A short science fiction tale by Alan
It all started at that cheap beauty salon, interestingly enough. I have little memory of the Entire day itself; it was so long ago. I was, what, fourteen at the time? But I can still vividly remember the visit to the salon. I was with my mother that afternoon, who was on one of her regular “beauty tune-up” rounds. The beauty salon itself was nothing special; a small hole-in-the-wall place, with two rows of four workstations spaced evenly on either side from the entrance. It was populated with surgical mask-wearing Asian ladies, all methodically focused on the fingernails of their customers. No… what was interesting about the place – to my fourteen-year-old mind, at least – was the walls.
Each wall on both sides from the entrance was covered in one huge mirror from floor-to-ceiling, and to the back of the salon. And since these mirrors paralleled each other, they naturally produced a sequence of reflections that appeared to disappear into the distance. The mirrored reflections of the salon went on to infinity, it seemed. I was mesmerized by the reflections. I sat there and watched as the movements of the employees were reflected countless times through both mirrors like a perfectly trained marching band.
It was on this particular afternoon that I witnessed something which produced such dread in me that it still haunts me to this day. For as I sat there in a chair next to my mother, lost in the mirror… I noticed something strange. I noticed on the fourth repeated reflection down the sequence… a pencil, a pencil on the worktable at which my mother was having her nails done. A pencil that was absent in all the other reflections, and absent right in front of me on the table itself. I felt my stomach drop sickeningly. I stared and stared for one long, breathless moment. I gripped the armrest. I stared at the reflection of a pencil in the mirror, a pencil that existed nowhere else. I had never felt such dread in my life. But by the time it occurred to me to open my mouth and say something to my mother, another employee stop by and placed a pencil exactly where the one in the reflection was. When I quickly look back at the mirror, all the reflections now had a pencil. Was I going insane at fourteen?! I couldn’t begin to understand what I saw. With my heart pounding in my chest and my mind racing with thoughts, something in me changed that afternoon. I decided to keep it to myself until I understood more, because I knew at that moment… that I would not rest until I understood this.
Little did I know that this would set me on a course that would lead me to unravel the very nature of reality itself.
Richard Faraday was my most promising undergraduate and he was late yet again. It was ironic that once self-driving cars were officialized five years ago – back in 2034 – they made being late worse. Once in the car, arrival times were virtually guaranteed – no more pesky traffic – it was getting in the car that became the new problem. Humans loved to replace old problems with new ones.
Drone cars or not, I needed Richard in the lab half an hour ago. Today was the day it finally went online; my grand design, what I had been working on for over twenty years, and what would help me prove that I wasn’t “Alex in Wonderland” as some of my more cynical colleagues like to call me.
Richard himself had named it; M.I.R.R.O.R.E.D.D. – much easier to remember than “Multi-Interference Radiation Resonance Optical Reality Entangled Dimension Detector.” Yet here I was pacing back and forth, checking and rechecking all the complex machinery systems while I waited for him. It wasn’t that he wasn’t as passionate about my project as I was – he’s an absolute genius, especially in the field of quantum chromodynamics – but like all geniuses, he has his quirks. Feynman drew sketches of naked women, Einstein forgot birthdays, and Richard was always late. Not that I could really complain of course. Apart from Richard’s needed brainpower, his father was the person funding my project. You were rich indeed when you didn’t mind blowing one billion dollars on some esoteric science experiment.
Most of the systems appeared in perfect order when the door finally opened and Richard stepped into the lab – slightly out of breath after running from the campus parking lot – no doubt.
“Sorry I’m late Dr. Green! Forgot to feed the cat and had to double-back home,” he said as he placed his pack and his tablet on the side table and walk straight to the coffee pot.
“Cat this time, huh? Well s’not like anyone can use the ‘traffic jam’ excuse anymore, right?” I said with a wry grin as I adjusted the primary waveplate on the console.
“Ha. Ha.” Richard replied dryly, taking a sip of coffee and walking back to his tablet.
