The Failure of Serendipity

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Harrold stared intently at the velociraptor.  The glistening eyes of the dinosaur returned his gaze without blinking.  Sweat trickled down Harrold’s forehead to be absorbed by his eyebrows.  This prevented the liquid from getting into his eyes and forcing him to blink and lose sight of the predator.  Evolution is handy that way, thought Harrold.
“Intriguing,” spoke an authoritative voice.
Harrold broke eye contact and tracked downwards.  A large man sat confidently behind a wooden desk.  It was well known that the Director had built the desk himself.  Some of the company’s more botanically minded employees had been unable to identify the exact variant of tree involved, although one paleobotanist insisted it matched a species that had been extinct for millions of years.
This was of course nonsense.  The research and development team was full of eccentric individuals who routinely poked at the boundaries of science, but the idea of the Director possessing a time machine he used for his woodworking hobby was absurd.  Although it would explain the dinosaur.
“Did anything strike you as odd when they asked you to find their missing equipment?”
“No,” said Harrold.  “People ask me to find stuff every day.  That is my job.  It was interesting that the missing item was a quantum anti-gravity generator.  If they could get it to work, maybe we could finally get those flying cars we’ve all been waiting for.”
The Director stared intently at Harrold, like he was a student who had missed an important point when answering a question.  Harrold shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he considered the implications of what he had meant as a light hearted aside.
“Of course,” said Harrold with a flash of inspiration, “as they explained it to me, the quantum nature of the device meant that they couldn’t predict how much anti-gravity they would generate.  One time it might be just right to levitate your car, but the next time the car might not get off the ground.  They thought maybe it would even create negative anti-gravity…or anti-anti-gravity.  Um, I guess that would just be gravity.  Anyway, it would sometimes make things heavier.
“But, anyway, it didn’t work.
“They called me in after the first test failed.  When they took the machine apart to debug the problem, the anti-gravity core was missing.  It was a marble-sized chunk of some exotic metamaterial.  They’d installed it, but after the test it was missing from inside the machine.”
“You did find it.”
“Eventually.  They actually ended up losing three cores.”
“You were there for the second test?” prompted the Director.
“That’s right.  They said they were going to use a higher voltage, because they thought it might increase the magnitude of the anti-gravity effect.  It was still going to be a random amount, they told me, but statistically it would be larger.
“It seemed premature to increase the power, but I’m not a physicist, so I kept my mouth shut.  Anyway, they spent five minutes charging up the capacitor banks.  Then they flipped the switch and nothing happened.”
The Director stared at Harrold.  Desperately, Harrold rooted around in his memories.
“It got quieter, actually.”
“Go on.”
“Well, all those capacitors were humming like crazy.  You didn’t have to be an electrical engineer to understand that there was a huge amount of power being stored.  But when they flipped the switch the hum just stopped.  I mean, you would have thought there would have been a huge crack or something.”
“The power obviously went somewhere.”
“That seems obvious now.  It was really a huge amount of power.  It had to go somewhere, and it didn’t short out.  When there was an explosion during their third attempt, I thought they had overcharged the capacitors.”
“Instead the capacitors were completely intact.  There was no obvious source for the explosion.  No scorch marks.  I eventually figured out it was a compressed gas explosion.
“Afterwards I found the pieces of the core from the second try.  They had somehow gotten into my pocket when I watched the experiment.  I didn’t know what they were at first, but the computer was able to reconstruct their original shape: a golf-ball sized sphere with the anti-gravity core at the center.
“That’s when I had my hunch.  I went back to the lab and shook all the compressed gas cylinders they had in there for cooling the capacitors.  One of them rattled.  I had some people depressurize it and bring me the scraps inside.  Again, the computer was able to reassemble the pieces into a sphere.  This one was about the size of a baseball with a metamaterial core.
“After that, I went back to the lab with a deep radar unit.  I found a tiny marble-sized core six feet below the foundation.”
Harrold had left his conclusion out of the report.  He sat back in his chair and gave the Director his best attempt at an inquisitive stare.
The Director sighed.  “They accidentally built a teleporter.”
Harrold deflated.  “Quantum teleporter.  The more energy they put in, the larger the teleported volume.”
The Director pondered for a few tenths of seconds.  “It’s probably the most dangerous thing mankind has ever built.”
“Uh…it is?”
“Just think, Harrold.  If you built a strong enough power supply, the entire thing would be self-contained.  The teleporter would not break itself when activated.  It would carry itself and the power supply somewhere else, randomly swapping its volume with some other volume.”
“But you couldn’t predict where it would go.  It would be useless.  If you turned it on, it might take a chunk out of a building.”
“Or a dam.  Or power plant.  Or crowd of pedestrians.  Anything.  When the device recharged, it would do it over and over again.  It would be devastating.”
Harrold was lost in horrified silence as his imagination worked through all the implications.
The Director sighed resignedly. 
“If nothing else,” he said, “we’d better get the patent lawyers in here.”

About the Author: 
Scott Janus is an engineer who has authored entertaining fiction and informative non-fiction books. If you've enjoyed his story, you can learn more about his other works at

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R is for ... Randomness

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X is for ... X-ray

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