Chapter 4: Sarah, Adrian’s wife, the Professor, a mega computer and other universes
I decided to go for a long walk. I had to clear my head after the recent events at work.
I have a very unimportant job at one of the science research councils. I do the filing and a few other “odds and sods”.
I had been working at an estate agent in Chingford. Nice job, near home and reasonable hours. And then in a moment of madness it all went topsy turvy.
I lost my job because I (accidentally) e-mailed a photocopy of my bum to about two hundred clients and my company‘s headquarters in Leeds.
In one way it was good. Losing my job meant that the fling I was having with my boss was curtailed – anyway he seemed to lose interest when I wasn’t “on tap”. My husband Adrian forgave me – that’s not fair – that makes him sound rather Victorian and proper.
He just shrugged his shoulders, wrapped me in his arms and that was that.
I went to an employment tribunal but lost my case, which wasn’t a problem except that the local paper got hold of the story and a photograph of me. Adrian came home one evening saying he’d seen my photograph in the local paper. He’d got talking to a fellow traveller, Dave, who’d lent him the paper.
I hadn’t been in my new job for that long, a couple of months or so, but I’d settled down and although the work’s fairly routine the people I work for are dealing with really top notch science projects. There’s always a buzz in the office, people talking about this new technique, or that speculative area of research.
The park was busy; it always is at lunch time – fellow office workers breathing in deeply the fresh (ish) air, catching a few moments of relaxation. I wasn’t sure whether to walk round the lake or sit on one of the benches looking over the lake and just watch the ducks and geese being fed. One of the benches was empty so I sat down and simply gazed at the birds on the lake. I needed to get things sorted out in my head.
If you had told me last week what would have happened over the next few days I wouldn’t have believed you.
The Monday started as usual. I checked the post, exchanged a few words with the other girls in the office and made myself a cup of coffee. Then I’m dragged into a meeting with my boss, Peter. He’s a sweetie, extremely formal but a gentleman.
“Sarah, I’m sorry to impose on you like this but I need someone to take notes of this morning’s meeting. The lead scientists on one of the projects we’re sponsoring are bringing us up to date on progress. It’s nothing to worry about and I sure you’ll be fine, but I need a verbatim record.”
“That’s not a problem Peter.”
“Thanks, they’ll be here in about half an hour. It might be good if you meet them and bring them up to the meeting room. We want to give them a good impression.”
I took that as a compliment – well, wouldn’t you?
There were three of them in the waiting area. They looked pretty ordinary I thought. I’d expected long hair and unkempt, creased suits or sports jackets with leather patches, but they were dressed like any company executive.
“Professor Clements? I’m Sarah Proops; I work with Peter Cousins, would you come this way please?”
The Professor was about thirty to thirty five, clean shaven with close cropped hair and academic glasses. He introduced the other two.
“ Dr Anita Holmes and Dr Andrew James, my research colleagues; it’s a pleasure to meet you Ms Proops.”
We took the lift to the sixth floor. As we were walking along the corridor to the meeting room, I asked if they’d had a pleasant journey and whether they were staying over night.
“Oh, the journey was fine, and much as we’d like to stay over, we have to get back tonight – we’ve a lot on as you can imagine.” I couldn’t, but inferred they thought I knew more than I did: which was interesting.
“Good to see you again John, and Anita and Andrew of course.”
Peter was standing at the far end of the room and came towards them with his hand held out.
“You know, of course, Dr Fritz Herzog and you’ve already met Sarah. Can I offer you any tea or coffee?”
I knew my role and started to pour out the refreshments.
“Well, exciting times.” Peter continued, “Now do sit down and we can start without any delay. I’ve asked Sarah to make a verbatim note of this meeting – given its possible significance I thought that was best.”
“John, I wonder if first you could rehearse the background to your research and then bring us up to date with the most recent developments.”
As he spoke Peter glanced over to me and nodded slightly. I took that to mean that I should start scribbling at my one hundred words a minute.
Who said short hand was as dead as the dodo?
“Thank you Peter, I’ll begin with the background and my colleagues will give you the details of our latest work and thinking. We’ll try not to be too technical.” I felt a patronising moment coming on, but ignored it.
The Professor continued, “As you will know my team and I have been pursuing the possibilities of a computational device which uses the unusual properties of quantum mechanics. This is not new; work both practical and theoretical has been taking place in this field for a number of years now. Indeed, if you believed what you read in the press and popular science journals such a device is already at the near production stage.”
“That, of course, is not the strictly true; however my team and I believe we have glimpsed, I’ll put it no stronger than that at this stage, a major break through. The science is speculative and many of my colleagues in the field think we’re on the wrong track. Others believe it is far too early to set out any trajectory for the work.
However, I remain convinced that we are onto something which is of considerable importance. Given a fair wind, some luck and adequate funding we should have a device, in the not to distant future, which will supplant all other computational machines.”
