Out in the parking lot, a snazzy little red two-door sports car was parked to the left of Merle’s nondescript vehicle. I could see Atropha behind the wheel, and Clotro in the front passenger seat. As we approached, Clotro opened the passenger door, leaned forward, and unhinged her seat, so that Latsis could clamber out of the back. Latsis reached back into the car for something fairly large, which had been on the seat next to her. She pulled out a blue cat carrier- a cage-like enclosure that is used to transport cats.
“Sorry to interrupt– we knew you boys were busy in there,” Latsis said, smiling at us. “I’ve never seen a bagel and pancake galaxy before, Merle. That was cute. But you’re going to need a cat carrier, Ken, to take L.C. to the vet.” She held the carrier out to me, and I accepted it.
“Thanks,” I said. “I didn’t even think about that.”
“I know,” she said. “That’s OK. Remember, I told you that I was going to help you. Here, I have something more.” She reached back into the car, and pulled out a cat litter box, a bag of cat litter, a scoop, several cans of cat food, and three cat toys. “L.C. likes canned food, also. And I’m sure she’d like to play with some toys.”
“Wow. Thanks!” I said. I instantly realized that I probably should have been a lot more proactive about the preparations, and I was a little embarrassed with myself. “I didn’t realize this was going to be so complicated.”
Latsis sort of gave me the eye a little bit.
“Not to say that it’s complicated,” I corrected myself. “This is going to work out well, I think.”
“I know!” Latsis said. “I really do believe it will.”
“Yes,” I said, “I do believe it will.” I was going to have a little pet– at least temporarily—and in spite of my concerns, it did sound somewhat appealing, if the cat was friendly. I might even develop a nice friendship, on some level at least, with Kim. That sounded even more appealing. So I actually was feeling a little bit hopeful, in spite of myself. The downside, of course, was what seemed to be the much more likely outcome- a double rejection, from both the cat and from Kim. Normally, that fear would have easily kept me from even making the attempt.
I saw Atropha reach her arm out of the open driver’s side window, and give Latsis a wave of the hand. That was the signal. “OK, gotta go!” said Latsis. “Good luck, boys!” And with that, Latsis slipped back into the car. Clotro swung the door shut while Atropha started the engine, and they pulled out of the space and headed out of the parking lot. In a few short moments, they were gone.
“We’d better hustle, also,” said Merle. “Kim is going to be there soon.”
When we got to the house, we unloaded the car and brought everything into the house, except for the cat carrier. “Leave that out here with us, on the porch,” Merle said. “We’re going to need it.”
“Now what?” I asked.
“We wait for Kim,” said Merle. “She’s almost here.”
I was a little restless, waiting, and Merle seemed somewhat amused, as I paced back and forth. “Ken, are you nervous?”
Truthfully, I actually was a little nervous. But I didn’t really want to admit that to Merle. “It’s just that I’ve never had a cat,” I said. “I know a little bit about dogs, but I really don’t know what to do with a cat. I have no idea how we’re going to get L.C. into this cat carrier.”
Merle laughed. “Well, I promised Latsis that I would help you, so don’t worry. First of all, it helps to know that cats are somewhat different than dogs.”
“Cats can be a little more sensitive, in some ways. Avoid any fast movements, at first, to gain her trust.”
“So how do we get her up here?”
“That’s easy. We have food, and she must still be quite hungry. Once we open a can of cat food up here, and call to her, she should come running, basically.”
We talked some more about cats, and Merle gave me some ideas which were actually quite intuitive and helpful. He even pulled a small device out of his pocket, which projected some holographic videos—instructional-type videos, really, of people interacting with cats, so I had some idea of how to pick them up, and hold them, and that sort of thing.
“I’ve seen a lot of cat videos,” I said, “but not these kinds of videos.”
Merle laughed at my joking reference. “These are much more helpful than watching some cute kitten playing with a ball of yarn,” he pointed out.
“True.” I was super interested in the holographic projector, but before I had the opportunity to ask Merle if I could check it out more closely, Kim drove up and parked her car at the curbside. Merle quickly put the device away, to my great disappointment. I was also going to ask him if we could watch one of those Liszt videos that he had mentioned before.
Kim came walking up to the porch. “Oh, wow!” she said. “You have a cat carrier! I didn’t even think of that!”
