“Consequently, the development of a fully operational quantum computer would imperil our personal privacy, destroy electronic commerce and demolish the concept of national security. A quantum computer would jeopardize the stability of the world.”
SIMON SINGH, The Code Book, p. 331
Keryn Wills was in the shower when she figured out how to kill Josh Trenton.
Her best ideas usually came that way, letting the white noise of the pelting spray drown out the outside world. Josh had to die. That was just the way things were. If you were the designated corpse in a Keryn Wills murder mystery, your mission was to die—whether you decided to accept it or not. The only question was how, and now Keryn had the answer.
All that remained was to slam it all down on paper before she lost it, and she had the whole Saturday ahead of her for that. Keryn twisted off the water and shoved back the shower curtain.
Smiley was sitting on the floor watching her, his blue eyes wide and glittery.
“What are you staring at?” Keryn grabbed her towel and began drying off.
Smiley yawned widely.
“You think I’m boring, is that it?” Keryn scowled at him. “Go on, admit it. I won’t be hurt.”
Smiley meowed and scurried out.
Keryn wrapped the towel around herself and dashed through her bedroom into her office. She grabbed a pen and began scribbling ideas on a white pad. How Josh Dies. Must look like accident.
The phone rang.
Keryn looked at the number on the caller ID. Mom and Dad. Not now. Just let it ring.
The phone kept ringing. Keryn reached for her copy of Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons.
The answering machine picked up. “Hello, this is Keryn Wills. I’d love to talk to you, but I’m out. Leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”
A click, and then her mother’s voice. “Hi, honey, it’s me. Rusty’s still asleep. Long story, but just between you and me and the fence post, he got plastered again last night. Anyway, I just wanted to see how your big date went. Come on and pick up the phone, sweetheart. I know you’re there. I want details—big, luscious, foaming details. You are home, aren’t you? I swear, if you shacked up with that man on the first date, I’m going to call your preacher-creature and tell him you’re nothing but a hypocrite, so pick up the phone or—”
Keryn snatched up the phone. “Hi, Sunflower.”
“Sweetheart, I knew you were there. Now spill. Details. Remind me ... what’s his name again?”
Keryn took a deep, calming breath and exhaled slowly. “Dillon.”
“I thought it was Rick or something.”
“That’s his last name. Richard.” Keryn tapped her fingers on the desk, itching to grab Deadly Doses and start flipping pages.
“Dillon Richard.” Sunflower pronounced it like a disease. “Sounds backwards. What kind of parents would name their boy Dillon Richard?”
Keryn ran her fingers through her wet hair and looked at the picture of her parents on her desk. The picture was five years old, and even back then, Sunflower’s hippie ponytail had gone a dull and streaky gray. Rusty’s hair wasn’t rusty anymore. Mostly it just ... wasn’t. Sunflower and Rusty. Locked in a time warp where the sixties were still groovin’ and life was free acid and psychedelic VW buses and Grateful Dead concerts.
“So hit me with some details, girlfriend.”
Keryn sighed deeply. Please, please, please grow up, Mom. “We went to a play in La Jolla.”
“That’s it? A play? You didn’t eat?”
“We ate. We went to a play. Dillon drove me home.”
A moment of horrified silence. “And... ?”
“It was a first date.”
“And you invited him in? Please tell me you had the sense to invite him in for coffee.”
Keryn didn’t say anything. It had been late, and Dillon said something about going shooting in the morning. Shooting.
“What’s wrong with him?” Sunflower’s voice had a note of desperate resignation.
“Nothing’s wrong with him. He’s a perfect gentleman.”
“He’s how old? Thirty-five? Got to be something wrong with him if he’s never been married.”
“He asked you out, didn’t he?”
Keryn hesitated. “Really shy.”
“You’re telling me you asked him out? Not a good sign, girl friend. Looks bad. Like you know your clock is ticking.”
“My clock is ticking. It’s a biological fact. I’m going to get old and die someday. And so are you. Have you ... read that book I sent you?”
“I don’t read books by preacher-creatures.”
Keryn regretted it immediately. That was the only way to shut up Sunflower. Hit her with a chunk of her own maternity. That annoyed her even more than her mortality.
Keryn heard a call-waiting blip on her line. She checked the caller ID. “Hey, um, Sunflower? I’ve got a call incoming from my boss. Can I call you back later?”
Sunflower slammed the phone down.
Keryn clicked the button on her phone to pick up the incoming call. “Hello, Grant. What’s up?”
