These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.
** QUANTUM SHORTS 2019/2020: HONOURABLE MENTION
Pretty Bea sits across the table in one of the food parks of Maginhawa Street while we enjoy the kebabs and beer. However, I am slightly pissed because it's a half-baked happiness, with a caveat not to let my guard down. Bea, for all I know, can put me in jail.
Things used to be so simple. Dating was a straightforward affair. But nowadays, you have to make sure that your date is not an alt-person. In other words, you have to make sure that that person is from this Universe, not an illegal. Otherwise, you may be charged with harboring.
After scientists discovered Quantum Jumping or hopping from one world to another using a Decoherence Machine (DM), there was a massive influx of illegals into our Universe, and other Universes, for that matter.
It's unsure which Universe came up first with the DM, but one thing's for certain, it's been a multiverse swap ever since. Alt-persons wanting to escape their sad lives would illegally travel to start fresh in another world. And not a few did at a cost -- they resorted to crime to replace their other selves, either kidnapping, or even murdering their counterparts.
The Multiverse Quantum Police (MQP) are the ones tasked to go after these illegals. I can now see a couple of them across the street -- a male and a female cop -- standing in their silver uniform beside their black hover bikes.
Bea is telling me about the adorable kindergarten students she teaches, and turns her head to see what I'm looking at.
I take note of her reaction, but if she's a poker player, she must be a good one. She sips from her beer glass.
"Do you have kids?" she asks.
"Oh, didn't Fudge tell you?" Fudge is Bea's co-teacher, and a mutual friend.
"No, sorry. All I know is that you're a widower."
It's been two years since Melissa died. I wish there was a way to hop worlds and go back in time. But decoherence only works moving forward. Entanglement leads to a one-way street.
Melissa was a tortured soul. She was lonelier than I was. I was a struggling writer, and she was a bipolar who had trouble keeping jobs, and we always fought. I felt trapped and always thought of leaving her, even going illegal. But she found ways to reel me in. I tried to make it work. One day, I found her overdosed on sleeping pills.
"Yes, she passed away before we can have one." I sort of lie. Without stability, having a baby was out of the question.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Don't be. Might have been too painful for our child to find out about her mom when she grew up." I was always sure my firstborn was a girl.
"So you were saying that the end was a total surprise?" I say, to change the subject.
"The psychological thriller you were telling me last night on Messenger," I said. "But do not tell me. Like I said, I hate spoilers."
Online, we bonded over books. She loves mysteries and, like me, also plays chess.
"Oh yes. That was one of the best sleights of hand I've ever encountered," she smiles.
"How did you find the book? Amazon?"
"Well, actually, it was one of the weirdest things. I did not find it online, but in the small bookshop down the road here in Maginhawa, at Danny's Bookstore."
"You mean JP's Bookstore?"
She pauses for what seems to be an eternity, and that's how I find out. "Oh yes, JP's."
"It's all right. Being a bibliophile myself, I also get confused with the names of all the shops. All I know is that the books are cheap."
We both laugh. I decide to go all in. "For example, remember that bookstore along Kamias?"
She stares into my eyes. "Of course. I would sometimes go there."
That's when I know. My next words come in a whisper.
"Bea, I know who you are." Her smile fades.
I look at the two cops. They are crossing the street.
"Where is she?" I ask.
She sees me turn my head, but she keeps her composure. She drinks from her glass.
"She's fine. In my Universe. But she wasn't doing too good here anyway."
"Why do it?"
"The usual reason. I had to start over again."
The MQP's are now entering the food park.
"Your story about your abusive father, was that true?"
"Yes, everything is true. It's just that it happened in another world."
"Paid smugglers with all my savings. I needed to start over. He was after me. It was my life or his life."
"He’s not here?"
"No. Just my mother and I. We're very happy."
"She regretted it. That's why we had to swap."
That's how it is with parallel worlds -- sometimes the differences are so subtle and nuanced like the bookstore, sometimes life-changing and momentous.
"Where's the body?"
"I don't know. She wouldn't tell me."
I didn't say anything.
"She also agreed to this,” she goes on. "It's perfect. She can live her life again, choose a different path. Meanwhile, I do not have to be afraid, and, unlike her, do not have a guilty conscience."
The MQP's are now behind Bea, in front of the Persian food store. They are talking to the male manager and the waitress.
Bea turns around and then looks at me.
The manager is walking towards us.
Bea's eyes seem to plead, her arms on the table.
The manager comes up beside us, and starts to talk, which startles Bea. "How did you like the food?" he says.
I look up, but past him, and I catch a glimpse of the future with our firstborn, a little girl as pretty as Bea, and both of us teaching her to play chess.
"Yes, everything's fine," I say. I look into Bea's eyes. "Absolutely fine."