“And quit it with this ‘Dr.’ business! Makes me feel old…” I said, still fiddling with the waveplate console. Richard sat on the table.
“One, you are old. Two, I need to call someone ‘Dr.’ in my life. Three, you are a ‘Dr.’ and four…” at that, he looked down at his tablet and began tapping the screen rapidly for a moment, “you’re doing that the old fashioned way,” he finished.
I glanced over at the primary waveplate read out. It was now perfectly calibrated to the barium borate crystal.
“Five. But this is exactly why I need you to be on time; that waveplate could have been calibrated half an hour ago! And what’s the difference between calibrating on the console versus on the tablet, anyway?” I asked, as I walked away from the console for a third cup of coffee.
“Dunno. Faster, and looks cooler too, I guess,” he said, shrugging. I chuckled and took a sip of a steaming hot coffee.
“Well listen up, Mr. Cool Guy. We still need to upload the amplituhedron matrices and then make sure that the photons are downconverting before we begin severing the streams,” I said.
“So are we going ahead with type one downcon, or type two?” asked Richard.
“I tripled checked the math last night and I’m pretty sure type one will give us the results, otherwise were gonna have to reboot the Bohr manifold before we start again,” I sighed.
“But that would take another week! Can’t we just run it without the manifold?” complained Richard.
“I said I’m pretty sure it will work! It’s like a ‘yes’ in science talk! And I’ve told you already the system would be far too unstable without the Bohr manifold. Besides it’s not like you’ve got anything special planned for this weekend,” I said.
At that, Richard looked down and smiled oddly. “Well, actually I uh… I finally asked Liz out on a date…” he said. I stared at him with wide eyes, shocked.
“What? Really? Well at last! Congratulations, Richard!” I said, genuinely happy for him. And I patted his back as he continued smiling stupidly at the floor.
“Yeah…” was all his grinning face could manage to say.
We spent the rest of the morning ensuring everything was in perfect order; meticulously jotting down everything we did – and didn’t do – in our lab manual as we went. It was right before lunchtime that we were paid a very unwelcomed visit from Dr. Christopher Penrose – theoretical physicist – and greatest cynic of my project. It was ironic then, that my experiment could not have been made possible without the knowledge of Chris, who was a leading expert in the new field of subatomic scale black hole generation. Well, ironic to those unfamiliar with the science, but in science that’s how these things go…
“Dr. Wonderland! I thought I’d stop by real quick to see how your mirror funhouse was coming along! I’m heading out for a bite to eat,” he added, glancing over at Richard as if he cared.
“Chris… cut that bullshit out already! If you’re not inviting us to some lunch, then I’m sorry, but we’re really busy right now,” I said moodily as I looked up from my tablet. But at the words ‘invite’ and ‘lunch’, Richard had looked up as well.
“Gee! Talk about hospitality! A guy comes over wanting to help and this is the kind of reception he gets?” replied Chris, putting his hands in his pockets and looking from me to Richard. When he didn’t get a response, he continued.
“I got your e-mail last night, Alex. Type one deconversion has to work. Checked the math five times. As for the rest of your little experiment, not so sure…” he said, more businesslike but still with a hint of condescension. I felt like a jerk! How could I have forgotten that I asked him for some help?
“Uh, thanks for checking,” I replied lamely.
“Well, let me know when the experiment fails and you realize you’ve wasted your whole adult life,” he sighed, speaking as if he were trying to reason with a small child who is about to touch a hot pan. Before we could say anything else, Chris strolled out of the lab.
“Well, that went better than usual. Could use a burger right about now, though…” said Richard, and he went back to his work.
I figured I should be more than patient with Chris. After all, it was I who received funding for my project from Richard’s father, when Chris had been asking him for funding a lot longer than I had. And his experiment had the virtue of at least being “mainstream”, whereas mine – to say the least – was more than fringe. So I could forgive Chris for thinking that my project was nuts. Insane. Bonkers.
