The Treatment

Your rating: None
No votes yet

A pool of light pours from the cafe’s plate glass window over the wet cobbles. It’s familiar territory but I still hesitate, thinking of yesterday. My thumb runs along the folded edge of the note in my pocket.
              I need to talk to you about a murder. Your usual cafe. 7pm
              A murder. I’m not homicide. And I don’t know any Erica. So why did I come? I curse my own foolishness and march through the puddles to the cafe door. It utters its usual piercing squeal as I push it open then I’m bathed in the smell of coffee and the muted sounds of light jazz.
              My usual table is occupied by a lone female with her face buried in her phone. In the far corner another has her back to me but watches in the big mirror on the back wall.
              Erica. No question. How do I know that?
              I slip my coat off and weave my way between the empty tables. By the time I get to her she’s standing facing me. She reaches out, I think she’s about to pull me into an embrace, but she stops short. Her hands brush my sides as she leans forward to give me a light kiss on the cheek. I feel the weight of the Glock under my jacket shift with her touch. For all the ways this feels odd I’m not disturbed by the familiarity.
              A faint smile crosses her face. ‘Thanks for coming,’ she says, and sits. I squeeze behind the low table to sit with my back to the mirrored wall. Marek looms over us with his tray. ‘Capuccino,’ he says, placing the mug of froth in front of Erica, ‘and a macchiato.’ He’s gone before I can say thanks.
              Macchiato. I’ve been coming here three years and Marek always has to ask what I want. She must have ordered it.
              Now I really look at her. Fair hair cut in a bob, green eyes, pert nose, wide mouth. Not a classic beauty, but compelling. And I have definitely never seen her before in my life. I would remember.
              I drop the note on the table. ‘So who’s the victim?’
              ‘Mostly it’s me,’ she says. A strand of fine pale hair falls across her cheek. ’and my boyfriend. Sometimes, it’s my ex, Dan.’
              Either she’s crazy or she’s had the quantum link treatment. She doesn’t look crazy but you can’t always tell. ‘Hugh Everett has a lot to answer for,’ I say.
              She leans towards me. ‘Everett didn’t make the many worlds, he just said they’re a consequence of quantum theory. You could blame Penrose for suggesting consciousness is rooted in the quantum world. Neither one invented the treatment.’
              That fits with what I’ve read. ‘Who was the victim in this world?’
              ‘No-one yet.’ She sips her coffee.
              I ease back in my seat. ‘What can I do? No jurisdiction.’
              ‘I know.’
              I don’t know where this is going, but I have to say something, just so I can keep looking at her. ‘How does it feel, living all those different lives?’
              ‘The treatment opens a door that’s already ajar.’ She gestures as she talks, lively graceful hands. ‘You’re already entangled with all your other selves. Did you ever see a face for the first time, but it’s already familiar?’
              I’m looking at one.
              ‘Or you wake up in the night with an inexplicable feeling of loss and you phone your sister to see she’s OK?’
              ‘Her flight was delayed.’ I say. ‘Technical problems.’ Many worlds. Does Erica know what happened in some other version of reality? I don’t dare ask.
              She folds her hands in her lap. ‘Yesterday you were in this cafe.’
              Yesterday. I couldn’t breathe. My chest, my throat had tightened like steel bands. No reason for it. A panic attack? Me? I glance over to where I’d been sitting; phone lady is leaving, the cafe door squeals as she pulls it open. I take a deep breath.
              Erica looks up at me. ‘Every world where I’ve had the treatment is part of me. I live so many lives. With such freedoms.’
              Confusion shakes me from my fright. Freedoms? She glances at her watch, then up at the mirror behind me.
              ‘Freedoms,’ she says, though I never asked, ‘because there are no more hard decisions. Who do I want to be with? I could become a nun, climb Everest, learn Sanskrit. I can do them all each in a different reality. Every possible future is real.’
              She falls silent and looks down at her hand, flexing her fingers and studying her nails.
              ‘But?’ I say.
              She sighs. ‘My ex had the treatment too.’
              ‘What happened?’
              She meets my eyes again. ‘It wasn’t working. I started seeing someone else in a few worlds, but Dan caught us. He’s crazy jealous, he’s hunting us down everywhere.’
              I relax a little. ‘You need a safe place to hide while we figure this out.’
              She reaches out and takes my hand, interlocking her fingers with mine. ‘You don’t understand. There are many many more worlds than there are places we might hide. He could knock on every door of every house on Earth a million times over. And he will if he has to.’
              I’m staring at the hand that’s holding mine. It feels like it belongs there. Pieces fall into place: a murder, yesterday, here.
              She reaches out to stroke my cheek. ‘Dan doesn’t care that you never met me before. If there’s one world where he knows we’re here today, then he knows in this one. He’s coming, you have to be ready.’
              Tears form in the corners of her eyes. ‘Things used to be so simple.’
              A shadow moves in the darkness beyond the window. It is simple. The Glock is in my hand before the cafe door squeals.
              I remember her words: every possible future is real.

About the Author: 
Retired from real work, kids grown up. Time to pursue some dreams, learn new skills, like writing. As yet unpublished, but I'm working on it,.
Share this fiction

Quantum Theories: A to Z

C is for ...

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.

A is for ...

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

R is for ...

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 ...

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

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.

Q is for ...

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.

L is for ...

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!

D is for ...

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.

I is for ...

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

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.

G is for ...

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

N is for ...

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.

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.

C is for ...

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

M is for ...

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

W is for ...

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.

T is for ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. This doesn’t seem to follow the laws of physics which work the same going forward or backward in time. Some physicists argue that there is a more fundamental quantum source for the arrow of time.

E is for ...

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.

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.

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!

K is for ...

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

K is for ...

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

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.

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.

X is for ...

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.

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.

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.

P is for ...

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.

S is for ...

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

U is for ...

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

T is for ...

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.

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.

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.

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.

T is for ...

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.

G is for ...

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

C is for ...

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

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.

S is for ...

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

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.

M is for ...

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.

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.

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”.

R is for ...

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

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 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.

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.

I is for ...

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

Copyright © 2020 Centre for Quantum Technologies. All rights reserved.