Quantum Uncertainty

Detective Barry Holliday, Doc to the few who knew him, took interesting jobs. Unusual corporate work.

Nothing illegal. Interesting. This latest assignment involved corporate espionage, very hush, hush, corporate secrets stuff. High tech. Just how high tech, he didn’t know.

Not until the whole job goes very wrong and Doc faces one of the weirdest situations in his career.

🚀

Detective Barry Holliday, Doc to his friends, what few he had, crouched to tighten the cuffs on the perp. He didn’t like being so close to the guy, one Phillip Norton, who smelled of too few showers and too much weed with a beer aftershave. He stood up confident that the guy couldn’t slip out of the cuffs.

“Come on, man, those hurt!”

Doc shrugged. He turned his attention back to the desk, a large dark glass and black metal affair littered with computer parts. Three monitors acted as the centerpiece of the unit. Doc sat down in front of the screens.

“What’d you do with the data you stole from Q-Prime?”

“That’s what this is about? Man, how’d you find me?”

Doc brushed a fingertip across the screens. They came to life. Red lasers flicked on from a small device in front of the monitors and created a keyboard pattern on the glass desktop. But the keys were all laid out in a different order than normal. Doc looked back at the guy.

“What’s this?” He gestured to the keys.

“A keyboard. What does it look like?”

“Don’t get smart. Why are the keys in the wrong places?”

“It’s a modified Dvorak layout. More efficient, you see?”

“Right.” Doc studied the layout. Vowels on the home row. This was going to take time. Fortunately, the guy hadn’t had time to lock the computers down. It was all open and available. Doc reached out and dragged open the guy’s file system. Tons of stuff but when he checked the recent activity logs he found the files he wanted under Armageddon. File sizes and count matched what Q-Prime had given him. He pulled out a jump drive and stuck it in a USB port on the monitor. A quick grab, drag and dump and the files were being moved over to the drive. No need to use that weird keyboard at all.

“Man,” the perp said. “You can’t give that back to them!”

Doc spun the chair around. “Look, I’ve already called the cops. They’re going to be here soon. I’m turning you over to them. You were pretty clever getting out of Q-Prime, I’m still not sure how you managed that –”

“I beamed out.”

“Beamed?”

Phillip nodded enthusiastically, a move that sent his greasy brown hair flying around his face.  He twitched his head to shake it back away. Phillip had to have brains to get into Q-Prime and managed to get out again with this data, but he didn’t look like it.

“Right, dude. That’s what this is all about. They’ve developed technology that can transport anything somewhere else. I got in, copied the data and set it to erase after I left. Then I beamed back here. The computer wiped and they lost everything.”

The files were still copying. It was a lot of information. Doc looked back at Phillip. “You lost me there. Are you talking about teleporting or something? Like in science fiction?”

“Yes! Exactly! Dude, think about what they could do with that sort of technology?” Phillips bloodshot eyes widened. He leaned forward as far as the cuffs allowed. “It’s the end of everything.”

“Sounds to me like the end of rush hour traffic, what’s so bad about that?”

Phillip slumped. “Dude, you don’t get it. Shipping industry, gone. Manufacturing, gone. Transportation, gone. Medical, gone. Agriculture, gone. Pretty much everything will be gone. And then when they turn it into a weapon we’ll all be gone too.”

“You’re crazy, kid. But that’s not my problem. I just do the job.” Doc heard sirens outside. The files finished. Perfect timing. He pulled his drive and slipped it into his pocket. “I turn you over to the cops and give Q-Prime back their property. That’s it.”

Phillip thrashed against the cuffs. “No! Seriously, you don’t understand!”

“Yeah, right, kid. I’ll be seeing you.”

Doc walked around the chair, planning to go out and meet the cops. He’d hang around until he saw the kid tucked safely away into the back of a squad car and then he’d be on his way. Another job done. You had to love these industrial espionage cases.

The first shot took Phillip in the throat, knocking his chair over backward and spraying blood across the hardwood floors. The crack of the chair followed by the whack of Phillip’s head against the floor were both louder than the shot. A silencer then. Someone didn’t want the cops outside to know that they were shooting. The fact that the shooter took out Phillip first gave Doc a chance to hide behind the desk, not that the furniture and computer equipment provided much shelter. Still, anything was better than nothing.

