I made my way back through the press at the bar, pint in hand, and found a seat in the back of the pub, next to an old guy sat by himself. I say old, maybe forties. The scars on his face made him look older.
“Great match, hey?” I said.
“You and your friends seemed to enjoy it.”
I glanced at the TV. Janie had muted it while the news was showing. It was on the piece about the Korean scientist receiving her Nobel prize.
“Lottery draw next,” I said.
He smiled like he had a secret. “Indeed. The lottery.”
“How many tickets you got?”
“Makes sense. No tickets means you’ve no chance. One or a hundred you got sod all chance, but it’s not none.”
“A student of probability, I see.” He raised his glass, took a drink. “But I know my ticket will win.”
“Feeling lucky, eh?”
“I’ve had enough of luck.” He nodded towards the TV. “You know what Dr Song is getting her Nobel prize for?”
“Sure, it was big news. Quantum theory. She proved the many-worlds interpretation. An infinite number of realities, every possible world is real. So somewhere I’m king of Mongolia.”
“Not infinite, just a very large number, and there would have to be a possible causal chain for you to become king of Mongolia. It’s every possible world, not every imaginable one.”
“You know about this stuff?”
“I should. I proved the same thing she did.”
“How come you’re not in Stockholm?”
“Twenty years ago, for my PhD thesis I devised a way of testing many-worlds. Afterwards, I got the fundingto perform the experiment. Years of work to figure out how to build it, years more to run it. All the time dealing with funding applications, bureaucracy, politics. Then I had to analyse the data. Five years ago I had the results, getting ready to publish.”
“Five years, that’s when…”
“When Dr Song in her PhD thesis proved that many worlds was true, and all the media published headlines telling everyone that in some reality they were king or queen of Mongolia.”
“If she hadn’t been on the golf course that day…”
“She said the inspiration of how to solve the problem came while she lay dazed on the ground after the lightning strike. Have you any idea how unlikely that is? Even random quantum level events affect weather on quite a short timescale.”
“Unlikely, but possible, I guess.”
“And how likely is it that when you’re walking through the city a street juggler mistakes you for his partner and throws flaming torches to you?”
“The scars, yes. How likely is it that your home will be destroyed by an earthquake, the same day your insurance company goes bust?”
“Or a weather balloon falls onto your car, making you crash into a lorry carrying yaks?”
“Were they hurt?”
“They rounded them up, but the car was written off.”
“Man, that’s tough luck.”
“All things that are vanishingly unlikely, but possible so they each had to happen in some reality. And there had to be a reality where they all happened.”
“But you’re no more likely to be unlucky in future than anyone else.”
“No. But it’s possible, which means it will happen in some future branch of reality. I’m going to live only in branches where I’m lucky.”
“How are you going to do that?”
He unbuttoned his jacket, revealing a small metal box strapped to his chest. Wires snaked from it under his shirt. A row of six LEDs protruded from the face of the box. “Tonight, as each number is drawn this box will receive it and check against the numbers on my ticket. If it matches, the light goes green, if it doesn’t it will deliver a shock that will destroy my cardiac implant.” He buttoned his jacket again.
“You’re not so old, why do you have a cardiac implant?”
“An unlikely medical error.”
The guy was obviously nuts. I downed a goodly portion of my pint. “What numbers do you have?”
“I got them from an online quantum random number generator, so that…”
“Yeah, me too. Since Dr Song hit the headlines everybody uses a QRN so in some reality they’ll win the jackpot.”
A hush fell over the bar. Janie unmuted the TV. Balls bounced and tumbled in the plastic globe. The first fell down the chute.
“One,” the presenter announced. The crazy guy unbuttoned his jacket. The first of the LEDs on his box glowed green. I glanced back at the screen as the second ball rolled down, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the row of LEDs.
“Two,” said the presenter. The second LED turned green.
“Three. We’ve had three consecutive numbers drawn in the past, but never 1-2-3. An unlikely combination.”
“No more unlikely than any other,” he mumbled. Another LED lit.
“Number five, breaking the run.” The fourth LED glowed green.
“And the next ball is number eight.”
Five LEDs. “Fibonacci sequence,” the crazy guy muttered.
“And the last number, Thirteen.”
The last LED glowed green. He looked dazed. “I’ve won. All those other realities, I’m dead, but I’ve won.”
My phone pinged, an incoming message. News about your lottery ticket.
“I’ve won!” A shout from the direction of the bar. “Me too!” “So have I.”
“QUIET!” Janie yelled, craning her neck to look at the TV.
“I’m not sure what’s happening here,” the presenter said, “we have an unusually large number of winners.” He held his hand to his ear, shielding his earpiece. “You’re sure?” He faced the camera again. “It seems that approximately forty-five million tickets share tonight’s jackpot. I know that seems unlikely…”
I had to laugh. Unlikely, ridiculously unlikely, but when so many people were using QRNs it wasn’t impossible, so in some reality it had to happen. Just happened to be this one.
About the author:
David is a retired IT consultant who now spends his time writing and playing guitar badly. He lives in West Sussex with his wife and two cats and a varying subset of his four adult children. His novel The Measurement Problem was the winning entry in the Hodderscape/Science museum SF debuts prize and will shortly be out on submission.