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The two doctors stood lost inside an endless yawn of perfect black. Hovering before their eyes, like bait dangling from the end of a fishing line, the white words read:
 
Print request. Accept?
Y/N
 
“Very disturbing.”
 
Jeb nodded. “Especially the request bit.”
 
“Indeed.” The professor glanced at him. “Best guess as to what it wants to print?”
 
“Well, there’s not much in here,” Jeb said, trying to mask his anxiety. “So unless the message wants to print itself...”
 
“I thought so, too.”
 
Time hobbled past them. Jeb turned his back to the print request. With nowhere to stand on and no gravity to tether him there, he thought his body should be drifting, floating away. He felt deaf and blind in an odorless, shapeless world, where the professor’s presence stood out in his awareness in much the same way everything else did not.
 
“I don’t particularly fancy a permanent stay.”
 
The professor’s words – noise. It helped.
 
“Agreed,” Jeb said. He felt sweat pooling on his brow. “So we accept?”
 
“I don’t think we had a choice to begin with.” The two doctors turned to look at each other. The professor raised bushy eyebrows at Jeb, who let out a long breath but nodded jerkily, feeling the hairs on his arms stand on end with anticipation. “So, any last words, lad? Just in case?”
 
“Damn Feynman and his goddamn doodles?”
 
“I suppose it’ll do.” He turned back to the hovering message and, very clearly, said, “Yes.”
 
The words vanished. All too soon they were replaced by a second message, which read:
 
DELETING
 
Panic dropped like lead weight in his stomach. Wide-eyed, he turned right only to see the professor wash away like an afterimage. As a hoarse scream tore out of Jeb’s throat, a low beep sounded in the dark and the universe toppled to the side.
 
The nothing became shadow and blue and grey lines. His mind reeled with the shift in dimensions, feeling as if someone had fumbled plotting the world’s axis. An unyielding surface pressed against the left side of his body, squashing his cheek and chest. He jerked his legs in an attempt to stand but banged his knee against something hard and flinched back, rolling away to the right.
 
Gravity introduced him to the hard floor, face-first. Jeb groaned and turned as his eyes adjusted to the light.
 
“Jebediah?”
 
The gruff voice cut through the haze. “Pro – professor?”
 
“Breathe slowly, and try to stay calm,” he said. “Whatever you do, don’t antagonize the alien.”
 
Every muscle in his body tightened into absolute stillness. As the world took shape, Jeb spotted a short figure madly pounding away at a flat blue surface. Pinpricks of light glittered around its hands like thousands of tiny diamonds.
 
Before he could do more than stare, the alien gestured at Jeb and fired a short burst of harsh sounds.
 
“I think it’s trying to communicate,” Jeb whispered to the professor. His eyes searched around the dome-shaped room; the alien blocked the only exit. “What do we do?”
 
“Tell it to try English.”
 
The alien’s oval face scrunched up, slanted eyes narrowing back and forth between the two humans. It held up a spindly hand and pounded his machine some more. Then, with an unmistakable air of satisfaction, it stood up and squeaked, “English, is it? That’s the ticket.”
 
Jeb’s train of thought screeched to a halt; its conductor hopped out of the locomotive and took off into the desert. Somebody spoke. Lights glared down, growing brighter. Jeb opened his mouth but nothing came out. The train conductor turned one last time, waved goodbye from atop a sand dune and vanished.
 
“Tricky thing, your species,” the alien was saying, glancing uncertainly at a silent Jeb. “So many tongues and dialects! We haven’t had this much difficulty since that one species that tried to eat us.”
 
The professor looked to the side but found no aid in Jebediah. “I’m…sorry? I’m not sure what to say. ”
 
“How about introductions all around?” It slammed a hand twice on the crystal wall and round rubber seats rose out of the floor. The professor’s eyebrows climbed into his hairline. “Grab a seat, go on! You can call us Gob. And you are…?”
 
The professor thought it best to do as he was told. “Frederick Quincy.”
 
“Good, great! So this must be Jebediah Hunt.” Gob sat and looked expectantly to Jeb, who stared back in utter silence, eyes bugging out. Gob turned back to the professor. “Say, he looks mighty intense there. He’s not going to hit us, is he?”
 
“No, no. It’s probably just the shock.”
 
“I see. Should we do something?”
 
“He’ll bounce back eventually. In the mean time – what the hell is going on?”
 
A corner of Jeb’s brain blinked awake as the alien’s squeaky voice washed over him. The professor sat on the opposite seat, listening with rapt attention as Gob described the nuances involved in growing sentient life inside an evolutionary simulator.
 
“So you do it for the money?” the professor was saying.
 
“Um, yes?” Gob’s long ears drooped and his smile became tentative. “You don’t mind, do you? Your species had evolved capitalistic thought. We thought you wouldn’t mind.”
 
By then Jeb had taken a seat next to the professor. Gob walked to the opposite side of the room to give them some privacy. A mechanical whirring reached their ears.
 
“So,” Jeb said.
 
“So.”
 
“I don’t like this.”
 
“It’s a unique opportunity,” the professor pointed out.
 
“It’s just – I can’t believe you’re not upset about this! You spent four decades poking at the universe, and for what? Turns out a dude got bored and evolved you in his garage!”
 
“I’ve been looking for answers, Jeb. Here they are. That is all.”
 
Gob walked back to them, crooked arms open wide. “I have to say, you’re taking this really well. The last species we grew spent a fortnight debating the possibility of an afterlife.”

About the Author: 
R.M. Imposti is a writer from Buenos Aires, Argentina. You can contact him at rimposti@gmail.com

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Quantum Theories

B is for ... 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.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

G is for ... Gluon

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

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

N is for ... Nonlocality

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 ... Cryptography

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

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

I is for ... Information

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

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

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.

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!

Q is for ... Qubit

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.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

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

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

R is for ... Randomness

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

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

S is for ... Superposition

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.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!