The Battery Vanishes
by A.R.Yngve
forum: The Battery Vanishes
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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The Battery Vanishes


           It was just another day at the office. I have an unremarkable job in a no-landmark part of town in a no-big-deal European country. In my work, I use several cellphones. Don't ask me why.

           (I'm not a telemarketer, God forbid.)

           There I was, plugging one of the office cellphones into a recharger, when my co-workers headed for the lunchroom nearby.

           I was left alone in the office, and started toward the scent of food and coffee...

           ...and tripped on the recharger cable I had strung between my desk and the socket. The pull of my foot flung the phone to the floor, and the battery-casing lid flew open.

           I looked down on the wall-to-wall carpet. The phone lay there, disconnected from the recharger, and the lid next to it.

           But the battery was gone. Vanished.

           I looked under the tables. Under the shelves. On the shelves. On the tables. In my shoes. In my pockets, in the lapels of my pants, inside the air-conditioning machine.

           No luck.

           Hungry and frustrated, I went to eat my lunch. After lunch break, I and my co-workers combed through the office. The battery stayed missing. They made the obvious suggestion: the phone must have been empty before it dropped on the floor.

           "But," I objected, "if it had been empty when I plugged it in, why didn't I see the 'No Battery' prompt on the phone's screen? And where in the world was the battery then?"

           Had someone been hiding it? I knew my co-workers were fond of pranks. So I studied their faces from my desk... but couldn't notice the secretive glances and suppressed smiles of a good practical joke. They seemed just as baffled as I was.

           Days passed. We gave up searching, and told each other, "It's bound to turn up sooner or later, in the last place we look." That's what people tell each other to keep their belief in a solid reality.

           We cracked jokes.

           Me: "Maybe the phone quantum-tunneled through the floor."

           Phil: "Maybe you triggered a bug in the giant computer-simulation we mistake for the real world."

           Hans: "Maybe the battery crawled away somewhere."

           At least two co-workers suggested I repeat the incident, to see where the battery might have fallen—small objects can bounce much farther than you think.

           But I didn't try that: I feared losing another battery, and I'm a cheapskate.

           One of those jokes wouldn't leave my thoughts. Lying awake in bed at night, I listened to music in my earphones but couldn't stop thinking: Can things really disappear?


           I called up my uncle who works in theoretical physics, and explained the problem. Uncle fits all the clichès: absent-minded, unassuming, dresses like Albert Einstein.

           My hobby is to write science-fiction stories. Whenever I get an idea for a new story, I check it with Uncle. If he thinks the idea is too far-fetched or unscientific, I toss it.

           My uncle was at home, and didn't mind me calling. I briefed him on the event and asked, "What if the battery really did quantum-tunnel through the floor? The current from the charger was running through the phone. What's the likelihood of an object that big to jump through a solid floor?"

           My uncle told me he'd make a calculation, and I thought he was kidding. I forgot about it.

           Then he called back a few weeks later. "I'm sorry, A.R., but that probability can't be calculated."


           "That doesn't mean it can't exist. People routinely assume that everything is computable, but it's not that simple."

           I knew it was my cue. "Make an educated guess. We know the size and mass of the battery, and roughly the amount of force exerted on it when it disappeared—the current from the recharger, plus the momentum of its fall."

           My uncle made a little laugh. "That information isn't crucial. What matters is that the object disappeared at a moment when you, the observer, wasn't certain of its position. When you weren't looking. I mean... are you sure the battery was inside?"

           "Yeah, well... I don't know."

           "Precisely. You may have stumbled on a rare occasion of superimposed quantum states on a macroscopic scale: the battery was both there and not there at the same time. It's a very unstable condition. All it took was a little 'push' to get knocked into either state."

           "So where'd it go?"

           He went quiet for a few seconds, which usually meant his brain worked. When my uncle thinks real hard, he freezes up. It can be aggravating.

           After a time, he said: "The 'Schrödinger's Cat' phenomenon could be applied to any object in the universe—even the universe itself. If it isn't observed, it can be in two states at once..."

