The original, 9-page short story version of


Copyright © 1983 by Roger M. Wilcox. All rights reserved.
(writing on this story began 14-March-1983)

The original draft was written on an electric typewriter. All spellings, punctuation, capitalizations, cliched space SF tropes, etc. are as in the original.

You have been warned.

His mind sensed it, the scanners confirmed it. He was only a few minutes from the dock, and he was not alone in his small cargo vessel. Somewhere in the labyrinthine corridors, the cargo holds, the engine rooms, or the life support control stations was the single human being regarded as the "unstoppable terror" among ship owners. The Teleporter had selected his ship as its next target.

He removed a cheap laser-pistol from its solitary holder on his console and headed off randomly into she ship. The scanners had picked up The Teleporter's location, but there was no guarantee as to where it would be next.

The populus of the previous decade was certain that their experiments with psi dealings had gotten far out of hand with their recent breeding program. Sure enough, two experimentals were born, a male and a female, whose genetic code was designed to let them disassemble their bodies and reassemble them in another location from any convenient atoms lying around. The pair had broken through the psi-shields of the geodesic dome one night when they had been artificially aged to twenty years apiece. Sure enough, four years later, a disused bulkhead was sliced open to reveal the woman and two young children; but there was only an empty space where the man's body should have fit.

"The teleporter is aboard my freighter. Most likely, he's just looking to destroy another ship by wiping out its crew and setting its engines to self-destruct." He pushed a green button on his handcom, and then continued conversing to fleet H.Q. aboard the dock. "I have set the counter-thrusters to slow this craft to a stop to prevent destruction of the dock should I fail to stop the unstoppable as so many others have. I only hope the unuseful, defensive hand laser I'm carrying can stop him, or at least hurt him, before he pops out of the way and counter-attacks from behind or something."

He switched off his handcom, and the transmission went dead. Cautiously, he scanned the area ahead, then began to take a few faltering steps forward, his finger on the laser's trigger nervously.

"I know you're in here!" boomed an unfamiliar voice over the ether of super-conscious thought. "You weren't in the control cabin, but you can't keep running for long! I can move hundreds of times faster than you, and this ship only has a finite amount of space, while I have an infinite amount of time. Why don't you just transmit you're location to me and give yourself up? You haven't a chance!"

'No way, teleporter,' he thought as he shielded his mind from releasing any subconscious messages. In that day and age of psychic ease, telepathy was second-hand to nearly everyone. He couldn't afford to transmit anything, since doing so would give away his position.

'I wish I could have a bullet-firing pistol instead of this piece of junk,' he thought as he stared at the laser in his right hand. 'Of course, those things are outlawed on board space ships since they can pierce the hull so easily. Like I said before, I hope I can hurt him with it.'

On a pure hunch, he followed his nose along the chrome-plated aisle and cautiously banked around the first corridor on the left. What he saw froze him. The Teleporter was standing there with his back to him, holding a cylinder in his left hand which continually projected a dark red, thin beam; that of a laser. He was dressed completely in white from head to toe, the outfit design usually worn by members of the fleet.

Without even looking down at his own white suit, the cargo ship pilot took quick aim at The Teleporter and pumped the trigger on his pistol as quickly as he could manage. Three successive bursts of pulsed, coherent, bright-red light sprang from the housing on the front of the pistol and flew down the corridor towards their target at nearly three hundred million meters per second.

The first beam struck him completely, but the second wasn't even half-finished before The Teleporter disassembled in a calm whooshing of air. Not even the faintest cry of pain lingered in the corridor through which the third beam penetrated and vanished from.

The carefully planned curvature of the corridor's end immediately radiated the energy of the laser beam and dispersed it, but this feat of engineering passed unnoticed to the extremely anxious pilot who witnessed it. The Teleporter, he now realized, had managed to survive for so long because teleportation to him was an instinct. He didn't have to "tell" himself to pop out when he was in danger; he didn't even react to trouble consciously. Instead, any startlement at all - pain, loud noises, or whatever - instantly caused a single action to take place: teleportation.

