Abyss & Apex : Second Quarter 2006 : When Maxwell’s Demon Met Schrödingers Cat

“When Maxwell’s Demon Met Schrödinger’s Cat”

by Jack Hillman

I sat in the dining hall, nursing a cup of horrible coffee, as I surveyed my charges. I was the new staff psychologist for Trumbauer Station, brought on board by corporate management to try and improve the production rate of the personnel on the station, one personnel in particular.

“Mind if I drag up a chair?” a voice to my left said.

I looked up at Commander Joanne Patterson, a veteran of many assignments, but none quite like Trumbauer. Her short, graying hair framed a face lined by experience, both good and bad. The smooth play of muscles beneath her utilitarian coveralls told of a history of hard, physical labor and an effective effort to maintain that tone in a low-gravity environment.

“Sure, Jo, if you don’t think being seen with the local head-shrinker will affect your authority,” I answered.

Patterson pulled out a chair, twisting the frame with a practiced flip of the wrist to break the magnetic seal of the feet to the floor. She dropped down on the other side of the table from me and set her own coffee mug on the table. The mild magnetic field from the table grabbed the cup and pulled it the last quarter inch with a snap of metal on metal.

“Too late for that,” Patterson answered. “These folks already think I’m an ogre and should be tossed out an airlock without a suit.” She took a sip of her brew and couldn’t fully disguise a grimace at the taste.

“Any chance you can teach the cook to make a decent cup of coffee?” I asked, taking a painful sip myself.

“He says the lack of gravity won’t let the water perk through the grounds, and any type of pressure flow just makes the end result worse.” Patterson scowled. “I hear Cookie and one of the engineers over on South Quadrant are rigging a centrifuge to hold a two-hundred gallon unit and spin it at one gravity. It will be interesting to taste the end result.”

“I find it amazing what lengths humans will go to for a decent cup of coffee,” I said, taking another sip. I grimaced again and set the cup down, far enough away to lessen the temptation to sample it again. “Anything new in the mail today?” I asked casually.

The corporate mail drop was a weekly event and some of the staff had a pool going to see which would be the next lab site to be shut down. Corporate kept careful account of the money spent on this asteroid out in the depths of space. Whenever one of the experiments began to cost more than their projected return, plus the expenses to date, the plug was pulled. The average was about one plug every three months. But for the past five months, everyone had been waiting for the announcement, with nothing coming from corporate. Even some of the scientists, who were notorious for being in their own worlds most of the time, had gotten in on the betting. It made for a welcome change to the daily routine.

“Trying to pump me for inside information?” Patterson asked with a smile.

“Of course,” I replied. “It’s my duty to be prepared for any psychological repercussions with the involved personnel and prevent any unacceptable events.”

“And how much do you have in the pool?” The twinkle in her eyes showed Patterson was well aware of the answer.

“Ten credits, same as everyone else,” I said. “But my interest is strictly professional.”

“Right, and crystals can’t grow in a vacuum,” she grinned.

“Seriously, is there some hint about what corporate has in mind? Some of these scientists are on the edge right now. I don’t want a repeat of Verazzi.” I looked eye to eye with the commander and saw her nod of agreement.

Verazzi was an optics engineer who had plans to create a new medium for transmitting signals. The idea was to be able to use light transmission in underwater stations, increasing the communications effectiveness as well as the safety factors with the increased communication capabilities. When Corporate bean counters decided the research was costing more than they would get back in return and closed down Verazzi’s lab, Verazzi had rigged the lab to explode and take the asteroid with it whenever the next person walked through the door, then walked out the outside airlock without a suit.

It took the maintenance staff a week and a half to defuse the bombs and the new patents they filed on some of the triggers Verazzi designed to make his last act memorable would have brought in enough capital to cover the remainder of his research without any problem.

Part of my job, the biggest part, was to make sure that didn’t happen again. Corporate didn’t want to loose the input of a scientist able to do what Verazzi had done before he took a walk. It cost the shareholders money and Corporate didn’t want to lose money, the hard-hearted golems.

“Have you had occasion to speak to Stamford lately?” the commander asked.

