(Tunnels)x

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** QUANTUM SHORTS 2019/2020: SHORTLISTED

 

Pay attention.

It’s dark in the tunnel. Not regular dark, but soul-sucking black.

Except for the small dot of light in the distance. Bright, so bright. It’s tiny, but as powerful as a primordial deity. The pinprick of anti-darkness grows. The tunnel disappears. Or, more accurately, the subjective feel of the tunnel disappears. Qualia dissipate, dissolve. There is only empty blackness and a voracious light.

Light conquers dark.

Then…

Pay attention.

“Don’t do it, dad.” Someone holds your hand. Parchment skin stretches across brittle bones. “They just want your money. It’s quackery.”

Your hand twitches. Your voice is a desert, its timbre is the grating of sand grains. “You want my money then?” Joke and reproach combined. You know the deteriorating body is yours. You know the man is your son.

“Of course not,” your son says. You’re almost certain his name is Max.

You can feel that he speaks the truth. You return your hand to the soft linen of the care unit’s bed sheet. You’re wealthy enough to have a private health suite in your mansion. “Then the math is clear,” you say. “Hundred percent chance of death versus any chance – however small – of not dying. Obvious choice.”

You see Paul’s cheeks clench. He is a good man. Too good for this world, for your world. “This is not some kind of stock you can analyze.” You hear the defeat in his voice. The rest of his words are just for show. “This is life or death. Whatever decision you make, it’s going to kill you. Can’t you… can’t you wait?”

You sigh. Every breath is a sigh nowadays. “Life, death. Things used to be so simple. Not anymore. I won’t wait. You need to be alive to beat death.”

Pay attention.

But it’s complicated and confusing. You’re no physicist. You grasp the intuitive idea of quantum tunneling, but as soon as the company representative starts with the equations, your mind decides it has had enough.  

“Life and death are simply different energy states of a system,” the guy – shiny black hair and pearly whites – explains. He’s probably trained to whiz through the equations and dazzle potential customers. “The problem is that there is an unsurmountable barrier between these states. Or at least a barrier that seemed unsurmountable. Until now. Until NeverDeath.”

You grumble. “Enough with the sales talk. I’ve had my people look over it, I’ve done the cost-benefit analysis. Wheel me in and let’s get going.” Death is a dungeon with unscalable walls. So why not just smash through the walls?

The guy, groomed to be the epitome of the slick salesman, is unable to stop his smile from spreading beyond the permanently engraved generic one. Probably a big bonus waiting for the quick sale.

Pay attention.

Because this is weird stuff.

You’re alive and not-alive, dead and not-dead. Forget cats. You’re Schrödinger’s man.

It feels as though the whole universe is switching on and off in rapid succession. There is pain and there is no pain. Awareness and non-awareness.

You’re in a tunnel. A quantum tunnel pushing through the barrier between life and death. It doesn’t really feel like a tunnel. It doesn’t really feel like anything, unlike you. You feel like everything. Supreme solipsism in the face of subjective dissolution.

All feeling flees.

You dissolve.

The hungry light swallows you.

Pay attention.

“Don’t do it, dad.”

You remember. Not in its entirety, but enough to put one and one together into something like a superposition. Your son, your failing body, your impending death.

You try to push yourself up, but your aching frame and the hands of your son conspire to keep you locked in the embrace of the silky smooth bed that feels like a casket.

Something must’ve gone wrong.

“Calm down, dad.”

Annoyed, you wave away your son’s concern. You need to focus.

Maybe you bounced off death’s wall. Maybe you tunneled through but came out the same end. This won’t do. You don’t want a rewind button. You want a reset one.

Only one option.

Try again.

But this time, pay attention.

About the Author: 
Gunnar De Winter is a biologist/philosopher hybrid who explores ideas through fictional fieldwork. Some of his stories have found their way to, among others, Amazing Stories, Abyss & Apex, Daily Science Fiction, and various anthologies.
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