The Big Bad Wolf

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Sheriff Bell re-read the witness accounts from yesterday’s skirmish. Something didn’t add up; an element was missing. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the girl, her grandmother, or the hunter. Remarkably, their tales were so consistent that he had no reason to doubt the veracity. Nor was it overly alarming that a shape-shifting wolf-woman had evaded detection and run amok amongst the townsfolk. Strangeness was a common occurrence in his village, and more peculiar things had happened here.
No, it was a matter of size. Even assuming this creature had an expanding stomach that, like snakes, allowed it to devour creatures larger than itself, how could it have swallowed both the grandmother and the child, yet remain small enough to appear as a “slightly larger than normal wolf” to the woodsman? Why was it that the grandmother spoke from the child’s perspective – and vice versa? And what had happened to the little girl’s red shoe?
Once again, the sheriff retraced the child’s route through the woods, paying closer attention to the section of trail through which the hunter had observed the beast stalking her. This time, he found what he was looking for: a tiny trail that paralleled the main road then turned upward into the hills behind town. The path ended at the mouth of a cave.
After peering through the entrance to ensure the cavern was empty, Bell entered cautiously. Inside, he discovered a strange laboratory. To his left stood two cylindrical tanks, tall enough for a man to stand in but empty save for clear goo seeping down the sides. In the center, a cardboard box rested on a large table; hand-written in marker were the words “Cat inside. Do not open.” To the right, and of greatest interest to the sheriff, the body of a wolf lay haphazardly on the floor. On examination, the sheriff discovered that this wolf, though robotic, matched the description the hunter had given. Mechanical pets weren’t unusual in these parts; the hole in the wolf’s stomach, however, was. At the far bottom of the stomach – further than Bell could reach – lay a tiny red shoe, covered in clear goo.
Bell considered the puzzle. Clearly, the wolf’s stomach was a portal to some other place. But where? It seemed to be a two-way connection; the hunter had been able to pull the girl and her grandmother out. If he found the place, and the shoe, he would better understand the wolf’s motives. It hadn’t been looking for food.
He investigated the rest of the lab. Inside the box, he discovered the rotting corpse of a dead cat. Horrified, the sheriff took off his coat, wrapped the body inside, and put the parcel under his arm to take to the pet cemetery for proper burial. He then crossed the room to examine the tanks. Inside one of them, on the bottom and partially covered in incandescent goo, he found the red shoe.
Bell glanced back at the body of the wolf, then looked more closely at the tank. As he examined it, a noise came from the other side of the room. Bell stepped behind the tank and watched as a large, grotesque, yellow-haired man in a lab coat walked in, muttering to himself.
The man stumbled around, stubbed his toe on the wolf robot before kicking it to the side, then staggered to the table where the box lay open. His eyes narrowed. “Someone has opened my box,” he growled. He stepped back and scanned the room.
Bell saw no reason to delay the inevitable; he came out from behind the tanks. “That would be me,” he said confidently, putting one hand on his stun-gun, just in case.
“You?” The man-monster advanced toward him. “Are you the beast that killed my pet?”
Assuming he meant the wolf, the sheriff replied, “No, that wasn’t me.” He stood still, holding his ground as the mad scientist continued to advance.
“But you know who did?” The man’s eyebrows rose up and down, as if he needed them to help him breathe. “Tell me!”
“That’s classified information, sir,” the sheriff replied calmly, increasing the stun setting on his gun and wondering if he could reach a tranquilizer dart in time. “I can’t tell you.”
“Yes, you can!” the madman growled and, with a fantastic leap that startled Bell, he pushed the sheriff into a tank and sealed the door.
The scientist adjusted some dials that were connected to the tank, muttering to himself. “Good thing I perfected this yesterday, on those women.” He looked over at the sheriff, a malicious grin on his face. “You might not tell me,” he said smugly, “but when I look like you, the townsfolk will.” A clock next to the dials began a countdown, starting at 60 seconds.
The madman stepped into the adjacent tank, and finally Bell understood. The confusion between the grandmother and granddaughter hadn’t been shock. Somehow, this strange scientist had made the younger one look older and the older one look younger! And now, he intended to perform the same procedure on the sheriff.
The tank sealed from the outside, but Bell still had his stun-gun. He switched the setting to “rearrange” and pointed it at the bolt. The mechanism disappeared instantly; it would reappear in a few minutes, but was gone long enough for the sheriff to step outside. He quickly bolted the door to the other tank, locking the mad scientist inside. Then, in a moment of inspiration, Bell placed the corpse of the dead cat on the floor of the tank he had just vacated.
The counter had five seconds remaining; the sheriff held his breath through the rest of the countdown. There was a whirring noise and a flash of blue light. Then the body of the mad scientist slumped over and fell to the floor. Bell watched as the cat, tail held high, pushed open the tank door, leapt out, and sauntered out of the cave.

About the Author: 
Karyn Baker holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Indiana University and won the 2011 Society of Actuaries Speculative Fiction Contest.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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