Lesley L. Smith
My morning was going great until I got arrested for murder.
First, at eight forty-five Saturday morning there was no line for coffee at Boulder Brews. I swooped right up to the counter and ordered cinnamon bun coffee and a cinnamon bun to go with it. That was lucky. I couldn't believe I didn't have to wait; the place was usually a madhouse this time of day. At any rate, I was on a roll−no pun intended.
I walked across campus sipping, nibbling, and enjoying the views of the Italianate sandstone buildings with Mediterranean red tile roofs. The sun peeked through the clouds. Sunshine illuminated the leaves in shades of yellow, brown and orange, transforming them into brilliant stained glass. A breeze caressed my face as a few golden leaves floated down to the ground. One leaf smacked me in the face, but it didn't hit my coffee or my cinnamon roll, so no worries.
What a beautiful day.
I tromped up the many stairs to my tiny office in Gamow Tower, skirting the electron double-slit experiment I'd set up in the hall. The hallway was an unusual place to set up an experiment, but I'd discovered this floor was basically deserted−except for the physicist in the office next door, Andro, also known as my boyfriend.
Maybe today I'd finally come up with the perfect title for the paper I'd been writing. I sat down at my desk. I'd had a scientific breakthrough in the last year when I discovered how to use quantum mechanics to shape reality. This ability was based on the von Neumann-Wigner Interpretation which says a person observing a system changes the system. I'd discovered a unique combination of specialized knowledge combined with adrenaline enabled me to collapse the wavefunction to instantiate the reality I wanted. I called this q-lapsing.
I'd managed to explain it to some people but, overall, hardly anyone believed me. It was a real shame because, theoretically, it might be able to solve a lot of the world's problems−like war and famine. The non-believers included the physics journals. Every time I submitted a paper, the referee said something like, "Bullshit." The last title I'd tried was Macroscopic Proof of Schrodinger's Cat Experiment.
I couldn't go to the public directly by calling a press conference and showing off my ability because the scientific community frowned on that type of thing. Those poor cold fusion scientists had been totally blackballed. I didn't want to be them.
"Hmm." I sipped my coffee and looked at the document on my computer. I needed to be more subtle. Sadly, subtle was not something I did well.
A knock on my open office door made me jump. "Hey, babe," Andro said.
I grinned as I took in his easy smile and mesmerizing blue eyes. I couldn't help it. "Hey, babe."
He walked toward me and I jumped up for a kiss. As our lips met, a warm tingle spread all over my body. "Mmm." Maybe we should go over to his place and do a biology experiment.
I forced myself to quit thinking about how my body fit perfectly with his and come back to the here and now. I sat down at my desk. "What do you think of Empirical Tests of the von Neumann-Wigner Interpretation?"
"I think we should go out to brunch," he said. "It's nine a.m. Saturday morning. You have to take time off occasionally. You've been working too hard. I'm worried about you."
I was torn between my two favorite things: physics and food. And Andro. My three favorite things.
When I didn't answer immediately, he added, "Pancakes?" He knew I loved pancakes.
"I'm in! Just let me type something." I quickly input the new title, finished my cinnamon roll, and slurped up the last of my coffee.
He sighed. "Are you ready?"
"In a sec. I just want to read over this one thing." It was almost perfect now.
"Why don't I go get the car and you can keep working for a little while? I'll call when I'm by the door." Even university faculty had to park far, far away from where we wanted to be on campus.
"Sounds great," I said, still staring at the screen. I edited the paper until my cell rang.
"I'm on the street right near the south building exit," Andro said.
"Excellent! I'll be right there." With my new paper title and pancakes on the horizon, the day was looking even better. I grabbed my purse and headed for the door.
When I stepped into the dimly lit hall I was very surprised to see a man standing there near the door to the stairs. He was balding and wore a dark suit complete with a tie. The suit and tie were odd. Few men in Boulder wore a suit. Who knew Gamow Tower was so popular early Saturday morning?
The man approached me. "Who are you?" he asked. "Do you have ID?"
I smiled. "It's okay. I work here. I'm Professor Martin."
A second man stepped out of the stairwell, this one wearing a Boulder PD uniform. I recognized him with his shaved head and firm muscles−the quintessential hot cop.
"Ben?" I asked. "What are you doing here?"