“Bad news.” Grant O’Connell’s gravelly voice sounded tired. “I know it’s Saturday, but can you come in to work for a couple hours? We need to strategize.”
Keryn looked at her scribblings on the paper and tried to remember exactly how Josh was going to die. “Um ... sure.” I guess. It had to be bad if Grant wasn’t out golfing on a Saturday. “Can I ask what it’s about?”
“Not on the phone,” Grant said.
Keryn felt her pulse quicken. Not on the phone? This was starting to sound like one of her mysteries. Or maybe a John le Carré. “I’m not dressed yet. What time do you need me?”
“Ten-thirty,” Grant said. “I’ve already called the others. Dillon can’t get in any earlier.”
Keryn wondered why she and Dillon would be invited to the same meeting. He was a Senior Engineer and she was Chief Financial Officer, and that didn’t give them a whole lot of common turf. “I’ll be there.”
“Don’t panic,” Grant said. “Everything’s going to be all right.” He hung up.
Keryn stared at the phone in her hand. It hadn’t occurred to her to panic until Grant told her not to. She put the phone down and headed back to her bedroom to get dressed.
She could already see that she wasn’t going to kill Josh Trenton today.
Dillon drove carefully into his favorite parking spot. The lot was empty. He stepped out and locked the car, setting the alarm. He walked once around the car and inspected each tire. A knot of anxiety clutched at his stomach. It was highly unusual for Grant to call a meeting on a Saturday. Highly unusual.
Dillon strode across the lot to the bridge. A thin trickle of water ran through the gully. Again, highly unusual. In June the gully should be dry. But this was no ordinary June. It had rained twice already, and it might rain again before the month was over.
“Hey, Dillon!” Clifton Potter leaned out of his SUV and waved at Dillon. “Why’d you park over in the main lot? There’s plenty of spots right here by the building.”
Dillon did not know how to explain, so he shook his head and shrugged. He had parked in his favorite spot because ... it was his favorite spot. But Clifton was a Normal, and he could not be expected to understand that.
Clifton shoved his door open and hopped out. He slammed the door and turned to Dillon. “Do you know what’s going down?”
“You forgot to lock your door.” Dillon pointed at Clifton’s SUV.
Clifton shook his head. “Chill it, Dillon! There’s nobody here on a Saturday to mess with my car.” His long blond ponytail swished back and forth.
Dillon found this unnerving. He did not know why Clifton wore his hair so long. Nor did he know why Clifton used so much slang. Slang made a person hard to understand. After thinking for a moment, Dillon remembered that chill had a secondary meaning—something about relaxing. It made no sense to Dillon, but it made sense to Normals, and therefore he made an effort to learn such things. But he would rather that people said what they meant in the first place.
Dillon put a hand on Clifton’s SUV. “Last year, 23,378 cars were stolen in San Diego County. The most popular makes among thieves are Toyotas and Hondas. Eighty percent of all cars stolen were left unlocked. You should lock your car.”
Clifton studied him and the grin left his face. “Twenty-three thousand?”
“No, 23,378,” Dillon said. “That works out to approximately 8.3 stolen cars per thousand residents.”
“Dude!” Clifton pulled out his keys and pressed a button. The car beeped and the door locks clicked with a satisfying chorus of thunks.
Dillon smiled. You could never be too careful about such things.
“So how was your hot date with our famous author last night?” Clifton said.
Dillon paused for a moment, then remembered that hot had a secondary meaning that had nothing to do with temperature. “It went very well. We had dinner and saw The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.”
“Spiff!” Clifton said. “‘To be, or not to be,’ huh?”
Dillon often felt off-balance when speaking with Clifton. Clifton used many words that other Normals did not. It made Dillon feel uneasy. Very uneasy. Dillon saw that he could easily change the subject to quantum mechanics, one of his favorite topics. “After the play, we talked about quantum mechanics and multiple universes.”
Clifton’s face took on an expression Dillon could not parse. “Dude! What’s all that have to do with Hamlet?”
“‘To be, or not to be,’” Dillon said. “The question Hamlet asks implies that he has a choice, correct? But all choices must be quantum mechanical in nature.”
“Um, Dillon, have you been smoking something?”
“Cigarettes are very unhealthful.” Dillon could not understand why Clifton kept changing the subject. “I explained to Keryn that all of physics is deterministic, with one exception. When you make a quantum measurement, the result is not determined. The only rational conclusion is that, if we truly have free will, it must be because our thought processes are quantum mechanical. Making a choice is equivalent to performing a measurement on our own brains. A decision defines who and what we are.”
