On one of its faces, this story goes some way to explaining sub-atomic entanglement in the quantum universe, using hamsters. It’s a Cyrus Song time warp, and it’s also about asexual love, between friends, and connecting everyone else.
QUANTUM ENTANGLEMENT IN HAMSTERS
Where writers write is usually assumed to be a solitary place, and that’s true of me. My solace was to be found with a veterinary doctor, and a universal translation device called the Babel fish. How these came to be here could be found in two parents and other stories entirely. Their relevance to this story, was as my guides, both personally and as a writer.
A good story should be more showing and less telling, but to save much of the latter, it was specifically Doctor Hannah Jones’ degree in human psychology (even though she’s a vet), and my wonderment of the Babel fish (wondering how it actually worked) which are relevant to this fable.
So there I was, a writer with some powerful tools for fiction, waiting for the next story to walk in.
“Do you want to know who’s next, Simon?”
“No,” I replied, “I like to keep the suspense going for a while.”
“But,” Hannah said, “you read the patient list earlier, so I know you already know. I thought you might want to know for your story.” I wondered for a moment who was writing this.
“Yes,” I agreed.
“Which is why,” Hannah started. “Oh never mind.” She stopped. “What are you hoping to get from this one?”
“Well,” I said, “besides the input of some animals, I’m always wondering what makes the Babel fish work.”
“A quantum computer,” Hannah said, “like that one.” She pointed to a quantum computer which had been in her consulting room for as long as I’d known her, which wasn’t very.
Before we’d met, Doctor Jones had invented the Babel fish, not all of a sudden, but she had. My understanding of its workings were sufficient for me to write plausible fiction, but I still wanted to understand what made it work, so that I could show I’d researched this.
The fish was reliant on the quantum computer, and my knowledge of the quantum world allows me to appreciate how those work: essentially, a conventional computer works on binary code, bits of data which can be either 0 or 1, yes or no, black and white. The quantum world is much more cosmopolitan, and in a computer, each bit exists as the two possible states simultaneously, until called into action by a computation. Ergo, a quantum computer is almost infinitely more powerful than the one I use at home.
The Babel fish is a quantum computer program, which uses that enormous processing power to detect frequencies outside of normal audible range, then process them against a mind-bogglingly big database of animal sounds and human languages, before decoding it all into an audible form. I could talk to animals with it. I wondered how it did that, and how much of what I’d heard had to be accepted on faith, of the Babel fish doing a good job. If a dog had told me it loved me, for example, I had to accept that it did.
“So,” I said to Hannah, “who’s next?”
“Oh yes,” she said, clearing her throat and picking her notes up dramatically (I told her it would work better this way). “Next,” she continued “is Hannibal Lecter.” We both paused.
Hannibal was only one half, with Lecter his partner. They were Roborovski, which might pass as a cyborg Russian gang in another story, but in this one they were Roborovski hamsters, belonging to a girl called Nina.
Nina was a curious girl, both in nature and the story she didn’t tell, perhaps because she couldn’t. I almost did a double-take when she walked into the room with Hannah, as though a younger Hannah had walked in with her older self. So struck was I, that I kept looking at the door, to see if another Hannah toddled or crawled in.
I had to trust the Babel fish to do only as it was instructed, as it apparently worked on inaudible frequencies. When I’d tested it previously, it had picked up things which might not have been wilfully spoken by the translated subject; other voices, perhaps thoughts. I tuned it to simply translate from hamster to human, placing the Babel fish headphones on my head in such a way that only I could hear the hamsters in my right ear, while listening to the room with my left for context. As far as I could tell, the hamsters were in a box which Nina placed on Hannah’s consulting table.
“That,” Hannah pointed in my direction, and I looked behind me, “is Mr Fry. Try to ignore him.” I turned back to smile, adjusting the headphones like Princess Leia struggling with her hair. “So,” Hannah continued, “who do we have here?” even though we knew. “Hannibal and Lecter”, which is what we knew, “hamsters”, which we also knew. “May I ask, why?” We didn’t know that.
