People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.
She tapped her pencil lightly on her notebook. She was bored. Physics for Poets, that’s what they called this course. A dumbed down science class to fulfil graduation requirements for humanities majors. Like Anna.
The professor wrote ‘double slit experiment’ on the smart board, then droned on and on about particles, wave theory and observers. Anna fidgeted in her chair – she would never need to know any of this stuff, it was a colossal waste of her time.
Anna dashed out of class as soon as the lecture finished. She headed to the campus cafeteria, grabbed a salad, then set up camp in front of her laptop at one of the large tables. She had a short story due at the end of the day for her creative writing class. After reading where she had left off, she immersed herself in her writing, her fingers flying over the keyboard.
“Please tell me that’s not the short story assignment you’re typing.”
Anna looked up and saw her fellow classmate, Nardeep, standing next to her. “It is indeed, why do you ask?”
Nardeep looked at her with amazement. “How can you do that? How can you just sit there and rapid fire write a story?”
“Well, I am an English major, after all. I’m sure you have no trouble writing physics equations.”
Nardeep sighed. “I’d much prefer writing one thousand equations to writing a one-thousand-word short story. I haven’t even started.”
Anna picked at her salad. “I don’t know why they force us to take these courses – me having to take a physics class and you having to take a writing class.”
“Supposed to give us a well-rounded education, I guess. Any tips for me?”
“Sure – don’t overthink it. As a writer, my best writing is not really my writing. Once I get into a flow, my characters assume a life of their own and I merely record the scene -- I don’t actually direct the action, but simply observe it. In fact, it is only when I cease to consciously think that I can truly write at all.”
Anna warmed to her topic. “And then there is this most extraordinary moment, Nardeep, when a character, whom I thought was my own creation and over whom I had total control, suddenly springs to life and asserts his or her independence -- acting or speaking in ways that I never intended. That’s when you know you are truly writing.”
“Hmm – you make it sound like these stories and characters exist in some sphere of alternate reality, and that great writers have found a way to break through and observe them.”
“Never thought of it like that, to be honest. I’ll leave the question of what is reality to physics students like yourself. Things used to be so simple before I took a physics class!”
Suddenly Anna felt an odd sensation that was becoming frighteningly familiar. She was being watched. She could feel eyes boring into her, watching her every move. She furtively scanned the cafeteria but couldn’t see anyone.
Nardeep looked at her with concern. “Are you okay, Anna?”
Anna exhaled deeply. “I’m either losing my mind, or I’m being stalked. Seriously, Nardeep, I keep having this feeling that someone is watching me.”
“Maybe someone is watching you.” His eyes looked beyond Anna, and she whirled around to see Colin staring at her. Their eyes connected and Anna’s heart thumped so loudly she was afraid everyone could hear it.
Colin came over to the table, said hello and asked to join them.
Nardeep looked first at Colin and then at Anna. “Actually, I need to head off to the lab. See you two later.”
Colin seemed to be breathing rapidly and Anna noticed small beads of sweat forming over his eyebrows. He cleared his throat. “Um, Anna, would you like to go with me to the May Ball next week?“
Anna could barely breathe. “I’d love to Colin.”
* * *
The evening of the ball, she felt it again. It was unmistakable – someone was watching her. But it was simply not possible. She was alone in her apartment and curtains covered the windows. Surely no one could see her. Was she going mad?
Once Colin arrived, she forced herself to focus on the evening and she put aside her worries.
Their first dance was a waltz. Colin led Anna to the dance floor, put one arm around her shoulder and then took her hand in his. The music started and they began waltzing. He stepped forward and she stepped back, he spun clockwise to her counterclockwise and then they reversed in perfect synchronicity. No words, no communication was necessary. As she looked into Colin’s eyes, it felt like time itself had stopped and Anna no longer felt watched. It was just she and Colin alone in this one eternal moment.
* * *
Zoe looked up from her computer and rubbed her tired eyes. That was enough writing for one night. She saved the story she’d been working on and then got up from her desk to prepare for bed. As she crawled underneath her blankets that night, she wondered if she would dream of the characters in her story. It wouldn’t be the first time. May I’ll dream about Anna at the Ball. “Hope you had a nice time tonight, Anna,” she murmured. “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”