Hey, welcome back!
Always happy to see you here, getting another chapter from the original Cassidy story!
Did anyone catch the various inspirations and Easter Eggs I put into the last chapter? I really loaded the first book with shout-outs and goodies. For example, I can tell that I had recently read Robert Heinlein’s Friday just before starting this book; there are all sorts of similarities. The robot cab, well, does anyone remember the JohnnyCab from the original Total Recall? I know that’s what pops into my head. The dialogue in the Anachronist’s Cafe, I hear in Jeff Spicoli’s voice. Cass’s line, “Blending in, dude. Blending in,” and Derek’s response is a throwback to First Contact.
I also salvaged a chunk of one of my really old ideas – from about 1991/1992. I had written out a timeline, a future history (yes, that Heinlein influence again), and one of the things I had done was draw a map of the US, post-breakup. That map, more or less as is, appears at the beginning of the book.
Before you get into the chapter, are you interested in winning all of my books, paperback and autographed? Thought you might be!
And one more thing. If you want to see what another newcomer to the Cassidy Universe things of what’s going on, check out Anna Van Leeuwen’s weekly ‘Fresh Eyes’ post on the website. She’s giving her opinions of the first book as she reads. Just beware of spoilers, okay?
Right. Last week, Cass and Ken had a nasty encounter with a couple goons. Now all they have to do is get on the transport to Vegas. Ought to be easy, right?
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Chapter 8: Whispers in The Dark
‘Walk, don’t run.’
Kendra’s calming words had their desired effect; Cass slowed what threatened to be a headlong pace to something closer to normal.
‘Better.’ The voices behind them stayed constant; no sudden shouting or alarms were raised. Apparently, whatever Derek was doing wasn’t enough to attract any official attention yet. Who knew how long that would last?
‘Act normally. We’re just a couple of girls out for a night on the town.’ Kendra pasted on a smile.
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‘Normally? Ken, how can you be so calm?’
‘Zen. Thinking happy thoughts. Pradax. Take your pick.’ She didn’t slacken her steady pace towards their gate.
The public address system blared. ‘Loading for Las Vegas Free City commencing. All passengers are advised, capsule departs in five minutes. Please make your way to the gate at this time.’
‘That’s us,’ said Ken. ‘Now you can hurry.’ They sped up, although it wasn’t much farther, and arrived with plenty of time to spare. The gate attendant wasn’t exactly overwhelmed; this capsule was too early to get many of the serious partiers, but too late for the business crowd. Still, the hard tickets threw him momentarily.
‘Look into the scanner, please,’ he asked.
Cass was flummoxed, but Ken didn’t hesitate. ‘Oh, do we have to? We just want to take a quick trip without the other halves knowing.’
‘Ladies, I understand, but you still need to look into the scanner.’
Ken dialed it up a notch. ‘But then they‘ll know where we went! We just want a night without the boys around!’
He was insistent. ‘Eyes to the scanner, now.’
‘Listen, bratchik, if I wanted to look into a scanner I would’ve debited the tickets. I don’t, so I didn’t. Now are you going to let us board, or do I need your supervisor?’ Kendra was in full diva mode, something no man, or woman, could withstand for long.
Still, he made one more attempt. ‘I have to account for all the people who board the capsule, and we track it by retinal scan.’
She waved the tickets under his nose. ‘See this fine print? ‘The holder of this ticket is entitled to one transit from the departure point to the specified destination printed on obverse.’ It doesn’t say anything about scans or geeky twerps giving legitimate travelers a hard time, so back off.’ There was a not-so-subtle emphasis on the last two words which finally penetrated the hair gel.
‘Tickets, please,’ he capitulated, extending his hand.
‘Here you go,’ replied Kendra sweetly. ‘Thank you.’ She kissed his cheek, rubbing her chest against him, and boarded, Cass close behind. When they were seated, carefully separated from the other passengers, she leaned into Ken.
‘Why’d you do that?’
