Jeff looked at his plane ticket and frowned. Another trip to Oil City. His itineraries varied little – Tulsa, Dallas, Houston. Working for Big Oil had its compensations, mainly financial, but his travel schedule was not one of them. Staying in cut-rate motels near the oil fields, eating at joints where the gourmet fare was iceberg lettuce and some brand-name pizza…this was not the life he had dreamed of as a promising young man with a travel Jones. He felt like a loser at life. His marriage was shot, his job was boring. He sighed as he shuffled along through the security line.  The TSA agents must know his private parts by heart, he thought, since he passed through nearly every week. A middle-aged former athlete, he had had the usual joint replacements. The metal in his joints set off the alarm every time he navigated the screening device. Today, though, as he approached the long tables with bins, he saw that they had installed one of the new, high-tech machines. He had gone through them in other airports; you entered, raised your hands as if you were doing the Hokey-Pokey while they zapped you with some sort of exotic rays, then stepped out and waited until they waved you through. Apparently the new machines did not care if you were the Tin Woodman, as long as you didn’t have any explosives in your briefs. Much easier on people like Jeff, though maybe the rays weren’t that good for your health in the long run. At 50, he didn’t worry about that.

Jeff filled two bins with his jacket, belt, shoes, laptop and iPad. The bins moved forward and through the scanner; he stepped into the booth. Up went his hands and he closed his eyes momentarily, imagining the rays penetrating every atom of his body. He opened them to blackness and barely sensed rather than heard a voice, very distant, saying, “Damn! It malfunctioned again!” Jeff felt as if he were whirling through space. Or, rather, that space was whirling through him. He thought he could make out stars – at least there were tiny dots of light forming curved shapes, rather like a computer model of a prehistoric cave he had seen in a film the past week.

Was he being beamed up somewhere? Jeff had been a Trekkie as a youth and somewhere in the back of his reeling mind, he remembered that the space adventurers had their atoms reconstituted in a new place almost instantly. It must have felt like this, he thought. Where would his atoms be reassembled? Or had he gotten an overdose and this was his process of dying? He would know soon, of that he was certain. In the meantime, he wondered if he could affect the outcome at all – where would he like to end up? Visions of past visits to Paris, Brussels, Prague, Hong Kong, Sydney and other favorite places began to flow across a mind-screen. “Shit,” Jeff thought after a short while. “This is what happens as you’re dying; a trick of the brain as it shuts down.” He had just read about it – it explained the reports of people who had come back from nearly drowning or otherwise returned from the edge of the great abyss. Still, he would relish the memory travelogue as long as he could. He would be happy to end up in any of those places, even if he happened to be dead.

An explosive sensation occurred throughout Jeff’s body. His atoms rearranged themselves into a recognizable whole. He blinked and checked to make sure he had an adequate number of limbs. Yes, the usual number. His polo shirt and trousers were a bit dusty, but intact. No belt, no shoes. He was glad to be alive – or at least he thought he was alive. The sun was extremely bright; it was very hot. He squinted. Not Paris, Brussels, or Hong Kong, certainly. Where had the ray machine sent him? For once, something extraordinary had happened in his life. There was movement in the distance. Something was going up and down. He got up gingerly and walked slowly toward it, sweating in the shimmering heat.

Oh, no. An oil well. And more, as far as the eye could see. “You’re still a loser,” Jeff muttered to himself. “Beamed up to Oklahoma.”

Several men approached him. They were wearing white robes and headdresses. “Welcome to Saudi, Mr. Jefferson.”