The Phil Phorce is a fictional periodical featuring my favorite characters from my own writing. It comes out in episodes, once every three months or so. To find out more and to read previous episodes, please go to these two pages: About the Phils and the Phil Phorce. Please enjoy Phil Phorce, Episode 6: Soap Opera.
“We’ve examined the teleportation machine thoroughly,” Quirk told Percival. “We even sent a volunteer through.”
“One of the Phils?” asked Percival.
“No, one of the Blanks. The one kid who Christopher last talked to.” Quirk gestured to Riley, who was standing by Jordan’s side.
“Good, someone expendable.”
Quirk rolled his eyes. “He left similar piles of dust behind, but in different positions. From what we’ve hypothesized, Christopher was actually watching himself crumble away.”
“That means it wasn’t intentional,” said Percival.
“It also means it happened slowly enough for him to notice,” said Phoenix. “When it happened to Liam and I, we had no time to react. We just touched both pillars and that was that.”
“The speed with which you teleport is proportional to the quantity of the material,” Jordan said. “Because the process is often painful and disorienting, we made our machine with as great a quantity as we could.”
“I assume the material is metal?” asked Percival.
“It’s an uncommon ore, which is why our machine is fairly small,” said Jordan. “We haven’t given it a name yet, though “John-ium” is one idea the engineers have put forward.”
“So if something in that bathroom had that nameless metal, it could be used to teleport,” said Percival.
“But since it happened slowly, the quantity was actually rather small,” said Quirk.
“Have you tested the metal objects in the bathroom?”
“We didn’t find anything,” said Quirk. “We even had that kid touch everything in there as well.”
“Could it have been in the water supply?”
“We examined the contents of the septic tank,” said Jordan. “There was a very small quantity of the metal, but at that quantity it would only cause minor pain and perhaps a missing digit.”
“So it wasn’t the water, but it was washed into the water. Could it be on the inside of the faucet, contaminating the water as it goes through?”
“It would still end up in the septic tank.”
“But perhaps there was a magnetic pipe between here and the tank.”
“The metal is unaffected by magnetic fields.”
“Also, the device requires both a transmitter and a receiver,” said Jordan. “The transmitter had to be here, but the receiver obviously wasn’t. We need to find it. When we do, we find Christopher.”
“We’ll keep checking things,” said Quirk. “Percival, are you done with your list?”
“I covered the toilet, the sink, the plumber, and the soap supplier,” said Percival. “I’ve still got paper towels, tiles, overhead lights, air conditioning…”
“Better get to work, then,” Quirk said, clapping him on the shoulder.
Percival pulled him aside as Jordan and Riley drifted away. “I have a suspicion,” he said quietly. “That kid was with this guy just before he disappeared. How do we know he didn’t plant the device, then remove it later?”
“I’ve been thinking something similar,” said Quirk. “We’ll watch him. Now go get those interviews over with.”
“You’re doing well, Riley,” said Jordan, smiling at him as they walked away from the Phils. “Not every recruit has the chance to investigate their recruiting officer’s disappearance.”
Riley smiled back. “Pleased to be of service.” He just wished it wasn’t under these circumstances.
“You could be even more helpful if you ran these records back to the archive room.” Jordan handed him a packet of papers. “Percival finished with these companies this afternoon.”
Riley nodded and started toward the archive room. The Phils were a nice group of people, if a little bloodthirsty and imaginative. Percival was a little insulting toward the Blanks; he didn’t treat them as human. Christopher had said they weren’t like normal people, but he hadn’t made the point that they weren’t human. Percival’s attitude made him wonder if they were actually machines or something.
Riley reached the archive room and looked around for a place to put the papers. He didn’t know the filing system; a nice lady had gotten the papers for him earlier in the day, but now it looked like there was nobody around. Riley put the papers on the desk where the lady had sat and turned to leave.
“Put them back,” said a grouchy voice from the back.
“There’s a sticker on the top corner,” said the voice. “Numerical order.”
Riley filed the papers as best he could. He was about to leave when the voice spoke again.
“Did you sign for those earlier?”
“Sign. Clipboard on the desk.”
Riley turned the clipboard toward him and looked it over, then looked for a pen. He didn’t carry pens, and there wasn’t any chained to the desk or anything.
“Pens are in the drawer.”
“Thanks,” said Riley. He found a pen and put down his name and when he had given the papers back. He couldn’t remember when he had taken the files, though—it had been in the morning, but he wasn’t exactly sure. He tapped the pen against the paper.
The tip of the pen broke, spraying ink across the paper, his shirt, and his hand. Riley dropped the pen and stepped back, deciding that he had written enough. The place he was writing was stained blue anyway.
Dripping ink along the floor, he walked out of the archive room looking for a place to wash his hands. He considered the drinking fountain, but at the other end of the hall someone was watching. He didn’t want to make a bad impression—he had only been here one day.
The bathroom was right next to the drinking fountain. He shut the door with his clean hand and turned on the water. The ink rubbed into his skin instead of washing off. He pumped a lot of green soap out of the bottle and rubbed it into his hand, but the stain only faded a little. He rubbed harder.
His fingers began tingling. At first he thought he had somehow put his fingers to sleep, but then it felt like he was pressing his hand into a metal porcupine. He looked at his hand.
The stain was going away—that was good. His fingers were too.
This is what they had been talking about. This is what happened to Christopher just after the coffee had spilled. He had to tell them.
His hands were disintegrating, but he pulled the door open with his left stump. There had been a man at the other end of the hall a few minutes ago. He ran in the direction the man had been walking. Pain flared through his legs with each step. Catching up to the man, Riley hit him on the shoulder with his elbow to make him turn. He tried to tell what was happening, but his mouth was gone. Riley crumbled.