The Space Between A Blink

Your rating: None
0
No votes yet

When Mac Zender closed his eyes, he was himself. His disguise shifted off in a moment of unseeing, blissful darkness. The nanoparticles rearranged so quickly he could feel them like a cold wind against his skin. He knew without looking that he appeared as he truly was— but when he opened his eyes, looked down at his hands, he was hidden again, pale and mundanely human. 

When Earth’s inhabitants looked at him, they saw something human, too: a Caucasian man, shock of red hair, short, vaguely effeminate. Mac didn’t know how he appeared to his own people of Arcturus, because he hadn’t been face-to-face with them in nearly six years, but he guessed much the same. 

He picked up his phone, debated sending his final message as a video call. Let them see him one last time before hell broke loose. But video wasn’t secure— they might guess his location from his backdrop— so he sent a text, instead: Agent 567 emergency call to lunar base.

He got a response almost immediately. Caller ID read simply Kay— protocol required them to use Earth names even when in contact with only each other.

“What’s the emergency?” Kay’s English was stringent, snappish, tinged with an unidentifiable accent. “Where are you?”

Mac browsed through his collection of button-up shirts. His hands were shaking. “Kay, I need you to try and convince me of something, and it’s either going to work or backfire horribly.”

“What?”

“I want to tell Avery the truth. Talk me out of it.”

A hiss of static on the other line. Kay devolved into a series of clicks and whistles, cursing in their native tongue. “No, you’re not. Very funny, but also, no.” A beat. “You can’t be serious.”

Mac picked up a yellow shirt, set it down. “Kay, she deserves to know. It’s been three years. I love her. I think she’d love me— the real me, if I could show her who I am. It won’t be that bad. I think.”

More barely-controlled cursing. “How? Hasn’t your disguise been broken for years, anyway? Aren’t you human all the time now?”

“I’ll figure it out.” Green, maybe. Green brought out his eyes. Mac rifled through the back of his closet. He’d gone over all of Kay’s talking points before. He’d thought hearing it from someone else might work better— it hadn’t. 

“You know what humans are like. Did you forget your research? All our work? But no, I’m sure this one will believe you. I’m sure she’s special and different from the rest.” Kay’s voice was thin, sour with premeditated satisfaction. 

“She is.” Of that, he was certain. 

“Stay put,” Kay said. “I’m sending a team to your coordinates.”

Green polo. Perfect. Mac took the shirt off the hanger. “Sorry, Kay. It backfired.”

Before Kay could reply, he hung up. 

***

Avery’s apartment was clean and candlelit, with rose petals draped over the tablecloth. The city was a hazy streetlight yellow below. Mac spent the night jittering with anxiety, waiting for Kay’s troops to burst through the door, but no one came. They couldn’t track him. He’d made sure of that. 

Mac waited until dinner and dessert were done, then dropped his bombshell: “I have news.”

“Really? Wait, let me guess.” Avery’s eyes sparkled. He couldn’t tell if her lips were stained with makeup or wine. “You’re proposing.”

“No.”

“You’re cheating on me.”

“Jesus, no.”

“You have cancer.”

Avery.

“Sorry. Clearly, I’m not good at guessing. Is it good news or bad news?”

“Well,” Mac said. “It depends?” 

He took a breath. “First: this isn’t what I look like. I’ve been using advanced nanotechnology to change the shape of my face, the texture of my skin, the build of my body for years. It— wasn’t on purpose, exactly. The tech went haywire, and things got out of hand. Now, it only changes back when no one, including myself, is looking.”

Avery frowned. “I don’t get it. What’s the punchline?”

“No punchline. This is real.” He swallowed. “Think about quantum physics, right? Schrodinger’s cat? Everything exists with or without your knowledge, but when you look— then it changes. Your observation shifts the basis of reality. That’s what my disguise is doing. When people look, they see… this. But it’s not me.”

The waning candlelight cast a half-moon shadow across Avery’s face, obscuring her expression. “Who are you, then?”

“Extraterrestrial.” His mouth was dry. The word was paltry, insufficient. “Arcturan. I’m from a planet thirty-four light-years away, sent to observe and report on humanity as a potential threat.”

Avery was silent. 

“Take your time.” Mac looked down at his hands: sweaty palms, chipped nails, freckle on the left thumb. Undeniably human. Still foreign, after all these years. “It’s a lot to think about.”

“No,” Avery said, “I think I get it. It’s a metaphor, right? You don’t feel seen in your skin— society puts you in a box, or whatever— you’re coming out, aren’t you?”

“Avery,” Mac couldn’t meet her eyes. “I swear this is real.”

“I see.” He watched the idea settle, tension shifting across Avery’s thin frame. “How convenient, then, that your disguise exists only when I can’t see. Show me it’s real, Mac. Show me you’re real.”

“I will.” Mac rose from his seat, and turned out the lights. Avery blinked owlishly in the dark. 

“What are you doing?”

“Proving it’s true. Close your eyes.” Mac stood behind her chair. “Trust me, Avery. Please.”

Avery hesitated, then closed her eyes. Mac took her hand in his. In a moment— in a blink— they were two humans, ordinary, in love. 

Then he, too, closed his eyes. 

His disguise broke. 

His hand began to change.

 
About the Author: 
Avi is a first year at the University of Toronto, where he's studying theater and creative writing. He enjoys science despite being bad at it. His fiction can be found or is forthcoming in Podcastle, The Dread Machine, and Cast of Wonders.
Share this fiction

Quantum Theories: A to Z

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.

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.

J is for ...
Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics and is a technology to build qubits for quantum computers.

Q is for ...
Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

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.

L is for ...
Light

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!

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.

U is for ...
Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

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.

A is for ...
Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

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.

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!

A is for ...
Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

K is for ...
Kaon

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

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.

I is for ...
Interferometer

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

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.

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.

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 ...
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.

M is for ...
Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

S is for ...
Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ...
Key

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a way to create secure cryptographic keys, allowing for more secure communication.

M is for ...
Maths

Quantum physics is the study of nature at the very small. Mathematics is one language used to formalise or describe quantum phenomena.

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 

S is for ...
Superposition

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

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.

C is for ...
Clocks

The most precise clocks we have are atomic clocks which are powered by quantum mechanics. Besides keeping time, they can also let your smartphone know where you are.

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.

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.

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!

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.

G is for ...
Gluon

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

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 ...
Act of observation

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

U is for ...
Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

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.

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.

Q is for ...
Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

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.

I is for ...
Information

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

C is for ...
Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now. This column from Quanta Magazine ​delves into the fundamental physics behind quantum computing.

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.

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.

R is for ...
Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

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”.

Copyright © 2021 Centre for Quantum Technologies. All rights reserved.