One Quantum Leap for Mankind
Thor sat back and looked at the circuit board on the bench in front of him. A light wisp of smoke from his last solder point slowly dissipated in the breeze from the ceiling fan. "It should work now," he said.
Sitting at the counter across the room, my girlfriend Carley snorted. "That's what you always say. That's what you've said at least a hundred times. It never works. You two geniuses promised to take me to the Mango Tree for dinner tonight and it's time to get dressed. Leave that damned thing until tomorrow morning and let's go."
"Just give us two minutes," I said. "If it doesn't work, we're all yours."
Carley rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right! 'If it doesn't work.' Jack, you know damn well that what you're trying to do is freaking impossible." She looked down at the cat sitting in her lap. "Fluffy here has a better chance of catching a seagull …. OW!" Fluffy had noticed that Carley had stopped petting her in exactly the approved manner and had retaliated with a bite.
Thor laughed. "Serves you right for trying to be friends with that ugly little monster." He slid the circuit board into its place in the rack and plugged in five cables connecting it to our revolutionary invention. Well, it would be revolutionary if we could get it to do anything.
Carley stood up, dumping the bad tempered cat onto the floor. She examined the tooth marks on her thumb. "Hurry up. I'm getting hungry."
I hooked up the power as Thor jumped down from his stool. Thor is probably the smartest person I know, but he's somewhat limited by his height. Thor is a dwarf, about 4 feet 8 inches tall. I'd built a couple of low platforms so he could work at my bench. I'm a foot and a half taller than Thor and might be a better electronics engineer, but his skill at higher math, especially his grasp of quantum mechanics, is far ahead of mine. Concepts that seem obvious to him are completely beyond me.
Sitting next to the rack was a clear plastic box, eighteen inches square, coated on the inside with a transparent, electrically conductive film. A device the size of a small cell phone was epoxied to the top. Inside the box was a 10" plastic figure of Thor, the god of thunder, complete with hammer, red cape and winged helmet. It looked nothing like my friend. Thirty feet across the room was an identical box, empty. Thor checked the conductivity on both the boxes with a multimeter and gave me a thumbs-up.
I turned on three digital video cameras to record the (we hoped) success of our experiment. So far, we had deleted the recordings of 118 attempts.
I shook my head at Thor. "This is going to look fantastically stupid, you know. Using a doll for an historic event like this."
Thor laughed. "It's not a doll, Jack. It's an action figure. I've told you that. Stop calling it a doll." Thor's Finnish accent was barely detectable.
"It's not going to be an historic event, either," said Carley. "Just another failure. Try not to set the silly thing on fire this time."
"Whatever," I said. "Your turn, Thor."
Thor climbed back onto the platform and thumbed the spring-loaded toggle switch. His "action figure" vanished.
We all jumped. "Son of a bitch," gasped Carley. "It worked!"
The figure of Thor was now in the other box, across the room. Fluffy, completely unimpressed, walked to the sliding glass door leading to the back yard and meowed. Carley ignored her.
I could barely speak. "Reverse the polarity and hit it again, Thor," I croaked. Silently, Thor turned a knob on the control board and flicked the toggle switch again. The little plastic deity instantly reappeared in the box where it had started.
I'd thought of several comments that would be appropriate to the occasion, but they all seemed 'way too trite. I kept my mouth shut.
Thor reached over to the nearer box, unlatched the side and pulled out the plastic figure. Then he did what any human male would do; he gave it a good whack against the hard surface of the workbench. It didn't break.
"That's what we'd hoped for," Thor said. "The math is tricky. Shutting off the Higgs field, even for such a short time, might have damaged the subatomic structure." He smacked the thing twice more. "Seems okay." He tossed it to me.
I pulled on the doll's arms and legs and twisted the hammer. As far as I could tell, it was unchanged and I slid it across the bench to Thor. I looked at Carley. "Lizard!"
Carley snatched a small Tupperware container off the counter behind her, opened the sliding glass door and headed into the warm late afternoon Florida sunshine filling the back yard. Fluffy followed her.
Thor faced the nearest camera and held up his alter ego. "That was one short quantum teleport for Thor," he announced in a Hollywood-game-show-host voice, "one giant freaking leap for applied physics!"