Because it was.
The genesis for the M.I.R.R.O.R.E.D.D. project was, of course, the beauty salon ‘incident’ all those years ago. After a brief period of nightmares, and a phobia of mirrors, I had decided to try to figure out what I had seen. I began the “experiments” at home. I would take two of my mother’s large hand mirrors, take them to my room, prop them up facing each other and I’d sit between them, sometimes for what seemed hours on end. Staring at my reflections, I never saw anything out of the ordinary. The only time I could say that I might have seen something was during one of my “blinking sessions”. I would look at myself in the mirror, close my eyes, then randomly open them. I could have sworn I once saw my second reflection in the sequence lag in opening his eyes.
His eyes. Yeah. I had begun – even at fourteen – to imagine my reflections not as me… but as alternate reality versions of me. But what did it mean? How? Why? The need to understand was just too overpowering. So I began reading all I could about mirrors. That led me to optics. Then to light, and thus to quantum physics.
It was how I stumbled upon the legendary physicist Richard Feynman and his “sum-over-histories” interpretation of a curious physics experiment that has puzzled the greatest minds to this day. The experiment is commonly known as “the double-slit experiment”, or “the interference pattern experiments”. In short the problem was this; most scientists thought of light as being made up of countless subatomic particles called “photons”. But some scientists disagreed. These scientists said light was not made up of particles, but of waves. So an experiment was designed to settle the issue once and for all.
In a room shielded from outside light, scientists placed a light source on one end of the room, and a photographic plate on the wall at the other end of the room. But they also placed a makeshift wall barrier in the middle of the room. The barrier had two slit openings along the middle, like a number eleven. The light source would be turned on, and the photographic plate would leave marks of where the light hit. Naturally, one would reason that the photographic plate would have an eleven figure mark on it since light could only pass the barrier through the two slits in the middle barrier. So when the scientists ran the test, they were shocked to find not an eleven figure on the photographic plate, but what looked like barcode marks, only evenly spaced out. Light had to be made of waves to leave an interference pattern like that. Waves, interacting with each other, could cancel each other out or make themselves “stronger”. This is what produced the barcode-like pattern, instead of an eleven figure. But some of the scientists continued to insist that the light was made up of individual photons. In a way, they were also right. A bright light source is countless photons shooting out, but a faint light source is few photons shooting out. By making a light source the faintest possible, it was like one single photon was shooting out at a time. This the scientist did, shooting one single photon through either slit, one at a time. They reasoned that since the photons were alone, the interference pattern could now not form, since waves needed to interact with other waves to form the pattern. So they were utterly dismayed to find the barcode-like interference pattern on the photographic plate at the end of the test! Clearly, light was acting very strangely, for, if each photon went through all by itself, just what were these photons interacting with, to still form the interference pattern? It was Richard Feynman and others who gave the strange explanation that maybe the lone photons were are interacting with other photons from parallel universes.
For me it was more than enough inspiration to power me through years of schooling, mastering what I needed to master.
And the rest is history.
“Intermediate defraction lenses two and four are synced. We’re all set,” said Richard, glancing over at me for approval. I nodded, and began to feel jitters such as I had not felt since my simple hand mirror experiments of my youth. First, we moved over to a table that had winter gear splayed out. This was necessary, since The Room we were about to enter was kept very cold. Once dressed, we grabbed our tablets and headed across the lab housing all the complex and intricate machinery and electronics that made this experiment possible. At the end of the lab was a large metal door that insulated The Room. I opened it, and we stepped into The Room, the door hissing shut behind us.
The Room was rectangular; thirty feet by fifteen feet, with each of the thirty foot walls being covered in one large seamless mirror, floor to ceiling, front to back. Together, they produce the infinite mirrored copies of The Room that we needed. The only other equipment in The Room was the entangled photon emitter array, already attached to the middle of the ceiling, and a wooden table. On the table was an assortment of objects, most of them mundane; a coffee mug, a plastic plant, a Rubik’s Cube, and of course, some pencils. There was also a miniature boxed-in version of the double-slit experiment. But this one was linked to our tablets to view the results instantly. The Room itself was shielded with thick walls of concrete and metal plating that would deflect all outside electromagnetic radiation. And it was cold – hence the winter wear. All this was necessary to allow the entangled photon emitter array to do its job.
