QUANTUM SHORTS 2017: SHORTLISTED, OPEN CATEGORY
Director Yang announced the completion of the HEV supercollider to great applause. It was an impressive sight - not that anyone could see more than a small fraction of it from the reception hall. But Yang's audience was mostly comprised of the scientists who had designed the kilometers-long facility, and when its vast array of indicator lights was finally illuminated, the crowd couldn't help but cheer.
Yang himself left as quickly as he could after his speech, dodging handshakes and congratulatory drinks. While the occasion was deeply satisfying to him, at that moment he simply felt exhausted. The supercollider project began as a marathon and ended as a sprint. For the last month, Yang had been sleeping on a cot in his office, and with his ceremonial obligations complete, that cot was an irresistible destination.
But the moment he laid down and closed his eyes, Yang’s much-deserved rest was forestalled by a voice.
"Congratulations, Director! The HEV is a real beauty."
Yang jumped up and, noticing a figure on the couch on the other side of his office, ran for the door.
"Whoa, calm down! What's the matter?"
Halfway out the door, Yang turned, his panic fading. He took a breath and flicked on the lights.
The figure on the couch turned out to be a very small man in very strange clothing. Yang didn't recognize him, but somewhere in the back of his mind, blunted by adrenaline and exhaustion, he felt a vague sense of familiarity. The man was smiling and holding his hands up apologetically, and overall he looked non-threatening enough to turn Yang’s fear into indignation.
"Who are you and what are you doing in my office?" Yang demanded.
"Why I'm a Q-genie, of course," said the Q-Genie. "What kind of question is that? You're the one who called me here."
"Well, Eugenie," said Yang, now offended, "you've broken several different security protocols, not to mention laws, and I really must request–"
The Q-Genie interrupted him with a laugh. "Wow, you really don’t know, do you? Didn't Olsen talk to you? She should have explained."
Yang frowned. He recalled several unopened emails from Dr. Julia Olsen, who had directed the last major accelerator project before the HEV. He had been too busy these past few weeks to keep up with his correspondence.
The Q-Genie shook his head reproachfully. "I suppose I’ll have to introduce myself. I am a Q-genie - that's with a Q, thank you very much. When you humans conduct any particularly ingenious quantum experiment you summon one of us, and we answer one question for you."
Yang and the Q-Genie stared at each other for a while. Finally, Yang rubbed his eyes and walked back to his cot, where he slumped down.
"I'm hallucinating, obviously," Yang muttered, "I'm hallucinating from fatigue. It will all be better in the morning."
"You're not hallucinating. Hey! Hey! Look at me!" The Q-Genie snapped his fingers at Yang. "This is a big opportunity for you. For humanity! All those millions spent on this project, this is what it was all for.”
"This isn't what it was for. This is a scientific research project. We have many experiments planned."
The Q-Genie snorted. "That’s all nonsense. Seriously, Director, don’t be so shocked. It takes large teams of highly specialized experts years to design and operate a high-energy accelerator. Do you think any of those people fully understands all those endlessly complex details? No, they each understand their own little niche and that's it, and everyone cheerfully assumes everyone else is filling in the gaps. Well, it isn’t true. I am a nearly omniscient being and I am telling you, these devices do one useful thing and one only: they summon genies. That's what they're for and that's what they’ve always been for."
The Q-Genie walked over to Yang and patted him on the knee sympathetically.
"Now, don't be disappointed. It's still an amazing achievement. It's just that humans aren't quite built to really understand quantum physics, so we Q-genies give you a hand when you need it. Now, let's get to the point."
Years later, after getting quite drunk on the day of the announcement of his Nobel Prize in Physics, Yang confided to a favorite graduate student that it wasn’t so much the little man convinced him that science was all down to genies, as that the speech confirmed a suspicion he had always had - and anyway, what was the harm?
The Q-Genie nodded. "Well, any yes-or-no question. My answers are quantized. There are only two possibilities: yes or no. I can't do all the work for you."
Yang contemplated for a long moment. Of course this was probably just a strange dream, but... just in case…
“Do quarks have any substructure?”
"Excellent question! The answer is: yes. Now, you should be able to get a few hundred publications out of that if you make them sufficiently convoluted, and you’ll keep the field on the right track for next time."
The Q-Genie glanced at his wristwatch.
"Well, I must go. An Earth a few realities away only just achieved fission. Apparently their Einstein, Bohr, and Rutherford decided to quit science and form a jazz trio, so their atomic physics is a little behind. They know way more about acoustics than anyone else, though. Never could understand that stuff myself. Farewell, Director."
The Q-Genie vanished. Yang blinked at the spot where he had been.
A disembodied voice floated into the room.
"Oh, and please talk to whoever manages the next summoning. I'm trying to reduce my call times."
Yang blinked at nothing for a while longer. Finally, he laid down and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
By the time Yang woke up, it was 10 o'clock. He rubbed his eyes, stretched a little, and plodded over to his desk. Then he picked up the phone and dialed his assistant.
"William," he said, "Would you mind getting Julia Olsen on the line?"