The academic relaxed back in his chair and continued. “Today's computers work by manipulating bits that exist in one of two states: a 0 or a 1. Quantum computers aren't limited to two states; they encode information as quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in superposition. This is basic quantum theory.”
He went onto describe something to do with this superposition meaning that these qubits could do millions of calculations at once, making them much more powerful than ordinary PCs. What with that and “entanglement”- linking two atoms together so that you can tell what happens to one atom by what happens to the other - I started to struggle. Apparently “entanglement” allows you to measure the values generated by the qubits. I didn’t really follow it, but the end result was a pretty impressive mega computer.
“As I’ve already pointed out that’s nothing new and there has already been some limited success in making a practical quantum computer. What we’ve been able to do is add another layer of complexity onto this structure.”
“We have superimposed a Boltzmann probability function onto the qubits. So rather than lots of possible solutions we produce the most likely solution. The other solutions are discarded and the computation re-run, speeding up the process by a factor of 10 to the power of six.”
I could see that this was impressive as the Professor’s colleagues mentally preened themselves.
“We also use entanglement to feed back solutions into the qubits which further accelerates the computational processes.”
At this point Fritz piped up. Now he was what one thought of as a real scientist. Messy hair and a clean, carbolic smell with a clear sense of his own brilliance. His cultivated English accent was a surprise – I’d expected something more Wagnerian.
“What really surprised us were the unusual multi- universe effects you described. Very unexpected; along with the energy levels generated. How are you going to contain or dissipate them?”
“Like you we were startled by the figures falling out of the equations.” It was now Dr Anita Holmes’s turn to take up the story.
“How could such a system be sustained or remain stable at such energy levels? It was quite ludicrous – if you followed the science through you were talking about levels which would power not just stars but whole star systems. It was impossible, totally unreal; yet the science and the mathematics worked. We needed to nail this down one way or the other.”
“For the last nine months all we’ve been doing has been re-checking the maths, re-checking the programs and re- running them. We just had no explanation – what could generate these levels of energy? A new force, collapsing universes? We even came up with little green men manipulating the fundamental laws of physics. But nothing - until last week.”
“One of our colleagues was reviewing a couple of sub routines in a pretty obscure program. The maths looked straight forward but then she glimpsed a bifurcation where we didn’t expect any. Down that route we found the huge energy gains still being created but they could be dissipated through a phase shift – a dimensional phase shift. We had a mechanism for carrying away this energy in discrete packets. These energy packets would, quite literally, punch their way through the fabric of our space into another universe.”
“What we have is quite unheard of, a conduit between universes channelling enough energy to power galaxies and all this at the sub quantum level.”
Now Dr James chimed in. I couldn’t help writing in the margin “Quite a little variety routine.”
“Peter, frankly it’s a mess.”
I was too busy imagining little green men hurrying down a subway to bring death and destruction to yours and mine to sympathise too much with their dilemma, if that was what it was. But even to my unscientific mind this seemed pretty major – Dr Who with menace and then some.
“Professor, these packets of energy is that all they are?” Fritz spoke extremely slowly as he uttered those words. Clearly he knew the answer to his own question and wanted to gain the maximum dramatic effect. Did I say I thought he was a smart arse?
“It occurs to me that these quanta of energy would be carrying away more than just energy – they’re also carrying away coherent information – the discarded solutions generated by your modified qubits?”
“Quite, Dr Herzog; if we are right, and I have no reason to doubt it at this stage, what we have is startling beyond the wildest imaginings. How these huge energy levels can be generated in the first place is a major problem, but what is…” he hesitated for a while, “... the real mystery is why these packets of quanta should be carrying away intelligible, coherent information. What is the point? It’s as if it is done for a purpose.”
At that point the meeting broke up. I escorted the Professor and his colleagues to the entrance, wished them a safe journey home after agreeing to phone the Professor’s secretary to book a visit to their facilities within the next fortnight. I then returned to the office.
“Did you get down everything?”
“Peter, I think so – the important bits at least. You’ll have a draft in half an hour or so.”
“And what did you think of it, Sarah.”
“Oh if I didn’t know better I’d think we’d just visited Alice in Wonderland with a detour to Grimms Fairy Tales.”
“My thoughts exactly. Interesting times, Sarah, interesting times. How do you fancy a trip to Cambridge and the Professor’s experiment?”
Chapter 5: Dave’s number theory in Dead World and hitching a ride with the Real Dead.
I found myself floating alone. No Adrian, no Rabbit.
“This is not good.” I thought, “How the hell do I find them in this infinity?”
Then a possible solution began to form in my mind. There’s a problem in number theory – counting numbers. Are two sets of infinities the same size or is one bigger than the other?
Picking up on Adrian’s idea of sets it struck me that there were two infinite sets, the infinity of all the Real Dead and the infinity of all the Near Dead and Live Rabbits.
If I could pair each object within one set with an object in the other set and if one set was bigger than the other I might end up with a remainder which contained Adrian and the Rabbit. …..