Doc drew his weapon and fired off one shot at the ceiling. There wasn’t a second floor and the shot would alert the cops to be cautious at least. He tried to peek out and was rewarded by the monitor above his head exploding into sparks, smoke, and flying glass. Doc ducked lower. A second shot hit the computer behind him. He smelled electronics burning with a hot ozone scent. Time to move.

He darted towards the kitchen and the hallway down towards the bedrooms. Bullets hit the wall beside him but none caught him. He made it to the hallway and kept going. If the shooter caught up to him now he didn’t have any cover. He reached the bedroom and kicked the door shut. Phillip had about as much sense of cleanliness in here as he did out in the other room. The room stunk of stale beer, weed, and moldy food. It lacked any furniture except a futon on the floor with black blankets wadded into a pile. It didn’t even have a dresser he could shove in front of the door.

On the other hand, he could see through a small slit in the curtains that the windows weren’t barred so that was something. He holstered his gun and went to the window. He reached through the curtains and dragged the window open.

“Freeze! Don’t move! Hands above your head!”

Cops. Doc lifted his hands and folded them on his head but looked back. The door knob turned. Stay and get shot in the back or go out and risk being shot by the police. Not a good choice. He dove forward through the screen. He hit on his back, not too hard, and heard shouts all around. Hands grabbed him and flipped him over onto his stomach.

“Shooter inside!” Doc shouted.

That got their attention. He found himself hauled up and hustled along the alley. Someone slapped cuffs on his wrists as they went. They took up shelter behind a squad car and Doc finally got to see who he was with. Young cops. Rookie cops with nervous eyes. Sandoval and Hicks, according to their uniforms. Sandoval was young, blond and a woman with a very pretty face. She looked very pale. Hicks was a bigger teddy bear sort of guy with baby fat still in his cheeks. He looked almost panicked.

“I’m Barry Holliday. I’m the private detective that called you. There’s a shooter inside, he already killed Phillip Norton, the guy you’re here to arrest.”

“Yeah, buddy, just sit tight. We’ll handle this,” Sandoval said.

He didn’t have any other choice so he waited until the other cops came out, his identification was checked and verified. With nothing to hold him on they cut him loose. Doc thanked them and headed home with the data from Phillip’s computer.

🚀

Home was a downtown apartment. Nothing fancy. A small bedroom with a bed and unpainted pine dresser. The main living room slash kitchen and dining room looked bigger than it was simply because he didn’t have a lot of stuff. He’d never been a fan of a lot of stuff. He had an over-sized blue denim bean bag chair, a lamp with a flexible gooseneck and a wood TV tray set up under the window. A wood chair, painted green, sat beside the tray. That was it for furniture. He hadn’t hung any paintings. The kitchen counters sat bare and empty except for the dish rack with his single bowl, plate, glass, spoon, fork and knife. They didn’t even get used that often since he usually ate out. Doc came through the door, locked it behind him and pulled off his coat.

He took out the USB drive and his tablet before hanging the coat on a hook on the back of the door. He walked over to the bean bag chair and lifted it up and flipped it over to fluff it up. Then he dropped into it and closed his eyes as he sank into its comforting depths. Some days he didn’t even leave the bean bag to sleep. He turned on the tablet and plugged in the USB drive. The files came up.

He opened his email program and picked one of the smaller files at random. He attached it and sent it with an invoice to Q-Prime. As soon as their money showed up in the escrow account he’d established then he’d release the rest of the files. He felt bad about Phillip dying. Someone hadn’t wanted him to talk.

Teleportation, Phillip had said. Doc scanned the other files and opened one of the documentation files. It was full of technobabble but as best Doc could make out Phillip had been telling the truth.  Q-Prime had developed a way to transport material from one spot to another. It could operate on scales from single atoms to large objects. He didn’t understand all of the details but it had something to do with changing the space-time coordinates of the target. Basically, they told the object that it wasn’t here but was actually there. They called it quantum bit-shifting. It didn’t sound like beaming the way he’d thought of it watching the old Star Trek shows. They weren’t talking about converting matter into energy and back but in the end, he didn’t see that it made any difference. You went poof in one place and appeared in another.

