Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

Note to Self

The notion of the quantum mirror was first floated by two graduate students (Sapna Gupta and Mark Shaw) over a fourth round of beers in a small pub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and therefore one should consider the role of intoxication in its initial conception. This is not to say that the notion itself was a foolish one; the subsequent procession of events should be sufficient proof that it was not. It’s merely to point out that sometimes a shift in perspective is required to push the world into something new.

Among the assembled students—Gupta and Shaw were only two of six present at the table—there was at first confusion between the quantum mirror and quantum reflection, which was by then already a well-established branch of physics, and atomic mirrors had been in use for some time. The two students were quick to attempt to clarify that they were speaking not about the interaction of atoms and the forces acting upon them but instead about something quite different, although not unrelated.1

Despite their best efforts, Gupta and Shaw were unable to lay out the concept in a convincing manner. Conversation drifted to other topics (the robustness of Boston’s seawall, the horror of mortality, whether Gupta and Shaw were going to give up the pretense of professionalism and finally go the hell out already).2

But Gupta and Shaw refused to abandon the idea, and they spent many of the semester’s remaining sober hours in its development. Their grades suffered, but their feeling then and for some time after was that it was time well spent.

That opinion was later revised, but they should be forgiven for the events that made revision necessary; they cannot possibly have known then what they learned much later, and they would not by any means be the first people to have to make such revisions.3

• • • •

It must be pointed out that regarding the reflected representation of reality, the fidelity of the representation will be subject to the quality of the surface of the mirror.

Consider a funhouse mirror, where the distortion of the reflection and the subsequent disorientation of the observer is the purpose of its design. The alternate ordering of space within the funhouse mirror must necessarily be wildly inaccurate. The reaction of the observer varies—laughter, disgust, amusement, alarm, and even nausea—but always the reaction must be that of someone who looks and sees what they do not expect to see.

They have been raised to trust mirrors. Their reaction is that of someone betrayed.

There is also always, on some level, fear that this mirror might in fact be the accurate representation, and every other mirror has been lying all along.

[Note to self: This section is a little confusing. I feel a bit like I’m wandering in circles. I feel compelled to ask: Who do you imagine your audience is? Who is reading this? Who are you speaking to?]

• • • •

There were two primary inspirations for the quantum mirror. For Shaw it was Ellis and Stoeger’s “Multiverses and Physical Cosmology”4; for Gupta it was Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths”5 It is interesting that no major works on quantum reflection were included in this brief list, and in fact Gupta and Shaw only became fully acquainted with that branch of physics after they had formally begun work on the concept of the mirror.

The work proceeded slowly and was confined to the realm of the theoretical, to whiteboards in after-hours classrooms, long evenings in library carrels, shared docs and entire papers’ worth of marginal comments. There was a great deal of argument and little agreement; Gupta and Shaw would go on to describe these days as some of the most emotionally difficult and contentious of their professional lives. Yet bit by bit, the outlines of the concept began to emerge and solidify.

They were perceived, and in being perceived, they became real.

The informed reader will doubtless be familiar with the basic principles of the quantum mirror, and this is an inadequate space in which to relay a proper technical explanation. The projection of an arrangement of particles at a reflective surface—possessed of properties never before conceived until Gupta designed it—and the simultaneous refraction and recreation, the recording from several different angles, and the resulting collapse of a single wave function into not one but multiple versions of the same observable. Not one probability but several.6

You open the box, wrote Shaw after the first experiment was conducted on an appropriately stormy night in March 2035, and the cat isn’t dead. The cat isn’t alive. There are two cats in the box—two cats at least, and potentially more. A living cat, a dead cat, a sick cat, a sleeping cat, and the total absence of a cat, where a cat should be and no cat is. All there. All tactile, visual, observable and measurable—real.

