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.
As Esmeralda led me in to her workspace she was practically vibrating with excitement.
“You won’t believe the results we’re getting James. It worked, it actually worked!”
Her lab was just like mine, an untidy room on the edge of the campus, filled with the same kind of equipment; mirrors, high powered lasers, sand tables, second hand computers and so on. Most of it scavenged from old e-waste. Trying to make our grants stretch to meet our goals.
“What worked Esme?”
She pointed to the far wall, where a large, circular sheet of silver backed glass, basically a household mirror, was clamped in to a careful arrangement of metal arms. “Watch!”
I looked into the mirror. Saw my short blonde hair and baggy sweatshirt. Saw my tired eyes looking back through my thick rimmed spectacles. Nothing strange so far. There was an array of lasers angled around the mirror, bouncing their light off the surface at an oblique angle, to smaller mirrors set on metal arms which reflected them back.
“What does it do?”
The lasers began to pulse, flickering faster and faster, until their flashing was too fast to observe. The surface of the mirror seemed to go opaque for a moment, then it cleared and I was looking at myself again, but something was off.
Esme touched my shoulder, and I watched the other Esme repeat the gesture. But in the mirror, I was Esme, and Esme was me.
My friend said, “You know about quantum wave uncertainty, right?”
“Yeah, dead cat, alive cat, at the same time, blah, blah, blah.”
I remembered before I had chosen my major; things used to be so simple.
Esme laughed. “Yeah, somewhat more complex than that, but we know the idea.”
“So what’s this all about then?”
“We found a way to collapse the wave in such a way that here we get one result and”- She pointed to the mirror, where I pointed back, “Over there there is another result.”
“Our cat is dead and theirs is alive?”
“Exactly!” Her eyes shone with the light of a thousand grants.
“Not a chance!”
I stood in front of the mirror for an hour trying to disprove what I was seeing. Other Esme stared back at me. A frown creased her face.
I tried to smooth out my own face, smiling a fake smile in to the mirror which was reflected back at me from other Esme’s dark skinned face.
I moved my hand. Other Esme did the same.
I turned away and quickly turned back.
There she was, staring accusingly back at me.
I blinked. She blinked.
I made a peace sign.
Gave her the finger.
She followed me exactly.
I picked up a sheet of paper and wrote on it.
I tried to think of the most crazy nonsense.
Held it up in front of me.
Betty Botter bought some butter.
I spoke the rest of the tongue twister and watched other Esme follow me line for line.
This was crazy.
I looked deeper in to her room, through the mirror. Everything was the same. Or was it?
“Esme, you have to look at this!”
She stood next to me, and in the mirror, I stood next to her.
We pointed through our event horizons at a calendar on the desk.
Ours read January 2020, hers was still on July 2019.
My Esme took a step back. “That’s impossible. It’s not really a different reality, just a twisted refection. Like looking in a fun house mirror. It’s just not possible to see in to other worlds.”
“There’s more, look!”
I pointed to the flag on the wall. On the other side of the mirror, the familiar stars and stripes were missing. In their place was a deep red field, decorated with yellow stars and a Hammer and Sickle. Esme looked shocked to her core. More differences were quickly seen. Other Esme’s hair and clothes were subtly off. An inspirational poster on the wall held a different meaning. But what was more shocking was the things that were the same.
Everything on the other side looked ill made and worn out, just like here, but for different reasons. The shoddy cloth of my second hand sweatshirt, with its picture of Che Guevara was reflected by a garment which was the same, but different. Entirely free of irony.
I wanted to try something.
I picked up the paper again. I crossed out my writing and on a new line, wrote;
What are you making?
Other Esme was holding the same message. I noticed that her handwriting was different.
At least it was in English, I couldn’t read Cyrillic.
“This makes sense, they would be asking the same question.”
My Esme nodded. “Try answering it.”
I looked at her questioningly. She took the paper and wrote;
The mirror me held up the same message.
“Keep going!” I urged Esme to continue.
What is your intention?
Our efforts were mirrored by our reflections.
To send a message.
My Esme looked at me and shrugged. She handed me the paper and pen.
I was shaking as I thought of what to write. Whatever I wrote, mirror Esme would write the same, wouldn’t she? That’s what had happened so far.
But they knew what this was. We knew what this was. What message could trigger a different response and break the cycle of reflection?
I held up the paper.
You are me.
She held hers up.
I am you.
I felt something like an electric shock. Esme reached out and touched my arm. I looked down and saw the dark skin of my bare arm. Her... no my, hand was touching me. I looked up in to my own face, then turned to face the mirror. A blond haired man in a baggy sweatshirt and spectacles looked back at me. His eyes were no longer tired. His mouth moved and I read his lips.