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1 SCHRÖDINGER’S CAT

“The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics states that an indeterminate system consisting of multiple probable states exists in a superposition of all of those probable states until it has been observed, after which it will collapse into a single definite state, removing all other states from consideration.

“To illustrate a problem with this interpretation, Erwin Schrödinger proposed the following thought experiment: a cat was placed in a sealed box, along with a Geiger counter that measured whether a radioactive substance would decay every hour or not. If the substance decayed, it would trigger a mechanism that would kill the cat.

“According to the Copenhagen interpretation, until the cat has been observed, it exists both in the state of living and of death.”

1 Schrödinger’s Cat / Enchanté encore

9 August 2004

Patrick still could not believe his eyes. He pinched his arm hard until it hurt, hoping to rouse himself from whatever delusional stupor he might have fallen into, but to no avail. This hurting one’s self never works, anyway, he thought. He raised his head to look once more at the person seated across him—a beautiful young woman, her long black hair streaming in the wind, partly obscuring her face, which was looking out of the jeepney’s window.

Patrick was on his way to the mall with Theresa, his classmate in Algebra and the object of infatuation of a considerable number of people, himself included. Patrick was in a situation many would have yearned for. He had hoped for this very chance, too, until it actually came to him. If only they knew how scary she is. As her head turned back inside, she caught him looking at her, and with a chilly stare she said without words, ‘Don’t get any funny ideas.’ Patrick sighed, torn between apprehension and delight. She’s right, I shouldn’t get carried away, he reminded himself. We’re not going out on a date, after all.

About an hour ago, Patrick was heading out of Algebra class, ready to enjoy the rest of the day free from classes, when he overheard Theresa’s conversation with one of their classmates, a member of a university-wide book lover’s club. He did look like a typical bookworm, with his thick glasses and his pale complexion, as well as the huge backpack slung on his back, doubtless full of books. Today was the university’s club appreciation day, where many clubs set up events that would showcase what they were all about, in order to spread their appeal and draw in prospective members. Perhaps Theresa wished to join their club, Patrick thought, shrugging to himself. He walked on out.

‘If only your group had a copy of it,’ he heard Theresa say. ‘Do you know if anyone does? It’s the only one missing in my Philip Smith collection. Even the paperback version would do, even if all my other books are hardbound.’

Her voice was at times wistful, at times desperate. Patrick had never heard Theresa express this much emotion before. He stopped to listen as she continued her plea.

‘I’ve asked my cousins abroad if they’ve seen “Alphabet of the Magi”, but—’

‘Hey, I think I saw that book yesterday,’ Patrick unconsciously blurted out.

Upon hearing that, Theresa rushed over to him, and she came closer to him at that time than even during Algebra class, where they were seatmates. Even though Patrick was half a head taller than her, she seemed to be looking down at him as she said, her voice both hopeful and doubtful: ‘You found a copy of it? You’re sure?’

‘Yes, in one of those second-hand bookstores near the Ultramall food court. My friend Alvin and I were just there yesterday.’

Patrick had cursed the turn of events that led to his accompanying Alvin while he looked for some obscure book. Usually it was Christianne who went with him, as they shared the same interest in reading—Patrick was more into computer games. But Christianne, eager to impress her new clubmates, helped to set up the event planned by the Japanese culture lover’s club. Bets was nowhere to be found, probably held up by volleyball practice, and so Alvin, left with no other choice, coerced Patrick into coming along with him. Patrick immediately recalled ‘Alphabet of the Magi’ as one of the many book titles Alvin had read aloud while they were in one of many stores they have visited during that long afternoon. It might all turn out to be for the best, thought Patrick. He decided to thank Alvin later, should something good come out of this situation.

‘Which one?’ asked Theresa. ‘There’s an entire lane of second-hand bookstores there.’

‘Um,’ said Patrick as he thought back to yesterday. Almost everything was a blur; he had paid little attention to where they had gone. His mind had been in autopilot since he had no interest in what Alvin was doing. He was lucky to have remembered that one title. ‘Um, I don’t recall exactly where,’ he said finally. ‘I probably need to walk by it to remember.’

Theresa looked askance at him. ‘This isn’t some hare-brained scheme of yours, is it?’ she said.

