I remember the first time Beckett showed me the prototype. I met him in the parking lot of a Starbucks on Parker. He unloaded the garish thing from the bed of his truck, and I helped him lower it to the pavement. A couple entering Starbucks pointed and laughed at us before the door closed behind them.
It was a bike, an unsightly thing with lots of loud accessories. The paint was a piercing neon pink that hurt my eyes. Its monkey-bar style handlebars were ridiculously large, like something stolen off a long chopper. The comically oversized front basket looked deep enough to carry three bags of groceries. Attached to the front of that basket was an oversized smiley face with three drops of blood running down one side of its face. Little streamers were mounted everywhere, flashing LED lights mounted to the spokes, and antique bells and horns stood upon the handlebars like pigeons on a phone line. He must have got the bike in a second-hand shop. It had a banana seat with a rear-mounted sissy bar. I remembered my first Huffy bike came with one. No matter how I leaned against the twin metallic bars that were a backrest, they were never comfortable. Mounted to the end of the four-foot-long sissy bar were not one, not two, but three loud flags. For extra visibility is my guess. Not that they were needed. The bike was a rolling inferiority complex that cried for attention. I was embarrassed to be seen anywhere near this ugly thing. Honestly, I nearly gagged just looking at it.
“What the hell is this, Beck? This thing is hideous.”
“Let’s call it an experiment, shall we?”
He laughed, but whether it was at the bike or me, I couldn’t tell.
“Why do I feel you’re going to ask me to ride this thing?”
I don’t know how I guessed it. Not that one has a lot of options for things to do with a bike. I’d venture a poll of people asked what the most likely thing you’d do with a bike, “Ride it,” would top the list. Personally, “ride it” wouldn’t even be in my top three, at least not for this bike. My top responses would be various ways to destroy or bury this thing far, far away from humanity.
“That’s exactly what I was going to ask. I want you to take it for a little test ride around the neighborhood. Maybe a little way down Alma, then turn around and come back here. But this is the most important part, don’t steer away from people. If you see anyone on the sidewalk, make sure you don’t try to prevent them from seeing you.”
I thought idly about throwing it under a DART bus that was pulling to a stop just behind where we stood. I doubted Beck would believe it was an accident.
Somehow, I always ended up doing these crazy stunts for Beck. There’s no way I’d get on this bike for anyone else. My father could pop out of the grave tomorrow and ask me to ride it, and I would laugh at him.
Beckett promised to treat me to sushi if the experiment didn’t completely blow me away. After much coaxing, I got onto the bike and pedaled. It weighed over eighty pounds. It was as sluggish as it was tacky. On the older bikes, nothing was made of carbon fiber or titanium. Everything was good ole American steel. It was like pedaling a tank.
I remember people gawked at the ugly bike with its silly flags and absurd accessories. To say the bike was “loud” is an understatement. The bike was an eyesore. Flashy, bright, eye-catching.
I rode it up and down Alma, on the sidewalk, of course. I didn’t have a death wish.
I rode the bike for a few minutes. I got a lot of stares, honks, glares, rude comments, and some positive comments. Few people ignored the bike. After 100 yards, I turned the clunky bike around and made my way back to Beck.
“It’s an ostentatious and sluggish bike, Beck. So what? What’s the big deal?” I reached forward and reversed his collar. His hair was in its usual state, an unkempt mop of white hair.
Beck knelt on the sidewalk in front of the bike. He flipped a tiny slider switch on the crossbar and turned a knob one click counterclockwise.
He stood up and said, “Try it again.”
I looked down at the bike. Had he lost his mind? Did he think the bike was some sort of transformer? Did he think the switch and knob changed the appearance of this ugly bike?
“Nothing’s changed, man. It’s still an obnoxious hunk of metal.”
But even as I said the words, I knew something had shifted. When I looked at the bike, it felt fuzzy, indeterminate, and vague somehow.
“Something feels off, however. It feels weird. I can’t describe it better than that.”
“It’s the circuitry inside this baby. I think you’re going to like this. Give it a spin now.”
That time I pedaled all the way to Park Avenue, a mile. The change was night and day. Not one car, pedestrian, or fellow cyclist said anything. No one honked; no one pointed and laughed. What’s weirder is that no one seemed to notice the bike at all.
