flash fiction

One Universe at a Time

(or Quantum messages)

I told Joe not to worry about the message he had just received from his wife on Earth asking him for divorce. I told him not to worry because the woman on the video who had the same face, the save voice, and the same name as his wife, was not in fact his real wife.

Although every astronaut knows that nothing travels faster than light, few understand how quantum communication really works. But if nothing else, they all know that quantum messages are entertainment not information. Or at least they should know it.

Joe couldn’t stop thinking about the message. I thought if I explained how it all works I would help calm him down. It turns out I only made things worse. I don’t know if I can blame myself entirely, but I definitely had a part in driving him mad.

The truth is messages sent by quantum vibration from Earth to our starship only appear to be delivered instantly.

I explained to Joe that the message doesn’t really travel faster than light. To get the contents of a message sent from Earth, we simply collapse the quantum superposition of all the infinite probabilities that the message can take. We just have no way of knowing which is the one that correspond to the original message.

“So they are made up?” asked Joe.

“No. They are real,” I explained. “They just don’t come from our reality.”

“Excuse me?”

“They come from one out of an infinite number of parallel universes. That’s what resolving the superposition does. So this message was never meant for you, see? You real wife, in our universe is safe back home, waiting for you to finish this assignment.”

I explained all this to Joe. I told him about parallel universes, and collapsing waves, and probabilities, and all that. But knowing all the science behind how the messages worked did not help him. On the contrary the more I explained the bigger his obsession grew.

“It doesn’t matter really,“ he said. “Don’t you understand? My wife might be waiting for me to return, but what about that other Joe?”

“The other Joe?” I asked

“Yes! What about that other Joe! The one this message was meant for!”

“You can’t be serious, Joe,” I said laughing. “If you are going to worry about this one Joe, why not about all the other Joes that might be going through an infinite number of miseries in an infinite number of universes?”

I thought he was joking. I really thought so. But I was wrong. I put this idea in his head and the obsession grew until it was all he could think of and we had to send him back to Earth on a medical dispatcher pod.

I keep telling myself that quantum messages are just meant for fun, that’s all. But the thing is, now that I think of it I can’t shake the idea of all the other infinite number of disasters that are indeed happening to us in an infinite number of universes.

And then I remember Joe, and I take a deep breath.

We all have enough with the worries of one single universe, right? Let’s just focus on this one. Let’s just work things out one universe at a time.

January 9, 2021

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