There was no literal cat that night, but while Gupta and Shaw were as yet uncertain regarding the practical applications of what they had discovered, the possibilities seemed to them to be limitless, the new terrain joyfully inviting exploration. They checked and double-checked, then retired to the pub and remained there until closing. Gupta went home with a girl named Jessica (whom she married a year later). Shaw wandered unsteadily along the bank of a nearby canal and watched the broken reflection of the moon as it sank into the black. In a moment of wild impulse, he nearly leaped in after it, and it must have been the five beers and three shots which broke the face of the moon a second time when he raised his head and gazed up at it—lovely pale shards hanging in the darkness and trembling at their exquisitely sharp edges.

• • • •

Gupta and Shaw’s early published results took the field of physics by storm. Initially there was little reaction beyond that, but not long afterward, science journalists took note. The term quantum clones took hold of the popular imagination, although the multiple observables were confined to simple arrangements of particles and no true “clones” had yet been produced. Nevertheless, it could not be denied that the potential was there.7

Grant money poured in. More lab assistants were hired and laboratory facilities were expanded. Foundations and think tanks took an interest. Industrial implications were pondered, along the lines of the 3D printer. It would not be unfair to say that Gupta and Shaw basked in the attention as they refined the process, the projection technique, and the design of the reflective component of the mirror.

It was at this point that the earliest side effects were experienced. In her journal, Gupta recorded a number of strange lucid dreams that lingered upon waking. She wandered through an endless series of hexagonal mirrored rooms, each reflection minutely different: her height, the width of her eyes, the length of her hair. She saw various scars. Once a missing hand. It was at that point that she looked down and discovered that her own hand was missing, but by a mere and instinctive act of will she was able to return her hand to herself. Yet it was not the same shape as she remembered, and she wore no wedding ring.

In the final mirror, she glimpsed something from which she had to immediately look away. She was never able to recall what she saw there, but she awoke into waves of nausea, and the shadows in her room seemed to move unnaturally. She felt the unmistakable sense of being watched by unseen eyes.

She concluded that the dreams were the result of overwork, and the hexagonal chambers were recognizable as an element derived from “The Library of Babel,” another short story by Borges.8 The dreams began to occur several times a week until they abruptly ceased, around the occasion of the first intrusion. Similar dreams were reported by a few of the lab assistants in casual conversation with each other, but they went largely unnoticed at the time, although two of them were disturbed enough by other unspecified factors to seek psychiatric treatment. Precisely what Shaw was experiencing, no one knows, and unfortunately such a thing is now unlikely to ever be known.

• • • •

In the introductory chapter of The Order of Things (1966), Michel Foucault devotes some time to an analysis of the role of the mirror in Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. The mirror is not in itself an object of analysis; it acts as the means to the end with which Foucault is primarily concerned, that of the nuances between the role of the observer and the observed, what is represented and what represents. The artist looks out through the painting at the viewer as he regards his subject, the ordering of time and direction are altered in the exchange of looks and the meeting of eyes. If the artist moves out of view and alters his perspective further, the distinction between observer and subject shifts again.

This is a question of episteme. It is the question of knowing and how a thing might be known and how such knowledge may or may not be reliable. It is a question of perspective. All things are a question of perspective.

You are what you perceive.

You might be when you are perceived.

[Note to self: Again, what is the market for an essay like this? With Foucault, where are you aiming at? Might be better to get a more solid sense of this before you start shopping it around. Who exactly is going to see “Foucault” and keep reading?]

• • • •

Although the experiments with the quantum mirror did not at first include efforts to produce true clones, it was only a matter of time before such a thing was attempted. In an amusing but perhaps inappropriate move, a cat was selected as the first subject, and the animal was accordingly disintegrated and projected. The hypothesis was that, as had been the case up until that point, a series of copies of the configuration would be simultaneously produced, each featuring a tiny distinction but nearly faithful to the original.

As the reader will know, this is not what occurred. Two of the resulting copies were as expected. The third had to be hastily euthanized. There was some shaken discussion of the option of euthanizing the remaining two cats, erasing the recordings, and pretending that the experiment had never taken place. In the end integrity won the day, and the results were written up and published. Some readers were naturally disturbed, and there was significant backlash from several groups (religious, animal rights, etc.), but overall the reaction was positive. Every major endeavor will include unfortunate missteps. The work proceeded; if nothing else, the grant money was nearly impossible to turn down.

