The Other Alice

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Things were curious in Wonderland—and got curiouser all the time.

Despite some resemblance to her world, despite the years she'd had to acclimate, Alice stood at the edge of madness and felt she might at any time be driven over it by this land. She was desperate to leave. If her plan worked, she'd do so soon.

"Mary Ann! Where's my tea!?"

How long since she'd become Mr. Rabbit's housemaid?

"I'm not Mary Ann." A whisper, for her own sake; she'd stopped correcting her employer but had to remind herself often. She chuckled, wondering if Mary Ann had truly been her predecessor's name. The rabbit was old; perhaps there'd been a long line of Mary Anns.

The clock hadn't yet chimed, but that meant nothing. Rabbit considered his stopwatch the absolute authority on time, though it rarely matched the clock, with his constant travelling throughout the vast realm at high speeds. How was she to cater to punctuality when the time he insisted it was was always the time it wasn't?

She poured the drink, forged a smile, took him his tea.

"You're late!"

"Yes, Master Rabbit." She placed the tea on the table. "Pray forgive me." She curtsied.

He grasped the teacup with his paw, raised it to his lips, sipped, sighed. "I'm saving up the punishment for all your faults. You were once a fine housemaid. What's gotten into you these past few years? All the reading, perhaps?"

"I—"

"You appear tired, Mary Ann. Another late night spent with a book?"

"Yes, Master Rabbit." Alice bowed her head, her gaze trained on her polished shoes.

"The female brain—and I have said this before—cannot endure the stress placed upon it by so much reading. Even the insubstantial romances of which you are so enamoured, in too large a portion, can wreak havoc upon your delicate mind. Your performance suffers, dear girl. I must insist you take some time off from your habit."

"Yes, sir," said Alice through clenched teeth.

"Now, why don't you get some rest. I'll not be needing supper, you know; I must meet the train at precisely half-five. The life of a diplomat, wot. I'll be only a few days—though it'll seem longer to you. Keep the house, avoid books, and stay rested, d'ye hear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well. Now, begone."

Alice curtsied again and returned to the kitchen.

That night, Alice picked up the book beside her bed.

"Romances! Harrumph!"

There'd been a time when simple stories had appealed, when she'd seen numbers, lengthy descriptions, boring details as a scourge. But she'd matured—mentally, at least, in this world where no one seemed to age—and now she enjoyed such things.

"Bloody rabbit."

Alice pursed her lips. She supposed she ought to be grateful. She'd narrowly escaped the Red Queen's wrath due to him—even if it had been a mistake. He'd besought the Queen to spare Alice because he'd mistaken her for his housemaid. Alice was remanded into the rabbit's custody, and the old Mary Ann took the opportunity to slip away.

Alice too had slipped away once, sneaked out at night, tried to crawl back up the rabbit hole—but it turned out to be one way only. So she'd started reading.

She sat, looked around her room. Master Rabbit's cellar, really. His storage space. But he'd allowed her use of it, as long as she didn't damage his books, tools, and technological marvels, all the things he needed as an amateur man of science. She'd managed to make it resemble, to some extent, her room back in England.

Tears welled up. England. Her home. Her family. Dinah. She missed them.

She forced the tears back; she'd see England again. She'd leave this evening.

Not through the rabbit hole, which she'd learned was a wormhole, allowing passage in only one direction (or so the books claimed—but Master Rabbit had once travelled to her world, so he must know something the books didn't). No, but through a portal of her own creation. Books had given her the knowledge, and materials she'd purchased with her wages had given her the means. And she'd done it all beneath the rabbit's twitchy little nose. It helped that he rarely entered the cellar, relying on Alice to fetch whatever he needed. It also helped that she'd disguised the machine.

The girl flipped absentmindedly through the pages of the book, stood, tossed it on the bed. The false cover slipped, revealing it to be not a romance but a volume on quantum mechanics. Many books had aided her, but this was her favorite, the one that had started it all.

Somewhere, she knew, was another Alice—many Alices—who had somehow escaped not only from the Queen but from Wonderland—and one of them was the key to her own escape, temporary though it might be.

Wonderland was backwards in many ways, but it was technologically advanced. Her machine could entangle particles. It'd seek out other Alices, and when she found the right one, she need only entice her to touch the glass—and their minds would meld. Superposition would occur, and they would each occupy the other's body. Rather, both bodies...but Alice could commandeer the other's mind, block the thoughts from mingling, thanks to the Mad Hatter.

She approached the glass frowning. She'd not solved the problem of decoherence. Eventually—long before Master Rabbit returned—the waveform would collapse, and she'd be herself again. But even such a short visit was worth her troubles.

She flipped the switch, watched the machine scroll through alternate worlds. Time seemed to stop until one world called out. She stopped the scan, watched. A girl who looked just like her sat on her bed, playing chess. With Dinah!

Alice laughed. This was the one! Her laugh twinkled, jingled like a tiny bell.

And in the room displayed on the screen, the other Alice stood, curious, and drew near to the looking glass.

About the Author: 
toki likes listening to the music of the spheres, pondering the interstices of the universe and taking long walks in liminal spaces.

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Quantum Theories

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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 ... Cryptography

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

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

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”.