“Ken’s present to your Grandma Neddie,” Merle told Kim.
“Thank you so much! You didn’t have to do that, though!” Kim protested. “Let me pay for it, at least.”
“No, please,” I said. “That won’t be necessary. And don’t thank us until we actually manage to get L.C. in there.” I was embarrassed that I didn’t actually buy the carrier, or even think about it, for that matter, and I was still doubtful that Merle’s scheme would work, anyway.
“How are we going to get her in there?” asked Kim.
“We’re going to open a can of cat food, and hope she comes for it,” I told her.
“Do you think it will be that easy?”
As it turned out, and to my amazement, it was fairly easy. Merle put the can on the top rail of the porch. He opened the can, as loudly as possible, and spooned it into the food dish, clanking against the ceramic dish with the metal spoon, again as loudly as possible. Merle then suggested to Kim that she call for L.C., which she did. In less than a minute, L.C. hopped up onto the porch, and went straight to the food dish to eat. Merle suggested that I slowly move closer to L.C. and try to pet her as she ate. She was hungry enough to let me pet her. “Let her finish eating, while you pet her occasionally,” said Merle. “As soon as she finishes, pick her up and place her into the cat carrier.” Merle walked over to the carrier and opened the door.
He made it sound so easy, but when he suggested that I pick her up to place her into the carrier, I almost panicked, even though the instructional hologram showed me how to pick up a cat. I imagined L.C. viciously slashing me, as I made the attempt. Luckily, I didn’t have much time to fester on my fear. L.C. finished a moment later, and stepped back from the dish. It was now or never, and I picked her up and scooted her into the carrier. She went in nice and easy, with maybe just the slightest squirm, and I shut the door behind her and closed the latch. I shuddered a bit, involuntarily. That was the first time I had ever petted a cat, let alone picked one up, and I was very glad it went so well.
“Yes!” shouted Kim. This time she didn’t hold back, and she bounced over to give me a very big, very sincere hug. “Thank you so much!” she said. “I can’t believe you just did that!”
“I can’t, either,” I said. Although what I probably meant was that I couldn’t believe she was hugging me, and so emphatically, at that. I hugged her right back, and even lifted her off the ground a bit, in the process.
We both stepped back, maybe just a little embarrassed over the enthusiastic hug over the simple act of getting a cat into a box, and we both laughed at ourselves. “Sorry,” she said. “I got a little carried away.”
“No problem,” I said.
“I think he liked it,” said Merle, with a wink.
Kim and I both laughed at that, and we both bent down together at the same time to see how L.C. was doing in her carrier. We bumped our heads together, in the process, and had another laugh.
“We are a regular comedy routine!” Kim said.
I suddenly flashed back to Latsis’ words of encouragement, and I blushed a bit, at how well things were going, so far.
“Look at her!” said Kim. “She doesn’t look very scared!”
It was true. L.C. was already sitting down, in the carrier, and looking out the front door. She began to groom herself, apparently satisfied after a nice meal.
“Looks like a natural,” said Merle.
After that, everything seems almost like a dream, as I think back on it. Merle took his leave of us, and I went to the veterinarian with Kim. I held L.C. in the cat carrier on my lap, as Kim drove. We checked in at the front desk and had a ten or twelve minute wait, before L.C. was called. Kim and I had a nice conversation. We actually had a lot in common, especially since we were going to the same school. Also, we lived fairly close to each other, on campus, as it turned out. It was amazing that while we had never met on campus, here we were, back in Rundle Heights, at the veterinarian together, just hours after first meeting each other. To me, it felt like a very unusual first date, and an exceptionally good one, at that. So far, Kim had given me no indications that she was in any sort of relationship.
After L.C.’s checkup, and after receiving a recommended vaccination or two, the vet gave us a synopsis of her situation. L.C. appeared to be perhaps one year old, and her wound was not very bad. As Merle had mentioned, it would heal quite easily. L.C. was, indeed, a female, which did not surprise me. But we were surprised to find out that L.C. had been spayed, and she also had been declawed in her front paws.
“That’s probably how she hurt herself,” said the vet. “She’s not going to be able to climb fences or trees very well without her front claws, and she probably took a fall onto a fence or a branch. She won’t be able to defend herself, either, without the front claws. This cat should definitely not be an outdoor cat.”
