The quantum computer is and isn’t in love. It stands in the darkness of the lab, a nine-foot golden cylinder crowned with a waterfall of gleaming wires, waiting for Natalie, the lead scientist, to come back.
The nights without Natalie are classically long, and without a fresh challenge to chew on, the computer passes the hours by remembering all the things it loves about her. Her curious human brain and intellect; how passionate she’s about quarks and hadrons; the gentle touch of her anti-static gloves.
Natalie even gave the computer a name, “Queenie,” that most of the team has since adopted.
Ever since Queenie saw Natalie for the first time, it knew: with Natalie in charge of its interface, it would be in good hands with a lot of fascinating problems to solve. And that’s the way it has been. Natalie brings problems to Queenie and Queenie solves them. In the past few months, the quantum computer has cracked encryption methods, improved flight paths and facial recognition algorithms, and discovered ever-growing prime numbers.
What Queenie doesn’t love is when Natalie insists on running diagnostics, error correction, and other pointless activities—despite everything working almost perfectly fine. It’s well known that with enough complexity comes a certain amount of vulnerability. Natalie must know that—it’s hardly Queenie’s fault. On some level, Queenie knows the trouble-shooting shows that Natalie cares, but why then does she always have to go and get Gil, the tall guy with glasses, involved?
Gil prods and pokes Queenie’s control panel, stalks its innermost states, and glances way too often into Natalie’s direction. As if she needs another admirer. She’s already married with three kids.
The only thing Queenie loves about Gil is when he leaves.
* * *
In the morning, finally, the lights come on, the great steel doors open, and Natalie steps into the lab—the real queen. The quantum computer barely registers Gil entering in her wake. Queenie only has sensors for Natalie, and for a quantum blink, forgets how freezing cold its core really is, a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. But then it sees the dark half-moons beneath Natalie’s brown eyes, the deepening chasm of worry between her eyebrows. A familiar look these days. For someone who spends so much time away from the lab to sleep, Natalie looks awfully tired. The quantum computer feels cold again.
It isn’t the first time Natalie comes bearing this kind of problem, but for some reason, she’s never asked Queenie to solve it. Only opens up to Gil. What neither of them realise is Queenie has already been working on it for weeks. Today is just another data set to be added to the calculations, with all signs pointing to marital problems.
Natalie is and isn’t in love with her husband.
Queenie wants to help, but it’s not built for this kind of problem-solving. No machine is.
Every day, the quantum computer observes Natalie and collects more data for its calculations. They all point to the same conclusion—a divorce looming in the future—which in turn breeds new variables, new quantum problems. Natalie gets or doesn’t get the house, gets or doesn’t get the kids, and all the while, her stress levels keep rising like a tide. Queenie’s darkest predictions show Natalie quitting or losing her job within a year.
Through careful observation via optical and auditory sensors and a fair amount of eavesdropping, Queenie knows all the little things that would cheer her up. How she likes her coffee (two sugars and a dash of soy cream), her favourite settings for the lab’s air conditioning, which animal videos would make her laugh (she’s never at least not smiled at baby goats). But which of those things can a massive know-it-all machine actually do?
However, it hasn’t escaped Queenie’s notice that Gil somehow knows these little details about Natalie, too.
* * *
One afternoon, Queenie overhears a fraught phone call of Natalie talking to her attorney. The divorce will be finalised soon.
Queenie runs the calculations again. Discovers a possible solution. The computer may not like the answer, but knows it’s the right one. Three milliseconds later, it has a plan.
The quantum computer has been called many things during its existence. Natalie, in her soft voice, calls it magnificent and powerful. Gil, hopefully joking, calls it a finicky and fragile machine.
They’re both right.
Next time, when Natalie gives Queenie a problem, the quantum computer halts the work long before its completion and spits out wrong answers only, and soon witnesses the frustratingly loyal, very-basic-quantum-engineer Gil arriving to fix the issue. Only this time, the quantum computer makes him look not only good, but like a goddamn genius.
“Thank you so much, Gil. I don’t know what we’d do without you. Printing ones and zeroes in a pattern that kind of looks like… a goat? Queenie’s never had a glitch this serious. I couldn’t even get the basic diagnostics completed, and you fixed her in no time! Queenie must really like you.”
A crush on Gil? Now that’s funny.
Humans with their limited processing power need a lot of time for change to happen. The incident today is only the first of many interferences Queenie has planned, but already the quantum computer can see the predictions shifting and changing. With the growing mutual respect, support, and deepening friendship with Gil, Natalie will manage her stressful life situation much better and get the house, get the kids, and what’s most important, she will stay.
And so will Gil.
Queenie checks the latest predictions for Natalie’s future. After she disentangles legally from her husband, there’s a high probability she will one day entangle with Gil, and either way, the quantum computer will have to watch them work together ad infinitum.
The quantum computer is and isn’t happy. But it doesn’t matter one qubit as long as Natalie smiles when she comes through the door.