Back to IndexWritten September, 1998

The door slammed shut, closing out the pouring rain and general bustle of the street outside. Professor Jameson shook himself, spilling raindrops onto the floor in a neat puddle which began to spread out over the floor. He pulled his raincoat off both of his arms and shook it out at arms length, adding even more water to the floor which was fast assuming a very slippery texture. The winter of 2056 was proving to be quite miserable.
An orderly drone squeaked up along the floor and held out its receptacle. He gratefully deposited his coat and hat in it and sent the drone on its way.
The air resounded with the sharp snaps of footsteps on the marble floor and the professor spotted a woman walking towards him. She extended her hand.
"It's good to see you, Professor." She said. "I'm glad that you could make it."
He caught her hand in a strong grip and proceeded to nearly wrench it out of its socket. "I'm glad I could be here." He enthused. He winked. "Is my audience assembled?"
She nodded. "Yes, and we've set up all the equipment you sent us. It's quite impressive."
"Well then. Let's go."
Their footsteps stopped echoing around the room as soon as they entered the lecture room which was fairly well populated. The lush carpet under their feet did not seem to mind the Professor's wet shoes and soaked up the water admirably.
Jameson walked to the front podium and turned to face his audience. "Good morning." He began, his eyes scanning the eyes of the students. "I'm here to talk to you today about the future of science, the future of experiments and the future of risk. I am here to tell you about the future." A slight smattering of applause circulated the room.
He indicated the equipment, looking rather like a badly built television set, behind him. "This equipment will change the way we experiment in the social sciences." He paused dramatically. "And I will tell you how."
He took a small sip of water from the glass which had thoughtfully been provided and continued. "You will all have doubtless heard of the theorem stating the existence of different quantum universes. You are also no doubt aware that although we can prove the existence of these universes we have never been able to observe, interact or influence them. about to change.
"The equipment you see behind you is a quantum universe imager, the first stage in our exploitation of these untouched natural resources which are the quantum universes." He clicked a switch and several lights on the device came to life.
"This device allows us to see, as if we were there, different quantum universes; and, as soon as it has spun up, you will be among the first people in the history of our universe to see into another. It is only the first stage. In the second stage we will begin to alter and manipulate these alternate realities, at first to test theories but later to exploit their resources, and to test different government policies. For the first time in history we will be able to follow one path but see what happened if we had followed another."
"Isn't that rather unethical?" Came a question from the audience.
Jameson frowned. "In what way?"
"Using other people in this way."
The professor laughed. "Of course not. They don't exist, they're not really alive!" There were a few murmurs but the professor continued.
"I intend to transform this very room into the command centre for performing these experiments. I imagine banks of machinery, computers and technicians, trying out different futures until they find the best path to follow."
"How could we know if this method itself is the right way to go?" Asked another of the students.
"Simple." The professor smiled. "We'll just let some of the universes develop this technology for themselves, although at a lower level than us, of course. If nothing bad happens to them then we'll know that the technology is safe."
There was a beep behind him. "Ladies and gentlemen." He announced. "The imager is powered up, it has picked a universe at random and is ready to display that universe's equivalent of this very room."
He touched another button. The screen flickered, colourful patterns flirting across its surface for a few seconds before it settled back down to darkness. The professor frowned and adjusted the contrast. Gradually a picture came into view.
The room they stared at was white walled and populated by men and women in white coats. Control banks lined the sides and computer display screens were above them. Each bore a different image, and a legend underneath.
The professor stopped talking. He stared at the screen labelled "Experiment 221B, alpha path". He turned to the students in confusion and then looked back, there could be no mistake.
It was this room.

As I read this story again it reminds me of a scene in the BBC production of "The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams. Arthur Dent, having been told that his entire life was being run as an experiment to satisfy the curiosity of a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings, says that this explains all the feelings he has had in his life that something was not qute right and that things were out of his control. Slartibartfast (and how the hell do you spell that?) replies that "No, that is simply perfectly ordinary paranoia; everyone in the universe has that." But that is really by the by.
The idea for this story came, perhaps unbelievably, from an Economics lesson. The subject was whether Economics could be considered a science, and whether the scientific method applied. It got me thinking.

Oliver Pell