“Dude, I bet Keryn thought that was real interesting.”
Dillon nodded. Keryn had found it highly interesting. “She had never heard that making a quantum measurement causes the universe to split into several parallel universes. In each of those universes, the result measured is different. Hamlet poses himself a two-state question: ‘To be, or not to be.’ When he makes his choice, his future splits in two. In one universe, Hamlet chooses to live. In a second universe, he chooses to die.”
Clifton was staring at Dillon with his mouth open.
Dillon felt calm again. The multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics was logical. It was still not as popular among physicists as the old-fashioned Copenhagen interpretation, but the Copenhagen interpretation was not logical. Soon everyone would believe in the multiverse interpretation.
Clifton’s cell phone rang. He yanked it out of his pocket and pressed a button. “Yo, hello, this is Clif.”
Dillon turned to look at the gully. A mother duck and three ducklings paddled down the thin rivulet.
“Yeah, sure, Kendall’s a buddy of mine,” Clifton said. “You’re the dude who hooked him up with HP? Spiff, man! He had this bogus boss who thought he was God’s gift to lasers but didn’t know his head from a hole in the wave function. Know what I mean?”
Dillon was beginning to feel uncomfortable again. Clifton’s way of speaking grated on him.
“Hold on a sec.” Clifton’s voice had taken on a peculiar tone.
Dillon turned and saw Clifton walking away from him toward the corner of the building. Clifton looked back at Dillon. Then his head jerked around as if he were embarrassed by something.
Dillon put his hands behind his back and thought about the good time talking with Keryn last night. Keryn Wills was a writer. An intelligent woman. He had enjoyed very much talking with her. She was not a physicist or an engineer, but she had been very interested in how quantum mechanics tied in with The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. She had a quiet way of talking that made Dillon feel comfortable. Also, she dressed neatly. She was a very nice person, and he hoped they could have more interesting conversations.
A horn honked. Grant O’Connell’s Lexus appeared at the far end of the building, gleaming in the sunlight. A Lexus was not stolen as frequently as a Toyota, but that was because more people drove a Toyota than a Lexus. Dillon made a mental note to remind Grant to lock his car.
The Lexus pulled up next to Dillon. Grant thumped out, his big ruddy face smiling. He had a bald head with a rim of gray hair around the back of his head. His huge white Santa Claus eyebrows made Dillon a little uneasy, but Grant was a good man and Dillon trusted him. The passenger door opened and a petite young woman sprang out. She had thick frizzy hair of a golden blond color, and she wore a garish pink-and-blue tie-dyed shirt that did not cover her navel. Her faded bell-bottom jeans had a hole in one knee and also did not reach to her navel. Dillon thought that she looked not quite fully dressed, and he felt embarrassed.
Grant came around the car and pounded Dillon on the shoulder. “Dillon, I’d like you to meet our off-site employee, Rachel Meyers. Rachel, this is Dillon Richard. He’s the one I was telling you about—the hotshot in C++ and hardware/software interfaces. Dillon, Rachel just got her Ph.D. from Caltech and eats that multiverse thing for lunch. Believe me, you two are gonna have a lot to talk about.”
Dillon looked at Rachel with interest. “You are a physicist?”
“Biophysicist.” She reached out a hand. “Glad to meet you, Dillon. Uncle Grant’s told me how smart you are, and I’m really looking forward to working with you.”
Dillon shook her hand and looked at Grant. “Rachel is your niece?”
Grant bellowed with laughter. “Virtual niece. She’s the daughter of the kid brother of my roommate at MIT. I changed Rachel’s diapers when she was a baby and watched her grow up, and she’s every bit as smart as her daddy, who happens to teach particle physics at Rutgers. Anyway, you’re gonna love her, Dillon.”
Another horn honked behind them. Dillon looked over Grant’s shoulder and saw Keryn’s old Honda jouncing over a speed bump. She pulled in next to the Lexus and came scurrying out. “Am I late?”
“Looks like we’re all here,” Grant said. “Let’s get this show on the road. Sorry to make you all come in on a Saturday, especially a great day like today, but let’s get it done.”
Keryn was looking at Rachel with an odd expression on her face.
“You should lock it,” Dillon said.
“What?” Keryn stared at Dillon blankly.
“You should lock your car,” Dillon said. “Hondas are one of the two most commonly stolen cars in San Diego County, and Civics are among the most popular models.”
Double Vision by Randall Ingermanson
Copyright © 2004, Randall Ingermanson
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.