He turned around quickly, expecting to see The Teleporter standing behind him, waiting to cut him in half with the high-powered laser emitter he wielded. Instead, there was only an empty space bounded by a wall some two meters behind.

'I must go to him,' he thought, his mind still actively shielded. 'I cannot let him come to me.' Decisively, he turned back down the corridor in the direction he had memorized that led to the main engine room.

One corridor went past, then a corner, then another ocrridor, another corner, each getting progressively more tense on his frightened mind. At last, with the silent walk of both a cat and his padded shoes, he arrived at the engine room doorway and burst through. He aimed his laser in every direction precautiously, and glanced everywhere he could, but The Teleporter was nowhere to be seen.

He looked inquisitively at his engines in a way he had never done before. Those were the engines which had propelled him between the planets of this system and had even seen other systems when he requested being towed by one of the big starships. Now, they meant nothing when confronting a menace who could simply jump out of your way when he willed it. The idea occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, he could fool The Teleporter into thinking that he would let the engines explode if he didn't give himself up.

He almost let down his mental defenses, transmitted the message, and shouted out the words which corresponded to his thoughts, but his logic got the better of him. That was what The Teleporter wanted to do in the first place! If he saw this kind of suicide coming, he could easily prevent it, or jump ship with plenty of time to spare.

He fired a quick burst of laser energy over his head in a random direction, but it met with no response. The Teleporter was not there. Turning quickly, he left the room and walked as quickly as he could over to life support.

The Life Support Control Center met with the same, unoccupied response as did the engine room. Possibly, The Teleporter was back in one of the places he'd already explored, but he didn't want to take any chances. He rushed out of the life support room with the sole intent of getting to the Cargo Hold.

A voice boomed into his head as he left: "I'll give you a hint: I'm not in the engine room! I know you're shielding your thoughts from me, but that can't hide you forever! All I have to do is put myself in your control room and look at your scanner. Then I put myself where it detects you, and voila! Instant dead pilot! I can't destruct this ship on my own, because I need the destruct code, and only you have that, locked up nice and safely in your handcom. I'll find you. Regardless of whether your thoughts are shielded, regardless of whether sound doesn't carry in this space ship at all, I'll find you!"

He wasn't half way to the Cargo Holds when he heard an almost silent "whoosh" of air behind him. The evil laugh that followed only confirmed the situation as the pilot rapidly ducked to avoid the lethal sweep of the laser beam. Sure enough, a red beam of coherent light careened just over his head, leaving heated slash marks in the walls it covered. His laser left slash marks in reflective walls!

Turning as quickly as he could handle in the subdued artificial gravity of his cargo ship, he aimed behind himself and fired four instantaneous laser pulses. The Teleporter had already moved out of the way before the beams were ejected.

He quickly turned once more and, not surprisingly, saw The Teleporter ready to cut him up again. Two more bursts were fired, none of which reached the disappering target. Turning rapidly, he fired once more without even looking. No one was there.

Glancing back and forth, he realized that The Teleporter was gone for the moment. A quick look at his laser pistol showed the "Temperature" rating approaching the "Emergency Only" level. The gun was cooling, but it was going slowly. He would have to make it to the cargo room. He had no reason for this, he just felt that he had to.

The cargo ship had long since stopped changing velocity and was, for engineering purposes, "standing still." Yet within its hull, there was definitely a great deal of movement being generated by its pilot and its unwanted passenger. As the moving form of the former entered the Cargo Hold, The Teleporter stood smiling, waiting for him no longer.

A swing of a laser-armed cylinder was all it took to get the pilot into action. He avoided the beam by a short jump, then charged in a little ways and let loose a volley of relatively low-energy laser fire. The once-hit Teleporter easily popped out of harm's way and reassembled behind the pilot in a fraction of a millisecond, laughing almost hysterically.
The pilot spun, fired, and missed again. Now, a little "beep" was sounded four times from his pistol. This indicated that the temperature was up too high into the danger zone, and the laser components could overheat at any second. The pilot was willing to risk it.