It got to a point where I began questioning my first trip on the bike. Had it really happened? At Park Avenue, I stopped the bike on the sidewalk. Still straddling the thing, I stretched my arms overhead and began yawning comically loud. I was trying to attract attention. Yet no one seemed to notice me there, straddling Beckett’s bike and acting like Jim Carrey.
I stooped a bit and considered the knob. There was a graduated gauge marked with white numbers on a black background. The numbers ranged from 0.40 to 1.00 in increments of 0.05. The sector of the circle left of 0.40 was marked in red and there was a little gray metal stop to prevent the dial from moving into the red zone.
For my second trip, Beck had set the dial to 0.95.
I had no idea what was happening and no idea what any of this meant. I pedaled back up to Alma, where he was waiting, sitting in the front seat of his truck. Beck was beaming, exuberant, and expectant as I rode the bike back into the parking lot. He could read my face; he knew what had just happened.
“What did you…, do? Beck. What did you…”
“Nothing major. I just tweaked the quantum matrix a…,”
“Whoa. Start smaller, Doc. Talk to me like I’m five and that I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, because I don’t.”
“The quantum field or matrix is the wellspring, the foundation of all reality, the bedrock of everything, the ground floor of all existence. The matrix is the first manifestation of the physical. That’s the best way I could describe it. Everything material begins in the matrix. If it’s a physical object, not a mental construct, then it has its genesis in the quantum field.”
He stopped then. I could see him mentally review what he had just said. He was thinking about it and what he would say next.
“But even that isn’t wholly accurate. Ideas themselves, while wholly nonphysical, can influence sub-atomic events in the quantum strata.”
I could see he was already in the weeds.
“Doc, the bike? What did you do to the bike?”
“Oh, that? I tweaked the aggregate quantum probability indices to float at 95% of their untweaked values.”
“Which means what, exactly?”
Our friendship had always been this way. He would say the craziest things, then he’d wander off on tangents. I was a good influence on him; I think. I would keep reeling in him, asking him to make it real for me, dumb it down to where I could absorb one-tenth of his brilliance.
“The probability of any event happening is determined by the AQPI or aggregate quantum probability index. The probability of a coin flip is determined by this localized aggregate…,”
He saw the glazed look in my eyes and corrected his course.
“The probability. I tweaked the probability that people would not notice you while riding a ridiculously loud bicycle.”
That I understood. Or I thought I did. And in the end, aren’t those the same thing?
Beck had shown me a lot of amazing things since we became friends eleven years before, but this was one of the most impressive things – blending technology with advanced science.
“The probability of being seen on this,” he said, pointing at the truly ugly bike I still straddled, “is rather high. Because of how it is put together, the paint, the loud accessories.” Here, he tapped the oversized smiley face on the front basket.
“A few people looked at me during my second trip but said nothing.”
“Those are distinct events. There’s a probability of being noticed and a second, separate probability of the observer responding to what they saw.”
“That makes sense.”
“There are no certainties. Everything is, at some point, rooted in a wave equation…”
“Careful,” I say.
“Yes, you’re right. Keep it simple. Simple is better. You’re a beneficial influence on me, Scott.”
“And I want you to have a version of this bike.”
“I don’t know, Beck, it’s ugly, sluggish, obscenely heavy, and no fun to ride. With or without your nifty after-market customizations.”
“This is the prototype. This one had to be overstated to test my hypothesis more effectively regarding probability.”
“So, you put the same magic circuits in a plain bike? I’d love that. Where is it?”
“It’s in the back,” he said, tapping the rear of his F-150.
The sleek, black bicycle, a twenty-one speed, was strapped down in the truck’s bed.
“How did I not notice that?” I said, shocked.
“Because I switched it on.”
He reaches into the bed of the truck and flips a red slider switch just below the black rotary knob.
For a second, the bike shimmered, then it was more there, somehow, less vague.
I know that makes no sense, but that’s what I saw.
We loaded the prototype back into the truck and unloaded the newer version, which was now mine.
“What’s with this little gray stop? Is there something special about this red range?” I said, tracing my index finger across the left side of the gauge.
He looked at me a long time before answering. After a while, I thought he was going to take the bike back. That the whole thing had been a prank.
“Scott, you must promise me you won’t try to change the bike. Okay? Please prom…”
“Sure, sure whatever, Beck. Below forty is verboten. I get it.”
He went into some long-winded explanation about that being the region of quark quantum mechanics, unpredictable side effects, dangerous outcomes, probability indices below forty percent were where blah, blah, blah something terrible happens. Honestly, I almost fell asleep, listening to him blather on.
