Sykes settled on the couch, feeling the smartfoam shape itself around his body for maximum comfort. He didn’t like smartfoam, he was too fidgety and it made him feel claustrophobic. In front of him, a cartoonish dog materialized and promptly stood up on its hind-legs, gesturing grandly with one paw.

“Welcome to FAXtravel, your transportation company of the future!” it said.
“Thank you,” Sykes replied.

He liked Interactives more than people usually, if only because artificial intelligence was always cooperative, always predictable. Where he didn’t often feel the urge to be pleasant with his fellow human beings, he always maintained a level of engagement and cordiality with Interactives. If he’d known anyone who liked him enough to be charitable, they’d call it a quirk.

As much as he enjoyed talking to them, he was picky about skins. His fingers twitched as he called up the customization menu. Within a few seconds the dog became an attractive young woman wearing an unlikely white labcoat, with hair pulled back in a sensible bun and wire-framed glasses accentuating big, receptive eyes. His type.

“Is this appearance acceptable?” she asked. Sykes couldn’t think of this ravishing holographic entity as an “it”. Better to think of the “her” as a character being played by an “it”.
“Yeah, it works for me.” he said.
“Are you ready for the presentation now, Mr. Sykes?”
“Yeah,” he said. Enough messing around, time for “the business” as his grandfather used to say.

Beside the Interactive, a window popped into existence. Pictured there was the company logo of FAXtravel. He didn’t pay much attention to stuff like that, instead he found himself watching the graceful movements of the Interactive. He expected to be profoundly bored by “the presentation” but decided watching her would help. He liked hearing her, too. Her voice has a subtle accent from one of the old commonwealth islands.

“FAXtravel is the leading transportation company on Earth with branches currently developing among the colonies and orbitals. With the advent of three dimensional fax technology, many companies achieved prosperity. As the tech improved, any object of any size soon became as easy to transport as a mote of dust. However, biological entities including foodstuffs, decorative plants, and human beings have not been viable subjects for faxing. Until now.”

The screen changed to show an outline human figure surrounded by mathematical equations and diagrams he didn’t understand. Sykes was not a physicist, he was a fledgling lawyer. If he understood what made faxing possible, he’d probably be running a company like FAXtravel. He yawned.

“With breakthroughs in Quantum Entanglement and significant advances in signal resolution and data storage, it has become possible to decode and desubstantiate a living thing…”

Now there was a monkey, cute little rhesus or some-such, being led by hand to one of the shower stall looking Conduits. These were human sized, meant to fax one person at a time. Online, Sykes had seen pictures and video of conduits the size of parking lots. They’d recently faxed an entire orbital into Martian space. Even he had to marvel at that.

The monkey screeched and hopped up and down, it was kind of comical really. Then it froze for less than a second and simply disappeared. There was no science fiction shimmer, or bright light, or sound effect. One moment there, the next gone. No matter how many times he saw stuff like this, it freaked him out. The Interactive’s monotone voice wasn’t much comfort after something like that.

“…and subsequently resubstantiate it at another location.”

The monkey reappeared in a neighboring conduit. It jumped into the arms of a handler, gibbering nonsensically as a panel of observers clapped and cheered. Sykes knew he was meant to believe that this was footage of the first successful simian trial but imagined there had been a lot more nail-biting at the real thing.

The screen changed to a video showing one of the big protests that had erupted after human trials had begun only a few months ago. The signs were ridiculous. It amused Sykes that people still bothered showing up physically. Much easier to do online petitions or use cyberwarfare to force offending parties to take in your counter-culture rebellious message. But, as Sykes knew all too well in his line of work, also much more illegal.

“In the past thirteen months, FAXtravel has transported 36,000 people. Over 20,000 of these have been successfully faxed to locations around the planet. Soon, FAXtravel locations will be established in the off-world colonies of Phobos, Luna, and Laputa.”

