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Quantum leaps: Read the winning entry in a physics-inspired fiction contest



The thinking possibilities of quantum physics are suitable for philosophy – thoughts about the implications of the theory for the meaning of life, the idea of ​​the free will to make the fate of us all. A talented pool of writers has taken advantage of these implications to produce an impressive series of submissions in this year's Quantum Shorts Contest that invite to a short fiction based on the ideas of quantum mechanics. Scientific American and Nature have teamed up with the Center for Quantum Technologies in Singapore, which organizes the annual competition. Judges, including Scientific American and Nature editors, selected a winner and a runner-up in two categories ̵

1; "open" and "youth" – and online voting identified a favorite; All winners will receive a cash prize, a certificate and an engraved trophy.

The full text of the first prize in the open category "Acceptable Loss" by Przemyslaw Zanko is listed below. Read all stories at https://shorts.quantumlah.org

Acceptable Loss

By Przemyslaw Zanko

"But that will destroy them," the general said slowly. "All of them, all universes except ours."
"Did not you want that?" I replied. "Put an end to multiverse nonsense?"
He thought for a moment, puffing his cigar, his gaze lost somewhere between the Rembrandts and the Vermeer's decorating the walls.
But I would be happy if I just shut down the portals … destruction seems … "
"General." I pressed my trembling hands deeper into the pockets of the lab coats. "Alternative Universes: When I came up with this idea, some of my alter egos did the same, just talking to your alter egos."
The old man blinked. Then he blinked again.
"And if I say no, to destroy all other worlds …"
"… then some of your alter egos will say yes."
He puffed the cigar again and opened the folder I brought him.
"Well then, Mr. Beckett, you explain this decoherence wave better, and fast."

***

After that, I just sat in the empty, half-stained lab with the gin in my hand, waiting for the guilt that was not would come.
The biggest genocide in history. Yet all I could think about was whether smoking at the "no smoking" sign would get me in trouble.
I bet Oppenheimer never lost it.
The portals to other worlds have solved nothing. They only allowed people to run away from their problems. Do not you like who won the election? Go to a world where losers have won. Do not you like your job? Find a parallel earth on which an unlearned idler like you can live like a king. Does not your life like? Find your alter ego with the life you want and ask if you want to change places.
It has to stop.
It's like a country opens its borders too much. The immigrants. The brain drain. People stop appreciating what they have and start chasing cheap imported thrills. They start to get ideas. And when you start getting ideas … How did the old poem go? If you open your mind too much, your brain will fail. If we do not …
"You must stop it, John."
I sat there, frozen, unable to speak, unable to meet the all too familiar voice.
Donna stepped into the light.
"I know the decoherence wave."
I dumped my gin.
"Hello, honey, not seen for a long time."
My wife's face was pale, but her eyes were made of pure steel.
"You will destroy all quantum information. Collapse of the multiverse."
I smiled and leaned back in my chair.
No more doubles anymore No more insecurity A world completely explainable by classical physics Back to what it should have been Just like it should have been There are only two possibilities: yes or no Black or white Who else wants it? have … "
"There are people," she said softly.
"Probability spirits."
"People from our world, my friends, your colleagues."
"I think they should have stayed where they belonged."
She did not even try to hide her contempt.
"So you are now best friends with the General, you even sound like him, my God, John, you hated these people, remember?"
I only laughed.
"Maybe I understood them, maybe you helped me realize that the world was much better before we let all these strangers in."
"How much of you know."
Oh, the sweet, familiar, patched-up rage. I missed you, buddy.
"You know, things used to be so simple, so precise, the cat, either alive or dead, people, either separated or together, we knew what to expect from life, and now …"
"That's what it's about here? You're destroying the multiverse because of me?"
"You left me!" I stood now, fists clenched, and she took a tentative step back. "For him, do you have any idea how humiliated I was when you proposed the exchange? Our marriage was not perfect – I was not perfect – but …"
"Not perfect?" Hissed Donna. "Not perfect? ​​By the time I suggested the exchange, we had no marriage! You would not hear of couples therapy, you would not even talk to me, locked up in your stupid lab every day, trying to find a way that Doing portals and bringing back the good old days … Do you think I'm proud of what I've done, I know I was wrong, but you certainly did not leave me with a lot of right decisions. "
"So you left me for my alter ego," I spat. "That was your brilliant solution?"
A tear glittered in her eye, only one.
"I just wanted my husband back."
I turned away and fought the urge to smash something. I have not fought long.
"You do not have to do that," Donna said quietly when I finally stopped kicking the broken glass and just stopped breathing hard. "Your alter egos will not destroy the multiverse just because they've figured out how. People are not like that."
"Humans are like that."
"No, John, that's just you."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"It's too late anyway, the general would have pushed the button."
"Not if you lied and told him you were wrong, that the wave would also destroy his world."
I smiled at her.
"And why should I do that exactly?"
She smiled back sadly.
"I know you would not do it, but luckily my John would."
I stared at her for ten long seconds.
Then I ran like hell.

***

The General exhaled a cloud of smoke.
"How do I know you're not a cheater?" He asked quietly. "How do I know you're not lying?"
I slammed my hand on his desk.
The time we hesitate – you have to use the wave now Make us the universe that wins, otherwise we're as dead as … "
And then I noticed it. Staring me in the face.
I swallowed hard.
"I thought you preferred cigars?"
The general gave me a warm smile and stretched out his cigarette in the ground glass ashtray.
"What can I say, John? People are changing."


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