Help! I've Lost My Reality!

by Greg Guerin © 2002

Luck was not something he believed in. He'd never experienced it. Inheriting the name Lonkok had not made for a good start and the pattern had been set from that point forward. But even for Jay Lonkok, this was ridiculous. He wanted to shut his eyes and pretend it was not real but his synth eye implants hadn't come with the optional extra of eyelids. He covered them with his short-fingered hands instead, and curled up his round body, trying to mute the frustration.

Ten years of work in the workshop had culminated with the machine he sat within. The Lonkok Quantum Leaper had been designed and constructed to eliminate the very possibility of failure. It was designed to exaggerate the ability of any particle to make a sudden quantum jump to a new location without needing vast energy inputs. It could have taken him and the machine anywhere within the 100 m radius of the sphere allowed to it for safety. A few centimetres might have done it. By chance, it had chosen to move 5 microns from its original location. The move was perfectly detectable by the instruments and proved he had succeeded in creating the drive, but none of the thousands of spectators watching from outside would have seen a thing, nor would they believe an announcement of a 5 micron shift.

Reluctantly, Jay neatened his tie and collar and re-settled his plastic framed glasses on the bridge of his nose, then hit the seal-release on the door of the Quantum Leaper. He alighted and took the first few clamouring steps back down the rampway to the heated jeers of the crowd that was seated below the platform. A thousand heads tipped uncomfortably back to accost him as he made his way back to the control station.

The first thing he noticed as he pulled open the door to the station was the distinct smell of ozone. A second later he realised that the rose coloured smear coating the walls of the little room was the rearranged insides of Frank, his chief engineer and one of very few friends, who had been in the station to initiate the trial sequence. Somehow, the effects of the quantum disturbance had leaked, suddenly changing the position and velocity of the atoms that made up Frank's body. It was incredibly similar to a scene in a horror flick he'd watched with Frank only weeks ago. Perhaps that explained why he had not gone far in the Leaper. Playing down the fear that he would meet the same fate, Jay entered the station and quickly latched the door. If anyone from the crowd saw what had happened, there'd be a riot; a worse riot in any case. He could already feel the steady rhythm of the crowd members stamping their feet as it vibrated through the framework of the platform.

What happened next was almost worse than having lost Frank. He came back. In a sickening whirlwind of molecular action, the disgusting mess flew back together, the stains on the bottom of Jay's slippers scraping themselves off and returning to the ball of matter that soon resembled a slightly giddy Frank.

"What the hell is happening here?" Jay demanded, as if this was all Frank's fault for defying logic.

"I... I dunno man," Frank replied with his usual low-slow voice, dusting off his jeans as if they had collected some dirt in the incident. "That was weird."

"Yeah, and we're about to get lynched. It might have been easier for you to stay as pulp."

Frank gave him a blank stare of incomprehension. Shaking his head, Jay exited the station to pace down the rampway and get the crowd controllers to make some sort of announcement. Pretty soon it became clear that this wasn't likely to happen. The entire framework seemed to have been transported to another universe. The crowd was still there but they were faces disembodied, leering. Many of them were almost certainly his venerable mother, most of them were the identical copy of Jessica Halmgren, the first and only girl he'd ever gone out with, for a single hapless date in high school. The rampway, now rainbow- colourful, flowed and twisted like a high-tech river and his wet feet were hot as though the liquid was magma. He felt naked and exposed as the faces all laughed at him in a sinister cackle. His balance waned as the river shifted its position about unpredictably.

God help me, he thought, I've lost my reality. The Leaper had apparently sent him to a new one, constructed purely out of his mind. He returned as fast as he could manage to the Leaper, which was luckily unchanged. He threw himself in and shut the door, slapping the buttons rapidly in unison. The dial lurched, but the charge in the unit was low and he didn't know if his situation could be reversed.

When the dials settled down he doggedly opened the door and forced himself to look out. To his amazement, the real world had apparently returned. Breathing deeply, he got out and stood on the rampway. Was this to be his first piece of luck?

Three uniformed officials approached him on the rampway, a tall woman holding a piece of datafilm flanked by a pair of short-haired muscle- jocks. Still walking towards him, the woman said, "Jay Lonkok," (there was a snigger from the two men), "I am taking you to the central security station where you'll be charged with defrauding three thousand people of a total of three million dollars. These people bought their tickets in good faith."

"But if you'll just look at the data..."

"Forget it, Long-Cock," she said, pronouncing his name with a sneer, "no-one's going to believe you."

The two men grabbed him and the woman led them away to the delirious cheers of the crowd, finally in receipt of some entertainment.

x x x

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