Lesley L. Smith
I made it to the UNLV Computer Center with no major mishaps. As I
entered the lab, I wiped sweat from my face and smoothed my blouse,
hoping the coffee stain wasn't too noticeable. I'd been the victim of a
spill-and-run at the coffeehouse - the latest in a string of unfortunate
But it wasn't bad luck like my mom said; there was no scientific basis
for 'luck'. My mom also said I was in danger of becoming an old maid now
that I'd gotten my Master's Degree, so she wasn't exactly a reliable
A dark-haired head popped out from behind some electronic equipment in
the corner. "Are you Isabelle?"
I nodded. "Isabella."
The man crawled out of the corner and stood up - but not before checking
me out, I noticed. "Hi, I'm Zach Macuill." He had the most amazing long
eyelashes I'd ever seen.
My heart started beating like there was about to be an unfortunate
disaster. "Hi, I'm Isabella Hote." I held out my hand for a shake.
He chuckled. "Yes, I know." He wasn't wearing a wedding ring.
When our bare hands touched I felt a jolt of electricity, and couldn't
seem to look away from his eyes. Who was this guy?
"Are you feeling all right, Ms. Hote?," he asked. "You have an odd
expression. You're not going to be sick are you?"
Get a grip, Iz. I backed away from him. "I'm fine," I managed to eke
out. Still backing up, my backside hit one of the lab tables.
How old was he? Twenty-six? Twenty-nine? Something fell off the table
behind me and clunked on the floor, spraying brown liquid everywhere -
including all over my pants. Ah well, the stains on my pants would match
the one on my blouse.
Zach almost suppressed a laugh. "Oops. You're not having a very lucky
first day, are you?" He took a step toward the door. "I'll go get some
I held up my hand. "No. I did it. I'll go." I started walking for the
door. I needed to pull myself together and quit acting so goofy, anyway.
Of course, I couldn't find any paper towels or any restrooms. I had to
go back to the front entrance and ask the receptionist where they were.
"Hi, Eva, remember me?" I smiled widely.
"I just asked you where the quantum computer lab was. I'm Isabella."
She smiled and nodded her head. "Sure. Hi, again. What can I do for
"I need some paper towels. Where's the ladies room?"
She gestured back the way I'd come. Of course.
"You don't happen to know anything about that guy Zach, who works in the
quantum lab, do you?" I asked casually. "Is he like a grad student,
Her eyes lit up. "Oh, Dr. Macuill? Yeah, he's a real sweetie. He brings
I gulped. "Doctor?"
"Oh, yes," she nodded. "I think he's in charge of the quantum lab."
Crap. I had a crush on my new boss. Now that was a delicate situation.
After lunch, I gingerly placed my prototype on the lab table, took a
step back and sighed in relief. The almost-car-accident was a near
thing, but the prototype and I managed to make it here without any
actual critical injuries.
My skepticism about bad luck did not seem to be stopping the unfortunate
I needed to focus my attention on work though. I was excited to show
Zach, er, Dr. Macuill, my thesis project - for purely professional
reasons, of course.
Where was he? He might be hiding behind some equipment for all I knew.
"Dr. Macuill? Are you here?" I pictured his chocolate-brown eyes framed
by those luscious lashes. I pictured him leaning toward me, lips
I jumped. "Yes, sir, Dr. Macuill. I mean, what, Dr. Macuill?"
"Please call me Zach. We're going to be working long hours together
getting the quantum computer off the ground." He smiled, displaying tiny
laugh lines around his eyes.
They made him look even more delicious. "Yes, sir, Dr. Zach, I mean,
Zach." I took a breath. "Please call me Isabella." I exhaled.
"Okay, thanks, Isabella." He smiled at me and I tried to remember how to
breathe. "Is this your thesis project?" Zach pointed at my prototype.
"Yes!" That's it; focus on the work. "You asked me to bring it in. It's a
quantum computer. Would you like me to show it to you?"
He just grinned.
Duh. "Of course, you would. That's why you asked me to bring it in. Do
you know how a quantum computer works?"
He looked like he was trying not to laugh. Finally he said, "I think we
can assume I know how it works, but I'd like to see how much you know,
so pretend I know nothing." He sat on one of the lab stools.