“As a matter of fact, I’m meeting with him an about an hour,” I said. “Why? Is there something I should know about?”

“Nothing you probably don’t know already,” Patterson answered. “Some of the personnel have stated he seems to be spending an inordinate amount of time in his lab, especially after that little mishap last week.”

Stanford had an explosion in his lab that caused a fair amount of damage. Only the fact that he had followed every safety procedure to the letter, and made some improvements of his own on some of them, as well as monitoring the experiment closely, had kept the station intact. Everyone had been congratulating him whenever they saw him, which Stamford found as uncomfortable as the fact that his experiment didn’t do what it was supposed to. Stamford was one of the reasons, perhaps the biggest reason, I was now stationed on Trumbauer.

“I’ll see what I can do to get him out of his shell so he’s at the party tonight,” I glanced in the general direction of his lab.

“Make sure you do,” Patterson looked down at the awful coffee rather than meet my eyes. “I’ve seen men like him work themselves to death just to keep away from people. I don’t want that to happen on my station.”

“No problem. By the time I get done with him he’ll be doing a low-gee waltz with you around the mess hall.” She looked up and I smiled.

“When pigs fly,” she answered. “Just try to get him out of his shell and back to reality. He’s too good a man to waste hiding in a lab.”

“Not according to the company,” I reminded her. “After all, that’s why they sent him out here: so he’d have fewer distractions.”

“And has he accomplished that much more?” Patterson asked.

“No, and that’s why I’m trying to do exactly what you’re suggesting,” I replied. “He’s been deadlocked on this project for six months. Corporate is looking for some way to break him loose and get some progress. If that doesn’t happen soon, the plug gets pulled on his research. I think that would destroy him.”

“Probably,” Patterson agreed. “Keep me informed.” She finished the last of her cup, grimacing theatrically. “I’m going to shoot the cook for putting this out and calling it coffee. See you later.”

Maxwell's Demon

I triggered the access signal of Stamford’s lab an hour later and looked through the view port set into the wall next to the lock. I saw him wave absently to for me come in. The unit cycled, equalizing the pressure before admitting me through the tiny lock. Stamford was engrossed in reviewing the results of his latest trial, scrolling through the computer readouts and shaking his head.

“Dr. Stamford?” I said, trying to gain a measure of his attention.

“This makes no sense,” he stated, gesturing toward the readout and standing back.

Stamford was a tall man, taller than my six feet by three inches, and thick-built like a boxer. It was surprising he managed to maintain such a spare frame with the little exercise carrying equipment around the lab would give him. Having reviewed his personnel jacket, I knew he didn’t spend time in the station gym or in the centrifuge chamber. Maybe the fact that he also didn’t eat regular meals, tending to grab something when the hunger pains reminded him to eat, helped keep him from puffing up like a balloon. I envied him as I stroked the growing tire at my waist.

“And just what doesn’t make sense?” I asked, trying to draw Stamford into a conversation.

“I’m getting three different sets of results that are mutually exclusive,” Stamford began.

I wasn’t certain he was answering my question so much as he was talking to himself.

“There is no reason this unit should be behaving in this manner.” He began to pace the floor of his lab. “The energy output is carefully controlled from the source. If we’re going to have an effective system for beaming power from one site to another, we have to be able to maintain the focus and limit any extraneous effects on the beam. Otherwise, the entire system takes more power to keep the beam together than is in the beam itself.”

I listened as Stamford spoke. This was the reason he was here: trying to build an effective system to beam power from one site to another. If Stamford managed to come up with a way to accomplish this feat, the company would be able to put solar collector units in orbit and beam power to wherever they wanted, at a fraction the cost of other systems. Stamford had proposed a theoretical way to keep the power beam focused, but the technical aspects still needed to be worked out.

