, , ,

3 Quantum Suicide / Bound

11 August 2004

Theresa woke up to the sound of loud voices.

‘What do you mean, Patrick’s not here?’ boomed a deep female voice. ‘I thought he spent the night here.’

‘I can’t find him anywhere. Maybe he’s in there with that woman,’ said the voice of Christianne, accompanied by loud steps that seemed to Theresa to be coming closer.

Theresa glanced at the wall clock. 10:11 am. She had no classes on a Wednesday, so she could have slept longer, but she usually got up before 10, no matter the day. As she sat up in bed the door opened with a bang and in walked three people. The first one, and the one who had opened the door, was Christianne. Following her was a very tall and tanned girl with masculine mannerisms and a slouching male figure, his hands on his pockets and possessing a world-weary attitude. There was something odd with the way she looked at her, though; his eyes didn’t match the impression his disposition gave off.

‘He’s not here?’ said Christianne after looking around. She then turned to Theresa. ‘Spit it out, woman: Where is she?’

‘Should we really just barge into her room like this?’ said the other girl.

‘She’s in my house, Betty.’ Christianne replied. Turning back to Theresa, she said. ‘So? Where is he?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Theresa calmly. ‘Since when was he gone?’

‘Hey, so this is Patrick’s new girl. I’m Bets, pleased to meet you.’

‘My name’s Theresa, and I’m sorry, but I’m no one’s “girl.”’

‘Hmph,’ said Christianne. ‘He’s been gone since I got up, woman. What do you mean, you don’t know?’

‘Hey, Christianne,’ said Bets as she stepped in front of her, as if to shield Theresa. ‘I like Sarah, too, I really do, but it’s hopeless. A nice girl like her’s too lenient on Patrick. Maybe a scary girl like Theresa could help cure his idiotic tendencies.’

Did she just call me ‘scary’ to my face? Theresa thought. Poor Patrick; no wonder he always had that confused look on his face. With friends like these… She stood up.

‘Maybe he went outside for something?’ said Theresa.

‘He’s not answering my texts or calls, and he didn’t leave a note,’ said Christianne. ‘Check your phone—maybe he told you where he is.’

‘He doesn’t have my number, so I doubt it,’ said Theresa. ‘I don’t have his, either.’

‘Oi, Alvin,’ said Bets. ‘Why are you just standing there? Smitten by Patrick’s new girl?’

Alvin rose from the cabinet he had leaned on, shrugging as he did so. He emitted an aura of ennui as he walked towards his friends, but the seemingly half-hearted glance he cast in her direction glimmered with interest.

‘Your “cool guy” effect won’t work on us Alvin,’ said Bets. ‘If you think of stealing her away from Patrick, I won’t forgive you.’

Theresa suppressed a sigh as she said, ‘Do you want me to contact him? Will you give me his number?’

‘Ah, no, we don’t need you,’ said Christianne bluntly. ‘We’ll find him on our own. Go do whatever you want.’

‘But I want to help look for him,’ said Theresa.

Christianne shrugged and muttered, ‘Whatever.’

‘I think I know where he might be,’ continued Theresa, ‘but I don’t know exactly where that place is. I need to know where Victor Agcaoili lives.’

‘Dr Agcaoili, the physicist?’ said Alvin. ‘It’s Number 16 Main Street, Dorian Gardens.’

‘Dude, how come you know that?’ said Bets.

‘Well, we met in some international exhibit I was in,’ he said with a shrug. ‘You tend to notice the only countryman you find in that place.’

‘Thank you,’ said Theresa. ‘I don’t wish to impose on your hospitality any longer, but I need to get ready to leave.’

‘Right, I forgot,’ said Bets. ‘Christianne’s clothes might be too small for you—and besides, she might lend you really embarrassing ones—so I brought some of mine. Hope they fit you.’

‘Thank you very much,’ said Theresa with a polite smile. A bath and a change of clothes later, Theresa was ready to leave. A grin and a wave from Bets, a nod from Alvin, and an ‘I hope I don’t see you again’ from Christianne sent her off. She brought the hair tie and the sunglasses Patrick bought for her yesterday, and she put them on as soon as she was out of sight. She was lucky that none of them seemed to have seen her face on the television, or heard or read her name on the radio or newspapers. On her way to the metro station she passed by a large crowd outside the burnt-out remains of Patrick’s boarding house. She bumped into a policeman who wore a black leather jacket over his uniform and a scowl. With a bow and a muttered apology she went on her way.

She was walking on her way to the metro station, intent on heading towards Dr Agcaoili’s residence, when she ran into none other than Dr Agcaoili himself.

‘Why, hello there, Ms Santos. Fancy running into you here,’ he said with a smile that intimated that his being there was no coincidence.