"Okay." No pressure - just a pseudo-job-interview after I'd already
gotten the job. "A quantum computer works like a normal computer except
it has quantum bits, qubits, instead of regular bits."
"And what's different about a qubit?" As he put his hands on his thighs,
I was aware of his every move: he filled his lungs with air, he shifted
on the lab stool.
"Uh, regular bits have only two possible states, they can either hold a
one or a zero. But a qubit can hold a one, a zero, or a quantum
superposition of these."
"Superposition?" His eyes were still smiling.
"The superposition is important because it means the quantum computer
has way more states to work with," I said. "An old-fashioned computer
can only be in one of two-to-the-nth states at any one time, but a
quantum computer can be in up to two-to-the-nth states at the same time.
Entanglement is involved, too."
"And how does the superposition work?" He leaned forward slightly.
My heart sped up. Easy, girl. "Quantum mechanics," I said. "But, to be
honest, I never understood that part." A little late, it occurred to me
that I probably shouldn't be so honest with my new boss. "Uh, but I know
it has to do with probabilities."
"Don't worry about it," he said. "Quantum mechanics has boggled some of
the best minds in history - like Einstein." He smiled again. "The states
of the quantum computer are represented by wave functions which
actually specify probabilities. So all these different probabilities
each attack the computer task at the same time."
"Like parallel processing," I said.
"Exactly. And when the calculation finishes, the quantum states collapse
to a classical state, and we have the answer."
I scrunched up my nose. "I must admit that's the part I don't get. How
do all the states 'collapse'?"
Zach leaned toward me and whispered, "I don't really get that part
I did not sniff his hair.
He straightened. "But the physicists say an observer instantiates the
"Not totally helpful," I pointed out.
He laughed. "I agree."
His laugh was so infectious I had to laugh with him. And then I found I
wasn't quite so nervous around him.
He pointed at my prototype. "Should we fire it up?"
"Yes. But I have to warn you, I only have eight qubits in here."
"I know." He showed off his laugh lines again. "A qubyte. It could be
Amazingly, the test went perfectly. My prototype worked great.
Afterward, Zach showed me his prototype in great detail. It was
fascinating; I couldn't believe I was going to get to work with such a
machine. It utilized much more sophisticated active-quenching circuits
with superconducting flux qubits - he said. I didn't totally understand
it, but I didn't admit it to him.
"So, have you tried yours yet?" I asked after the tour.
Zach shook his head. "No. Well, I mean we've done some tests with a few
qubits, but Professor Tuche thinks we should do more simulations before
operating with a qubyte or more. He's worried about unexpected side
effects or something."
Hold the phone! "Professor Tuche?"
"Yeah, Professor Tuche. You know, our boss? In charge of the quantum
I must have looked blank.
"Oh, right, he's been on travel." Zach held up a finger. "But didn't he
Duh. "So, you're not my boss?" I asked, a little slow on the uptake.
He laughed. "God, no."
Thank God. I digested that for a moment. "Uh, didn't we just operate a
quantum computer with a qubyte?"
He looked at me. "Good point. And I don't see any weird side effects, do
"Not a one," I said and smiled. I was so relieved he wasn't my boss.
"I've been dying to fire this bad boy up." He shot me what might be
construed to be a mischievous grin. "And there's no time like the
"I'm honored to be here for the first test." And I was. It was exciting -
in more ways than one.
Zach finished connecting his prototype to the standard computer that
would run it, and sat back on the lab stool. "Ready?"
I nodded. "Go for it."
"I'm going to run it for ten minutes." He typed some commands onto the
keyboard. "There. It started."
Of course, nothing was immediately noticeable in the lab, so I didn't
know what to say. "Neat."
"Weird," Zach said, peering at the monitor. "There's more states in play
than I would have expected from this little test."
Before I could reply, a loud rumbling noise erupted outside. "What was
that?" I said, walking over to the window. It had gotten quite overcast
and we hadn't even noticed. I glanced at my watch. We'd been working for
hours; time had really flown.
The noise, thunder, boomed again, followed closely by ice falling from
the sky. "I can't believe it!" I said. "It's sleeting!" I turned around
to look at Zach. "It hasn't sleeted in Las Vegas for years. It hasn't
even rained for years. I'm going outside." I ran for the door.