“The beam generates at seventeen gigajoules in this unit,” Stamford said to himself. He stood in front of the large noteboard each lab had along the corridor wall. He was erasing specific sections of a maze of equations he had previously written, changing some values, deleting others entirely. “The focusing field, at minimum strength, is affected along the z-axis by the strength of the beam, the frequency of the input and the strength of the return signal. The gravity deviation is constant along the x-axis and helps maintain coherency by polarizing the output. The discrimination of the restraint field is charged to keep the higher state ions in place without degradation. What I can’t figure…” His voice became unintelligible as he dropped into deep thought.

Stamford moved over to a clear section of the board and began writing like a fiend, building what was to me an amazing array of mathematical equations. As the doctor began to run down, making fewer and fewer notations on the board in between longer period of introspection, I decided to take a chance and interrupt.

“Dr. Stamford,” I said, raising my voice slightly.

Stamford grunted in reply but was still focused on the board, one hand moving a stylus near the surface as he noted his thoughts.

“Dr. Stamford,” I repeated, louder.

The scientist ignored me, still lost in thought.

I went over and set a hand on Stamford’s shoulder, giving him a slight shake.

“What? Who? Oh, it’s you, Doctor,” Stamford said. “Did we have a meeting today?” He glanced down at his watch, a complex affair with an extensive calendar reminder system, that had a built-in tracer to let station personnel find anyone they needed, a necessity with scientists like Stamford.

“Yes, actually we did,” I answered. “But I let myself in and waited. I didn’t want to interrupt your train of thought.”

“Hardly a train,” Stamford answered. “Lately, it’s more like a bicycle, and not a very fast one at that.” He shook his head. “I’m beginning to think I need to close this experiment out and go back to Earth. I’m not having any luck here.”

I shuddered inwardly. “Please be very careful with that line of thought, Dr. Stamford,” I cautioned. “There are people that would take advantage of your intent to change your emphasis to use for their own advancement.”

Stamford laughed, a whinnying sound similar to a horse’s bray. “Let them try,” he stated. “If anyone can make progress on this project without my input, they’re a better scientist than I am.”

“Look, doctor,” I said, walking up to him and putting a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve been cooped up in this lab too long. If you don’t get out and get some perspective, you’re going to be no use to yourself or to anyone else.” I waved a hand, encompassing the rest of the station. “Who knows, one of your associates may have the answer to your focusing problem.”

“I could use some discussion time, to clear the air if nothing else,” said Stamford. “Maybe I’m just overlooking the obvious.”

“There you go, doctor.” I clapped him on the shoulder, urging him toward the door. “Now go get changed for the party and be ready to indulge in human Brownian movement.”

I guided Stamford through the lock and out of the lab. It was a step in the right direction, but I was worried about him. There was good chance the corporation was going to close him down, and I had no idea how he would react.

Shrodinger's Cat

That evening, I sat at the corner of the dining area, watching the festivities. The station personnel, aided by the more gregarious of the scientific staff, had put on a real luau for Stamford. Someone had managed to browbeat the cook into forming processed meat into the shape of a pig, and placed a candied apple in its mouth as part of the main centerpiece of the food table. The maintenance technical staff had spiked the punchbowl with seventy-proof moonshine from the vacuum still they thought the commander didn’t know about. As long as the end products of the still were kept below a reasonable production level, Patterson closed her eyes to the process. People on a place like Trumbauer needed a bit of a release, she agreed.

A couple of the shuttle pilots were shapely enough to make the fake grass skirts interesting as they did a extremely modified version of a hula dance, to the beat of improvised drums and tin whistles. The performance was energetic and highly appreciated, if not authentic. Stamford, as the guest of honor, was pulled up on the floor for thirty seconds of wild gyrations with the pilots, before he collapsed in a fit of laughter. The punch he had been given was barely flavored with fruit juice and the end result was good for his soul, if not for his liver.

Now, four hours into the celebration, Stamford sat in a circle with seven other scientists and a half dozen or so of the station staff. The discussion had degenerated into matters of scientific interest only and Stamford’s project in specific.

“The idea is for the containment pattern to hold the energy flux inside, as well as bringing in any stray ions that happen by,” Stamford was saying. “Sort of a semi-permeable membrane but in one direction only.”

“Sounds like you’re trying to build Maxwell’s Demon,” one of the other scientists stated, his words slurred by too many servings of punch.

