Possible Cats

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** QUANTUM SHORTS 2021/2022: SHORTLISTED

>> Read an interview with the author

 

 

“I thought he always came when you rang the bell,” Aaron said.

            “That Mr. Mittens died last week,” Cynthia replied. “This one’s new.”

            “Does he have a new name? Like Mr. Mittens Two?”

            “I don’t think so.”

            She rang the bell again, but the cat refused to appear.

            “So they use it for pets now?” Aaron asked, not hiding the anger in his voice.

            “They made an exception for Professor Lewis. I mean, she basically made all of this possible.”

            “For her. And her rich friends.”

            Cynthia gave him a tired look.

            “I told you a million times: the process is dangerous and expensive. All the calculations until they find the right world and even then, there is no guarantee. Nobody wants to mess around too much, not until they fully understand it.”

            “I know and maybe I’m too stupid to get it, but isn’t there a way...”

            “There isn’t, not yet. But the professor and the world’s greatest minds are working to make it safer, cheaper. And then all the funding ... something will come out of it eventually.”

            Aaron had more to say, but he knew that Lewis was a sensitive topic for Cynthia. The professor had been her role-model since she was a girl, was the reason she had gotten into Quantum Physics in the first place, despite her parents’ objections. When she had been accepted at Lewis’ institute, Cynthia had been ecstatic. Of course, Lewis spent little time with her students, was too busy to remember their names, and maybe that was why Cynthia had volunteered to watch her house and feed her cat whenever the professor attended a conference - which happened quite often. Aaron never asked why Lewis did not hire someone to take care of the house and the newest version of her pet, instead of using graduate students as free labor.

            “Maybe I am not as optimistic as you,” he said.

            He was not a physicist, that was Cynthia’s thing, but he had read interviews with Lewis, had watched her small, bespectacled face in videos and listened to her explain how we could now access parallel worlds that were different to, but also much like our own. He had also read about the dangers and had naturally accepted that the process would at first be restricted to the most urgent uses, like devising military strategies or contacting innovative thinkers from other worlds.

            But then, they had used it for a cat.

            Aaron had actually wanted a cat when he was a kid. His parents had not allowed it and after some useless crying and begging, that had been the end of it. Since Lewis’ discovery, he occasionally imagined the cats he could have had, thought about how some version of him had one, while another had two or even three.

            Finally, Mr. Mittens walked into the kitchen, five minutes after his usual time. Without caring for Aaron and Cynthia, he began to eat.

            “I’m supposed to feed him at the same time every day,” Cynthia said.

            “Does that count for this version as well?”

            “They’re the same - or almost are. I should leave a note for the professor to let her know that he has a different schedule now.”

            She was too eager to please Lewis, he thought. Just like him, Cynthia had needed a scholarship, straight A’s and multiple recommendations to study here, even though her family was far richer than his. They both knew that their places at the institute could be taken away at any time. Millions of people all over the world were eager to pay immense sums just to come close to Lewis.

            They watched the cat eat.

            “Did he always have that black spot on his face?” Cynthia asked.

            “Not sure.”

            “He seems almost unreal. As if he would vanish if I stopped looking at him.”

            They cleaned the cat’s litter box and left the house. Outside, it was getting dark. Aaron put his arm around Cynthia and pulled her close. She had put on perfume, the one she had worn when they had first met.

            “I know it bothers you”, she said after a while. “The cat and all. But they would only do this for Lewis.”

            “I just wasn’t expecting it.”

            Aaron remembered the day when he had filled out the application form to have Mark replaced - had the accident really happened five years ago already? He had assumed that there was a world they could take his little brother from, maybe one where Mark was alone, where he, Aaron, had died instead.

            The response came a month later: Request denied. Not even an explanation, no: “We are sorry, but...” He suddenly realized that he never heard of anyone whose request had been accepted. Maybe the application form only existed to give some hope to people like him.

            “Do you want to go out to eat tonight?” he asked Cynthia.

            “I’d love to. Chinese?”

            “I was thinking Indian.”

            They walked along the darkening street, the trees losing their leaves, the days getting shorter and the nights colder. An elderly man waved at them from his veranda and they waved back.

            “One day, everyone will be able to use Lewis’ doors,” Cynthia said. “I wonder how that will change the world: people seeing their loved ones again, researchers studying different courses of history...”

            “It’s a lot to think about,” Aaron said.

            Cynthia’s hand squeezed his.

            “It is,” she said. “But let’s do that tomorrow.”

            As she leaned forward to kiss him, Aaron thought about Mark, about Lewis’ cat, about the ones he had wanted, thought about different versions of him playing with their cats and their little brothers, but then Cynthia’s lips met his and he pushed that thought aside.

            Tomorrow, he thought.

 

About the Author: 
Michael Haiden is a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Salzburg.
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