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“According to the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics, the two possible states of the device Schrödinger proposed would have been resolved independently even before the moment of observation of the cat; that is to say, the world would split into two: one would be a world where there had been no decay that hour and the cat lived; and the other, a world where decay had triggered the device and the cat died.”

2 Many Worlds / Breaking the rules

10 August 2004

12:49 am. Senior Inspector Oscar James Tan knew that this was the exact time because that was what the red LEDs of his alarm clock/radio told him. A phone had rung by his bedside, and his arm darted out from under the covers to grab the bothersome device before it could wake his wife up, who tossed and murmured unintelligibly, but thankfully didn’t stir. OJ sat up and turned his back on his slumbering wife before pressing the phone to his ear.

‘Sorry to wake you up, sir,’ began the businesslike tone of SPO4 Agnes Rivero before he cut her off.

‘I thought I told you: No calls between midnight and 6 am.’

‘This is important, sir.’

‘They’re all important, SPO4, but I need my rest.’ OJ rubbed his eyes and sighed softly, having blown off his steam. ‘So, what is it?’

‘I have a buddy, an army officer in logistics, and after I asked him to check around to see who may have bought those detonators, he told me that the army special forces just bought some of those a few months ago. Remember the failed infiltration and sabotage missions they had against the rebels in the south? It was all because of bad detonators—they weren’t reliable, either predetonating or not working at all when needed. So they made a purchase of those bridgewire detonators, and they got them cheap from a manufacturer in China, as it turned out, ‘cause those were their last stocks before they phased them out for slapper detonators. Now, the MI guys who’ll be hanging around the office tomorrow snooping won’t like this piece of news one bit, ‘cause of the implications. They might bully us off this lead, but they’ll have a harder time with that if you were around tomorrow.’

‘Sorry, but you’ll have to bear them without me. I caught the scent of a lead myself, and I’m following it tomorrow.’

‘With the size of your nostrils, I’m sure you catch a lot of scents.’ Both cops shared a muted laugh, before Agnes continued. ‘Actually, I need you for another thing. This could very well be a case of international terrorism, so we might have a little leverage on our fair-skinned fair weather friends to give us access to a mass spectrometre, since the others are booked to hell and gone. It would be easier to convince them if you did the talking.’

OJ heaved a sigh of surrender. ‘Okay, I’ll try to drop by for that. But c’mon, Agnes, when the next round of promotions comes around, you’ll be an officer then. You need to start getting used to acting like one.’

‘Well, I certainly learned a lot about browbeating and begging from you, sir.’ Another shared laugh. ‘Sorry to disturb your sleep. Good night, sir.’

‘Get your sleep, Rivero,’ said OJ before hanging up.

OJ tried getting back to sleep, but he found it difficult. His thoughts drifted back to the person he planned to meet tomorrow. Leah Castro was a staffer in the records section of Universidad Central—and once his mistress, back when he was still an inspector running a small precinct. There had been passion between them, certainly; something he no longer had for his wife of almost twenty years. But perhaps none of love. He never considered leaving his wife for her, and she never asked him to. After his promotion to senior inspector he found it hard to keep on meeting her. So he told her that they should stop seeing each other, and she accepted it calmly, with no semblance of ill will or disappointment. And now, after more than a year, they would be meeting each other again. What would she say? How did she really feel?

There was a recent message on his phone from her, one that he had read again and again before he went to sleep, looking for clues in it. He took his cell phone from his night table and opened the text once more. It said:

‘Sure, meet me at 7 by d coffee shop near my ofc.’

Despite his vaunted talent as an investigator, he still did not know what was really on her mind.

* * * * *

It was 8 am of that Tuesday. The sky was overcast, a sombre roof threatening to pour down rain out anytime. A zombie, or a person strongly resembling one, has been reported shuffling through the covered walkway that connected the administration building of the College of Science and Technology with the building of the Math Department, which was administered by the aforementioned college. The zombie in question had an ashen countenance, unkempt hair, and every now and then a faint groaning escaped from its lips.

