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Herman Bexley lay dreaming. He is a child again, sitting upon his father's lap, one tiny hand exploring an expanse of dark knuckles and crenulated nails. Somewhere, away from them both, the gentle rhythm of typing describes his mother at work. A clichéd scene, but one of security and contentment. Foundations he’d need in a terrifying future where their tripartite secret will be challenged time and again.
Specialists knew he was a hermaphrodite. In hushed tones they had questioned his parents' decision to let Herman choose his gender. He loved them for that, his formative personality maturing beyond its years, but not hating or resenting.
He'd gravitated towards the male in pre-school, but had accepted the guidance that he was special, that his physical complexity was best kept to a trusted few.
He could no longer hide in high school. His mother and father suggested home tuition, but Herman refused. His slim shoulders and full lips repelling his peers, the truth of his third base chromosome writ large as they collectively flailed towards puberty.
Why had he stayed to weather the slings and arrows of misunderstanding? Love. Of course it was love.
No surprise the outsider found peers in study, a sense of homecoming in the laboratories, inspiration in the tuition of Doctor Raynor – a practical man whose mind was open to complexity.
It was here that he met Velvet Templeton while marvelling over a cloud chamber - atomic particles leaving air displays of microscopic randomness. Their wonder drew them close.
He sees himself with her now, unfashionable glasses perched on her permanently blushing face and he scoffs at the tweeness of it all. The school's lab coats were thread-bare, but the science was didactic, liberating.
"Oh so Dickensian!" Herman exclaims and is surprised to find his voice. The dreamer as critic as well as observer it seems.
He looks again at the scene and gives a wistful sigh. What a wonderful girl Velvet had been. Later she had tried to become his lover, but nothing had ever felt right – their friendship untangling in the wake of repeated failure.
She dematerialises, or at least that's Herman's first impression, but it's the scene that has altered. Only the image of himself sustains, his back hunched in dedication to the computer bench at his old university.
He has started work on vagaries of quantum logic, even though he doesn't realise it; ensconced in the flow of machine code, but already feeling around the edges of turning electrons into data carriers. Miniaturisation, interference, deep errors that require a new type of coding to steer programs back to the accurate, the true. It's all virtual simulations for a time, and then comes the nanite revolution and he's pleading for access to electron microscopes. He builds his enclave void first, to shield against decoherence, then painstakingly assembles everything at the atomic level and dares to wonder at the electronic consequences of his prototype, his limbo gate.
A TV interview now. His invention a reality and the era of quantum computing, if not dawning, definitely turning the ether away from the shadows. Bi-products too as success with his quantum logic gate engenders a new confidence in himself.
"You see," the dream Herman leans forward, holds the host's baffled gaze before pushing on, "Previously, computing was like a pipe filled with flowing water. You could increase its diameter and give the illusion of simultaneity, but there was always a source, and there was always an outlet."
"Like a tap?" The wax-faced compere plays for laughs, but Herman is unruffled.
"Yes, exactly like a tap. But with quantum computing, the process is more like rain. A weather system, if you will, but one where the limbo gate acts like an uncannily accurate meteorologist."
He had said that. The alchemist transmuting his ugly theories into gold.
A fresh scene emerges. An operating theatre where he looks down upon a dishevelled female patient. The surgical cloths that covered her formative breasts have been pulled away, the iodine stained skin laid bare. Herman recoils in sudden understanding. A body still unfamiliar to him despite the months of therapy; an alien entity reconfigured on a hormonal, psychological and physical level. Around him hospital staff are scrambling, wide eyes above their masks, white gloved hands grabbing for defibrillator paddles.
The scene shifts again.
He is standing on a spiral staircase that appears to be made of marble. It hangs in the sky with no visible means of support. A gliding cloud drifts on a light wind and collides with the stair, the chill of suspended water propelling him into an ascent.
Looking upwards he sees little within the foggy shroud, but two amorphous shapes appear to be descending towards him. The cloying mist drifts away and he's improbably dry, the forms snapping into bright solidity before him. Herman gives a nervous grin and shakes his head in instant recognition.
"Why you?" He asks.
Turing smiles in return and shrugs. He moves to the side of the broad staircase creating a gap between himself and his companion; Heisenberg. The other man also moves aside, his bright eyes making up for the lack of warmth in the rest of his face. There is a space between the two now, but Herman is scared to advance in case he endangers them. Ridiculous, he realises, as they're both already dead. Still he pauses. There is a choice to be made here.
Taking a step downwards, he senses that this is the right direction for him to travel, but the sudden, tangible slap of his foot against the marble is worrying.
He takes another hesitant step and the increasing weight of his body buckles his knees. Gravity hauls him down the next three, pulling him onto his backside so he can only shuffle like a nervous child. The stairs stretch away, their sharp white edges starting to blur. To where? He has no idea, but pushes forward, trusting that it will be somewhere different, somewhere new. 

About the Author: 
My love of SF and fantastical fiction stretches back to watching the Clangers as a child, and the discovery of a collection of Michael Moorcock stories left behind when one of my brothers departed the family fold. If you're interested in my writing, do please visit

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Quantum Theories

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!

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.