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Montalov’s Box

October 24th, 2012

by Michael Griffin 

Some wives fear losing their husband to an office affair, some to a heart attack. Each morning Sveta watches her husband leave for work and thinks maybe today’s the day he annihilates the universe.

While Dmitriy’s at his lab on campus, Sveta stays home on Uni Row, spinning old records, or working number puzzles with a purple pen that smells like grape.

She thinks Dmitriy’s glad she quit teaching. Their accomplishment gap bothers him. Her lofty IQ and advanced degrees aren’t enough to keep her in the same ballpark as Dmitriy’s towering level of genius. It’s not her fault. Nobody understands Dmitriy’s work but Dmitriy.

Still, Sveta hides Physics books and reads them sometimes.

More often she plays Liszt concertos and worries about how it will feel, that first moment when reality dissolves.

She communicates with Dmitriy all day through matching neural node implants, exchanging messages via a mind interface. Sometimes they send text, other times EyeshotTM images or AuralclipsTM soundbits. Sveta’s impatient when too much time passes between messages. Her mind strays to horrid visions of unraveling. It’s hard to imagine never seeing him again, not even in dreams, because her mind will be nothing but quanta scattered through spacetime at the speed of light.

Today Dmitriy’s first message describes the usual mundane observations. The lab, coffee. Tidbits, but no meaningful details.  Project security restricts Dmitriy from sending an EyeshotTM from the lab, so Sveta has never seen it. She reads the text over and over, pacing in front of the living room’s picture window. Finally with a mental gesture she files it away.

She switches to a digital slideshow and flips through an album of their young-couple-in-love years. Honeymooning in Prague. Holding hands on Ytvar bridge. The party for Dmitriy’s Dirac Prize. The post-lecture party at Eötvös.

Sumac the cat makes room for Sveta on the window seat and together they watch the rain. She ponders the way the drops are impeded by the leaves of the tree, make their way down and fall with a pattern, like complex music. She’s sure Dmitriy would understand. He could probably explain it in math.

After disabling the neural interface, careful to avoid distracted driving, she leaves the house to send copies of Dmitriy’s book to friends in Ukraine and Hungary. The friends probably won’t read it, might not even try. In fact Sveta hopes they won’t. It would make her feel better.

The moment she’s back in the driveway she reactivates the interface. She’s sure a new message will be waiting.

Subject: I miss my beautiful Sveta!

Dmitriy complains about Carlo, and though he refers to Carlo as his “colleague,” Sveta translates this as “helper.” He speaks of needing to restrain Carlo’s Mediterranean passion. He means this as a joke, a Ukrainian describing another culture as too passionate. Carlo keeps pushing Dmitriy to pursue some new angle in the experiment.

This presumption makes Sveta angry.

Re-reading the text she feels tension in her shoulders. Her teeth grind, and sweat trickles from her armpit down her side.

Sveta shuts down the interface and heads upstairs. Spinning on the stationary bike helps.

She pushes beyond fatigue. The tension falls away.

Dmitriy comes home early.

Sveta asks if he wants wine.

He talks absently, not really explaining, something about nonlocal measurement. “I hate complaining to you about work.” Then he goes on rapidly about control routines, incremental improvement, N-band something-or-other.

What really bothers him is how Carlo keeps pushing to sidetrack.

Sveta bites the inside of her lip. “It’s your experiment, not Carlo’s.” She wants to hide her rising anger.

Dmitriy leans back against the kitchen counter. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t give you my stress.”

If only he knew.

“Most of the department can’t stretch far enough to understand this. Even those strong enough in QM theory to understand a little, they say it’s more metaphysics than real science.”

This makes Sveta burn. She smiles. “That only proves how advanced your work is. They lash out at what’s beyond them. Even Carlo just wants to ride coattails of your reputation.”

Dmitriy looks at her appreciatively.

“What’s Carlo doing right now?” she asks.

“When I left, he was trying to convince Amanda of his angle on this. He was talking so fast, sketching out his ideas on a whiteboard.”

“Amanda Beart?” She stood back. “Right now Carlo’s in your lab, convincing the Dean of the department to change your experiment?”

“He suggests a human element, intention in place of randomness.”

“Go back there.” Sveta asserts herself so rarely, they’re both surprised. “Do what you must.” She picks up his jacket from the back of the chair and hands it to him.

Dmitriy hesitates.

“Go!” She prefers Dmitriy think her overprotective, even prideful of his status, to revealing her fear. “Call if it goes very late.”

 Too distracted to work puzzles, she paces the hallway, but this doesn’t dispel her tension so she goes outside to soak in the hot tub.

