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3 QUANTUM SUICIDE

“A variation of Schrödinger’s thought experiment has been considered independently by Hans Moravec and Bruno Marchal, to distinguish between the Copenhagen interpretation and the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics. Their variation involved a pistol whose trigger had been modified—when pulled, instead of immediately shooting out a bullet, it measured the spin of an electron. Nothing would happen if the spin was up, and a bullet would be expelled if the spin was down. Every ten seconds, the experimenter would point the pistol on his head and pull the trigger. If the Copenhagen interpretation was correct, then the electron would eventually be measured to have an up spin, killing the experimenter and ending the experiment. However, if the Everett interpretation was correct, then, considering that there is a 50% chance of survival every time the trigger was pulled (the chance that the electron would have a down spin), there would always be a world where the experimenter survived, regardless of how many times he repeated the experiment.”

3 Quantum Suicide / Breaking the laws

10 August 2004

Patrick and Theresa walked out of Dr Agcaoili’s office and into the anteroom, where the secretary lifted her head from the book she was reading to smile at them. Theresa nodded back politely and Patrick gave a weak smile before they went out the door.

‘Um, what just happened?’ Patrick asked, all confused as they headed for the exit. But Theresa said nothing, marching briskly out the building and back towards the Math Department. Once they were within sight of the familiar building, Theresa broke her silence.

‘Did you see anything strange when he reached for his coffee? Or after it?’

‘What?’ said Patrick with a start.

‘Just answer the question,’ hissed Theresa.

‘Um, no,’ said Patrick. ‘Why?’

Theresa shook her head as they went past the Math building and towards the waiting shed.

‘So, what now?’ said Patrick.

‘You still have classes?’ said Theresa.

Patrick took his cell phone out of his pocket and looked at the display. It was nearly 4 pm. ‘My classes are all done. How about you?’

‘I still have a class for 5:30 pm, but I’m skipping it. I want to go home. You go home, too—you haven’t slept yet, right?’

‘Don’t you wanna have lunch first?’ said Patrick, pointing at the building behind them. ‘We did kinda miss it.’

‘No, I’m good,’ said Theresa. ‘Hey, there’s a jeep for the metro station. That’s your ride, isn’t it?’

‘I’m not leaving ‘til you’ve left,’ said Patrick. Theresa glared at him but he stood his ground. ‘Sorry, but that’s just how I am.’

Theresa sighed lightly and crossed her arms in front of her chest, looking away from Patrick and towards the incoming jeepneys. They spent a few minutes waiting for her ride in silence. When Patrick tried to talk to Theresa, he changed his mind when he caught sight of her. She seemed to have erected a wall of coldness around her. He wondered if he did something wrong to make her act that way, but he couldn’t find out what it was. Finally, Theresa broke her silence by saying, ‘There’s a jeep for Sampaguita Drive. I’ll find my ride to Sunrise Avenue there. Bye.’ Without another word, without a look backward, she walked towards the waiting jeep, leaving a speechless Patrick behind. Clueless as to why Theresa suddenly decided to get mad at her, he wore a confused face as he hailed a jeepney with a ‘Metro Station’ signboard and got on it, intent on heading straight home.

Theresa got off at the next stop, the office of the University Registrar, and she headed towards the grassy path that served as a walkway between the scattered buildings of the various departments and institutes of the College of Science and Technology. After some time of walking, the outline of the IRHEP building could be seen. Theresa increased her pace and approached the guard post. She smiled brightly at the guard on duty, who nodded politely at her.

‘I’m so sorry to bother you, mister,’ she said in a perfect affectation of airheadedness, ‘but I seem to have left something in Dr Agcaoili’s office. Won’t you let me in again?’

‘Sure, ma’am,’ the guard replied. ‘No problem.’

‘Thanks, mister,’ she said cheerfully as she strode on into the research facility. Once inside, she marched towards the office of Dr Agcaoili with a determined look on her face. A passing laboratory technician caught sight of her and stopped, stunned by her beauty and the intensity of her gaze. Theresa knocked on the familiar door twice before opening it, assuming an absentminded air once again as she walked in.

‘I’m so sorry to disturb you, ma’am,’ she said to Dr Agcaoili’s secretary, who looked up in mild surprise. ‘I seem to have forgotten to ask Dr Agcaoili something.  I was already on my way home when I remembered about it, and I had to rush back her. Sometimes I can be so forgetful.’