Ben didn't answer. In hindsight that was probably not a good sign.
The first man said, "Professor Madison Martin, the Quantum Cop lady?" Only a select few people, law enforcement officers mostly, knew that. Ben was one of those officers. He must have spilled the beans to this other guy. The mystery guy must be some kind of plainclothes detective.
I nodded. "Yep. That's me." Last year, I'd been dubbed the Quantum Cop when I used quantum mechanics to help the Boulder PD and the FBI catch some nefarious criminals. I conveniently shied away from thinking those same criminals started out as my quantum mechanics students. "Is there something I can help you guys with? I'd be happy to help. Wait. Has there been a quantum crime?"
I thought I'd stamped out all the quantum crime. If it was starting up again that could be bad. That could be very bad. "What happened?"
"Professor Martin," the detective said, "what are you doing here in the physics building?"
"I'm working," I said.
The two men exchanged looks. "On a Saturday? First thing in the morning?" the detective said.
"Yeah," I said. I was starting to get a bad feeling about this. "I work every day. Why do you care what I'm doing?"
"Can you account for your whereabouts for the last few hours?" the detective said.
He asked that like I was some kind of suspect. "Er," I said. Apparently I was kind of slow before my morning ration of pancakes. "What? Why? What's going on?"
"Well, Ms. Martin?" the detective asked.
"It's Dr. Martin," I said. "What was the question?" I turned my attention to Ben. "Hi, Ben." I smiled. We were sort of friends. At least I thought we were. "What's going on?"
He shook his head and wouldn't meet my eyes.
"I'll ask you again, what are you doing here?" the detective said, sizing me up.
I gulped. "What exactly are you guys doing here?"
"We had an anonymous tip that you murdered someone with quantum mechanics," he said. "Don't try any of that quantum funny business on us, Dr. Martin."
"Murder!" I said. "Oh, my God! That's horrible. Wait. Who's been murdered?" It wasn't Andro, was it? No, it couldn't be, I just talked to him on the phone.
"I didn't murder anyone," I said. Was something sucking the air out of Gamow Tower? I leaned against the wall. Breathe, Madison.
My cell rang and everyone jumped.
I reached for it, but the detective pointed at Ben. "Officer Willis, please get it."
Ben took the phone out of my hand, answered it and said, "She can't talk right now." He turned it off.
That was rude. "Was it Andro?" Ben didn't answer. I bet it was. I wished I was with Andro now, downstairs, outside, in the fresh air. Where a person could breathe.
I was glad I was leaning against the wall because my limbs felt weak and tingly. "Who was killed?"
They didn't answer me.
"I'm not a murderer," I said. "How do you know it was murder by quantum mechanics?" It had to be some kind of mistake. I'd never fainted but I suspected this was what it felt like. Get a grip, Mad. "I refuse to cooperate unless you tell me more." It couldn't be murder by q-lapsing. As soon as I explained that to them, they'd have to let me go, right?
"I know it's not exactly protocol but we could show her, sir," Ben said to the detective.
"Yes," I said. "Let me see the scene. I can explain that it couldn't have been q-lapsing. I'll answer whatever questions you want if I can see the crime scene." It had to be a mistake. Maybe they were wrong and it wasn't even a murder.
The detective stared at Ben for a few moments and then turned his gaze to me. "All right."
"Where is it?" I asked. "How far away? Can I call my boyfriend while we're driving there?"
"No," the detective said. That didn't seem right. Of course, none of this seemed right.
They led me down the stairs to the first floor of the physics building. We started walking north down the hall. A bunch of uniformed cops loitered at the end of the hall near the exit.
Uh oh. "It happened here in the physics building?" I asked. "A physicist was murdered?" It made slightly more sense that they thought I'd done it. Slightly. As far as they knew I was the only other person here on a Saturday.
"In here," the detective pointed into an office near the end of the hall.
As I peeked around the cops clustered near the door I saw a shoe, attached to a leg, attached to a torso, attached to …a mess. The poor man's torso, head and one arm had huge chunks missing and the edges of what was left had the most hideous texture, like they had been dissolved by acid or something.
I felt hot and sweaty. My stomach roiled and I tried to tamp it down through sheer force of will. No go. I lost my morning coffee and cinnamon roll in an explosive and embarrassing fashion, splashing all over the shoes of the uniformed officer standing next to me. "Oh, no," I moaned.
