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Spooky Action at a Distance

By day Paul Celmer works as a technical writer. By moonlight, he has been publishing science fiction stories since 1999.
The explosion in the basement lab during the physics department Christmas party didn't cause any damage. At least nothing physical.
"Holy crap." Smith murmured as he rolled over to find Professor Vogelherz lying naked next to him on the couch in the faculty lounge, bumping his elbow into her face in the process.
"I heard that," Vogelherz said, rubbing her eye.
"What the hell happened to our clothes?" Smith reached down and pulled his jacket over them. Thank God it was Sunday morning. No students.
"Is this the universe in which we utterly despise each other, or the one where we can't wait to fall into each other's arms?" Vogelherz laughed.
"How the heck would I know?" Smith probed the graying stubble on the side of his face. "You're the head of the department."
"By the way you were acting at the party last night, it seemed you let the distinction blur." Vogelherz's fingers fumbled through the tangles of her long black hair.
"I had too much to drink." Smith mumbled. The early morning light through the slits in the blinds made shadows play across the face of the woman beside him. He thought of the beauty of standing waves in resonance.
"Two eggnogs were too much? I've seen you drink like a fish at the department happy hour every Friday for the last few months," Vogelherz said.
"You keeping tabs on me?"
"That's a lot of imbibing for a happily confirmed bachelor."
"Every man should know his limits." Smith dared to glance into her blue eyes that for some reason always made him seek a place to hide.
Vogelherz stared up into the ceiling, squinting at the tangled patterns made by the electrical conduits overhead like they were the trace-lines of smashed sub-atomic particles. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure."
"Why are you always avoiding me? Don't think I haven't noticed you pretending to talk on your phone every time you see me coming down the hallway."
"You're not my type," Smith smiled.
"Too smart?"
"Too sarcastic."
"Then explain how we ended up here, Genius Professor Smith?"
Smith heard a loud obnoxious meow from under the couch and pondered. "Last thing I remember is we were talking to that idiot Groviglio about his new quantum generator."
"That bloody buffoon."
"Cliche black bushy beard and pretentious hipster tattoos. You hired him."
"Your search committee approved him." Vogelherz jutted her angular chin.
"I was trying to please you," Smith teased.
"Sure you were."
"Groviglio thinks it will reveal the secret of particle entanglement, exorcising old man Albert's 'spooky action at a distance' ghost. The key to faster than light travel. Retro-causality. The ability to split timelines and alternate universes. Madness." Smith got angry every time he thought of that idiot.
"Oh my God, you're jealous, aren't you?"
"Of that walking parody of an academic? You've become a comedian." Smith looked away.
"Hmm. Anyway, I think the reward is worth the risk," Vogleherz said.
"There's no certainly the project will ever find an answer. It's a financial black hole."
"You always want things so black and white. You do know we only get one chance at life, right? Why don't you just go with it for once?" Vogelherz scooped a wayward lock of hair behind her ear.
"I thought we were talking about the Quantum field generator?"
"Correct, again." Vogleherz rolled her eyes. "You're astoundingly practical for a theoretical physicist. Maybe that's why you can't get anything published."
"I'm working on something."
"Really? Nothing for five years. Since your divorce."
"As a specialist in Quantum mechanics, you should know that correlation does not imply causation." Smith was getting irritated.
"She left you. Your papers became tentative, cautious. Then dried up completely."
"You don't know everything," Smith said, trying to ignore the cut. "Anyway, Groviglio was braying about the damned machine. Then there was the flash."
"I saw something too. Dark green. A microsecond. Like someone elbowing you in the eye when you're trying to sleep." Vogelherz playfully elbowed Smith in the ribs. "Non-concussive explosion ripping space-time. That's also about when you started to act as if you actually enjoyed my company a bit. But no one else seemed to notice."
"Groviglio did," Smith said. "His phone started beeping like crazy. Then he mumbled something about having to check the lab and hightailed it out of there like he was chased by an alternate universe ghost. That's the last thing I remember."
"Did the Quantum generator send us to an alternate universe, or_." Vogelherz was interrupted by a large yellow tabby cat circling the couch as it emitted a series of obnoxious loud meows. "Ha! Maybe Dusty knows what happened. The janitor keeps her down there for the mice. They chew the insulation off the cables."
"If only that cat could talk." Smith mocked.
"Wait! Dusty's nametag!"
"Who cares?"
"Superstring chirality. If her name is written left to right, all is as it was. We are in the universe we started in, the one where we hate each other. Er, the one where you hate me that is. But if it is written mirrored right to left, we are in the alternate universe where our mutual passion has no bounds...." Vogelherz grinned.
"You still drunk?"
"There's only one way to put the theory to bed. Here kitty, kitty!"
Dusty jumped between their feet and crawled towards the pair.
"No!" Smith winged a pillow. Dusty raced into the void.
"Scheisse! We're never going to find out what universe we are in now!"
"Maybe you're right. It's time for me to risk uncertainty. At least in this moment." Smith rested his hand on Vogelherz's hip and drew her closer.
She leaned in. "Maybe this moment is all that matters. Forever."
The pair blurred their smiles as their limbs entangled for spooky action at a swiftly diminishing distance.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 14th, 2017


I have always been fascinated and vexed by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. This story is an attempt to make sense of it, or maybe better jettison the attempt to make sense of it. I edited this very short story on at least 17 different occasions over the past year before deciding on this version. Mostly I was cutting out words. It is amazing how hard it is to make something simple.

- Paul Celmer

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