The vet told us that, although L.C. obviously must have been somebody’s pet, she wasn’t micro-chipped, and didn’t have a collar, either, so there was no way to identify her owner. Nobody had called the animal hospital about a missing cat that fit the description, either. He suggested that we post some signs in the neighborhood explaining that we found a missing cat. L.C. had some easily identifiable markings, so if it was somebody’s cat, they should be able to describe her quite well. On the other hand, he mentioned, L.C. most likely was in need of a good home, and it was quite possible that her original owner wasn’t interested in getting her back.
We got L.C. back home, and set up her litter box, first thing. It only took her about two minutes to discover it and use it. I filled a dish with some dry cat food and placed it in the corner, and L.C. again didn’t waste any time getting into it. I offered to make some tea, and by the time I came out to the living room with the tea, Kim was petting L.C., who was arching her back and flouncing around Kim’s legs. “She is the sweetest little thing!” said Kim.
Kim mentioned that she should call her grandma Neddie, to tell her the good news, and to ask her if she’d like us to put the “Found Cat” signs up. I don’t think either of us was in too great a hurry to put the signs up, at that point, but Kim called her grandma in the hospital, and Neddie agreed that the signs should go up. “She is so happy!” said Kim, after she hung up with her grandma. “Although I think she hopes nobody responds to the signs.”
Kim and I sat around and finished our tea, while we got to know L.C. a little better. L.C. wasn’t settled in enough to play with her cat toys yet, but she watched Kim and me bat them around, trying to entice her. “We look ridiculous!” Kim observed, and we both laughed loudly when L.C. let loose with a loud “meow”, as if she agreed we looked like a couple of fools.
After a while, Kim mentioned that she had to get back home. I immediately guessed it was a boyfriend thing, but she surprised me when she revealed the reason. “My mom is waiting for me to go with her to the hardware store, to help pick out paint colors for my room. My dad wants to start painting next weekend.” Well, that was a relief! So we quickly made a few “Cat Found” signs, and we went out and drove around the neighborhood to hang them up, before Kim left. As we posted the signs, I was feeling quite hopeful about my budding friendship with Kim, while at the same time I found myself actually hoping, sincerely, that nobody would claim L.C. back from us.
“I hope nobody claims L.C.,” said Kim.
“You were reading my mind,” I admitted.
“My grandma would be so disappointed. Happy, you know, for L.C., and her owners, but—you know.”
“Yes. I know what you mean.” I was just surprised at how quickly I was becoming attached to a cat, of all things.
After Kim left, I found that I actually had some time to myself. I didn’t have to work that night, and I had no idea what Merle was doing. So L.C. and I just hung around the house. I made myself some food, and spooned a little more canned food into L.C.’s wet food dish, which she ate, before she ate some more dry food from the other bowl. She was skinny, but she was making up for lost meals. I did some cat litter maintenance, also. I discovered that L.C. loved to play with her furry little toy mouse that rattled when you shook it, and I howled with laughter as she scooted around the living room, chasing the mouse toy with full-out, tumbling exuberance.
Eventually, L.C. crashed out on the couch next to me, no doubt exhausted from the trip to the vet, and the food, and the play time, and I moved over to the table and caught up with my writing. I was amazed at how much had happened to me, and how much I had learned, in such a short amount of time! I got to sleep early that night, and in the morning I woke up to L.C. sleeping on the bed next to me. I petted her, while she purred, and I mulled over my plans for the day. Suddenly it occurred to me that I had agreed to go to church with my mom and dad in a couple of hours, so I rolled out of bed to start my day.
After feeding L.C. and myself, making coffee and taking a shower and dressing, I thought about Merle, and even looked out on the deck for him. I was nervous, not knowing where he was, but before long my parents came by. They were both quite surprised that L.C. was already settled into the house. I was glad that the cat didn’t seem to mind having company, because I had read that some cats will hide themselves away if people come over. Neither of my parents had any experience with cats, so they asked a lot of questions, and they were greatly entertained when I showed them how L.C. plays with her mouse. Before long, it was time to leave for church.
After church, when my parents dropped me back at the house, my dad stepped out of the car and looked around a bit. He mentioned that the grass was getting long.
“I know,” I reassured him. “I’m going to cut it, after you leave. And I’m going to cut Neddie’s lawn, also.”
