Friday, September 30, 2011

The Van Scene, Physics Version

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]

I pulled into the space between two cars -the one on the left was tan, the color of the other was indeterminate- then carefully got out of the truck. Even though I was careful I slipped and almost fell. I ended up pointed towards the rear end of the truck and noticed something unexpected. Some kind of metal on my tires. When I got closer I saw that the tires had been chained. I chalked up the fact that I hadn't noticed them before to off camera inaudibility, and decided to check to make sure that the chains were all well installed before heading to the school. The first one I'd seen, driver's side rear, looked fine. I walked, ever so carefully, to the other rear tire, thankful to whoever had put them on. I assumed Charlie, because I wasn't supposed to know that anyone else might have done it at this point.

Just as I concluded that the passenger side rear tire was securely chained I heard a noise behind me, I spun to look at it an saw several things all at once. Edward Cullen was four cars down from me. He was surrounded by a sea of faces but since I didn't care enough about the other people for them to have fixed location they instead existed in a sort of probability sea like the electron cloud surrounding an atom's nucleus. Most of the cars in the lot were similarly in flux, the only cars other than Edward's that had fixed locations were the ones between my truck and his car. They only existed so that I could count the distance, one car, two car, red car, Cullen car.

The most immediate concern was a blue van coming straight at me and spinning clockwise across the parking lot. I muttered a curse (Wo de ma he ta de fengkuang de waisheng dou) under my breath because it was spinning clockwise. If it was going to miss me I expected it to hit the car in front of me rather than the car behind and clockwise rotation meant it would tend to keep spinning towards me.

Of course, even if it had been spinning the other way it probably wouldn't have meant salvation, the rotational momentum would have never overpowered the the linear motion, but it would have been something at least. As it was I knew there was no way I could get out of the way in time on the ice. If I tried to run I'd fall. If I tried to walk I wouldn't get clear. I considered shoving off the truck and hoping to slide clear, but I found it impossible to move. Instead I watched all that happened with fascination that seemed detached from the danger.

The wheels appeared to be locked and squealing against the breaks. At the same time.

I was reminded of discussions about the cat in the box. They say that it's both alive and dead until the system is measured, but what does that look like if you're inside the box? I've always wondered. Maybe it looks like one thing and sounds like the other. Maybe it sounds like wheels squealing against the breaks, but it looks like locked tires. Or maybe it feels like one thing and smells like the other. What if the dead cat becomes a zombie cat, does it smell the live cat and then go into a frenzy?

And what if the cat doesn't just sit around in the box waiting for someone to let it out? What if it builds a blow torch and cuts its way out. A dead cat can't do that (forget about the zombie cat), a live cat absolutely would. (Have you ever seen a cat with blowtorch? They cannot be stopped.) What does it mean when the cat both does and does not cut a hole in the side of the box?

And what if it weren't a cat? What if it were a bomb? What if on an alien planet a group of quantum-religious freedom fighters put a bomb in a box to be set off by the decay of a radio active isotope counting on the god of probability to detonate it at the opportune moment, but fail to realize that they have shielded the box too well preventing the particle from being observed and thus leaving the bomb in a state of both exploded and unexploded and so for thousands of years the box remains sealed while the evil people grow in power and wipe out the neighboring peoples one by one until an offworld envoy is convinced by the last vestiges of the resistance to open the box so that the bomb will have had exploded at the opportune moment?

A laughably wrong interpretation of quantum mechanics? Perhaps. But do it right, never encourage the audience to think too much about it, and possibly throw in a claim it's more about faith than science and I think it could work.

Unfortunately for quantum mechanics and the future of narrative science, the state of the van's wheels never collapsed. They remained both squealing and locked.

I did get to see some wave forms collapse though. As the van moved through the probability sea of faces the positions of the various people, and cars as well, resolved. In each case they collapsed into a position which did not intersect with the path of the van. Well, in all but one. One advanced placement physics student actually did end up right in front of the van, but as an AP student he knew that there must be holes in empty space and simply stepped back into the Dirac Sea, allowing the van to pass him by without difficulty, then he clawed himself back out and was absolutely drenched, dripping with positrons.

As the van spun inexorably closer to me it began to seem like I was actually going to die. Then Edward Cullen disappeared. He had sprung into action. I don't know why exactly, but I think it might be that he realized I was the narrator and without me he would cease to exist. Regardless I found myself thinking about a discussion of the relationship between vampires and wormholes I'd read scribbled in the margins of one of the appendices in the back of “If You Give a Mouse a Communion Wafer.” When I read it it had seemed absurd, but now it seemed very relevant. On the other hand the thunderclap implied that he had forced his way through the air at a high enough speed to leave a vacuum or near vacuum in his wake.