The Teleporter appeared to one side. Another volley, this time a partial hit succeeded before the teleporter disappeared once more and reappeared on the opposite side. Two more shots were fired, and then the gun simply ceased functioning, the emission of beams replaced with a tone which stated simply, "Overheat." The laser would not work again without a few minor repairs, but there was certainly no time to do this right now.

The pilot grabbed onto it with his left hand in an attempt to use it as a club, but immediately released the barrel and let the gun fall to the ground when he felt the extreme heat. He blew on his hand once, instinctively, and then looked up.

The Teleporter was standing directly in front of him, laser held majestically upright and pointing in a randomly chosen direction. "Well," he proclaimed, "I see you're out of ammunition. That'll put you just where I want you. You haven't a chance of escaping now. Up 'till this point I've just been toying with you like I have done so often in the past. Now it's your turn to join the hundreds I have 'conquered.' I must say, though, you put up quite a fight for someone alone as you on a cargo ship."

Needless to say, the pilot knew that this was it. Death aboard his ship, which he had eluded so well up to this point in time, was about to befall him at last, at the hands of another. But something felt strange, out of the ordinary. He looked at The Teleporter, then he looked at the laser he had held stationary all this while, and then he traced the scarlet beam up to its terminus where it had pierced the cargo storage wall and was heating up a small section of it.

Then the thought of all that he was doing came rushing back to him. He was carrying a load of solid fuel! Should the substance gain enough heat, it would react on its own, having its own oxidizer mixed with it naturally. That's what the walls were for. If The Teleporter wasn't warned in time ...

If he wasn't warned in time, the ship would go and take him with it. It was one of the best causes to die for, and since he was to die anyway, the pilot decided to stay the course.

"You'll never get away with this. Someday, you'll board a big ship and be surrounded in every corner by people armed with heavy blasters that can kill in a single hit. You can't keep on ruining things forever; nobody will let you."

"Shut up, you dead fool! I -"

He was cut short by a loud, shaking rumble radiating from the area directly behind him. He turned just in time to see the violent reaction begin to take place.

"OH N---" he shouted, and was silenced in mid-sentence by a fire which consumed the entire cargo ship, the pilot's own private world.

The five-hundred-meter-long spacecraft tore itself apart in front of the watching eyes of a sad crew. The entire dock, only a few dozen kilometers away, watched silently at the large, yellow ball of chemical fire that erupted in space and quickly fell to nothingness.

"Well, there goes another ship, fallen victim to the unstoppable terror. Good thing there was only one guy on board."

"What's good about it?" inquired the person standing next to the first speaker.

"Oh, nothing. It's just that - wait a minute! Hold on! Wasn't that ship powered by perpetual thrust?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact, it was."

"Then why wasn't there an initial ... an initial ... all right! That was a cargo ship loaded with solid chemical fuel! The engines weren't set off from a self-destruct code! The Teleporter didn't do this; the pilot probably set off the stockpile in the hold and caught The Teleporter by surprise!"

"You mean ... he's gone?!?"

"Only if he didn't pop clear of the blast in time, and it's very unlikely that he did. We've just gotta hope for the best now.

"What would provoke someone to do all that stuff and destroy all those space ships?"

"It's his own private rebellion. Wouldn't you strike out too if you'd been locked up in some psi-shielded lab all during your accelerated childhood? Not to mention the fact that the absence of a childhood in ones past history is known to have damaging effects."

"Yeah, you're probably right. It's a good thing that we're rid of him."

Before the first could issue a reply, warning lights began blinking on and off furiously on the instrument panel. Something was definitely wrong.

"Oh, no." said the first.

His mind sensed it, the scanners confirmed it. The cycle was beginning again.

Author's notes from 2014:
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