I rode my new bike to my apartment.
People rarely noticed me, or it when I was riding it and when it was switched on.
I started playing with the rotary dial. I wondered what would happen if I lowered the AQPI to less than 90%.
I rotated the tiny little knob. There was a satisfying tactile sensation, delineating each turn.
I counted three little counterclockwise clicks that meant the field generators were now shifting localized indices down to 80%. if I understood Beck correctly. At 1.00, the field generators are effectively off. The probability indices are 100% of their initial value.
One day, I rode my bike to work. I parked it behind the office where I work. It was a seldom-traveled area. Which, to me, meant the odds of it being stolen were higher than if I’d parked in the front. I looked at the bike lock I held in my hand and double-checked that the field generator was still on, still set to 80%. I put my bike lock back in the backpack and went inside to work my shift. This was an experiment. I decided to test whether I trusted the invisibility thing to be real and opted not to use the lock. I would trust the field generator to keep my bike secure.
At the end of the day, I wandered back to the dumpster where I’d parked my bike.
It was gone. I could swear I left it right here. I spun around as if the thief might only now be slowly pedaling away on my bike. When my head had turned only a few degrees away from the backside of the three-walled dumpster structure, my eyes registered my bike. It was still there. It had been there all along; only I hadn’t noticed it, even while I was looking for it. Weird.
This was crazy. I started to think there was more to this probability and quantum matrix stuff than Beckett was aware of. From that day forward, when I parked my bike at work, I made a note in my notebook where I’d parked it and took a picture of it with my phone.
But below eighty percent was where things really got crazy.
I’d had the bike for four months. Occasionally, I would rotate the knob another click counterclockwise. Beckett had turned me into a scientist. We hadn’t met since he gave me the bike, but I had vague plans to compile a bunch of data to give him; that would surprise him. (That’s not easy to do with a man whose IQ was as off the charts as his was.)
When I rode my bike, I was invisible, invincible. Or I thought I was. I could still see my legs pumping up and down on the clip-less pedals, could still see the black metal of the bike below me. I could still feel the metal handlebars, the cross tube, and the cushy, squishy seat.
The danger of riding a low-probability bike for months is that it makes you reckless.
I became impulsive, taking chances I ought not to have. Once I dropped below 70%, I felt invulnerable. I was immortal when I zipped through traffic, cutting in and out of cars like a much younger man might have. I haven’t been a younger man for some time.
I was cruising down the Central Expressway service road, heading toward the intersection with 15th Street. I was planning to have lunch at Le Madeleine’s and stop by Barnes and Noble. I had set the field generators to 60%. The access road sloped down to 15th which goes under central. Unlike the cumbersome prototype, this bike was light and fast. The sloping road pulled me faster and faster. I saw the light turn yellow, but I hated to use the brakes. It would’ve been tight anyway, stopping in time. So much lovely speed. I loved the wind on my face. My bike was going so fast. I loved feeling invisible, loved the speed.
I ran the red light. I hadn’t seen the car flying towards the intersection until it was much too late.
When I remember the sensations of what happened next, I shiver uncontrollably. It was both scary and the most exhilarating thing I’d ever felt.
What should have led to my death (or at least a laundry list of grievous injuries along with a mangled magic bike), led to something else entirely.
When the Toyota Matrix and I met in the middle of the intersection, on that cool, brisk fall day, my hair flying in the breeze, I passed through the car. This wasn’t a single unlikely probability. Every second, every millisecond, every nanosecond that I and Beck’s bike occupied the same space as the car and driver was a discrete event in space-time. There were countless wave functions collapsing in the most unlikely of ways as my bike and I passed through the car, through its footprint in the quantum field. We existed simultaneously in the same space-time.
I remember my bike, my head, and my body passing through the metal of that car as my bike carved a crazy curve through the westbound automobile as our trajectories merged, overlapped, and then parted ways.
I must have shouted while I was inside the car because the driver looked startled and seemed to look straight at me, seeing me, seeing my bike, seeing the crazy combined unfolding of the most likely series of wave function collapses ever.
“What the fu…”
But that was all she managed to say. By then I was already through her, through her car, and continuing west on 15th in the far-right lane. She was turning south on central and was already sliding into the left turn lane.
I remember her music. “Cool Change” by Little River Band was playing, and she was singing along. She had the air conditioner cranked way up. There was a Shih Tzu in the passenger seat. To this day, I don’t know if it had a heart attack or not, but it looked terrified as my bike bisected the space where it sat.