The idea was simple. On paper – complex beyond belief. And in practice – damn near impossible. Since two photons of light could be entangled to behave like one pair – what happened to one, instantly happened to the other – and microscopic black holes could be “portals” to parallel universes, then my gambit was to entangle photons into pairs, create a stream of these tiny black holes, send one photon of each pair into the stream of black holes while the second photon of each the pair was sent to the entangled photon emitter array to light up The Room.
Now, since these photons lighting up The Room were still entangled to their pairs that went into the black holes, they would behave like they were in multiple universes. Thus our mirrors would reveal these parallel realities. This was my brainchild.
However, nature didn’t seem to want us to see these parallel realities. Apart from the difficulty of creating microscopic black holes – they didn’t start devouring the lab and the Earth because they were so short-lived and the Bohr manifold helped contain them – regular un-entangled light didn’t cut it to reveal these universes. This is why we had to “coax” photons in our test. But even with regular light, the laws of quantum physics dictate that if you are astoundingly lucky – like I was at fourteen – you might just notice of variation in a mirror one day. Our coaxing of the light only made the chances better.
It was time to test my sanity.
“I’m shivering, Dr. Greene! And it’s got nothing to do with this cold!” said Richard as he paced around The Room.
“I know what you mean. But c’mon, get it ready,” I replied. Indeed, the jitters I was now feeling were nauseating. Richard began tapping on his tablet. This was it. This was finally it. My heart pounded in my chest. The ordinary light that the entangled photon emitter array was currently shining began to slowly fade. The Room went dark as Richard and I stood watching the mirrored walls as our reflections disappeared into pitch black. The darkness was suffocating.
In an instant there was light again, but this time it was tinted blue-greenish. We stared at all our reflections. Everything looked absolutely identical. I could see Richard’s shoulders dropping ever so slightly in all his reflections. My eyes darted back and forth as I took everything in, trying to find any hints that these mirror reflections were parallel universes.
“Maybe something went wrong with one of the systems…” said Richard, more to himself than to me, as he checked his tablet. Meanwhile, I went to the table and checked all the objects. All the same; it was all exactly the same. I went over to the double-slit box.
“We’re going to have to run the interference pattern test,” I said as I opened the program on my tablet. I wasn’t going to lose hope, not now.
This modified version of the test would shoot only one photon through either slit. Just one. The tablet would show exactly where it hit. Simply put, by facing the tablet screen to the mirror we could see all the results in these parallel universes. If all the screens showed the photon hitting the same spot, then the photons were not interacting with these parallel universes… if they even were parallel and not just ordinary reflections. But if all the screens showed that each photon hit a different spot, then the photons were interacting and they were trying to create the interference pattern. Parallel universes would be real. I’d be vindicated.
I finished setting up and poised my finger over the tablet’s screen. Richard and I looked at each other. “Well, here goes nothing.” After a moment, the image loaded up on both our tablets. Richard faced his tablet’s screen to the mirror so that he could see the results in all the reflections. I approached the mirror as I held my breath.
“They’re… they’re all the same…” said Richard slowly. My heart began to drop. I looked at the reflections in disbelief. I was dazed. Was Chris right? Had I wasted my life? I stared at Richard’s reflection, at a complete loss… and that’s when I saw it!
“Wait. Wait!!” I shouted, as Richard had begun to lower his arms.
“What? What’s wrong?” he replied, bringing his arms back up again.
“Look! At your wrist – I – your watch!” I stammered, pointing at the old fashioned analogue watch sticking out of his sweater’s sleeve. It was the kind with little hands and twelve hours going around. Richard stared at the mirrored watch, his eyes widening.
