Author : David Barber
“You might have seen my paper in Thaumaturgy,” the sorcerer was saying. He’d introduced himself, but the name hadn’t stuck. Maxine complained that Jeff just didn’t try.
“So you’re Maxine’s husband? Maxine’s father and I met in England.”
Jeff was sitting in his office, disappointed by the lack of magic paraphernalia.
“Of course, popular notions of magic are completely wrong.”
Jeff had shared a narrow office at Fermilab and knew all about clutter, but this room was shabby with neglect, a dusty chlorophytum was dying on an antique PC. Jeff began to rehearse his excuses. He’d need to be careful because it would get back to Maxine.
“People think magic is like wishing, that you can just wish for gold.”
Jeff wore his jacket, jeans and an I Survived the Great Vowel Shift t-shirt. He’d promised Maxine he would give it a shot, but that didn’t mean he was selling out.
“You can only get something from nothing at the energies you work at. Ha. Ha.”
Jeff smiled wanly. He didn’t know much about start-up, except somebody had a useful skill and somebody else had finance. This Brit was mistaken if he thought Jeff was the one bringing money to the table.
“If Alchemy taught us anything, it’s that magic can’t transmute lead into gold. But it can change something into something similar.”
Jeff’s last interview had been with the IRS. There’d been a PhD biochemist, a geology graduate, and him, all going for the same job. They were overqualified and underemployed; Jeff was only there to keep Maxine happy. Hire those other two guys, he’d joked. They could get blood from a stone.
The old guy stared hard at an unlit match.
“Fire is exothermic. Magic just changes the probabilities…”
Outside, occasional traffic hissed down wet roads. Finally, the match ignited.
Jeff cleared his throat. “You know, I’m wondering if…”
“Theoretically, the simplest way to get gold is to steal it. Portal magic, from the jeweller’s window to your pocket. Depends on gravitational potentials, conservation of energy and so forth. Magic still obeys rules. Shot a necklace straight through a window with that spell. Awkward moment.”
Don’t go chattering, Maxine had warned. Let him do the talking, see what he has to offer.
“Or gambling. But a die or a roulette ball are slippery beggars. Horses were the best bet once, of course. Trouble is, blocking magics are always easier than transforming magics. Second Law of Thermodynamics and all that.”
He sighed. “Everything is magic-proofed these days.”
They stared at one another.
“So, Jeff, you worked at Fermilab?”
“Two years, yes. They’re shutting the accelerator down. Hard to get a grant now. Maxine said something about a start-up…”
“Same in magic. A lifetime of study and I drive a Toyota Yaris.”
“I’m looking for someone familiar with…” He consulted his notes. “Quantum states, Hamiltonians and er… eigenvalues.”
Jeff shrugged. “Sure.”
“Ever since I was at Oxford, I’ve nursed this idea about influencing individual electrons with magic.”
“That’s a quantum calculation. From what I know of magic.” What he had gleaned from Wiki, Jeff meant. “It’s doable, I just don’t see why.”
“To flip selected bits in a computer memory.”
“In computer memory?”
“To add zeroes to the end of a bank balance.” He nudged his papers parallel with the edge of the desk. “For example.”
After a while, Jeff said: “There’d need to be some tests.”
Maxine would be pleased.
“Then it might be more… prudent, to go into business selling blocking magics.”
Jeff grinned wolfishly. “I’ve got a great name for our new company.”