“This is the cargo?” said Stella. “A computer drive?”

Whitaker hugged the transport case to him like a baby doll. “Not just any computer drive,” he said. “This has a complete set of updated teleporter keys, cryptographic ciphers, and routing information for the GesteCo Galactic Teleporter Network!”

“Email it,” Stella said flatly. “This ship has a cargo capacity of 75 metric tons. That thing weighs 7.5 metric kilograms, if that.”

“Coherent data streams go through the GTN,” Whitaker replied, owering his voice a note, as if the data might overhear, “and we’re worried about this information falling into the wrong hands. We’re using local FTL networks to do the update, but I need you to take me to Ultimata Thule so we can start the update from there too.”

“Sneakernet, huh?” Stella said. “Fine. But GesteCo is wasting its money.”

“GesteCo can’t waste its money,” Whitaker said, offended. “If it pays for something, that thing is worth paying for.”

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“What I am about to tell you does not leave this room,” said Whitaker. He slid another e-ink form across the table–the fifth of the conversation, for those keeping count. “Your signature to this GesteCo nondisclosure form will ensure that.”

Captain Estrada sighed and signed. “Tell me.”

“GesteCo LLC GmbH galactic teleporters have a…slight…rate of failure,” Whitaker said. “Less than .0001%, but still concerning enough for this cargo.”

“Worried about horrible transporter accidents? Mutant and meltings?” Stella laughed. “It’s still the safest way to travel, statistically speaking, isn’t it?”

“Sometimes cargo and people wind up in the wrong dimension,” Whitaker said. “And it’s recently come to our attention that some of those other dimensions’ counterparts to GesteCo might be…deliberately…slipping important things over.”

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“I was top of my class at flight school, and I woulda had my schooling, and my ship, paid off within five years.” Stella kicked up her boots and put them on the table. “Care to guess what happened?”

“The galactic teleporter?”

“THE GALACTIC TELEPORTER.” Stella kicked her drink back. “Now the only business I can get is short-range milk runs to places when their teleporters are on the fritz or under construction, and a few luddites who don’t want their molecules scrambled. You know how long it’ll take to pay off my loans at this rate?”

Whitaker never took out loans, as a rule, but then again he’d never had to. He shook his head.

“127 years. Thank you very much, Geste-fucking-Co.”

“So you’re saying…?”

“I’m saying that GesteCo LLC GmbH had better be willing to put up the cash, in advance, at a markup,” said Stella. “And GesteCo LLC GmbH had better be willing to put up with a lot of lip, too. Because I may be desperate but I also hate you.”

“Done,” said Whitaker. He put an e-ink form before Stella. “Fill in whatever amount you’d like. We’ll calculate additional expenses at the conclusion of the voyage as enumerated in Section III.”

The boots were off the table now, and Stella was reading the e-ink with rapt attention. “And the lip?”

“As an outside contractor, you are not subject to GesteCo LLC GmbH’s Professional Conduct Policy,” Whitaker said. “You’ll be responsible for the consequences of your utterances without access to GesteCo LLC GmbH’s legal team, of course.”

“You really are serious,” said Stella. She signed the form with a flourish and a fingerprint. “What could possibly be so important that you don’t want to just teleport there in this day and age?”

“Just a hunch,” Whitaker said. “But if I’m right, you might be seeing a lot more business very soon.”

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“It’s all right,” the docent said. “You’re all right. Thank you for using the GesteCo Galactic Teleporter Network.”

“Wh-what?” the woman said. “Where am I? What is GesteCo?”

“You’ve just experienced a rare but significant side effect of galactic teleportation,” said the docent. “You’ve materialized in a nearby quantum skein.”

“A…a what?”

“A parallel dimension. Come, let us get you to the GesteCo Recovery Room and talk about your options.”

Whittaker shook his head. “Shouldn’t they just be told about the parallel dimension first off? What is this ‘quantum skein’ nonsense?”

“We’re trying to keep them overwhelmed and confused until we can get them to sign the waiver,” said Mattheson. “Once GesteCo LLC GmbH has been relieved of liability in perpetuity throughout the multiverse, we can be a bit more real with them.”

“What’s done with them?” The executive watched the woman being led away. “Are they sent back?”

“It depends,” Mattheson said.

“Depends? Depends on what?”

Mattheson had the look of someone discussing an unpleasant memory or an upcoming colonoscopy. “Well, some of the…travelers…are from realities that are incompatible with their form of life. They of course are usually terminated through natural causes and taken for study. The others are given a thorough interrogation by GesteCo archivists and intelligence officers—the more you know, right?—before we attempt to match their quantum resonance to a carrier wave to send them back.”

Whitaker looked Mattheson in the eye. “And does it work?”

“Hell if I know. But they’ve never come back, so we have to assume that the problem has been handled. And GesteCo LLC GmbH has no liability either way.”

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