THE QUANTUM VIEWER
The phone rang and Arthur Clarke wondered who was calling him so late in the evening.
“Hello. This is Clarke.”
“Clarke, this is Johnson. Its worked. Its only gone and worked!”
Arthur replied with the only word that came to his head, “Bingo!”
He replaced the telephone in its cradle and for a moment let the enormity of what he’d been told sink in.
“Is everything OK darling?” His wife stood in the doorway to his study, pulling her dressing gown around her slender shoulders.
“Yes.” he replied, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair. “I have to get to the lab straight away.”
She stretched on to her tiptoes to kiss him goodbye as he brushed past and headed for the door. Fifteen frantic minutes later, having barely registered the fact that he was speeding, he arrived at the lab. He walked through the security doors, pressing his pass against the lock sensors. Inside, he saw Johnson swivel his chair round from behind his desk to greet him. “Clarke - it’s hard to believe. I adjusted the constructor to a synchronous cycle, and it worked! We may have generated a working quantum viewer at last.”
“How long before we can use it?” said Clarke.
“Straight away- the build finished half an hour ago.” replied Johnson. Clarke walked over to the constructor, which dominated the centre of the laboratory. On the 3D printing platform inside the device nestled a pair of goggles, which Clarke carefully lifted out and slipped over his eyes. The reaction to what he saw through them was both dramatic and immediate.
“Oh my God, Johnson, they are better than we could ever have hoped. I can see everything so clearly!”
They worked through to the small hours of the morning before calling it a day. Johnson returned home and quietly retired to the bedroom. He slipped out of his clothes and climbed into bed, exhausted by the evening’s events. Sleep did not come easily to him that night.
“You were late last night, darling,” said Gina as she prepared breakfast. Clarke was sitting at the kitchen table, scribbling notes into a book. “Was it a successful night?”
“Yes,” he replied, “we finally got the quantum viewer working.”
“That sounds wonderful, dear. What does it do?” Clarke lifted his head up and pushed his chair back a little. The smell of the bacon cooking was making him hungry.
“Well, I’ll try to keep it simple for you. Imagine every single atom in the universe has an identical twin somewhere else and these two atoms are inextricably connected. If one changes, then so does the other.” She furrowed her brow, lifting the sizzling bacon out of the pan. He saw the confusion on her face and continued. “Think of it like this -when you look at your hand in a mirror, you can see the ring on your finger.”
“Imagine that the reflection could be real, like a mirror world, far away in another place in the universe.”
“And if you scratch your ring here, then the other ring, the one that looks like the one in the mirror, will get scratched as well.”
“How do you know this?” she replied, placing the plate in front of him.
“Well, we didn’t for sure, but that’s all changed now. I’ve built a viewer that lets me see this mirror world.”
“Is it like a telescope, then?” said Gina. “Well, no, not exactly. You see, there is another me in this mirror world and its as if I’m looking through his eyes.”
“Gracious. Does he know you are looking?”
“Thats a wonderful question. I don’t really know the answer to that.” He kissed his wife before finishing his breakfast and heading off to the lab. “Don’t go flirting with that neighbour while I’m gone.” he said. His wife was twenty years his junior and could turn a man’s eye easily.
“Of course not, darling! Although he is very handsome…” She laughed in that innocent way that always melted his heart. “It’s you I love!” she said as she blew him a kiss.
“I’m sorry, dear. I can’t help being jealous.” She kissed him for real this time and waved as he left.
At the lab, Johnson was working on the viewer. “We’re set to go again,” he said, as Clarke entered the lab, “although I can now confirm that there is a deterioration time of around thirty minutes for the quantum components of the viewer, after which it fails.”
“How long did the viewer build take?” said Clarke, already busying himself reading his notes from yesterday.
“This last one took twelve hours, which is probably as good as it’s going to get,” replied Johnson.
Clarke skimmed through his scribbled, barely legible handwriting. He had noted there were small but significant differences between his world and the other:-
There is a time difference between our world and theirs - as far as I can ascertain, it’s around six hours.
