Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Sam's Quantum Switch

Every so often I write a science fiction short story. I've  written a bunch of them over the years. Here is the latest one. It's called

Sam's Quantum Switch

John Laraporte is one of the big names in high technology. I have no idea what he does, and I doubt I would understand it if I did know what he does. I only met him once, but this isn't about him.

It's about Sam.

Sam is a guy I have known since college, and although he gets a little dense at times, we always got along okay. He was a theoretical physics grad, and I received a  degree in English. We played chess sometimes, and sometimes we had a beer or two, but that would usually bring out the obsession that Sam has with quantum switches.

To say that Sam was fascinated with quantum switches would be an understatement. He always really wanted me to understand what quantum switches were, what they did and why they were important, but that was always way over my head. I never was really sure whether quantum switches are actually real. They could be real things, or imaginary things or theoretical things. Sam never really made it clear.

I didn't really care, but Sam often tried to explain them to me so that I would care. Those discussions would more than likely result in a mutual putting it off to another time.

As best as I could figure out, quantum switches were important because they had something to do with the progression of time. According to Sam, they were the gatekeepers of the "what comes next." At least, that's what I got out of Sam's numerous attempts to explain them to me.

They were important to Sam, and far be it from me to question that importance.

So it was that one day  Sam and I were in the McCullum Building in downtown Sacramento. Sam had appointments with his psychologist in the McCullum Building every two months, and he always asked me to go with him because sometimes he would come out of the therapy session in a somewhat bewildered state and he needed a friend to talk to. ..sort of an "after the therapy session" therapy session.

Anyway, we got into the elevator to go up to his psychologist's office on the third floor, and at the last moment John Laraporte got into the elevator also and pressed the top floor button.

I could see Sam react when he realized that he was in the same elevator as John Laraporte, who just happened to be Sam's Most Admired Person on the Planet.  Apparently Laraporte was going up to the top floor to meet with some big wig in the super high tech world.

The elevator came to a stop on Sam's floor, the doors opened, and just before Sam stepped out, he paused, turned to Laraporte and said, "Quantum switches are flaky across their axis." Then he turned and went out the door, and I followed him.

Laraporte's face expressed a kind of shocked-look as the elevator doors closed.

"What was that?" I asked Sam, and he laughed and shrugged it off. "Just wanted to give him something to think about," he said.

We went into his psychologists office, signed the book at the reception window and sat down to wait for him to be called into his appointment.

A few minutes later, John Laraporte cautiously opened the door to the psychologist's waiting room, scanned the faces of those in it, and when he saw Sam, he entered and came right up to us.

"What you said on the elevator...." Laraporte told Sam, "Quantum switches aren't flaky. No one's ever found flakes."

"No one's ever looked for dimensional signature residue," Sam told him in response.

Laraporte stood silent for a moment, thinking over what Sam had said.

"Can I talk to you for a moment?" he asked.

"Sure," Sam said.

Laraporte pointed upward, "Up in my office with some of my engineers?"

Sam looked at me. "That'll be great," he said to Laraporte, standing up and heading for the door.
 
"What about your appointment?" I called out.

Sam turned and looked at me, "There'll always be another appointment," he said.

I tagged along with them as they rode the elevator up to Laraporte's Sacramento office, an expansive set of huge desks facing huge windows. Laraporte took Sam back into the private offices, and I saw Laraporte speak to his secretary.

Then they went into what looked like a conference room, and moments later four or five engineer-looking types converged on the door of the conference room and went in.

That left me standing in the front reception room with the receptionist looking at me. "Would you like some water?" she asked.

"No thanks," I said.

"Coffee?"

"Sure."

She pointed me to the coffee room and then went back to answering phones. I poured myself a cup and sat down. Even in the coffee room there was a chalkboard with mysterious scientific markings on it, a bunch of numbers and mathematical symbols that I had seen in various science fiction movies over the years.

About a half hour later, Laraporte and Sam came out of the conference room, with Laraporte heading one way and Sam seeing me in the coffee room. He came over and apologized.

"Damn, Chris, I didn't mean to leave you like that. You should have gone on home. I'm sorry but I kind of got caught up on this quantum switch stuff."