The lady nodded in understanding and said, ‘It happens to the best of us; even Dr Agcaoili, genius that he is, has his senior moments, as he puts it. Go on right in; he went out for a while after you left, but he returned shortly before you came in.’

Theresa flashed a wide smile at her and thanked her, but as soon as she turned her back and faced the door her determined face returned. She had the look of one who was about to assault an impregnable fortress. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door without knocking.

‘Do close the door, child,’ said Dr Agcaoili, who spoke as if he expected her. ‘I think you don’t want this conversation overheard.’

Theresa did so, showing no surprise that she had been expected, and then she walked over to the same chair she had vacated less than an hour ago. She took her seat without being told, and then Dr Agcaoili began to talk.

‘You know, I can understand why you’d lie to your father. But to that poor young man, too? He doesn’t deserve it.’

‘Who are you, really?’ Theresa asked, struggling to maintain an even tone, though her eyes flashed at him like knives. ‘Or rather, what are you?’

‘I think you know the answer to that,’ Dr Agcaoili said with a smile, ‘otherwise you wouldn’t have come back here alone.’

‘I have some ideas,’ said Theresa. ‘I know that it hurts for me to look upon you, as if this world’s not enough to hold you in. The only other time I felt this way was when I crossed worlds and saw all those other possibilities.’

‘An astute observation,’ said Dr Agcaoili, nodding. ‘You really are a remarkable young lady. What else gave me away?’

‘The light. That blindingly bright light that shone from your hand before you took a sip of your coffee.’

‘Blindingly bright? Well, at least that confirms both your statements about you seeing “all those possibilities…”‘ said Dr Agcaoili, almost to himself. He went on: ‘As you have guessed correctly, only those who have seen another world could have seen the light through the gaps I make in this world’s boundary. For you to have been blinded… Why, it means that you have seen many worlds. Far too many for an ordinary human, or even an extraordinary one.’

‘You can make gaps between worlds? I repeat my question: What are you?’

‘You crossed the streams of many histories just to be with him. A romantic notion, to be sure. But in stories isn’t it usually the other way around? Is this another sign of the feminist times?’

Theresa was taken aback by Dr Agcaoili’s digression. After casting a bashful glance at her feet, she said with an attempt at petulance, ‘I barely even know him. I’ve spent just a few hours with him, yesterday and today. And we were more concerned with a lot of other things than getting to know each other better. How could you make that suggestion?’ She then added in a low voice, ‘Even if he is this world’s version of someone I may or may not have some feelings for…’

Dr Agcaoili stared silently at Theresa with serious-looking eyes, and then he said. ‘I see. If it weren’t for the circumstances we’d have at hand the makings of a standard romantic comedy.’

‘Wh-why are you talking about this?’ stuttered Theresa. ‘Speaking of Patrick, why didn’t he see the light? I thought his dreams were visions from another world.’

‘I never did mention Patrick’s name, did I?’ said Dr Agcaoili with a quiet laugh which he cut short. ‘So he told you about his dreams. I happen to know more about those dreams of his than anyone else. They’re merely glimpses his subconscious takes of this world’s future—or at least one of them. As you may recall from the Everett interpretation, this point in this present branches off into a number of possible futures. Although whenever he makes changes from whatever he’s seen, he creates a new world. It’s very dangerous, actually; the world he creates doesn’t properly split off from its parent history. Do you know how the possibility of higher dimensions explains the hierarchy problem?’

Theresa was taken by surprise by the sudden question, but she managed to answer. ‘About how most of gravity’s strength propagates in dimensions other than the four familiar space-time ones?’

‘Exactly,’ said the physicist with an emphatic nod. ‘Gravity has been measured to be more than thirty orders of magnitude weaker than the other three fundamental forces of nature, like electromagnetism, which is why even a toy magnet could manage to lift nails despite going against the gravitational pull of the entire planet. Some proponents of the Everett interpretation believe that most of gravity’s strength is used to hold the streams of many histories together, to keep them from drifting apart. Now the history that Patrick creates when he diverges from his dreams drift too close its parent history, and they cause perturbations in the gravitational field holding the many worlds together. That may result in the formation of a singularity between the worlds.’

‘A black hole,’ said Theresa in a voice filled with horror. ‘He should stop changing his dreams.’ Then she cast a piercing gaze at the scientist, and with a calm voice she said, ‘I suppose you’ve built up the dramatic tension well enough. Now could you tell me what you are? It’s all but certain that you’re no ordinary human being.’

