Sometimes the last thing a genius needs, is proof (British spelling)
It all adds Up
Zurich was too expensive. Nathan wasn't cheap, but between the length of the conference and the poorly designed flight schedules, he didn't have much time to shop and now it was time to leave.
The wipers of the taxi whipped back and forth with wild abandon, thrashing at the rain which hadn't let up since the global summit began three days ago. Nathan figured, without a calculator or pen, that 18.2 centimetres of rain had fallen in the past 48 hours. At this rate, it would overwhelm the city's drainage system very soon, if it hadn't already.
Bored with the ride, he also calculated that the windshield wipers were slightly out of sync, clipping each other at 82% of their swing apex. Irritated, he pointed it out to the cabbie who's silence suggested either language barrier or indifference.
The conference had been a dud, he came expecting to hear the latest theories in mathematics and physics; instead, all he got was the same old ignorant crap that passes for creative thought these days. By day two, he determined he'd seen better quantum wave function theories in his cat's litter box. Don't they ever check the math? he thought, staring out the front window of the cab at the approaching glare of Flughafen Zich. It's child's play. They didn't even factor the cumulative repulsive nature of the eleven dimensions of space-time. Idiots!
He was on time for the flight based on his calculations for the rain-affected traffic and 55% of red lights versus green, a standard deviation formula he'd worked out years before. Pre-checked as always and with light carry-on luggage, he knew the trip to the gate would be 13 minutes, leaving him with a waiting time of 6 minutes before boarding. Five of the six minutes were begrudgingly allotted for miscellaneous or unforeseen factors, a necessity that annoyed him greatly - but a fact of life these days. No doubt, he thought, it will be five minutes of wasted time. An intolerable imposition that I should be compensated for.
Nathan sighed out loud, then checked the meter's progress. He predetermined the final fare plus meager tip and prepared the cash for the driver in advance as they approached the ramp to the departure terminal.
Exiting the cab, he paid the driver, who stood for a moment doing his own calculations, estimating he'd received an insulting 4% tip. Nathan moved on, scanning the drop off zone, analyzing the surroundings to determine the best and fastest way to the security area inside the airport. "Hey," said the driver. "Was there something wrong with the drive, with the service?"
"What?" said Nathan turning slightly but not enough to actually engage with the cabbie.
"Pretty small gratuity, no?"
"No," barked Nathan, "maybe next time you will get those infernal wipers aligned for better performance and eliminate the bloody click click click on every damn swing cycle. You're lucky I don't report you to whatever association you belong to; that ride was like Chinese water torture sans the water. 112 clicks a minute would drive anyone insane."
The driver looked at the money in his hand and then back at Nathan, who'd returned to mentally measuring the distance to the elevators versus the nearby escalators that crisscrossed to the fourth-floor departures area. "Arschloch" the cabbie murmured under his breath and got back in his taxi, slamming the door, completely unnoticed by Nathan.
In security hall, Nathan sized up the many lines of passengers, computing the most likely option for a fast passage, choosing line 6, clearly the longest, but the ratio of business travelers was the greatest by far. Proven correct, an outcome he's grown used to, Nathan collected his carry-on luggage from the bins and moved out into the terminal towards gate 26, which he had determined was to his left and four gates down.
The gate area was crowded, only two single seats remained, all between people Nathan preferred to avoid at the best of times. So he stood, eating a Snickers bar and scanning the crowd for demographics inclined toward terroristic tendencies. He found none, although he was surprised at the lack of pale people on a flight bound for London. A voice, fluent in four languages, announced the appropriate order for boarding, which was followed by everyone standing and charging the gate in unison, to Nathan's expectation and chagrin.
He truly hated flying, although he knew it was statistically safe, but didn't like the fact that it had to be accomplished at such great heights. An expert in the concepts of gravity and acceleration, he hated the idea of tempting physics at thirty thousand feet, an altitude that would take him 4.2 minutes of free fall to reach the ground at an impact of 195 kph. Plus, current statistics showed a 99.982% chance of not surviving the fall.
None the less, he boarded and took his pre-assigned aisle seat in business class, guaranteeing he'd have minimal contact with any of the 122 ordinary people on the flight, much less having to share an armrest with one of them.
Nathan sat, curling up inside himself, calculating the number of known viruses and pathogens that could be circulating through the air system at any given second. He frowned at the conclusion and proceeded to swab down the armrest and tray area with disinfectant wipes.
Once at altitude, the seat-belt sign went dark with a ping and Nathan fetched his briefcase from the overhead compartment. As he sat down, his seatmate by the window tried to engage. "It still amazes me," she said with a smile, shaking her head.
Nathan looked at her briefly and continued to remove notebook accessories from the bag. "What would that be?" he said coldly.
She smiled again, perhaps out of nerves or perhaps, unlike Nathan, because she had a personality. "How they get these huge things up in the air," she said. "Makes no sense to me; nothing this big should float in the air like this."
"Float?" Nathan said, incredulously. "You must know we're not floating, our airspeed is right in front of you on the screen."
She chuckled a little like a schoolgirl and put her hand over her mouth in British politeness. "I know that, of course, I've just never got over how these things get up in the air."
"Simple physics, Miss," he said, more contrite than before while pressing the power button on the notebook.
"Simple for you, maybe, ummm, mister?" She held out her hand in a greeting gesture and raised her eyebrows inquisitively.
"Nathan," he said. "Nathan Oslington, of Cambridge."
"Charmed Mr. Oslington, my name is Rebecca, and I assure you there is nothing simple about physics. I got a C- the year I took it." She grimaced a little and pulled her hand back unshaken.
"Look, I'll show you," said Nathan, annoyed but willing to teach the poorly educated woman since it would only take 5 minutes, and then he could get back to his work without interruption.
