Wanderlust

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It was Rush week at Mars U. Since paper was ridiculously expensive to ship off-world, the sororities and fraternities were advertising on the Times Square-esque screens lining the corridors. Katie hadn’t set foot in her alma mater for over a year. She was returning as a lab rat for an experiment in their quantum physics department.

Crowds were already starting to gather in the quad. News of the experiment had eclipsed news of political scandals and celebrity marriages. Another Giant Leap for Man, the headlines read. End of the World as We Know It, read others.

Katie met up with her best friend Anna in the hall. Katie would introduce Anna as the kindest, smartest, most well-read, and articulate person you could ever have the good fortune to meet. Katie loved hyperbole almost as much as she loved her friends.

Katie and Anna had met at Mars U. After graduation, Katie went off chasing adventure, and Anna fell in love with academia and collected degrees like a magpie collects shinnies. They kept in touch by playing Dice, a turn-based RPG.

“So, you’re really going through with it, huh?”

“Try to stop me!” Katie grinned like a half-moon.

Anna sighed. “I don’t know if I’d have told you about the experiment if I’d known that you were going to volunteer.”

“Anna, relax.”

“But . . .” Anna threw up her hands. “You won’t be the same person on the other side!”

“Sure I will.”

“No, you’ll be a Katie Copy. Katie 2.0. We’ll have think of a system to keep count of what version you are.”

“Look, have you got some deep, sentimental attachment to these atoms?”

“–well, yeah–”

“Am I nothing but my component parts? Or am I the combination of these materials?”

“You know–” Anna pointed an accusatory finger “–you’re really more philosophical than you let on. Alright, I’ll still be friends with Katie Not-the-Original, even if you are different atoms. Weirdo! But it still freaks me out.”

“Fair enough. And I love you, too.”

***

“What power source does it run on?” Katie asked.

“The spin generated from Einstein turning over in his grave,” the grad student joked. His name was Edward, and he was the youngest of four children. Katie knew this because the experiment was forty-five minutes behind schedule and she’d never met a stranger.

“But, technically, the information isn’t in two places at once,” Anna added. “So, he’s got that going for him. Albert, I mean.”

A few seconds ticked by. “So, how does this work again?” Katie asked.

“Well, we sent a big ol’ box of entangled atoms over to our satellite office at Saturn this morning – all the bits to make a human. Then we’re going to expose your atoms to the entangled counterparts of the ones on Saturn, then we send Saturn a message to tell them how to put you back together out of the . . .” He appeared to suddenly realize that he had just told the lab rat exactly how she was going to be deconstructed. “I mean–”

“Hey, I’m not squeamish. I’m hoping I’ll come out the other side two inches taller, curvier, and a redhead.”

The grad student laughed.

“Speaking of which,” Katie said, “there’s going to be a party on the other side. Are you sure you don’t want to come, Anna? You’re going to miss all the excitement.”

“And you’re going to miss the thrilling conclusion to the trilogy I’m reading.”

The grad student looked at a screen, furrowed his brow, and took Katie’s pulse at her wrist.

“You’re very calm,” he said.

“Of course I am. You’ve tested this thing a bajillion times, rounding to the nearest bajillion, and it’s all worked out.”

“You didn’t take anything before the experiment, right? Nothing to calm your nerves? We want to get accurate readings.”

“She has no fear,” Anna put in. “From an evolutionary perspective, it’s unexplainable. If she came across a saber-toothed tiger, she’d try to scratch its ears and keep it as a pet.”

“Excuse me! I am just enlightened.”

“Enlightened, insane . . .” Anna shrugged dramatically.

Katie grinned.

“So . . . ?” the grad student began again.

“My dear new friend,” Katie said, “let me tell you why I am unafraid. All of my well-meaning aunts and relatives say that I ran away from home at 16 – which is not true! I had a full scholarship, and I called my parents like clockwork. But when I’m feeling irritable and enigmatic, I say that I didn’t run from, I ran to. I have been to all the planets. I’ve played flag-football in the red Martian dirt; I’ve piloted a craft through the atmosphere of Jupiter. I spent one of the best nights of my life telling bad puns with my friends while watching the rings of Saturn spin.

“I worked out very young that I have a finite amount of time and an infinite number of things that I want to see, so I figured I had better get started early. I don’t take stupid risks, but I have better things to do than be scared.”

“That sounds like a . . . a good philosophy. I wish I could be more like that.”

Katie rolled one shoulder in a shrug. “If you ask Anna how she feels about her books, she’ll tell you that it’s like she found a doorway into infinite parallel universes. You’re about to send a person from Mars to Saturn without taking her through the intervening space. Wanderlust is not restricted to travel.”

***

Katie came out the same height, curviness, and hair color, so the physicists called it a success. As promised, there was a party. They turned off the gravity on purpose and sipped drinks out of baggies. Katie gave a toast, which she is fond of doing.

“It’s a big universe,” she said. “Here’s to seeing it all.”