“Holy… SHIT!!” he blurted out.
The watch in the mirror had thirteen hours.
The next few months were a blur. Not only was I able to convince all my colleagues of my sanity – Chris: “No. Fucking. Way. Alex… You were right!” as he looked at his own watch in the mirror – but after Richard and I published our findings with our procedures, we soon got word that a laboratory at the University of Tokyo had quickly set up – and replicated – M.I.R.R.O.R.E.D.D., and they confirmed our findings.
Meanwhile, Richard and I, along with our newest member to the team, Chris, were working hard to figure out why the double-slit experiment didn’t work. It was the only thing that didn’t make sense.
“What I don’t understand,” began Chris, as we stood in front of the dry erase board in our lab, “is if these mirrored images of us are actually other versions of ourselves in other universes, then why do they move exactly like we do and at exactly the same time? Like a regular mirror works? Shouldn’t our reflections be moving independent of us?”
“You have to remember the nature of infinity,” I said.
“It’s not a number…” said Chris, nodding.
“Precisely. If we think of infinity as a concept, it’s easier to see that because of its very nature, infinity allows anything that can logically happen to happen,” I said. Richard moved forward.
“This means that there are an infinite set of universes where history plays out exactly the same,” said Richard.
“Yes,” I replied. “And if you minus infinity from infinity, you still have infinity left. So there are also infinite universes were history plays out slightly differently, very differently, to everything in between,” I finished. Chris thought for one long moment. Having him as a friend and not as an enemy was turning out to be more useful than I imagined. His knowledge as a theoretical physicist was invaluable.
“Then clearly not all universes are coupled at some fundamental level… for the double-slit test not to work,” he said at length.
“I think that the wavelength energies we’ve been using show us a subset of infinite universes that are not coupled to ours,” said Richard, making me proud of my undergraduate’s reasoning skill.
“That means we need to figure out which wavelength energies correspond to our universe to see the parallel universes we’re coupled to,” I said.
“I can find that,” replied Chris, and he went to the board and began scribbling complicated equations, as Richard and I began prepping M.I.R.R.O.R.E.D.D. anew… the three of us on a quest to understand existence itself.
Needless to say, it wasn’t easy, but armed with the data from our first run with The Room – plugging that knowledge into our equations – and only after countless days of complex mathematics, did we begin to get answers. And we were astounded.
The mathematics governing the interactions between our entangled photons and microscopic black holes, when solved for the wavelength energies we were looking for, not only gave us the energies we needed… it gave us everything. We had noticed that some of the solutions looked awfully like Einstein’s Relativity theories, but slightly different. It was then that it dawned on us the discovery we had made. We had inadvertently connected the theories of gravity with quantum physics. We had discovered the Theory of Everything!
The mathematics was beautiful, elegant. It explained it all. We realized that everything could be explained in terms of space and time and nothing else. Matter, energy, the fundamental forces of nature… it was all manifestations of how space and time was shaped at the tiniest of levels. It was all geometry.
“I… I need to look at all this in my office. There’s still so much to see here,” said Chris hoarsely. We had spent minutes screaming and cheering like animals.
“Great. Richard and I are going back into The Room, now that we have the correct wavelengths to use. Chris gathered up all the papers and left.
“That was incredible! Are things always this exciting in physics?” asked Richard as we began putting on the winter gear.
“You bet they’re not,” I replied. “That was a once in a lifetime event, kid,” I added.
“Why do I get the feeling that it won’t be?” he asked.
“Because that, my friend, would be incredible indeed,” I answered, and we stepped into The Room.
Once in The Room, we quickly went down the checklist to make sure everything was in order. The fusion reactor required for the tremendous energies needed for the black hole generation was humming like a kitten. We checked the double-slit test box, and once we were confident that everything was a go, I signaled Richard to activate the entangled photon emitter array. We faced the mirror. The Room began to fade. Complete darkness.