"Wait for me," Zach said.
We weren't the only ones who had wanted to experience sleet first-hand.
Campus was chock-a-block full of people standing outside looking at the
sky, mouths hanging open in surprise. The temperature must have gone
down to like seventy degrees, too. It hadn't been that cool in years.
The whole thing was amazing.
And then, as quickly as it began, it stopped. Within a few minutes, even
the gray clouds had gone.
"Weird," Zach said. "Sleet wasn't predicted for today, was it?"
"No," I said. I didn't even remember the last time rain had been
predicted. "But the drought must be over! It's awesome! We should
"If the drought is over, that's huge," Zach said. "I think you're
right." He grinned. "Let's celebrate."
At the Lucky Star, Zach sat at the bar, nursing a cold one and chatting
with the bartender. The cool darkness of the bar felt great after the
blast-furnace outside. The temperature had skyrocketed back to normal
after the storm.
I slipped onto a stool next to him. "Hey, Zach. How's it going?"
He shook his head.
"Aren't you excited about the end of the drought?" I asked.
"Of course. It's just that the quantum computer did not work well during
our test. It was really inefficient and utilized a huge number of
"Bummer." I nodded at the bartender. "I'll have what he's having."
Jim, according to his name tag, placed a frosty mug in front of me.
"Tough luck, Zach," he said.
"Been here before?" I asked, taking a sip of my frothy beverage.
"Hey, man, things are tough all over," Jim said. "Everybody started
winning on our slots today." He pointed at some darkened machines by the
front door. "Just my luck that I was working this afternoon; I was
'sposed to be off. I called the owner and he about tore me a new one
before I thought to unplug 'em."
"That's not fair," I said.
"Yeah, and it happened at the same time as that freak sleet storm," Jim
"Weird," I said, my voice full of sympathy, my eyes full of the evening
news on the TV in the corner. It showed a national weather map with the
log line 'Freak Cold Weather'. "Hey, turn that up," I said.
The bartender complied and we were serenaded with, "The big news of the
day was parts of the Las Vegas area were subjected to bizarre cold
weather, complete with sleet and freezing rain." The weatherman
continued, "It's too early to tell for sure, but if this keeps up, it
looks like there's a chance the drought is over!"
Everyone in the bar cheered.
The camera went back to the news desk and the male anchor mock-shivered
and said, "Brr, it was cold, but at least it only lasted for ten
Something about that statement seemed important, but I couldn't quite
The female anchor giggled and said, "Yeah, if it had kept up, we could
have forgotten about global warming."
Both anchors laughed.
The male said, "And in other local news, apparently many slot machines
and gaming tables in Las Vegas paid out 100% this afternoon. Casino
owners are estimated to have lost millions of dollars in just ten short
minutes." They went to a shot of a casino floor, with a bunch of folks,
gamblers presumably, holding up wads of cash and yelling in the
background. "Yeah! Woo!"
Again, something was on the tip of my brain.
But I gave up on thinking and gave in to celebrating and had a nice time
at the bar. Unfortunately, Zach was clearly brooding about his computer
and so not overly sociable.
Nothing bad happened to me at the bar however, so I considered the night
a success. In fact, by the time I went to bed it had been over seven
hours since anything bad happened. My hopes started to rise. Maybe the
black cloud over my head - which was not bad luck - had passed just like
those storm clouds this afternoon.
The next morning everything went right. I hit all the traffic lights
just right, I won a free coffee at the coffee shop, nothing spilled on
me, and I found a great parking spot near the Computer Center. I hadn't
felt so good in months. I even beat Zach to the lab. I was looking over
the results from the tests when he rolled in with his bike.
I grinned. "Is this part of some new experiment?" I asked, pointing at
He shook his head. "No. I forgot the lock." He leaned the bike against
the wall of the lab and leaned down to remove the band around the bottom
of his pant-leg.
I really tried not to look at his butt.
He straightened. "Sorry I'm late. You wouldn't believe the bad luck I've
been having." He plopped down on the lab stool next to me. "After you
left the bar, one of the waitresses spilled a whole pitcher of beer on
me. Then, last night, the fire alarm went off in my building and we had
to evacuate at like 3:00 a.m."