Doc didn’t want to think about it too much. He’d done his job. Yeah, he could see Phillip’s point about something like shipping, assuming that building the device wasn’t too difficult and it didn’t sound like it was from what he’d read. But that wouldn’t mean the end of everything. What worried him more were the military applications. What if you could ‘beam’ a warhead inside a target? High-yield explosive just appears inside a nuclear reactor. Ka-Boom! No warning. No way to trace who was responsible. If a terrorist group got hold of these files they could hold the world at ransom.

Not his problem. He’d been hired to recover the files. He’d done that. Doc shut the computer down, sat it aside and leaned back. He closed his eyes and folded his hands across his middle. He could use some rest.

🚀

He’d hardly closed his eyes when the bean bag vanished. He dropped onto a hard surface and lights blinded him. He heard voices and the hum of equipment. He lifted a hand to block the light. It came from two bright fluorescent tubes above his head. He blinked and looked around finding himself in a small room with concrete block walls. The air felt cold and dry.

“It worked,” some said. A woman. Young, by the sound of her voice.

“I told you. Phillip said it would.” A young guy with a scratchy smoker’s voice.

Doc flipped over in a crouch. His hand went to his gun—

🚀

He fell. He barely registered the sensation of falling before he hit the ground. He didn’t have time to do anything to break his fall and he hit hard on his elbow and side. Not enough to knock his wind out but hard. He lifted his head and found he was still in the same room. This time he saw his captors. Two twenty-somethings standing behind a bank of computers and equipment on the other side of the room. Doc reached for his gun. Fast. Faster than most people could draw.

His hand hit an empty holster. The gun sat on the table in front of the man.

“Don’t bother, Holliday,” the guy said. “Just chill out.”

The guy wore an expensive suit. Clean-shaven. He looked like a young Wall Street sort of guy. The woman with him looked more like a computer geek. She wore a black business dress but her hair was carelessly pulled back into a ponytail. Pretty in a slightly curvy overweight geek fashion. Her auburn hair had darker and lighter streaks.

Doc rocked back on his heels. “You’ve got the Q-Prime tech.”

The guy nodded. “That’s right. Phillip came through for us. But it isn’t without problems. We need the latest data from the company.”

Doc shook his head. “Can’t help you. I already turned it over.”

🚀

Falling. It didn’t surprise him as much this time. He slapped the floor when he hit but lay still. Let them think he’d been hurt. They’d teleported, beamed him, quantum bit-shifted, whatever they wanted to call it up to the ceiling and then let him fall.

He heard the woman’s heels click on the floor.

“Stop,” the guy said.

“He looks hurt.”

“He didn’t fall that hard. And he slapped the floor. He’s faking.”

🚀

Falling again. Doc took the fall and didn’t bother faking an injury. He rolled and popped up into a sprinter’s position. He pushed off. One stride, two, nearly there—

🚀

Fall. Hit. And rolled forward, still with the momentum of his brief sprint. Doc collided with the back of the computer equipment. He grabbed a fistful of cords and yanked.

“Shit!”

Doc heard keys rattle. The girl gasped. Doc stood up and shoved the monitors at the guy who gasped and jumped back as the monitors shattered. Doc grabbed his gun. He had it pointed square at the guy’s chest.

“Name. Now.”

“Whoa! Okay! Shit.” The guy lifted his hands. “Martin Donaldson.”

Doc looked at the girl. “You?”

Tears welled in her eyes. “We didn’t want to hurt you—”

“Name!”

She jumped. “Kasey Linton.”

Doc kept the gun steady. “Get over to the wall. Hands on the wall. Legs spread. Don’t piss me off.”

They hesitated.

“Now!”

“Okay! Fuck!” Martin went to the wall. He slapped his palms against it. “Holliday, you’ve got to—”

“Shut up.”

