Author: David Barber

Nova Education was paying Jacee Egan a pittance to interview famous scientists. Nova hoped the links would make their failing on-line physics course less dull. It’s not about the science, they insisted. Give it a human face.

Nobel-winner Darius Smalling was long dead, but this Blount woman had been a student of his. She seemed fascinated by the recorder on the table between them. Top of the range holographic. He’d still be paying for it when it was obsolete.

“Need a level check, Doctor.”

“Who did you say you worked for?”

“I work to free the facts, Doc. FTF.”

She was spry for her age, but tendons stood out on her neck, and her flesh was a map of wrinkles and age spots. A woman that old should cover up more.

Thought so, she sighed. Had to be sure.

The old girl was long past her sell-by date.

“So, Dr. Blount, you worked with Darius Smalling on the Quantum Hyperstate Project.”

“My Ph.D. supervisor, yes. A great man. Chen was brilliant too. I thought myself lucky.”

He’d looked it up beforehand. Seemed like the famous Darius Smalling had been onto something. Physics beyond the Standard Model. Hints of faster than light. Hints of time-reversed particles. All a bust. Faulty concept. Faulty claims. Smalling retired under a cloud. Chen got religion. And young Blount switched to medicine.

“But wasn’t there a scandal?” Serious face for the edit. “Talk of fabricated results?” Then if she looks shifty, nice link to the issue of fraud in science today.

“No, it was a complete success. On the very first run, we got a signal from ten minutes into the future.”

His interview face slipped.

“In fact, Professor Smalling poisoned the well deliberately. To make sure nobody followed up his work. Because the signal contained information. You could picture the future.”

The old bird was rambling. The plot of some TV show from half a century ago.

“You could see yourself on screen, holding a coffee mug, ten minutes from now. First thing Chen asked. What happens to that future, if you don’t pick up the mug.”

How was he supposed to get anything useful out of this?

“What do you think would happen?” she asked sharply, catching him out.

He was busy nodding. Nodding was good for linking edits. “Well, if you saw him holding it, then…”

“A test of free will, yes.”

Jacee smiled uncertainly. The QHP had ruined several careers, but in her ramshackle memory everything turned out fine.

“I don’t think the Professor trusted Chen to keep quiet. So we checked ourselves out. Professor Smalling watched himself die in a car crash. And Chen’s retirement into obscurity. Only Doctor Blount, paediatrician, spills the beans fifty years on.”

“For a moment there, Doc…”

“Imagine if it became known. The kind of world where you’re not responsible for a crime because you couldn’t do any different.”

They stared at one another.

Useless for Nova maybe, but a nice piece for the Net.

The recorder had a good heft to it; lenses and batteries and so forth. It didn’t feel like she was being forced to act, any more than wanting to confess the truth at last. And she’d seen this before, the hack making a grab for his precious equipment.

She can never remember whether it takes four or five, so she goes for five whacks to be sure. Then she fries the recorder memory with mains AC.

It’s taken fifty years, but finally, she’s free. Finally, she doesn’t know what happens next.