Pilots, part 2

It's not true, of course, the poster I mean. My head is still there at that point. Or I would be dead, right? Head cut off, blood spurting out the neck. Obviously. Whatever.

So I turn up at the other end of the field, and the guys freaks out. That's all in the videos, too, of that first time. I mean, I'd just teleported, back when that word was still science fiction. And of course, on the other side I'd turned up in the middle of this big cloud of what looked like smoke. That's why you hear Fizz screaming about fire extinguishers and why Shrink was screaming down the phone at Blanco to get his ass to the field -- ridiculous, I mean, that original station is in the middle of fucking nowhere in central Cali, and Rick was more than two hours away in Santa Clara.

Of course, I was fine. The smoke was just dust; incredibly fine dust, more like vaporized rock. It's what happens to stuff that gets caught at the boundary of the cloud. Stuff inside the cloud comes with me: I was standing on the same ground as before, a big wide disc of it sitting in a depression that fitted it exactly. Back at the end of the field where I'd started was the marker, and the ground it had been standing on. Nothing created or destroyed, just swapped.

It's at the boundary of the cloud where things get messy. At that size, maybe two and a half metres across, the boundary is maybe six inches thick. Fizz calls it a "probability distribution" -- basically, the closer you get to the centre of the cloud, the greater the chance, at the molecular level, of stuff coming with me.

We tried it that same day, with a big steel bar, leaving it half inside and half outside the cloud by a process of trial and error -- the size of the cloud still varied a lot. Fizz still has it somewhere, I think. It's sort of beautiful. It looks totally normal at the base, then in the six inches of the interface it changes texture totally, going from a solid bar to a sort of foamy mesh of steel, actually soft to the touch, like chocolate mousse, but still in the shape of the original bar. Of course, if it's not a solid bar, if it's an arm or a leg, it's not so beautiful. It's an amputation, and the messiest kind possible. I've never done it to anyone but, well, we've all seen those stories too.

The cloud is what had been causing the craters, too. Before I worked out how to do it properly, when I was pushing instead of pulling, the cloud wasn't taking stuff with it, it was pushing stuff away. It was coming into existence in an eyeblink, expanding, pushing everything out of its way, and then disappearing. Leaving this big clear hole in the ground. Why didn't it rip me apart? Why didn't it take my head off, blow off my clothing, knock the fillings loose from my skull? We still don't know. I mean, if you want to talk about the stuff we don't know about how switching works, you could fill books and books. Fizz sure as hell has, and Blanco too for that matter.

Anyway, back to that first time. As soon as the dust cleared and it was clear that I was fine, there was no celebration. Fizz had us drilled well: the very next thing we did was try to reproduce it, make sure it wasn't some fluke. Sounds weird, right? Like, we'd just teleported for the first time in reported history, and no champagne? But I think part of the reason we did it again is because nobody really believed what had just happened, even with the evidence on video, and these two big circles of transplanted dirt standing in the middle of the field. So we did it again, four more times. The only reason we stopped was because VC called a halt, and told us to get the fuck out of there, because the press were descending.

We were amazed how quickly they found out. We were in the middle of nowhere! But it turns out some crazy bloggers had set up a webcam, out of sight, stuck in a box with a laptop and a bunch of batteries and a 3G card. Some random guy on the Internet -- a few in fact -- were lucky enough to be watching that very first time, and they told their friends, took a bunch of screencaps, and those started flying around the Internet, it was all over in the world in less than an hour. The only reason we had even two hours was because that was as fast as the news trucks could get to where we were. Even the choppers took a little while to get into the air, file flight plans, that kind of thing.

I thought I knew what a media circus was from the time I blew up the hospital, when dozens of news trucks turned up. I had no idea. Over about six hours, more than a thousand news people of various types turned up, from bloggers to CNN. And not just them: thousands of civilians turned up, all of them tramping over fields in the middle of Buttfuck Nowhere, California, where there was nothing to see except a bunch of holes in the ground. Because now we didn't just have these unexplained explosion, we had a thing, teleportation. Anybody could see that was useful.

We laughed our asses off as we hightailed it down highway five; we actually passed all the news vans on their way up, saw the choppers. We couldn't believe they were all for us. We holed up in this hotel in Beverley Hills, of all places. VC's idea. They were used to handling celebrities there; used to being discreet. Everybody down to the janitor was vetted and highly paid. We were there for a week, and nobody ever found us.

Suddenly, Pacific Energy Research, this little shell company VC had set up, was worth -- well, nobody was sure. We'd only done five successful switches at that point, from one end of the field to the next. Nobody was sure of my range, how big the sphere could get, if there were any side effects on stuff inside. And of course we weren't going to blow our cover, literally or otherwise, by trying a switch inside the hotel or the grounds. I was pretty sure I had the knack of it and wasn't going to blow any more holes in the ground, but not enough to bet lives on it.

I remember Shrink -- Greg -- was really freaking out. Since we'd discovered that being calm was key, months back, he'd not had too much to do other than just talk to me, like a real shrink, to keep me calm, and make sure I was happy. But now we had a real, obvious possibility of this being a big deal on our hands, and he was terrified. He didn't want me to freak out, or have the sudden weight of celebrity blow my cool permanently, and never be able to switch again. He considered tranquilizers, but didn't go through with them because he didn't know what side-effects they would have. He didn't want to be the guy who killed the golden goose, but at the same time he didn't want to be the one who sat by while it died, you know? So he popped the tranquilizers himself, talked to me more than was really necessary, and watched me like a hawk all the rest of the time.

