto her car and peered around. The young woman called out to Sara and started moving through the crowd. One section of the crowd shifted as if to make space.
The paramedics rushed toward the opening that the crowd was making, and Jerry followed as closely as he could. He glimpsed through the shuffling crowd, two figures lying on the ground, one on top of the other.
Jerry stayed by his friend’s bedside at the hospital. Sara offered to take some shifts. But Jerry wanted to be there when Sunny woke up. He wanted to be there to comfort his friend and to explain.
After a few harrowing days that felt like a few harrowing years, Sunny began to stir, right when Jerry was thinking of getting up to get a bathroom break.
“Easy, Sun. Take it easy. You’re in the hospital.”
“I can’t see.”
“That’s ‘cause there are bandages on your eyes. Take is easy. Don’t move too much, and when you’re settled I’ll explain everything to you.”
Sunny took a few deliberate breaths. “The roof. Did he make it?”
Jerry glanced at the vase full of wilted flowers that the young man’s fiancé had brought by for Sunny.
Sunny had succeeded in phase one of the young man’s rescue. It was up to others to follow through with phase two and beyond.
Both Sunny and the young man had been in bad shape despite landing safely from the teleportation. They didn’t have any broken limbs or fractured organs. But both had ruptured blood vessels in their eyes. Both had suffered from a condition that seemed similar to the decompression sickness that divers suffered, and simultaneously like the effects of g-forces that fighter pilots and astronauts experienced.
Sunny couldn’t hear out of one ear. That was likely permanent. But his vision was expected to return. And he seemed to be recovering otherwise.
“You got lucky,” Jerry said.
“Did Sara get in trouble?”
“She’ll be here later tonight. You can ask her about it.”
“Are they going to go ahead with the transpogum?”
“I don’t know yet.” Jerry paused and frowned at his friend. “Please tell me you’re not eager to try again. There’s heroics and then there’s madness.”
“No way,” Sunny said right away. “I think…I might have gone too far.”
“With the gum. Maybe we should have just tried to make that mood gum or something.” He winced a bit and shifted in the cot. He asked for water and Jerry guided his hand to the cup of ice water.
“I’ve been thinking,” Jerry said. “I had a lot of time to think while you were getting your beauty nap.”
Sunny chuckled and winced again.
“It might make sense to revisit the dental side of gum. Maybe we can develop something that can replace brushing even. Some combination of chewing and a cleaner that gets around each tooth and even dissolves the stuff on our tongues, so you don’t have scrape it off.”
Sunny sighed. “I wake up from a coma, and have to hear about the gunk on a person’s tongue?”
“You weren’t in a coma.” Jerry hesitated and blew out a silent breath of relief. “Anyway, imagine if we could eliminate the need to brush teeth altogether. I mean some people would still choose to do it. But imagine those who can’t stand brushing. Imagine parents who can’t get their kids to brush. To those people…”
Sunny smiled. “…we’d be heroes.”
Copyright © 2018 Nila L. Patel