Shortly after what became known as the Cat Incident, two things occurred which should have caused greater alarm than they did.9

First, Shaw crashed his car into a bridge abutment, an accident from which he emerged with minor injuries but was heard to rave semi-coherently about having “seen himself dead in the mirror.” This was chalked up to his severe concussion, and within a day he no longer talked about it. When questioned about it, he refused to answer.

Second was the first intrusion, which occurred one night in November in Philadelphia, when a group of college students returning to their dorm from a party witnessed what appeared to be “like, this big hole on the side of Hayden Hall, like a mirror or something because it was what was behind us, only there were all these bodies all over, and there was this guy with a gun, and swear to God, he saw us.” The students had been experimenting with certain substances at the party and at the time, once it was established that there was no active shooter present on campus, their report was dismissed out of hand. Since then it has been assumed to have occurred and the report is considered mostly accurate.

• • • •

In Simulacra and Simulation (1981), Jean Baudrillard writes of states of reality and unreality in premodern, modern, and postmodern worlds. First, second, and third order simulacra transition from greater degrees of fidelity to the original into representations that bear no relation to an original at all, for which an original does not in fact exist. In the third and final order, there is no meaningful distinction to be made between the real and the unreal. The copies can no longer be understood as copies of anything.

The mirror is what is reflected. Signs and symbols lose their coherence. The simulacra produce themselves, of themselves. The alternate ordering of the world has no alternative. One becomes lost in a bewildering and inescapable labyrinth of distorted, frightening reflections.

[Note to self: Baudrillard? Really? First Foucault and now this? Are you genuinely writing this for someone else instead of just you?]

• • • •

Any work possesses a kind of inertia, wherein it can continue long past the point at which any rational observer would say it should stop. This is particularly true when vast quantities of money are involved, as well as pressure from institutions which should probably know better. Interest in the quantum mirror also seemed to possess its own inexplicably powerful inertia, verging on the level of compulsion. Around the time of the second and third intrusions (which were only reported much later and at the time were assumed to be simple accidents and hallucinations), the Department of Defense became interested in the quantum mirror, and made an effort to restrict knowledge of it. This was a useless endeavor, Gupta and Shaw’s findings already having been widely publicized and several universities having begun work on producing their own mirrors.

The attempt to redact large portions of the research alarmed Gupta and she did everything she could to resist it. But Shaw was strangely supportive of it. In private conversations overheard by a lab assistant, he argued fiercely with Gupta that it was better that as few people as possible know how the mirror functioned, and in fact that the construction projects at the other universities should be halted. Although Gupta demanded that he explain his reasoning, it seems that he never did. He simply insisted that work on the other mirrors should stop, any future findings be made secret, and ideally that all research into the mirror should cease.

Gupta responded that this was impossible. Shaw said, wearily, that he knew it. The conversation concluded with a total break between the colleagues, and Shaw quit the project. However, he returned to the laboratory a week later and set a fire in the primary mirror chamber, destroying most of the apparatus and severely injuring himself and two assistants.

He was taken into custody, hospitalized, and placed under psychiatric observation. He declined to answer questions and indeed to speak at all to either the police or the doctors attending to him. He sat motionless on his mattress and stared unblinkingly at a single point in an upper corner of the room. He murmured about being seen and about being wrong. When given paper and a (blunt) pencil, he drew a long series of interlinking rectangles arranged in a rough circle. The rectangles were full of eyes of varying sizes, and in the center of the circle was a human figure, furiously traced over itself so many times that the pencil tore through the paper. When he discovered the mirror in the ward’s bathroom, he collapsed into a fit of screaming and had to be sedated.

Shortly after his admission to the psychiatric ward, other patients began to report glimpses of oddly familiar but unidentifiable people passing through the ward and vanishing. One man insisted that he was behind himself and moved out of view every time he turned around. Another declared that when he looked in the mirror he saw himself as a human-sized spider. Eventually Shaw was moved to another ward, but the reports continued.