"Oh, my God. There wasn't a fire, was there?"
He grimaced. "False alarm. Of course we had to stand around for
forty-five minutes to find that out. And I was just wearing my box- er,
never mind what I was wearing."
I did try not to picture him in his boxers, but failed utterly.
I was also getting a very uneasy feeling. His streak of what he called
bad luck sounded all too familiar.
Bad luck, if it existed, wasn't contagious, was it? Had I given my dark
cloud to Zach? "So, you just started noticing this bad luck yesterday?"
He nodded. "Yeah. After the test."
"Hhm. The test." It hit me that my bad, er, stuff, started after I
tested my quantum computer for the first time. And it stopped after I
tested it again. Could the quantum computer really be responsible for
bad luck? The timing was hard to ignore. Maybe there was such as thing
"What? What about the test?" Zach asked.
"I've been looking at the data and there were a huge number of quantum
states in play, which means a huge number of possibilities, right? What
if quantum computers somehow change or mess up probabilities? Like they
make improbable stuff happen?"
"No. That's crazy," Zach said softly. "No. It couldn't be." He was
quiet, thinking, I presumed.
I was thinking, too. "Hey! Ten minutes! On the news, they said the sleet
and the slot machines paying out happened at the exact time as our
test, didn't they? We must have done it!"
Zach shook his head, but he looked uneasy. "I don't think so."
He looked cute when he was uneasy.
"There's one way to find out," I said. "Let's repeat the test and see
what happens." I wondered if I'd get my bad luck back, but decided it
would be worth it to make a big discovery.
"I don't know," Zach said.
"Come on," I said. "If I'm wrong, nothing will happen." But I didn't
think I was wrong. Too many things were fitting together. "Come on. It's
the scientific method. My hypothesis is something weird will happen if
we turn on the quantum computer."
Zach grinned. "Something weird? That's not much of a hypothesis. Okay.
You talked me into it, if only to prove you wrong." We went over to the
"I'm going to repeat the test from yesterday exactly," he said.
"Sounds great," I said.
He typed. "There. It started. Ten minutes."
Immediately, it started to cloud up outside. We ran over to the window.
One of the clouds looked very odd. It was sort of thin and roundish.
"Look at that." I pointed. The bottom of the cloud dipped down
vertically and I realized it was a funnel cloud. "Shit! It's a tornado!
Turn off the quantum computer! Turn it off!"
Zach ran back to the computer and turned it off.
I stayed glued to the window. The clouds all started dissipating,
including the funnel cloud. "It's gone." I turned to go back over to the
quantum computer and tripped right over Zach's feet.
He helped me up and the touch of his skin on mine was like lightning.
"Uh, thanks," I said, trying to tear my gaze from his. He stood very
close. Hurray for bad luck. I loved bad luck.
"It looks like you were right," he said, finally letting go of me. "But
how does it get out of the computer and affect the world?"
I shrugged. "That must be what Professor Tuche was worried about. Maybe
it's the entanglement? That's where stuff is linked together even when
it's spatially separated, right?"
He nodded. "If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I never would have
believed it." He looked at me. "Do you know what this means?"
It meant quantum computers were awesome and we should go do a bunch more
tests and hold a press conference. But I didn't want to move away from
Zach, so I said, "We should turn on the computer and go to the casino?"
He chuckled. "It means this is a huge discovery. I'm really impressed
you figured it out. How'd you put it together?"
"I, uh," I was drowning in the chocolate pools of his eyes. "I had some
data you didn't have."
He leaned toward me, lips slightly open. "Uh, data?"
"Luck. I had a streak of bad luck and then a streak of good luck. And
then you had the bad-"
He kissed me. His lips felt warm and firm as they pressed against mine.
My knees went weak. I had to grab the wall so I didn't fall over.
Zach straightened. "I've been wanting to do that since I met you."
I took a breath. "You did? But you thought I was named Isabelle."
He grinned and I almost fell into those eyes again. "Of course I knew
your name; I saw your resume. You were the only applicant who'd built a
working quantum computer. I was playing it cool."
I used to like cool.
"But I'm done playing it cool." Staring into my eyes, he leaned toward
"Lucky me," I whispered.