I think he moaned as well, albeit for a different reason.
I couldn't look at the victim again, but the image was seared into my brain. From about the waist down he looked fine. But above that...
My stomach heaved again. My hands shook and got fuzzy as if I subconsciously was trying to change reality by undoing this unspeakable thing.
It was hard to even wrap my head around the state of the body. I'd never seen or even heard of anything like it.
The plainclothes detective said to one of the uniformed officers, "Take her in."
The officer got out his handcuffs. "Dr. Madison Martin, you are wanted for questioning in the murder of Dr. Barry King." Barry King? I never even heard of the guy.
"What?" I said. "No. I didn't murder anyone. I'm not a murderer." It was hard to breathe. I was definitely getting fuzzy. Calm down. Breathe. "You can't arrest me. I didn't do anything." I couldn't understand what was happening. They thought I was a murderer?
But I didn't look like a murderer. I was medium height and medium build. I was blonde. I looked like a soccer mom, for God's sake! I wasn't a mom and I couldn't play soccer, but that was beside the point. Ugh. Focus, Mad.
The detective said, "The tipster said you murdered someone with quantum mechanics and the body was here. We found you in the same building. You're the world expert on quantum mechanics, and the victim clearly died from something out-of-the-ordinary. You promised you'd cooperate if we showed you the body."
Wow, was that a mistake. But I was too nauseated to argue.
I sat in the empty interrogation room at the police station, still having trouble breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. In. Out. I wasn't a murderer. How could they think I was a murderer?
Focus on something else. My day was going better than the dead man's. It was sad he was dead, and it was especially sad he'd died in such a horrible way. Who was he? Did he love someone? Did they love him? Did his loved ones know he was gone? Were they mourning him even now? My eyes filled.
Poor guy. No one deserved that. My tears escaped, running down my face. I leaned my head on my arms on the table and let my sleeves soak up my tears.
This wasn't helping. Maybe focus on something else?
When would my lawyer get here?
I lifted my head. The room had white cinder-block walls, a large two-way mirror, and a rickety table and chairs. There was a puddle of liquid under the mirror. What was that from? Tears? Pee? Ick. At least wondering made me stop crying.
I knew I didn't kill the guy. That meant there was a murderer running around in town. Were other people in danger?
Did the killer really use quantum mechanics to kill him? I didn't understand how what I saw, ugh, could be the result of q-lapsing.
Unfortunately, the best q-lapser besides me was Andro, and then probably my grad student Alyssa. Andro and Alyssa were also physicists, like me. Physicists seemed to have an easier time of controlling reality, probably because they understood the concepts of quantum mechanics better.
There used to be two more really good q-lapsers, my former quantum mechanics students, but they were gone now.
But before they were foiled, they made a webpage explaining how to control reality using quantum mechanics, www.controlreality.info. Who knew who might have seen that, or how far it might have propagated around the internet? Potentially, there were too many suspects. I just needed to explain all this to the cops−without implicating anyone. Surely, they could see reason.
Ben stopped by the room, and I wiped my face. "Is my lawyer coming?" I asked. "This has to be some kind of mistake. And I'm worried other people might be in danger."
"The detective doesn't think it's a mistake," he said. "He thinks we've contained the danger." I couldn't tell what Ben thought. "Did you ask for a lawyer?" he said, all business. I knew from my previous dealings with him that his strictly-by-the-book behavior was sometimes at odds with his big heart.
I stood up. "You guys accused me of murder, so, yeah I called my lawyer."
"Then, I can't talk to you until your lawyer gets here."
"Oh." Disappointed, I looked down. "Can you tell me about the deceased? Did you guys say his name was Larry? There are hundreds of employees associated with the Physics Department, I didn't know the guy."
Ben smiled a mirthless smile. "Now that I really can't tell you about."
"Oh. I understand." But not really. I didn't understand any of this. I looked Ben in the eyes. Somehow, I didn't think he'd give me the answers I needed. "What are you doing here, anyway, if you can't talk to me?" I asked him.
"Just because I can't talk, doesn't mean I don't want to." He shuffled his feet. "You're the Quantum Cop, after all. I can't believe you'd..." He trailed off. "I should go." He left me alone with my thoughts.