I laughed. "Not bad, but it was actually two short teleports. And I thought you didn't like 'short' jokes."
Thor grinned. "I wasn't joking, Jack. Let's just hope the process doesn't kill plants and animals."
Carley picked that moment to come back. Inside her Tupperware bowl was one of the small, ubiquitous lizards that infest central Florida. She popped the top off the bowl and flipped the lizard into the quantum teleport box. She quickly closed and latched the side of the box before the lizard could escape.
I reset the system polarity and hit the toggle. Instantly, the lizard was scrambling frantically in the far box. I spent the next couple of minutes swapping polarity and bouncing the tiny reptile back and forth across the room. I counted fifty trips in each direction. Aside from being visibly upset, the lizard seemed perfectly healthy.
"So far, so good," I said. "I wonder what it looks like from inside. The view is completely different from each box. No wonder the little bastard is going nuts."
"Well," said Thor, "there's no sensation of movement, that's for sure. We'll have to teleport an accelerometer to be positive, of course. That'll be one of the big questions when this is reviewed. In the meantime, we need a higher form of life than a half-ounce lizard." He looked around. "Where's that cat?"
"You keep your goddamn hands off Fluffy," snarled Carley. "Use a rat!"
Thor grinned. "Alright, don't get excited. We'll go to the pet store in the morning and buy a hamster. Maybe a nice parakeet." He stepped off his platform. "Can we still make it in time for our reservation?"
I locked the key circuit board in my big gun safe and called the restaurant to move our reservation back half an hour. Forty minutes later, we were seated. The waiter took our drink orders and left us to study our menus.
"You're going to have a tough time with the peer review process," said Carley, shaking her head. "You can't publish the details of the teleporter. You can demonstrate it, but if the actual mechanism gets out, everyone will rip it off. The Chinese will have a field day. How are you going to protect your patent?"
Thor leaned over the table and whispered, "We're not." He straightened up. "We're going to do what any sensible person would do. We'll license the device to three or four of the biggest multi-national corporations in the world and let them try to protect it. They have the resources, the money, the lawyers, the experience. If we tried to do it ourselves, we'd have every government you can name trying to kidnap us. The USA would be first in line. We'll have to keep this quiet until we're ready to announce it."
The waiter brought our drinks and a bread basket. We ordered our entrees and he went away.
"Jack and I have the patent application ninety-nine percent complete," Thor continued. "All we have to do is insert the six components we've changed and it's ready to go." He tore off a hunk of bread and dipped it in olive oil. "And you better believe we won't include all the specifics in the patent application. Nobody except us needs to know how the control process works."
"What we're going to do is simple," I said. "Thor and I are well known for our work with exotic materials. If we tell the right people at our target corporations that we have something they'll be interested in, I guarantee we'll have an audience. We'll overnight the patent application the day of the demonstration. Let the big boys worry about security and patent infringements." I took a sip of my 25 year old Scotch. "Our biggest problem will be avoiding reporters and talk-show hosts who know nothing about science."
Carley smiled. "You're going to have to do interviews. This is a huge invention. I'm no scientist, but it's sure to lead to all kinds of new discoveries. You two are certain to get a Nobel Prize. And what's it going to do to the transportation industry? You said the range of the thing is limited, but I didn't pay much attention. I didn't think you could make it work. How limited is it?"
We talked all through the meal and desert, making our plans.
Three weeks later, Thor and I had our demonstration set up in a conference room at the Gaylord Palms Convention Center south of Orlando. We had narrowed our choices to four big, powerful, rich international corporations. They were based in Japan, Germany, Holland and the USA. There was no love lost between them. They were fierce competitors, which was exactly what we wanted.
At 9:00AM sharp, I tapped my mike to get their attention. Each company had sent three or four representatives. I'd insisted on at least one skilled physicist from each company.
"Ladies and gentlemen," I said. "Let's get started. You all know Thor and you know me. We've done business before. What we have for you today is quite different from the materials we've shown you in the past. Rather than trying to explain what we've got, I'd like to do a quick demonstration. Dr. Sato, if you would step up here, please."
The Japanese scientist came up onto the low stage and I directed him into the seven foot tall clear booth next to the lectern. He sat on a padded chair in the center of the booth and I closed the door.
