Short - Choosing Fate

"More likely though, his decision will be influenced by the messages he had received from his ghost."

Short - Choosing Fate

For my younger readers, I'd say this story is rated T - Teen. Nothing terrible, but could be tense for some.

For everyone, I'd love to know what you thought about it.

At precisely 1:32 PM on Friday, May 30th, there is a chance that an electron traveling along a copper wire from an iPod to an earbud will be located in the plastic insulation surrounding the copper. It may have gotten there by penetrating the non-conductive material, or it may have just appeared there. There is no way to observe what happened. However, there is a much greater probability that the electron will be located in the copper, in which case it will continue to move and provide the sound that may kill a cell in Kelly Watanabe's eardrum as she rides the 1-California bus to her interview for a summer internship at the law firm of Bernal & James.

At the same time, there is a negligible but non-zero chance that all the atoms in Javier Martinez's double soy latte will spontaneously become located fifteen centimeters to the right, thereby "jumping" out of his cup and onto his slacks. Kelly and the other bus riders will assume he didn't make a good seal when he snapped the lid on the cup at Peet's. Despite that chance, odds are that the coffee will stay within the confines of the paper cup, and no one will even consider what could have happened.

And there is a possibility that the right combination of atoms in Tor Saarinen's brain will spontaneously jump into a pattern that alters his mind, causing him to want to step into the crosswalk at California and Montgomery just before the 1-California speeds through. More likely though, his decision will be influenced by the messages he had received from his ghost.


One day earlier, Tor Saarinen leaned back from his workstation and yelled over the cubicle wall, "Scratch the last bug off the list, and get ready to go live in five!"

Eugene Wiley, the quantum physicist on the team, rolled into view on his black mesh office chair. "Nicely done, Tor. You deserve a Coke. Can you get me one while you're up?"

"Sure. I could use some caffeine before we fire up the new version. Besides, it'll take the software a few minutes to restart."

Sitting in the break room sipping from his can, Tor reflected on his research project. When DARPA had announced that they had a working quantum computer, he had jumped at the chance to submit a grant. Tor had figured that a quantumly encrypted voice communication application would be a sure bet to get him access to the new technology. He had been correct.

DARPA had made his project the top priority. When ready, it was to be the poster child for the New Frontier in Computing. Although they were behind in development and far over budget, Tor's team had finally worked the major bugs out of the system. They were ready for the first real test.

Tor's dreams were about to be realized.

Back at his cubicle, a crowd gathered around Tor's workstation to witness the momentous occasion. Across the cubicle farm, a similar crowd gathered around the workstation belonging to Marla Fontaine, his research assistant.

DARPA engineers had built both workstations at the same time as INCEP, the quantum mainframe computer. Entangled electron pairs had been separated and then trapped in special qRAM: quantum memory circuits in both the workstations and the mainframe. Tor didn't know exactly how they worked, but thanks to what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance," changes in one block of qRAM were reflected in the matched block in the other computer. That entanglement of the quantum states meant that the computers could communicate over a distance without wires or radio waves.

Tor's software exploited the hypothesis that a person's consciousness was the superposition of the quantum states of all the atoms that make up the brain. Tor didn't believe the theory in relation to human consciousness, but by using the pattern of matched electrons in the qRAM, his software assigned an ID to each computer that was as unique as an individual's mind.

At last, truly secure communication.

That’s why the first conversation disturbed Tor so much.


When Tor's software finished loading, he activated the local SecureComm application. The software would send a secure message to INCEP, and then INCEP would send it out to Marla's workstation. All the messages were sent via the qRAM, so there would be no opportunity for them to be intercepted.

He donned the microphone headset and turned up the volume on his speakers so that the crowd could hear. But before he established the link to Marla's workstation, the green "Connected" light blinked on, and a man's voice spoke through his speakers.

"Hello. Is anyone out there?"

The voice sounded familiar, but Tor couldn't place it. It certainly wasn't Marla, and it wasn't anyone on his team. No one should have been able to communicate through the system except for him and Marla.

Tor cued his mic and then spoke. "Who is this? How are you talking on this system?"

"I don't know." The man's voice had a dreamy quality to it, as if the speaker were doped up. The pitch wavered as he spoke, and there was a faint echo. "I was at the corner. There was a everything is dark. I think the bus might have hit me. Am I in the emergency room?"

Tor sighed and muted the mic as he turned and spoke to the Eugene. "Run some diagnostics and find out where this signal is coming from." Then he spoke to the crowd. "People, I love a good joke as much as the next guy, but DARPA will yank our funding if we can't show a working system, so can we please cut it out and get on with our test?"

