Last Updated: Friday, 24 August 2007, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
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Two people are dead and two more are missing following a second attempt to create a Star Trek-style "transporter" at Yorkshire University.
Teleportation experts Dr Philip Hood MBE, Alan Jeyrie, Martin Klemperer and Teng Lo all vanished from the laboratory at the moment of the experiment yesterday evening.
Klemperer and Hood were found minutes later in the laboratory's car park, having fallen to their deaths from an estimated height of more than five hundred feet. A police search has begun for Jeyrie and Lo.
Yesterday's experiment was a precise duplicate of the infamous teleportation test in August 2005, which was originally intended to exchange the positions of two tiny spheres of boron placed just a few feet apart.
That experiment instead resulted in physicist Dr Anne Poole being teleported into a local coal seam. She was stumbled upon by a mining crew 18 months later, having inexplicably survived her ordeal, for reasons which have left both doctors and scientists baffled.
Dr Poole no longer requires food, water or air to survive, but is being treated for severe psychological damage resulting from her long-term sensory deprivation.
The University's teleportation programme was abandoned immediately after Dr Poole's disappearance, only to be revived with dramatically increased funding and an accelerated timetable in January 2007, shortly after her condition was diagnosed.
A spokesman from the Physical Sciences Centre said that purpose of the experiment had never been to duplicate the accident which altered Dr Poole, and declined to comment on the possibility of Jeyrie or Lo having undergone the same transformation, saying, "Naturally we continue to hope that our colleagues and friends will be located alive and well as quickly as possible, but at the present time we are forced to assume nothing."
Teleportation theorist Dr Thomas Muoka said that Dr Adrian Ashmore, who was found responsible for the original accident, "had no direct involvement with [yesterday's] experiment", but "served in an advisory capacity only". Dr Ashmore is currently serving a five-year sentence for gross criminal negligence.
Thomas Muoka sits down in the chair opposite Ashmore's.
"So." Ashmore counts off on his fingers. "Phil Hood had fifty years of physics behind him. The man was an institution. His death marks the end of an age. He brought in the first useful equations from the Eka script team and he got the first proposals drawn up. The project just wouldn't have existed without him. Martin Klemperer was and still is the best scientific educator I have met, bar none. I don't know how many thousands of people he got started with his books and TV shows. He got me started. His backing, his belief, got the project funded in the first place, when nothing else would. And he was a master physicist in his own right. Alan Jeyrie, I'm told, took over most of the transposition modelling duties in my place when the project was started up again. I never got much of a chance to get to know him but he was a good guy by all accounts. And Teng Lo. Chief computer engineer. Custom supercomputer architecture and software. Man of a million inspired optimisations. Again, a highly qualified teleportation physicist. That makes four extremely talented physicists, dead."
"We don't know that Lo and Jeyrie--"
"Oh, come off it, Tom! They're dead! And this is not my fault this time around! You should have been ready. Logs, checksums, manual steps. On-site security. We went over all of this. What happened?"
"You're blaming me?"
Ashmore gestures around the busy vistors' room. "Who else? Who else is left to blame? Nobody will ever touch teleportation technology again after this. Nobody could if they wanted to! With Klemperer dead and Anne effectively dead and me in here, this entire field of science has been gutted."
"Adrian, this was out of my control. This was nothing I could have prevented. The press are missing significant facts."
"Alan Jeyrie. Wasn't in the lab at the time of the experiment."
Ashmore sits bolt upright.
"He'd slipped out for a cigarette. Apparently he wasn't enjoying the tension. We didn't even know he'd disappeared until we looked over the numbers a second time and found the third and fourth components to the transfer."
"He didn't have line of sight with the machinery?"
"No. And there's more. Teng Lo? He set up the apparatus we asked for in the afternoon and then, since he had no actual part to play in the experiment, he headed home. It was his daughter's birthday. He then disappeared from his car on the motorway while driving home from the Institute. The police found a dark blue Nissan Primera which had swerved into the central reservation crash barrier at seventy miles per hour, and there was nobody in it, just keys in the ignition and a buckled seatbelt over an empty seat. He was two and a half miles from the sphere of actuation. Word finally got back to us at the lab two hours later."
