Gate, by Not A Spy
At first I didn't believe her. Hell, I don't think anyone believes them the first time they say it. "Vampires are real" is the kind of assertation you see on crackpot one-page websites featuring 'first-hand' stories of alien abductions, holy experiences brought on by crystal energy, that sort of thing. And usually also featuring HTML that was cutting-edge... in 1998. Then again, it wasn't like what I could do was any less strange than faith healing and desert-dwelling sand fairies. My power was that if I focused a particular wall long enough, eventually a sort of doorway would appear. More like a pipe, or a zip-line, really. It wasn't visible, but I could feel it, and reach out and grab it. Once I grabbed on, I was taken along on a ride to wherever it let out, and appeared, nauseous, on the other end. Going through a gate like this could feel like hours to me, and I got hungry and thirsty too, but no time passed while I'm in transit.
Each gate could only be connected to one other, and I had to choose where it would go when I made them in the first place. I couldn't change a gate after I had created it, no matter how hard I tried. It was an odd feeling, making a gate. Like I was reaching my hand into a crack behind the fridge, trying to grope about for the power outlet without actually knowing where it is. My mind didn't quite fit into wherever the gates went through and I got shoved about if I tried to go too deep, but I could skirt about the edges for a shortcut just fine. My gates had to be anchored to about a square-meter section of a wall, though, and if the wall stopped being in one piece the gate would just disappear. They also slowly seeped closed if I didn't go through them once in a while, and would eventually collapse.
The fact that feelings of touch let me pull myself through inspired me to try to force the walls of my 'gates' to become stone, instead of like the soft clay they naturally were. Keep in mind, I didn't just experiment with my gates all day (preferring to spend my time wandering around strange cities), I realized the stone thing over probably three or four years. My new stonewalled gates were permanent, or close to it, so I started building a network. I wouldn't take the time to make a permenant gate if I'm just taking a shortcut from my latest dropoff point back to my apartment, but if I'm going to use a particular gate more than once or twice, I tend to put in the extra effort to make it permanent.
I couldn't pull other people through the links, but anything I was touching would come through just fine (only if I wanted them to come with, and only if there was room for them on the other side). I used my power for smuggling. I'm not proud of it, but I'm not ashamed either. I never did drugs, too afraid of getting shot or stabbed by some buzzed-out loco, even though I could have scored ten times as much cash, even just doing pot. Mostly cracked knockoff electronics and cheap pawnshop stuff from overseas that could be sold higher here (tax-free, of course) were my cargo. I did stop doing that eventually, after I had plenty of money saved up. I took the guy who was unhappy enough with my delivery to try to shoot me as a sign it was time to take a break. Small miracle that I managed to run into my back-alley escape gate with only a long, thin burn on my cheek. I still had no idea how I made the gates, or jumped from one side of a gate to the other. I just did it.
Anyway, with all my pseudo-teleporting, strange things other than me really shouldn't have been all that surprising. And yet they were. Two months after I quit smuggling, a tall, pale, ridiculously beautiful Asian lady confronted me at the exit of a convenience store and told me everything. She spoke slowly enough, but I failed to comprehend more than the first few sentences. Apparently every anime fanboy's dream had just come true. A beautiful Japanese woman was madly in love with me. I think I said something like "This sort of thing doesn't happen in real life."
Seeing that she was making no progress, Hitomi gave me a phone number and told me to say that 'a vampire had mated on me'. I called it, and upon uttering what I thought was a password, I was transferred to the most earnest-sounding voice I had ever heard. "Hello, this is Elspeth Cullen. I have been told that a vampire has just revealed our world to you. I don't know how much she explained, but I'm here to tell you whatever you want to know. Do you have any questions?"
I stammered for I don't know how long. Eventually, I managed to say "I have no idea what to do about this. I don't understand. I was just shopping and now vampires are real and this one is completely fixated on me and I don't know what to do."