‘Dr Agcaoili,’ said Theresa, showing no surprise at his sudden appearance. ‘Well, at least my day’s not totally wasted. We need to talk.’

The physicist’s smile didn’t drop a notch as he said, ‘And why is Patrick not with you? I had thought that, after yesterday’s climactic rescue, he would have insisted in accompanying you.’

‘I thought so, too, but apparently, he was gone when I woke up. I don’t know where he’s gone to, and I don’t know why. But I’m sure he has his reasons…’

‘I’m sure he has,’ said the governor in an unconcerned tone. ‘So, where do you wish to talk? I have this feeling that you do not wish to be overheard.’

‘I don’t know this area well,’ said Theresa. ‘Let’s look around for a quiet place to sit down.’

‘I know of a coffee shop nearby; will that do?’ said Dr Agcaoili. ‘If so, follow me.’

Theresa walked a few steps behind the physicist as he walked unconcerned through the streets of an unfamiliar (to Theresa) part of the city.

‘I’m surprised to see you walking around without so much as a police escort. I was half-hoping for you to get arrested yesterday. What did you do? Did you send the policemen to another world?’

Dr Agcaoili bowed his head, as if Theresa had praised her. ‘Well, I demanded my one phone call and called my lawyer. I asked him to post my status online, and, in less than an hour, I received a call from the president himself. He asked to talk to that senior inspector who was interrogating me, and he seemed to have suffered an uncomfortable few minutes on that phone. Afterwards he and his men left my office without a word. When I got back home I read that my fellow scientists had pestered their country leaders to clamour for my release.’ A relaxed smile appeared on Dr Agcaoili’s face. ‘The wonders of modern communication. Of course, it helps to be a bit of a celebrity. The police didn’t even dare put me under house arrest, but I’m sure they have surveillance on me somehow. So I’m glad you’re disguised.’ He walked a little faster when he had caught sight of the familiar green logo of a famous coffee shop. ‘Ah, here we are.’

After they have ordered their coffee—Theresa bought a small cup of latte, and Dr Agcaoili a pot of espresso—and found their seats—they took a table nearest the door—Dr Agcaoili said, ‘You slipped up, by the way. The police found your body—rather, the body of this world’s Theresa, and you didn’t even bother hiding it. Worse, you made the whole thing look more suspicious—well, that’s assuming her missing things was your handiwork.’

Those words touched a raw nerve in Theresa. She was getting tired of keeping a part of herself hidden—from others, from Patrick, even from herself—, and she decided to be true to her feelings for once. It didn’t escape her that she would be showing her true side to the person who irritated her the most.

‘Had I known what to do,’ she hissed, ‘then I probably wouldn’t be here in the first place—in this world, begging for information from an odious man. I have been taken from my normal life and placed in a situation I never even knew was possible. So cut me a little slack—I’m doing my best here, considering how unprepared I am for what I’m going through.’

‘My apologies,’ said the physicist smoothly. ‘Well, I remember it being said that those have prepared for nothing are ready for anything. But that’s for another time.’ He poured himself a cup of coffee. ‘So, what did you wish to talk to me about?’

‘You swear you had nothing to do with the attack against us, correct? Then help us find the true culprit.’

‘I’m afraid I can’t help you, since I have no idea myself. In any case, why did you think I would be able to help you?’

‘The bomber who seems to be after our lives knows almost exactly where to plant his bombs. He succeeded in killing my version in this world two days ago, and Patrick just lucked out that time. Yesterday he would have killed us had we been faster. Now all these point to something beyond the realm of mere chance and into the mysterious. And you’re the only one I know who’s familiar with these things.’

‘You think too highly of me—’ began the governor.

‘You don’t want to know what I think of you,’ interrupted Theresa.

‘—but not every mystery could be explained by a governor,’ he continued as if she had not spoken. ‘For instance, some are born naturally clairvoyant, or more perceptive of other worlds. Why, you wouldn’t have ended up here if your body wasn’t made more aware of their existence than is the norm. It seems that the family’s research has not been in vain, but how laughably ironic that they would deny the fruits of their own efforts.’

‘What are you talking about?’ said Theresa with some sharpness.

‘Nothing that should concern you now,’ said Dr Agcaoili with his usual enigmatic smile.

‘There’s another thing that bothers me—if what Patrick and I did were against the rules, how come they happened anyway?’

‘Do you think the mere existence of a police force would stop all crime? Human laws are no more than a definition of proper and improper behaviour for a certain society. And, as much as one would hope that physical laws are more certain than that, they, too, could be violated under certain conditions. For that you may blame the principle Heisenberg discovered… My job as a governor is more akin to an immigration official; we take care of the crosser and the witnesses: make sure they understand what happened, and impress upon them the need for secrecy, things like that.’

