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 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 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.’
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.