The lab layout is different, with my desk at the back of the office. How impractical!
Clarke-Two has yet to discover the last build element of the quantum viewer. I suspect it’s because his constructor is still functioning in an asymmetrical cycle. I wonder when he will find out he needs to switch?
Clarke-Two appears to be wearing glasses (I’ve seen him holding them in his hand). I had missed my appointment at the optometrist last week, so clearly I do need to go myself!
Towards the end of the day, Clarke looked at his watch. “I’m going to stay awhile longer. I want to check some calibrations.” Johnson nodded and stood up to leave.
“Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll go home. My wife Josie is preparing dinner tonight to celebrate our anniversary. Isn’t it yours soon?”
“It is,” replied Clarke. “It’s our fifth. I’m amazed she’s put up with me for so long.”
“You’re a lucky man. Your Gina is so young and beautiful!” Instead of acknowledging the compliment, Clarke frowned - he loathed other men praising her. With Johnson gone, Clarke reached inside his briefcase and removed a hairbrush he had taken from his wife’s bathroom cupboard. He plucked a hair from the tines and fifteen minutes later inserted the DNA he’d extracted into the constructor. He flipped the ‘GENERATE’ switch, checked that the build had started and left for home.
The next morning he made sure that he was first to the lab by leaving home at six. When he arrived at the lab, he found the new viewer sitting inside the constructor. He removed it and placed it in his briefcase. An hour later, Johnson arrived. “Did you generate another last night?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Clarke, “but the build failed. I’ve just started again.”
At noon, he told Johnson to take the rest of the day off. As soon as he was alone, Clarke took the viewer from his briefcase and put it on. He was looking through Gina-Two’s eyes. The DNA linked the viewer to its mirror person, and he was now seeing everything that Gina-Two was. He hoped his suspicions were wrong, but he had to be sure. He watched as Gina-Two put her coat on and crossed the road. With growing apprehension, he saw her approach the house of their neighbour and knock on the door. He opened the door. She greeted him with a kiss on the cheek - A KISS GODDAMIT! Although Clarke could not hear, he could see them talking and laughing. He knew it -he was far too old for her and she was finding satisfaction elsewhere. He watched as the man gave her what appeared to be an envelope and then - the viewer turned blank, the thirty minutes up.
“How could she?” he thought. The rest of his day passed in a haze of despair. When he arrived back home, he could hardly look at her. He barely spoke that evening and pretended to be working in his study as she wished him goodnight and retired to bed. An hour later, having drunk the best part of a bottle of scotch, he crept up the stairs and quietly opened the bathroom door, his mind made up. He took a bottle of sleeping tablets from the drawer and emptied the contents out. Swallowing them in handfuls ,he washed the pills down with water, then made his way to the bedroom. He slipped into bed beside his wife, wanting to spend his last few minutes alive next to her.
The next morning, Gina woke him. “Happy anniversary, darling!” She was standing by the bedroom door, holding two tickets in her hand. “I have an anniversary surprise for you! That lovely neighbour of ours is an airline pilot, and he’s been secretly helping me organise a trip to the Bahamas. I hope you don’t mind. I love you so much!” Clarke shook the sleep from his eyes. Why was he still alive? “Oh, darling, you seem so surprised,” she said as she hugged him.
Arthur-Two removed the quantum viewer and put his spectacles back on. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Did it work?” said Michael-Two.
“Thank heavens, yes,” he replied. “My switching the sleeping tablets was replicated there. He thinks he took an overdose, but all he actually did was dissolve a layer of enamel on his - our - teeth with the sugarpills. He hasn’t realised that we’d solved getting our viewer to work before he did, and that our being a few hours ahead enabled me to prevent him making a catastrophic mistake.
“What would have happened if your plan hadn’t worked and he’d overdosed?” asked Michael-Two. “Well,” said Arthur-Two, “I guess I wouldn’t have been cerebrating my anniversary for too long!”
He shook Michael-Two’s’ hand vigorously and hoped that his other self wasn’t watching…….