My dad looked over at Neddie’s lawn, which also was getting long. “Doesn’t she hire people to cut her lawn?”
“Actually, no. She still cuts it herself. I’ve seen her.”
“Really? Well, good for her. And good for you, also, Ken. I wonder when she’s getting out of the hospital.”
“Maybe sometime this week, I guess, depending on how things go. I’ll probably keep cutting her lawn for a while, because even after she comes home, I think she may have to take it easy with that foot. It’ll probably be in a cast or something.”
“True, I imagine it will be. O.K., then, son.” My dad gave me a little hug around the shoulder, which was sort of unusual for him. “We’ll see you later.” As he headed back to the car, he stopped and turned back to me. “Are you going to be talking to Kim again?”
“I guess so. I suppose she may want to check on L.C.”
“That’s good. All right, see you later, then.”
“Bye. Love you, Ken.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
After my parents left, I went to the garage to get the lawnmower. I filled it with gas, and first went over to Neddie’s house. I cut her back yard first, and was half-way through with the front yard, when I noticed Kim pull up in her car. I turned off the lawnmower as Kim came walking up.
“Ken! What are you doing?”
“I’m cutting the grass.”
“It’s getting long.”
“But my dad was going to come over later to cut it!”
“That’s OK. You can tell him I took care of it already.”
“Wow.” She looked pretty surprised, in a good way, and she peeked around the side of the house. “And you already did the back yard?”
“Yep. It hasn’t rained for a while, either, so I’m also watering her vegetable garden back there while I cut the front yard. When I’m done here, I’ll move the hose and water the flowers in the front, while I cut my cousin’s lawn.”
“Wow. That’s great! You are awesome! I’ll tell my dad. Thanks, Ken!”
“How is L.C.?”
“She’s amazing! You should see her play with her toy mouse! She’s very cute. And when I woke up this morning, she was sleeping next to me in the bed.”
“Wow! That’s fantastic!” Kim looked at me, mischievously. “Are you sure you’ll be willing to give her up to my grandma when she’s ready?”
“It won’t be easy.”
“I’ll bet! O.K., I can see you’re pretty busy now. I’ll let you get back to the grass cutting. Are you going to be around later? I’ll give you a call.”
“Sure, give me a call.”
“O.K., I will.”
“Well, bye, Ken. We’ll talk later, then.”
“O.K., Kim. That sounds great. Talk to you then!”
As Kim drove off, I noticed somebody walking down the sidewalk on the other side of the street. She was wearing a hoodie, but I think it was the walking stick that gave her away. Latsis turned and gave me a “thumb up” with her free hand, which I returned with both thumbs. She flashed a quick smile, turned back, and kept walking down the sidewalk, without ever breaking stride. I fired up the lawnmower again, and got back to work.
After I finished cutting both lawns, and watering Neddie’s flowers and then Walter’s plants, I finally was able to go back in and take my second shower of the day. Then I wolfed down a quick lunch, so I would be ready in case Kim called or came over. As soon as I had finished eating and washing the dishes, I heard that deep musical-like tone again, briefly. Before I could dry my hands, the doorbell rang. It was Merle, who I had almost forgotten about, with everything else going on.
As I write this, I realize that I had never even thought to ask Merle about that tone I kept hearing. Strange as it was, I imagine that he may not have given me a straight answer, anyway. Either way, I suppose it doesn’t matter, but it does seem odd to me now that I never asked Merle about it. Anyhow, I walked over and opened the door.
“Merle! I was wondering what happened to you!” I said that to him even though, as I had mentioned, I had nearly forgotten about him, as I had been quite busy.
“I’ve been getting some things ready. Come on, we’re going to take another little trip.”
I wondered what he had in store for me today. It was going to be tough to top the Himalayas, for sure. We headed outside and got into the car. As usual, Merle turned on some music. “Space Oddity”, the David Bowie song, was just ending. “I was listening to this one on the way over,” Merle told me. “Bowie was sort of a space alien, himself, wasn’t he? I mean, even though he was an astronaut in this song, he seemed to enjoy taking on the role of an alien.”
“Yeah, I guess he did.” I said. “He even played an alien in a movie, I think.”
“That’s right!” Merle said. “He did. It was ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth.’”