Crimson red. With a flash, we were bathed in deep red light. When our eyes adjusted and we saw the reflections, we nearly jumped out of our skins!
Our first reflection in the mirror… they were not standing in front of us. They were off to the side. The second reflection of us in the series was also standing somewhere else. The third, too. But after that, The Rooms were empty. Only the first three reflections in the scenes had us standing in The Room. The rest were empty. I squinted my eyes; the farthest reflection showed what looked like a black screen with tiny dots. There were no reflections after that. It terminated.
“What… the fuck is going on?” whispered Richard, approaching the mirror as his three reflections did the same… only moving slightly differently. The more we stared, the more differences we noticed in them. I was bald in the third reflection. Richard had different hair styles in all three, and all wore different winter wear. But the things that made my hairs stand were the empty Rooms. And now that my eyes were more adjusted to the dim crimson light, I noticed that the fourth Room – the first empty Room – looked… rusted. All the Rooms after that looked increasingly rusted, decayed.
“How can we… be coupled to these universes?” I asked in wonder. My heart was beating hard. I didn’t like the look of all this.
“Let’s run the slit experiment, maybe we’re not,” said Richard, still staring at the reflections. After a few minutes, we were ready to run the test. If the photons all hit the same spot, we were not part of these universes. If the photons all hit different spots… we weren’t sure what to make of all this.
I tapped on the screen. The wait for the image felt eternal. Once uploaded, Richard faced his tablet to the mirror. Breathing shakily, I walked to Richard’s reflection, which was standing away from him.
“The photon hit a different spot… our universe is coupled to… these…” I said slowly.
A loud metallic bang made us jump in the air. It was the door.
“Alex!” came a muffled shout.
“Alex… you guys need to come out now. We’ve got a huge problem…” he said.
“You’re not going to like this. No one’s going to like this,” said Chris as he led us to the dry erase board in the lab. Richard and I frantically took off our winter gear. Chris had the equation papers we had been working on, and he had bags under his eyes.
“Well, you’re not going to like what we just saw,” I said, as I pulled off my beanie.
“Let me guess, you saw the End of the Universe,” Chris said wearily.
“Wait – what?!” Richard jumped in.
“We… we saw mostly empty rooms. They were rusting,” I said, and then showed Chris the video playback. By zooming into the black screen at the end with the dots, we could now see that it was the Milky Way Galaxy. The earth was gone, and the stars were slowly winking out of existence, one by one.
“It’s The End. Alex, our universe is dying,” said Chris. At this, Richard put his hands on his mouth. For the first time ever, I saw Richard as a vulnerable twenty year-old – a boy – and not the fantastic genius I had known. For some reason, Richard’s actions made me more afraid than Chris’s words.
“But… how do you know?” asked Richard, almost in a whisper.
“By using the Theory of Everything, of course, said Chris. He erased the board and began scribbling equations as he continued. “In a nutshell, the equations say that each Universe in Existence is a pinpoint of Reality. The way these pinpoints are twisted up geometrically determines their properties,” he said hurriedly.
So our universe is one big particle?” I asked.
“Somewhat. They behave like particles in the sense that they can be entangled like photons. But unlike photons, infinite groups of universes can be entangled. We just happen to be entangled to this group of universes,” and Chris wrote one last line of math on the board.
Richard stepped forward and read the equation, “But… but this means that the proton – all of matter – it has a decay lifetime of thirteen point seventy-two billion years! God! That’s the current age of our universe!” exclaimed Richard.
“How much time do we have?” I asked Chris.
“I’ve… calculated to the second,” he said, as he consulted the countdown timer on his tablet. “We have seven hours, three minutes, and twenty-six seconds… now. Then the universe ends…”
“Who else knows?” I asked.
“No one, yet. But if Tokyo figures it out, all hell breaks loose in the next seven hours,” said Chris.
“What are we going to do?!” exclaimed Richard.
“What can we do?” I replied tiredly, already defeated.