The zombie entered the nearly empty math building and was overtaken by Alvin, who flicked a casual glance at the undead and stopped in his tracks.

’What happened to you, Pat?’ said Alvin to the zombie.  ’Are you sure you’re all right?’

’Oh, morning, Alvin,’ said Patrick. ‘This is nothing. Just lack of sleep.’

’Why?’ said Alvin. ‘Your life flashed before your eyes last night? You’ve been thinking about things you should have done differently, dreams you should have pursued more seriously?’ A chuckle. ‘If you, of all people, can be changed, I guess all of us need our own near-death experiences.’

’Wish it were that simple,’ said Patrick with a lazy smile. Trust Alvin to make light of even a friend’s brush with death.

They entered the room, which was already half-full. Alvin clapped Patrick on the back as he headed for his seat, while Patrick continued his awkward shuffle towards his own chair on the far side of the room, oblivious to the murmurs his appearance had spawned. He cast a cursory glance at the seat on his left as he dropped his bag. Theresa has not yet arrived.

’Um, Patrick?’ said a familiar voice on his right.

Patrick started. Impossible, he thought. Not her. She couldn’t possibly be talking to me.

’Are you okay? I heard you got caught in the mall bombing yesterday, and…’

Patrick turned, and she saw a young woman wearing a turquoise sleeveless blouse, baring her pale, slim forearms and a part of her shoulders, and slim-fit denim pants. The blouse was familiar; she remembered seeing her wear it many times before. So was the skin it exposed; he remembered caressing them many times before, back when they were still together.

It was, as he had thought, Sarah.

’Oh, I’m just fine,’ he said with a wan smile. But his exhaustion overcame even this glimmer of excitement. Ignoring the worried voice of his putatively bitter ex-girlfriend, he slumped down on his chair, waved a hand in her direction, and added, ‘Just fine…’

’Patrick,’ said a firm voice from the door.

His head shot up and turned towards the doorway. Theresa stood there, glaring at him. She was dressed in a manner far removed from her usual attire—she wore a short-sleeved dark pink blouse that barely covered her waist and jeans. Jeans! She had always worn slacks or a skirt before. Not that she doesn’t look good in them, he thought irrelevantly. He stared blankly at her. Her feet did not even cross the doorway into the classroom.

‘Come here,’ she said bossily, ignoring the wolf whistles and the jeers of their classmates.

‘I wonder where they’re going so early?’ one asked.

Patrick’s eyes turned back to Sarah. She was looking down on her notes with such intensity that even he felt that she was doing all she could to keep herself from looking at him. He saw a sad frown forming on her face.

’Hurry,’ Theresa said. ‘We don’t have all day.’

With a sigh, Patrick took his bag and with a shuffling gait got out the classroom. Before he left the classroom, his eyes caught Alvin shaking his head. Then he remembered that he was supposed to meet Christianne and Bets later today. But it was too late—once outside, Theresa grabbed him by the arm and dragged him downstairs.

‘Where we going?’ Patrick mumbled, as his rubbery legs struggled to match Theresa’s rapid pace.

Theresa said nothing as they reached the ground floor. The pair walked towards the empty cafeteria. Theresa left the unresisting Patrick on a corner table while she headed for the automated drinks vendor. Moments later, she brought a steaming cup of something dark brown and pushed it towards Patrick.

’Drink,’ she said.

Patrick shook his head. ‘I don’t drink coffee,’ he said, pushing the cup away.

Patrick’s aversion to coffee was a minor legend among his friends. He once told them that his hatred for it stemmed from an event in his childhood—mistaking a container of coffee powder for chocolate powder, he eagerly took a tablespoon of it before choking on the bitter taste that overwhelmed his taste buds.

’You don’t like studying, either,’ Theresa said with a bite of impatience as she pushed the cup back towards him, ‘but you need it.’

Feeling his feeble resistance wilt under Theresa’s intense stare, Patrick took a gulp of coffee. The liquid assaulted his taste buds with a thousand unpleasant sensations while his throat was scalded by the passage of the boiling coffee. Feeling himself suddenly wide awake, Patrick wondered whether it should be attributed to the coffee’s caffeine content, its bitter taste, or the burning sensation in his throat.

