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.
** QUANTUM SHORTS 2019/2020: WINNER
“It’s cold in here,” the woman says, lighting a cigarette, blue smoke catching in the light of the laser.
“It needs to be cold to work,” I say, “and there’s no smoking in here.”
In the reflection of my computer screen, I notice her looking around the lab. Her left arm sticking up, the still-lit cigarette in between thin fingers, right arm around her waist supporting the left elbow.
“I need to know why you’re here,” I say, punching in the code for the entanglement.
My chair squeaks unprofessionally as I spin around, “Because, what if I send you to another reality where whatever brought you here has already happened?”
I wait. This was usually the time where either the reality of what they were about to do hit them or their brain began doubting what I was saying.
Her body slumps a little, “My son died.”
I nod and spin back around with a counter squeak from my chair. Typing in random coordinates, I let the quantum machine hum on the desk. The black box was doing its job. It would be a few minutes before she spoke again.
“Is that it?” she steps over, staring the flat black box.
It was unimpressive at best. I could hear it in her voice. Just a small six-inch square metal cube, humming as if thinking, which it was.
I took in the full measure of this woman. Tall, well-dressed, nails impeccably done, hair unimaginably soft with expensive products. She had money. It wasn’t cheap to buy a new life, a new reality where the tragedy never happened. Or a new life where they were rich, or a woman, or man, or had no children, or their mothers loved them. But these days, it was mostly a dead kid. Word must be spreading.
“How long?” she asks.
On the edges of the machine, I could already see the white frost. It was working hard, finding the right coordinates to send this lady back where her son was alive and well.
“How does it work?’ she steps closer to the oblong ring in the center of the room. A see-through sheet of clear glass covering the opening.
“I don’t know.”
Twisting in surprise, her perfectly tailored eyebrows raise. “You don’t know?”
“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” I smile at my joke.
The temperature drops ten degrees as the glass on the portal changes.
“It’s a mirror now,” the woman whispers.
Letting the air out of my lungs, I say, “It’s not a…seriously, didn’t you read the contract?”
Hugging herself against the cold, she stares at the woman staring back at her, “Most of it.”
“It’s a reflection from a similar world as ours. She’s you, looking at you from another dimension. Okay?”
Raising her hand, she waves at herself in the next world.
“She’s not the one I’m going to replace, is it?” stepping closer to the aperture.
“No, but that’s the closest world to ours, so it comes up first.” I kept typing, the humming box slows, and the cold stabilizes. By this time, it was nearly forty degrees in the lab.
“So, I just walk through here and boom, I’m back with my son?”
“More or less.”
Another flash and the woman in the reflection is gone, only a copy of my lab staring back.
“Hey, where did I go?” she says, upset.
“Well, the other you is probably doing something else. Like at work or with your husband,” I hesitate, “Or with your kid.”
The words sting. Enough for her straighten her back and almost jump through the portal. This was the moment.
“There’s a little business we need to take care of,” I say casually.
Shaking hands pull a silver ring from her pocket, she touches it to mine. On the outer ring, my credits jump six figures.
Reaching over, I pull out a silver box and open it. Taking out the small device, I walk over and hand it to her. “Now, you do know what happens next?”
“I go across, and my son’s alive.”
“Jesus, did you read any of the contract?” I mutter, dropping the round object into her hand.
“Oh, you mean the fine print? Yeah, I read it. I need to kill the other me, then take over her life.”
I nod, “Place this within ten feet of her, and there’ll be nothing left.”
Hefting the ball, the woman asks, “Then what?”
“Then you live with the guilt.”
A curt laugh escapes her lips, “No guilt here, buddy. Besides, it’s me, right? I can’t really feel guilty replacing myself?”
I don’t answer. Instead, I say, “Safe trip.”
She’s two feet from the portal.
“Now?” she asks.
Placing the ball in her pocket, the woman steps through the glass window, disappearing from this world.
“What happened?” she asks, stunned.
“Jesus, did you read any of the contract?” I ask.
“You went through. I’m the other guy in the other lab.”
It always took a few seconds for their brains to figure it out. Multiverses, other dimensions, portals. And I look slightly different.
“You know where to go?” I ask.
Her face changes; she knew where to go. It was her life, after all.
“Don’t get caught,” I call out as the woman leaves.
I turn and see myself looking out of the portal.
“Hey,” I say back.
“Did you send anyone today?” I ask.
“Yeah, he wanted to be rich. What’s with her?” I nod to the door.
“Damn,” I say.
“Things used to be so simple. Now there’s all this emotional baggage they bring with them. I mean killing yourself, who does that?”
Staring at myself, I look well dressed, thinner, and have a wedding ring. Turning back, I mark the coordinates in the computer and smile.
“It’s a lot to think about,” I tell him.