Elspeth replied, "That's okay. There's no pressure. No vampire will ever harm you or force you to do anything, or they will face severe punishment under our law, even the death penalty for extreme cases. Usually we prefer to speak with people like you in person, it makes explaining things easier. Can you get to the state of Washington? Our current active office is in a small town there. Given your situation, we can even pay for travel expenses, but not lost wages. We have other offices as well, if somewhere else is more convenient. Florida, Quebec…"
"Washington will be fine. Where, exactly?" She gave me an address. Oh, Washington the state, not DC. I walked back over to Hitomi. "I need to hear more about this before I choose. Something like this, you can't decide in five minutes. But I've never been the type to waffle over a decision for days, either. I have a way of getting there very quickly. I... assume you will want to follow me, but no matter how fast you are, I think I'll get there first. Just to let you know."
"I'd love it if you decided right now, but it's against the law to make you do that, and I don't want to make you do anything you don't want to. At least you're hearing me out, and talking to the goldens. One of my friends' mates didn't believe her at all. That was painful for her." I grimaced at this not-so-subtle prodding. She seemed to notice, "Sorry. I won't pressure you anymore about anything, though I do want to get to know you, if you'll tolerate me."
"That's fine. Just don't mention anything a human wouldn't. I'm having trouble getting used to the whole idea. I mean, talking about being faster and stronger is fine, but don't say vampire, or true-love-at-first-sight, or... did she mention a werewolf?"
"Yes, werewolves. Not the bitey, full-moon kind or so I've been told. But that can wait. I apologize for being overly eager. But I'm wondering... How can you get to Washington before me when I can run faster than a car on I-88, and beat you to either O'hare or Midway airports? Can you teleport? The Golden Coven has someone who can do that."
"Yeah, I can sorta teleport. I can make these... Gates, between any two spots that I visit, and then go instantly from one end of a gate to the other. Well, instantly to an objective observer. It takes a while from the inside, like being yanked through a pitch-black bottomless basement. There's no sensation except for being pulled. I can hop from a back alley near here to my apartment, and from there to another apartment in California, get a snack 'cause that'll feel like an hour or so to me, and from there jump to a bathroom in the Seattle international airport. It'll take like twenty minutes to get ninety-five percent of the way there, and then I can just get a rental car and be there twelve hours earlier than you can run all the way from Illinois to the west coast."
"Can you take people with you?"
"Unfortunately, no. I can bring objects, but anything alive just won't go. Plants, animals, even fungus. I warped a moldy old mattress to the dump once, and the mold just disappeared, plopped straight onto my floor, I had to clean it up when I got back. Good thing I didn't use a mop from the dump for that, half of it would have stayed behind."
She giggled, which made me feel even stranger. That trash-mop line was just a sarcastic comment, and not even a good one. I decided to distract myself. "So," I said, "I think you said you're from Japan? At some point? Where exactly?"
"I was born in a nameless village in Kyushu, and I was turned in the same place. I don't remember much of it, I never even found it later. It's hard to remember landmarks from when I was human. This was way back, before Shoguns took over power from the emperor, like 1200 years ago."
Huh. Ancient Japan. I can't help but think 'samurai,' even though that's the wrong time period and wrong gender too. "Do you have any interesting stories?"
"I spent most of my time wandering around alone. I could tell you how I became a vampire."
I twitched a little, but said "Sure. I gather mine won't be the same, though."
"Yeah, they do it painlessly now. Well, my creator found me bleeding to death, pinned under the corpse of a tiger that had impaled itself on my naginata as it pounced on me. It was only a little unusual for a craftsman's wife to be trained and armed, in those days. I wasn't really a good fighter, I just had some kind of instinct that warned me I was being hunted, and I whirled just in time to see the tiger leaping at me. My creator, Qing-po, thought I was a brave warrior. But it hurt. I cannot describe how much it hurt, it is literally more pain than you could think is possible. Turning me saved my life, though, so I offered her an oath of service, to help protect her from her many enemies. I served her as a guard of sorts for exactly three hundred years, and neither of us died but many others did. And then I vowed never to fight again. So far I have kept that vow."
"Quite an interesting story. What did you do after that?"
"I wandered around a lot, all over the world, mostly in the wilderness. I'm probably not what you'd picture a regular Japanese person to be, especially a modern one. And I'm definitely not some ani-manga schoolgirl. I'm no onna-bushi either, despite the dramatic circumstances leading up to my turning. I'm afraid I don't really fulfill any of the stereotypes. There aren't really many... people like me (vampires, I mentally annotated) in the East. And I'm afraid I'm being terribly boring. Feel free to leave if you want."
