The worst part was always the waiting. After a time, it culminated into an almost painful experience, that feeling of waiting and worrying, wondering if this would be the time everything would fall apart. We stared at the clock, counting the moments, always and forever waiting. Sometimes it would only be five seconds, sometimes fifty-five, but he always returned. He always stepped back. Always. Except once.
The big breakthrough in the study of teleportation was a structure he called an arch. By itself, the arch was nothing more then a simple door-like structure that could connect to another one on the other side of the world. His control, his ability to manipulate the space in between the two, was his biggest achievement. I never understood the physics involved; he was the scientist, not me, but it worked. The way most people understand the technology is that it is similar to a compressor. Only here they were compressing time and space itself to create a direct link that could bridge any length. When the full tests on the arch started, two laboratories, each trying to stake a claim to greatness, were set up with an arch. One laboratory was here in New York; the other was in Los Angeles. Unlike now, sustainability rates in those days were precarious. The changes to the formula that now keeps the space in between the arches open for so long had not yet been completed. In those days, when he was first undertaking the experiments, the window would only stay open for a minute at a time. Just long enough for him to walk out on our end, appear in L.A., and walk back. Just a minute, because if you walked through as the window was closing…well, no one knew what would happen then.
I met him doing an article for my paper on his first big discovery. Using a smaller arch, he had broken through boundaries of teleportation by moving a mouse from one side of a room to the other. From that moment on he became obsessed with re-creating it on a human scale. I had been a science reporter since leaving school, something my minor in biology had helped with. But this was science and physics, beyond my normal scope of understanding. I saw the beauty in it, the poetry of the scientific desire, but to take that vision and make it a reality was as inspiring to me as it was difficult to comprehend.
I asked him out at the conclusion of our first series of interviews. He seemed surprised; time and space he understood, but human emotion was always difficult. I think that is what drew me to him. He made very few demands on me. The fact that a true relationship progressed was surprising to me, though at that point he just regarded it as part of the natural order of things. We were married by the time he was building the human-sized arch.
He would get giddy talking about implications: instant travel, a way to completely cut back on pollution. Since the possibilities were limitless, there was nothing more exciting to him than the work on the arch. That structure contained power and beauty he could control single-handedly. Even I was secondary to his obsession with teleportation, a role I accepted as gracefully as I could. But I always wanted to ask him to do something stupid for me, to give up the work, to make sure we had the chance to grow old and die together. We both knew the risks in what he was attempting, the danger to his life. We could have just quit and left, no repercussions, no problems, only his life’s work unfulfilled. I never brought it up.
I think in my mind, somewhere in the dusty corners, I must have known that one day he would not come back. It was why I always insisted on being there for the test runs. He would step through the arch on our end and we would count the seconds, then he would reappear, grinning like a mischievous schoolboy. The government wanted tests, multiple tests before commissioning more. They took time; they took effort and millions of dollars. Of course he insisted on being the one to do the tests. He did not want to risk anyone else’s life on his invention. He did not want to risk his personal chance at glory.
It was a Tuesday — Tuesdays had always been my least favorite day of the week — when he did not come back. He stepped through the arch, we watched the seconds tick by, and the clock changed to 12:01. From L.A. they told us he had stepped through there and had stepped back. Only a few hours elapsed before we realized that their clock had been off, and what he read as 45 seconds was actually 57, not enough time to get back before the window started to close.
Of course there was a formal inquest, formal things to sign, formal letters, formal condolences, formal grief, and all the appropriate responses necessary there. The president personally called to formally convey her regret over my loss. The university, the Pentagon, some of the finest scientific minds — they all wanted to express their sorrow and their desire to help. I despise them all.
They use his invention so frequently now. It has been expanded, improved on. The window now stays open for five full minutes. Arches are all around the world, slowly supplanting public transportation; there is even talk of moving them into private homes. And it has cut down on pollution and increased global trade and made the world a more cohesive place. The possibilities of whatever else it might lead to are endless. Just as he always dreamed.
They haven’t moved his arch on either the N.Y. or L.A. end. It stays there, with enough room in front to step into the room, just in case he comes back. In case he comes out from wherever or whenever he is. We don’t want to leave him stranded.
It’s been ten years. Every day I stare at the clock at exactly noon, counting each second for a total of sixty, my heart hammering in my chest until the clock reads 12:01. Waiting. I will know if he steps through. I will, but until then I wait. For no matter what else I will do, I will wait for him.