“If this is a fundamental aspect of our universe, Richard, I don’t think there’s anything we can do,” said Chris sadly.
“There has to be something! We have seven hours to figure something out! We need to start now!” Richard shot back hotly. Chris and I looked at each other. The sound of Richard’s conviction sparked the tiniest ember of hope in me.
“You said that all universes are pinpoints of Reality. Can the equations reveal the properties of other universes that aren’t coupled to ours?” he asked Chris.
“Yes. The equations reveal everything. The first set of infinite universes that you two saw a month ago corresponded to universes where the proton decay is in the order of ten to the nineteenth power years or so. Those universes will exist near indefinitely, compared to our short lives,” replied Chris.
At this, Richard stopped talking and stared at the board for one of the seven hours we had left. Chris and I would help him here and there with some math, but mostly he thought. I was beginning to lose that tiniest of hopes when we entered our second hour. Yet it was a testament to our loyalty to Richard that Chris and I didn’t just leave him there to be with our families one last time. But just when I was about to say something, Richard got our attention again.
“Wait! I think… but…” he looked at Chris, “Your theory of black hole generation…” he began.
“Yes? What about it?” Chris asked expectantly.
“Could we theoretically create a black hole as a portal to our universe?” asked Richard.
“Well… yes. But what would be the point of that?” asked Chris. Richard looked from Chris to me.
“We can decouple our universe from these universes that are ending and couple it to the ones where they don’t end,” said Richard.
“Entanglement? Of our entire universe?” I asked in awe.
“Yes. We create a black hole that’s a gateway to our universe, and another that’s a gateway to one of the universes that doesn’t end… and then we entangle these black holes,” he finished.
“But that would mean creating two microscopic black holes that would last long enough to entangle them. Alex, is that possible with your machine?” asked Chris, and you could hear the building excitement in his voice.
“I… I think, yes,” I said after a moment’s thought. “But we’d have to reconfigure the machine drastically. And… we’d have to reboot the Bohr manifold…” I finished, looking at Richard.
“But that’ll take a week!” he said.
“Can we do without it?” asked Chris.
“I… I think. But it would make the black holes unstable. They could grow beyond the critical size and swallow us up,” I said.
“How much time is needed to entangle them, Richard?” asked Chris.
“Ten seconds,” he said.
“How much time do we have left?” I asked Chris.
“We have … four hours, fifty minutes and eleven seconds,” he said, looking at his tablet. The three of us stared at each other for half a second. We burst into action, running back and forth across the lab as I shouted instructions.
The minutes, then the precious few hours ticked on faster than I had ever wished in my existence. But we worked faster than I think any of us had ever worked in our lives. I wish I could say I kept thinking about my family, or something noble; the reality was that the sheer fright of death, along with this level of concentration, drove me to move and work like I had never done before. Before I knew it, Chris announced the dreaded words.
“We have one minute left!”
“Shit! I still need more lines of coding before we can initiate!” I shouted from my laptop as I typed away furiously.
“Alex, you need to hurry!” Chris replied desperately.
“No shit, Chris!” I shot back.
“Alex. This might be a horrible time to tell you this, but I lied about having a cat. I don’t have a cat,” said Richard.
“In any other situation, Richard,” I said as I typed so fast my fingers hurt, “I would have laughed. But I already knew you were lying,” and I laughed in spite of myself.
“If you two are done making peace… there are twenty seconds left,” said Chris in a voice I never wanted to hear come out of him again. My heart pounding, I neared the last lines of coding at lighting speed. We needed a total of ten seconds for the two black holes to entangle and I was eating them up.
“Eleven seconds!!” cried Chris.
“SHIT!” I hit enter.
“TEN!” shouted Chris.
The machine hummed furiously as the two black holes were generated.
The black hole chamber vibrated and shook so violently that a fissure cracked open across the floor, causing Richard to jump out of the way.
The very earth began to shake.
The black holes inside the chamber began to orbit each other at monstrous speeds.