‘That seems too much for one… person to handle,’ said Theresa. ‘How many are there of you?’

‘There are quite a lot of us, but, considering the near-infinite number of worlds, we’re sorely undermanned—or underpersonned, as you wish to put it.’ A quiet laugh ‘We could, however, get the locals to help. As for myself, I have one of the powers running errands for me.’


‘Ordinary humans who happen to possess abilities that reflect a facet of nature. And before you ask: you’re not one. As I’ve said before, you’re already quite extraordinary to begin with.’

‘Superpowers are real?’

‘Why, yes, of course,’ said Dr Agcaoili. ‘Do you know how they came to be? Bear with me on this, just a little thought experiment: If, one morning, you came across the answer key to an exam you’ll be having that day, would you look at it? Memorise it?’

‘No,’ said Theresa with certainty.

‘Really?’ Dr Agcaoili smirked. ‘Well, I believe you. Now, assume that the very next day you found another answer key to another exam for the following day, would you look at it?’

‘Still no.’

‘And if every day for the rest of your student life there was an answer key waiting for you?’

‘I’ll never cheat,’ said Theresa with a tone of finality.

‘So the possibility exists, but your personality has already rejected one of them. Hence you probably won’t find a world in which Theresa Santos would cheat.

‘But consider this: If the universal wavefunction were true, and all quantum possibilities are actualised, and if all it takes is for one electron to be at a certain position, allowing a neuron to give a signal in your brain for you to cheat, then why won’t it happen?’’

‘What are you talking about? You’ve left the field science and entered philosophy. That’s mind-body dualism you’re talking about.’

‘You know even that, and at your age, too… Truly remarkable… Yes, dualism, that’s close enough. Actually, it’s more of a trialism, or whatever word I should use for “three”. Speaking of words, do you notice how in numerous works of fiction there are magic words that allows one to speak to the material world and with them one could perform supernatural feats? They use English, or Latin, or Greek in those stories, but the actual language of the physical universe is mathematics.’

‘Some say it’s music,’ said Theresa.

‘Well, music can also be expressed mathematically,’ said Dr Agcaoili. ‘In fact, the physical universe could very well be merely an expression of the mathematical laws governing its reality. You know the two components of mathematical equations, correct? The values and how they interact, or the operations. The values of the equation that defines the physical universe we call the demos, and they represent the substance of the universe and the framework in which it moves. The operations are the nómos, and they represent the laws that govern the interactions of the demos. And in humans exists something called the legein, which the mind uses to interact with the physical universe. This intrusion of the mind (or the soul, as some surmise) into the equation results in a counter-intrusion of the equation into humans, echoing Newton’s Third Law of Motion. This reaction is what brought forth the existence of powers.’

‘Why are you telling me all these?’

‘You may not be one of the powers, child, but as a consequence of your experience you have gained some control over the nómos, and, consequently, over the demos. Remember the observer entanglement scenario in the cat experiment—one observer can see only a dead cat, and the other, only the living one. But you’ve been entangled to all the worlds you’ve seen; that means you can see other possibilities (though not the future), and you can see intrusions by other worlds into this one. In fact, if you fancy it, you could superimpose the gravitational field of the worlds you saw into this one and create a singularity to consume it all, as well as neighbouring worlds.  I wouldn’t recommend doing that, though… Well, your ability’s not as interesting as those of the powers, so don’t think of going up against them. Also, you’re still no match for a governor, let alone one of the chosen, so do your best not to provoke them.’

Theresa was silent, pensive. She didn’t understand this sudden effusion from the governor; he seemed highly reticent yesterday. But perhaps he didn’t wish to discuss these things in front of Patrick; Theresa surmised that he possessed some form of precognition that allowed him to foresee events. But that wasn’t it. He still refused to answer certain questions, choosing instead to reveal other information—the abilities Theresa putatively possessed would be helpful, but the rest… What does he want?

She sighed lightly before speaking: trying to decipher the conundrum that was Dr Agcaoili was a futile endeavour, in any case. ‘You said yesterday that you know more about Patrick’s dreams than anyone else. Why is that?’

‘Governors were once humans, too, you know,’ said Dr Agcaoili, as if ignoring Theresa’s question. We were rudely plucked from our normal lives, and so a lot of us still bear the regrets and unfulfilled wishes we had before. The system anticipated this, it seems, and gave us permission to grant one wish—within reason, of course. Also, the wish must not be for our own selves. Still, it was something we could do that wasn’t bound by the rules we have to enforce, so it appeases our human side. After all, humans have a primal instinct to break rules—the original sin, or something to that effect. Anyway, Patrick’s dreams came about as a result of one such wish; someone I could not refuse asked me to grant his wish, and so, in order to fulfil that, I gave Patrick the ability to see the future.’

