"This is ridiculous. You can't abuse physics like this! Kate?"
It has been nineteen months since the collapse of the Standard Model, and it still isn't sitting well with a majority of physicists. At the far side of the room, Kristen "KT, and all derivatives thereof" Thorne, whose PhD contributed most to this debacle, looks up from stripping wires of their the melted black insulation.
"Data is data. If it's reproducible, it's reality."
Grumbling, Allen Morales rubs his eyes from under his glasses, returning to the equations on the screen. Allen had spent half a year attempting to disprove KT's thesis, and only ended up reconfirming her findings. The data was irrefutable, independently verified by a number of teams worldwide: no matter how mathematically sound the no-cloning theorem was, it is physically possible to clone unknown quantum states with even the most rudimentary linear accelerator.
Despite this, Allen still sporadically curses KT when perusing the derived models, because it still makes no sense. Contradictions stick out like sore thumbs.
For physicists, 'because it works' doesn't quite cut it.
KT's discovery single-handedly destabilised the past thirty years of research into quantum mechanics, and, nineteen months later, there still isn't a single viable theory to explain the findings. She had hacked together some tenuous mathematical underpinnings for the sake of her thesis, but even after multiple reworkings by prominent theoretical physicists, it still didn't fully recapitulate the findings. Nobody was convinced of their validity. But the data was there, even if the mathematics couldn't fully explain it.
KT turns back to working on the machinery at the desk. "We're almost ready for another run. How are the readings?"
"Two kelvins higher than normal, but within limits. Mark's team is still running hot, though. They'll need a few minutes."
Interest in the problem waned a few months in once the Anomalies began occurring; few teams stuck around to continue research into quantum cloning when there were more pressing concerns to work on. Theirs was one of the few worldwide which stuck with the cloning problem, set up the basement lab of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory. The other half of their team was currently in the Centre for Mathematical Sciences across the park, led by their supervisor Professor Mark Acone, where they had set up an identical machine to the one KT was currently tinkering with.
The machine. It was like something out of Lovecraft: a sprawling monstrosity; skeins of wires and tubing snaking off the desk and along the linoleum floor, leaving the painted red exclusion zone before coiling up in the corners of the room like quivering tentacles, providing power and cooling for the metre-wide copper rings of superconducting magnets suspended around dull beryllium egg. And within, three atoms of gadolinium-157 magnetically suspended in the path of a laser spectrometer. In its twin, the vacuum chamber of the device lies empty, awaiting exchange.
Teleporters are never how you expect them to appear.
The current leading theory by Zhang et al. posited that the process that KT discovered was not limited to copying quantum state, but also the entirety of information that made up the particle. The initial control system was set up to only copy the particle's spin, but with some modification, the process should be able to all information, including identity. Swapping it with the information at another location would allow for the transfer of information or matter. Teleportation.
In theory. And these days theory doesn't have the most stellar track record.
"The CMS team is good to go." Allen calls, looking up from the screen. "Our clocks are synced, but you're messing up our calibration. They've sent us their source frequency. Kate, get over here."
KT waltzes over to the console, dancing carefully over the wires haphazardly strewn about the floor, and steps carefully outside the bounds of the red circle. She peers over Allen's shoulder, and watches as the wavering numbers settle down to more constant readings.
"Alpha six-two seven. Beta seventy-nine. Gamma twelve-oh-three. You getting this, Mark?"
The speaker crackles. "Six twenty-seven, seventy-nine, one two zero three. Got it, Allen."
"Start in two minutes?"
"Set to run at thirteen oh seven."
Allen keys in the time, and taps the confirmation dialogue. Transformers begin to hum. "Thirteen oh seven confirmed."
The capacitor banks begin their rising whine, accompanied by the outgassing hiss of liquid helium and the ventilation's faint whispering. The emission spectrum of the gadolinium is displayed on the screen, wavering as the stray proton passes through the laser. The timer counts down. The temperature wobbles. The high-pitched whine passes out of the range of hearing, but the subsonic hum still resonates in their bones.
"Fifteen seconds." says Allen, eyeing the screen.
They've had a few false starts today, and KT crosses her fingers. Fourth time's the charm.
The fluorescent lights flicker, and her eyes jerk upward. The capacitors fire. Electricity cracks. Windows rattle. Nothing sparks. Nothing shatters. A good sign. KT glances back down to the screen.
Nights in Cambridge are usually a bit chilly, but for once the night is warm: clear skies and bright stars, the moon just beginning to peak out from behind the CMS gatehouse. It's late, or possibly very early; the janitorial staff have come and left, and lights have been going off one by one as even the night owls headed home. Fluorescent lighting still bleeds through the blinds of one of the ground floor conference rooms, casting vertical bars of light across the quad, where muted cricket song wends its way through the glass windows. The team had gathered in the conference room eight hours prior, and, several pots of coffee later, they were still there.
Inside the room, it's as if a physicist had left their stack of papers by an open window: printouts litter the tables and floor facing every which way, and diagrams and equations were scrawled haphazardly over the blackboards lining the back wall. Allen stands to one side of the blackboards, staring pensively at the diagrams, while KT and Sato hunch over their laptops at one end of the table, discussing the parameters for the simulation model, typing and scrawling notes on the scraps of paper by their hands.
Satoshi Yamazaki was the resident postdoc of their group. A PhD in particle physics, and he looked like it too: dark hair, lanky build, and the pale skin of someone who spends too much time indoors. Middle age had flecked the stubble on his chin with specks of grey, but his mind was as nimble as ever, fingers flying over the keyboard as he talked. He had years of experience behind him writing and running physics simulations of all degrees of magnitude, from entire multiverses to neutrino-quark oscillation interactions. If you gave him a mathematical model, he could simulate it. But if you only gave him the data, he could only try.
