Presenton

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Everett takes the punch on the jaw. He's old as dirt and can't dodge it, despite knowing for sixty years that it was coming. He falls to the frozen city streets. 

 

The puncher, a teenage girl, screams at him, "It's not fair, you had so much time not knowing!" She crumples and sobs like there's no tomorrow, because for her there isn't. She will die in nine minutes and she knows it. Everett's heart breaks for her, for all of humanity, and he curses Presenton, the physicist who stole the future.

 

Everett crawls towards the girl over snow that's been trampled by people too desperate to stay home. People like Everett, who chose a punch because it beat being stabbed or shot or any of the infinitely worse possibilities that would have befallen him. Hard to stay safe when criminals can see the future.

 

"It's an aneurysm," she says like he doesn't already know.

 

Everett sits beside her. Hard to get surgery when everyone is busy trying not to get killed.

 

"What are you, like a hundred?"

 

"Ninety-two," he says.

 

"Tell me what it was like not knowing. Tell me the story of your life. But don't tell me how it ends." She clutches his arm. "For once I don't wanna know how it ends."

 

Everett can't tell her how it ends, because he doesn't know how he will die. He knows the when: today. And the where: the Institute of Particle Physics, after he infiltrates the protective field surrounding it. Everett can see nothing past that point; the future is unknown inside the field. 

 

He tells the girl about Luna, his wife. How he would give anything to hold her, to smooth the frown that deepened between her brows every time she worked on her research. It was her team that proposed a hypothetical particle: the presenton. They could potentially collapse wave functions like dominoes, felling them far into the future, converting the future to the present. Someone on her team insisted they not only prove it, but start those dominoes falling. Luna scoffed and dubbed him Presenton, a wannabe superhero determined to free humanity from the chains of the present. But her frown deepened with worry.

 

"And then one day Luna didn't come home." Everett knew she never would, because he was suddenly able to perceive every moment of his life. Except his death.

 

"Ten seconds until I die." The girl's eyes bulge with fear. 

 

Everett holds her while the time bomb ticking inside her head explodes, a bomb that would have been defused had society not collapsed. Everett can't finish his story now, can't tell her he had spent the remaining sixty years of his life studying particle physics in order to infiltrate the institute's field and restore the future to an unknown quantity. He tries to find comfort in the fact the girl did not want to hear the ending, but he cries anyway.

 

Everett drapes his coat over the girl and limps to the institute.

 

Sixty years is a long time. Everett has advanced the team's research considerably, and linked two apps. Each will drain energy from the institute's field, but for different purposes. One will reverse the domino effect of the presenton all the way into the past, enabling him to change it, and thus, the future. The other will suspend anyone within one metre of his phone forever in a state of superposition. Hopefully, Presenton.

 

Everett stands before the institute. He taps his phone's projection display and activates the first app. Ice crystals dancing in the field's transparent perimeter morph into the spring blossoms of a mayday tree, chickadees flitting from branch to branch. Everett can't stop staring, suddenly glad Luna never saw birds fall from the sky when faced with a future they could not comprehend.

 

Everett steps through the field. For the first time in sixty years, he has no idea what's going to happen.

 

He limps through the revolving doors, to the elevators, to Luna's floor, his phone overriding decades-old security, his heart skipping too many beats.

 

Luna. He stumbles towards her desk through a maze of semi-transparent office walls, her frown deepening as she watches him approach. 

 

"Where's Presenton?" Everett says.

 

"Who, Dave? He got fired."

 

Everett blinks.

 

"Dude was unhinged. Have we met? You look familiar." 

 

He manages to spit out, "I'm Everett. Your husband."

 

Her smile fades. "I'm calling security."

 

"Please don't. I can prove it." Everett explains her own research to her, and his as well.

 

Luna pales. "I've been working on that hypothesis for years. And a stranger walks in and proves it?"

 

Everett is at a loss. If not Presenton, then who—? He sucks in a breath. It hits him at the same moment the pain from his bruised jaw shoots down his arm and blooms in his chest.

 

Luna. She is Presenton. Because Everett has unwittingly given Luna the key to destroy the world.

 

He must warn her not to use this newfound knowledge. But the pain crushes his chest and steals his breath. Everett collapses.

 

Luna drops beside him. "Sir! Are you okay? I'll call for help." 

 

Everett's good arm flails. It connects with hers and he grasps her hand. 

 

Her eyes widen as they take in his wedding ring, the crescent-shaped birthmark on his wrist. "My God. It is you. You came from the future to prove my hypothesis." 

 

He shakes his head, no no no.

 

Luna wraps her arms around him, her breath in his ear. "Hang on. It's gonna be okay."

 

It's not going to be okay.

 

Everett clutches his phone. He knows what he must do. No, please, not that. Tears roll down his face. Nobody said this was going to be easy. 

 

His eyes open wide. He sees a future where a teenage girl doesn't die. Where birds still fly. Where he is forever holding Luna.

 

As Everett activates the second app, he finally knows how his story ends.

 

About the Author: 
Judy Helfrich exists on the Canadian prairie where long stretches of nothing persist in at least four dimensions. Her fiction has appeared in Nature, On Spec, and the Quantum Shorts e-book, among others. More at helfrich.ca.
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

H is for ...
Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

T is for ...
Time

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. On microscopic quantum scales, this seems less certain. A recent experiment shows that the forward pointing of the arrow of time remains a fundamental rule for quantum measurements.

R is for ...
Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

V is for ...
Virtual particles

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.

S is for ...
Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

L is for ...
Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

G is for ...
Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

C is for ...
Computing

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T is for ...
Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

Q is for ...
Qubit

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C is for ...
Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

G is for ...
Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

C is for ...
Clocks

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S is for ...
Schrödinger’s Cat

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M is for ...
Maths

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U is for ...
Uncertainty Principle

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Q is for ...
Quantum biology

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L is for ...
Light

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E is for ...
Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

K is for ...
Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

W is for ...
Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

D is for ...
Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

P is for ...
Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

T is for ...
Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

S is for ...
Sensors

Researchers are harnessing the intricacies of quantum mechanics to develop powerful quantum sensors. These sensors could open up a wide range of applications.

I is for ...
Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer

E is for ...
Ethics

As the world makes more advances in quantum science and technologies, it is time to think about how it will impact lives and how society should respond. This mini-documentary by the Quantum Daily is a good starting point to think about these ethical issues. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qc7gpabEhQ&t=2s 

Y is for ...
Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

A is for ...
Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

W is for ...
Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

P is for ...
Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

H is for ...
Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

X is for ...
X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

D is for ...
Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

M is for ...
Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

B is for ...
Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

F is for ...
Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

R is for ...
Randomness

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N is for ...
Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

S is for ...
Superposition

The feature of a quantum system whereby it exists in several separate quantum states at the same time.

K is for ...
Key

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I is for ...
Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

B is for ...
Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

Q is for ...
Quantum States

Quantum states, which represent the state of affairs of a quantum system, change by a different set of rules than classical states.

Z is for ...
Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

A is for ...
Atom

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A is for ...
Alice and Bob

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M is for ...
Multiverse

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O is for ...
Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

T is for ...
Time travel

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J is for ...
Josephson Junction

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U is for ...
Universe

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