Images of construction efforts in all of these places crossed the screen in rapid succession. Sykes had already seen them. He did like the look of Laputa, a giant flower-shaped orbital which now housed a million people. That’s where he was going, to help draft a set of colonial laws now that the Laputans were getting shifty about sponsorship Terran authority and its inability to grasp the nuances of life in space.

The Interactive stopped the images and addressed him directly.

“As you know, this presentation has been shown to ease your concerns about the safety of Faxing via the pertinent background information about the development and implementation of this technology. Do you have any questions?”

Sykes thought about it. He knew the conduit that was meant to move him to Laputa was charging while he relaxed with the Interactive. He wondered if it was finished and knew she wouldn’t tell him until she was confident her duties had been completed. He decided to let her off the hook. Why not?

“No, I think I understand. I’d be happy to embark now.” he said.
“Very well, please direct yourself to the conduit at your earliest convenience.” she replied, gesturing to a circular pad which now lit as if he needed any more help finding it.

It briefly occured to him that this whole thing was very theatrical. He supposed he could understand given the fact that the tech was in its infancy and public perception was critical. If FAXtravel couldn’t convince people that human faxing was safe, they were sunk. They definitely had his support. Sykes could remember being a kid and thinking that if he could be a superhero like the ones on TV, he’d want the power to teleport. Now it was a reality, in a limited sense. Even if watchdogs were saying that the resubstantiation process had an undisclosed margin of error, he was sure it was no greater difference than a haircut, a stubbed toe, or some such. Maybe he’d emerge on the other side with a mustache or a mole where none had been before. The thought amused him.

He stepped into the conduit and a cylinder of clear glass slid into place around the borders, half rising from his feet and the other half descending from the ceiling.

“Very syfy,” he said with a chuckle. He probed the material with his fingers and thought of himself as an important message about to be passed through a pneumatic tube. Or like one of those future people in New York from a cartoon his Dad had liked as a kid.

He waited to feel something but didn’t. A few minutes passed and then the cylinder retracted. Had it not worked? Surely there must have been some interruption in his consciousness when the faxing actually happened. He looked around the room and knew it was the same one he’d left. No way had they designed the receiving end to be the same as the transmitting one. That would be way too freaky and FAXtravel would be better served reducing the psychological weirdness involved with this, right?

Sykes quickly came to the conclusion that it simply hadn’t worked. Maybe a fuse blew. He ran a hand through his hair, decided he was relieved that the error hadn’t left him with his ass on the front of him or something. When she’d found out he was doing this, his wife had mischievously showed him video from an old movie where an inventor became genetically spliced with a fly as a result of a teleportation experiment. With hideous results. He had laughed along with her but now felt a creeping tingle up his back at the thought that things could have gone much more wrong.

He walked over to the Interactive, which was still activated, and shrugged at her.

“So what’s the story, why am I still on Earth?” He thought the question was just unusual enough to be funny. Not for long at this rate, though. Soon people would probably ask this question all of the time. Sykes briefly envisioned rival companies trying to lampoon FAXtravel by using just such a thing in an ad.

The Interactive didn’t answer. She just stared past him, not responding. Was she lagged out or something? Sykes waved a hand in front of her “eyes” even though he knew that the visual tracking was done with a series of tiny cameras in the housing frame.

“Hello? No? Nada?” he said. “Great. So much for “Interactive”. Now what?”

As the gas funneled into the room, invisible to the naked eye, Sykes felt sleepy. He fought it, especially when he saw two large and brutish men approach him from a suddenly opened doorway. As he struggled with them he didn’t have the time or the chance to ponder the “Transmission Complete” message triumphantly projected in the air above the conduit. No time to ponder if the Faxing had happened after all, if some copy of him was even now being received on Laputa totally unaware of anything other than that he’d been teleported. Just like he’d dreamed of as a snot-nosed kid.

Totally unaware of poor Earth-bound Sykes who was being strangled by these men as the artificial intelligence in a woman’s guise stared impassively across the room.