Kasey leaned into the wall. Her shoulders shook. Doc went around the computers. Some of the equipment still looked to be on. He saw a couple power strips and hit the switches. The computers went dark. He went over to the two standing against the wall. Martin flinched when Doc frisked. He didn’t have a weapon. Neither did Kasey. But he did take cell phones off them and pocketed them both. He stepped back.

“Sit down facing the wall. Cross-legged. Hands folded on your heads.”

Martin got down. So did Kasey.

“Good. Now you’re going to answer some questions. How did you get the machine working so quickly?”

“It isn’t that hard once you understand it,” Kasey said. “I had to write some targeting routines. That’s why we wanted their research. They’ve had longer to develop the implementation.”

“So anyone with the resources could build one of these?”

“Right,” Martin said. “Q-Prime is going to deal with the highest bidder and whoever that is will control everything. Get it? Phillip came to us. He told us what was happening. I had the funds and between him and Kasey, they got it working. We were going to make it available to everyone. It’s the only way it’ll work. Balance of power, you know?”

Doc lowered his gun but didn’t put it away. He glanced at the material on the desk that wasn’t covered by the shattered monitors. He didn’t understand the papers but he recognized the Q-Prime logo.

“Why’d you kill Phillip? To cut him out of the deal?”

“We didn’t kill him,” Martin said.

“We didn’t,” Kasey added. She sobbed. “I loved Phillip.”

He believed them. “Any ideas who did kill him?”

“It was Q-Prime that killed him. They didn’t want him talking about their technology.”

Doc didn’t rise to the bait. “If every nutcase on the planet has access to this technology then no one is safe.”

“Wrong.” Kasey looked back. “We’re safe because no one is safe. Who would use it, knowing that any survivors will have access to the same technology to retaliate?”

“Plenty.” Doc sat down in a chair. “How many copies of the research are out there right now?”

“Don’t tell him,” Martin said.

Doc nodded. “So only yours and what I’ve got. Why didn’t you and Phillip just destroy the data? Then no one would have it.”

“You can’t destroy knowledge like that,” Kasey said. “I understand it. So do the researchers at Q-Prime. It’d take time to develop a new working model but not that much time. Months.”

“Which is why we have to go public with the technology now rather than later,” Martin said.

“It isn’t just the technology.” Kasey twisted around. “This is a fundamental discovery about how our universe works. Knowledge like this needs to be shared. Q-Prime won’t share it.”

To his left was a closed green metal door. Doc twitched his head at it while keeping the gun on them. “Where does that go? Where am I?”

Kasey answered. “You’re at the University. This is Lab 3, one of the rooms in the basement. That just goes out into the hallway. We convinced labs to give us the room for the semester.”

Doc eased over towards the door. “I’m leaving now. I suggest you stay put until the cops get here.”

“Cops!” Martin started to lower his hands.

“Up!” Doc snapped. “Do it!”

“Jeez, okay. Why are you calling the cops?”

“You stole the data with Phillip. You kidnapped me with your device. I don’t even know if being teleported is safe. I think you’re going to be facing charges.”

“Shit,” Martin said. “You can’t do that.”

“Watch me.” Doc opened the door. As they had said, the door opened onto a concrete hallway. An exit sign glowed green at the end.

🚀

When the cops arrived they found the equipment back on. Martin and Kasey were gone. Doc checked his account balance using the campus Wi-Fi and found the money deposited as contracted. He created a compressed archive of the files and sent it to Q-Prime. Then he deleted the files. He’d fulfilled his contract. All the rest of that stuff, what was going to happen with this technology, this new knowledge that the researchers had developed, that was out of his hands.

It always had been. The world might change but he couldn’t stop the changes, he could only adapt and move on.

🚀

3,274  WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 98th short story release, written in November 2009.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, Quantum Uncertainty.


Creative Commons License
This story by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 133: Flowing Fiction

The Inevitable cover artI’ve been listening to The Inevitable over the last few days. I still have about half the book remaining. I’m curious if he addresses the unevenness of the sorts of changes being discussed. Change is never even, never smooth, never uniform across any society. The other day we ran into an issue in one of our libraries due to limited bandwidth at that location. I expect that will change, but it takes time. Everyone doesn’t reach the same point at the same time even if they’d like to change. Everything ends up lumpy.

