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He squatted in the orange sand and examined the robot. The sandstorm had damaged the central module leaving it lifeless. The robot though was vital for maintaining the agricultural complexes nearby which the ten thousand strong colony depended on. It had to be fixed. The sun was setting behind him, quickly sinking to the horizon, and he knew that he did not have enough time to fix it out here. The micro-radiation from the sun was the only defence which kept the Crawlers at bay. Once it set, and the instant flow of radiation was cut, the Crawlers appeared. Trillions of the white creatures, barely bigger than a few atoms stringed together, which absorbed anyone caught unawares. They had searched for years for the source of the Crawlers but had finally given up figuring that their location was far beyond the reach of their probes. Instead, they had just had to accept their presence. He ran a palm over a slash on his arm.
“Akriti, this is Morton, I’m out by Holligan’s Hill, I found the damaged critter. The storm blew it away from the fields. I can’t fix it here, I need to bring it back home.”
“Morton, you’re cutting it pretty close there, sun is going down.” she replied.
“Ok, ok, bring me back in.”
He reached out and touched the downed robot. The link between them meant both would be transported back simultaneously to the colony base deep underground. He waited a moment but nothing happened. He pressed the slash again.
“Akriti, any time now will do.”
“Morton,” there was a sudden tenseness in her voice. “I can’t get a location on you, the sandstorm must have done more damage to the surface system than we thought.”
“The sun is going down out here.” he said glancing up to the descending red ball.
“I’m trying, I can’t get your location.”
“Try harder.”
“I can’t.” she said in desperation.
He looked up at the sunset. The sphere was half way below the horizon and vanishing fast.
“Ok.” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Morton, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, it’s the sandstorm.”
The sun then set. He stood in the sudden absolute darkness before a moment later he was surrounded by a whiteness which moved like a dense liquid shifting into huge droplets which spun and thinned before reforming. He had seen the recordings of the Crawlers many times but now, in actual person, it was far more peaceful than he could ever have imagined. The liquid closed in around him covering his environment suit and face. He felt his skin tingle as the creatures passed through his bodily structure. His body held together for a moment before his corporeal unity broke down. Then he died.
At least, in theory. He became aware though that he was still conscious, and not deceased, as he had expected. The Crawlers had pulled each atom in his body away from the next in order to reach the energy then released which, he realized, they fed on. And yet, while the Crawlers broke the bonds which had held him together, the actual physical atoms, which had made up the body of Morton S. Ryane, remained connected by their memory of being connected. The atoms seeped away from each other into the great mass of the Crawlers which he now saw moved between their universe, his and across countless others in search of food. The Crawlers were not malicious creatures but were merely responding to their need to feed as a herd of wild animals would. The energy consumed at the periphery of the Crawler network passed in shocks and jolts through the entire mass until dissipating. In their long drained universe, they formed a thick white mass which covered everything and thus had evolved to break through to different universes to feed. The colony planet just happened to sit on one of the links between their universe and that of the Crawlers. His atoms moved, slid, dripped and skimmed through the immense network of the Crawlers. Distributed as they were but still connected by slim threads of former being, he remained whole but spread over huge distances. Now his platter of physical involvement fitted across universes. In the few moments it took for his atoms to disburse through the Crawlers, he experienced a multi-cosmos of diverse beautiful and terrifying vistas from waterfalls of atoms spilling over each other to form new matter, strange alien life walking upright on planets light years away, suns burning of infinite colours, silent black holes consuming stars and galaxies spiralling into one another in a tight embrace like lovers.
It was then that he became aware of a new feeling perhaps magnified by his current dispersed state. A feeling of a powerful wish to belong, to share his experiences with someone and his thoughts turned to Akriti probably currently despairing over his apparent demise. He had worked with her for nearly six years but it was now, only when he had an entirety of creation at his disposal, that he realized his true feelings for her and that in truth he only wished to occupy a mere few feet of space once it was beside her.
He decided he had enough of travels. He clenched a fist which was spread over a thousand galaxies and withdrew an arm passing through several universes as he did so. He pulled each limb back to him in turn drawing the combined atoms in closer and closer together. All the while, he decreased in size, from the spread of the Crawler network, to a single universe, to a galaxy, to a planet, to a continent, to a house and then back to a man. He opened his eyes. He was naked beside the robot on the orange sand. The sun was rising and the Crawlers were withdrawing. His clothes had fallen on the ground and he reached down to press his arm slash.
“Akriti,” he said. “I’m back”.

About the Author: 
Gerard Mulligan has published a number of science fiction pieces online and in print.

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Quantum Theories

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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 ... 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!

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.

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.