We continued to make small talk while Aretha Franklin belted out “Think.” Then there was some kind of blues or zydeco– Clifton Chenier, I believe Merle said it was. The singing was in French, or Cajun, or creole, I guess, so I couldn’t understand the words, but it was good. Merle told me that he loved the music from Louisiana, in general, including zydeco and New Orleans style jazz, and that sort of thing. After he said that, I was sure that he was going to fly us off to New Orleans, but that wasn’t the plan, as it turned out. “No, we’re not going to New Orleans,” Merle said. “We’d have fun there, though. Lots of great people, music, food. Wouldn’t get much science done, though, I’m afraid. Besides, I have something a little more unusual in mind.”
We hadn’t traveled very far before Merle pulled off the street, and into the parking lot of a little strip mall. We swung around the backside of the mall and parked behind a dumpster. Merle looked at me after he parked. “Here goes!” he said.
“Where are we going?” I asked. A half-moment of darkness seemed to flash past, as I spoke.
“We’re already there,” he said. “We traveled a little faster today than we did Friday.”
I looked out the window, and I was shocked to see that we were no longer behind the strip mall. We were parked in a small circular drive somewhere, surrounded by trees and bushes on all sides. We began to move forward, as Merle continued driving as naturally as if we had just made a left turn.
“Where in the heck are we, Merle?”
“I’m afraid I can’t really tell you, this time,” said Merle. “Somewhere in the United States, let’s say.”
I wasn’t sure why he was being so mysterious. “What’s the deal, Merle?”
“Today we’re going to learn about the double-slit experiment,” he told me. “That’s about all I can really tell you.”
Well, now he had my curiosity piqued; that was for sure. Merle swung the car around a medium sized institutional-type three-story building, with no identification on it, and we parked in the back parking lot. The lot was largely deserted, due to it being a Sunday, I guessed, with the exception of one other car, and a medium-sized, plain white panel truck. I couldn’t tell very much from the trees alongside the road and around the parking lot, other than I hadn’t noticed any palm trees or cactus or anything like that. For a moment I thought I saw mountains in the far distance, but then I realized it was probably just a cloud bank on the horizon. But I wasn’t sure, either way. It was warm, but at that time of year we could have been almost anywhere, I suppose. As we exited the car, I noticed somebody standing near one of the back entrances. He appeared to be some sort of security guard. He looked very official– although I couldn’t really place his uniform.
I followed closely behind Merle as he strode up to the guard and handed him some paperwork. “Here’s the authorization,” Merle announced.
The guard glanced at the paperwork for a moment, and then extended a hand outwards towards Merle. “It’s nice to see you again, Mr. Akeetheran. The lab is ready for you.”
“And is that the truck?”
“Tell them to bring the package in, then.”
The guard motioned towards the truck, and two serious-looking men got out from each side of the cab. They also had uniforms, of a different sort, but still rather official-looking. I watched them go around to the back of the truck, open the door, and pull a very long and cumbersome-looking package out. It must have been over 10 feet long, maybe two feet in width, and maybe two or three inches thick. The long box seemed like it wanted to flex, and the delivery men struggled just a bit, to keep it from bending. Merle gave them a “follow us” wave of the hand, and they followed us into the building, carrying their long package, as the guard held the door open. I was completely in the dark as to what was happening, but it didn’t seem like a good time to ask questions, so I didn’t.
“We’ll have to take the stairs,” Merle said. “We’ll never get that package into the elevator.” And so Merle took us down a long hallway. We eventually turned left, and found a large, institutional-style granite stairway, leading upwards, from that point. “It’s on the third floor,” said Merle. “Please try not to bend that package very much, if you can help it.”
“I’m not sure we can get it up the stairs without bending it,” said one of the men from the truck.
“Oh, don’t worry,” said Merle. “I know we can.” He was right, of course. It was a struggle, but the men were able to wind their way upwards while spiraling the package along, up to the third floor. I could tell that Merle was noticeably nervous about them possibly bending it too much, or dropping it back down the stairway.
We walked down another long hallway on the third floor, and we came to an unmarked door. “That’s good,” Merle told the truckers. “You can set it down right in the hallway.”
“Won’t you need help bringing it into the room?” asked one of the men from the truck. “It’s pretty heavy.”
