The Gateways

            The gateways had always been there, for as long as the inhabitants could remember, as long as memory existed on the island. They were housed in cylindrical domes, of a material impossibly hard and smooth. Occasionally, the doors to the domes would close, sealing seamlessly with the surface of the walls. Unsure of their failing, or the caprice of the gods, the inhabitants would pray, make offerings or sacrifices, until eventually the doors would open again, and the gateways would be accessible once more.

            To the inhabitants, the gateways had two primary reasons. First, they took you to different parts of the island: from the village to the southern beaches, the northern cliffs, the orchard fields, or to the valley depths, where springs pooled from the misting waterfall. There were paths between the different destinations that one could walk, but most of the islanders took the gateways for the second of the two reasons. As one walked through a gateway, and before arriving at the desired destination, there was the most overwhelming feeling of momentary bliss. The feeling kept the inhabitants active, and although each destination had its own appeal, it was the bliss that kept the gateways in regular use.

            Today, Felix was visiting the beaches, and he turned the dial on the gateway. He stepped through, and felt the familiar sensation of condensed pleasure wash through him.

            The two workers were in a final round of their game, their eyes open behind the virtual field that extended down from their headsets. Between rounds, or when one of them died, they would momentarily switch off, remove their headsets, and look through the large one-way glass, seeing the slow methodical conveyor belt on the other side. Regularly, a body would be lying prone on the belt, as it was moved to processing. It was monotonous work, but their headsets helped to pass the time. It was in the middle of a round, both of them completely immersed, when they heard a loud crack against the glass. The first worker switched off his virtual field.

            “What the fuck?”

            The second worker switched off his field. One of the humans had gotten off the conveyor belt, and with a look of incredulity and fear, was striking the glass.

            “Oh for fuck sakes,” the second worker said, switching on the language filter for his voice, and pressing a button to project it through the glass, “Please remain calm,” he said, and then set the voice to repeat, before turning off the voice projection.

            “What island is that from?”

            “Seven, again.”

            “Shut down their gateways, and put in a ticket for maintenance. This is the third time that switch has malfunctioned – fucking useless. And grab the manual gun too – nevermind, I’ll do it.”

            The worker grabbed the manual gun, and turned on his voice filter again, walking around their desk and through the door to the conveyor room. The human took one look at the thing that came through the door and screamed.

            “Please remain calm,” the worker said, before raising the gun and shooting the human in the chest. The human’s face relaxed into a look of blissful tranquility, and then collapsed. The worker picked up the body and placed it back on the conveyor belt.

            He returned to the desk behind the glass, “Did you submit a ticket?”

            “Yeah, maintenance will get to it. And I closed the island’s gateways for now.”

            “Good. Should we finish the round then?”

            “Might as well.”

            They turned their headsets back on, and the virtual field filled in. It was several hours before the maintenance engineer arrived and one of the workers let him in.

            The maintenance engineer disliked taking calls from the Farming Facility, and his dislike did not diminish as one of the workers there let him in.

            “Broken again,” the worker said by way of greeting.

            “It happens.”

            The worker snorted, “Pretty soon my job will be standing at the conveyor belt with a manual gun in my hand. Not fucking paid enough for that, am I?”

            The worker spoke as though the engineer was directly responsible for his pay, and continued on, unhindered by the engineer’s unresponsiveness, “You’re not the one they sent last week, are you – useless job he did, didn’t he?”

            The engineer remained silent, and was led through the building and into the conveyor room. The workers often acted as though a malfunctioned machine was the equivalent of a burned out light – and how evidently incompetent the maintenance engineers must be, to be unable to replace the bulb.

            In description they were simple: the gateways created copies. The reconstructed clone would drop onto the conveyor belt, while the original continued living in their designated enclosure. It was a remarkable process: completely painless – meeting all the new legislation on farming – and the animal that survived on the farm would only remembered an intoxicating, pleasurable after-effect, and a switch of location.

            The kill-switch on this machine must have malfunctioned again. It regrettably happened, and the legislation allowed for some latitude, and some degree of imperfection.

            “Try to have it last more than a week this time,” the worker said.

            The engineer sighed, and did his best to ignore him.

            Felix had only just stepped out of the cylindrical dome, witness to the rolling sand beaches, as the doors closed and sealed behind him. He hastily knelt down, reflecting and praying.

            Later, he would have to make a sacrifice, if the doors had not re-opened by then. But for now, he strolled out onto the beach. It was a beautiful day. For as long as the inhabitants could remember, as long as memory existed on the island: there were beautiful days.