“It’s my favourite film,” Nina replied, even though The Silence of the Lambs wasn’t about hamsters. She lifted a cage from the box, and in the cage was another, smaller box, some sawdust, bedding, a food bowl and a water bottle. The box within the cage, within the box, struck me as a sensible carriage solution, ensuring the hamsters were safe, and effectively at home, to reduce stress. But as Nina lifted them from the small box, I was half expecting them to be wearing face masks and strapped to a trolley. “This one’s Hannibal”, she said, lifting the first hamster out. “And this is Lecter,” which was entirely to be expected of the second one.
Now with the relative freedom of the cage, it was obvious which rodent was which. Hannibal seemed the dominant of the two, rummaging in the bedding, while Lecter was the more observant, blinking in the light and looking around.
“So,” Hannah said, “what’s up with these two?”
“Well,” Nina replied, “that one,” she pointed to Hannibal, “keeps throwing shit at that one,” at Lecter. “I think he might be bored.” Nina was very intuitive, and, I now realised, had similar mannerisms to Hannah. For a moment, it was as though I was even more of a spare part than usual: Hannah and Nina were somehow the same, and so too were the hamsters. All I had was the Babel fish, so I turned the volume up in my right ear.
“Shit,” was all I heard, from a small, male voice. Then a curious thing happened:
Hannibal had indeed thrown a turd at Lecter, who peered around through the bars of the cage. Meanwhile, Hannibal was back to rummaging in the bed, occasionally storing things in his cheeks, possibly more ammunition. Lecter continued to look conspiratorial, then, when he seemed sure no-one was watching, he flung the turd back at Hannibal. “Shit, you,” he said.
“So,” someone said in my left ear. It was Hannah. “You think one might be bullying the other.”
“No,” Nina said. She was quite assertive. “I think they’re playing shit tag.” Then Hannah did something unexpected:
“Fucking hell,” she said. “You could be right. Hamsters do learn quickly.”
“So they’re amusing themselves,” Nina said, “or it could be love”. That seemed an odd thing to say. “But that’s my worry,” which was even more unexpected, “that they’re bored. So I wondered if you’d have any ideas on helping them learn.” I wondered how much she knew about Doctor Jones.
“Once upon a time,” Hannah began a story I didn’t know I was writing, “Mr Fry,” that’s me, “there, used to be just like Hannibal Lecter.” I couldn’t disagree, that was a good opening.
Nina looked at me, looking more like Carrie Fisher than Anthony Hopkins. “He needed something to keep him occupied.” I suppose that was one way to put it. “And now,” Hannah continued, “he writes.” And that was a nice way to both end and begin things. “So I wonder,” she began again, “if the Babel fish might help in this?”
So now I really was a spare part.
I suppose Hannah meant, use the fish to listen to the hamsters, to get a better insight into them. Ever since she’d overcome her initial reluctance to use the fish in her work (so as to be “less confused”), and she’d realised an insight might be useful input for her. It worked like this: The Babel fish translated the animals, and I listened in, but Hannah didn’t. It was up to me, as a writer able to do such a thing, to translate that further, sort of into only what she needed to know.
“Mr Fry?” The younger Hannah was speaking to me now, and I moved the settings around on the Babel fish, hoping to confuse it. For my part, I was very confused, as though I was somehow split over the fourth dimension, with ends 15 years apart. Knowing as I did, that Hannah had a degree in human psychology, I could be looking into a mind’s future, possibly that of a psychopath. I really hoped Nina turned out like Hannah.
“Yes,” I said, because I wasn’t sure whether to tell her to call me Simon.
“I read about the Babel fish.” I assumed she’d read Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This Babel fish was very much connected to that, so it didn’t really matter which books Nina had read.
“Oh, good,” I said. “Well this one does exactly the same. So let’s see what happens.”
Everyone happens in their current position, so I tuned back into the hamsters:
“Do you ever think about the bars?” Hannibal asked.
“Most of the time,” Lecter replied, “they’re always here, why? Do you think there might be a cat in that box over there?”
“I don’t have to think about it until someone opens it. The bars: to imprison us, or protect us? Keep us together, or keep us away from others?”
“Simon?” This was Hannah.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Are they saying anything?” Nina asked.
“Yes,” I said, “they are,” because they were. “I just need to translate it,” which I did.
