Two Lives Stretched Out Before Them

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** QUANTUM SHORTS 2023/2024: SHORTLISTED
 

 

The machine needed only two small drops of blood, one taken from each of them. They pressed cotton balls to the pads of their thumbs and watched the red smears on the glass turn brown.

"That’s it?” Elu asked.

“That’s it,” the tech confirmed.

“That wasn’t so bad.”

The tech made a noise of agreement, or maybe boredom.

Elu and Ilia were in a stark white room that might once have been a doctor’s office. A machine that looked a little bit like an old office photocopier stood in the middle of the room, whirring quietly as it considered their samples. A wide panel of glass affixed to the front had an etched circle on each end, letting the test subjects know where to press their bleeding thumbs. In the back corner of the room, a technician sat in a small booth that had been completely walled off with clear plexiglass, staring at a panel of instruments.

“You know, everybody acted like this test was the hardest thing they’d ever done,” said Elu. “Nobody said this was going to be easy.”

“Oh, the bleeding part is easy. It’s the next part everyone has trouble with,” replied the tech.

Although he was walled off with airtight plexiglass, the tech was dressed from nose to toes in protective paper gear. The eyes peeking out over the top of his mask were as sterile as the rest of him.

“What’s the next part?” Elu asked. He reached for Ilia’s hand.  

“Tell me what you think this test is for.”

Ilia spoke. “It’s a test to make sure we’re compatible. We have to prove that our genes combine well before they’ll let us have kids.”

“You’re about halfway right.”

“What’s the other half?” Elu asked.

“It’s a test of compatibility, but it’s not about children. It’s about everything.” The tech sounded as though he were reciting a script he had long since memorized. “Studies have shown that an incompatible partner has a lifelong negative impact on health and productivity. If you are incompatible, your relationship will end immediately. A crew will be dispatched to move one of you out of your shared apartment and into suitable alternate accommodations. Your access to dating communication channels will be restored at the conclusion of your post-test counselling.”

Elu spoke first. “You can’t do this!”

“Ending incompatible relationships is authorized under Social Welfare Code 94-A.”

“I mean how can you do this ethically? Morally?”

Ilia placed a hand on Elu’s shoulder. “Can you at least tell us how it works?”

“The machine behind you analyzes your DNA, and some other information about your health and stress levels. Then it sends that information to the quantum computer I’m sitting at. The computer will look at the likelihood of all possible outcomes for your relationship and make a final decision on your compatibility.”

“But how will it do that?” she asked.

“No one really knows.”

“But why do now, after two years?” Ilia asked. “Why not test our blood before we even meet?”

The tech cleared his throat. “Your odds of being compatible are constantly changing; everything you did after meeting moved the needle one way or the other. We have to take a final measurement at some point, and two years is optimal.”

Elu cut in. “A computer can’t make us break up.”

“You already are broken up,” said the tech. “At least, in a sense. So long as the computer is calculating, you are doomed to break up, and you are destined to live happily ever after. Both exist simultaneously. Each of you is two different people right now, with two different lives stretched out before you. We’ll know which is real when I check the results.”

Ilia considered this. “I don’t feel any different.”

“Nobody ever does,” said the tech. “I could dim the lights in here, if that would help sell it.”

“No thanks,” said Ilia.

And then Elu’s hand was gripping Ilia’s wrist and he was tugging her across the room, running for the door they had entered through with his hand outstretched.

It was locked.

“Sorry,” said the tech, as Elu rattled the knob. “You’d be surprised how often people try that. The door locked behind you when you entered. The only way out of here is through one of those.”

On the far side of the room were two identical grey steel doors with no visible knobs or means of opening.

“I read the results, but I’m not allowed to give them to you,” said the tech. “There’s a counsellor behind each door; one prepares couples for the next stage of commitment, the other helps couples process breakups. When the results come in, I will open the appropriate door.”

Elu stared at the tech. “Did they put plexiglass around you so nobody can punch you?”

“I think so, yes.”

The machine in the middle of the room beeped.

“Results are one minute out,” announced the tech.

 “Wait,” Ilia said.

The tech paused.

“Do the counsellors see the results?”

 “No. Only I see the results. When I open the door for you, I forward your file to the appropriate counsellor.”

“So you could just… send us through the forever door, couldn’t you? No one would ever know.”

The tech said nothing.

Ilia slipped an arm around Elu. “There is no version of me that does not belong with Elu, no matter what the results say. You told us that everything we do changes the probability of us ending up together. But your decisions affect that too. You could choose to help us.”

A red light blinked on in the corner booth, signalling the arrival of the final results. The tech stared at the screen in front of him for a long moment. He stared at Ilia, and then Elu. He stared at his screen again.

“Please,” said Ilia.

The tech said nothing.

The door to the left swung open.

About the Author: 
Janel Comeau is a writer, comedian, cartoonist, illustrator and youth worker hailing from Atlantic Canada. Her work has appeared in The Beaverton, Jenny Magazine, The Best New True Crime anthology series, and her own popular comedy blog, 'All Wit, No Brevity'.
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