Well, here we are. Back in Dr. Bryceís office.
The gang is all hereóPeggy, Dr. Bryce, Box A, Box B, and of course, Yours Truly. Right now, there is inside of Box A a check made out to me in the amount of $5,000. Iíve seen it. Unless somebody tampered with things while I was out of the room, itís in there. In Box B, there is nothing at all. Or there is a chance to start my life all over again: a free ticket out of WorldConneX plus two years to do whatever I want. Or there is an uncollapsed quantum waveówhatever the hell that meansówhich holds both the possibility of the package and of nothing, just waiting for me to observe one or the other. Waiting for me to choose my own fate.
If the box contains an uncollapsed quantum wave, it means that my eyes and my brain play a fundamental role in the ordering of the universe. There is no reality at all until I observe it. The idea is either liberating and empowering or kind if scary and megalomaniacal. I canít decide which. But the trouble with megalomania is that Iím a tech writer from the downtown office. Iím the kind of guy who thinks that the taller chair backs and the espresso machines at Labs are a big deal. All this reality-manifesting-out-of-decisions-that-I-make business is more than I can handle.
Iím not ready to be Godís junior partner.
"Emmett, I have to ask you for the record, now," says Peggy.
I look her directly in the eye. Her eyes are a deep, violet blue. Iím struck by a tiny wave of giddiness. An absurd thought occurs to me: if I get the lay-off package, I will no longer work for the company. Thereís nothing to stop me from asking Peggy out.
Yeah, right. Thatís the reason I havenít asked her out alreadyÖbecause we work for the same company. Right.
"Do you want to open Box B alone, or both Boxes A and B?"
There are a couple of possibilities. Rick hinted at one of them. Maybe the quantum computer accurately predicted that I would pick B alone, because Rickís little pep talk was outside the confines of the experiment. I was definitely going to pick B alone until he showed up. So it could be that there is a separation package in box B. And maybe Iíll get both by picking both after all.
The other possibility is that I could tell Dr. Bryce and Peggy about Rick and bring this whole thing to a close right now. Surely having this unauthorized person come talk to me during my Thinking Time is grounds for invalidating the entire experiment. Of course, doing that I lose the $5,000, any hope of getting the two years, and Iím still out of a job. I will almost certainly just get that lesser (much, much lesser) package that Peggy has in that file of hers.
No. That one is a bad deal any way you look at it.
"Emmett," says Dr. Bryce. "We need your answer."
"Right," I answer.
One thing I will give these people credit for. You know how people always describe reaching a major decision point in their lives as coming to a fork in the road? Well, these Two-Box folks have created about as distinct a fork as I have ever stumbled across. Or had jammed up my ass, depending on how you want to look at it.
"Right," I say again. "Okay. Iíll take both."
Well, what do you know. Iíve managed to surprise them, or at least one of them.
Bryce holds his own, but Peggy needs to work on the poker face. Hereís a gal who doesnít get surprised very often (Iím guessing), but look at the cool and dignity with which she handles it. Not bad. Still, the ever so slightly furrowed forehead is enough to give it away. I thinkóIím not sure but I thinkóthat had I made the right choice (meaning the choice she expected me to make) she would have given me the eyebrow instead.
Dr. Bryce makes a note on a form laid out in front of him.
"Can I confirm that, Emmett? Youíre choosing both boxes?"
"Initial here, please." He turns the form around and passes it to me, along with his pen. It is an almost blank page. It just has my name, the date, two check boxes, and some blank lines at the bottom. One check box is labeled B, the other one is labeled A&B. Two boxes for the two-box experiment. Thatís appropriate.
Wait, shouldnít one box be A and the other be B?
No, I guess itís right the way it is.
Anyway, the second of the two boxes is checked. I put my initials under it, and pass the page back to the good doctor.
"And will you now please state your reasons for making this choice?" He is poised to write my answer in the blank lines at the bottom of the page. Why not just ask me to write my answer there myself?
Oh, well. Who am I to question these things?
"This is the only choice in which I am ensured of getting something."
"Butó" Peggy begins and then thinks better of it. Bryce looks up and gives her a startlingly open look of disapproval. Hereís a new dynamicóthe Scientist annoyed by the Corporate Drone who might ruin the crystalline symmetry of his experiment with her two-bit MBA meddling.
I like that. Thatís the best thing Iíve seen all day.
Bryce looks back down and apparently writes what I said word for word.
"Anything else?" he says, looking up again.
"Yes. It also seems to be the choice I was not expected to make. That didnít figure into my actual decision, but now that itís made, Iím pleased with it."
Dr. Bryce seems to weigh the appropriateness of this answer for a moment. Then he writes it down word for word.
"Well," Peggy says brightly, "letís see what weíve got." She picks up Box A, which has been neatly resealed, and hands it to me.
"This part is going to be a little anti-climactic," I say, taking the box. "Or at least it had better be." The box opens easily. Inside, there is the envelope, itself not resealed. I reach in through the precise opening Peggy created earlier with the letter opener, and pull out the check. Itís there. Five large, made out in my name.
"Congratulations," says Peggy.
This is just like Christmas morning, except weíre not in our footy PJs. Well, I guess itís more like my birthday, since Iím the only one opening boxes.
Dr. Bryce reaches across the desk and hands me Box B. I fumble with the seal for a moment, until Peggy hands me that stiletto letter-opener of hers. Swish! Right through that little red seal. I insert my thumbnail into the lid and begin to pull the lid open ó
"Okay, pal. Drop the box. Now."
I look up. Now where did those two come from? And why are they aiming guns at me?
Damn, Labs is an awfully strange place.Posted by Phil at March 1, 2004 12:00 AM | TrackBack