That Mixed-Up Feeling

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It was already all over the news. Another accident, 100’th this year. A teleport intersection had malfunctioned during peak hour traffic and some poor punter had got minced. The media were having a field day. The physics geeks had got it wrong - blared the commentator, with evangelical zeal - and here’s the blood and gore to prove it. In the latter half of the 21st century we’re back to burning witches, except now they’re called “physicists”.

My job is to find out what went wrong. I’m Johnny Quantum - teleport engineer. Freelance. Well, what else am I supposed to do with a PhD in Teleportation? University academic? No chance. These days they won’t even look at you without a publications list as long as your arm and a “demonstrated ability” to pull in the dough to pay your own wage so the universities didn’t have to. I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not that: I could rake in the moolla as good as the next guy. But what they really want is mafia kingpins: university profs with a dirty finger in every pie. Remember old Don Corleone? Now, in 2055, world-wide, it’s Professor Corleone.

Last glimpse of the telly on the way out: it was chaos. Drivers losing their nerve, parking at the side of the road and waiting for a chance to go back the way they came. Can’t they just do the maths? Ten thousand-odd telesections in the world, processing millions of cars every day – yet in 6 months only 100 people’ve got minced... worldwide! Compare that to traditional intersections. It’s a no brainer.

I whacked the Telesection Inspector light onto the roof of my levicar. The old bomb could hardly get two feet off the ground. You get what you pay for, and I didn’t pay much. To get my brain into gear and dispel the hangover I thought through how the levicar worked. Gravitational London effect... I won’t bore you with the details, just Moogle it.

Soon the intersection loomed high above the road ahead of me: two symmetric, gossamer-thin graphene, Gothic-style arches joined at the apex about 50 yards up, the interior space shimmering in a dirty grey-black haze of fluctuating density that made semi-opaque random blotches. No, not bottled smog, but pure, clean quantum field.

I had to go right through it with the data recorder. It’s meant to measure fluctuations in the probability current - and that’s what I didn’t get. How does it observe that and not collapse the superposition of quantum states?

Why the heck was traffic still flowing? The whole thing was supposed to’ve been shut down after the accident but instead they only closed one lane... that figures: some kingpin would’ve lost too much money.

Drivers were instinctively slowing down before disappearing into the haze. This telesection model was rated at 100mph entry speed at a density of one car per four yards. Easy. Just don’t tailgate the guy in front of you. You know the rules - don’t be an idiot or you’ll get minced!

Well, that’s what we’re always told. Actually the gravlev mechanism itself creates a force field around every car that excludes massive objects - bridge pylons, other levicars, Australian blowflies - to within around 5 yards in all directions, meaning you’d bump off things and enter at better than the minimum distance apart. Everyone knows it.

Still they slowed down, causing a traffic-jam shock wave that had already propagated back a mile. I suppose it’s understandable. Would you drive at 100mph into a fog bank with near-zero visibility? You have no faith in physics!

But there was a nagging doubt in my mind... I just couldn’t shake it. Trouble is, the malfunctions seemed to come in waves. Just like those multi-particle quantum correlation, coincidence experiments at around the turn of the century when the particle paths were unobserved, just their destinations were. Except here we’re talking about big things like cars and intersections, not photons; and the telesections were scattered thousands of miles apart around the world.

That’s not supposed to happen. The pointy-heads had “rigorously” proven a probability of about 1-in-1000-million that the quantum amplitudes would go out of whack at the recombination stage and cause a nasty, blood-dripping accident. But if you actually plot the data you’ll see a neat wave that only averages out at 1-in-1000-million: the probability peaks at about 1-in-ten-million.

And with ten million cars going through in a day...

You can bet that every one of those ten million-plus drivers is thinking as they’re going in: is today my (un)lucky day?

We were near a correlation peak now - it’ll last about two days. A world-wide macroscopic spooky-action-at-a-distance effect.

That’s not supposed to happen.

I was almost in. Just two cars left in front of me. Traffic had slowed to a crawl. The media circus was there, with cameras trained on the exits, like poised vultures, hoping to catch another mincing on live TV. The comperes wore glittering jumpsuits and massive multicoloured wigs in desperate attempts to outdo each others’ garishness. Their entourage of hangers-on cooed in faux amusement at their every word.

The air suddenly became cool, smelled like ozone. I could almost touch the dark haze ahead of me. It dwarfed the surroundings and made me remember the Death Star from that old sci-fi film series.

Just then memories of impressions flashed into my mind, of how it all began. The birth of human teleportation had passed into infamy. The first machine was unveiled in time for Anton Zeilinger’s 92nd birthday. Zeilinger - last of the good guys. Then he became its first victim. Mashed up into a quivering blob of bloody body parts reassembled inside out.

Luckily he’d won the Nobel Prize the year before.

Now it was my turn. I braced myself as I entered the haze. Everything started going in slow motion. The last thing I remember as I went in was that queasy, unnerving feeling of your stomach going up through your mouth.