Analysis of the interference pattern created when he impacted my side suggested that he may have actually traveled both paths simultaneously.

He hit me hard and I hit the ground hard. With my head. It actually made a cracking sound. That couldn't possibly be good. His cold hard body was on top of mine pressing me down, which wasn't comfortable at all, but worse than that was the fact that I landed facing out into the middle of the parking lot and couldn't see what was happening.

His weight lifted off of me, and then he lifted me. He rotated me so that I was facing back towards my truck.


Much. Thank you.

The van's clockwise rotation was bringing it around my truck, the sound of warping grinding tearing metal was giving me a horrible headache, or maybe that had something to do with the fact my head hit the ground so hard. When Edward saw that the van would still hit us he swore (Aiya! Huaile. ) He raised his hands protectively, but I was convinced that given the lack of purchase on the ice we'd just end up being flung backwards into the car behind us. Splattered in a different way perhaps, but still dead.

Then something happened that I didn't expect. His smooth uncomfortably rock hard skin started to change. It small bristles came out of it, then the bristles split, and each of the split parts split again, split end upon split end in a near fractal that seemed to go on forever, until they interacted at the molecular level, holding him to me and us to the ice.

It seemed as reasonable a way to keep us stationary as any, but I wondered: was the Van der Waals force strong enough to make this work?

You're over-thinking things. This isn't the kind of story where that matters.


The van made contact and I saw a shock wave ripple out across its side as metal crumpled inward forming a large dent around Edward's hands. The van tried to keep on coming forward, but Edward's geckoness held us firm. The result was that van shuddered and lifted off the ground on the side facing us. There was a bit of fiddling and juggling to get arranged so that the van could be set down without damaging me.

After a moment people started shouting but I mostly zoned out, trying to process everything that had happened. Why had the van been going fast enough to cause that much destruction anyway? Edward said something but I wasn't really listening.

I said, “Are you all right?”

“I'm fine.” I said, “What about the guy in the van?”

I'm sure Tyler will be fine.

Edward callously ignored the driver of the van who might even now-

Fine, I'll check on Tyler.

He decided to make a show of concern for Tyler, but it didn't seem to have been out of any kind of compassion-


It was as if he had read my mind and wanted to prove me wrong.

I can't actually read you mind. I just got an advanced copy of the book and I've been reading along.

This is my book. Stop interrupting the narration. Your book will come out in a couple years, then you get to narrate. Until then you're only allowed to talk in dialog.

Edward snapped, “Fine! Checking on Tyler,” then ripped the driver's side door off the van. He leaned in, looked Tyler over, checked his pulse, tested him to make sure he was aware and oriented times three, and then returned and angrily said, “Tyler's fine, are you happy-” The anger melted from his face, replaced by wonder and amusement, and he said, “Check out positron boy.” He pointed behind me, in the direction the van and he had come from. “I thought I looked weird.”

I looked to see the advanced placement physics student standing in a puddle of positrons while more evaporated off of him, each glowing in a different color as it disappeared. The effect was like being in a cloud of sparkles in all the colors of the rainbow. I'm reasonably sure that positrons do not work that way. At all.

Of all the things-

“Sorry, sorry,” Edward said. “Of all the things that are wrong with this story, that's the one that you fixate on?”

In fact, on reflection, I don't think that the Dirac Sea should have had any positrons in it in the first place. My recollection is that positrons and the Dirac Sea come from mutually exclusive theories. To have positrons result in rainbow sparkles was completely absurd, positrons picked up during a dip in the Dirac Sea even more so.

This entire story is absurd. I have ice cold marble skin that sparkles like diamonds in the sunlight. Nothing in this book makes-

Edward was jealous.

I am not jealous!

He was definitely jealous.


  1. Yeah, I'm ok.

    I've just been inexplicably tired lately, and instead of gradually getting more tired it hits all at once so I'll go from being wide awake to so tired it's hard to think in a moment.

  2. That has happened to me every once in a long while. Not too long ago I almost fell asleep in the middle of a sentence (that I was saying.)

    When that happens to me it feels like I am being buffeted by the tides of sleep.

  3. Cats with blowtorches! Quantum mechanics! Firefly swearing! The ontological argument for the perfect painkiller! I'm still laughing.

    I've seen some of your stuff on Ana's blog, just didn't realize how much I'd missed by not reading every thread. Thanks for collecting it here.

    (J. Random Scribbler)

    1. Someone read the Physics Version! Woo!

      More seriously (actually, no, that was serious; more topically), welcome here and thank you for the comment.