The Mysteries of Quantum Mechanics’ Charges

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Face and overalls covered in fluorescent gunk, Mike the Quantum Mechanic popped the hovercar’s hood to take a look at its quantum-powered engine. A cloud of silver smoke billowed out as it flipped open, neon coolant sputtering as the engine groaned and flickered in and out of existence.  
Crammed into the garage bubble together, Mike, his assistant Bert, and the put-out customer stepped back and waited for the smoke to clear.
Mike winced as he took a closer look and rubbed his jaw. “Never seen anything as bad as this in my time. How about you, Bert?”
“Me neither, Boss,” Bert said, wearing his usual hangdog expression. “Ain’t seen nuffin’ like it.”
The customer leaned in, chrome cufflinks catching the work-light, silk tie askew. “What? What is it?” he asked, voice straining as much as the quantum engine.
“Well, for starters, it looks like what you got here is a classic qubit malfunction, sir. Your photons are misfiring, across who knows how many multiple dimensions.” Mike took off his worn denim cap and scratched his head. “Plus, your gluons have gummed up the quarks. It’s lucky you called us when you did really.”
The customer puffed. “Photons are doing what? I-I’ve no idea what that means!”
“Don’t worry, sir, that part ain’t quiet as bad as it sounds. A bit of disentanglement and Bob’s your uncle.”
“And Alice is your aunt,” Bert finished with a gap-toothed grin.
Mike flashed a device at the engine; it beeped sporadically. “However, my interferometer is throwing out all sorts of odd readings here. Sorry to say it ain’t lookin’ good, sir. Kaons are off the scale. Always an element of randomness to these things. Hard to tell what caused it with this setup. We won’t know what else is kaput until we open it all up, either. Possible the gearbox is working fine, or it ain’t – until it’s CAT tested, no-one can say for sure, sir...”
Mike’s brow furrowed. “Oh no. Can you hear that, Bert?”
“Sure can, Boss. Sounds nasty.”
“What?” The customer pulled at his pinstripe shirt collar. “What is it?”
“Your universal alternator sounds like it’s on its way out too. Not to mention your severed Josephson Junction that’s causing Bose-Einstein Condensate to build up. Decoherence will be leaking all over the shop if we don’t patch it up soon for you. Bert, you’d better pass me a draining pan and a size four collapspanner.”
The customer blustered. “But how? I only bought it from the showroom last month! How can so many things be going wrong already?”
“I hear you, sir, I do,” Mike said as he took the items from Bert. “Me and Bert often say the same thing, don’t we, Bert?”
Bert nodded slowly. “We do, Boss.”
“They just don’t make ’em like they used to. Things used to be so simple. Not anymore, sir. Not with your qubit emission restrictions and multiverse compatibility issues.” Mike sighed. “So much easier when we only used analogue models. These digital and hybrid types cause all sorts of extra hassle. You wouldn’t want to hear how much, sir.”
“No, I wouldn’t. I’ve heard enough. Just tell me you can fix it.”
“Sure, we can fix it. But it’s gonna cost I’m afraid.” Mike had a pained look on his face, as if he’d told his little girl she’d be getting fewer presents this Christmas. “Sorry to have to break it to you, sir.”
“A tough break,” Bert added.
“But your insurance will cover most of it,” Mike said. “That’s the good news. I’m sure your policy is up to scratch.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” the customer said, face flush with colour.
“Does it include multiverse protection? Many of ’em don’t.”
The customer’s face drained of all previous colour. “Erm, well. I think. I. I don’t know!”
“Look, I’ll do you a favour. I’ll charge what I can to the insurance company, and only bill you half for anything over and above that. Can get you a deal on a replacement qubit converter, but my hands are tied with the hourly labour charges.” Mike paused. “Feel free to ask another quantum mechanic, but they’ll say the same.” He let that hang in the air. The quantum engine buzzed like an old fridge.
The customer sucked air through gritted teeth. “I have to get it fixed. I’ve an important meeting tomorrow. Do whatever it takes.”
“Don’t worry, sir, we’ll sort it out. Ain’t anything Bert and me haven’t been able to fix yet.”
“Okay. I’m already running late. I’ll have to take the airbus. Please, just do it!” he screeched, vein throbbing in his forehead. “It has to be fixed by the end of the day.”
“Of course. Leave it with us, sir. Everything’ll be spick-and-span before you know it!”
Swearing under his breath, the customer strode off, leaving Mike and Bert alone. Without a customer observing them, quantum mechanics could get up to all sorts of mischief.
“So what’s the real problem then, Boss?”
“Well, Bert…”
“Yeah, Boss?”
“I’ve no idea. Could be anything. No telling what we’ll find until we open it all up. And even then… You know the saying, Bert.”
“Sure, Boss. If you understand how you fixed it, you’re no quantum mechanic.”
“Well, Quick Quantum Fit Direct won’t be putting us out of business today, eh, Boss?”
Mike grimaced at the mention of the name, remembering the times he had to tell his daughter they couldn’t afford things, the hurt look on her dimpled face that broke him up. In this universe, small businesses like Mike’s could never compete with such large chains.
“We can charge whatever we want this time!” Bert said, Cheshire cat grin stretching his face.
“Yeah...” Mike spotted a small plush unicorn on the backseat of the hovercraft. He rubbed his jaw again. Logically he knew that in at least one reality, quantum mechanics’ charges were clear and reasonable – affordable even. Maybe he’d try it himself for a change.

About the Author: 
L. P. Melling currently writes from the UK and is no mechanic. His short fiction has appeared in such places as ASM, DreamForge, and Thrilling Words. When not writing, he works for a London-based legal charity that advises and supports victims of crime. He is 90% coffee drinker, 100% recyclable.
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

B is for ...
Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

U is for ...

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Zero-point energy

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Schrödinger’s Cat

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Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

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Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

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Free Will

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Q is for ...

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

W is for ...

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E is for ...

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T is for ...

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P is for ...
Planck's Constant

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I is for ...

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer

I is for ...

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

U is for ...
Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

G is for ...

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These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

X is for ...

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Y is for ...
Young's Double Slit Experiment

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Hidden Variables

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P is for ...

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T is for ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. This doesn’t seem to follow the laws of physics which work the same going forward or backward in time. Some physicists argue that there is a more fundamental quantum source for the arrow of time.

W is for ...
Wave-particle duality

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S is for ...
Schrödinger Equation

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J is for ...
Josephson Junction

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D is for ...

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M is for ...

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Act of observation

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O is for ...
Objective reality

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N is for ...

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

C is for ...

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

K is for ...

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R is for ...

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V is for ...
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M is for ...
Many Worlds Theory

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S is for ...

Researchers are harnessing the intricacies of quantum mechanics to develop powerful quantum sensors. These sensors could open up a wide range of applications.

L is for ...

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S is for ...

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

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