The door swings open and Mark walks into the room, dropping a sheaf of printouts and another pot of coffee onto the table. "What have we got?"
KT buries her head into her arms. "We've got successful results. The applied theorists are going to have a field day with this; the quantum cryptographers are still churning out papers on my thesis."
"Three runs isn't science." Mark replied. "How long until we can get the device back up and running?"
KT's voice was muffled through her arms. "I haven't had time to diagnose the problem, but I think it's a deformation in the beryllium shell. Milling another one to spec's going to take another month or a half. And before you ask, yes, the runs mostly fall within the parameters of Zhang theory."
"Except for the discrepancy."
"Except for the discrepancy."
Mark pours himself a cup of coffee. "The teleporter works, but reviewers are going to want independent verification, and we're not publishing until our results are adequately explained. You remember the FTL neutrino incident."
OPERA 2011. A sixty nanosecond discrepancy, pushing the neutrino speed slightly faster than the speed of light, which was eventually resolved as a loose connection to the GPS uplink. They published their preliminary results to get help in troubleshooting, and when other groups failed to replicate their results, they knew it was something wrong with their setup.
"I can confirm that they're not timing errors." says Allen, glancing away from the blackboard. "I've verified the oscillators frequencies on both sides, and I've run latency analysis with the GPS timing uplink. I've measured the cable lengths by hand. I'm working out the satellite positioning right now, but even so, the discrepancy is way too large."
Sato looks up from over the screen. "Too large? It's practically simultaneous. The discrepancy is over three microseconds. Three. Whole. Microseconds. That's almost the entire travel time, and that's not going to appreciably change with non-relativistic reference frames. Given the data, I wouldn't be surprised if this was a nonlocal interaction."
Allen takes a step away from the blackboard, and drops heavily into a chair by the desk. "Unless something's gone terribly wrong with the GPS satellite, or there's some kind of strange unexplained meteorological phenomena, then we've definitely got a nonlocal signal."
Nonlocality. Faster-than-light. Physicists instinctively shy away from anything faster-than-light. From the tenets of Special Relativity to the quantum no-communication theorem, reality forbids anything from travelling faster than light, not even information.
Mark glanced askance at the two of them. "Didn't the Minova group disprove FTL? Doing the EPR experiment, what was that, six months ago?"
"No, their cloned particles were entangled," replied Allen, "and got nothing out of it. Zhang theory doesn't disallow nonlocality. This might be it."
Nonlocality implies no-cloning, and with the collapse of the latter the former is necessarily false. Or at least the theory behind the implication is false. One or the other. But none of them expected to stumble upon it like this. Not now.
"So we can publish then?" KT asks, raising her head . "And move onto developing the time travel applications?"
The team turns to stare at her. She stares blankly back.
"Come on. I'm not the only one who's thinking it. FTL communications implies time travel. Tachyonic antitelephone. All we need is satellite and—"
"We can't publish yet." says Mark. "We still have unexplained results, and we—"
"The no-cloning problem still isn't solved to anyone's satisfaction, but we still built a device based on its principles. Leave the theory to the theoretical physicists. And besides, it's time travel. Is there anything more important?"
"Should we publish?" Sato asked slowly, "It is, after all, time travel."
"We can't just keep this discovery for ourselves!" replied KT, indignantly, "It's the biggest thing since, I don't know, nuclear fission!"
"And you saw just how well that turned out." Sato shot back. "If this was just faster than light, or instantaneous communication, I would be down with publishing. But time travel is an existential risk, and I don't know if we have the moral authority to free it on everyone."
"They published the OPERA results."
"Yes, and I might question their judgement, but their experiments required billions of dollar worth of equipment. Whereas ours device could be made by any university with even a slight interest in the project. What if a university or a country decides that they want to change the course of history? What then?"
Mark clears his throat, and the team turn toward him. He slowly places his coffee on the table. "Look, we still haven't confirmed that this is faster-than-light; three runs isn't enough. But as soon as we announce our findings, we're going to draw unwanted attention." He rests his hand on his forehead and runs his fingers through his thinning black hair. "Once verified and replicated, the military is going to get involved, and things are going to get hairy. I'm having trouble keeping them from appropriating our research as it is, and I know that they already have their own in-house Anomaly groups. Not to say we aren't taking funding from them already, but they're going to clamp down hard, and I don't want anyone to be caught in this mess if they don't want to. It'll be out of our hands, and they'll be able to develop it as they see fit.
"There's only two options out, the way I see it. One is we publish, the military gets involved, and we either eventually end up disproving FTL or working on time travel weaponry for the government; or we stay quiet, claim nothing works, and wait for the eventuality that someone else, somewhere else, stumbles into it.
"I'm going to send an email to the my contacts at the Laboratory; we're going to need more funding and independent verification. Any objections?"
KT glares at Sato, who glares back. "Going to the government's better than going public, but let me just say that any development into time travel is a bad idea."
Mark waited a few more seconds before speaking. "Alright, we're done for tonight. Katie, Allen, we're going to need the device repaired, and Sato, drop the models. We need to write something up that the people at the Ministry will understand. I'll write up the emails."
The group slowly picks up their things and shuffle out of the room. Sato hang back, dutifully wiping the boards and gathering up the last of the scattered printouts before shutting the lights and closing the door behind him. Mark heads deeper into the building, drafting the email in his head, while KT and Allen walk out through the atrium into the night.
Allen laughs as steps out into the warm summer air, and closes his eyes, taking in a deep breath. KT smiles weakly.
It is, after all, a nice night.
Government agents are waiting when they arrive the next morning.