Thomas Muoka's the tallest guy you've ever met. He'd get tired of people asking him, "Hey, you must be pretty good at basketball, right?" but he doesn't because he's actually really, really good at basketball, and likes telling people about it. He represented his city a few times when he was a decade or two younger; has a few trophies. Still plays on weekends. But he knows he's slowing down. It's mainly for his heart's benefit these days, because who wants to run on a machine? Physics is his day job.

Muoka's here because of physics and personal commitment. He wants to know what's happened to his friend. He has been throwing ideas backwards and forwards with Ashmore for some time. Ashmore said he was pretty close to solving a good portion of the problem a few days ago, before he called the meeting. Muoka wants Anne back. They were relatively close. He's aware that she had research in progress which dearly needs her input. And also, well, Mysteries Of Teleportation Revealed: he's a physicist, his job is to learn. This could be significant.

Dr Srin Shapur is minuscule. She has the kind of hair that's ideal for pinning up in a tight bun and then shaking down in slow motion halfway through the movie, and even has the thick, nerdy glasses to take off dramatically too. Unfortunately, this will never happen, because she needs the glasses to see.

She has been having an unproductive few months. She knows more than almost anybody in the country about sensory deprivation and the rate at which she is gaining knowledge of the subject - from reading others' work and from her own studies of her own unique patient - will put her at number one in the world before the year is out. But she still feels like she knows next to nothing. Despite her rigorously planned and carefully performed tests and therapies, Anne Poole is only glacially slowly recovering her mind; more slowly, even, than a newborn baby. And the tiny, barely detectable fragments of memories of her old life which Anne retained through her fossilisation are eroding, being overwritten even as days pass. Wiped clean to make space for Anne's mind to pull itself together again. It's demoralising work. It could be years before real progress is seen.

If Shapur could use medicines and sedatives, she'd be making better progress. That's why she's here, she tells herself.

Detective John Haddon - big guy, listen to that chair creak - is drawing blanks on the murder attempt and his superiors are getting tetchy. He wants to know who tried to kill Anne Poole. He wants to know why they picked such a preposterously over-complex method and he wants to know why they failed. He just wants it solved. Super-advanced quantum physics can go hang. He doesn't trust something so close to science fiction.

He still isn't completely sure it wasn't Ashmore.

And Ashmore, when he enters the small-ish meeting room with two enormous handfuls of paper, is gangly, ginger and... drained. He moves slowly, like he is carrying something enormously heavy on his back.

"I'll admit right off that this is superscience. Really odd stuff. Very much out there. I'm not in a position to study Anne for verification myself but this paper here..." - it is hefty and the front page has more equations than Haddon or Shapur can count on it - "...outlines my basic hypothesis."

"Superscience?" askes Shapur. Ashmore has seized upon a nearby flipchart and starting scribbling keywords and diagrams on it - possibly for nobody's benefit but his own.

"I think this can be adapted to work as a computer model and I think experimentation will confirm it in reality. You see... well, I'll try to keep away from mathematical language if I can. Time has altered for Anne's body. She's stuck. She's moving through it slower than the rest of us. Relativistic effects are applying to her skin and interior and her constituent cells, as if she's moving very close to the speed of light. Externally, what we see is apparently a person frozen in time. Not needing food or water or air because only a fraction of a second has passed from her perspective.

"How can she be moving at a substantial fraction of c and standing still at the same time? Because she's not moving in a straight line. She's moving in circles. Imagine a long thin tube, a cylinder. The surface of that cylinder is two-dimensional. But if you zoom out a long way, the long narrow cylinder appears thinner and thinner until it looks like just a line - one-dimensional. That's like the universe. Several of our spacial dimensions are wrapped around on a tiny scale like this so that from our macroscopic perspective it looks like reality is only three-dimensional. Like we're a paper-thin universe. But actually we can move, very, very slightly, imperceptibly, through a fourth spacial dimension.

"That's what's happening to Anne. She's vibrating into and out of the fourth dimension at some mind-numbingly high velocity, millions of times per second. She spends enough time in our plane of reality that she still interacts with it in the usual fashion - enough to reflect light and other EM waves in the usual way, enough to be subject to gravity. She looks normal and moves about normally. But almost no time passes for her, because every particle in her is going around in 4D circles at close to lightspeed.

"Get her under an electron microscope and I think you'd be able to bear this out. It's not magic, it's just a slightly unusual application of relativity on a local scale. It's not a complete theory, for that I would need at least some observational data, but with tweaks I think it can be made to work.