VC turned up at the hotel the next morning after we got there. He'd switched rental cars twice to avoid being followed, then borrowed a car from a friend while they drove his rental around. I dunno where he'd got the idea to do all that, I guess he'd had six months to dream up contingency plans. He was being really careful about everything, making sure everybody close to him was safe and preferably out of the way. He was worried about kidnappings, I think.

Despite all that, he was having the time of his life. He was on the phone constantly, that whole first week. He brought in his personal assistant, this neat little asian kid called Kevin, I think it was, to keep track of everybody he was talking to, and what he was saying to them, in a big spreadsheet. A couple of the field techs were assigned to man the phones, a couple of cheap mobile phones. VC replaced them every day, switched numbers, partly to avoid anybody tracking the signal down but mostly because people were finding the numbers and swamping the lines with calls.

Yeah, the field techs were there! There were 5 of them, they had their own kick-ass suite in the hotel. Anybody even remotely related to us was being relentlessly hounded by the media -- I saw basically every ex-girlfriend in my life get interviewed on TV -- so VC knew he couldn't let them out, so he kept 'em happy with unlimited room service and a stream of video games and beer. I spent a lot of time hanging out with them; I didn't have anything more useful to be doing.

Shrink didn't want me having any beer, but I just looked pouty for a few minutes and he decided making me unhappy by not drinking beer was the bigger problem, so it was okay as long as it was in moderation. Also, he was too fucking blissed out on self-prescribed tranquilizers at that point to seriously object to anything. It was the beginning of a long, dark road for him, and we all know how it ended.

The very first day VC got a call from somebody big, old, and rich. Bill Gates? Warren Buffett? George Soros? We weren't sure. Whoever it was, he offered a hundred million dollars to buy the company, right then, just on the basis of what he'd seen on TV. And he was offering cash, too, no stock-swap or anything. He had it immediately available. So it had to be somebody pretty top-flight. A hundred million dollars! For a company that was really just me, Fizz, and some guys who stuck sensors in the ground!

VC literally laughed at him. I remember it really clearly, I was in the room at the time. He laughs and say "Are you fucking crazy, man? Do you think I've got no idea what we're sitting on here?" I thought he was being really cocky given how flimsy the company was, but I also figured that was his job, y'know? He was Mister VC. He was being arrogant and pushy, and he'd get us fifteen, maybe twenty percent on the top because of it. It's what he was good at, and frankly I was fine with that -- I had a twenty-five percent stake, I was looking pretty good. We were all fine with it, in fact: even the techs had equity, like a half-percent or something, but out of a hundred million dollars that's still a sweet payday, especially given that all they'd done was walk around a field sticking sensors in the dirt. But turning down that hundred million, I thought that was risky.

The next day the same guy called back, with the backing of a consortium, and offered a billion dollars. "Now you're talking," VC said, but that didn't close the deal, not by a long shot. He'd had a dozen other offers by that point, and the bids went up from there. We couldn't believe it. But VC, he could see it all in his head already, even back then. He was always steps ahead of everybody. He deserves his share of the credit, almost as much as Fizz does.

Sometimes I think: how much of the way things turned out is because I chose VC that day, and not those military guys? Would we have discovered switching and given it away for free, as government-sponsored research? Would we have tried to keep it as a weapon? Or would the military never have given us, given me, the freedom, the try-anything, pressure-free, as-long-as-it-takes attitude VC had? Would we have never discovered switching at all? We'll never know. One's thing for sure: I wouldn't be so fucking rich. I don't want to sound like a dick or anything, but this way sure worked out great for me.

VC worked fast. He didn't want me to lose the knack; he wanted us back on the job as fast as possible, and he really didn't want me losing my cool by going crazy in a hotel. He got a hundred million dollars from some arab investors. Not a loan, just a pile of cash, no strings attached, just for the hope of future consideration as investors. Amazing. He bought the lease on this absolutely enormous tract of land out in the middle of Nevada, and within a week we're there, this time with a fucking army's worth of private security.

When I say an army's worth, I'm not joking. VC knew there was exactly one of me and a whole lot of excitable people, religions, governments out there very interested in what I was doing. He hired this firm of straight-up mercenaries: they had done a lot of work in Iraq, got in a big public-relations mess for killing civilians there in fact, but they'd rebranded and pretended they were all about non-lethal methods now. They didn't fool anybody, least of all VC, who wanted them precisely because they weren't just rent-a-cops, and wouldn't think twice about shooting somebody if they had to.

They set up a full-on military-style perimeter, but miles and miles long, along the edges of the property, because I wasn't too happy about having a bunch of guys with guns around me, and whatever made me unhappy was fatal for the company. The gun guys didn't like a long narrow perimeter, it was bad tactics, but VC's attitude was that as long as he could afford to keep paying them, they could just bulk up their forces until they were happy about the strength of their perimeter. When they said they didn't have the manpower to do it, he said, well, now it's your problem again. Go hire more guys. VC's very straightforward like that. Every problem can be solved with sufficient quantities of money, and who am I to argue? It's worked great for him so far.

We decided to concentrate on finding the limits of my ability first, because finding the "parameters of the phenomenon", as Fizz put it, was key to what the company would actually be able to do, and therefore how much money we could make. The key questions were: how far can I travel? How big can the sphere get? And we need to know if there were any bad side-effects of switching, either to me or whatever -- or whoever -- was inside.

Yeah, switching. I have no idea where the name came from, who first used the word. It seems we all spontaneously started using it from the first time I did it. I guess there's a bunch of reasons the name stuck. "Teleportation" is too long to say, and anyway it sounds too much like science fiction, or a comic book. Also, teleportation sounds like a one-way thing, like the transporter in Star Trek. But switching is inherently two-way: what's here ends up there, what's there ends up here. It's a good name.