Monday, July 27, 2015

Schrodinger's Outlaw: Short Fiction

Schrodinger’s Outlaw
Chris Costello

The small gray man walked into Ben Murphy’s office and stared at him with enormous black eyes that took up the vast majority of his face. He was wearing a shimmering silver jumpsuit, and a huge pair of tinted green goggles curled around his giant ears.

Ben went chalk white from behind his desk, regaining his composure a moment later. He’d seen a lot of crazy things during his tenure as Sheriff of Chaves County, but nothing came close to this spindly-limbed little...thing. He couldn’t really tell whether the creature was a man or not, despite the tightness of the suit. Still, Ben knew the value of remaining calm and helpful, whatever the situation.

“Can I help you?” He asked evenly.

The little man-Ben had decided that this was the best way to think of the being-blinked its eyes. “Are you the Sheriff, sir?” He had an odd accent, a strange way of rolling his Rs. All the same, his mouth didn’t move. The little man’s pleasant baritone seemed to come from the air, reverberating around the office. Ben was impressed, to say the least, but he worked against looking startled. He did his best not to search for the source of the noise. A lawman had to be calm and controlled at all times. Only then would the citizens respect him enough to follow his ordinances. That had been Ben’s credo since he’d started this job, and he saw no reason to change it now. Not even for an alien, or whatever the hell this thing was.
“I am.” He said.

“My name is unpronounceable to your species, and so you may call me Jonathan.”

Ben’s stony facade broke just then. He cocked his head to the side quizzically. “Jonathan? You’re serious?”

The thing shrugged his bony shoulders. “I am given to understand that it is the most common name in this region I would rather not stand out here.”

Ben figured that that was already a lost cause, but he decided not to press the issue anymore. Presumably, there were more important things to focus on now. “All right then...Jonathan. What can I do ya for?”

“I was in your...” The critter hesitated and waved his hand in the air, as though implying that he was trying to think of a word. Ben noticed that he only had four fingers. “Jurisdiction,” Jonathan said at length, “And I thought we might be able to help one another.”

Ben narrowed his eyes skeptically. That was never a good thing to hear in this business. Usually it meant that somebody had gotten themselves killed, and he needed to clean up the mess. But he thought an alien might be different, so he went on.

“What did you have in mind?”

Jonathan cast his gaze at the door. “I am a bounty hunter.” He said.

Ben was suddenly very aware of the holster weighing heavily on his shoulder, and the semiautomatic it contained. “Can’t say I care much for your profession.”

"You are not alone in this dislike. Nevertheless, I have adhered to the local laws and customs quite scrupulously. I hope that will ameliorate your attitude."

Ben frowned at the big words and wondered if Jonathan was trying to make him look ignorant. That was something Dell Martinson, the town's only lawyer, liked to do, and it irked Ben something fierce.

"Can I take it that you've bagged an outlaw?" he asked.

"I have brought in the Wichita Kid," the little man replied. " However, I have used a box rather than a bag."

At that, the door opened again and two more creatures, identical to Jonathan (at least as far as Ben could see) walked in, guiding a metal box that floated about six inches off the floor. The shiny, black container was the size and shape of an upended coffin and its surface seemed to be seamless.

"The Kid's in there?"

"He is."

"What kind of box is that?"

"It is a quantum entanglement chamber," Jonathan replied. "The Wichita Kid is inside along with a radioactive source and a flask of poison. If the atom has undergone decay then a special mechanism will have released the poison and the Kid will be dead. If the atom has not decayed, the poison will not have been released and the Kid will be unharmed. Since the decay of the atom is contingent on the influence of an observer, the Wichita Kid currently exists in a state of quantum uncertainty. Only when you open the chamber will the situation resolve itself into one outcome."

Ben opened his desk drawer, took out a wad of tobacco and bit off a plug. He rose and walked around the box, chewing thoughtfully.

"Is this not the custom in your jurisdiction?" Jonathan asked.

"Can't say as I've ever seen anyone go to so much trouble before."

"The poster said he was wanted 'Dead or Alive.’" Jonathan said. "I know of no other way I could have brought him to you in the state you requested."

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