Average: 3 (3 votes)
Your rating: None

Bob raged incoherently within the white walls of his cell. There was nothing in it save his sweaty, blood stained bed and a stolen charcoal crayon, currently being worn down as he scribbled upon the stark white walls. This was the only way to escape to the silent paradise where no one screamed inside his mind. Alice promised. Yes, his angel promised to take him away, to . . . "teleport" him to a place where there was neither light nor sound. Bob believed her because she was the only one who didn't scream obscenities at him.

As the light faded, Bob continued to draw the signs Alice had described to him. He even wrote letters inside some of the circles, although he had more than a little trouble reading them. The voices always told him that he was too stupid to ever learn to read, that Alice lied, that he was a prisoner forever.

Half a universe away, on the brink of a black hole, Alice sent out a desperate SOS signal going anywhere. A little less than half of the emergency fuel cell remained. Then, for a second that the combined gravitational forces of the black hole and her imagination stretched into infinity, she waited. Years passed.

Alice knew that the signal had been received when she felt the violent movements of someone throwing her to the ground and tying her limbs so that harsh rope dug into her angles, and her arms lay pressed across her chest in a crossed position. Although no one had touched her, she couldn't move, and she screamed from the voices inside her head.

Bob felt it, too. They had come with gruel when he had first heard Alice's cry for help among the other voices. He always tried to run when they came to bring him gruel, and they were always ready with the leg clamps and the leather jacket that bound his limbs. The demons inside Bob's head always cackled and jeered when he tried to wiggle his way to freedom.

When they left, Bob ate his gruel and listened for Alice's voice again. Somehow, he knew that this voices was different. First, Alice was female, while the others were androgynous demons. Second, she didn't cackle or jeer at him. She needed help - his help!

The entangled effect finally wore off, allowing Alice to focus on communication. Among the unusual white noise, she was able to pick out a dominant thought process. Male. Middle aged. Living on Earth! It was difficult which region due to interference from other voices. It was clear that this man had no access to any quantum network, didn't even seem to understand the concept of a computer. The warp in time-space caused by the black hole must have sent her message backwards in time. Well, they could always perform a teleportation maneuver the old fashioned way. But only a madman would agree to that.

Alice explained her predicament to Bob, which she had to do in simple terms. Her ship was about to be sucked into a black hole, and she had sent out an SOS signal for help. The only way to save herself was to teleport to Bob's location, and the only way to do that without the aid of space age technology was for Bob to manually draw the coordinates. The manual override also permanently sent Bob to Alice's location. Alice would escape her death to a little room in a 19th century psychiatric institution, and Bob would escape his prison to a fantastic starship being pulled into a silent black hole.

He agreed, of course. Bob could not refuse the promise of a place - the only place in the entire universe - completely devoid of white walls, bright lights, and voices.

Yes, Bob told or thought to the demons inside his head as he drew the charcoal figures onto his white walls. He hated how they glared at him. Yes, it's strength will pull you in, pull you in, pull you in. Away from me!

Panting, Bob stepped back to admire his handiwork. The charcoal crayon had been completely worn, forcing him to finish the last few strokes with his grimy, sweaty, bloody hand. But it was good, exactly how Alice had told him to make the drawings.

He chuckled with the demons inside his head as he closed his eyes and clenched his hands in anticipation. They laughed because they still didn't believe that Bob could ever outrun what was inside his mind, and he laughed because he could already feel the awesome force pulling him forward as the teleport tunnel opened.

As the gravitational forces grew stronger, Bob opened his eyes and glimpsed the fair face of a woman beside him. First, he saw only her face, and then her stretched out body decompressed into its normal shape beneath her head. She was beautiful in her brilliant black uniform and utility belt with the most fantastic contraptions Bob had never seen. She was breathing heavily, as if she had just traveled an unfathomable distance. Alice.

"Thank you," Bob managed to choke out.

Neither light nor sound could escape the pull of the place he would go. And why would they want to?

Time slowed into one infinite moment as Bob's own body stretched and landed inside Alice's starship. He was pulled away from the walls, the noise, the brightness. For the first time in his life, Bob finally knew silence.

About the Author: 
I am a psychiatric nurse in Chicago, IL. I have written many short stories, some of which have been published in local library and school publications. I am also an avid Scientific American reader, and enjoy the challenge to combine my skills and interests in one piece of flash fiction.

Newsletter Signup

Submit your email address so we can send you occasional competition updates and tell you who wins!

Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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!

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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 ... Randomness

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

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.