Dr Agcaoili smiled at her and said, ‘His visions of the future, and your visions of the many worlds, both are forbidden. So is travelling between worlds. These rights have been reserved only for us, the governors of the many worlds.’

Theresa stared silently at him for some time, and then in a low voice she said, ‘I knew it. For these events to take place there must have been a supernatural cause or agent.’

Dr Agcaoili replied quickly to her in a soothing tone. ‘I had nothing to do with the bombing, in this world or in the others. On that you have my word.’

‘Your word as a deceiver who wished to conceal the truth?’ said Theresa with some anger. ‘You sabotaged that experiment, didn’t you?’

Dr Agcaoili bowed his head, as if overwhelmed by his guilt. He remained silent, and Theresa pressed on. ‘Patrick’s father helped you, didn’t he? That’s why you brought him there.’

At that Dr Agcaoili raised his head and said weakly, ‘He did it entirely at my urging, you know. The sin of this deception lies solely on my shoulders.’ He sighed and then went on. ‘One of my duties as governor is to keep you humans ignorant of the truth regarding the many worlds. Knowing your nature, you would have found a way to abuse it.’ His voice gained strength as he continued. ‘Richard was a genius, as I have known all along. Less than a hundred lines of code scattered throughout that lengthy AI programme, and he managed to alter the printed results of the electron-spin measurements in an undetectable way. He helped me fulfil my duty as a governor in quashing a potentially dangerous experiment. I am eternally grateful to him.’

* * * * *

Renz Zuniega was a laser technician at the Nuclear Fusion Research Section of the Institute for Research in High-Energy Physics. ‘Technician’ was a deceptive term—Renz had a master’s in optics, and he was currently working on his doctorate dissertation. At the moment, he was famished. After completing a lengthy maintenance of the neodymium glass laser at the inertial confinement fusion unit, he stepped out of the IRHEP building and headed for a nearby eatery. It was a humble sort of place; three tables and six benches in a garage, with a television set mounted in a corner tuned to a popular station. Renz took his seat at one of the benches and ordered the house special. While waiting for his bangus sisig to arrive, he distracted himself from his hunger pangs by watching the television, now showing a foreign soap opera. It changed to the top-of-the-hour news, and on the screen was displayed the picture of a young woman lying on the floor with her eyes closed.

Now, why does she look familiar…? Renz thought.

‘This young woman named Theresa Santos, aged 18, is currently sought by the police in connexion with the Ultramall-Central bombing. If you happen to know of her whereabouts, please contact—’

Ah! That pretty lady who looked like she was going off to war. He stood up hurriedly and headed over to one of the eatery’s owners, who was busily grilling fish wrapped in aluminium foil.

‘I need to borrow your phone,’ Renz said.

‘Sure,’ said the man, pointing to a small table that stood near the door into the owners’s house. ‘Five pesos, two minutes.’

Renz hastily took a coin out of his pocket, handed it to the man, and headed for the phone. He dialled the number displayed on the television screen.

‘Central Police District Hotline, how may we help you?’

‘I’m here to report Theresa Santos’s location. Right now she’s at the Institute for Research in High-Energy Physics building in Universidad Central.’

10 August 2004

Patrick got off the station nearest his boarding house, and he decided to walk home instead of taking a jeep. He shuffled along the sidewalk, his eyes on the ground before him as he tried to remember the reason Theresa suddenly turned cold towards him.

She was telling me to get on that jeep, but I didn’t. Was she sending me away? But why?

As with many other questions he had regarding that enigmatic woman, Patrick had no answer. Suddenly, he stopped walking, like a confused dog that had lost sight of its owner. He thought he heard her name. He looked around and saw that he was in front of an electronics repair shop. A small black-and-white television blared the news loudly despite the snow of greys on the screen.

‘Theresa Santos, aged 18, a student of Universidad Central, has just been arrested by the police in the Institute for Research in High-Energy Physics building in the same university. This was after an anonymous tip gave her location to the Central Police District following our broadcast of questions regarding her whereabouts. Theresa Santos has been arrested in connexion with the bombing of the Ultramall-Central food court yesterday that killed eighteen and—’

Patrick stared slack-jawed at the blurry figure of a news anchor on the small screen. He thought Theresa had wanted to go home. Why was she back there in IRHEP? Why did the police arrest her? More questions poured from his mind, but he brushed them all aside as a single determination took over his thoughts. Save Theresa. He ran back towards the metro station with the haste of madman.

What should I do when I find her?