‘I’m hoping that he remembers he copped a feel, rather than the hard time we gave him,’ she confessed. ‘There’s no proof that those tickets were ours, but it wouldn’t take too much imagination to put it all together. Plus, there‘s just the two of us. Unless they‘ve grabbed Derek, they‘re still looking for three.’
The doors whooshed shut, and the relatively uncrowded capsule catapulted from the station. Despite the crushing acceleration, Kendra allowed herself to relax; they were safe, for now. This tube was an express line, direct into Vegas, with no intervening stations. Another capsule would be along fifteen minutes after, and another, and another. Since the express tubes were built on a semi-ballistic arc, there was no opportunity to stop a capsule short of destroying the entire system, and she didn’t think that whoever was pursuing them was that fanatical, or desperate. Yet.
After a few minutes, the acceleration eased away. They were coasting now, a magnetically levitated bullet in a vacuum tube, hurtling towards Vegas. Once there, the capsule would be pulled around to the return tube, loaded with passengers headed back to Los Alamos, and launched again. The eight hundred klick trip would take about an hour. That was how long they had to plan their next move.
‘Cass, we need to talk.’
‘About what, Ken?’
‘Who’s chasing you? Why? What do they want, and why won’t you give it to them?’
Cass’s face twisted in agony. ‘I don’t know!’ she moaned. ‘There’s nothing – nothing! – going on!’
‘Shh, shh, babylove,’ Kendra crooned, letting Cass rest her head against her chest. ‘I know it’s tough. But you’ve gotta think. First things first – is there anyone who wants to hurt you?’
‘Are you -’
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‘Damn you, Ken, don’t you think I’d know?’ At least there was some fire in her voice now.
‘No, I don’t, actually. But maybe you can give me some clues, and we can try to figure it out. What’s new at work?’
‘Work? Same. Next generation polarizing mirrors. But it‘s not -’
‘Any side projects?’
That earned her a pause. ‘As a matter of fact…’
‘What is it?’ asked Kendra. ‘This might be something!’
‘Well, it could be nothing. Probably a dead end, in fact.’
‘Doesn’t matter what you think about it, if it’s something extra you’re working on, then maybe someone else wants it.’
‘It’s just a quirk of quantum mechanics,’ demurred Cass.
‘Then tell. I always thought I needed to learn more about it.’ The blatant lie cheered them both.
‘Fine. I’ll try to keep it basic. You know about quantum teleportation?’
‘Not a clue.’
Cass laughed. ‘Most people don’t. It’s a way to transfer information from one point to another nearly instantaneously. We use it all the time today, in our computers. The AI systems wouldn’t be possible without it.’
‘Okay, so it’s a useful trick. What does that have to do with you?’
‘Well, I was thinking -’
Cass glared. ‘- That it might be possible to teleport objects, maybe even people, and not just information. That is, it would still be information, but there would be a physical result.’
‘Whoa! Slow down, girlie, and go over that again?’
‘I told you it wasn’t easy.’
‘Quantum teleportation involves the transmission of data – qubits – from one point to another.’
‘Uh-huh, if you say so.’
‘I do. This is what makes our modern computers operate as well as they do, a level they only dreamed of back in the Twentieth.’
‘Okay, I get that.’
‘Good. Now, you know how the replicator works?’
‘Not really. I know that they made it a lot easier for me when I lived in the Valley and didn’t have time to cook or shop.’
‘Well, the replicator uses a quantum computer to store molecular patterns of things, like food and clothes. That steak au poivre you made last night?’
‘What about it?’
‘You could describe it chemically as so many atoms of carbon, so many atoms of oxygen, hydrogen, and so forth, and also describe how to combine them to achieve the texture and taste you managed with the stove.’
‘Hmph. Can’t duplicate my steak. There’s always something missing.’
‘Right, exactly! Molecular memory isn’t very high tech; in fact, it’s downright primitive. When the necessary components are assembled, the resolution is pretty poor, like an old-fashioned fax machine. There are always some errors. That’s why you can’t do anything too complex with a replicator.’