"Please notice the booth next to the door where you came in'" I said, pointing to the back of the room. I smiled at Dr. Sato. When everyone looked back at me, Thor raised a modified TV remote and punched one of the buttons. Dr. Sato and the chair he was sitting on vanished. It was a dirty trick, I'll admit.
The startled looks on the faces of our audience members were interrupted by a howl from the back of the room. Dr. Sato burst from the booth with an extremely surprised expression on his face. Then he caught my eye and began to curse. I've heard cursing, even Japanese cursing before, but never combined with growling. His anger was truly impressive and understandable. Dr. Sato stormed down the aisle. I was glad he didn't have a Samurai sword.
After I got him calmed down and seated, I addressed the audience.
"Since this is mostly Thor's development, I'll turn the meeting over to him."
Thor took the microphone. We weren't using a mic stand, because Thor is seventeen inches shorter than I am. "Let me cover a few of the more obvious questions you're going to ask," he said.
"First, is this actually teleportation? Yes. It is.
Second, how does it work? Without going into details that would only interest a quantum physicist, this device makes use of a combination of the properties of three types of Higgs bosons to eliminate the mass of whatever is in the teleportation booths. Then, we swap the contents of the booths. For safety reasons, if there's any significant mass in the 'receiving' booth, nothing will happen.
Third, does the system require both "send" and "receive" booths? No. The process works exactly the same in both directions. Any booth can send or receive from any other booth, with certain limitations that we'll get to later.
Fourth, how long does the movement take? As you all know, nothing with mass can move faster than light. But this device eliminates mass, so there's no such limit. More experimentation is needed, but as far as we can tell, the interval between booths is zero. There's no 'transmission' time at all."
Judging by their facial expressions, reaction to that statement by the scientists in the audience was uniformly negative. Thor held up his hand. "Please, I understand your skepticism. Don't take my word for it. Do your own experiments. Jack and I have only tried it over a distance of about eight miles. We could be wrong."
Thor drank from his water bottle and smiled. "I mentioned that we've only tried this up to eight miles, so we come to the next question. Is there a limit to how far it'll work? Well, yes and no. Theoretically, there's no limit. Theoretically, you could put one booth on the Moon and one in Paris. But practically, there is a limit and that limit is due to inertia. During teleportation, the contents of both booths have no mass. However, they do retain their inertia and conservation of energy becomes a problem, especially when you live on a spinning globe. If you're teleporting east, your destination will be dropping away from you and you'll hit the top of the 'receiving' booth. If you're going west, your destination will smack you in the butt. The further you go, the worse it gets. Let's take a worst-case scenario. As the Earth rotates, Washington, D.C and Lanzhou, China are both going about 820 miles per hour, but in opposite directions. Theoretically, you could teleport from one place to the other. But you'd have to come out of the booth running at over 1600 miles per hour!"
Thor gave them a moment to digest that information.
"On the other hand, as long as your destination is going in the same direction and at the same speed you are, you'll be fine. You could go from Sapporo, Japan to Tasmania or from New York City to Angol, Chile with no problems at all! Just don't try going from Murmansk in northern Russia to Entebbe on the Equator. You could do it," he paused and grinned, "but it would kill you."
The scientists were enjoying Thor's presentation. The business types weren't following it very well. Not our problem. Business would come later.
"And we can't ignore altitude, either," said Thor. "For every 750 feet you go up, you lose one degree of temperature. Then there are effects due to a change in potential energy. Going up or down a mile will add or subtract 7 degrees from your body temperature. We won't know exactly what the result will be until we run some experiments. A change of one degree would be uncomfortable. Seven degrees would probably be fatal. I strongly suspect that going from a ship in the Indian Ocean to the top of Mt. Everest would kill you instantly."
Several of the scientists and business wonks had their hands up. Thor waved them down.
"Let me finish the basics, then we'll get to your questions." He gestured to me. "Jack, do you want to talk about power?"
I took the mic. "Thor mentioned Higgs fields, the effects of which have been detected by smashing subatomic particles together at near light speed. Most of you are familiar with the experiments being conducted at CERN and other large particle accelerators. Those experiments require enormous amounts of power. We don't need to do that. Our device uses almost no power. Each of these teleport booths runs on three AA batteries. That's far more power than we need. We expect that commercial booths will use standard watch batteries and those batteries will last for at least a year." Every single mouth in our audience dropped open.