The crowd muttered amongst themselves in response. They all looked confused.

Then the voice broke the silence. "Please help me. What's going on? Where am I?"

The voice sounded so familiar, and the speaker was clearly distraught, so Tor couldn't help but respond. "You aren't in the emergency room as far as I know. You are talking to me through a supposedly secure computer. Who are you?"

"Tor. Tor Saarinen. I think I might have died."

Then the Connected light went off, and the call ended.


Tor cleared the area of people so he could think. He kept Eugene around to help figure out what was going on.

"Did he really say he was me?"

"Yep," said Eugene, "and it sounds like he just got hit by a bus. Weird."

"I don't think that 'weird' adequately describes what's going on here. First off, who was that?"

"Well, let me check something." Eugene clicked through some applications on Tor's workstation and muttered to himself. When he turned back, he shook his head. "You aren't going to like this. INCEP confirms that the voice matches your vocal patterns. Either it was a really good fake, or else it was you."

"I'm pretty certain than I didn't get hit by a bus anytime recently, so I'm pretty certain that the voice isn't mine."

"Well now, don't be so hasty. We're delving into a lot of new territory, and this sort of thing could be possible."

"You're joking."

"Hypothetically." Eugene shrugged.

"You're telling me that there is a hypothesis that allows for a dead version of me to speak to me through the quantum computer? And what was the business with the bus?"

"This is all highly hypothetical, but if you died under the right circumstances, the quantum pattern that is your consciousness could continue on after your death."

"What, like some sort of quantum ghost?"

"Yeah, you could call it that. I guess. And the pattern could, hypothetically, decay forwards or backwards in time."

"Hold that thought. I'm gonna need a few beers while you explain it to me in detail."

An hour later at Frankie's Bohemian Cafe, Eugene leaned over the small table full of empty Stella Artois glasses. He shouted over the crowd noise. "Imagine a particle bouncing back and forth between two walls. You don't know where it is at any given time, but you can write an equation that describes its probability to be at any given location. And the equation is always non-zero for the area between the walls."

"And it's zero inside the walls. OK, I got it."

"Actually, it isn't zero in the walls. Things get weird at the boundaries. The probability can't go straight from non-zero to zero. It decays to zero over some distance. The distance is very small, but there is a slight chance that you could find the particle in the wall."

"So what does that have to do with my quantum ghost from the future talking to me?"

"As far as the equations are concerned, time is the same as distance. It's just a variable. If you were to die right now, the equation that describes all the probabilities of the atoms that contribute to your consciousness wouldn't go straight to zero. It would decay to zero over some amount of time. And since time is just a variable, the equation would have an equal chance to decay forwards or backwards in time."

"But how did my ghost talk through INCEP?"

"I guess its quantum pattern got entangled with INCEP's pattern. From a quantum mechanical standpoint, INCEP isn't that different than a brain."

Tor drank another beer while he pondered Eugene's hypothesis. Was he destined to die in the near future? Had he really spoken to his own ghost from this future? The whole situation seemed preposterous. How was he supposed to react? If he assumed the hypothesis was true and it turned out to be false, then nothing would happen. On the other hand, if he ignored it and it was true, then he would soon die. If he assumed it was true and it really was true, then maybe he could change his fate.

"OK, Eugene. Let's say that I spoke to my own ghost. Why didn't it know that it was dead?"

"Well, the pattern decays over time. The further it gets from the time of death, the less coherent it would be."

"So the closer we get to my fated death, the more information it can give me, correct? If I'm going to die, I want to know the details. Maybe I can learn something that will prevent it. We have to talk to my ghost again."


Tor spent a sleepless night. He alternated between worrying about his impending fate and pondering the exciting possibility that he had stumbled upon a scientific evidence for ghosts. The whole idea of a quantum ghost seemed improbable, but that just made him all the more intrigued by the possibility. He needed to find out more so that he could avert his death and assuage his curiosity at the same time.

Tor didn't worry about dying. Perhaps the ghost had come from one of many possible futures and had become entangled in INCEP. If Tor could find out the details of this ghost's death, he could avoid meeting the same fate. He didn't accept that his future was predetermined, and the more he knew about how the ghost died, the easier it would be to avoid the fate.

He and Eugene worked for three hours. They ran diagnostic tests and searched for spurious quantum signatures in the qRAM. Tor kept his mic on while they worked in hopes that the ghost might hear them talking and then respond. Just after they returned from lunch, the ghost spoke.

"Hello? Can anyone hear me?" The ghost's voice sounded stronger than last time.

Tor brought the SecureComm application to the front of his screen and then threw a pen over the cubicle wall to get Eugene's attention.

