The Silver Ducket

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The Silver Ducket was an oddity in more than one way. For starters, it was neither silver nor a ducket. It was actually a single electron fluttering randomly around an atom inside of a rover on the surface of Mars. Regardless of that fact, the whole world affectionately referred to it as ‘The Daily Coin Flip’. That was another strange thing about it: the whole world had somehow become obsessed with the outcome of a betting game that came down entirely to chance. It was either ‘heads’ or ‘tails’, and no amount of strategy or skill could improve your odds. That knowledge stopped no one from becoming addicted to it. It had become a connecting thread of human cultures. Just as two old men in a grocery store would talk with one another about the weather, regardless of the fact that the weather had been the same for the last two weeks, people would talk about the Flip as if it held some greater meaning.

The strangest thing, and perhaps the thing that kept people interested in the Flip was the time delay. From the moment the quantum superposition was known to the moment it reached Earth at light speed currently took eleven minutes. Something about that anticipation kept people coming back.

Pender was a Ducket Head, a junkie of statistics and scores on an entirely random game. He knew it was pure foolishness to look for patterns and track success in a game that tracked the white noise of the cosmos, but he also accepted that sometimes people just enjoyed illogical things. His aunt Devonia lived in a desert had a collection of snow globes she purchased online from places she had never been. Her only explanation had ever been that she’d just enjoyed it and that was that.

“Look at the numbers yourself,” Pender wrote in one of his favorite Ducket Head threads, “the number of people who have never lost a flip is higher than you would expect by random chance alone!” It was late enough at night that he’d decided to start another of his coin conspiracy theory rants, but not yet late enough that he’d started typing in all caps.

“Get off it,” wrote some nameless avatar, “random means that there is a small chance of anything happening. With a few billion people playing you would expect some of them to get a couple hundred bets right in a row,”

“Have you done the actual math or are you just spewing nonsense?” Pender replied, “run the stats, the odds are nearly 1 in a trillion that this many people would have called the coin wrong in 473 flips.” In his spare time he’d started taking statistics classes as a hobby, and he’d done his homework. Sometimes he’d considered finding a girlfriend and was beginning to think it was one of those things where relying on random chance could be a bad strategy.

“Just looked at the numbers, this genius is right and the whole world is wrong. Global conspiracy ahoy! Get out your tinfoil hats everybody! The little green men must be at it again!” wrote XtremeJustice47.

There was a lot of up-voting and a few other sarcastic remarks about Martians being at play. Even Ducket Heads had their nonsense thresholds, and making jokes that related to the red planet had become stock. After all, the quantum coin was flipped by a rover on Mars and had been started by a group of NASA employees that sought-out the strangest creative outlets. Jokes about Martians had been a part of the Flip since the early days.

“What numbers would convince you?” Pender said, now getting a bit worked up and pouring himself another coffee that he did not need. “Shit, you tins probably can’t tell a p-value apart from a negative number,”

Some anonymous user chimed in, “lets pretend you are right. How could it possibly work? Is the rover programmed to bet first, or is the coin faked, or what?”

This question hung in the thread unanswered for several days. Everyone that read it saw it as the nail in the coffin to Pender’s failed argument, but to Pender it just sat there on the screen like a dead and rotting animal. It stank a bit more every day he thought about it. No matter where he went he could not escape that question. He found himself sitting next to his washing machine and trying to find patterns in the sloshing sounds. Flipping pocket change had become an unstoppable compulsion.

Early one sleepless morning while trapped in a book about quantum entanglement he had decided that he had come up with the only likely explanation of what was happening. Slowly strolling somewhere across a rocky Martian landscape was a rover. In that rover was a small quantum computer, and in that computer was an electron in some state or another, and people referred to that state as the Silver Ducket. The key to Pender’s theory was that this electron had a twin with which it was eternally entangled, and that sister electron was somewhere on Earth, announcing the result of the Martian Flip before the news could reach humanity at light speed.

Pender was at a crossroads. He knew he could either spend his life whistleblowing and trying to bring these theoretical cheaters to justice, or he could rest, eat a decent meal, maybe find a date, and move on with his life.

He stared at himself in the mirror and tried to decide which path he should choose. Unsure if he actually even had any freewill in the matter he did what he always did when he found himself in this situation.

Pender flipped a coin.

About the Author: 
Kurtis is a science educator in Vancouver who spends some of his spare time writing science fiction for fun.