QUANTUM SHORTS 2013: SHORTLISTED, OPEN CATEGORY
Felix Dibble was the night janitor at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. He was on his regular route sweeping the collider tunnel as the evening’s experiments were getting underway. Felix had just stopped to squeegee a spot of raspberry jam off one of the beam pipes and was muttering to himself about “those scientists” when Dr. Hans Gruberman, working in the CERN Control Centre, decided to have a snack. Without thinking, Dr. Gruberman set his baguette down on top of a critical system component. As cries rang out from around the room of “Not again!”, a baguette-induced system failure triggered a rapid loss of magnetic confinement within the collider, resulting in two beams of protons traveling in opposite directions at very near the speed of light colliding at the approximate location of Felix Dibble’s medulla oblongata. After regaining consciousness, Felix stumbled down the tunnel in a daze, not yet realizing that forever after he would always be known as: Quantum Man.
Quantum Man came screeching down the street aboard his pilot wave runner, arriving at the abandoned warehouse now surrounded by flashing police cars and swarms of officers. He jumped off his ride and quickly approached the police chief. The ground was rumbling everywhere; following slowly after him was Quantum Man’s less-than-trustworthy sidekick Quantum Cat, a half-living, half-dead feline, horrible to behold.
“Chief, what’s the situation?”
“Thank you for coming, Quantum Man. The whole city’s been shaking on and off for hours now. At first, we thought it was an earthquake, but we’ve been able to… Ahhh!” At that moment, the chief noticed Quantum Cat approaching. He shuddered and looked away. “We’ve been able to trace the origin of the disturbance to this building, but we haven’t been able to get inside. It’s locked down tight.”
Quantum Man looked down at his sidekick. “Quantum Cat, see if you can get in through the ventilation system and scope out the situation. I’ll attempt to tunnel through the wall.” But Quantum Cat only hissed, looking surly – and also half-dead. “How many times do I have to apologize for putting you in that box? I was only playing peek-a-boo! How was I supposed to know it would leave you in a perpetual superposition of living death? Never mind, I’ll go myself. Chief, don’t worry; I’ll handle this,” he said, looking up again.
With that, Quantum Man turned and ran at full speed straight at the wall of the building. He collided with a loud thud and fell over backward. Slowly getting up on his feet, he yelled back to the chief, who was already looking worried, “I’m alright! It’s a probabilistic thing. I’ll get through one of these times.” Quantum Man ran at the wall again and crashed into it once again. Twenty-two similar attempts followed. “Any time now,” he croaked. He ran once more, finally successful in passing through the wall and emerging on the other side.
Still feeling the effects of his failed attempts, Quantum Man staggered into the spacious interior of the old warehouse, trying to get his bearings. He looked around and saw a large, dark void surrounded by equipment and various consoles in the center of the warehouse. As he approached, he saw a young woman dressed in black and wearing a mask come walking around from the opposite side of the void. Their eyes met and locked onto one another. “Gravity Girl! I should have known you were behind this!”
“Well if it isn’t Quantum Man come to save the day. But you’re too late. My black hole is already at full strength. If the leaders of the world don’t meet my demands, I will unleash it to devour the Earth!”
“You’ll never get away with this, Gravity Girl. I thought you would have learned your lesson after I foiled your plans at Solvay.”
“You won’t defeat me this time.” Gravity Girl picked up a small controller and flipped a switch. Immediately, Quantum Man began being pulled across the room in the direction of the black hole. He grabbed onto a pillar just as his legs were pulled out from beneath him. “Looks like this is the end for you!”
Quantum Man struggled to maintain his grip to prevent being sucked into the black hole. “I know you’re better than this, Gravity Girl. If we only work together, think of all the good we can do. Stop this and join me. We belong together.”
Gravity Girl laughed. “Silly Quantum Man. There are no strings that can bind us.”
Quantum Man was barely hanging on by his fingers, and they were slipping. Suddenly, Gravity Girl looked down and screamed, dropping the controller, for a half-dead cat had just rubbed up against her leg. As the controller hit the floor, it switched off, and Quantum Man fell to the ground. “Excellent work, Quantum Cat,” he said as he got back up. “Black holes are no match for me.” He raised his arms toward the black hole and shouted his famous catchphrase, “By the Power of Planck!” Gravity Girl rolled her eyes and groaned; Quantum Cat slowly shook his head back and forth. Quantum Man didn’t notice. “A little Hawking radiation should do the trick.” Streams of particles appeared to emanate from the black hole, traveling toward Quantum Man’s outstretched hands. As everyone watched, the black hole got smaller and smaller until it completely evaporated.
Gravity Girl scowled. “You haven’t seen the last of me, Quantum Man!” She ran to a pair of double doors, throwing them both open and stepping outside. Quantum Man had started to give chase but abruptly stopped. “Curses! I can’t go through a double door without interfering with myself on the other side!” He shuddered at the memories. Gravity Girl only smiled then vanished around the corner. Quantum Cat slowly walked to the doors. “Quantum Cat, close one of those doors for me, quickly!” But Quantum Cat only ignored him and walked out. “Quantum Cat? -- Anyone? -- Help???”