“Why do you say that?” Stamford asked.

“Well, you’re trying to build a system that will not only keep the energy flow within, but entrap similar particles from outside the system,” the other scientist said. “You’re trying to stop entropy. If that’s not Maxwell’s Demon, I don’t know what is.”

One of the station techs spoke up. “You want to bring the rest of us up to speed? What’s Maxwell’s Demon?”

“An engineer’s pipedream,” one of the other scientists offered. “Back in the dark ages of physics a scientist by the name of Maxwell postulated that since the second law of thermodynamics states ‘entropy will always increase in any spontaneous process involving a highly complex system,’ the only way to beat the system and keep reality from falling into chaos was to have a demon sit at a divider between the high and low energy state particles and open a door to let the high energy parts through to one side and the low energy parts through to the other. This would permit the system to maintain a high energy state and continue to function efficiently.” The scientist laughed. “Maxwell’s Demon has always been a bit of a joke among physicists.”

“Not a joke,” Stamford said, with careful clarity. The punch was catching up with him. “An unreachable dream, perhaps, but not a pipe dream. We can build such a system.”

“Right, doc,” the tech stated. “And that’s how you managed to make a new access to your lab last week, by stopping entropy from advancing.”

The group laughed, all except Stamford and one other person.

I had been watching Dr. Elizabeth Connors during the course of the evening. She seemed to be taking more than a casual interest in Stamford. Another of those scientists Patterson was concerned about, Connors was, like Stamford, terminally shy. She was a cryonics expert, here to work on a possible process for suspended animation for deep space exploration. During the time I had been on station, I had spoken with her a total of three times, twice in my office, where she was required to attend “counseling” in order to determine her mental health in a deep space environment, and once in the mess hall, where she barely acknowledged my presence, staring at the floor as I spoke to her. She was one of the scientists I had tagged as a possible problem if her project was ever suspended.

She had been hanging on Stamford’s every word all night. Wherever he was, she was nearby, listening in on the conversation without saying anything. At one point in the festivities, Connors had permitted herself to be forced into a slow dance with Stamford, keeping a mathematically precise one inch of space between them the entire time. Now, she was sitting on the floor at his feet, most of the chairs having been sequestered for the night to give floor space for dancing, gazing up at him with an expression I had last seen on the face of a teen-age girl looking at her current 3D video idol. Even in his present condition, Stamford had noticed the attention she was paying him. I could see the confusion in his eyes when he looked at her, unsure what to do next.

For the first time, Connors spoke up.

“Have you considered observational interference?” she asked Stamford.

He looked down at her, surprised by the question. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Connors looked around at the group, all attention focused on her. She was ready to crawl into a hole to escape the unwanted focus of her peers.

“I’ve, uh, noticed an additional error factor in my experiments that seems to occur only when I’m actually observing them. I wondered if that might be part of your control problem.” She smiled timidly up at Stamford.

“I never thought of that,” he stated, his mind already racing through myriad thoughts on the process, rapidly losing contact with the people he was with. A loud laugh brought him back to the group. The scientist who had mentioned Maxwell’s demon was holding his sides in pain as he laughed even harder than before.

“Not only do we have Maxwell’s Demon making an appearance, now we have Schrödinger’s Cat here as well.” He convulsed in laughter again, joined by snickers from some of the other engineering minded scientists and techs who understood the reference.

Connors turned bright red at the slur, trying to slide back out of the circle and make her escape. But she was at the edge of the room and the compartment wall was behind her. There was nowhere for her to go but through the middle of the circle, past all the laughing members of the staff. I saw what little self-confidence she had crumbling under the onslaught of the massed ridicule of her peers. Then a miracle happened. Her white knight appeared.

Stamford stood, looking down at the drunken scientist who made the disparaging comment. Even in his inebriated state, Stamford looked ready to do battle, short-lived though it might be.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” he quoted to his hapless colleague. Then, turning to Connors, Stamford held out one hand to assist her to her feet. “Come, doctor,” he enunciated carefully but imperiously. “I would like to hear more about your idea.” He turned to the gathered throng. “Good night,” Stamford said to the assemblage. The two slightly swaying scientists walked out like a royal couple.