"And, while we're talking about power, the requirements are the same, whether you're teleporting 2 feet or to Jupiter. Distance doesn't make any difference at all."
A Dutch scientist had his hand up again. I gave him a nod.
"Is there a limit to the amount of mass that can be teleported?", he asked. "And does the density of the mass have any effect?"
"Real good questions," I said. "And I'm happy to tell you, the answer to both questions is no. There's no mass limit that we've been able to discover. We're not saying that such a limit doesn't exist, though. If you decide to license our process, you'll undoubtedly be doing your own experiments." I paused for a sip of water. "One very interesting phenomenon that, I'm ashamed to say, didn't occur to Thor and me, is that the process can be made selective. That is, it's possible to tune the teleporter so that it will send only what you want it to send. For instance, you can place a container of contaminated water or sewage or sea water in the 'send' booth and get totally pure water at the 'receive' booth. You can place toxic waste in the 'send' booth and, one at a time, send the valuable material, the toxic material, the non-toxic material and the junk to one or several different 'receive' booths."
I pointed to Carley, sitting at the end of the front row. "My very good friend Carley suggested this possibility and Thor figured out how to do it in about an hour. I'm honored and grateful to be working with people who are so much smarter than I am."
I stepped back and Thor took the mic. "Selective teleportation may turn out to be the most valuable aspect of our device. There are innumerable processes that require expensive equipment and highly toxic chemicals to refine or create certain materials. There are many materials that we use every day that contain contaminants we'd like to remove, but we don't have the technology to do it economically. Let's take coal, for example. Coal from the eastern US often contains between 3% and 10% sulfur. That coal can be crushed and most of the sulfur washed out, but that's expensive and messy. Our teleporter would make the process cheap and clean. Dump 100 tons of coal into a big steel box, put the box in a teleport booth, punch a button and pure coal will be teleported out, leaving just the sulfur and other contaminants in the box. You could mine iron ore, even low grade ore, gold ore, silver ore, whatever you want, the same way." The business wonks were practically salivating. "There are going to be medical applications, too," Thor said. "You could set the system to transport arterial plaque and clean out aging arteries without requiring a patient to go through expensive and dangerous surgery." It was interesting to watch the way the older members of our audience reacted to that!
I took the mic again. "Now let's talk about the application we were interested in when we started this project; transportation. We envision a time when every city will have thousands of transport booths scattered all around. Instead of walking or taking the subway or the bus or a taxi or driving, people will just step into a booth, swipe their credit or debit card, punch a number, like a phone number, onto a touch screen and poof they can step out of another booth, blocks or miles away. You'll be able to flick from the lobby of your apartment building or condo to the lobby of your business without going out in bad weather. That is, as long as you don't have to go more than five or six miles. You might have to make a couple of jumps, but it would still be much faster and much cheaper than traveling the way we do now." At least a dozen hands were up. I waved them down. "Hang on, we'll get to questions in a minute."
"As far as longer distances go, we can install lines of large booths and set the system to automatically flick passengers from one booth to the next. Imagine a line of booths, five miles apart, from New York to Los Angeles. The booths would be big enough to hold five hundred people or more, seated in large, comfortable seats with plenty of leg room. The system would flick the whole works from one booth to the next with one second between jumps to minimize the effects of inertia. Six hundred booths, six hundred seconds. You could go three thousand miles in ten minutes. That's the equivalent over twenty-three times the speed of sound. The cost to run the system would be trivial and it would be totally clean. No jet fuel burned, no danger of airliners crashing, no weather delays, no possibility of hijacking the thing, no need to put your passengers through a pre-flight screening. And one more thing. Pay attention now, because this is important. Our booths will not, under any circumstances, teleport cocaine, heroin, meth, or other illegal drugs. That means that someone who's got a prescription for opiates will have to find some other way to transport their drugs to their destination. It also won't teleport high explosives. Understand that this feature is built into the system. It can't be removed. We'll be able to modify it later, to prevent the transport of new, synthetic drugs." I saw plenty of smiles and nods in the audience. We had them eating out of our hands. Even Dr. Sato was smiling.