‘Okay. I think I’m with you.’
‘Alright. Here’s where it gets sticky. Living beings are complex.’
‘Shut it, I’m talking. That’s why you can’t replicate them. You need data on the quantum level, not just the molecular level, and that is orders of magnitude more difficult. Now, there are two problems with this: first, storage. Even the simplest life form would require terabytes of memory. Something like a person would be up into the exabytes, at least, and that’s significant even with quantum storage but not impossible.’
‘So we can store the information if we want?’
‘Yes, but that’s the second problem. See, we have most of the pieces to teleport something, or someone: we have computers fast enough to manage the zettaFLOPS of calculations needed; using quantum teleportation, they can access the exabytes of data that a complex quantum mechanical system would entail; and the replicators can assemble stuff out of raw materials, though not to the precision necessary. The only thing we’ve been lacking is a scanner exact enough to assimilate all the quantum data.’
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‘And that’s a problem, why?’
‘If you’re missing data, you can’t make an exact copy,’ Cass said, sharply. ‘You only have one chance to do a quantum scan, because the object being scanned is destroyed in the process. You miss a bit, it’s gone forever.’
‘Ah. So you scan a frog and miss data, it might be lacking a leg?’
‘Nothing quite that dramatic, but essentially, yes.’
‘Nice lecture, but what does this have to do with you?’ The capsule announced the halfway point of the journey.
‘Well – I do optics.’
‘So to do teleportation, we need a scanner that is about an order of magnitude more accurate than we have now.’
‘I’ll take your word for it.’
‘My thought was to tie a gas-ion krypton laser through a BBO crystal, increase the throughput, and use another optical crystal to narrow the wavelength further, down to the level we need for a proper scan.’
‘Stop. Can you repeat that, in English?’
Cass smiled. ‘I figured out how to focus the laser onto a narrower point and still retain its power.’
‘See? That, I understood! Not all that felgercarb about BBO and throughput. So now we have all the pieces to make teleportation work?’
‘In theory, if it all comes together. Yes.’
Kendra snorted. ‘And you wonder why anyone would want to shut you up?’
Cass was shocked. ‘But it’s just an idea! I haven’t put it together; I don’t even know if it’s possible!’
Kendra regarded her coolly. ‘You tell me. Would this work? Or are you just spinning dreams?’
‘It should work,’ said Cass. ‘But I don’t know for sure!’
‘And who else knows about this?’
‘I haven’t talked to anyone!’ said Cass vehemently. ‘It’s just a bunch of notes and speculation on my -’ Her voice stopped.
‘On your what?’ prompted Kendra.
‘On my network at the lab,’ finished Cass. ‘Oh, shit.’
‘Yep. No privacy there, no matter what protection you’ve applied to keep people out. Always a back door in the system for the owners.’
‘You don’t think -’
‘Honey, I always think, but I don’t know. If teleportation became possible, don’t you think that the transportation industry might object, just a little?’
Cass blanched and was silent. Kendra continued.
‘Okay, here’s what we have to do. We can’t stay in Vegas; the little scene at the gate makes it too easy to track us down, and the Free City isn’t all that large for a really determined organization to saturate. And that’s assuming Derek doesn’t talk; if he does, we might have a reception waiting for us when we arrive.’
‘No sense borrowing trouble, though. One thing we have in our favor, we have what’s-his-name’s commpad.’
‘How does that help? Can’t those things be tracked?’
‘Absolutely. I’m counting on it, in fact.’
Cass shook her head in confusion. ‘I don’t get it.’
‘As long as the commpad is moving – and the bodies aren’t discovered! – then whoever hired the uglies will assume they’re still on our trail, and won’t send anyone else after us. At least, that’s what I’d do.’ She shrugged. ‘Once we get to Vegas, I’ll plant the pad on someone. Then we go off on our merry way, get our errands done, and move on.’
‘And if the bodies are found?’
‘Run like hell.’
As promised, the audio version of the chapter!
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