           Writing science fiction makes you quick at these games. "Wait. How could that battery be in a 'not-there' state to begin with?"

           "Isn't that obvious?"

           "Not really, no..."

           Already I dreaded his next words. Maybe I'm the paranoid type: I take nothing for granted. If Uncle had said "Things vanish now and then," I'd be prepared to believe him.

           "My colleagues have been discussing this funny hypothesis lately... that if there is a 'cosmological constant,' it may not be an external but an internal force. You've heard about 'dark energy' which causes the cosmic expansion to accelerate..."

           "Yes?" Cold sweat broke out on my skin.

           "Someone proposed the source of the 'dark energy' is generated by space-time itself. But the energy is not created from nothing, it's 'borrowed' from the rest of the universe. And this just might affect the properties of matter."

           "Make matter unstable?"

           He hemmed and hawed. "More like... make matter more dependent on observers to maintain its integrity. Suppose the battery disappearance was possible but very unlikely. That you witnessed a completely unique event. Then again... suppose it wasn't unique, but highly likely. I suggest you repeat the incident. See if you can make another battery disappear."

           Have you ever had the sensation that your world-view implodes in a terrifying insight? That your foothold on reality slips?

           "It did vanish. So anything just as likely could happen at any moment. Such as a new universe spawning spontaneously from our cosmos in a random quantum fluctuation."

           "That would almost certainly destroy our reality."

           "I could try and recreate the event. Drop a similar phone with a battery inside, again, in the same spot."

           "If you do, and another battery disappears..."

           "Then what?"

           "Then the universe may be about to disintegrate."

           "And if nothing happens?"

           "That proves nothing, except that all bets are off."

           "I've got to find that damned battery!" Then I had a ridiculous idea. "You said the integrity of matter may depend on observers. We should work in that direction, not make things more unstable!"

           Uncle went silent.

           "What if I cheat? I buy another battery, and tell everybody it's the missing one. That I found it."

           My uncle hesitated. "No... well... in quantum mechanics, observers have an effect on reality. But nobody's ever proved you could falsify an observation."

           "You said the cosmic expansion was borrowed, an energy loan. So let's just... fudge the numbers. I can't make the battery re-appear, but I can make it seem like it did."

           "I'm not sure that changes anything."

           "I'll try, anyway. Tell nobody. Okay?"

           Made him promise.

           I went to a shop disguised, wearing sunglasses and a false mustache, so the shop clerk couldn't identify me later, and bought another, identical battery.

           I took the new battery to work, hid it under my table during lunch break, and then did the "Hey-I-Found-It!" act. Everybody at work was so pleased and said I-Told-You-So.

           "I told you," said Phil, "it'd turn up last place you looked."


           Then we didn't talk any more about it. Reality had been asserted. And there were no more disappearances at the office that year. I mean, none compared to the year before, when things were lost almost every week.

           It seemed almost as if... things had become more "there" after I "fixed" the disappearance. That scared the crap out of me. It still does.

           Did I anticipate the effect of my cheating? Did I really change something? I don't know if others got the same idea—to pretend. The lost item wasn't recreated, only the appearance of it. Is it real if we agree it is?

           Got a crazy theory: This is what we do all the time. I just wasn't aware of it before. Every day of our adult lives, we mend and patch the appearance of reality, keep the consensus alive.

           Just like civilization needs constant maintenance to keep going, so does reality. And it's a good thing. Better than the alternative, anyway.

           Of course, if anybody asks, I just made this story up. Appearances must be kept. The new battery cost me about ten bucks. For saving the universe, that's cheap.





copyright 2006 A.R.Yngve.

A.R.Yngve is

I'm A.R.Yngve, a Swedish writer and illustrator. My young-adult novels TERRA HEXA and TERRA II have been published in Sweden by Wela (see Wela also released my short-story collection THE FACE IN THE DOOR as e-book (see

My short stories have been published in Sweden, on the Internet, in the U.S. and Chinese magazines (see

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