For a brief eternity, a second or two max, the millions of atomic crashes that could’ve occurred, that should’ve occurred in any Newtonian framework, didn’t.
For a few brief instants, I had occupied the same space, the same time as another human being, a car, and a dog. And I lived to talk about it.
Three Days Later
Three days later, Beck and I met at Starbucks. I thought for sure he would think I was crazy. Or worse.
But as I was unfolding my narrative for him, I saw the knowing look in his eyes, saw the little head nods, indicating he knew what had happened before I finished telling him.
“But how?” I said.
There were too many questions trying to get out of my brain.
“Remember, Scott, everything is the outcome of a wave function collapsing. The reason I can’t push my hand through this table is that the wave function probabilities aren’t favorable for that event. In the aggregate Gaussian curves, it would take a lot of unlikely wave function resolutions for that outcome to occur. It’s never impossible to pass solid through solid, it’s just very, very, very unlikely. But, you know, with about a hundred more ‘very’s.”
Beckett told me that if I were to take every subatomic particle in a car and pack it all together, without the space between, the resulting mass of particles would be smaller than a ball bearing, smaller than a BB even, a BB that weighed several thousand pounds, but a BB, nonetheless.
“Wow! And that was only at 60%,” I said. “Imagine what might happen at 40% or lower.”
“Scott, you promised me you wouldn’t change the bike, that you wouldn’t go below 40%. Remember? Actually, I don’t think you should go below 60%, ever.”
I remember the exhilaration of occupying the same space as other objects and wondered if I could keep my promise, but he was more anxious than I had ever seen him.
“I don’t want to take it back,” Beck said.
He looked so sad. I felt terrible. He looked at me like I had betrayed him. I suppose, in a way, I had.
“Sorry, Beck. Sure, no problem doc,” I said. Assuring my benefactor, I would never set the knob below 60% even as I was thinking about the tiny metallic stop that mechanically limited the knob from rotating past that threshold. I was thinking about how easy it would be to circumvent that mechanical limitation. I bet I could cut it away with a pair of tin snips.
I repeated my promise to not alter the bike. I think Beck understood how addictive that feeling was. Just making a wide, fast turn on a bike was a thrill. But now add the hyper-unreal sensations of passing solid through solid, person through person, and person through a dog and car sensations on top. Yeah, I wasn’t sure at all whether I could keep the promises I’d made that afternoon.
As I feared, I couldn’t keep my promise not to explore the crazy landscape of the incredibly improbable world that was now open to me.
Hell, it wasn’t even a full twenty-four hours before I clicked the knob the four links that took me down to 40%.
I needed to test this new setting.
I spent a few minutes driving through random cars. The thrill was more addictive than anything I’d ever experienced. But I had already managed all these same feats at 60%. I needed a proper test case, something that would show the true power of this bike.
That’s when I decided I would ride my bike through my neighborhood Starbucks.
I had built a fair amount of speed before hitting the wheelchair-accessible ramp, then plowing through the windows, bricks, metal, and insulation (each has its own unique feeling as you occupy their space, by the way). The café was approximately twenty yards long, two first downs in football. I was in and out in no time. Not only did I occupy the same space as at least seventeen people, but my consciousness also passed through theirs. One lady was wrestling with the decision to leave her husband. I saw her memories of finding the note from his lover. I remember thinking, ‘Do it. Leave the cheating fool; he doesn’t deserve you.’ In the hundredths of a second, it took for me to pass through her, I saw PIN numbers, passwords, and plans to buy an electric blanket because it was supposed to get cold again on Friday.
Before my head completed passing through hers as she stood in line waiting to place her order, I saw her steely resolve drop like a medieval gate. Maybe influenced by my suggestion? I don’t know. How could I know? The event lasted tenths of a second.
Once I was through the store, I stopped and shivered uncontrollably for fifteen minutes. For a while, I thought I was done shivering, but then I would start again as the intoxicating memories of passing through solid, passing through people, passing through consciousness, filled my brain with dreams of more.
If the sensations I felt when I passed through the matrix four days ago were a level 10 of excitement, the sensations I felt now would be a hundred. No, a thousand. In my mind’s eye, I was already planning how I would remove the metallic stop. I could not quit now. But I have faith it will be okay. I’m an explorer. One exploring a virgin world where everything is new and there are endless discoveries to be made.