"That's impossible," says Ashmore.
"Yes. I know. We've got the replacement code logged and we still have no idea how it was done."
"The TP protocols are static. They work on static objects. To hit Lo from that distance, you'd need to know precisely where he was in space, to an accuracy of centimetres, ahead of time. Way ahead of time. You couldn't just put a GPS tracking device in his pocket because you need to run a time-consuming supercomputer calculation to generate the teleportation program."
"I know," says Muoka. "But then, we know, and we have always known, that we are dealing with somebody with a deep and intricate understanding of TP, beyond anything anybody we know has attained. The knowledge is public. It's not unthinkable that some savant out there might have made deductions we haven't reached yet."
"If you have the code logged, does that mean you know where Jeyrie and Lo were sent?"
"Miles into space. And I mean miles. Search parties were combing the projected landing areas for all of yesterday. But I guess you're right. If neither man has made it home by now, then the chances are that they died of asphyxiation before they even hit the ground."
"I find it interesting to note that all four of them went upwards."
"Almost directly upwards," says Muoka.
"If they'd gone down, they could have been retrieved alive this time around. Sixteen to one odds. So. Put all of this together... and someone killed this project," says Ashmore. "Deliberately. This is not about Anne, or her immortality. This is an agent who wants teleportation science killed stone dead. Who already has advanced teleportation technology of their own. Who wants... to preserve a monopoly, maybe?"
"That is precisely the conclusion to which I would have come, too," says Muoka. "Sabotage. Maybe some other country or corporation delved further into the message than us, found shortcuts or macros or... I don't know, something. Somebody who was on both teams, working against us. We could prove this because it is firmly established, and investigations will bear out, that this sabotage took technology which mainstream science in general and our laboratory specifically have not yet developed. That is what I would think. But."
"There's a 'but'?"
"You know that, prior to Anne's accident, a bolt of lightning struck the laboratory and we had to check everything over from step one. There was a lightning rod, but the insulation wasn't 100% effective, as we knew, hence the do-over, hence the altered program. This time around, we were careful, paranoid careful. The insulation was upped. We had weather-monitoring equipment, we had an actual guy on the roof watching the sky. We had breakers which would shut down the experiment if a large static charge was detected moving through the building."
"What kind of reaction time on these breakers?" asks Ashmore, quickly.
Muoka keeps going. "We had a nearly clear sky. One-eighth cloud, the weather report is a matter of public record. There was no rain, no thunder, no static. We let the experiment run as planned."
"And a local charge hit the machine instead? Somebody with rubber shoes touched a sensitive piece of equipment?"
"No. Lightning struck the machine. Again. Out of thin air, while the machine was running. The breakers fired, but the shutdown command just couldn't have circulated through the whole system fast enough. First the program was okay. The cycle began. The lightning struck. The breakers were triggered. The program changed. The program was executed. The breakers closed."
"So they set up a piece of code to detect the charge being earthed and insert the altered program at--"
"Maybe so, Adrian, but you can't control the weather! This is not an omniscient, omnipotent teleportation cult! For it to work, the strike had to hit inside a two-millisecond window. What happened is statistically impossible. This was an act of God!"
"What? Maybe the machine generates massive static charges. Maybe it's a fault with the electrics in the building. I can think of a million things."
"We have an eyewitness who saw the strike! You can talk to Haddon, fine. Tell him your million things. But I'm done with this. I don't care what's killing my friends and colleagues, but I'm quitting now before it hits me, or you, or somebody else I care about." Muoka stands up. "I'm going back to the theory."
"Tom, you can't just turn your back on this. You're supposed to be a scientist and this is just superstition."
"Then find me a scientific explanation. I don't know what to believe anymore."
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