These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.
** QUANTUM SHORTS 2019/2020: SHORTLISTED
Joel gripped the corner of the envelope like it was contaminated. For the last fifteen years, the birthday cards from his mother had contained cash. This year the card contained a certificate to Fortuna. After seeing the holographic logo, he’d shoved it back in the envelope.
“I made you an appointment,” she said.
“You don’t need me to move the mulch into the garden tomorrow, do you?”
“Thanks.” Her pursuit of grandchildren was shameless. In Joel’s mind, it would happen when it happened. From his mother’s perspective, it wasn’t happening quick enough.
The side project of a research trio at Quantum Computing Research Institute, Fortuna had caused a sensation when six months after its inauguration each of the thousands of couples it matched were still together. The one-year mark and millions of couples. Then two years. Five. It was a statistical impossibility.
That was what quantum computing had done, made the impossible possible. After they’d broken conventional encryption, QCRI turned to chemical modeling and weather forecasting. Their Knapsack project became the de facto SAT solver, providing optimal solutions to non-polynomial time problems. Then Fortuna arrived and changed the game of matchmaking.
Sandra had been with Fortuna since day one, a test engineer snatched away from QCRI by the offshoot corporation. Seven years ago, they’d needed to fill the database and created an employee incentive program. Now, Fortuna retained her because she was The Anomaly.
Sandra’s qubits had been in excited superposition for years without reaching the decoherence state. Technically, they only existed for a q-second. But quantum time had its own idiosyncrasies and exact durations could only be theorized. Who was to say her qubits weren’t the expanding, shivering spheres of bright energy she imagined? Maybe their intersecting wave forms had been cancelling and boosting each other for years on end. The result was the same, either way. No match.
Researchers at heart, Fortuna kept her around. Sandra suspected it was because her NDA expired a few short years after her employment ended and they didn’t want word getting out that there was an anomaly. Eventually, they’d promoted her to managing the East Coast division. It paid well, and most days she enjoyed her job. Except when she had to scan someone.
Fortuna processed a client’s digital personality simulacrum and didn’t require an on-site scan. Occasionally someone’s DPS was incomplete or poorly trained. Less frequent were the paranoids worried about identity theft, brainwashing, and cloned doppelgangers. Lazy or crazy. Sandra wondered which type would show up for the morning’s appointment.
Fortuna occupied a skyrise with a view of the ocean. Joel’s appointment was in room 304, not high enough to catch a glimpse of the water. The attractive young woman behind the desk smiled and offered him tea.
“How long is this going to take?” he asked and took the teacup.
“The scan? Minutes. The match?” Sandra shrugged. This was Kit’s job, but he was on vacation and she was the only qualified person on site. “Possibly before you walk out the door. Most people are matched within a week.” They always loved hearing that, but the man’s posture and tight lips indicated something like reluctance.
“Fortuna will start with a synapse reading. You’ll experience mild hallucinations as it stimulates different regions of your brain. Then, the analytics run,” she said. Lazy or crazy, he seemed to be neither. She explained the process as she prepped the sensor halo.
Joel listened to words he didn’t understand. They said no one really understood quantum systems, but she was convincing with her talk of uncertainty principles and probability matrices and nontrivial entangled states.
“It’s not as clinical as it sounds,” Sandra said. She placed the halo around his head. There was something spiritual in witnessing Fortuna perform its elegant calculations that exposed the organization of the universe.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll see.” She took the teacup from him.
“Should I close my eyes?” Joel asked.
“It doesn’t matter.”
The halo vibrated and then Joel was elsewhere.
Sandra wondered who he saw. She’d scanned herself plenty of times, searching for a fault in the scan that never emerged. He’d see flashes of potential matches proposed and rejected as Fortuna read his reactions to stimuli. He’d experience love with each. That love might last a night, a week, a year, during the quest for the one that would last a lifetime.
Among countless others, the young woman from Fortuna flashed though Joel’s awareness. Images and emotions battered him into overstimulation. It was over almost as soon as it began. The experience faded and she removed the halo from his head.
Sandra received a priority notification from Fortuna as the man came out of the scan. She’d been matched to the man in the chair. Her hands fumbled the halo.
Joel caught the halo before it dropped into his lap. Feather-light and sleek, it looked expensive. A notification from Fortuna announced his match. She stood in front of him.
Joel needed to leave. He stood and pushed the halo into her hands. “The appointment was a gift,” he said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think I’d meet you in person right away. I’m not ready.”
Overwhelmed by pinging notifications and congratulations from colleagues, Sandra barely registered his words. She’d hoped no one watched her file after all these years, but that was not the case. “I understand,” she said and walked him to the door. “You can reach me through Fortuna if you change your mind.”
Sandra stared at nothing. Things used to be so simple when she’d been The Anomaly. Her future at QCRI just got complicated. Would they let her go now that she had a match? And for nothing, since he wasn’t ready.
On his way home, Joel passed through doubt to curiosity. He had vague recollections of her from the scan. Feelings, mostly, of comfort, strength, and joy. More tangible than what a brief meeting might produce.
The next day, Joel called Sandra.