There was a pregnant silence as Stamford and Connors left the room. As the door closed on them, one of the station techs turned to the deflated scientist and said, “Well, I guess he told you.”

For some reason the crowd thought this was hilarious, confirming my impression of the general level of sobriety. Patterson and I looked at each other and exchanged smiles. From our point of view, this was a positive development for both Stamford and Connors. As for the rest of the staff, they continued talking and drinking for another hour before the party finally broke up.

The next day I had several appointments with some of the station scientists, trying to keep them on an even keel while they fretted about their own projects. By the time I was done with the counseling sessions, it was early afternoon. I decided to stop by Stamford’s lab to see if there had been any changes.

There had been.

Dr. Connors was standing in the corridor, looking through the view port into the lab. As I came closer, she smiled.

“Nathan thinks he found the problem,” she said to me. “He’s trying another experiment to see if he can confirm the results.”

I had to think for a moment before I remembered that Nathan was Stamford’s first name. “Sounds good,” I replied cautiously. “What’s he doing differently this time?”

“He’s watching it,” Connors answered.

Before I could respond to such an obscure answer, Stamford’s voice came over the intercom into the corridor.

“All right, ready to begin,” Stamford said. “Lighting the torch.”

Through the view port, we saw the beam of the power transfer unit begin to pulse. The argon laser surged within the containment field Stamford had created with a blue glow that reminded me of the sky of Earth on a clear day.

“Stepping up the containment field to full power,” Stamford said.

There was movement inside the lab and I realized that Stamford was wearing not the lab coat I expected, but rather a fully plated space suit for heavy construction work. I turned to Connors.

“What is he doing in a suit inside his lab?” I asked.

“If we’re right, he’ll need it,” was her only answer. She turned back toward the view port with a bright smile on her face.

Looking back inside the lab, I now realized that Stamford had rearranged the equipment inside. The power unit and containment field, which had originally been placed along the long axis of the room, was now oriented ninety degrees to the left and facing the outside wall of the station. I began to worry about station integrity.

“Beginning observation,” Stamford said, his voice cheerful.

For five seconds the blue beam continued to glow as it had before. Then, suddenly, there was a flare that almost blinded us before the polarizers in the view port kicked in for three seconds. I heard the grating blare of the atmosphere klaxons reverberating in the corridor, matched by a loud whistling from inside the lab. Over the loudspeaker I could hear Stamford cheering over something as he moved toward the far wall of the lab. In his hands he held a steel plate, used for patching hull punctures on the shuttles when they received meteor damage. Stamford was moving toward a two-inch hole in the wall that was currently sucking the atmosphere out of the lab.

In the hard suit, with its augmented joints and powered limbs, Stamford had little trouble centering the plate over the hole and letting the pressure differential hold it in place, stopping the whirlwind in the lab. Beside me, Conners was bouncing up and down and clapping, looking as much like a cheerleader as was possible in coveralls and magnetic boots. The two scientists had obviously expected this outcome of the experiment, no matter how violent it seemed, and had taken proper precautions. I made a mental note to remind Patterson she needed to stress station security more with the scientists before they decided to blow a hole in the outside wall of the station.

“Okay, you knew that would happen,” I said to Connors. “Tell me: just what did happen?”

“Oh, I can’t spoil it for him,” Connors stated, all smiles and bubbling happiness. “Nathan must tell you himself.”

“Tell us what,” Patterson demanded, appearing behind me in the corridor. A full damage control party clogged the passageway behind her.

Connors’ reply was cut off by the sound of the lock working to pass someone through. Connors turned as Stamford appeared in the opening. She was barely able to restrain herself until he removed the helmet of the suit before she planted a very loud, very thorough kiss on his smiling lips. He held her in one suited arm as he faced Patterson and the station personnel. He didn’t seem to care that they were out for blood.

“It worked,” Stamford stated, smiling broadly.

“What worked?” Patterson demanded. “And just why did you believe it necessary to burn another hole in my station, Doctor?”