"There's one very big problem with the both the transportation and industrial aspects, though," I continued. "Millions of people make their living in the transportation business. If we flood the market with a cheap, fast, easy transportation alternative, those people would be out of work, their companies would fail and the economic fallout would be catastrophic. The same thing goes for all the other industries that would be wrecked if our process was dumped on the market without any consideration for the results. We might all get rich, but we'd do it at the expense of tens of millions of ruined lives. That's not going to happen." I stepped forward to the edge of the platform. "If you want to license this process, you're going to have to agree to introduce it slowly. Not only that, but you're going to have to make sure the public knows that it'll be introduced slowly and why. You're going to have to agree to sell the rights for manufacturing and installing the booths to the companies that will be damaged the most. Using this process is going to be hugely profitable and it's only right that those companies get a chance to stay in business and continue to employ their people. If that means you'll have to wait thirty years to get the full benefit of this process, that's just tough. We're going to ease this into the market and we're going to minimize it's negative effects as much as possible." I pause and shook my head. "Frankly, I expect that it won't take very long at all for people to realize the long-term implications of this invention. Airline stocks, automobile stocks, oil company stocks and many others are sure to drop. If any of you own these stocks and are thinking about selling them, I'd advise against it. We all live in countries with 'insider trading' laws. If you're smart, you'll keep your mouths shut about this, take your losses and stay out of prison."
I stepped back and handed the mic to Thor.
"You may ask how this device can be protected from reverse engineering. That's a serious problem and one to which we've given a lot of thought. No one wants the Chinese or anyone else to rip this process off, ignore our patent rights and start cranking out teleportation booths. No one wants a bunch of terrorists to install a booth in a rented apartment in London or New York or Delhi and send a ton of high explosives in from a couple of thousand miles away. Fortunately, we've designed the system so that it's impossible to use without going through a remote server. Also fortunately, the server doesn't have to be anywhere near the booths it's serving. Due to quantum factors, distance simply isn't an issue. If it was, we'd have the problem of guarding thousands or tens of thousands of servers scattered all over the world, making security a nightmare. We don't intend for this device to be used for crime or terror, so we'll retain the responsibility of securing the servers. Critical hardware won't be available outside the server facility. The facility won't be accessible through the Internet. Security must be airtight and that means that Jack and I will have the final say on security procedures. We intend to hire people who have made their living breaking into high-value, inaccessible areas and doing sabotage, such as former Navy SEALS, Delta Force operators and British Special Boat Service commandos. We'll have them try to break in, to test our security. There will be no negotiation on this issue. It'll be done our way or there's no deal."
Thor and I looked hard at the faces in our audience. They all reflected the gravity of the issue and no hands went up.
Thor nodded, satisfied with the reaction. "Each booth will have a digitally coded GPS location. If a booth is moved, the server won't recognize it and it'll be useless. The hardware and software built into a booth won't give anyone who steals one any useful information. The booths don't need much except communication circuitry and a connection to the clear coating inside the booth. Servers will do all the real work."
I took the mic. "And now we come to the fun part; money." I smiled. "The buy-in for this process is going to be five billion US dollars. In addition, we'll receive $2000 for each booth that's installed and 5% of the gross revenue generated. We'll have our own accountants and investigators checking the books and monitoring the installs." I smiled again. "Your contracts will contain ridiculously high penalties for trying to cheat us. This is going to bring in more money than any of us has seen before. Once the booths are installed, each use will cost your companies virtually nothing. If you charge a penny for each teleport, virtually the entire fee will be profit. You could reasonably charge the equivalent of a US dollar or a Euro. There's no need to get greedy." I pointed to a line of folders along the front of the stage. "Your contracts are right here. Look them over and ask any questions you like. If we're still going at noon, we'll all take a lunch break, but be advised, we want an answer today. If you don't have the authority to make the decision, you'll have to call someone who does."
Thor stood beside me. "Any questions?" I asked. Every hand went up.
Eight years later, Carley and I were sitting in a spacious dining room at Thor's estate in the forest outside Helsinki with Thor and his wife Taava. Carley and I had just "ridden" the teleport chain from Orlando, north to Alaska, taken the newly completed chain across the Bering Strait and Siberia to St. Petersburg and then flicked around the Gulf of Finland to Helsinki. We'd had to "change planes" seven times, but the whole trip had taken just six hours. Four and a half hours had been spent walking to our next connection and waiting for "takeoff". It's funny how the old terms survived the fall of the airlines.
