Quantum Chameleon

Dr. Rube Babbage paced back and forth--at least he imagined pacing back and forth since he didn't actually have any real legs at the moment. The tail of his long white lab coat fluttered slightly, and he kept chewing on the earpiece of a pair of horn-rimmed eyeglasses with candy-colored frames. The lenses were so dark that no one could see his eyes when he wore them, but the spectacles typically perched on the top of his head where they looked like leering owl eyes.

The others ignored Rube, which suited the situation since he was calculating the outcome of Kendall's detour and he didn't want to be disturbed with their incessant bickering. As he strode across an imaginary floor, hunched over with his hands folded behind his back,  Rube plugged variables into a modified time-dependent Schrodinger equation: direction, speed, ambient temperature, blood-alcohol content, neurotic instability, bladder pressure...as he cogitated, the equation blossomed across a chalkboard to his left that stretched to infinity. After several moments of consternated  grumbling, he jolted upright and gaped at the numbers and symbols on the board.

“Great Caesar's Ghost!” His hands flew into the air, hovered for a nanosecond, then clapped once in front of his mouth, then pawed at the shock of white hair sprouting from his head, then clutched at his chest. “This...this is heavy. If my calculations are correct, we'll all be dead in two days unless I manage to drastically alter the waveform and get that crystal to Area 17.”

While he knew that every member of Area 17 (along with every human being in this reality) erroneously believed that magic ruled their universe, Rube also knew that the only place on the planet equipped to inspect, analyze, document the inner workings of, and (eventually) disarm the particle was the Research Branch in the Restricted Sector of the Deranged and Megalomaniacal Studies Wing of the Annihilation Prevention Section of the Bureau of Destructive Magic in Area 17's Homeland Defense Division.

Dr. Babbage admired the labyrinthine compartmentalization within Area 17, and pounced on any opportunity to explore their research facilities (even if the personalities around him spent every second  in Area 17 either sleeping or clawing their way back in control of the body so they could leave).

He almost drooled at the thought of accessing Area 17's most restricted laboratories (even if they were mostly full of bubbling cauldrons, scrolls and enchanted circles engraved on the floor), but Rube realized the chance would slip through his fingers if he didn't get the team back on track. Not to mention the entire planet would cease to exist, or at the very least be reduced to a smoldering cinder (he hadn't gotten a good look at the crystal yet, and wasn't sure exactly how the world-destroying mechanism worked).

He took a deep breath and opened his arms as if to embrace the infinite chalkboard.

“Permutations. Permutations.” Rube stood like a rock guitarist about to strike the first chord of a stadium show, but instead of heavy metal, he hummed the opening bars of “Karma Chameleon”. He slid his dark glasses down over his eyes and began to sing. Way off key.

“...If I listened to your lies would you say...”

His voice sounded like a load of gravel sloshing around an unbalanced washing machine with rusted bearings stuck on spin cycle.

“...I'm a man without conviction...”

The equations shimmered on the board like a hot desert road, blurring into a chalky haze that wafted around the board while the old scientist swayed from side to side slightly out of rhythm with his own voice.

“...I'm a man who doesn't know...”

The equations gently coalesced and settled back into place. They looked exactly the same as before Rube started the song.

“...how to sell a contradiction.”

Rube stopped singing and pointed at two miniscule numbers a couple of feet apart; one was a decimal so small it was notated with a ten to the power of negative thirteen, and the other was a vector based on frictional losses. As his fingertips touched the board, the numbers jiggled and transformed slightly. “That's it!”

Rube's canvas checkerboard slippers squeaked as he turned on his heel to face the quibbling personalities. Their arguments tangled in the air like startled spaghetti.

“...I bet he'll give the thing to the high-hats at 17...”  

                     “...I tell you, they've got enchanted ravens...”

            “...forget sneaking around...”

                                  “...and they'll still pretend he doesn't exist...”


   “...give 'em a show they won't forget anytime soon...”

             “...let everyone know we're coming...”

“..as far away as possible...”

Dr. Babbage ignored everyone butting heads and set his sights on Alfred, who watched the exchange with a smirk while he leaned against a weathered wooden porch rail that wasn't attached to anything. He liked to lounge on things, and when he didn't have control of the body he fabricated the appropriate props with his imagination. Rube sidled up beside him. “Enjoying the show, Alf?”

“Nah,” Alf sighed. He laced his fingers behind his head and grimaced. “I'm bored outta my skull, Doc.”

“What's the problem? I thought you'd enjoy all the fuss.”

“No argument about that, Doc,” he chuckled, “but everybody's takin' this crystal-with-a-capital-C so darned serious, there ain't no room for a laugh.”

Dr. Babbage watched the others for a moment, stroking his chin as he pretended to consider Alf's situation. Then a smile crept across his lips and he nudged Alf in the ribs. “You know what would be really funny...?”

The End

20 comments about this exercise Feed