"You're not boring. I'm just still sort of reeling. Uh, what do you like to do?"
"I like climbing mountains."
"Mountains?" I never bothered to gate the top of a mountain that didn’t have a ski lift or highway or similar. Too much work to climb for hours, too much other stuff to do to take the time to get up there. "You're super-fast, right? How fast can you get to the top of Everest?"
"Two hours, give or take. A little longer if I accidentally land on a crevasse and have to dig myself out. But I don't really see what the big deal is about Mount Everest, even though it is the tallest. It's almost boring compared to some of the steeper slopes. One time I challenged myself to climb the Malaku as fast as I could without using my hands or arms at all, even for balance. That was interesting enough the first time but I never did it again. Everest is crowded, too."
I chuckled. "Well, it is the most famous one." She nods. I sigh. "I don't want to brush you off, this is a big deal for you too, but I need to go think, alone, for now. Meet me in that Forks place in a day or two if you want."
With a radiant grin, she replied, "I'll see you there! Unless you change your mind and decide you don't want me to be there. The new Empire said that we should say things like that a lot. Like Elspeth said, I'll never harm you or force you into anything, I just hope you choose to be a vampire with me!"
Wait. "Your hearing is sharp enough to hear a phone conversation from thirty feet away?"
Being actually next to a large number of vampires and werewolves who could physically prove their outlandish claims calmed down my rising fear that I had gone insane. The receptionist and a few others seemed surprised that I got there from Illinois after only two hours. I hesitated to tell them much, sticking with the simple statement, "I can go places in ways other people can't." Oddly, that satisfied them. One called me a 'witch'. Elspeth had claimed to have magical truth powers, and she did sound extremely earnest. I supposed magic must have been normal enough, to them.
The Imperial Soothsayer had a crown-circlet thing that was probably not real gold, and also bodyguards. And pamphlets, which I decided to forego in favor of her 'instant magical summary'. She stared at me and I blinked a couple of times. "Huh. What about... Wait, I know that. Well that was helpful."
Elspeth smiled. "I've gotten a lot better at using my magic recently. By the way, the Empress would like to meet you, since she was here on business anyway and you are apparently a potentially powerful witch."
When I explained what I could do, the Empress said, "Well... That has obvious applications."
I nodded. I could deliver hazardous materials straight to the Nevada desert or Antarctica, without all that risky overland transport. I could bring medicine from the best pharmacies in the world to the littlest African clinics, or get food and water and bandages and maybe rafts and stuff (if there was a repeat of Katrina) into a disaster area fast. I could provide dirt-cheap shipping, since you don't have to pay for a truck driver, a harbor's loading fees, a ship's charter, and another truck to get your stuff across the ocean. I could cut the world's dependence on fossil fuels in half if I made enough gates. Of course, there was only one of me, the guy who could use them.
Isabella continued, "If you were turned you could move things around with extreme speed, even down to a few seconds per delivery if you had... A hub, or something. I wonder how fast we would want to implement something like a global teleportation gate network. It would throw the economy in completely unpredictable directions. I can already hear the politicians arguing and the oil companies lobbying to ban it. That's something to think about later, though. You might not get more powerful as a vampire. Oh, sorry, I got too eager. You don't have to become a vampire. You will never be required to turn. It's your choice and always will be. But I do really, really recommend it."
I sighed. "So far the benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks. Especially immortality. If I could distribute immortality pills, I would, as fast as I could make them, and damn the social consequences. " Bella grinned at me. "Is it really that intense, being a vampire? So intense that 'human memories don't even compare,' as Hitomi told me?" I asked.
"Yes. Everything vampire is a hundred times more. Unfortunately I have to leave soon, but if you're not hungry or tired, I'd like you to meet Adelaide, our Imperial Factorum. She can copy witch powers like yours, and she is very good at helping witches improve. Sorry I couldn't spend more time with you!" She strode away, followed by her mind-reading mate and tiny bodyguard (Renata, I think someone mentioned), her real-live golden crown glittering off the energy-efficient lightbulbs.
Elspeth said, "I have stuff to do, too. But Addy's right there if you need anything." The vampire in question strode over, grinning, and shook my hand. "Huh, that's odd. Chicken and barbeque sauce and mustard."
"Chicken?" I asked.
