It starts small, this… loss. So small that you’re pretty sure you’d need a telescope to see which infinitesimally tiny piece it was.
You’re not sure that’s right. Maybe you’d need a microscope? You step on the pad again anyway, thinking, Nothing’s an exact science.
It never has been.
If you have to pinpoint a time, a place where the loss began, that’s a little easier. That’s the day your best friend calls you in class, breathing tight and frantic over the line.
You ask, ”What’s wrong, Andy?”
He says, ”The teleporter!”
What he means is the device in his room that looks like little more than a headset and a broken skateboard wired together. Patiently, you ask, ”Was it the neural connectors?”
What you really ask is, ”Are you hurt?”
A strangled confirmation.
”Okay, I’ll be right there. Did you call the hospital?”
Andy, usually more sensible than this, blurts, ”No hospitals, Mars! Just— Hurry up.”
His apartment complex is eerily silent when you arrive. You climb the stairs, uneasy, and step into his apartment terrified you’re going to find a dead body.
What you find is worse.
Your best friend’s arm is stuck in a wall.
With a soft sigh, you turn on the headset, listening to the comforting whirr of the machinery. You’re almost done now. You barely remember what you’re doing — but it’s nearly over. It has to be.
”Okay,” you say. You don’t say, ”This is perfectly normal; you stepped on it slightly sideways and didn’t think of marmalade.” That’s a thing you would think now. What you do say is, ”What the fuck.”
”I don’t know!” Andy cries, and big fat tears start rolling down his face. He’s pale, shaking. He’s screaming silently, eyes bulging, jaw tight. Where his arm meets the wall — seamlessly, like it was built there — his sleeve bunches in horrible ways.
You reach out to him, hesitate. ”Okay, keep it together. I’ll figure it out.”
You kneel and look at the teleporter, which seems to be a little crispier than last time you saw it. Something clicks.
”Don’t tell me it works,” you say, straightening up, and then you get the urge to step on it. It’s a flash, blink and you miss it, but then your feet are on the teleporter and you’re thinking about the hospital and there you are.
Mercifully, no one else is in the hallway with you. You’re relieved no one saw you. You won’t learn what the real blessing is for months.
Despite yourself, you’re drawn to the teleporter. You help Andy fix it, replace the old skateboard with a silicone mat and upgrade the wiring. You devour Andy’s notes. Your concern is for his safety, but the truth is that you just want to know.
”Okay,” Andy says. He recovers remarkably quick from being stuck in the wall. You suppose he was lucky it was just his arm. While the reversal fixed it, it’s oddly… shorter than it had been. ”Mars, do it again.”
You sigh, but not because you don’t want to. There’s something strangely thrilling about it — you’re just so tired. ”Fine.” You step on the teleporter and find yourself a few feet away. You’re the only one who seems to understand how the damn thing works, which is wild, because you have no clue how it works.
”Fantastic!” Andy says excitedly. ”You’re amazing! How are you doing that?”
You shrug. ”I don’t know,” you say, then look at the clock and swear. ”Shit, I’m late for class.”
Andy’s babble stops. He looks at you. Worry creases his brow.
”Mars,” he says slowly, ”you graduated a week ago.”
It gives you a strange little jolt, but you laugh it off. ”You’re right,” you say. ”Old habits!”
But you don’t remember graduating.
It happens to Andy, because of course it does. He never gets the hang of the teleporter, always has to be pulled out of a wall molecule by molecule as you hit reverse. It’s a sore spot for him, so one day he tries it alone.
He lands in a person.
You take a deep breath, let it out slowly. It wouldn’t be good to get upset, not now. Not when you have such a long way to go.
Andy tries to destroy the teleporter the week after the funeral of the woman he killed.
”I can’t do it anymore, Mars,” he sobs. ”What if it’s you next? What’s the point of any of this?”
You put a hand on his arm. He shakes it off, and the next day, he’s gone. You can’t remember if either of you said anything.
That’s not true. You remember him saying something.
”And look what it’s done to you, Mars!” He waves his hand at you. ”It’s ninety degrees, and you’re freezing! You don’t even remember my name half the time!”
Doubt assails you. Is his name really Andy?
”I think that thing is destroying you! I think it’s killing you!”
”But you built it,” you say mildly. ”You wouldn’t build anything that dangerous.”
He looks like he’s been punched. ”Marsha,” he says. You startle. You’ve forgotten your own name. ”You’re— Don’t—”
”It’s fine,” you say. ”Go get some rest, okay? I’ll take care of this thing.”
You were so busy thinking about where you could go that you never wondered if something else would come back.
You, in particular, never wondered where those pieces of yourself went.
That’s where I come in.
I pull you out of bed the next night and scream in your face until your wide eyes stare into my empty ones. I’m gone in a heartbeat, intangible, but I’m still with you four hours later when you step onto the teleporter. For the first time, you do it because you want to forget.
You don’t, though.
My face haunts you for days, weeks, until you’ve used the teleporter so much that you only have a handful of memories left. I know because I can see them. I can, and do, taste them.
Most of them taste like salt.
You breathe. It’s a wonder you can remember to do that much. I speak too soon — your lungs are stuttering.
How long, I wonder, before you’re gone completely?
Despite wrapping yourself in thick coats and blankets and seven layers of socks, you’re cold as ice. Colder, maybe. I consider licking you to see if my tongue sticks, then decide against it. Even I can’t remember the last time you showered.
So far, your longest trip has been 200 miles. You keep the reverse button in your pocket, so one trip is technically two. You don’t know when you stopped using normal transportation, and frankly I’m not sure you know what it is anymore. I ask you, once, but you only stare. You beg. You stare and beg, and when I leave, you keep staring and begging.
Then you start planning.
You’re aware by now that the teleporter takes things from you, though the details are hazy, so you get the idea that if you can lose enough of yourself, you’ll forget me. I love proving you wrong.
I have all your memories from before this, and I thought it was impossible for you to be more self-destructive. I’ve seen your dark thoughts, the devastating drop-stomach ends-of-the-worlds you’ve experienced, all your rock bottoms. I have most of your memories of Andy. I have your memories of you. Wildly, you also manage to prove me wrong, spending days teleporting inch by inch, ripping your own brain apart by the seams. It’s fascinating to watch.
”Did you know,” I say each night, ”that it’s your fault?”
You weep, but you have no tears. You’re dehydrated and shriveled like you’ve been left in the sun too long.
For a moment, I think you’re dead for good. Then you rally, take a rattling breath, and drop onto the teleporter. You move three feet, and I have a moment to think about what a fucking waste of time that was before your last scraps of personality body-slam me.
The last memories of Andy fill up my eyes. He comes in the night. You argue about the teleporter. You shove him into it. It rips him apart like a meat grinder.
This is what you’ve been hiding from yourself? It’s pathetic, the way you never take responsibility for anything.
The rest is frail and confusing, and I hate it, but I swallow the pill just the same. Your — my — last moments are mostly blank and fuzzy around the edges. It doesn’t surprise me.
I stand over my empty shell and watch it collapse in on itself. Then I dismantle the teleporter and pack it gently in a suitcase.
I collapse in a graceful wave of molecules, suitcase and all, and I don’t pull myself together until I’m hovering over a dock on the coast. It’s early. I fill the suitcase with heavy rocks, then drop the whole thing into the sea.
It feels good to let go.