It’s always nice to see new places, meet new people. Just first make sure the atmosphere isn’t poisonous and the people aren’t well-camouflaged predators, and you’ll be fine.
This is a prequel to “The Doctor and the Druid.” Enjoy.
Foreign Exchange, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 684
“Are you sure this will work?” Kumiko cried. Her channel was buzzing erratically from the other end of the swirling Celestial Gate.
Shevaun lifted her datapad to double-check her equations. Then she smiled and tapped her headset. “If it doesn’t, I’ve already written my apology to the Council. Get ready!”
The fey’s reply was an anxious squeak. Shevaun grinned and clipped the datapad onto her belt. When she looked back at the team of engineers and physicists behind the double-thick glass, she gave them a thumbs-in.
“Transfer procedure is now live,” Kyle reported over the intercom. “Gate force is twenty-nine thaums and rising.”
Shevaun stared into the Gate. The swirling green vortex was familiar now; she’d been terrified at her first encounter as a grad student. But now her jumpsuit was tight and her research gloves fit perfectly. There was nothing to fear except a failed experiment.
“Okay,” she said into her headset. “Kumiko?”
“Going in three!” the fey answered. “Two… one…!”
Shevaun ran into the Gate and dove headfirst into the vortex—
fading green dissolving
nothing left of her now
pure disembodied conscious terror
here was something
here she was yes still here still here
her name was—
When she came out the other side of the Gate, she fell onto her hands and knees. Deliriously happy, she pat herself down. Her body was intact. She remembered her name, her past, and her purpose.
Her name was Shevaun. She was a physicist employed by the Transdimensional Alliance. And she had just performed the first simultaneous exchange of two individuals through the Gate.
Shevaun tapped her headset. “This is Shevaun, checking in. I’ve made it through to the other side.”
She took in her new surroundings. Hornworld was beautiful. Massive crimson trees towering like the skyscrapers in New York. The planet’s rings crisscrossing the azure sky, creating an impressive series of rainbows. Airships and balloons further ahead, forming lines of traffic from the great city Alfheim.
She felt great here. She wished she could never leave. But there were more important matters to attend to. Shevaun tapped her headset again. “Control, you there? What’s Kumiko’s status?”
There was a burst of static. Then Kyle’s voice came over. “She’s not doing too well, Shev. Are you feeling any side effects from the Gate transfer?”
Shevaun unhooked her datapad and activated the biomedical suite. She waited for her suit’s built-in sensors to get a full-body reading and checked the results. “No, I feel fine. Why?”
“Kumiko’s developed massive lung trauma,” Kyle reported. “I think we didn’t account for the effect of Earth air on fey physiology. Or it’s a side effect of the exchange. Are you sure you’re all right?”
Shevaun was getting worried now. She frantically looked over her med-scan results. “I seem to be fine, just fine! Do you want me to come back through?”
“No, stay where you are. We need all the readings we can get about your end of the Gate.”
“Okay, but—” Shevaun couldn’t finish that statement. That dazzling feeling in her chest was overpowering now. She coughed and wiped her mouth. “Hold on, Control. I’m… I’ve got symptoms of my own.”
“Feeling nauseous? Blurred vision? Constant coughing?”
Shevaun dropped back onto her hands and knees, hacking up whatever was in her lungs. She squeezed her eyes shut. It was too bright now. Too bright and sharp.
“Okay, we’re sending over an extraction team.” Kyle sounded like he was barely holding back his panic. “There’s an oxygen imbalance between the Two Worlds. Just stay calm and wait for the team. Do you copy, Shev?”
Shevaun couldn’t answer him; she was coughing and retching too much to speak. Her head was killing her. It was easier to lie flat on the ground as the nausea continued to build.
But she fought through the sickness for one last glimpse. One tiny glimpse through narrowed eyes of Hornworld and its rugged beauty. She had a feeling this image would be the last thing she’d ever get to see of the other side of the Gate.
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