The Broadcast (A Quantum Bedtime Story)


Part I

It was October 3, 1954.  Yu Nguyen had just arrived at the Dumont Network headquarters in New York for his overnight shift as an unpaid intern.  It was 11:45 pm and the control room console was alight with The John Hopkins Science Review which was currently boring the hell out of approximately 30 insomniac viewers across the Tri-State area.  This was always, somewhat fittingly, the final broadcast of the night before the network signed off.

Yu Nguyen was feeling mischievous.  This may have been a trait inherited from his parents, Vietnamese immigrants and physics researchers whose whip-smart wit often failed to penetrate the dense minds of their new American colleagues and acquaintances. The pronunciation of their son’s name was a bilingual pun that invariably went right over the heads of Americans who insisted on addressing him as “Yoo Nah-Goy-Een”.

In less than 15 minutes, the closing credits of The Review would give way to a ghostly image of the Stars and Stripes billowing in a slo-mo breeze to a blaring brass band rendition of the National Anthem.  Then a test pattern would appear accompanied by a sustained high-pitched tone.  On most nights, it was Yu’s job to sit in a chair and watch the test pattern, seemingly to ensure that it remained appropriately dull and pointless until programming resumed at 6:00 am.  But tonight, he had tasked himself with something far more stimulating.

He reached into the pocket of his long peacoat and retrieved a pair of scissors.  Then he stood up and sifted through a shelf of film reels until he found the one containing last night’s episode of Captain Video and His Video Rangers.  Finally, he fished a small cigarette lighter from his breast pocket.  With all the necessary tools now at hand, Yu set to work snipping, splicing and fusing until he’d successfully created 10 seconds of celluloid-borne live action so cryptic that it would nearly drive the entire species insane.  But that turn of events would have to wait a full century before coming to fruition.  Tonight, Yu’s subversive handiwork would manage to mildly confuse precisely one person: William Blotnick, an out-of-work CPA who was staring at a TV in the Bellevue drunk tank at the onset of the worst case of delirium tremens he had ever experienced.

Over the course of that interminable night, William saw all kinds of horrifying things.  He saw spiders marching in lockstep up and down his forearms.  He saw winged bedpans and snarling, angry thermometers.  And when he glanced up at the television that was bolted to the wall across from where he lay, he saw the test pattern suddenly transform itself into an image of terrible actor Al Hodge in the role of Captain Video speaking to a younger terrible actor named Don Hastings.  Here’s the dialogue that accompanied the unexpected scene:

Hodge:  The fate of the galaxy depends on your completion of this most vital mission.

Hastings:  But Captain, why have everyone’s faces disappeared?  Where have they gone?

Hodge:  It’s too late for them, Ranger.  Dark matter swallows every face in its path.

Hastings:  I want them to come back!  Where are my parents?

Hodge:  In the universe just over there, Ranger.  If you reach them, the price of your reunion will be the annihilation of the galaxy.  Forget about them.  Forget about everyone!  Now go!  Your very life, as well as your pudgy little face depend on how well you balance yourself at the edge of the Event Horizon.

Then, just like that, William found himself staring at the static image of a test pattern again.  The whole interlude had been so unexpected that even the flying bedpans and threatening thermometers had paused to take it in.

In less than a year, William Blotnick would die of kidney failure.  Yu’s little prank would have no further effect upon anyone for the next hundred years.

On October 3, 2054, Susan Biers-Cohen was taking a midnight jog along the exercise trail that surrounded the sleepy condominium community in which she lived.  She was about to have a most bizarre and inexplicable experience triggered by subtle subatomic processes that had occurred over the course of the past century.

Back in 1954, at the conclusion of the surgically spliced scene from Captain Video, the photons of light that had danced together to form those 10 curious seconds of television became entangled.  Invisibly and outside of experiential space-time, the scene played over and over, theoretical only for lack of an observer but as real as the tree that falls in the forest unwitnessed.  New episodes of Captain Video and The Science Review and The Morey Amsterdam Show were shown every night, followed by the National Anthem and six hours of a static black and white test pattern.  This daily sequence of events continued until the entire network went under in 1956 and all of it receded into obscure pop culture history.  Except for 10 inexplicable seconds that refused to be forgotten.  They were now poised to change the course of Susan Biers-Cohen’s life before going on to change the course of history.  And with the benefit of hindsight, it’s rather incredible to note that back on October 3, 1954, Yu Nguyen had found his own sly trickery worth no bigger a reaction than a quick, self-satisfied chuckle.


5 thoughts on “The Broadcast (A Quantum Bedtime Story)

    1. Thanks, Pablo. This is one of those story ideas that I wasn’t sure I was capable of writing in an intelligible way. I’m still not sure, but I shall do my best.

      Liked by 1 person

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