Your rating: None
Average: 4.3 (29 votes)

>> Follow this link to see all the shortlisted stories

"Listen. Can you hear that?" The Quantopia associate uttered the words I suspected had sealed many a deal. "That's the sound of another man seducing your soulmate."

I recoiled and banged into one of the empathic sculptures lining her posh office. The emosculpt analyzed my mood and projected spikes of angst black as a bottomless well.

The associate, Lena, continued her pitch. But I wasn't listening. I was preoccupied with my heart, which was threatening to explode. It had been ravaged by endocarditis, eminently treatable for those with insurance, which I had lost when I'd been sacked.

Yet my ailing heart still beat with the thrill of love. Not for my wife, who had transferred our assets to the e-vangelist she'd run away with, but for my soulmate. Quantopia had found her during my thirty-day trial. My perfect match. A woman who loved only me. Or she would, If I joined Quantopia.

Currently, she didn't know I existed. Nor would she. I was penniless and prospectless, yet Quantopia was offering me the winning lottery ticket of life. There had to be a catch. One that would slice into my dreams and eviscerate them in bloody chunks. The emosculpts morphed into overwrought hearts and threw themselves to the floor.

"Otto, a little factoid. Everyone settles. For the high-school sweetheart. The college girl. The girl next door. They all think they've found the one, and they're all wrong. The probability their soulmate lives within geographic proximity is miniscule. Only Quantopia can manipulate reality and find your true love. We analyze all quantum superpositional possibilities, then collapse the wave function of only those that culminate in an entirely real, optimized life where you'll have fame, fortune"--she brought up a holofilm of my soulmate--"and Minu."

The emosculpts sighed as Minu's crooked smile tugged at my soul.

Lena waved the holofilm away, jerking me, and the emosculpts, from my stupor. "Otto, even if soulmates do happen to meet, chances are at least one of them is taken. Like Minu. Because this man"--Lena projected a holofilm of a behemoth, a veritable escarpment of muscle and testosterone--"is seducing your soulmate." The behemoth enveloped Minu and kissed her.

Blood pounded against my eardrums, a percussion of jealousy that threatened to erupt through my damaged heart. The emosculpts turned scarlet and geysered.

"So, Otto. Can I sign you up?"

I couldn't answer. My molars refused to unclench.

"Collapse the wave function, Otto. There are only two possibilities: yes or no."

"The catch?"

Lena waved her hand dismissively. "One tiny scratch in the paint of paradise. There's a risk you'll be caught in an infinite life-loop. We need beta testers like you to help us debug."

I backed away. The emosculpts collapsed.

"Otto, life has beaten you down. You'll never reach your potential without Quantopia."

I turned on my heel.

"Even if you do enter the loop," she called after me, "you'll have no idea you're repeating the same life segment. You won't know you're in Quantopia."

I wrenched open the door. The emosculpts flattened themselves like angry cats.

"Otto, you will never be with Minu."

The emosculpts shattered, much like my resolve.

The next day I reiterated my parameters to the Quantopia technicians so there could be no mistake: My memory of this appalling life would be expunged. I would have my health. I would have fame and fortune. And I would have Minu.

I could finally end this pathetic existence.


My gallery stretched the length of a holoball field. Emosculpts were the star of tonight's show and my favourite medium; they reflected my mood in their gentle prisms of light. I smiled as the last of my patrons fawned out into the night. Another successful exhibit, another bloated account, another round of critical acclaim.

I yawned.

Minu and I repaired to our beach house and made perfect love. Afterwards I lay awake, musing on the strange circumstance of our meeting. My private jet had ditched halfway around the globe, and I'd parachuted onto Minu's doorstep on the most remote island in the Atlantic. It was as though reality itself conspired to bring us together.

Minu. She was my soulmate. I gazed at her perfect features as she slept; she'd had her crooked smile straightened. My bedside emosculpt darkened.

All my dreams had been realized. I was the luckiest man alive. My flawless life stretched before me, an endless oasis of prosperity and ease. I rose, strolled along the beach, and screamed. But the oceanfront emosculpts merely rippled before resuming their amorphous calm.

In the morning, I pulled up outside my high-rise in my classic car. It was a perfect, priceless antique, and I keyed the length of it.

I summoned my staff to my penthouse office and explained the revelation I'd had during the night. How bravery existed only alongside fear, success meant overcoming adversity, and hard-won love was the sweetest. I gazed at the emosculpts flanking the walls, their surfaces unmarred, shallow as puddles. My acclaim was a constant source of bemusement to me. Because art--passionate art--came to those who struggled. And struggle was what I lacked.

I conceived of the most extraordinary idea.

Three years later my brainchild, Quantopia, was born. My slice of reality was fed into the quantum optimizer, despite the slight risk of an infinite life-loop. It was a flaw. A scratch in the paint of paradise. I thrilled at the prospect, but the laboratory emosculpts merely flickered. I would give anything to make them erupt, shatter, feel.

I reiterated my parameters to the technicians so there could be no mistake: My memory of this passionless life would be expunged. I would be penniless, prospectless, loveless. I would be brave. I would overcome. I would win Minu's love.

I could finally end this pathetic existence.


"Listen. Can you hear that?" The Quantopia associate uttered the words I suspected had sealed many a deal. "That's the sound of another man seducing your soulmate."

About the Author: 
Judy Helfrich was born on the Canadian prairie where long stretches of nothing persisted in at least four dimensions. Her fiction has appeared in Nature and was shortlisted in the 2015 Quantum Shorts contest. More at: www.helfrich.ca.