After a while her muscles go loose. Her mind feels off-center.

An EyeshotTM-AuralclipTM bundle arrives. The EyeshotTM means he’s not at the lab. Maybe on his way home?

Playback.

Her thoughts jump, an unnerving shift. Not just perception, but physical disorientation. Like flipping through a tricky, twisting dive.

Dmitriy’s vision. Some kind of argument, or scuffle. A man lunges, steps back. It’s Carlo. Dmitriy crashes to the floor.

The place looks like the way Dmitriy described the lab.

Carlo’s breathing hard. “It was so… exhilarating!”

A blond woman beside Carlo holds out her arms, regaining balance. Amanda Beart? She staggers, hyperventilating, wide-eyed like someone just off a rollercoaster.

Carlo looks down to Dmitriy. “Did you feel it the same?”

“I told you not to open that up, Carlo!” Dmitriy’s voice, trembling. Pleading. “Once it’s let loose it won’t be contained.”

“Look at this,” Amanda says.

Something covers Dmitriy’s eyes. The clip darkens, but not before  Dmitriy says, “Carlo, stop!”

Message end. The world skews around her, like a sudden reversal of gravity, then rights again. A fault in the neural node? Sveta hopes that’s all. Her heart pounds, fearing something worse. Even now, seeing things with her own eyes, something feels terribly broken.

A plain text message arrives: Did you see/feel that?

She hurries a reply: I’m OK but everything’s crazy, spinning.

Sveta anticipates his next message, but what comes instead tackles her like a concussion. A scattered mess of sounds and images.

Dmitriy’s voice: “… no control apparatus!”

Static.

“– machine parameters — human interface –“

Skip skip skip.

“– just a test — wanted to show Amanda!” Carlo, pleading.

“We have to stop, Carlo, now!”

Sveta feels a twitch in Dmitriy’s consciousness in real time. Not their usual connection, not discrete messages back and forth, but a yank on an invisible line. The deep whoomp of a great engine knocked out of alignment.

All visuals twist, the world’s film projector flipped sideways.

Dmitriy is here in the hot, bubbling water. A moment later they’re both back in the lab. Sveta’s not just seeing it in EyeshotTM this time. She’s actually there.

“I shut it down,” Carlo cries. “It’s not my fault!”

Sveta shouts to Dmitriy, who seems not to hear.

Dmitriy says to Carlo, “Your intention was enough.” His voice pulses, his very body vibrating heavily. “These physical conduits are just lines of thought now.”

Another skip. White walls flash, then fade away. Silence, other than Sveta’s breathing. She looks down, suspended over a great expanse. A wisp of cloud drifts below. Below that the ocean, quietly seething, perceptibly curved.

Hundreds of feet up? Thousands?

She flashes between locations, passively, without intention. Something clicks and she transports by merely wishing.

Something’s wrong.

Sveta’s only wants to go home, wait for Dmitriy, but every change she imagines rattles into conflict with outside intentions. She tries to send herself nearer him, and he tries to move her away. To safety.

World-conceptions jostle, a conflict like disorganized argument.

Dmitriy merges with her for an instant, then he’s far away.

Deep space. Brittle, Arctic cold. Intangibility. Dark water.

She’s alone again.

Carlo solidifies the mind-machine interface by mere thought, imagines others breaching the quantum order, and this initiates a struggle for dominance. Equilibrium is too complex for a single mind, yet a multiplicity of intentions fall quickly out of sync.

Dmitriy tries to take over what Carlo set loose.

Outside, brisk wind pulls her hair, bites her face.

Sveta’s aware of Dmitriy’s struggle and he becomes aware of her. He shares control. There is no time to plan.

Sveta flashes upon a conception of God. She has never believed, so why this idea, now? The question feels absurd.

She recalls a dinner party overseas, years ago. Dmitriy holding court, his brash drunken promise. A box once opened, can’t be shut.

“One day I’ll prove God to be Man’s invention.”

The lab again. The walls waver, disintegrate. Sveta sees this through Dmitriy’s eyes, then through her own eyes, from another angle.

Sveta is with Dmitriy, home.

A strange quality of light outside the window, a wavering glow on the horizon from the west, toward campus, warns her of what’s coming.

Now she’s angry. She wants more time.

The living room, stairs, the bed. Dmitriy joins her, warmth upon warmth. They stay close, press together into one. Sveta knows he wants to explain but there’s no time.

Somehow she always knew.

They hold each other hard. Her arms tremble. His grip bites Sveta’s shoulders. She feels his resolve, equal to hers.

Never let go.

They’re both completely sure of this intention when everything, everywhere comes loose.

 

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