After Patrick had drunk half the coffee, he brought the cup down with a grimace on his face, his eyes brimming with tears due to the pain in his throat. Theresa began to speak. ‘Have you seen the news last night?’

’Uh, no,’ Patrick said. He said nothing further, unwilling to tell Theresa that he had done nothing after his dad’s call, and that he had tossed and turned in bed as he thought about everything that happened that day.

’Well, they found a second bomb in the mall; it was in the restroom,’ she said.

’What?’ said Patrick with a start. ‘In the restroom where I was, you mean?’

Theresa nodded. ‘It didn’t blow up, but, as far as they could determine, the bomb in the food court and the bomb in the restroom were probably the same. Now, as you’ve guessed yesterday, I’ve seen you die from an explosion while you were in that restroom. Which means in my story it was probably the bomb in the food court that didn’t explode.’

’Wait, what?’ said Patrick. ‘You mean you come from an alternate universe, or something?’ He had watched a TV show like that when he was a kid, and while he had enjoyed the fighting, he did not like following what seemed to him a rather complicated story.

’Yes, I think,’ Theresa said softly. ‘I never did tell you what happened yesterday, right? After I said I saw you die?’

’It seemed too painful for you to remember, so I didn’t press on. I figured you’d tell me when you’re ready.’

Theresa gave him a small smile, and then she took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly through her mouth, then she began to talk. ‘I went home, or at least I thought it was my home, and it was maddening in there. Everything looked exactly like I remember it at first glance, but there were these differences. The walls looked different, the furniture was arranged differently. That book I said I had? It turns out you’re right; I didn’t have it. These clothes I’m wearing now, I don’t remember buying them, or even seeing them in my closet when I left the house. It nearly drove me mad, and it got me thinking: am I really me? I think so, you probably think so, maybe our classmates think so, too. But my memories tell me otherwise. I don’t remember you sitting beside me on the first day of classes. I don’t remember those things I saw in my house. Those little differences tell me that this is not the world as I remember it; or perhaps it would be better to say that this is not my world, and I don’t belong here.’

Theresa’s eyes were unfocused as she spoke, gazing in the general direction of the table. Her voice was monotone, but it carried the impression of a great discomfiture, a deep fear. I wonder if anyone has ever seen her like this before, Patrick thought, before he remembered their meeting in his first dream, that fleeting exchange of glances; that frailty in her that seemed an illusion, so quickly was it dispelled afterwards. Theresa lifted her eyes from the table and look at him as she spoke on, a little strength returning to her voice.

‘I felt shock, seeing you die. I guess that’s normal—the guy who asked you out bleeding to death before your eyes, even if you don’t really like him, that’s normal, anyone would be shocked by that.’ Patrick choked at that sentence, but he managed to hold his silence. ‘But that was when normal things ended. I felt like being pulled in all directions. My senses were overloaded, and my brain was assaulted by all these…things. I saw the scene in the mall many times. In most of them we both died—in some I died after you did, in others it was the other way around, and a lot of times we died together. I saw them all at the same time, like watching from a lot of TV sets with different channels in each of them. No, it was more like I was in many places in a single instant, and all they saw were reported to my brain. I can’t really explain.’ A helpless shrug. ’Then I saw you, carrying me in your arms, and the strange pull stopped. That was when you saw me, I guess.’

Theresa’s eyes returned to normal, and she turned her cool gaze towards Patrick, as if awaiting a response.

’Um,’ said Patrick, whose brain, even fuelled by the caffeine, retained its customary slowness.

Theresa sighed in exasperation. ‘Do you believe me?’ she asked. Ah, that’s all she wanted, Patrick thought. He nodded.

‘No other way to explain what happened yesterday,’ said Patrick. ‘So I guess I have no choice but to believe you.’

‘How imaginative,’ said Theresa drily. ‘That’s it? You didn’t think this was a trick, that I might have a twin or a double?’

