A Morning at the Museum

Your rating: None
Average: 4.3 (10 votes)

It was a bright morning of the fourth local entropy era, and a class of children from the colony elementary school were playing with viruses. Not "real ones," of course. They were giggling, huddled about a screen showing showing two slowly gyrating bacteriophage in resplendent detail, artificial color highlighting their spindly legs and icosahedral capsids. Each student clutched a small remote control and intermittently jammed some buttons.

"Children, if you'll hold still a moment..." entreated the docent, a rather slim, gray-haired elder, unassuming except for his yellow, trefoil Museum badge and of course, his unusually large, metallic Sigma-Q-Coil interface fixed strongly behind his left ear. "The exact quantum simulation of simple biological systems was a huge achievement in its day, demonstrating our earliest microscopic understanding of life." The children were playing on the Jindallae-Phi 6; manufactured in Seoul, it was the last quantum computer ever built. The buttons on their remotes aimed high-intensity simulated optical pulses at the viruses, causing their capsids to periodically bulge with the absorption and emission of the radiation. The children ooh-ed and aah-ed with captivated stares.

A few chaperone parents congregated lazily in the hallway just outside the exhibit. One child scurried to his mother, too shy to query the docent: "Mom, who invented the Jindallae?'' The mother's Sigma-Q-coil glowed for a moment during the unstructured search over millenia and millenia of quantum computer manufacturers. The answer came almost instantaneously. She whispered the name to the boy, who responded with a whimsical grin and hurriedly returned to the group.

The museum visit was one of the less important extracurriculars for the 3rd grade. The MoAT (Museum of Ancient Technology), as it was called, contained artifacts from such an obscure and remote time that even the well-meaning parents had trouble finding anything there to interest them. They made weak efforts at hiding their yawns. But since Pre-Singularity history wasn't taught at all these days, the teachers always scheduled this half-day at the museum as a welcome break from the usual ins-and-outs of their routine, and the parents always suffered it. The kids, however, invariably had a hoot.

One of the children exclaimed, "What would happen if the 'vy-ris simma-lay-shuns' got into a real person?'' The docent good-naturedly chuckled, "Nothing, of course! They would be attacked by other quantum simulations that are much more powerful. No need to worry about them.'' However, the docent's gentle smile expressed some concern and his brow furrowed. He knew that open-source protocols designed to destroy infectious quantum automata at all scales had not been introduced until around 1,000 years after the Quantum Singularity. Their absence had resulted in the worst epidemics in the history of mankind. The whole species had survived by just a thread; it had been utter annihilation. The parent chaperones picked up on the docent's downcast gaze. They thought him an unusual fellow, one of those eccentrics trained in Ancient Nonsense at some Department of Ancient Nonsense outside the colony. Why did tax money get funneled to these loonies anyway? They were wrong, though. He was a retired mechanic working weekdays at the Museum. Why? He probably enjoyed seeing the children laugh and picnic, or reminiscing about stories he heard as a young boy. Maybe just to while away some bits of time.

Leading the children further into the small room, the docent pointed out an ancient portrait on the wall. "This is Academician Landau--" The children simultaneously burst out laughing. "But where is his Sig-muh-Kyuuuuuu-coil?'' "His mother forgot to comb him on Picture Day!''

"Quiet! quiet!" commanded the docent. The children fell silent. He continued, glaring seriously yet understandingly at the young jester, "If he were here today, Professor Landau wouldn't have needed even the smallest Sigma-Q-coil." The children-- even the parents!-- exchanged questioning glances, but all remained quiet. A human without a Sigma-Q-coil? And director of the Institute of Physics to boot? Odd and ancient times indeed.

The docent led the group, the skipping grade-schoolers followed by heel-dragging parents. Over his shoulder, he heard a bitter-looking parent whisper, "Where's the damned coffee machine?" more than once.

"The final exhibit in this room is the first real Schrodinger's cat! Not made from metal or light or cold atoms like the very earliest cats, but from skin and bone and kitten fur." The docent turned toward the eager children, who appeared ready to jump toward the small enclosure. "Unfortunately, kids, our kitten 'Mobi' has been prepared in a sleep eigenstate. Until you're outfitted in a few years, you won't be able to see her move around. For now, you may pet Mobi if you wish, she's quite soft.''

"Awwwwww, she's so cute."

"Listen to that purr-- can we take her home?"

The children spent a few minutes fawning over the somnolent kitten, who, as her furry paw twitched, was clearly dreaming of faraway quantum mice scattered in the Elysian quantum field.

"Parents, if you'll come forward and tune your measurements to the Active basis, you can really get a glimpse of Mobi. Make your measurements very frequently, so that you'll be able to observe the cat in a given active state for an extended time. Also, I needn't remind you to keep your hands out of the enclosure... Mobi has some rather ill-tempered components."

The torpid parents alerted and gathered around the kitten. Finally, some smiles nucleated and spread among them. A few parents indicated the cat's motions toward the congregated children and echoed her gentle mews. Amid the observing adults, the parent with the bitter look brazenly reached a finger into the enclosure, made a series of measurements, and suddenly screamed "Eeeeeeeowwwwwwww!!!!" A drop of blood pooled on his bitten finger. The children, startled at first, enjoined in a squeal of amusement. The docent sternly approached the man and whispered, "The first aid room is out the door and to your left... right next to the coffee machine." He motioned to the children to move ahead.

"Come along now, everyone. In the next exhibit, we have--"

About the Author: 
I am a postdoctoral researcher at Seoul National University in Seoul, Korea. In addition to research, I enjoy herpetology, reading folktales, and playing soccer.