|Genre(s)||Horror, Science fiction|
The Twilight Zone Magazine (1st release),|
|Media type||Print (Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)|
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The story takes place early in the 24th century, when the technology for teleportation, referred to as "Jaunting", is commonplace, allowing for instantaneous transportation across enormous distances, even to other planets in the solar system.
The term "Jaunting" is stated within the short story to be an homage to The Stars My Destination, a science fiction novel by Alfred Bester. King also includes a reference to two "American heroes... President Lincoln and President Hart," presumably meaning Abraham Lincoln and Gary Hart. King supported Hart's 1984 and 1988 campaigns for President of the United States.
In the future, humans have developed a form of instantaneous teleportation called "the Jaunt", allowing colonization of the solar system. Mark Oates and his family are transferred from their home in Schenectady to a new posting on the Mars colony of Whitehead City with Texaco Water. As his family prepares to be "Jaunted" from the Port Authority Terminal in New York City, Mark entertains his two children by recounting the semi-apocryphal tale of the discovery and history of teleportation. He explains that in 1987 the United States suffered a severe energy crisis due to an OPEC oil embargo. An eccentric scientist, Victor Carune, accidentally discovered the Jaunt after years of research after teleporting two of his fingers. Although the Jaunt functioned perfectly when he tested inorganic objects, Carune quickly learned that it had a disturbing, inexplicable effect on the mice sent through the two Jaunt portals. The mice would either die instantly or behave erratically before dying moments later. Carune eventually concluded that they could only survive the "Jaunt effect" while unconscious. That, the father explains, is why all people must undergo general anaesthesia before using the Jaunt. The government, which learned of the Jaunt through Carune's use of a computer database in his experiments, soon took control of the project, demoting Carune to a figurehead in the program. After the introduction of the Jaunt to the public in 1991, the country experienced a strong economic boom, and the price of oil declined to such an extent that OPEC disbanded. Due to environmental pollution, water became a more expensive and profitable commodity than oil by 2006.
Mark spares his children the gruesome account of the first human to be Jaunted awake, a condemned death-row murderer named Rudy Foggia. The CIA offered a full pardon for agreeing to the experiment. After thirteen other inmates were Jaunted under the effects of anesthesia, Foggia came through and immediately suffered a massive heart attack, living just long enough to utter a single cryptic phrase: "It's eternity in there..."
Mark also doesn't mention that since the inception of the technology, roughly thirty people have Jaunted while conscious, voluntarily or otherwise. Each time, they either died instantly or emerged insane. One woman was even shoved alive into eternal limbo by her husband, stuck between two Jaunt portals. Even though his attorneys attempted to argue that he was not guilty on the grounds that his wife was technically still alive, the implications of that argument only served to secure and hasten his murder conviction and execution.
Mark then reveals the nature of why any conscious being goes insane or dies after being Jaunted. It is theorized that while physically the process occurs nearly instantaneously, to a conscious mind it lasts an eternity. One is simply left alone with their thoughts in an endless field of white for what is suggested to be possibly anywhere from hundreds to billions of years. However, the father is careful in his wording to keep from scaring his family.
After Mark finishes his story, the family is subjected to the sleeping gas and Jaunted to Mars. When Mark wakes, he is first aware of screaming. He finds his inquisitive son Ricky's hair suddenly lengthened and white with shock and cackling like a lunatic. Ricky held his breath while being administered the general anesthesia in order to experience the Jaunt while conscious, and has been rendered completely insane. Ricky confirms the terrible nature of the conscious Jaunt, shrieking "It's longer than you think, Dad! Longer than you think!" Ricky then claws his own eyes out as he is wheeled away from his horrified family by several Jaunt attendants.