‘Actually, that crossed my mind. But you said what you said, so I believe it.’

‘How could you just believe it? If I were in your place I’d doubt me more.’

‘I believe it ‘cause you said it. I trust you, Theresa.’

Theresa was momentarily stunned by Patrick’s words, but she recovered quickly and spoke in a disbelieving tone. ‘Setting your simple words aside for the moment, I believe that gives us two clues to start an investigation with. You have dreams about the future, and it seems you saw the world as I remember it in one of your dreams in the past. Also, we saw each other die in that mall, but we’re both still here.’

Patrick glanced at the wall clock in the cafeteria. It said 8:22. Turning to Theresa, he said, ‘Hey, we’ll be late for class if we don’t get back soon.’

’We’re not going to class,’ Theresa said simply, and Patrick’s jaw dropped. She continued. ‘Now, tell me about your dreams. When did they start?’

‘My first dream was the one I told you about. The first day of classes—the day I met you.’

‘Why do you have those dreams?’

‘I dunno.’

‘Did anything happen to you before that, or did you do anything that could have given you those dreams?’

Patrick took another sip of his coffee, now lukewarm and fouler-tasting than before. It was something for him to do while he trudged through his memories. ‘Um,’ he said after he had brought down the cup, ‘I don’t really remember.’

‘Did anything different happen at all? Surely your dreams didn’t just appear out of nowhere,’ said Theresa with mounting frustration.

‘Um,’ he said, his eyes drifting upward in recollection, ‘it was the first day of college?’

Theresa uttered a groan of exasperation which she cut short. Taking a deep breath, she resumed her questioning more calmly. ‘Now, what exactly did you see in that first dream?’

Patrick narrated the first day of classes he had seen in his dreams. Theresa was nodding at certain points, as this was that day as she remembered it. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘what did you do in your first day?’

‘It was mostly the same,’ said Patrick, ‘except obviously I’m confused by all these déjà vu. Oh, and I was standing in the doorway after seeing Alvin and Sarah, you almost bumped into me, and then I chose that vacant seat beside you instead of the one near Alvin.’

‘I’m curious,’ said Theresa with a show of carefreeness. ‘Why did you sit beside me?’

‘Well, it would be nice to be with Alvin in class, but it seemed more… interesting to sit beside you.’

‘Ah, said Theresa in the tone of mock discovery. ‘Hormones.’ She took a slow, deep breath before pressing on. ‘What about the night before yesterday? What did you dream about?’

‘Um, we were in the mall, and I was just coming from someplace else returning to that bookstore where I left you. You still haven’t found the book, so I helped looking around. I found it, you bought it, and then since I have nothing to do before Christianne’s club’s event started, so I asked if you wanted to have lunch with me. You said yes. While we were having lunch we chatted a little about our interests. That was it, I think.’

‘Wait. If I remember what you said yesterday correctly, when you came back to the bookstore, I—I mean, Theresa—was no longer there.’ She looked down, humming softly, as if recalling something, before continuing slowly. ‘So even before the explosion, things were already different.’ Patrick cast a questioning glance at her, and she replied with a shake of the head. ‘Not now. I’ll explain later when everything’s clearer.’ She resumed her questioning. ‘What about last night? Did you get any dream about today?’

Patrick shook his head, his eyes looking distant. ‘I haven’t slept a wink at all last night, so I didn’t get to dream.’

Theresa’s gaze softened considerably as she looked at Patrick, whose eyes were still staring distantly.

‘Do you get those dreams every time you sleep?’ she asked him kindly.

‘‘Not every day,’ said Patrick, his eyes looking back at her without a trace of melancholy that was evident earlier. ‘But often, yes. Normally the dreams last an hour, but when I get no dreams, the next dreams are usually longer.’

‘Hm, it seems too convenient to have a clairvoyant dream.’

‘It’s not always convenient,’ said Patrick. ‘Sometimes it’s a bother.’ His eyes were distant once more, as if recalling a painful memory.

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