The Quantum Mechanic

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Yesterday was a day of firsts. The first Lamborghini I ever towed. First crime I committed. And the first time I was held hostage by a beautiful woman. That’s what I told the cops, anyway.

It started with a call from dispatch about 9:00. Thirty minutes later I parked my tow truck next to a Lamborghini languishing on the side of the road near Josephson Junction. It was sunburst metallic orange with custom titanium rollers and a nine-foot hood. Honey-sweet.

I remember standing there looking at the car with my mouth hanging open. The fly door retracted without making a sound and I whistled. Couldn’t help it. It was a marvel of engineering. A set of long legs stretched out door, with black boots up to the thighs. She wore a leather skirt no bigger than my tool belt, and blonde hair curled around her chin.

“See something you like?” she said, and I could feel my face blush. She lit a cherry cheroot, blew a puff of smoke at me, and pointed to the car. “It’s out of gas.”

I had to laugh.

“No, Miss, this car runs on a mini-cern.” She frowned a little, so I explained, “It’s a quantum engine with a collider. No gas involved.”

She shrugged, “So load it up with neutrons or something.”

“I’ll have to tow it to the shop,” I told her. And it was a decision I’d regret later.


Ben was waiting in the lift bay when we pulled in. We stepped out of the truck and Ben whistled low. Then he saw the Lamborghini.

She didn’t waste any time. Flirted shamelessly with Ben until he was a pile of putty in her hands. She slung an arm around Ben’s neck and pointed at me, “Mikey says it’s out of gas.”

Ben grinned. “He’s just kidding you. Mike’s the best mechanic in the state. He knows this kind of accelerator can only be emptied with a special chamber. Right over here we’ve got the only Hadron in the…”

“Shut up, Ben,” I said. “Help me get this car unloaded.”

I fiddled around for a while, running diagnostics and checking all the components. Ben was getting in my way so I told him to keep her company in the customer lounge.

“You want me to talk with Bonnette? Like a date?” He looked a little panicked. She definitely outclassed him by a factor of ten.

I smiled, “No pressure, Ben.”

A little while later I ambled into the lounge, wiping my hands on a shop rag. Bonnette was sitting on Ben’s lap, stroking his hair, and he had a gooey expression on his face.

“It’s out of helm,” I said flatly.

Ben jerked upright. “Out of helm! What do you mean? The safety is off?”


“That’s a federal crime!” He turned to Bonnette for an explanation.

She calmly opened her purse, pulled out a long stainless thimble and fixed it on an index finger. “Know what this is?” she asked Ben, holding up her finger.

“Is that a Blanker? I’ve never seen one up close…”

Before I had time to react, she touched the thimble to the tip of his nose and Ben slumped over in the chair, lights-out cold.

“I wish you hadn’t done that,” I said, looking at his limp body.

Bonnette gave a crooked grin. “He’ll be alright. It was only a tap.” Then she waggled the Blanker in my face. “Get a move on, Mike. I need to scoot.”


It took Ben about an hour to wake up. His eyes fluttered and he tried hard to focus on my face. “Mom?”

I sighed. “No, Ben. It’s me.”

He started flailing around in the armchair so I told him to be quiet and watch the TV for a while.

The big screen in the customer lounge was flashing schematics of a sunburst-orange Lamborghini. Stern-looking officials barked warnings against harboring a fugitive. Then they showed a picture of Bonnette, with blonde hair curled around her chin, and a long list of crimes.

“Hey…” Ben said, finally alert. “Hey!”

“Yeah, that’s her.” I leaned on the pole in center of the lounge, “You missed out. She just left.”

“Geez, Mike! Why are you standing there? Go call the cops!”

I held up my hands, handcuffed around the pole.


I could practically see the thoughts forming in his head.

“Damn, Mike, without that helm safety on...I mean if she gets up to…wow! She could slipstream right off the timeline!”

“That’s right, Ben,” I nodded. “That’s why it’s a crime to disable the helm controls. Or even work on a car with the safety off.”

The news showed a fleet of police cruisers racing toward Josephson Junction. “They’ll never catch her,” Ben moaned. “That car will out-run everything they’ve got.”

An overhead drone had a camera on the Lamborghini and I could see a pool of fluorescent green light forming under the carriage. First stage to slipstream.

“We’ll be charged as accessories. They’ll give us fifty years,” Ben was starting to whimper and I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“It’s not funny,” he wailed. “Look, there’s second stage forming! She’s getting ready to escape the timeline.”

“Go check the regulator, Ben.” I pointed my shackled hands toward a panel blinking in the hallway.

“What, right now?” He looked at me quizzically.

“Right now.”

Ben reluctantly went to the panel. He came running back, eyes wide. “Why is the Hadron chamber full?”

I grinned.

“You emptied the mini-cern accelerator, didn’t you?” Ben said with admiration.

“Yep. And she just ran out of gas.”

A drone camera showed the orange car slowing to a stop.


It took Ben a week of thinking before he finally asked the question any good mechanic would want to know: “Hey, why did that Lamborghini stall in the first place?”

“Simple. The parking brake was on.”

Ben nodded thoughtfully. “So, you knew all along.”

About the Author: 
Business consultant, dot-com entrepreneur, and antiques dealer. Between it all, Richena most enjoys the thrills and chills of writing short story fiction.

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Quantum Theories

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

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

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

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B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

T is for ... Teleportation

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W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

A is for ... Atom

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W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

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

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

F is for ... Free Will

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