"Does that make sense?"

"Yes," says Shapur. "I guess so."

"Sure," says Haddon.

"No," says Thomas Muoka.

"No!" shouts Ashmore. He storms over to the flipchart, rips off the paper and tears it up. "It doesn't. At all.

"This solves maybe ten percent of the enigma. She can still move about. She can walk and talk, although I know she's having to learn how to do all of this again from scratch. She can see and think and respond to stimuli. So it seems like every part of her body is living on accelerated time except for her nervous system, which is acting like normal. Unless, discarding the impossible in favour of the improbable, her brainstem is in drastically decelerated time like the rest of her, and it is simply responding billions of times quicker than previously. In either case, certainly most of her body is in perpetual motion and can't seem to be slowed down. Which is, again, a complete thermodynamic contradiction in terms. Anne Poole is an anomaly. Something is drastically, hideously, cosmically wrong with her. And that's not the most important part.

"This has nothing to do with teleportation.

"Anne's immortal. But the clothes she was wearing when she was teleported are still perfectly ordinary. Samples of thread were successfully taken for study not long after she was dug up. Her mobile phone, which she was carrying when she disappeared, ran down its battery while it was buried, but it was successfully charged up again by the police when they checked its memory. I know, I had the report pulled by Haddon. None of the artifacts Anne carried with her were affected by the jump. And on the quantum level, there's no difference between biological and non-biological matter, and so there's no reason why they should have been affected differently from Anne herself.

"Which means that, at the time of the jump, Anne was already immortal."

"Adrian, there are military and defense angles coming in here," says Muoka. "Teleportation was one thing. When Anne disappeared it became untouchable. But immortality technology could be the biggest thing of all time. The research is being distributed, there are people we both know being recruited by serious outfits with serious money and secrecy behind them, even as I speak. Contractors. NDAs. Do you know who Michaelson Group are? Everybody's been talking about it, it's all over the news. It doesn't matter that our equipment's all shot and shut down, there'll be more independent TP tests within months. And now you're saying--"

"I'm saying there's something else at work here."

Haddon says, "So we can't live forever."

"I'm not saying we can't live forever," says Ashmore. "And I'm not saying it would be an abomination against God and nature to try. I'm pro-immortality. But we can't jump to conclusions. We need to take this really slowly or somebody else - multiple people - are going to get seriously hurt. We need to abandon some assumptions."

"How do you kill an immortal?" asks Shapur, rhetorically.

Ashmore points at her, lecturing instinct taking over. "Correct. You can't. But you can neutralise her by putting her out of harm's way."

"Did she know she was immortal?" asks Muoka.

"I'm sure that an eyewitness can be found to testify that she was eating and drinking like a normal human being up until as late as breakfast on the day of the experiment," says Haddon.

"But that doesn't necessarily prove anything," says Muoka.

"She's not going to remember," says Shapur. "We're rebuilding her mind from scratch, she'll be a whole new person. Only the very deepest structures of Dr Poole's mind have survived intact. So I can say for a fact that we can't and won't ever be able to ask her."

"But someone knew," says Ashmore. "Someone who wanted Anne out of the way and who knew teleportation physics. A lot of teleportation physics. Ten times as much as anybody in the world knew at the time of the experiment, as far as we know. Which... is..." - he meets Muoka's eyes for just a moment - "just about possible."

"Unless it's divine intervention."

"What was it you were saying?" says Haddon. "An abomination against God?"

"There was a lightning strike," Muoka notes wryly.

"So Anne turns herself immortal and God takes offence?" says Ashmore. "No. I don't accept that."

"When you say 'just about possible'," says Haddon, "are you talking about industrial espionage?"

Ashmore glances at Muoka again, as if seeking permission for something. Muoka shrugs.

"Not exactly," says Ashmore.

Next: Exponents

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Discussion (2)

2009-10-25 04:13:11 by i:

Dude, is this a site dedicated to Isaac Asimov? I love his work. You are using his short-story type format, where he doesn't bother to introduce the main characters and he usually lets character dynamics and deceptively ordinary plot lines to bring out some sort of paradox or interesting perspective of science. Except this site also has kitschy math questions for captchas and sub-minimalist styling.

2009-10-25 21:33:22 by qntm:

When you write short stories there are certain things that you just have to do to make them short, and omitting significant character development and setting description is one of them. When you write science fiction short stories, naturally you're going to bring out some interesting paradox of some real or fictional science in some fashion. So basically the only reason you're calling this Asimovian is because perhaps you haven't read enough other short sci-fi :)