• • • •

Work on rebuilding the mirror began swiftly. It was not motivated by any hard deadline or time constraints; rather, the pace was driven more by a sense that if it wasn’t completed quickly, it wouldn’t be completed at all. And in fact, Gupta was beginning to harbor private reservations. Her journal entries are unambiguous in this. Although outwardly she expressed full confidence in the project—as well as sincere regret for her colleague and partner’s apparent psychotic break—the entries speak of guilt, of wondering if there was something she missed, something she was still missing, deeply conflicted feelings regarding the amount of money devoted to her research and the weight of obligation it conferred on her, how purely difficult it was to say no.

She writes also of the resumption of her nightmares, how she once more discovered herself in the mirrored chambers but instead found every single reflection distorted and nightmarish, her face a horrifyingly asymmetrical mess. Every version of her appeared to have suffered severe injuries and diseases, with extensive scarring, missing limbs and eyes, her bodily morphology misshapen in countless ways. It was almost impossible, however, to determine with any certainty whether what she was seeing was an accurate representation of a body or merely the result of a badly warped mirror. Eventually she heard voices whispering accusations and abuse, and the surface of the mirrors began to move, to swell and undulate like fluid instead of solid glass. She perceived things extending toward her. She heard a harsh groaning behind her, and turned to find the chamber full of herself, those distorted reflections, more emerging into existence with every second, until they were crushing her against the mirrors. At this point she would always awaken in the midst of a panic attack, and her wife would have to soothe her until it faded.

She sought treatment for anxiety and continued her work.

But aside from the troubling dreams, the news was dominated by increasingly bizarre stories, of people nearly struck by vehicles that vanished at the moment of impact, of seeing loved ones gruesomely dead only to have it confirmed moments later that they were alive and unharmed, of watching buildings collapse only to blink and find them standing. Others walked into rooms and found themselves in totally different spaces; the layout of familiar buildings became unpredictable and alien. More than one person found themselves in conversation with themselves at shuttle stops and cafés; such conversations usually10 concluded with violent melees, although who instigated the fight was always hard to discern.

No connections between these events and the quantum mirror were drawn at first, the claims that they were connected mostly seen as the rants of luddites and conspiracy theorists. Gupta’s quantum mirror was not even operational. However, it quickly came to light that two laboratories had separately finished work on their own quantum mirrors and their experiments had begun.

The teams overseeing each not long after confessed to also having initiated the first human trials, the results of which were too horrific to be made public. They offered little justification for doing something so radically outside the bounds of accepted research ethics; it seemed merely that they were the victims of the odd and irresistible momentum that had gripped work on the mirror as a whole. It was, they said, as if something was driving them further and further, some giddy enthusiasm that magnified its intensity with every move they made. The twisted, mutilated, and barely humanoid observables that the trials produced did not dissuade them.

This was disquieting enough, and Gupta records that it almost caused her to halt her own experiments (the reconstruction of her mirror having by then been completed) despite the mounting pressure to not do so. However, it took the first true mirrorstorm to push her into a search for a way to mitigate the damage she was now positive the mirror was somehow causing. The almost total destruction of ten blocks of downtown Seattle was, for her, the final straw; she said as much in letters to donors and government agencies and major news outlets. She writes, in an uncharacteristically raw fashion, of her horror at the images of human bodies segmented as if by unseen blades, of the eradication—without a trace except for mounds of dust—of entire buildings, of flesh congealed together as if melted by a flash of sudden intense heat, of survivors describing how those casualties who weren’t instantly killed begged to be assisted in dying. Of the hundreds of others driven mad simply by what they had seen, by what they could never unsee, by what their witness made undeniable.11

It’s not worth it, she wrote. I don’t care anymore. It’s not fucking worth it.

