We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!
** QUANTUM SHORTS 2019/2020: HONOURABLE MENTION
Face and overalls covered in fluorescent gunk, Mike the Quantum Mechanic popped the hovercar’s hood to take a look at its quantum-powered engine. A cloud of silver smoke billowed out as it flipped open, neon coolant sputtering as the engine groaned and flickered in and out of existence.
Crammed into the garage bubble together, Mike, his assistant Bert, and the put-out customer stepped back and waited for the smoke to clear.
Mike winced as he took a closer look and rubbed his jaw. “Never seen anything as bad as this in my time. How about you, Bert?”
“Me neither, Boss,” Bert said, wearing his usual hangdog expression. “Ain’t seen nuffin’ like it.”
The customer leaned in, chrome cufflinks catching the work-light, silk tie askew. “What? What is it?” he asked, voice straining as much as the quantum engine.
“Well, for starters, it looks like what you got here is a classic qubit malfunction, sir. Your photons are misfiring, across who knows how many multiple dimensions.” Mike took off his worn denim cap and scratched his head. “Plus, your gluons have gummed up the quarks. It’s lucky you called us when you did really.”
The customer puffed. “Photons are doing what? I-I’ve no idea what that means!”
“Don’t worry, sir, that part ain’t quiet as bad as it sounds. A bit of disentanglement and Bob’s your uncle.”
“And Alice is your aunt,” Bert finished with a gap-toothed grin.
Mike flashed a device at the engine; it beeped sporadically. “However, my interferometer is throwing out all sorts of odd readings here. Sorry to say it ain’t lookin’ good, sir. Kaons are off the scale. Always an element of randomness to these things. Hard to tell what caused it with this setup. We won’t know what else is kaput until we open it all up, either. Possible the gearbox is working fine, or it ain’t – until it’s CAT tested, no-one can say for sure, sir...”
Mike’s brow furrowed. “Oh no. Can you hear that, Bert?”
“Sure can, Boss. Sounds nasty.”
“What?” The customer pulled at his pinstripe shirt collar. “What is it?”
“Your universal alternator sounds like it’s on its way out too. Not to mention your severed Josephson Junction that’s causing Bose-Einstein Condensate to build up. Decoherence will be leaking all over the shop if we don’t patch it up soon for you. Bert, you’d better pass me a draining pan and a size four collapspanner.”
The customer blustered. “But how? I only bought it from the showroom last month! How can so many things be going wrong already?”
“I hear you, sir, I do,” Mike said as he took the items from Bert. “Me and Bert often say the same thing, don’t we, Bert?”
Bert nodded slowly. “We do, Boss.”
“They just don’t make ’em like they used to. Things used to be so simple. Not anymore, sir. Not with your qubit emission restrictions and multiverse compatibility issues.” Mike sighed. “So much easier when we only used analogue models. These digital and hybrid types cause all sorts of extra hassle. You wouldn’t want to hear how much, sir.”
“No, I wouldn’t. I’ve heard enough. Just tell me you can fix it.”
“Sure, we can fix it. But it’s gonna cost I’m afraid.” Mike had a pained look on his face, as if he’d told his little girl she’d be getting fewer presents this Christmas. “Sorry to have to break it to you, sir.”
“A tough break,” Bert added.
“But your insurance will cover most of it,” Mike said. “That’s the good news. I’m sure your policy is up to scratch.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” the customer said, face flush with colour.
“Does it include multiverse protection? Many of ’em don’t.”
The customer’s face drained of all previous colour. “Erm, well. I think. I. I don’t know!”
“Look, I’ll do you a favour. I’ll charge what I can to the insurance company, and only bill you half for anything over and above that. Can get you a deal on a replacement qubit converter, but my hands are tied with the hourly labour charges.” Mike paused. “Feel free to ask another quantum mechanic, but they’ll say the same.” He let that hang in the air. The quantum engine buzzed like an old fridge.
The customer sucked air through gritted teeth. “I have to get it fixed. I’ve an important meeting tomorrow. Do whatever it takes.”
“Don’t worry, sir, we’ll sort it out. Ain’t anything Bert and me haven’t been able to fix yet.”
“Okay. I’m already running late. I’ll have to take the airbus. Please, just do it!” he screeched, vein throbbing in his forehead. “It has to be fixed by the end of the day.”
“Of course. Leave it with us, sir. Everything’ll be spick-and-span before you know it!”
Swearing under his breath, the customer strode off, leaving Mike and Bert alone. Without a customer observing them, quantum mechanics could get up to all sorts of mischief.
“So what’s the real problem then, Boss?”
“I’ve no idea. Could be anything. No telling what we’ll find until we open it all up. And even then… You know the saying, Bert.”
“Sure, Boss. If you understand how you fixed it, you’re no quantum mechanic.”
“Well, Quick Quantum Fit Direct won’t be putting us out of business today, eh, Boss?”
Mike grimaced at the mention of the name, remembering the times he had to tell his daughter they couldn’t afford things, the hurt look on her dimpled face that broke him up. In this universe, small businesses like Mike’s could never compete with such large chains.
“We can charge whatever we want this time!” Bert said, Cheshire cat grin stretching his face.
“Yeah...” Mike spotted a small plush unicorn on the backseat of the hovercraft. He rubbed his jaw again. Logically he knew that in at least one reality, quantum mechanics’ charges were clear and reasonable – affordable even. Maybe he’d try it himself for a change.