"I taste powers, even though I don't taste real food anymore. Yours is like chicken. Which is odd, I don't get meat-tasting powers very often."
"Huh. And what else can you tell me about my... Power?"
"You've done a great job expanding it on your own, especially for a human. You made the leap that your clothes came with you and so you could carry along other things. You made your portals more permanent by realizing you used your power like feeling around with your hands. It feels like you sped up how fast you travel through them subjectively, too. Probably just practice, that. I've never tasted a power like yours before, one that leaves traces on physical objects, but traces only detectable by you. What happens if you put a gate on a wall and the wall gets moved? Can you make gates on the floor or ceiling? If someone disassembles a brick wall with a gate on it and puts it back together in exactly the same way, or if they lift a gated sheet of steel and set it down on the floor? Does the wall have to be enclosing anything or does it just have to be there?"
I answered this barrage of questions with a series of "I don't knows."
"Hmm. There's lots of stuff we can try, but the first thing is... I think that you really should be able to carry living things through with you. Have you ever had ticks in your hair? If your power really didn't transport any living thing but you, they would be left behind and you'd get better instantly."
I could recall having ticks as a teenager. Not fun. By that time I was warping to school and back, too. I had ticks for nearly a week. "No, they didn't fall off when I warped."
"See? You can bring living things along with you, you just have to trick yourself into doing it."
This seemed oddly profound to me, and I pondered it as Addy left to acquire a garden plant and something for me to eat.
I stared down at the throngs of people below, each one hurrying to get to their departure gate on time. A family of seven humans here, tourists probably, the kids gushing about their latest gadgets. Two vampires there. Mates. A lone hybrid, and a gaggle of wolves. I was a little surprised at the ratio of humans to not-humans in the Teleport Gate Station (this vast airport-like structure that was only possible due to me). Almost one out of every five of the people passing through were vampires, wolves, or hybrids. Perhaps people in the know are more likely to trust the so-called "revolutionary technology" that made this place possible. Then again, the masquerade was so far gone by now that maybe a third of the world had been explicitly told about 'Things'. And most of the rest had either sort of peripherally absorbed it or shielded themselves in denial by now. Maybe the world really was one fifth vamps, wolves, and hybrids by now.
I had improved my power over the years, and I was now glad for Addy's relentless training, since it let me do things like this. If I worked at a particular gate for half an hour it was permanent, smart enough to avoid letting something come through if the space on the other side was blocked, could be moved around from place to place via rails attached to the steel plate that was the 'wall' I gated, and could even be controlled and triggered by someone other than me, based how the steel plate was angled. What's more, there was no noticeable delay between entering and leaving. Truly instantaneous travel. Of course, Bella couldn't pass up the chance to build a magical transport network once I achieved this. Magically improving everyone’s lives was the whole point of turning people and making hybrids.
I tired of the potpourri of blood I couldn't drink and dashed over to the shipping terminal. The same thing was going on here, but with thousands of workers shuffling about tens of thousands of huge metal crates on a horribly complicated system of heavy-duty rails. The place was bigger than four football stadiums put together. I still didn't understand how computers could keep track of a thousand miles of rails, motors, switches, 'parking spots' (to store crates off to the side until their path was clear), catwalks, pumps, and carts, all in constant motion. Even with vampire perception aiding the managers and wolven coordination helping the cargo handlers, and an entire room full of whirring servers to keep track of it all, it still felt like the whole thing would crash to a halt at any moment. But even this chaos was cheaper and faster than old-fashioned 'shipping' on actual ships.
I didn't like the hustle and bustle. I'd come in and make new gates when they asked me to, and I'd take the money that kept rolling in, 5% of every passenger ticket and shipping container that goes anywhere in the network. Other than that I spent most of my time walking through what was left of the wilderness with Himiko. Maybe I'd build myself a mansion on the moon, after a few thousand more successful launches of the Phoenix II rocket system made me feel safe enough to visit the place and make a gate there. I'm sure Bella would love a cheap way to get stuff out to the moon, and back to Earth.
Wait a minute. I had managed to make gates on removable steel plates that stayed there when they were moved around. Was there any reason I couldn't move a gate plate inside a spaceship that could go to the moon by itself, and warp to that once it was safely landed? I guess nobody had thought of it, since the gateport walls were slightly maneuverable but not detachable. I whipped out my cell phone and called Elspeth to tell her about my idea.