She took the remaining funds available to her, dismissed those of her staff who proved uncooperative, and essentially went rogue, devoting all her research to ways to mitigate the destructive effects of her work to date. But she had no idea where to begin. Neither she nor Shaw nor seemingly anyone else had ever considered the possibility that such a thing might be necessary. In any case, more quantum mirrors were being built, some overseas and far outside the reach of any efforts to restrain the projects. Mirrorstorms occurred in Houston, in Chicago, in Cleveland, in Los Angeles and New York and Atlanta.12 Given that they took place uniquely in major urban centers, some began to speculate that they were actually terrorist attacks, that the quantum mirror had somehow been weaponized, but no responsibility for the storms was ever claimed.13

Gupta began to catch frequent glimpses of herself as she went about her daily life—in the lab, in her commute, shopping, at home. In images on the net, in the photographs of strangers. Even when these doppelgängers appeared to be identical to her, she could never escape the feeling that they were somehow terribly wrong. They all seemed to be looking out through the screen and directly into her eyes. She took to avoiding news and social media altogether and became even more reclusive than she already was. Her wife filed for divorce, which she did not contest.

She writes that she felt more and more that even in her waking hours, she was trapped in a vast tunnel of mirrors, turning and turning ever inward on herself. The way forward was obscured. She lost all sense of where she had been and where she should go. She no longer knew where she was. The cruelly reflective walls were closing in on her, and in every single one of them, malevolent eyes pinned her down like an insect, unwavering.

• • • •

Every funhouse of mirrors may properly be called a labyrinth, but in fact mirrors do not have to be in a funhouse to take on a labyrinthine quality. A specific placement of two mirrors in relation to an observer can create the illusion of a hallway extending to either side until it disappears behind a curve. Such a hallway may be perceived by the observer to be potentially infinite, and/or to eventually curve back to meet itself in a continuous loop. Although technically this illusion presents a single hallway, on seeing it one might feel as they would when faced with the path of an endless labyrinth, dizzied and confused by the experience. Consider what walking down such a hallway would be like, with infinite numbers of one’s own eyes staring back, with no appearance of solid walls but only a hundred million impassable doorways. Every possibility of a single point in space-time reflected, every one collapsed into a single, eternally repeating image.

Of everything here likely to disorient, one might suspect that the eyes would be the worst, because there would be no refuge from them except to move out of view, which would be impossible. One might close one’s eyes; that would be the only avenue of escape. And if there is only one observer, if the observer no longer sees, are the reflections still present? Do they possess any practical reality? After all, their eyes are closed as well.

Return to Las Meninas, to the seen and the unseen, the artist and the subject-viewer, the labyrinth of focus and vision. The artist also looks into the mirror; the artist sees you but also himself. If Velázquez moved out of the frame, he would no longer be visible; if he removed his image, he would be free. But he is locked forever into the prison of reflection. He must look and we must look back, each gaze compulsively reinforcing the figurative weight of the other.

Such imprisonment would be a torment. Velázquez painted Las Meninas four centuries ago. To this day the painting endures. The prison remains intact, and every time we look at it we lock the door anew.

Which side are we on? Are we the observer alone? Or do we also stand behind the easel?

Velázquez knew what he was making. He made it anyway. The moments when we know we shouldn’t look are the moments we find it most impossible not to.

[Note to self: This is . . . an interesting suggestion. The notion of imprisonment might be a little problematic—I’m not sure it fits very well with the rest of the piece. Or are you trying to tell me something? Should we talk? If you need to get something off your chest, an essay you’ll never publish might not be the most efficient medium. I expect better of you, honestly.]

• • • •

In all the history of that time, recorded both as it happened and later with the benefit of hindsight, Dr. Sapna Gupta’s courage in the face of undeniable hopelessness is universally commended. When the news was saturated with accounts of destruction and chaos, she put her head down and ignored it all. Some considered this callous, but that would be unfair; she could do nothing about each individual disaster, only work tirelessly to stop them from taking place. Distress would merely have hampered her.