As if colliding with a wall he suddenly stopped running. What happened? He spun around, looking bewildered, until he saw the electronics store before him. The dialogues of a foreign romantic comedy series blared loudly from the speakers of the ancient TV set. He took out his phone and checked the time. After smiling, he pocketed the phone and ran towards the station.

10 August 2004

OJ was taking a nap in his office chair, having tired himself out with his constant pacing. Even though he hadn’t eaten much during lunch (and barely had breakfast, too), he decided that he needed sleep more than food. He could eat while still keeping his mind on the case, whereas he could sleep only during the dead times, like while waiting for a phone call. He always preached to his subordinates that a missed meal didn’t affect thinking much, but a few minutes of sleep made the difference between making the right decision and making a wrong one.

A tap on his shoulder brought him to full wakefulness.

‘What is it, Briones?’ he asked.

‘We got a call on the hotline telling us where Theresa Santos is now, sir. She’s at the Institute for Research in High-Energy Physics building within Universidad Central.’

‘Get me the crews of Mobile Units 1, 2, and 3,’ OJ said. ‘And good job, Briones.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ he answered, saluting swiftly but proudly and then hastening to carry out his superior’s orders. Less than a minute later, twenty-four policemen presented themselves before the senior inspector. After a brief exchange of salutes, OJ asked them to walk after him.

‘Any of you know where the Institute for Research in High-Energy Physics building is?’ he asked them as they struggled to match his pace. A few voices answered in the affirmative. ‘We need to get there fast. We have someone there who’s connected to Ultramall.’ After his brief speech he rushed towards the parking lot of the Central Police District station, leaving the others in his wake. The thrill of the hunt permeated every particle of his being, and it urged on his tired and starved body. He opened the door to his private vehicle, a black compact car, plain-looking save for the emergency light placed on its roof. He switched this and his sirens on before he started his car, and he drove out of the station before the others even got to their vehicles.

Unfortunately the typhoon has still not spent its fury, and the ankle-deep flooding of the roads made for a slow drive. OJ tapped furiously on his steering wheel as he honked his horn a few times. It was a redundant effort considering that he already had his sirens wailing at maximum volume, but he felt compelled to do so, to bleed off the energy threatening to overwhelm his body. He put the police radio handset to his mouth as he drove at a snail’s pace through a narrow gap made for him by the vehicles struggling to get out of his way.

‘Okay, boys, here’s the plan. Units 2 and 3, you form a perimeter around that building. Make sure no one gets in or get out, not until I tell you otherwise. Unit 1, you go in with me. Got it?’

He heard various affirmations from the other vehicles through his radio, and with a plan formed he drove as quickly as he could through the congested rush-hour traffic.

It took almost an hour to get from the Central Police District headquarters to the IRHEP building. OJ hoped that their suspect hasn’t flown the coop yet as he watched the three police vans come to a halt.

‘You know the plan,’ he shouted to the policemen who rushed before him. ‘Now let’s move move move!’

Renz Zuniega was at the entrance to the research facility, standing beside the guard. He walked over to OJ, guessing correctly that he was the senior police officer in the bunch, as he was the only one who had a black leather jacket worn over his brown police uniform.

‘I asked the guard if a Theresa Santos was on the guest list, sir,’ said Renz after introducing himself. ‘He said that she and a Patrick Cruz met Dr Victor Agcaoili sometime before noon. They left after a few hours, but Theresa came back about an hour ago. She hasn’t left yet.’

OJ nodded. ‘Good job. Now lead us to his office.’

Renz smiled at the praise and led the nine cops into IRHEP. Once inside, he pointed at the door to Dr Agcaoili’s office.

‘In there,’ he said.

OJ clapped him on the back and then motioned for his men to follow him. He kicked the door to the office open and pointed his pistol at the rudely-made opening, drawing a terrified screaming from the scientist’s secretary. OJ ignored her as he ran over to the second door of the anteroom. He nodded to one of his men, who kicked the door open and pointed his pistol inside.

‘Police! Everybody down on the floor!’

A surprised-looking Dr Agcaoili suddenly stood up and raised his hands before slowly dropping to the ground. The first cop walked over and pointed his gun at him. OJ walked around the dimly-lit office, saw no one else, and shouted, ‘Where is she?’

‘Where is who?’ said a miffed Dr Agcaoili.

The policemen that followed looked under the table and inside the cabinets. They all looked at OJ and shook their heads.

‘How could she disappear? I thought she hasn’t left yet.’ He paced around the office, fuming, not noticing the thin smile on Dr Agcaoili’s face.

‘As I’ve expected of him.’

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