THE IDEA OF traveling from world to world is generally associated with the use of a spaceship vehicle. However, if you think about it, a spaceship isn’t really a very efficient way to travel from world to world. Surely an advanced civilization would find a way to travel from world to world that didn’t require the use of vast amounts of energy and long travel times to move people or goods from world to world.
Actually, an advanced civilization did discover such a way. Unfortunately, the clever way they discovered involves quite a bit of risk to examine. The risk is not so much to the one who journeys, but to the worlds to which he journeys and from which he journeys back.
In a remote canyon in the western United States, scientists investigating an ancient Amerind civilization discover six very strange portals. The portals are nothing that the Amerinds past or present could have created, leaving the question of who did create the portals. The portals produce certain low-level radiation and other scientists are called in to determine the source of the radiation.
After a great deal of classified research, it’s determined that the portals are gates to somewhere. A person can walk into a portal and be transported to somewhere. Of course, the government wants to find out where somewhere is. A military expedition isn’t practical as only rather small amounts of material can be passed through the portals at any one time. Basically, the limit for travel through a portal is somehow found to be a man and whatever the man can carry.
In order to find out where the portals lead, a special type of individual is required. The government first studied the problem, including the risks. The government then defined the type of individual they needed and then set out to find such an individual.
I’m the type of individual the government is looking for. My mother was killed by certain people, who thought themselves beyond the reach of law. I tracked them down and killed them, all of them. For what I did, I was sentenced to death. However, instead of being executed, I’m to be sent through one of the portals.
To go through a portal poses certain risks. The very air on the other side of the portal could either kill the traveler or infect the traveler with deadly diseases. However, the government has enough potential travelers that the loss of a few travelers is no real problem, to the government at any rate. (In this case, the risk to the traveler doesn’t really matter to the traveler either. The traveler could die as a result of the trip through a portal. However, a traveler that the government selects will definitely die if he doesn’t go through the portal. At least with a trip through a portal, there’s a chance for the traveler to survive.)
Even if the traveler doesn’t die on the other side of the portal, there’s a very great risk to Earth if the traveler returns. What if the traveler carries back a deadly disease unknown on our planet? What if the traveler carries back a disease that doesn’t affect the traveler and at least some other humans but kills all of the, let’s say, wheat on our planet? The risks are very high, but the government decides that the possible rewards outweigh the risks to planet Earth. There’s, of course, no real government consideration of the risk to the portal traveler.
I’m to be the first and so I’ll travel through one of the portals. The scientists have determined that three of the portals are outgoing portals and three of the portals are incoming portals. (Don’t ask me how they know, I’m just a portal traveler. Hell, I just work here.)
Once I exit the portal I have entered, I’ll hopefully be somewhere where I can survive. I’ll then scout around and, I hope, return through another portal. When and if I return, via another portal, I’ll find myself in a sort of windowed, quarantine prison that will allow scientists to test me for any sort of alien disease or organism that might harm our planet. Thus, if I manage to return, I’ll be in prison for quite some time. Then again, it’s just a prison for me and not my death.
After a great deal of thought on the part of the scientists, I’m sent through a portal selected by the government. I wear the kind of clothing a man would wear on a camping trip. I carry, in a backpack, the kind of supplies that a man might carry on a camping trip plus a tiny battery-powered transmitter and a location device. I also carry a heavy ceramic knife, a bow and ceramic tipped arrows and a heavy spear with a ceramic tipped point. (I would like to take a rifle and ammo, but the scientists tell me that the portal won’t transport that much metal.)
My actual trip through the portal is sort of an anti-climax. I simply walk into the portal and then through a sort of shifting gray mist until I emerge in a sort of rugged canyon not unlike the one from which I left. I can breathe the air in the canyon, which was likely. The builders of the portal wouldn’t reasonably have led a traveler to a place where he would die. However, the portal system is at least tens of thousands of years old and things do change over time.
Once I have exited the portal that I use to enter the new world, I find that I can’t go back into the portal from which I just came. The portal from which I just emerged appears to be a perfectly smooth area, shaped like a large doorway. The smooth area is part of a large black rock and the smooth area feels solid to my touch. From just outside my entry portal I can see another, nearby portal that, hopefully, is my way back. However, the government says that I’m not to come back until I have explored at least the area around the portal from which I exited. (What’s to prevent me from just trying the return portal right away, with no exploration? Well, back on Earth, there’s the little matter of a death sentence involved. My death sentence.)