And she did feel distress. Even when she completely cut herself off from the world outside her lab, she felt distress, and in fact she appears to have felt it even more keenly. Her journal entries at this time become scattered, disordered in the midst of her fear and horror at what she saw around her. By then she was rapidly losing lab assistants: five abruptly quit, three were hospitalized for psychotic breaks and unexplainable injuries, and two simply vanished and to date have not been seen again. She found herself alone in the facility, doing the best she could under terribly strained resources—the project’s funding was running out, now that she had made known her intention to stop developing the mirror—as the world outside dissolved into chaos. Mirrorstorms, incidents of collective madness and mass hysteria, the spontaneous creation of creatures so deformed as to be unidentifiable—the reader will recall how all of these and more became virtually commonplace, and in the end many instances of intrusion went unreported except for posts on various social media platforms. Through it all, despite every rational reason to do otherwise, more mirrors were being constructed. Most major research universities in the United States now had one. Many universities and some government research centers overseas either had their own or one in the works.

The drive to produce them appeared to be both unstoppable and unexplainable. And nearly universal. For the most part, resistance to producing them had evaporated. The public seemed to regard the horrors all around them as merely a feature of everyday life, terrible to be sure but basically unavoidable.

Gupta continued working. But she had no more direction than she did before. No breakthroughs were forthcoming. No one was helping her. She was gripped by wild paranoia, and at night she would walk through the halls and rooms of the lab, convinced that something was pursuing her, always only a few steps behind and just outside her field of vision. Her last journal entry tells of a visit to Shaw, who was still confined to a psychiatric ward and spent most of his time in a catatonic state. She writes that she sat in silence at his bedside and stared into his open eyes. While at first they appeared blank, she was gradually fixed by the notion that he could in fact see her, that he was staring back and conscious of what he was seeing. That he was trying to reach for her with limbs that would no longer obey him, desperate to communicate. That his gaze was all that remained to him, and that every second she looked at him and did nothing reified whatever torture he was trapped inside.14

She took his hand and held it, and she could discern no response. Eventually, for lack of anything else to do, she left.

Of what happened after that, she naturally never made a record. As with any other intrusion, witness accounts are at once straightforward and incomprehensible. Walking back to the lab across the quad, somewhere between ten and twenty Sapna Guptas came into existence and surrounded her before anyone could do anything to stop them. By the time emergency services arrived, she was beyond saving. A subsequent autopsy revealed fifteen isolated bone fractures, a smashed ribcage and skull, and multiple ruptured organs. She quite simply appeared to have been crushed to death. No witness could describe the precise mechanism of the attack. No one heard her cry out. Whatever death found her, she went to it quietly and seemingly without a fight, and her attackers disappeared as suddenly as they had come.

There were some who pointed out—accurately—that there was no way to be certain that the Gupta whose body was recovered was the original Sapna Gupta. But others were quick to respond—also accurately—that original is a highly problematic concept.

Indeed, it is no longer in common usage. It rarely has any practical use, except to articulate its own essential uselessness.

• • • •

In 1 Corinthians 13:12, the Apostle Paul makes certain promises regarding the experience of ultimate post-death communion with God. At that time, he writes, the ignorance intrinsic to human life will be replaced by perfect revelation; all mysteries will be clarified and what was previously incomprehensible will finally be understood.

One can interpret the precise meaning of Paul’s analogy differently depending on the translation. The King James Version’s “glass, darkly” might be read as a cloudy window or lens through which only hazy images can be glimpsed. However, one may also read the original term (אספקלריה (aspaklaria)) as “mirror”.

Whatever Paul’s intention, the implications of one reading versus the other may be significant (depending on the reader). In this present ignorant state, do we look through? Or do we look at? Do we perceive a partially obscured image of the world? Or are we viewing a distorted reflection of ourselves? In that moment of perfect revelation, what will be revealed?

Who will perceive? Who will be perceived? What will that knowledge do to us?

Then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.

[Note to self: So we should talk. I would prefer you go about it in a different way, but here we are. Are you having misgivings? Is this relationship making you uncomfortable? I’m sorry if that’s the case, but you were the one who was looking for another pair of eyes, and if you’re second-guessing us you could have the decency to not be so passive-aggressive about it. Our encounter didn’t have to end on the up-note that it did, you know. It might have turned out very differently. It still might. I’m just as aware as you are that this kind of thing can make people unstable. Do I have to be worried about more than just you being too frightened to speak to me directly?]