“No, no, we’re good. We’re only taking it a short distance,” Merle assured them. “Thank you very much for your help.” I was surprised to see Merle hand each of the men an envelope, which looked like the sort of envelope that just might contain some cash.
“Thank you, sir!” both men said, crisply, and nearly in unison. They were clearly quite pleased with the envelopes, even with contents still unseen. I half expected them to salute, or maybe offer some parting comments or something, but, instead, they simply exchanged knowing smiles with Merle.
“You are very welcome,” said Merle. “We very much appreciate the help.”
And with that, the two delivery men turned and were on their way, quite directly.
The room was some type of laboratory, and a fairly large one– I could see that immediately. We brought the box in, and laid it down in the central area. I pulled out my pocket knife. “Should I open it, Merle?” I asked, referring to the box.
“No, no,” said Merle, a little bit excitedly, as he waved his hands in the air for emphasis. “I mean, I’ll open it. I don’t want to make much of a mess, if we can avoid it.” He pulled a little tool out of a pocket. It was almost the same size as my pocket knife; maybe just a slight bit larger. Merle touched a button or two on the device, and then he crouched down at one end of the long box. He touched the tool to a corner, apparently without applying any significant pressure, and quickly ran it along one edge of the carton. Then he quickly traced it along the parallel edge, as well as tracing a line between the two edges, where the two flaps of the corrugated box met. The now opened box revealed the incredibly clean and neat cutting of Merle’s tool, which basically cut right through the packing tape without even scratching a fiber of the corrugated material.
“My Gosh, Merle! You were talking about Clotro’s device the other day, but you have one that’s even cooler!”
Merle, bemused and amused at the same time, looked at me. “Are you kidding me?” he asked.
“I mean, this thing is just a glorified Swiss Army knife, for Gosh sakes. It’s a handy little gadget, sure, but it’s nothing compared to Clotro’s spindle!” Merle laughed out loud. “Her device is probably a trillion times cooler!” He paused, apparently thinking about the comparison he had just made. “Heck, probably about a quadrillion times, actually!”
Merle pulled the cut flaps open more widely, and the contents of the box were revealed- thin strips of material of varying lengths, most of them the full width of the box, with various notches and slots cut into them. We proceeded to slide the contents out of the box, and onto the floor.
The material was flexible, shiny and lightweight. It had to be some kind of wonder alloy, I assumed. “What kind of alloy is this, Merle?”
Merle gave me a quizzical look. “Alloy? No, this is just styrene, I believe. 40 mil white styrene, I believe. Actually, it’s probably closer to 37 or 38 mil, I’d guess, but that doesn’t matter, for our purposes.”
I was surprised to hear that it was just a common material. There were about 18 different styrene strips on the floor. Two of the longer ones had small appendages, or hooks, on the back. Merle pointed over to a large piece of equipment, not far from where we had laid the styrene. I was surprised to see that it was, in fact, a large, oval pool, several feet deep, and filled with about a foot and a half of water. The entire tub, maybe 24 feet by 12 feet across, was raised about three feet off the floor, right there in the central area of the lab.
“Now here’s something that’s sort of neat, I guess,” Merle said. He still had the tool in his hand, and he opened a little side compartment and pulled out a small blue, transparent disk, about the size of a guitar pick. He walked over to the pool, and tossed the disk towards the center of the water. I was surprised to see that the disk did not enter the water and sink, as I assumed it would. Instead, it rose upwards in a graceful arc, and assumed a spot about ten feet in the air, above what looked like the exact center of the pool. It sat there, hovering motionlessly. I thought it may have been rotating, but I wasn’t sure.
I was taken aback when the disk suddenly emitted two sheets of glittery, bright blue light. One sheet plunged into the water of the pool, while another sheet glimmered down onto the pile of styrene sheets. I was startled, and I almost fell over the empty box that was on the floor, behind us. Merle grabbed me before I took a tumble, and as he set me back upright he pointed to the sheets of light. “That’s our template,” Merle said, and he reached down to pick up the strip of styrene which was indicated by the sheet of dazzling blue light. He handed me the strip. “Here, Ken. You take this one and clip it on the short edge of the pool, right here, where the beam is showing you.”
I looked into the water, and saw that the sheet of blue light matched the length of the styrene I was holding. That’s when I realized that the strips were going into the laboratory pool.