Before vampires, progress in space exploration was measured in decades. First orbital flight. A man on the moon. The Voyager probes. Decades later, a few robots on mars. Then in the 21st century, some private firms looking into space flight once again (I'm afraid I bankrupted those, gates are cheaper and safer than rocketships). After the Moongate in the Sea of Tranquility, there was a permenant settlement of 200 wolves, humans, and hybrids living there within a year. They had huge airtight domes, small ones at first, built on-site by vampires. It was practically a little slice of Earth. As long as some wolf took a few hours every day to fetch supplies and dump trash back on earth via gate they could live on the moon just fine. Five years after that, there were 100,000 people on the moon at any given time, and only a third of them were tourists. Low gravity and sterile vaccum are apparently ideal conditions for certain kinds of industry. I was the cornerstone of humanity's rapid explosion in the second space age!
Mars contained thousands of miles of new wilderness for Himiko and I to explore. The first thing we did, of course, was race to the top of Olympus Mons, and bounce down the other side, leaping miles up into the thin air and low gravity. With a thousand gates bringing in construction equipment and terraforming machines (and tourists) twenty four and two-thirds hours per day, the Red Planet was becoming greener by the year. The landscapes were gradually changed with the addition of blue water and green/purple foliage, becoming almost unrecognizable sometimes. The red dust mixed with every other color from Earth created a fantastic rainbow like something out of a fantasy world. Most of the animals adapted strangely (and tasted even worse than those disposable NuBlood bottles), making the 'fantasy world' vibe all the stronger. Himiko and I loved every minute of it.
It's not every day you get to see a world being born.
There was no problem sending locally made gateships out to the stars, but I was now trying to making a new gate on the first habitable, easily terraformable planet we had found. The gateship was not designed for re-entry, and it would be much better all around to have gates actually on the ground. Re-entry is dangerous. But making a gate that spanned interstellar distances was hard. It gave me a headache, which was the strangest thing I had ever felt, because as far as I knew vampires did not get headaches. I hesitated to go through the gate, vaguely remembering being squeezed and shoved around the not-quite-here space as a human, scrabbling about in the unexplainable extra-dimensional place where the gates were.
I took a deep breath, a left-over human habit of mentally bracing myself. And then I was back on Earth. Instantly, I was once more on the too-cold-for-hybrids world of Nova. And lo, the first true Stargate was made.
With my gates we didn't need to build a ten-million-ton generation ship, just a moderately large pile of engines and scanners with enough computers to keep them on track and space for a Gate and an optional pilot (no extra fuel or spare parts, we could deliver those if they were needed). Earth's vast industry, supported by the resources of an asteroid belt, hundreds of tiny moons, and countless tons of Martian steel, could build almost twenty starships every week at full swing.
Deimos Shipyard was a sight to behold at its peak, making not only gateships but mining droids and luxury cruise liners and the like (each with a small, one-person-at-a-time emergency evacuation gate, just in case). But despite the massive undertaking, the cranes, welder bots, quarters and storerooms, and hundreds of half-built vessels still massed less than a percent as much as the rock itself.
Way back during the Mars project someone had worked out a way to send a flash drive-transmitter thingy back and forth through a gate every few dozen microseconds. The bandwidth was much lower than fiber optics, but you couldn't beat the latency anywhere past the moon. We installed that in every ship now, and there were giant versions of the same thing filling huge data hubs, moving petabytes of data every second between Earth and Mars and the Moon and all the asteroids and everywhere in between. Though I was perfectly happy to let whoever Bella appointed to run the Gate Network handle all the headaches any big company naturally runs into, I was still called upon to make new Gates everywhere in the solar system.
Some of my Gateships were sponsored by this or that government or company, but more than half were funded by my nearly endless Gate System royalties. For a long time I had more money than I knew what to do with, but now I could pour it into spreading humanity (vampires, hybrids, wolves, humans and all) across the stars. Most of the two hundred and fifty million dollar Gateships wouldn't arrive for centuries, and most of the proposed planetfall sites would take more centuries of terraforming to be even remotely comfortable. But that was fine, because with plenty of patience and a little clever application of science and magic, I could watch a thousand worlds bloom.