Friday Flash Fiction: Quantum Cigars


Here goes. Feedback is welcome.

Quantum Cigars
By Neil Beynon

There was no sound. This was marginally disappointing but not unexpected. Simply changing the quantum frequency to allow his enhanced eyes a view of the multiverse was difficult enough; the power required astonishing. The artificial star he was using to do this pulsed within its containment field, or rather the artificial stars pulsed, counterparts visible, each slightly off centre with the other arcing into forever – a migraine inducing distortion. The seeker didn’t want to consider what would be required to allow sound.

The seeker looked round at his counterparts who had also made the journey. They filled the room, the building and even out into the town – as far as they could get from the distortion field before they vanished. In the process had he created dozens more that did not move? He knew that there were almost certainly counterparts that had not made the journey and counterparts for whom the experiment had failed. Had those counterparts always existed or would they have never existed if he had decided to explore the world of taxidermy instead? Mathematically he suspected they’d always existed but philosophers…well they always argued.

“We all know why we’re here: the experiment is reaching its final stages,” he wrote on the particle screen. “If our calculations have worked then one of us should be from the version of the multiverse closest to the edge. Please step forward.”

He waited. They waited.

After a few moments wrapped in eternity the seeker realised many of his counterparts were now pointing at the particle screen, or more accurately a version of the screen. Words danced onto the monitor, in the wake of one of his counterpart’s hands. The man flickered and sputtered underneath the strip lights as the star struggled to keep him visible.

A series of equations appeared on the screen that made the smarter counterparts smile while the slower ones just scratched their heads. Understanding settled on the seeker like a cold flannel to the back of his neck as his counterpart’s numbers unfolded.

The counterpart stopped writing and inserted something into the memory dock on the side of the particle screen. A kaleidoscope of colour faded into view, an image so garish and alien that it hurt to look at. Yet the seeker stared at it until the image was burned into the retina of his mind, until the colours began to make sense, to have shape, until he could make out multiple blobs of varying shapes, sizes, colours and textures.

Many of the mute audience clapped in silence. Others looked ready to throw themselves off the top of the laboratory, as if their world had collapsed in on itself as their collective hypothesis had. When the universe had been proven to be just one slice of the pie, one sliver of the real, they had invented a new word: multiverse. Once more, it seemed, a new word would be needed.

The seeker sat down, his face pale and tired. It was too much at his journey’s end. After all this time, all his work; the awards that lined one shelf of his office, the brother he hardly saw gazing down on him from the picture frame above his desk. Everything turned upside down and inside out within his mind. He fumbled with his top pocket, withdrew a cigar and unwrapped it with practiced ease; a billion seekers lit up in synchronicity ignoring the no smoking signs. A billion lungs abused.

Twenty-four years he’s been looking, a long time in search of the path. A huge amount of calculations, of hunting and of bashing particles against each other like rocks. An age creating new things to look at, new ideas and even newer things to understand why the old new things didn’t work as expected. Twenty-four years of toil, of an endless train of people who’d meandered their way through the lab and out again on their own journeys, travelling with him for a short while.

A billion of him glanced back at the screen. At the myriad of multiverses each with their own set of physical laws, distinct and unique, each with a different sub-set of possibilities. An eternity of roads down which to walk, a jamboree of journey.

A billion cigar-ends glowed amber in the shady light of the lab, sucked on by a billion mouths as the seeker felt something flicker and glow within him. A quantum haze of smoke filled the lab as the seeker walked to the device he spent his life building and slid the lever to off. The hum of the enslaved star dropped an octave. The seeker was alone. Yet he wasn’t. His brethren are still all around him, within and without; he just can’t see them anymore. He likes that thought, always has.

The seeker returned to his desk, scattering ash like breadcrumbs along his path. Gently he stubbed out his cigar and reached for a fresh sheet of paper, his other hand grabbing a pen. There’s no time to waste. And his last thought, before he starts on his new equations, is that he hopes his walking shoes are up to the journey.

Smiling to himself, he begins to write.

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