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Wave-function collapse

Filip Wiltgren is a writer and tabletop game designer based in Sweden. A member of Codex and the Ubergroup, Filip has published in markets such as Daily SF, Grimdark, and Nature Futures, as well as a number of anthologies and semi-pro markets. In his day life, he's worked as a journalist, copywriter, and communications officer. When he isn't writing, he spends time with his wife and kids. He can be found at: www.wiltgren.com.

What do you do when you've got all the power in the universe and none of the control? Weird question, right?
Here's another one: ever heard of quantum mechanics? Sure you have. Ever thought about it? Really thought about it?
On a base level, every quantum interaction can go either way. Each interaction is uncertain until the wave function collapses into certainty. Each collapse spawns a parallel universe exactly identical to yours in every account except for this single, simple quantum interaction. A branching tree of quantum multiverses, spreading from the Big Bang to infinity.
It's a cool idea. Neat, even.
Ever considered the number of quantum interactions going on? It's beyond humongous. It's like humongous and ginormous had sex with Godzilla and then fed their love child nothing but Snickers and potato chips for a billion years. Keeping this amount of multiverses going would require an infinite amount of energy.
There isn't an infinite amount of energy. So multiverses die. Every second billions and billions of multiverses collapse in on themselves, fold into a singular dimension, and vanish. Which is cool, because you've got more quantum interactions going on in your pinky toe than there are banana sundaes throughout known history.
So every second, every nanosecond, untold billions of you are crushed into a singularity and die. Which doesn't really matter because there are exponentially more untold billions who keep on living, oblivious. It's all random. Or was.
That's where I enter the picture.
My name is Jean. I built a machine.
Here's the thing: I have no idea if my machine works. I can't test it. If it works this universe is destroyed. In fact, every one of the trillions of universes created between the time I decided to activate my machine and the time I actually activate it are destroyed, because they're so similar that I am activating the machine in each. As long as I don't test it, the machine is an unknown. If I do test it, that universe is destroyed. See my problem?
Here's another one: assume that the machine works. It's going to destroy the universe when I activate it. How do I use it?
Now, you might think me callous, talking about destroying the world and all.
But think about it. There are more copies of you being destroyed each second than there are atoms in every breath you take. Destroying a few more, or less, doesn't really matter. What does matter is why those universes are destroyed.
Ever wonder why there hasn't been a nuclear war? Why no terrorist has poured a 50-gallon drum of pure LSD into the Washington D.C. water supply? No asteroid hit Earth, no zombie apocalypse, no millennial cult of Cthulhu?
Yep, that's me. Jean, the superhero.
When I built the machine, I decided how it was going to work. Every time something truly bad happened I would destroy that world. Zap, poof, gone. Bad thing vanishes. Trillions upon trillions of multiverses without bad thing keep on going. Trillions upon trillions of Jeans keep on biking to school, eating sundaes and falling out of trees.
I'm not stupid. I'm not selfish either. I broke my leg but I didn't activate the machine. Winona Kashman dumped me for Lionel the golden-haired jock, and I didn't activate the machine. I don't activate my machine unless something really bad happens.
Problem is, what's something bad? Zombie apocalypse, bad. Jean getting chocolate milk on his new jeans, not bad. Mr. Heinke, my old biology teacher, flipping his car on the interstate, bad?
Hard question. Destroying the world to save one person, even if he's the nicest teacher around, is harsh. What if I destroy all the worlds where I built the machine and then there's no one to stop the next terrorist attack?
But there's a solution. And it even proves that my machine works. Enter the Morgan dollar.
A Morgan dollar is a coin. It's made out of silver, and there were a couple million minted between 1878 and 1904. Mine's from 1896, and it's got the double C stamp of the Carson City mint. It's real heavy, almost an ounce, and it spins in the air when you flip it.
Whenever something bad happens I flip it. The less bad something is, the more times I flip it. If it comes up all heads, I turn the machine on. If it comes up all tails, or mixed, I don't.
So when I heard about Mr. Heinke's accident, I flipped the coin twelve times. That's a 1 in 4096, or about the odds of a person dying in a car crash. It's not much of a nudge, but it creates a few more worlds where Mr. Heinke lives than where he dies. It's a small shift, but multiplied by a billion trillion natural destructions, it makes a difference. It's called the law of large numbers.
I can't control what happens, only what doesn't happen. My Morgan dollar decides what doesn't happen. I decide how likely it is.
Now Mom is in the hospital. Me and Dad are sitting on matching green, polyester seats in the emergency room. The place smells of disinfectant. The doctor is coming.
I have my dollar. I have never flipped all heads. My machine works. I know it. The doctor isn't smiling. How many flips is a life worth? I start counting.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Author Comments

Browsing Wikipedia can be dangerous. Or it can be great. I was reading up on Multiverse theory, after having a different story soundly rejected on scientific grounds by a research-focused market when it suddenly clicked in my mind, how it actually works. Well, not actually, since I don't have the math and physics to understand it, but the idea of it. What happens when you open Schrodinger's box. Is the cat dead or alive? It's a cool idea. And the story started writing itself.

And no, I had no idea what it was about until Jean popped into existence. Perhaps the thought was sent to me from a different Multiverse, where I actually know how all of this works.

- Filip Wiltgren
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