"Yes, hello. I'm here." When Eugene poked his head over the wall, Tor gestured at the workstation and mouthed the words "trace him".

"Where am I? What happened?"

"I think you were hit by a bus. You're dead now, Tor."

"Dead? A bus?" The voice went silent. The Connected light stayed lit, however. After a minute, the voice returned. "I remember. California and Montgomery."

"You remember the accident?" Eugene's hypothesis was correct. The quantum pattern--the ghost--was becoming more coherent as they approached the time of death. "Do you know the time? Do you know any more details?"

"It was near the weekend. Friday, I think. May 30th."

Tor felt an icy twinge shoot down his spine. "That's today." He hadn't expected the time to be so soon.

"It happened just after lunch. Maybe around 1:30 or so."

Tor checked his watch: 1:08. The room seemed to tilt and his vision blurred as an empty void opened in the middle of his stomach. The shock of learning the time and place of his potential death nauseated Tor, but the feeling soon passed. After all, he now knew his fate. He would be able to avoid it and rewrite his future. But his curiosity infected his better judgment. How was it supposed to happen? The corner of California and Montgomery was only a few blocks from the office. He could be there before 1:30. Tor had the unique opportunity to see the place where he was scheduled to die.

"Tor, this is critical. Do you remember what happened? How did you die?"

Before he got a response, the Connected light went off.

"No!" Tor frantically clicked the reconnect button, but it did no good. He whipped the headset off and tossed it on the desk. "Eugene! What happened? I lost contact." Tor bolted up and raced into Eugene's cubicle.

"I don't know. I was scanning the qRAM, and I definitely found a pattern or something that shouldn't be there. Tor, I think it's all real. I think your ghost is entangled with INCEP."

Tor's mind raced. He didn't believe in ghosts, and yet the evidence seemed to suggest they were real. Could he scientifically prove their existence? He needed to know what was supposed to happen on that street corner. What would happen to his ghost from the future when Tor didn't die?

He checked his watch. To see for himself, Tor needed to leave immediately.

"I'm going out there. Eugene, try to find the ghost again and reestablish contact. Find out exactly what happened to it, and then call me with the details."

"Are you sure about this, Tor? I mean, what if you get killed while going out there to investigate your own death?"

"I need to see it for myself, but don't worry, I don't want to die. I'll keep an eye out for any buses at the corner around 1:30, and I'll stay well away. No problem. Just find out any other details so I can know what to look for."

At precisely 1:18 PM on Friday, Tor Saarinen left his office and ran down the street in order to change his fate.


Standing on the corner of California and Montgomery, Tor tried to catch his breath while he scanned the area for clues about his fate. The normal mix of business people and tourists made their way up and down the sidewalks. A cab pulled into the bus stop and disgorged its passengers before speeding away. Cars raced between stoplights. In the distance, the distinctive hum of an electric MUNI bus rose and fell as it made its stops along the way. He could see the 1-California bus at the light up the street. It was a block away now.

How was it going to kill him? Were other people in danger? Should he warn them? And if he did, would they even listen, or would they dismiss him the way he dismisses the homeless people who rant about conspiracy theories?

Then his cell phone rang. Eugene.

"Talk to me, Eugene."

"I spoke to your ghost. He said it was the 1-California. He said to look for the girl in the pink sweater. Hello? Tor?" But by that point, everything had clicked into place, and Tor had dropped the phone to the ground.

Tor saw the street light turn yellow. He heard the hum of the bus motor rise in pitch as the driver accelerated to make it through the intersection. And he saw the little girl with black pigtails and a pink sweater squirm away from her mother's grip and dart between the parked cars onto the street in pursuit of a dropped ball.

Time stopped for Tor Saarinen.


Norse legends say that Odin and the other gods of Asgard knew the exact time and circumstances of their deaths. They were all fated to die in combat during Ragnarök--the great war between the gods and the giants. They each knew which enemy would kill them and how it would happen. Armed with this knowledge, they could have avoided their fate, but they chose to go to war anyway. They knew that their sacrifice would prepare the way so that in the future, the forces of good would be able to overcome evil. They gave their lives to serve the greater good.


Tor stepped off the curb and ran to catch the little girl in the pink sweater. The bus tires screamed as the driver slammed on the breaks. Tor's foot caught in a pothole, and he fell. On his way down, he sacrificed his chance to recover his balance in order to grab the girl by the sweater and fling her back towards the sidewalk.

At precisely 1:32 PM, Tor Saarinen chose his fate in order to save a life.

Copyright © 2015 Todd Edwards, All rights reserved.

Todd Edwards © . All rights reserved.