“James, give Sarah back her finger. Sarah, put your finger back on and stop playing with it.” Dealing with twelve four-year olds can be difficult. I don’t know how I’d manage without Milly. “Milly, help Sarah with that, would you?” Instantly Milly was crouched beside Sarah, helping her wipe off her finger and get it back in place. I turned my attention back to the class.
“Everyone listen carefully. We’re going on a field trip today, to a transition room. Does everyone know what that is?” Most of the children did, but there were a few puzzled looks that faded quickly to that faraway stare kids get when they use their link. Within a second all of them were nodding, trying to look as if they had known all along.
“Did everyone get their parents’ permission?” Again, there were a few that spent a fraction of a second staring into space as they hurriedly checked with their parents. Then everyone was nodding. A quick check on Sarah — ten fingers all in place — and we exited the classroom.
The lights faded up on the transition room. It was fairly simple: dark carpeting on the floors and three walls, a soft glow from the ceiling, a set of toys neatly arranged against one of the carpeted walls, and what looked much like a mirror on the fourth wall.
It wasn’t a mirror, but a display with a mirror image of the room on it. Since the display worked by interacting directly with each person’s visual cortex, everyone saw a mirror image appropriate to his or her perspective.
Before the children had a chance to run for the toys, I called out to them. “Attention, please, everyone.” They all looked at me, although I could tell some of them were studying the toys as well — kids don’t generally learn to separate their facial expression from what they’re linking of until they’re five or six.
I was about to speak when James’s hand shot up. I noticed his hair had changed from pink to green on the trip over. “Yes, James?”
“Miss Poe, how is transitioning different than porting?”
“That’s an excellent question, James. Porting is much easier because all the work is done for you. When you transition, you have to focus your consciousness from one place to another. Only you can do it. Does that answer your question?” He nodded somewhat hesitantly, so I turned back to the class. He’d understand better by experience than an explanation anyway.
“This is a typical transition room. This is where people learn to change form from physical to digital and from digital to physical. Once you’ve practiced a bit, you’ll be able to do it quickly and easily. If you care to spend the time, you’ll get to the point where you don’t need the transition room at all — you’ll just think about it and it will happen. Can anyone think of a person who might get that good at it?”
For a split second I got twelve blank stares. Then twelve hands shot up. “Yes, Celie?”
“Yes, an ambassador would have to go back and forth so often, it would be an advantage not to have to use a transition room to do it. Can anyone think of another type of person who would have to practice making the transition? Yes, James?”
“Yes, a soldier makes transitions all the time.” I frowned slightly to let him know he was being inappropriate. “Okay, is everyone ready to get started?” They all nodded their heads, but I noticed Sarah’s anxiety level rising a bit. I forwarded the data feed to Milly as I walked over toward the toys.
Scanning the row as if I hadn’t already decided, I picked up a stuffed bear. It squirmed in my hands a bit since I had picked it up by the back, but settled when it realized I didn’t need or want it to do anything more.
Turning to the kids I said, “These toys are here for you to play with, but they also serve another purpose. They’re going to help you to transition. They will help distract you so that the transition program can kick in. Making a transition is all about relaxing and letting yourself go. So enjoy yourselves, and Milly and I will be over in the corner if you need us.”
Milly was already in the corner, so I went to join her. The kids immediately took to the toys, and I could see their cognitive patterns moving in the right direction except for one: Sarah wasn’t settling in the way she should. I could even see it looking at the expression on her face. She was half-heartedly playing patty-cake with the bear, but she obviously wasn’t enjoying it.
I linked with Milly, then opened a full readout on Sarah. I usually don’t do that with the kids — it’s within my scope of course, but I guess I’m a bit old-fashioned. Her stress levels were high in several categories and slowly rising. She wasn’t thinking about the bear. Instead she was focused completely on the transition, which is a sure-fire way to fail at it.
Class was scheduled to end in fifteen minutes — I didn’t have time to be subtle. I ran a quick check on the other eleven. All of them were doing well. James was already sixty percent focused on the other side of the mirror. In another minute or two he’d have completed his first transition. The others weren’t far behind, averaging forty-two percent. The system had already started to add new toys on the other side; toys that weren’t on our side of the mirror.
I checked back on Sarah. Her stress levels were higher and she was still at zero. I linked to her so as not to upset any of the others. Sarah, honey, what’s bothering you?
Nothing. I just don’t want to do it.
I checked — it was true as far as it went, but she was holding back. I could have opened her up to figure it out, but I didn’t want to go that far. Did your parents talk to you about transition? You know it’s — I was about to say that it was one of the class requirements, but her stress levels were spiking as I talked so I changed it to — no big deal. We can try again some other time. Maybe when the other kids aren’t around. Just you and me. How does that sound? Her thoughts smoothed out a little.
Damn her parents. Some people just drop their infants off and expect you to make a person out of them. What’s the point of making a kid if you’re not going to raise it?
Sarah, why don’t you just come over here and sit with Milly and me? She dutifully walked over and sat down. As soon as she was comfortable I froze her mental processes and faded her out of the other kids’ visual perception. Time to check on the rest of the class.
James was mostly transitioned. On our side he was nearly motionless, while on the other side he was exploring his new body and the toys on that side. His hair was now purple. Celie wasn’t far behind, and all of them looked a little sluggish on our side. I didn’t want to interrupt the lesson, so I’d have to retcon Sarah and her episode out of the day’s class after it was over. I hated having to rewrite their whole day like that, but there was no other option.
Milly leaned close and whispered, “You need to hurry if you’re going to greet them on the other side.” Fine for her to talk — she could transition in an instant. But she was right. I took a breath, calmed myself, and stared at my reflection. I concentrated on my left hand. For some reason it was always easier to start there rather than with my right. I suppose I could self-analyze to figure out why, or even change it if I wanted to, but it’s one of those personality-defining things that lose their flavor if you study them.
In a moment I was wiggling my fingers on the other side. Soon I had a moment’s dizzyness, and I was watching my hand not move on the other other side. Milly was already there beside me, of course. I turned to the kids. All of them were there more or less. A quick check — all but three were fully transitioned, and those would be within the next twenty seconds. Apart from Sarah it had all gone smoothly.
I smiled at them brightly and erased Sarah from their day. “Children, I’m very proud of you. That was excellent work. If any of you ever have to actually transition to physical bodies I’m sure you’ll do just fine. Run along home now, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” One by one they disappeared like so many soap bubbles as they ported home. I deactivated Milly and sighed.
Sarah was still motionless on the other side. I cancelled the transition room simulation, walked over and unfroze her, and helped her up. “Sarah, let’s go have a talk with your parents.”
This is a story I wrote several years ago. I ‘m curious how many people saw the ending coming.