Patrick tried to look hurt. ‘I wouldn’t dare scheme against you,’ he said truthfully. But thoughts rose up unbidden in his mind, thoughts of what could come out of this happy chance. He suppressed them all, hoping Theresa could not read minds. The rest of humanity probably couldn’t, but many superhuman traits had already been attributed to this woman, so there was a chance of her possessing ESP.

Theresa did look at him as if she had read his mind, but said nothing as she motioned for him to follow her. Patrick’s heart, fuelled by both trepidation and giddiness, seemed to beat a thousand times per minute as they went from their third-floor classroom to the ground floor of the Math department building, and then from that building to the nearest jeepney stop. He tried not to stay too close to her, fearful of what she would think were he to do so, but when they were within sight of the waiting shed, he almost bumped into Theresa as she suddenly stopped, lost in contemplation. When she turned to face him, his nose caught the floral scent of her shampoo as her hair grazed his face.

‘What is it?’ Patrick asked, worried that Theresa had changed her mind.

‘Your friend probably knows exactly where the book is,’ she said. ‘Can’t I just go and ask him?’

‘Alvin won’t talk to you,’ he replied bluntly. ‘He doesn’t know you.’ Which was true. Alvin’s antisocial behaviour made him worse with people outside their clique than Christianne, who surmised that she had social anxiety disorder.

‘And you?’ asked Theresa with a raised eyebrow. ‘You know me?

I do want to know you more, Patrick didn’t dare say out loud as he avoided her eyes. But, judging from her glare, perhaps she had read Patrick’s thought. Cursing himself for being attracted to someone with such a terrifying aura, he took a deep breath as he tried to muster some resistance.

‘I’m trying to help a classmate in need,’ he said, feigning exasperation. ‘You’d rather I not help you? Fine with me.’ He punctuated his statement with a hands-raised ‘I surrender’ gesture.

Theresa shrugged, seemingly unconvinced, as a jeepney arrived with the signboard ‘Ultramall’. However, she did enter the vehicle after Patrick and sat across from him, remaining silent throughout their trip to the mall.

Ultramall, the shopping centre nearest Universidad Central, was not yet crowded with students. Although it has been announced that classes would be suspended today to give way to the club appreciation event, only classes after 1 pm would be affected. Still, most of the people Patrick and Theresa saw as they took the escalator down towards the food court in the lower ground level were students, those whose morning classes were done, like them, or those who never had morning classes to begin with. After some time of walking in silence, they came across a lane of stalls, most of which sold second-hand books.

Patrick thought that he’d seen enough of books yesterday to last him a lifetime. Repeating the experience made it all the drearier for him. But he stifled his boredom as he peered through the stalls. Finally, after fearing that all the yawns he’d held in would make his eyes pop out, he found the stall he was looking for.

‘Here!’ he cried triumphantly while pointing to the doorway of the next bookstore.

‘You sure?’ asked Theresa doubtfully. It was almost an exact duplicate of the other stalls they have visited: bookshelves formed three of its walls, surrounding a space barely over nine square metres, with the cashier’s register standing near the doorway.

‘Yes,’ he said, nodding. ‘Alvin found “Alphabet of the Magi” here.’

‘And where exactly is it?’ said Theresa.

‘Ah,’ said Patrick, his voice trailing off. ‘I wasn’t… really there with him, so I don’t exactly know where…’

‘Hmph,’ said Theresa, marching past Patrick as she entered the bookstore.

‘Not even a “thank you,”‘ muttered Patrick. Theresa’s head stuck out from the stall.

‘If I find it, I’ll thank you,’ she said.

Patrick shrugged as he marched off, his shoulders hunched and his hands in his pockets. ‘I’m going to the restrooms,’ he said. That woman has superhuman hearing, he thought, so I’m sure she heard me.

He found the nearest restroom empty. Standing in front of a mirror, he let out a huge yawn while he turned on the tap. As he was collecting water in his hands to splash on his face, a loud boom rumbled through the ceramic-tiled walls of the restroom, and the lights overhead flickered a few times. Fearing the worst, his drowsiness forgotten, he rushed out of the men’s room and fought against a fleeing crowd as he ran back to the bookstore where he had left Theresa.

She was not there. Patrick looked around the stall and saw the cashier cowering in her corner.

‘The girl who was here, long hair and wearing pink, where is she?’ asked Patrick.

‘She bought a book and went out just a few minutes ago,’ she said. Without another word Patrick ran out of the stall and into the food court.