Hannibal Lecter spoke at length, about fava beans (we call them broad beans), and how nice they taste, and of how that’s like sharing something made by the earth, like the breaking of bread. And how their water is like Chianti, like the blood which binds us all. And about their incarceration for no crime, when their wider family were free. Then about being grateful for the gift of protected life in the cage. They philosophised, about being great thinkers given sanctuary, but unable to spread their message. It was a problem which I and billions of others would empathise with, now it was countless trillions of others, unheard, but for the miracle of the Babel fish.
While this was all going on in my right ear, the young Hannah Jones spoke to her older self, first about game concepts, then onto computers, wildlife, and the human condition. They could both be noted philosophers themselves, outside of that room’s sudden connectivity of humanity, when two people meet and click.
Quantum entanglement is that which we all have with the rest of the universe, and every living thing within it. All of the matter in the universe was born of the big bang, and at the point of that explosion of reality, every sub-atomic particle was torn apart. But each retained a quantum connection to its partner, quantum physics being that everything exists in two states simultaneously. Ergo, each of us is made of the Big Bang, and every one of us contains those fragments which are still connected to their counterparts, all over the universe. What’s even more mind-bogglingly, is that the hamsters are latching on to this. But what all the other unheard voices might have to say is something I’ve not found out yet, so that’s for another time.
“Mr Fry?” Nina was calling me now, Hannah in a previous life. This was becoming surreal.
“Yes,” I said, preserving the anonymity of my addressee. “I’m wondering how to decode this.”
“Aren’t you a writer?”
“Well, I thought I might be.”
“Well,” Nina continued, “there was this time, in a shed.” What kind of story was this, and who was writing now? “My cat had been at my arm a bit, and I drew something on my wrist: a pair of scissors, with “Cut here” in Biro. And this guy I knew at the time said to do it, to cut myself.” Why was she telling me this? “It makes a nice story, because he said if I did it, he’d be sad. Just that, just sad. But sometimes words carry. And he had kids he didn’t see much. And if he was sad, so would they be. So I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it to him. But what he said at the end really stuck: “You can only do it to yourself.” And I still remember. So it’s a story.”
“Everyone has one. It’s a brave person who tells their own,” I said, to the future.
“Simon.” It was Hannah who returned me to the room.
“I was thinking,” I said (I was, wondering if I’d just been abducted by aliens) “it’s best to just keep talking. Hannibal Lecter here seems quite well balanced and in touch with things as far as I can tell. Just keep talking while you’re around them. It engages them, and hamsters are quick learners.”
“Such a shame they don’t live for long,” Nina said, which was both deep and dark.
Hannah showed her younger potential self and Hannibal Lecter out, then returned as a single entity.
“So?” Hannah’s glasses tilted quizzically.
“I think I might know how the Babel fish works,” I announced. “Both this one, and the one Douglas invented.”
“Connection.” I wasn’t sure if Hannah asked a question, or had just made one, so I agreed:
“Pretty much,” I said. “You were right about the hamsters, so was Nina: they’re quick learners, looking to occupy their minds. Perhaps they’ll one day have trouble containing them. And somehow, both of you were able to see into the future, without my benefit of the fish, or perhaps that’s just helped me interpret things this way.”
“That the Babel fish really does work on telepathy. That’s provable now with science.”
“Everything is connected, Hannah. I think I’ve worked out why I write it all down as well. It’s because they’re stories, mine and those of others, and the beginnings of many more. And we only write them down, in case we die.
“The entanglement is in our minds, because we who think, long for knowledge. And it’s in what we share with others, or in my case, write. I think there’s more to hamsters than meets the eye. Never judge a book and all that. It’s what’s inside. But that’s in all of us. So what I learned, is I’m not that special, but none of us should feel trapped, which is quite depressing. So I thought about it another way.”
And then I myself said something which even I didn’t expect, because it just occurred to me:
“It’s entirely possible, to be in love with someone and not want to reproduce with them.”
“Have you been out in the sun? Your face looks a bit burned, like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” And there I was thinking I was Princess Leia.
“Things happen,” I said, “because people make them. The Babel fish could make good things happen much quicker, if we could all talk. Humans aren’t ready to know what everyone else is thinking though, which is why I write this as fiction.”
I hope Nina spoke more about this to Hannibal Lecter.
© Steve Laker, 2017
Cyrus Song is available now. My new anthology – The Unfinished Literary Agency – is published in January.