QUANTUM SHORTS 2013: SHORTLISTED, OPEN CATEGORY
How has it come to this? Tom asks himself. It's not the first time, and he hopes it won’t be the last. How has he ascended so quickly from amateurish free-running Glass clips to this: perched on the frame of an open window four miles up the tallest building in Greater Singapore, surrounded by hovering fly-eyes and potentiation engines, entrusting his life to millions of viewers who might on a whim let him fall instead of fly?
At one level, the answer is obvious. Fame, sex and money – probably in that order, if he’s honest with himself. Quanting has made him a household name. It’s ensured that he’s never cold in bed. And it’s made him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams – or, if he were to be honest for an uncharacteristic second time, beyond some of his wildest dreams. Because he’d never have got here in the first place if it wasn’t for his unbridled ambition.
A potentiation engine drifts up towards his face. Tom can't shake the feeling it’s looking at him, even though it has no eyes. No senses of any sort, in fact. Its only function, when the moment comes, will be to translate the audience's mass sentiment about his fate into a wave function collapse. The entangled control circuit in the hover-pack on his back will cut in or out accordingly.
Fly or fall.
There are cameras, of course, stationed much too far away for him to make out with his unaided vision. The unseen observers who will decide his fate. He gives them a cocky grin, hoping they’re picking up his good side. Then he lets the mask crack a bit, shows a bit of nervousness. The punters can tell more directly how he's feeling if they want, of course; fans can tap into the wetlink from his brain whenever they like. But theatrics are still important. The physics is predictable; the audience is not. He needs the casuals and channel surfers to vote him up, as well as his base.
The nervousness is right there below the surface, to his surprise: he generally trades off unassailable confidence. Maybe he’s scared of heights in a way that he hadn’t been of sharks. Or getting shot. Or being buried alive.
Or maybe he’s becoming scared of the audience.
His base will look after him. Won't they? The tabloids have been dishing it more than usual recently. Enough to turn his fans against him? He doesn't think so. But for the hundredth time in his career, he strains pointlessly to assess the flux of all those viewers’ attentions, refined and focused on him, deciding his fate. Their quantum mechanical warp and weft.
Fly? Or fall?
Or fail. As ever, there’s nothing to stop him just walking away. But no-one does that when they’re at the top. It's rumoured that some of the first wave of quanters switched in clones late in their careers, and Tom has seen enough to think there’s some truth to that. But you can’t chance that kind of fakery when you've got the rep Tom has. Just need to keep your spirits up. Make sure your assurance doesn’t crack, but you don’t get over-confident either. It’s a fine balance.
A tricky balance to maintain, when the network, the viewers and the agents are all crying out for you to outdo yourself. Last sweeps season, Tom had gone for a near straight Schrödinger: the box, the poison, the decaying atom. He’d drawn critical flak for playing it safe, but at least he’d lived to play another day. Unlike some of his rivals, who'd failed in their daring bids to snatch ratings. Failed to get mindshare, failed to raise potential.
Or to put it another way, who'd burned when an indolent audience failed to snuff out a human torch.
Beheaded when too many inattentive viewers skipped sides, rather than jamming the guillotine.
Drowned when they decided they couldn't wait for the unpicking of the lock.
Tom shakes his head. Best not to think about it. Best to just put it out of his mind. Assume the crowd's on your side, that they don’t want to see you fail. Everyone loves a winner, and Tom has been winning for a long time.
Well, he’ll find out soon enough.
The wind is strengthening, and he shudders briefly. It’s not really cold - he’s wearing thermals and there's warm air blowing out of the deserted building - a whole skyscraper emptied just for him - but he feels chilled anyway.
Perhaps it really is time to give up, he thinks. Perhaps this really should be the last time.
But then he always thinks that, and yet here he is again.
It’s time to unclip his harness. He takes a deep breath, looks ahead, to the horizon. He knows there will be a camera directly ahead, somewhere at the vanishing point, but doesn’t try to pin-point it. It’ll find him.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” he says. “In just a moment, I’m going to unclip the harness holding me to this building. When I do, I will either float gently to Earth – or plummet like a stone.”
As usual, he tries to sound disinterested, while subtly placing greater stress on the former possibility. Audiences don’t like being told what to think. But it's his final opportunity to influence the outcome.
“It’s up to you,” he says. He waits, imagining the tension rising in the unseen audience, waiting for it to peak.
“My life is in your hands. In your minds.”
Time to make his exit.
“Fly?” he says. "Or fall?"