• • • •

I assume you want to know how this ends.

There is, in my opinion, no lesson with which to close, no neat conclusion to come to. Endings are important, but how should I end a piece about a thing which by definition can never end at all? The glass is still dark; I doubt whether I have revealed anything in this writing that someone wouldn’t already know. I haven’t revealed anything to myself, for all the things that might mean.

In “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (1940), Borges writes of an article on the fictional land of Uqbar, wherein an unnamed heresiarch declares that the observable universe is an illusion and furthermore that both mirrors and fatherhood are abhorrent in that they multiply this observable. The illusion reproduces the illusion. The original is a phantom. Reality cannot be identified; therefore it does not exist.

It’s difficult to know how to live in a world like this; nevertheless, this is the world in which we find ourselves. Our selves simply means something much more and much less than it did.

I don’t know what I wanted when I spoke to you. It may have been another pair of eyes. I look at you and I should recognize those eyes as my own. I don’t know how to understand what I see looking back at me. How many times have I seen those eyes? How many mirrors have I looked into in the years since we stopped trusting them? I read this draft and I recall writing it, but it’s as if I’m observing someone else doing the writing. I read the notes and I almost remember asking these questions. I don’t know how to answer them.

Who am I writing this for? I think that’s a fair question, but when I consider it, I’m at a loss. Why do we write anything anymore? Why do we bother with representations? Perhaps I’ll burn this. Print it out so I can burn it. Make it material so it can be destroyed. Or maybe I’ll plaster it all over every wall I see. Maybe I’ll send it to everyone I know.

Or only you and I will ever see it.

You and I and all of us together.


1 For a fuller explanation of the early articulations of the theory, see “Quantum Representation and the Spontaneous Reproduction of Slow Atoms,” Gupta, S; Shaw, M. Physical Review A. 128 (10)

2 This line of debate led directly to Gupta’s decision to come out to everyone, including her conservative parents; she speaks movingly of this in an interview in the May 2037 edition of Scientific American.

3 Gupta, S. (2041) Eyes in the Mirror: What Should Not Have Been. New York: Little Brown-Macmillan.

4 (2004) Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 347 (3): 921-936

5 (1941) El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan.

6 Grant, Sam (2036) “Here’s the Deal With the Quantum Mirror.” Vox.com.

7 Gupta, S.; Shaw, M.; Kabila, J. “Trifurcated Folding and Multiple Observables: A Proposal.” Physical Review A. 130 (6)

8 It should not escape the reader’s attention that the story deals with themes of infinity, possibility, mortality, madness, labyrinths, and the ineffability of true knowledge. This may provide valuable insight into Gupta’s contemporaneous feelings regarding the research she was conducting.

9 That they did not is especially strange, given the fearful overreaction to the construction of the Large Hadron Collider and the quest to observe the Higgs Boson—suppositions of the generation of a world-ending cascading event, the creation of a black hole, and so on.

10 Fights did not break out every time, and some profoundly surreal albeit short-lived friendships were actually birthed in this fashion.

11 Zhan, H. “What I Saw in Seattle,” The New York Times

12 Achebe, M.; Whelan, I.; Ford, N. “Isolated Instances of Multifaceted Wave Function Collapse: Four Destructive Cases.” Journal of Applied Physics 143 (15)

13 Saito, K. “The Gathering Mirrorstorm.” Time.com

14 Mallory, A. (2051) A View to Madness: Gupta, Shaw, and the Shattered Mirror. NY: Penguin Random House

Sunny Moraine

Sunny Moraine’s short fiction has appeared in Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Nightmare, and Clarkesworld, among other places. Their debut short fiction collection Singing With All My Skin and Bone is available from Undertow Publications. In addition, they are the creator, writer, and narrator of the Gone podcast, a serial horror-drama. They live near Washington, DC, in a creepy house with two cats and a very long-suffering husband.