Theresa uttered no reply, but the glare she fixed on the governor flashed like swords. Dr Agcaoili remained unruffled as he poured himself another cup of coffee. After realizing that the governor would not elaborate, Theresa broke the uneasy silence: ‘This wish, it couldn’t be his own, surely—he may dwell in the past, but he doesn’t think of the future. How can he, knowingly or not, wish to have those dreams? Who made the wish? No,’ Theresa said as she shook her head lightly. ‘More importantly, how will he get rid of them? Tell me.’

Dr Agcaoili ignored her demand, taking a sip of his coffee. ‘It seems that, your statement yesterday notwithstanding, you’re getting to know each other better.’

At that point Theresa could no longer restrain herself. The tone of the physicist’s voice, or the way he eluded her questions, snapped whatever it was in her mind that kept her civil, and so her right hand unzipped the front flap of her handbag, and within it she drew a pair of scissors that she kept there to defend herself with.

‘I’m tired of your games,’ she said in a calm tone of someone who had made a decision. ‘If you won’t tell me what I need, then I’ll force it from you.’

The governor flicked an unconcerned glance at her before taking another sip. Theresa placed the scissors on the table, her hand gripping the handle so tightly that it creaked. Dr Agcaoili lowered the cup and sighed.

‘I suppose that, sooner or later, you’ll need to see this for yourself,’ he said, his voice laden with resignation as he placed his hand in front of him, the palm facing upward.

A light shone from the governor’s right hand. It was a glow of purest white, so bright that Theresa couldn’t bear to look straight into it; it was far brighter than the one she saw in the physicist’s office, the first time she suspected his true nature. She had never knew that light could appear that way; it was so sharp that she could almost feel being cut as it shone on her, and so heavy that she could feel its weight on her as she took a breath. It stopped her in a way no entreaty or command could; it was as if the path of violence against the governor had been robbed from her, and it had never existed in the first place.

‘Child, no matter what happens, no matter what you do, I won’t kill you,’ said Dr Agcaoili in a monotone. The contrast to his usual tone drove home in Theresa’s mind his true nature. ‘I won’t hurt you. But you could see for yourself what I could do to you—a fate worse than death, worse than the most savage torture the human mind could conceive. The way you are now, had you dared to raise your hand against me, I would have struck you down ten times, and you would have suffered a different form of hell each time. I hope you remember this—other governors might not show the same restraint that I do.’

After taking a long sip of his coffee, he brought the cup down on the saucer; the sound it made resembled a death knell to Theresa’s ears.

‘This conversation is over.’

Dr Agcaoili stood up calmly and walked out of the coffee shop. It was only then that Theresa dared to move again.

* * * * *

Patrick wandered aimlessly through the streets of the city. He had fled Christianne’s house after waking up from his dream. He didn’t know what propelled him to run away, only that he didn’t have the guts to face Theresa after seeing her fate.

None of the other pedestrians spared a glance for him as he walked, despite the fact that he could kill them all. He envied their ignorance—he knew that someone wanted to kill him, and that he didn’t know it until a few hours ago, when a dream revealed to him just how far that person would go just to end his life. He had already bombed a mall filled with innocent people, as well as invaded his house with death. He didn’t even notice the first attempt, but the second one came so close to killing him. Now it seemed that his assassin would kidnap Theresa just to get to him.

He didn’t see his own death, which brought him a bit of comfort—he didn’t think he had the strength to march to his own demise. But he doubted that he had the strength to leave Theresa to her fate, either.

It should have been possible to thwart this possibility—not easy, but with Theresa’s help they could have anticipated the bomber’s actions and defeated him. But according to Theresa, changing the future brought great risk. You could destroy this world. That was all she said. Theresa wasn’t prone to exaggeration, but those words of her seemed too fantastic, too unbelievable for him. The irony that Theresa’s own request would doom her didn’t escape Patrick.

‘Shit!’ Patrick said, punching a concrete wall in frustration. He had only once before in his life uttered that foul word. That was after his breakup with Sarah, when he realised the full value of what he had thrown away. The same thing was happening right now; he knew how much Theresa meant to him, and he knew what he had to do, but he couldn’t carry the weight of so many lives—the life of his own mother had been heavy enough. Everyone who walked around him, those who didn’t know how tenuous their existence were—again, he envied their ignorance, and their freedom to act as they desired.

‘You’re so stupid, you know that?’ Whether Patrick referred to himself, or to someone else, even he didn’t know.

[Back to Crossing Everett index.]