Previously

Dr Adrian Ashmore is gangly, ginger - right now, troubled. Understandably so. He fiddles obsessively with a clicky ballpoint pen and avoids meeting Detective Haddon's gaze when he enters the interview room.

"We've found Anne Poole," says Haddon, taking the seat in front of him. "Two days ago."

Ashmore raises his eyebrows. "Well, that's good to know. It's about time. Where was she?"

"She was in a coal seam, thirteen miles from your laboratory."

There is a long pause.

"...How far down?" asks Ashmore, eventually.

"About seven hundred feet," says Haddon.

There is another pause.

"What are you thinking?" asks Haddon.

"You know what I'm thinking, otherwise you wouldn't have asked me the question."

"Something was wrong with the equipment," Haddon suggests.

Ashmore shakes his head. "Until we ran it into the ground, the array was in perfect working order. I could have it running again inside a week. All I'd have to do is replace a few components."

"Something was wrong with the data. It looked like she went there but she went here instead."

Ashmore shakes his head. He fiddles with the ballpoint some more, then carefully stands it on its end. "The only way this would be possible," he says slowly, "is if there were two exchanges. First, Anne was swapped into the coal seam. Then, an instant later, a second operation swapped the coal from our lab into space, causing the thunderclap. The recording instrumentation would overwrite the first operation's data with the second so we would never see it. And we would never know that Anne had been sent underground instead. Running the second step a second time, like we did, would have no effect, and the statue itself is probably in millions of pieces somewhere in that area you combed. Easy enough to miss. That's the simplest explanation I can think of."

"And could all that have happened by accident?" asks Haddon.

"No. One program being corrupted, maybe. Then Anne would have just been in the wrong place at the right time. Two finely matched programs executing one after the other, with all the evidence being conveniently overwritten, is beyond coincidence. Somebody would have had to deliberately insert a pre-prepared substitute program set during the check-up procedure after the lightning strike." Ashmore exhales and then, hesitantly, says: "Which means Anne was murdered.

"At that time, I was the only person on the planet who understood teleportation well enough to construct those two programs on my own. That's why I'm here - I'm the man who knows the code best, I'm the man who should have seen the error. Which means that all the evidence points to me being the one who murdered her."

Ashmore puts the pen aside and leans forward. "I made a mistake. I admitted this a long time ago. The odds of a randomly chosen teleportation program successfully compiling are negligible. The odds of a lightning bolt randomly mutating the program from one correct form into another correct form, more or less zero. So when the program compiled correctly I naturally assumed that that was evidence enough that it was still the correct program. As for foul play-- that thought never even entered my mind until now. You have to believe me. I did not murder Anne. I have no motive. She was a dear friend to me. In several fields she was a genius. I worked with her on half a dozen papers, what would I stand to gain from killing her?"

"Anne's not dead."

Ashmore has to think about this for quite a long time. "Was... was she found hiding in this mine?"

"No. Sealed in the coal. Like a fly in amber. I watched her get dug out myself."

"And she's alive? How is that possible?"

"We don't know," says Haddon.

*

The raving colours and noises bouncing off the inside walls of Anne Poole's brain begin to fade in intensity. She becomes dimly aware that something strange is seeping in from the outermost portions of her consciousness, the parts connected to reality, so she flounders in the deep and overpowering ocean depth of the middle bit of her brain and begins to spacewalk along the murky bottom towards the beach.

As she gets closer the rippling light up above her resolves itself into a stylised yellow sun, and then, as she breaks the water's surface, lengthens and softens into a trio of short fluorescent tubes set into a tiled ceiling. She's warm. She's lying on something soft. All of these things are scary. Anne shrieks and flinches and tries to shrink away from the sensory overload. She can't do much more than close her eyes and curl into a ball.

"Anne?" She opens one eye briefly. A face has appeared over her. It matches a pattern she already knows. The name attached to it is all clogged up in her head somewhere, though. "Anne, it's Adrian," he whispers. "How are you feeling?"

Anne Poole curls up tighter and mumbles something. Not a lot of sound comes out. Nothing coherent.

"Anne, I'm sorry. We tried to rescue you. We're so sorry. I, um. I've no idea what would help you right now, the doctor said something familiar might help... I did some mathematical working. I'll put it here where you can see it. If you get used to light again, I mean. I don't know. You might recognise it. I couldn't get anything useful out. We are going to find who did this."

"Dr Ashmore, I think it would be best if we turn these lights down again," says another voice.

Ashmore looks up and nods, then leaves. The door shuts and the lights go out. Anne feels less dizzy like that, and relaxes a little.

*

Haddon and Ashmore meet the psychology consultant, Dr Shapur, in her office a little later.

"Even if they were provided with air, water and so on," says Shapur, sitting behind her desk, "a person deprived of stimulation in the manner that Dr Poole has endured would suffer irreversible psychological damage after only a few days. Eighteen months' exposure should have killed her, many times over - as it is, her mind has atrophied more than should even be possible. She still responds to external stimuli which means she is still thinking... I don't doubt that it's possible to rebuild her mind. But it could conceivably take a lifetime."

"Tell him how she survived," says Haddon.

Shapur picks up a bulging ring binder and flips through it to find the report she's looking for. "Dr Poole... has... changed, is the only way any of us can think to put it. The teleportation event has altered her. She no longer has any need to breathe, drink or eat. She has no digestive or respiratory function. She also doesn't give off body heat, which leads me to believe that biological activity in her body may have ceased completely. It's either hibernation or a good impression of it."

"But she's moving. She can make noise," says Ashmore.

"Yes. Her nervous system is still active. EEG came back completely negative but there is clear evidence of cognitive activity: she can think. To move and think, you need chemical energy from food and your cells need oxygen supplied by blood flow. Which makes her a living impossibility.

"Dr Poole seems to be opaque to X-rays now, likewise the RF radiation we use for magnetic resonance imaging. And her skin is now completely impenetrable: she severely damaged the longwall mining equipment that ran into her in the coal seam and we've found no scalpel or needle which can harm her either. Likewise, pills and medicine taken orally would remain undigested and take no effect. She can inhale and exhale, but the air she breathes out is chemically identical to what she takes in, which means foreign gases have no effect on her.

"In other words, we have no way to administer drugs to her. We have no way to sedate her. We are limited in the procedures we can use to examine and treat her. As I say: without access to many of our modern treatments, a complete 'cure' could conceivably take decades."

"Which is why I'm here," surmises Ashmore, beginning to understand.

"Dr Poole can't be physically hurt," says Shapur. "She can't be or drugged, or starved, or suffocated. If, as I suspect, biological activity in her body has truly ceased completely then she may even have stopped ageing. Which means that, seventy years from now, when she wakes up cured, she may be physically the same age as she is now."

"There'll be a hearing," says Haddon, "and you may have your sentence reduced in light of the new facts, but you're still going back to prison, and you'll probably never be allowed to touch the teleportation machinery again. But we're going to give you access to books. And a computer. Anything you need. Everybody's going to be studying this, you will be too. We want to know who did this to her just as much as you do. But we also want to know how. And, if possible, we want to know if this result can be reversed. Or duplicated."

Next: Indistinguishable from magic

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Discussion (3)

2010-02-22 17:33:29 by Dziugas:

She's INDESTRUCTIBLE! Awesome. Is she gonna fight the superhumans from the power of two? Man, I hope so. Crossover!

2011-07-07 13:56:23 by Anonymous:

Remember this started with a lightning bolt.
Perhaps she IS a power of two.

2014-08-19 21:43:38 by Mutecebu:

This seems like an awefuly harsh sentence for failing to realize code had been corrupted.