A powerful explosion had turned the food court full of hungry people into a grisly scene from a nightmare. Tables and chairs closest to the blast were transformed into knife-edge shards that sliced through concrete, metal, and flesh; those further away were overturned and shattered, charred or stained crimson with blood. Patrick’s eyes were drawn to the explosion’s ground zero, where a thin grey smoke rose up as a curtain that nevertheless failed to obscure the carnage fully. Those who were closest to the blast were reduced to scattered body parts, and among those around him who were still alive, many were moaning from pain, while some were silent due to shock or unconsciousness. Patrick felt something acidic rise up in his throat and his hands rose up to cover his mouth, trying to stop himself from throwing up. Taking some time to calm himself down, he looked around for Theresa.

He found her lying unconscious on the floor a few metres away, in front of a stall that sold potato fries. Blood was seeping through her pale pink blouse, and in her right was clutched a small brown paper bag. Weaving through debris, the dead, the wounded, and the very few who were unhurt, Patrick hurried to her side and noticed that her face had turned extremely pale. Inspecting the wound on her abdomen, he found a dark green plastic fragment of what was once one of the food court’s tables embedded in it. He didn’t know whether to take it out or not—he was studying to be a nurse, but he was still in the first term of his first year, studying subjects like math, chemistry, and English, and he hadn’t learned anything about how to treat wounds, aside from the cursory first aid lesson that was taught in Citizen’s Military Training back in high school. His knowledge was woefully insufficient to help treat an injury like the one before him right now, and his helplessness struck him like a physical blow as he noticed Theresa’s irregular breathing.

Theresa was too far away from ground zero to have been burned; indeed she should not have been hurt seriously at all. But by some twist of fate the explosion’s blast wave had been channelled by the walls and the pillars of the food court directly into her, hurling her and causing her head to strike the floor hard. Moreover, the shock wave invaded her lungs, tearing lung tissue apart and forcing air into her circulatory system, resulting in a pulmonary embolism. The fragment that so worried Patrick was no threat at all; the shrapnel, which came from the collision of a table that had been hurled by the blast and a pillar, was too small to have threatened her internal organs. She could have survived the wound, and even the concussion, but the damage done by the unfortunate reflection of the bomb’s overpressure was enough to put her life in peril.

‘Somebody call a doctor!’ Patrick cried desperately, unheeded amidst the din of suffering and death that surrounded him. He took Theresa in his arms, thinking to take her out of this place and into the nearest hospital, but before he could lift her up he noticed that Theresa’s breathing was slowing down. He reached for her left hand to feel for a pulse; her hand was clammy and her pulse was weakening. Moments later, he felt it stop. Patrick’s normally sluggish mind was racing. What’s happening? Why is this happening? The questions came pouring into his mind until he came across something that could anchor him to sanity. A dream. This was all a part of his dream. It was a dream stranger than any that he had had, true, but he didn’t care. This was a dream—a nightmare. His only concession to the reality of the situation was a silent, emotionless ‘no’ that escaped from his lips.

Behind him, a female voice echoed his word.

Patrick turned to face the voice. He knew that voice, and he knew that it was impossible to hear that voice again, or so he thought, since its owner was now dead in his arms. But it could have been her ghost. It could have been the continuation of this nightmare. His mind was rooted firmly to the belief that this was all a part of a dream; therefore he could accept anything calmly, no matter how unreal it seemed.

Through the smoke that hung over the ruined food court he saw a young woman leaning on a pillar, pale as a ghost as she beheld the scene before her. She was wearing the same plain pink blouse as Theresa, the same purple ankle-length skirt; her shoulder-length hair framed a familiar face—she was a duplicate of the now-dead Theresa in every little detail. Perhaps it might have been possible for two women wearing the exact same clothes on the same day to be in the same mall, but for the two of them to resemble each other strongly…

‘You’re dead!’ she screamed as she pointed an accusing finger at him. She then grabbed her hair, her head shaking jerkily as she rambled on in a low monotone. ‘The restrooms were bombed, you were dead, I saw your body.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Patrick asked, surprisingly composed. This isn’t real, he reassured himself. Sooner or later, I’ll wake up in bed.

‘What’s happening?’ she said, ignoring his question. Her hands clutched her face as she fell kneeling to the floor. ‘That is… me,’ she whispered while she stared at the lifeless young woman in Patrick’s arms. Then she raised her eyes to meet his. ‘Where am I?’

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