We'd badly misjudged public reaction to teleportation. As soon as people got it through their heads that their bodies weren't going to be ripped into a stream of sub-atomic particles and squirted through a wire, they not only accepted the new technology, they demanded it, right now! Despite our best efforts, some of the world's biggest, most important industries crashed and burned. Who's going to buy a car if it'll be useless in a few years? That attitude destroyed many a company. We did our best to compensate, setting up free training schools for folks whose jobs disappeared and giving them aid until they could find new jobs. It cost us billions and we saved a lot of families from bankruptcy, but we couldn't save them all. I doubt we saved even a third of them.
One industry that survived at a reduced level was the automobile industry. People still need cars and trucks, especially if they live in rural areas. Even in suburban areas, you need to drive to the grocery store and to shopping centers and restaurants. It's more convenient to drive than to drag your purchases into and out of a booth and then walk from the last booth to your home in the rain. You still want to visit your friends and get to the gym. Businesses need delivery vehicles and repairmen need something to haul their parts and equipment in. The golf cart industry boomed in suburban neighborhoods, with cleverly designed, closed carts that zip around on jogging paths and in bike lanes, powered by hydrogen teleported out of sea water. Sedan and sports car racing has become surprisingly popular. Large crowds flock to "track days" to push their otherwise idle cars around closed courses, often set up at abandoned airports, at high speeds. Still, the economic fallout was pretty grim. Train, bus and subway stations are now filled with our booths. Subways were "mined" for the steel in their rails. We did our best. You do what you can and you live with the consequences.
Some industries got a big boost. The critical fresh water shortage was easily solved with huge booths moored offshore flicking tens of millions of gallons of pure water to inland reservoirs every few seconds. Teleport chains move the water to wherever it's needed. Now, agriculture booms in areas where it used to be impossible to grow anything.
Thor raised his glass. "To the two of you. May you have many more anniversaries together." We clinked our glasses. Carley and I had been married for three years and were celebrating with a long trip around Scandinavia. We were meeting at Thor's estate because sitting in a restaurant surrounded by Thor's heavy security, mixed with our own is insanely awkward. Finland considers him a "national treasure". There have been eleven serious attempts at kidnapping or killing him and thousands of lesser threats. Being the only man on Earth who truly understands a priceless phenomena has its downsides.
Carley and I have similar problems. The day after our demonstration, Homeland Security grabbed all three of us, just as we'd expected. They weren't happy to let us go, but our security plans finally convinced them. Also, the fact that Thor was so highly regarded and so well connected politically and socially in Finland meant that they couldn't hold him without creating a serious international incident. Because of my work in the space program, I have a Top Secret clearance and a spotless reputation at NASA. Part of the deal we made was that they'd handle security of the servers and provide constant, close security for us. We've lost count of the number of bomb threats and actual attacks that have been thwarted over the years. The only bright spot is that Homeland Security has been alerted to virtually all the threats by people who were on our side. We have enormous fan clubs in every country. Win some, lose some.
One of the things we won was a Nobel Prize in physics. One of the things we lost was my house in Florida. A terrorist flew a stolen Piper Comanche carrying an IED into my bedroom, blowing the crap out of the house and burning it to the ground. According to the rambling video he left, I'd offended Allah or Mohammed or somebody. Carley and I were on an elk hunt in British Columbia at the time. We got two nice bulls. The attack wasn't a total surprise and all our irreplaceable stuff (except for my piano, damnit!) was stored in five big fireproof safes. My new place is on the grounds of Patrick Air Force Base. The government supplied the land and I paid for the house. It's a quick teleport from the house to a secure building across the base where our servers are located.
The three of us spend most of our time working to mitigate the social and economic effects of our invention. We've hired a lot of help, but it's still a full time job.
"Hey Jack," said Thor. "I've got a little project you might be interested in. You know the 'warp drive' that's used in Star Trek movies? Well, I think I know how to make a real one!"
Carley buried her face in her hands. "Oh crap!" she mumbled. "Here we go again!"