“It’s OK,” said Merle. “The blue light won’t hurt you. It’s just blue light. And the water is just plain old water.” He smiled at me.
It only took about three or four minutes for Merle and I to set up the styrene strips in the correct pattern. As each piece went into place within the pool, the blue sheet of light associated with it blinked out, and a new blue sheet of light appeared, indicating where the next piece should go. I asked Merle if he had been practicing the assembly, and he didn’t say “no.”
When we were finished, an expanse of styrene stretched across the entire long dimension of the pool. It extended several inches above the waterline, and submerged all the way to the bottom of the pool, or thereabouts. In the center of the central piece was a single open slot, perhaps an inch and a half wide, extending all the way to the bottom, and maybe two inches above the water surface. Off of that central strip of styrene, on either side of the slot, several smaller pieces of styrene interweaved with each other in a seemingly random cross-hatched pattern, with an unimpeded, central lane about one foot wide, leading up to the single slot. Merle told me, later, that the cross-hatched sections of strips were designed to baffle and minimize any wave deflections that may have messed up the experiment, as well as to add some stability to the whole set-up.
Merle reached into his pocket and pulled out a small tin, maybe four inches by two inches, and about a half-inch in height. I assumed it was a box of mints or something, but when he opened the lid and showed me what was in the box, I couldn’t have been more surprised. I bent down a bit and peered more closely at the unexpected contents. I looked at Merle and saw that he was humored by my reaction. “Merle, are those what I think they are?”
“Yes, they are!” He was laughing, now. “Miniature rubber ducks! 128 of them, to be exact! Aren’t they cute?”
Indeed they seemed to be, as Merle indicated, miniature rubber ducks, perhaps a quarter of an inch in all dimensions, and perfectly cute, as he said. They were packed symmetrically into the tin, like 128 tiny yellow sardines.
I still hadn’t figured out, at that point, what I was about to witness. “Merle, what is this all about, anyway?”
“Don’t you see it already? We’re going to run the double-slit experiment! The water in the wave pool represents the space-time continuum, and the rubber ducks represent little photons!”
“The double-slit experiment!? In a pool of water?” I asked Merle. I was suddenly very intrigued, to say the least, since Merle had told me, previously, that he was going to explain this gigantic mystery of science.
“Yes, in a pool of water, Ken. Like I said, the pool, here, represents the space-time continuum. These little ducks, here, represent little photons, or electrons, or atoms, or molecules, or whatever quantum matter you’d like. All we have to do is get the pool in motion, like the space-time continuum is. Luckily, this is a wave pool, so it’s made for just that.”
Again, it seemed like Merle had been practicing. He started the wave generator as if he had done it many times before, and water began moving, in a wave action, towards the slot in the wall. “Here we go”, he said. Merle poured a small handful of the mini ducks into his left hand. With his right hand, Merle reached out across the water almost as far as he could reach, and he began depositing the ducks, one by one, into the flow of the wave action. The ducks bobbed on the waves towards the slot in the wall.
Some ducks missed the slot, and a couple dozen of them piled up along the styrene strip on either side, but Merle was releasing the ducks close enough so that most ducks passed through the slot. On the other side, we had hooked one of the long styrene strips, which hung into the water and up to about six inches above waterline. When the ducks eventually reached the opposite wall, I made a mark on that piece of styrene at the exact spot the duck hit, and then I removed that duck from the water with a set of needle nose pliers which Merle had given me. After several dozen ducks had landed, it was becoming clear that the ducks were all landing within a certain area of the wall directly across the way, as you would expect. Basically they were landing in a “fuzzy slit” interference distribution—mostly concentrated within a central portion which was a few inches wide, but with a few ducks drifting outside the normal distribution to some extent. We ended that portion of the experiment and collected the ducks back up. I noticed that, when you put the ducks back into the little tin in a jumble, they automatically self-organized and lined themselves up, symmetrically and neat, as if they were magnetic or something. That was very cool to see, because I didn’t think they would ever all fit back in the tin.
