Free Ride

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The worst thing about working as a bike messenger in New York City wasn’t the traffic. Plotting out the quickest, most efficient route for each delivery was half the fun. Like a chess player, Kevin always had to think five moves ahead. Was the taxi beside him going to change lanes in order to make the light? Was that person coming out of the subway going to stand on the corner and wait for the light to change, or were they going to dart in front of him in their hurry to cross the street?
The worst part wasn’t the low wages, and it wasn’t the bad weather. The worst thing about working as a bike messenger in New York City was getting doored. Kevin had been hit twice—most recently last week when he was riding between the line of parked cars and the cab lane and the passenger opened the door into Kevin’s leg. Kevin got a deep muscle bruise that made walking difficult for days, but it could have been worse. Every year, a handful of bike messengers got killed.
He finished wrapping his knee and called the courier company to let the dispatcher know he was ready. He usually called between 8:00 and 8:10. Today it was 8:15.
The best part about working as a teaching assistant at Columbia University were the hours. The physics professor James filled in for was a night owl, so James got the morning classes. James liked getting up early, taking the subway when it was most crowded. Thronging with the masses made him feel less alone, like he was part of the city.
Today the Red Line was down for maintenance. James had accepted a ride from the guy in the apartment above his. Taking the ride meant James had to leave an hour early, but he figured he’d camp out at the Starbucks near campus and work on his novel. “Write what you know,” people always said, and so James was working on a near-future story with quantum physics at its core. He’d shown the first fifty pages to a writer friend, who shared them with his agent. The agent said James’ writing “had promise.” James didn’t know if the encouragement was sincere, or if it was intended as a brushoff. There was one way to find out, and so James was working feverishly to finish.
Traffic was heavier than usual because the Red Line was down. Kevin didn’t mind. Cars at a standstill made for an easier ride. And the faster he went, the more money he made. He blazed through red lights and skidded around pedestrians, his red and black helmet bobbing above the vehicles like a beacon as he cut between. He felt alive. Free. The city was a living, breathing organism and he was a red blood cell, delivering life-giving oxygen to its vital organs.
James drummed his fingers on his laptop bag and checked his watch. Traffic was a nightmare. His writing hour had dwindled to half that. Three light changes, and they’d barely moved. He could get to Starbucks faster if he walked.
“Hey, man—thanks for the lift.” He opened the door and stepped into a rush of air as a biker swerved around him and whizzed past. A bike messenger wearing a red and black helmet.
“Sorry!” he called after the rider he’d almost taken out. But either the guy didn’t hear, or he was too pissed to turn around and acknowledge James’ apology.
James smoothed his hair and started walking. As he crossed114th he saw the bike messenger on the sidewalk outside Starbucks fixing a flat. He wondered if the flat was his fault. Maybe the sudden swerve made the biker hit a pothole. Or maybe it caused him to ride through a patch of broken glass. James thought about crossing the street to avoid a confrontation, then decided he’d own up.
“Hey, man—sorry about what happened.”
The biker looked up. “Say, what?”
“I almost hit you when I got out of my friend’s car.”
“Yeah, well. Next time, take a few seconds to look.”
“I will.”
James hesitated. It felt like he should say more. “Can I make it up to you? Buy you a coffee?” He didn’t really want to give up even a second of his writing time, but considering he’d almost killed the guy, it seemed like the right thing to do.
“Can’t. Gotta keep moving.” The biker packed his tools into his bag and hopped onto his bike.
James watched him go. He thought about the split-second decisions the biker had to make as he moved through traffic, how each decision led to a particular consequence, how his own decisions that morning had brought him to this moment. If James hadn’t left the car when he did, if he’d left his apartment ten seconds earlier or later, the near-collision wouldn’t have happened.
Likewise if the biker had ridden faster or slower, taken a different route, the outcome would have been entirely different. Every choice, every decision he and the biker had made since the day of their births; every decision that every human being on Earth had made collectively until now had created this intersection. Some quantum physicists believed that randomness and the physical nature of the molecules in the brain meant that humans couldn’t exercise free will. James was undecided, which was why he was exploring the idea of determinism versus free will in his novel—a collection of linked stories, really, about the random pairing of strangers. Not unlike the bike messenger and himself.
He opened the door to the coffee shop. Behind him, he heard screeching tires and a blaring horn followed by a thud. He spun around. A delivery truck had run into a cyclist. The biker sprawled motionless on the pavement.
He wore a red and black helmet.

About the Author: 
Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of the science thrillers Freezing Point and Boiling Point. She is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and served on the International Thriller Writers board of directors as Vice President, Technology. Visit her on the Web at

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T is for ... Teleportation

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R is for ... Reality

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H is for ... Hidden Variables

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Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

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B is for ... Bell's Theorem

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L is for ... Light

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W is for ... Wavefunction

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K is for ... Kaon

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U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

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O is for ... Objective reality

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Z is for ... Zero-point energy

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J is for ... Josephson Junction

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E is for ... Entanglement

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Q is for ... Quantum biology

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I is for ... Interferometer

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A is for ... Atom

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P is for ... Planck's Constant

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S is for ... Superposition

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Q is for ... Qubit

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P is for ... Probability

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A is for ... Act of observation

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T is for ... Tunnelling

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G is for ... Gravity

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D is for ... Decoherence

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D is for ... Dice

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X is for ... X-ray

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R is for ... Radioactivity

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N is for ... Nonlocality

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S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

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F is for ... Free Will

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S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

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G is for ... Gluon

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M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

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M is for ... Multiverse

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U is for ... Universe

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C is for ... Cryptography

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L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

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I is for ... Information

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V is for ... Virtual particles

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W is for ... Wave-particle duality

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