“I apologize, Commander,” Stamford said. “I didn’t think it would be a problem, since the lab was sealed and I was ready with a patch. I needed to confirm my theory.”

“WHAT theory?” Patterson demanded through clenched teeth. Her temper was stretched to its limit by Stamford’s casual, uninformative responses.

The scientist began to strip out of the hardsuit, aided by Connors. “Well, it had to do with the conversation we were having last evening and something Hastings said to me.” His explanation was halted for a moment as he removed the locking ring at the top of the hardsuit, permitting the rest of the suit to be sloughed off toward his feet. “While there was some truth to the comments about Maxwell’s Demon and my attempt to limit the adverse effects of entropy, I believe I owe Dr. Hastings an apology for becoming so upset with his comments about Schrödinger’s Cat. There was more truth to his offhand remark than he knew.”

Patterson looked from Stamford to Connors and back again. She was still waiting for something to be said that explained another hole in her station. “And?” she prompted.

The green light went on over the door to Stamford’s lab, signaling the atmosphere was back up to pressure inside. The klaxon cut off as the sensors registered the end of the emergency.

“Well, to be brief,” Stamford said, “There was some truth to the assumption that my containment field was designed to maintain the coherency of the beam, to some degree like the analogy of Maxwell’s Demon. But what Dr. Connors pointed out, and what I had not realized before, was that there was another factor operating on the beam that affected the results.”

He grinned at Dr. Connors.

“And that was?” Patterson asked in clipped tones, ready to pull it out of Stamford by force if necessary.

“Why, the observational factor, Commander,” Stamford said. “Haven’t you noticed that there has been a much higher level of adverse results in the experiments run on this station? More so than any similar lab back on Earth?”

“For some of the scientists,” Patterson agreed, her face relaxing a bit. “And how does that equate to your experiment?”

“Quite simply, the scientists have been influencing the results of their own experiments,” Stamford said as he leaned against the observation wall’s glass. “Unconsciously, I assure you. But there is a definite correlation between the direct observation of an experiment and the end result.”

“Schrödinger’s Cat,” a voice in the back of the damage control group muttered.

“Exactly,” Stamford agreed. “Here on Trumbauer Station, the gravity is greatly reduced from what we are used to on Earth. In addition, we are farther out in the solar system than any other lab has ever been placed before. While there is an influence of gravity on everyone here, it is much weaker than any of us have ever experienced before. This permits the minute ability of most humans to manipulate matter to make itself felt. The fact that we observe the experiment, and have some conscious or unconscious belief in the outcome, has an effect on the results.”

“Are you trying to tell me you’re telekinetic?” Patterson exploded. “You blew a hole in the wall of my station to prove you can move things with your mind?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes, Commander,” Stamford said.

There was a murmur of disbelief and astonishment from the gathered personnel.

Patterson stared at him. “That’s insane.”

Stamford shrugged. “It was necessary to establish that my preconceived opinion on the outcome of the sub-molecular interaction was establishing the parameters of the results.”

“I think, therefore I flare,” one of the scientists muttered.

“Exactly,” Stamford said, his face beaming with approval of the simple explanation.

“Doctor, I have no doubt what you did made perfect sense to you, and I do plan to take up the matter of this type of experiment with the company before any more holes are shot in my walls, but I have to ask: did you think of the possibility that there may have been a shuttle on the other side of that wall when you let loose with your projector?” Patterson glared at Stamford like an angry mother.

Stamford’s jaw bounced off the corridor floor, matched only by the look of horror on Connors’ face.

“Oh, my god,” Stamford said. “There wasn’t one, I hope?”

No, thank the stars,” Patterson said, her fists on her hips, her lips a thin line. “But there easily could have been, given how close you are to the main boarding lock. I’d appreciate it if you and any of your associates would check with me before doing something like this again.” She turned to glare at the rest of the gathered scientists.

“I certainly would,” Stamford answered, “If I planned to be here any longer.”

“And just what does that mean?” Patterson demanded. “You’re not going to tell me you’ve solved all your problems with this little display of pyrotechnics.”