"No problem," I replied. "You okay? Looks like things are starting to happen."

The four or five engineers came out of the conference room with stacks of paper under their arms. They headed for their desks, some of them getting on their computers and the others getting on their phones.

"Yeah," Sam said. "We're flying up to Los Palomas to his main office to talk with some of his hyper-dimension experts. They want to draw up some charts and diagrams and that sort of stuff."

"So the quantum switches are real, then," I said.

He smiled. "Hope so. We're wasting a lot of computer time if they aren't." He paused. "I'll be all right, don't know when I'll get back, though. I'll give  you a call."

"Okay," I said.

He went back into the office area and started talking to one of the engineers sitting at his computer, and I headed slowly back out to the reception area.

"Thanks for the coffee," I said. The receptionist smiled and waved good-bye, and I walked into the elevator.

That was the last time I saw Sam.

The next day his landlady called me. "Hey, are you Chris? You know Sam? He left me your phone number as an emergency contact." she said.

"Yes, I am a friend of his. Is anything wrong?" I asked, concerned.

"No, well, maybe," she answered. "Some guys came by his apartment to pick up some stuff. They had the key to his apartment, told me he would be moving out at the end of the month, going to work for one of those big technology companies upstate."

"Yeah, that's not really surprising," I told her. "He was talking to one of the big wheels yesterday."

"Well they filled up two boxes of personal stuff and headed out, said somebody else would be coming to get the rest of the stuff in a couple of days," she said. "You know anybody who needs an apartment?"

I said no, then hung up the phone. It looked like Sam had found himself a new job talking about his favorite subject.

A few days later, Sam left a message on my answering machine.

"Chris, wow, things are really going great here. I'm living on campus, got my own office and lab, and the  time-manip crew is already treating me like one of the guys. Maybe you can visit me sometime... if you can pass the security clearance. Ha! I'm joking. Well, maybe not. I'll check. Call you in a few days."

That was the last time I heard from Sam.

The next day a rather important looking dude knocked on my door. He was carrying a briefcase and had a very stern look on his face.

"Can I help you?" I asked as I opened the door.

"You Chris Bryant?"

I said yes.

"You know a Sam Clarke?"

I nodded.

He entered my apartment, sat down on the sofa and proceeded to open his briefcase.
"I've got some papers here for you to sign, Mr. Bryant."

"What about?" I asked.

"This is a non-disclosure statement regarding any conversations or information you have shared with Mr. Clarke regarding his scientific inquiries."

"You mean his thing with quantum switches?" I laughed.

The gentlemen frowned. "Precisely that," he said. "And any other statements he may have made regarding any other technological matters in the presence of John Laraporte of Laraporte Research Inc."

"Like in the elevator," I laughed.

The gentlemen frowned again. "This is no laughing matter. Statements you may or may not have overheard are of high critical importance to national security. We need you to sign these documents contractually binding you to never discuss or mention anything regarding Mr. Clarke and Mr. Laraporte."

"No thanks. Don't think I want to sign anything like that, at least until I talk to Sam," I said.

That didn't sit well with him at all. "You won't be talking to Mr. Clarke again about these matters," the gentleman said. "You really need to sign these documents to protect yourself."

I looked at him strangely. "Look, I don't know anything about quantum switches or flaky axles or any of that stuff."

He looked alarmed. "Look, Mr. Bryant, we will pay you $50,000 to sign this non-disclosure agreement to protect us and yourself both. This matter is extremely important and a high security concern."

I thought about that for a moment. Then I politely suggested that he close his briefcase, go to the door and exit before I called the police. He did so. "Next time I talk to Sam I will tell him about you and your stupid non-disclosure agreement," I said, closing the door.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not sure that was a good idea to do that.

A few weeks later I called the main office of Laraporte Research and asked to talk to Sam, but the call didn't go through. He was busy or away from his desk. I did do an online search of his name last month, and he was listed as the Director of Level One Research with the company, so it looked like he became a very valuable employee. 

This month, though, things are different. His name is no longer on the company website, there's nothing coming up on any online search of his name, and even our old university has scrubbed any mention of him from their online records and alumni database. It's almost as if he never existed.

Sure miss those chess games and beers.