Cars, for example. Go out on any road or highway and you’re bound to see all sorts of makes and models, some decades old and some brand new. As autonomous cars begin populating the roads we’ll see them alongside someone’s mud-splattered, battered old Ford pickup, coughing and spewing out dark smoke from the tailpipe while it drives alongside these new sleek, silent, electric vehicles.

Fluidity

I find (given both my work in libraries and as a writer) the views on the changing nature of books fascinating. I have many ideas that I’d like to explore in this area that I’ve already been working on. The notion of interconnected texts, the flowing and changing of digital works, and the augmentation of physical objects makes perfect sense to me. I see print books as a potential interface to other digital content. Nothing so cumbersome as a QR code. The printed text itself will become interactive without needing to change a thing through augmented and aware devices like glasses.

Take the simple matter of looking up a word. On a Kindle, I can press a word and get a definition. Soon, with my glasses, if I touched a word on a printed page, it will show the same sort of popup overlay. The overlay will look perfectly like part of the book ‘display,’ regardless of my head motion. Other augmentations will show annotations, comments, and other information from the book. In a series, touching a character’s name might pop up a character timeline that I can scroll through, even back through other books in the series. The entire print book becomes the code with which the glasses can interact.

Fiction as a Service

Cover art for Discount ArmageddonI’m also interested in other approaches. Some authors have found success on Patreon—Seanan McGuire is currently set to receive $8,673 per short story, more than many authors receive as an advance from traditional publishers on a novel. All from 1,379 patrons. As Kelly talks about in his book, it isn’t so much that they are paying for the stories (which cost as little as $1 per story), but for the interaction with the author. Those who pay more have access to more interaction (and stuff), increasing as the amount goes up. McGuire planned to only do the “toaster project” for a year, with a goal of improving her house. It’s an interesting project, well supported by her fans. She almost seems embarrassed to receive the support. At one story per month, that’s a pretty good living!

One of the things that I find interesting, is what Kelly talked about in the book. That you’re paying for the interaction. I doubt the fans will want to give that up when the “toaster project” concludes. (Actually, checking the recent posts, she is extending it another six months with an option to extend for another year).

Fiction as Flows

One of my post-MLIS projects will focus on a toolkit for writers. I’m interested in something that allows a deeper exploration of the text, an easier fluidity of the form of the text, and ways to reform and analyze it. That may end up being some form of XML/XSLT or some other approach. I still have a lot of studying to do before I get too much into the project.

I do know a few things about it:

  • Text independent of display and format. The basic format is plain text that can morph and display in different ways and be easily transformed into different formats, from e-books to print to whatever.
  • Data-rich. I want the text to be rich in data. That includes stats at various levels from how quickly words are written, a timeline of every character stroke, to layers of interlinked data and metadata about the text. Selecting a portion of text can pull up rich metadata about the selected text, changes, notes, etc.
  • Social. I want it easy to share and involve readers with the text. And make it easy for readers to network and support the creation of the text. That could be monetarily, or through providing comments and feedback.

It’ll be something interesting to dig deeper into as I complete the MLIS and move on to my other projects.

Using Trello in Getting a Master’s Degree

Finish Line In Sight

Tuesday was a big day—no, not because of the election which felt like a surprise twist on Scandal. Tuesday was a big day for me personally because I registered for my final classes at San Jose State University. The Spring 2017 semester isn’t my last semester; I’ll still need to complete my e-portfolio project to complete the MLIS program, but it is the final semester when I’ll be taking classes.
Spring 2017 Trello Board

Trello Board

I’ve used Trello each semester to organize my classes and assignments. To celebrate registering for my final classes I went ahead and set up a new board for Spring 2017. I don’t have much on it right now, just a single card for each of my four classes:

Board Organization

I organize the Trello Board into a list for each class followed by three lists: Next Up, Doing, and Done. For visual interest, and ease of quickly identifying the board, I’ve set a background image.