“Oh, no,” Stamford answered. “But I have managed to come up with a new set of parameters that must be reviewed with management before I proceed. I’ll be heading back to Earth on the next shuttle to have a talk with them. Based on those discussions, I may or may not be returning.”

“Well,” Patterson said. She paused, then continued. “Whatever the outcome, please be more careful with your experiments, wherever you are, Doctor.” She turned to the repair crew. “Go in and make sure of the seal and let me know if any additional repairs will be needed.” To the others in the corridor she said, “All right folks. Show’s over. Let’s all go back to work now.”

The crowd dispersed, although some of the scientists looked like they wanted to talk to Stamford about his discovery. Patterson waved away the most persistent of the lot and looked up at Stamford.

“Your comments implied some of the problems we’re having on this station are the result of human intervention,” she said. “I want a full report on your conclusions on my desk by the end of shift today.”

“Certainly, Commander,” Stamford said.

Patterson looked at him and Connors. “I’m not sure what’s happening here, but if it gives us results I’m all for it. The only thing I have to say,” she moved up until she was nose to chest with Stamford, looking up at him, “is that if you do come back to this station, and you ever pull another hair-brained stunt like this one, I will personally walk you out onto the surface of this rock and kick your ass so hard you’ll arrive on Earth before the shuttle. Do you understand me?”

Stamford stood with his head bowed, looking for all the world like a little boy caught with his hand in the candy jar. “Yes, ma’am,” he said.

Patterson continued to glower at him for a minute, then nodded at Stamford’s acceptance of her verdict, turned and walked down the corridor toward her office. I looked at the two scientists.

“So, you’re leaving us,” I said to Stamford.

“We both are,” he answered. “Elizabeth and I have a lot to talk about and the trip back to Earth should be just long enough to get to know each other.”

“Oh?” I smiled as I raised an eyebrow in question.

Stamford took both her hands in both of his, looking into her eyes. “We talked all night. I’ve never done that before with a woman. Elizabeth was the one who showed me what I was missing in my experiment. If it wasn’t for her I’d be going back to Earth in disgrace.” Dr. Connors grinned up at him with all the infatuation of a teenage crush.

“Now I can go back with the details of why my system, and probably a lot of other things the company is trying to do out here, won’t work until they do more research on the observational effect.” He turned to me. “I may not have solved my project’s problems, but the discovery of how Schrödinger’s Cat actually has an effect out here more than makes up for the difference. The company can find a thousand ways to exploit the observational effect for their benefit.”

“And what about Dr. Connors’ project?”’ I asked. “She hasn’t finished her research.”

“I finished three months ago,” Connors replied, still staring into Stamford’s eyes. “I just didn’t want to report my findings and be sent back to Earth. I was still looking for something here. I found it.” She stood on her toes and kissed Stamford lightly on the lips.

The physicist blushed bright red. He hugged Dr. Connors and she hugged him back.

“Well, looks like things are working out for you both,” I said. I watched the two of them for a moment, before clearing my throat. “Um, why don’t you two go make plans for your trip back to Earth”

“An excellent suggestion,” Stamford agreed. “Come, my dear.” He offered Connors an arm.

“Thank you,” she said to Stamford, linking her arm with his. “Goodbye,” she added to me, looking back over her shoulder as they walked down the corridor, her feline grace an odd contrast to his careful gait.

I set off in the opposite direction, in search of a decent cup of centrifuge coffee. In more than one way, I felt like celebrating.


An avid reader since before the days of the first moon landing, Jack Hillman has published stories in many fiction genres, as well as a multitude of nonfiction works. His fiction appears in such places as The Big Black, a space opera anthology, GateWay SF Magazine, Jackhammer , Peridot Books Magazine, Aberrations, Bloodreams, Eternity Online, Gateways , Starblade, Once Upon A World, Nuketown, the Kings of The Night III anthology and The Magistria:World Of The Sorcerer anthology.  Jack’s first novel in a YA fantasy trilogy- There Are Giants in This Valley– is available through ArcheBooks Publishing Inc. 


Copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted.


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