We could SEE space warping as the two black holes emanated gravitational waves.
The terrifying roar of the fusion reactors reached their peak as they prepared to send their tremendous energies needed for entanglement.
“Fuck!” shouted Richard.
Lights began to flicker as the shaking and noise reached a peak.
The three of us looked at each other.
I closed my eyes. I saw my wife. My children. My Mother. The Salon. Then I felt and heard… nothing.
I opened my eyes. Richard and Chris were staring back at me. We were alive!
Instantly, we burst out cheering and laughing. Then we cried. We hugged each other and we cried some more.
“You know, we’re going to be heroes once all this breaks out,” said Chris, as we slowly walked across the bright green grass – students running past us to the building.
“Well, I’m gonna want Friday as my holiday!” said Richard.
“Ha! You guys take all the credit you want. I’m just glad we’re alive,” I said grinning uncontrollably. I looked up at the sapphire blue sky and sighed. Sure enough, in the coming months the news would indeed break out as the University of Tokyo would come to the realization of what happened. We would become legends. Cities around the world would erect statues of the three of us. Imagine that. A statue of little old me! For now, however, we were enjoying life without being famous as we walked across the beautiful campus.
“You know, Alex,” began Richard, “Over the last seven hours I’ve come to the sore realization that physics is just not my thing. I think I’m moving into health care,” he finished. The three of us burst out laughing. It felt great to laugh. It felt great to live.
Yeah… life was good. And I realized, as I walked with my friends that it was always better to appreciate the life we have… for no better reason than simply because we can.
An Afterword on Science from the Author
This story is science fiction. It’s fantasy. But it’s a different sort of fantasy; after all, it has the word “science” in it. I think that – if I’m not mistaken – some of the best science fiction tales are those that grab real-life science elements and weave them into such fantastically compelling narratives that it feels like you can literally reach out and touch their concepts and make them happen. If you have the urge to stare at a mirror after reading my story, you’ll know what I mean. This is the challenge I gave myself as I wrote M.I.R.R.O.R.E.D.D., but I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if I’ve achieved this or not.
So it should come as no surprise that many of the elements and ideas in this story come from real science. In particular, the double-slit experiment and photon entanglement described in the story come from real science. Light photons really do seem to behave both like particles and waves at the same time, and Richard Feynman really did postulate a “multi-verse” as a possible explanation. Photons can be entangled. This “spooky action at a distance” (as Albert Einstein himself called it) has been shown to be a real phenomenon of our world. These are all wonderful examples of the beauty that science can reveal to us.
But there is also beauty of another sort in science, not talked about as often as time travel, black holes, and space exploration. Throughout my tale I tried to sprinkle my characters with the “spirit” of science. And while it may have been idealistic at times, I tried to have my characters exemplify what it’s like to be a true scientist; curiosity and wonderment (Alex), doubting claims made without evidence (Chris), sharp intellect (Richard), changing your mind when evidence that contradicts you is presented (Chris, again), and of course, seeking evidence to see if your convictions are correct (Alex throughout the story). Even the fact that all three characters are men is a message on science – we need more women in science! But if you stop and think about it, we’re all scientists, for we do the above things all the time in one way or another. But many times, and when it really counts, we don’t. We are human. We have biases, beliefs, and convictions that sometimes are not true. As Richard Feynman once said, “Do not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
So what can we do? This is where science becomes more than just lab experiments with mice, and becomes a way of life. The scientist is truly like a Jedi Knight, constantly training her or his mind to block out biases, intuitions, and assumptions made without evidence, so they can think clearly enough to discern truth. And like a Jedi Knight, it takes courage to be a scientist; to admit you were wrong, and to be intellectually honest, as the neuroscientist Sam Harris said. The Dark Side of self-deceit is alluring indeed… but when children are dying of diseases that can be prevented with vaccines… we know the Light of Science is the path we must all take, for the betterment of humanity.
– June 11, 2019