Each class list starts with a general syllabus card (with an attached cover image representing the class). This card is also where I attached faculty information, and the syllabus once it is available for the class. If the professor has previously taught the course, I may attach the last syllabus.

Trello card example

If necessary, I may attach other documents, and once I know what the major assignments are, create a checklist for those assignments. Trello’s checklists are very useful (and you can have multiple checklists within a single card). Individual items on the checklist may also be converted into cards.

Labels and Due Dates

On each class list, I create cards for Lectures, Readings, Assignments, and Discussions. Sometimes I may also have a couple of other labels, such as Activities, or Resources, but usually, I stick with the four primary labels as well as a label for each course. The example above shows the INFO282-11 label.

Labels enable filtering—so I can filter the view to show only cards for a particular class, or all readings, etc. The color-coding also helps me identify what is going on at a glance.

Likewise, due dates are critical. Most classes have lectures, readings, assignments, and sometimes discussions due every week. By setting due dates on each card, I see what is coming up. Trello also color-codes the due dates on the card as they approach (or pass) the due date.

strongly prefer professors who post all of the course material on day one. Comments such as, ‘you would panic’ if the materials were posted are insulting. Professors don’t need to accept assignments early, and notions of keeping everyone on the ‘same page’ are ridiculous.

Canvas isn’t used effectively by many professors, and it lacks the features and personalization of something like Trello. I prefer to organize the materials on my board so that I can see at a glance what I need to focus on in the days and weeks ahead. I work full time. I have a family. And I’m a full-time student. Not to mention other interests, and basic needs like sleep and exercise, that take up my time. Withholding information only serves to make it more difficult for me to plan and organize my time.

Yes, I had to get that off my chest. I will continue to make that point on the SOTES (Student Opinion of Teaching Effectiveness). Keep it in mind if you decide to go back to school.

Card Movement

Once I stack the deck on each list with the individual cards for each week, I can see right across all my classes what is coming up. Then I make a choice on what I want to work on next and drag those cards to the Next Up list.

I limit how many cards I put on Next Up to three (most of the time). That helps me focus my attention on what I’m doing next. These could be cards from different classes, or all from a single class, depending on time, energy and resources available to tackle the work described by the cards.

From Next Up, I move one to the Doing list. In the beginning, I’ll usually move one more card over to Next Up from the class lists so that I still have three on Next Up.

Then I focus on the single card on the Doing list. When completed, I move it to the Done list and select a new card from the Next Up list. At some point, as the Next Up list is depleted, I decide what’s next and pull more cards from the class lists. In this way, cards move from the classes lists to Next Up, Doing, and Done.

Now and then I’ll have a card on the Doing list that takes more time, and can only be done at a certain time/place, e.g., I may need to use the code editor on my computer, but I’m at work. In that case, I may pull another card over to Doing that I can tackle on a break, such as reading assignments on my Chromebook.

Attachments and Markup

I attach everything to cards. Sample files, reading material, lectures, and instructions. I access Trello on a variety of devices from my computer to my phone and my Chromebook. Attaching everything I need makes it easy to access whatever I need to refer to or read. Typically I compose first drafts in Google Docs and then finish up later in Word.

Trello supports Markup notation in descriptions and checklists, making it easy to embed material and links directly within cards.

Teams

Trello offers extensive support for team collaboration—only I haven’t found any teams at the iSchool comfortable with learning to use Trello in order to take advantage of the features! It’s too bad because Trello would be ideal for groups collaborating on complex projects. Cards may be assigned to team members. It supports commenting and subscription features. With Power-Ups, Trello offers more features and integrations with many other services.

Still Learning

Since starting the program at the iSchool, I have learned new ways to use Trello. I continue to tweak and modify what I am doing. I don’t often use the Trello sticker function, those others may like it. I’ve tried using the custom field power-up to mark a card ‘done’ on the front, but it doesn’t quite do what I’d like. I think I’ll use a label instead.

Though I’m nearing the end of my studies at the iSchool, I intend to continue using Trello in my writing/illustration/publishing efforts. Along with Evernote, Trello remains one of my most used applications.