It is protocol to send the food first, before the passenger.

The appropriate food is placed on the platform. After five seconds it will disappear and it is very, very important to wait for confirmation from the other side that it has arrived and a report as to its condition. If the food does not appear at the other end, you must send more.

It is only safe to have the passenger step onto the platform when the destination platform receives more an item of food that is more than 75% untouched. It means that they are full.

The passenger must be transported once the recipient facility reports this condition has been met.  The window of time thereafter is not very long, a lesson learned quickly, if punitively. The hunger will always return.

We are still no closer to understanding how the platforms function. They were discovered on Earth several centuries ago, in seemingly random locations around the world. Having identical pieces of stonework planet-wide was an anthropological mystery, but there is still no confirmed creator.  They have not been dated as the stone is too hard to take even a fragment from.

When humanity first colonised other planets we discovered the same platforms on each, covered completely by dirt or otherwise. Every habitable planet seemed to have them, but no other signs of past civilisations.

It took time to connect the dots when the first platform was used. Once the first platform was uncovered off-world, bones and viscera soon appeared. They were clearly not from a long-extinct alien species and were quickly confirmed to be human. The first confirmed passenger was Elizabeth Miller. Her driving licence was still in her wallet. It was the largest piece of matter left in the pile that was found on New Theia.

Elizabeth had been hiking over the Roaches in England when she stepped on a platform at the peak of a ridge. People were not supposed to walk on them, being historical remnants, but it was not uncommon. A photograph of the empty space where she had been posing became iconic as the importance of the platforms became well-known.

The platforms were then cut-off from the general population and studied. It was soon discovered that any living matter sent through ran the risk of being torn apart completely. Only the hardest elements would appear at the other end, even then some of the bones were never recovered.

It was only after extensive testing that a limit was found. The hunger could be sated, allowing the next subject to pass through untouched.

The first living survivor was a rabbit, which lived out its days spoiled by Martian scientists.

No one who goes through a platform can remember the journey. Tests show that no time passes for the passenger outside of the time taken for transport, being a matter of seconds. Some passengers have been encouraged to hold their breath to test this, although this seems to be more for fun than anything.

Recording devices don’t work, either. There is nothing to be seen in the dark frames between departure and arrival.

Today we are awaiting the arrival of new staff.

The platform glows and a small pool of grease and saliva appears. The remains of some roast meat, I would guess. This is our first transport of the day; the bones rarely make it through when they haven’t been fed for hours. Some of the other scientists begin to bet on what will come through next.

The platform glows again and small bones appear. A chicken, I surmise.

An apple appears. There is a chunk taken out of it, but the bulk is untouched. We send the signal that it is safe to send the first passenger.

The platform glows and for a moment we wonder why they sent more food through despite sending clearance. These bones are much larger than anything commonly transported. It is the skull that causes the silence to be broken. Those not in shock race to the terminals to warn the other base to stop transport immediately.  I stare at the stripped skull and wonder who was sent through first.

We receive back confirmation: they will send no one else through.

Seconds late the system goes wild with notifications from other facilities. One of my co-workers manages to call her friend in an Earth transport facility. Even with the phone pressed against her ear I can hear the screaming in the background.

A system-wide announcement cancels all transport until further notice. No one is to touch the platforms. We stand in silence, waiting for further news.

The platform glows and in that moment, I think again about why we never found signs of the previous inhabitants of these planets.

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