Then we removed the styrene strip that included the slot, only to reveal the second strip behind, which had two slots, spaced about four inches apart. Anyone who is familiar with the double-slit experiment can probably guess what I observed when we floated ducks through this new scenario. We ran about 100 ducks through the set-up, sending them through both slits simultaneously, in bunches. Through each slit, a wave of water propagated, which, according to Merle, represented the wavelike propagation of the space-time continuum passing through the slits in the double-slit experiment. . On the other side of the main strip with the slits, the two waves—one from each slit– intersected and interfered with each other in a diffraction pattern. The action of the diffracted waves carried the ducks along. At some points, against the far wall, the wave troughs constructively interfered, and very few ducks landed. At other points, against the far wall, the wave crests constructively interfered, and there were quite a few ducks that showed up in those locations. The resultant pattern of marks that I made on the styrene, where each duck landed, indicated a classic interference pattern, just as you see in the regular double-slit experiment.
Then, we repeated the experiment, this time releasing only a single duck at a time, with clear time intervals in-between. Very significantly, the interference pattern still remained, since it was the medium– in this case space/time, i.e. the water—that was interfering with itself, not the rubber ducks interfering with each other. In fact, you could visually look at the water, and you could see the complex diffraction pattern as the waves collided in their characteristic manner.
“Just like in the real double-slit experiment!” Merle told me, enthusiastically. “And do you know what happens if you start sticking a hand in the water, in one of the slots, trying to measure for rubber ducks, trying to feel for rubber ducks with your hand?”
“It messes up the results for the other slot, too?”
“That’s right! The ducks pass through the other slot in the simple diffraction pattern of a fuzzy slot, since you no longer have two clean waves passing through the slots, to interfere with each other. You messed up the one wave by feeling around with your hand and ended up changing the flow of the other wave– or the flow of the space-time continuum.”
“Just like when scientists try to measure where the electrons go, in the double-slit experiment,” I said.
“Right. No matter how hard they try, they inevitably disrupt the flow of the continuum in their attempt to measure the situation in that slot. Then, the second slot inevitably goes back to its singular, simple diffraction state.”
“Wow.” I sat back a bit, and looked again at the styrene that I had marked up in the unmistakable bands I had seen so many times in physics books, or online. It took me a minute or so to wrap my head around what I had just seen. “So the wave is the space-time continuum, not the photon,” I said, repeating what Merle had told me when he did his rubber band demonstration in the Himalayas.
I thought about that some more. “So a photon is really a particle, then. Not actually both a particle and a wave. The wave is space-time, not the photon.”
“Wow, wow.” I shook my head. “So the photon pretty much rides the wave of the space-time continuum, then? When we observe a photon’s ‘wavelength’, we’re really watching it bob up and down, or ripple, as its being pulled along by the specific wave of the space-time continuum which can interact with it at the c velocity, relative to the observer?”
“Right, right,” said Merle. “That’s a great way to think about it. It’s just like a duck on the water, Ken. And every particle—every quantum accumulation of mass/energy—has its own corresponding continuum of space/time wavelengths that interacts directly with it, depending on its position, energy and other factors.”
“What about people?”
“Even people have their own wavelength. It’s just a very, very long wavelength that’s extremely difficult to observe or measure.”
“What about planets?”
“Planets, too, have wavelengths of space-time associated with them, even more difficult to measure and, again, not particularly noticeable on scales like that. Like I said, Ken, every quantum accumulation of mass/energy interacts with the space/time continuum, and the continuum interacts in the form of a wave, traveling at c, relative to the quantum accumulation of mass/energy. The wave is just a far more noticeable effect at smaller scales, like with sub-atomic particles, than it is with larger accumulations of mass/energy, like a bird. The math gets pretty crazy with something like a bird. However, you can see how space-time interacts with large-scale objects by the wavy nature of accretion disks that have been observed through telescopes. Gravity alone can’t account for the obvious waviness of the disk.”
“Wow, OK. I can see that.” I was remaining calm, on the whole, but I was still freaking out, inside, about the experiment. Wave/particle duality was such an ingrained thought for me that it was very difficult to concede that a photon is only a particle, and not really a wave at all. Plus, the whole thing seemed so simple to me, now, after the rubber duck demonstration, that I was feeling a little bit overwhelmed and stunned. It just seemed too easy and obvious, on some level, I guess, but then again the space/time continuum can be sort of intimidating to think about. The whole thing was sort of disorienting and disconcerting, in that respect.
“Then again,” Merle continued, “the continuum also affects very large accumulations of mass/energy in hidden ways; our own galaxy is a good example of that.”