She squished herself over the centre console and leaned into his personal space. "Teach me," she said with a giggle.
Nathan called up some diagrams of a wing and began to go over the various forces that affected flight. He spoke rapidly, making no effort to see if she was following along. Drag, lift, thrust and gravity, all quickly explained and highlighted in yellow by his computer pen on the notebook screen. "And there you have it. Simple; they all act together, and proportional to any changes in either's variables."
"Ok, I see." She didn't, but Nathan wrapped up the mini-lecture by closing the computer window and opening a spreadsheet on Black Hole entropy effects.
"So," she added, "if there were no gravity pulling down on the plane, it would just shoot off into space after take off?"
His fingers stopped typing. "Miss, as I stated, all four forces are required for flight. It's fanciful to assume that flight could take place without gravity since gravity is inherent to all objects, especially planets. For one thing, it holds our atmosphere in place, which is a handy thing to have in order to fly an aircraft. It's an absurd question, an impossible proposition." He smirked and went back to the spreadsheet.
The young woman glanced at his computer screen frowning, then slumped back into her personal space. "You don't have to be insulting about it. I was just wondering." She turned her head and stared out the window at nothing. "I guess you'd have no trouble flying into a black hole, huh? Seeing as there tons of gravity there!" She crossed her arms. "See, I read science magazines, Mr. Oslington.
Nathan laughed. "You don't seem to understand that gravity on Earth is not like gravity around the event horizon of a black hole. Well, it is, but not the same intensity, plus the rules of physics change inside a black hole. If you'd simply consider the effects of time dilation at the event horizon based on Einstein's equations, you would see that flying anything; a spaceship in this case, into a black hole, would..." he paused. "Are you listening to me?"
Her gaze remained fixed on the sky. "No. I'm bored, and you're condescending."
Oh Lord, Nathan thought. "OK, I'm sorry, but there isn't enough time on this short flight to explain the fundamental rules of physics in an entertaining manner. Just buy more magazines, OK?"
She snorted and shifted further towards the window.
Nathan, rolling his eyes, turned back to his screen. He scanned the equations a colleague produced regarding the strange effects on time and gravity around a black hole, then froze. "This is wrong!" he said out loud.
"Good!" said the young lady beside him.
He grimaced and pulled out a scientific calculator from his shirt pocket.
"I'm sure you will fix it, and then let somebody know how stupid they are for making the mistake," she said, tightening the grip on herself and squishing against the window wall.
Nathan ignored the comment, frantically punching the keys of his calculator.
The young woman, after a time, glanced over and watched him. "So, what is WRONG? Two plus two equal five now?"
"Absurd!" said Nathan, continuing his calculations and scribbling on a drink napkin beside the notebook.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, guess I'm too dumb to understand what you are doing!" She pulled down her table tray and retrieved a bag at her feet. "Mind if I put on some makeup before landing? It's a highly complex process with many rules, I'm quite sure you wouldn't understand it."
"Look," said Nathan, who didn't look at her. "You really wouldn't understand it. I'm not trying to be condescending. In fact, I doubt there is a single soul on the planet that would understand what I just discovered." He grinned ear to ear.
"Well, you are condescending, Mr. Oslington, and I feel sorry for you. You think you are so smart, but I bet you die alone!"
"Are you asking me on a date?" Nathan chuckled in response.
"Jesus!" she said. "You're such a Pooner!"
"Oh my, have I stumbled onto something the mighty and omnipotent Mr. Oslington doesn't know? How odd."
He ignored the taunt and continued scribbling. Rebecca said, "Try me, maybe I'm not the dumb blond you think I am."
"I don't think you're dumb Miss, whatever you said your name was, I just need to capture this idea before we land. Moments like this happen once in a lifetime. You're actually witnessing history, the discovery of the ultimate equation that unifies the physical forces without the need for the inclusion of gravity in the logic stream. It's beyond perfect, beyond Einstein, and beyond the ability most to even comprehended." There was actually a tear in the corner of his eye.
"Great," she said. "Will it cure cancer, feed the hungry, get rid of Trump?"
He ignored her once again and began drawing little continuous circles around several hieroglyphics at the bottom of the drink napkin. "Hmmm." He moaned with a jagged frown.
"What," she laughed. "Trouble in Nobel land? Something wrong with the numbers, professor?"
"The numbers are perfect; reality's the problem." He picked up the calculator again and began re-entering all of the data.
"Oh dear, dear, dear, that will never do, Nate. Last time I looked, reality is the ultimate fact-checker. How can reality be wrong, dude?"
"First of all, I'm not a cowboy; second, there are plenty of examples in physics where our perception of reality is, in fact, wrong, Miss Rebecca. Please stop distracting me, this is very important."
She smirked. "So exactly what should I no longer believe in when I see it, Prof.?"
"Gravity!" He said ominously, staring at the calculation.
"Gravity?" She giggled.
"I'm serious. This calculation is totally correct, it's beautiful and perfect, but based on my equations, gravity doesn't exist at all. Never has!"
"Back to the drawing board, eh, Sherlock?"
"Look," he said, "here, I've accounted for the strong and weak nuclear forces and neatly blended in the necessary calculations for electromagnetism," he was pointing to various numbers, letters and symbols on the napkin, "and, using the mathematical formula I just created to represent attraction and repulsion based on facts proven within the electromagnetic theory itself, I have unified the forces of the large scale and the quantum scale without a need for gravity. It is irrefutable and correct. Einstein worked his whole life to include gravity in a grand unification theory, and he wasted his time. Gravity does not mathematically exist!"
She followed his finger as it moved across the napkin and then, for shits and giggles, said, "Holy shit, you're right, Nate, nice call." and patted him on the shoulder.
For the first time since he sat down, he turned and made eye contact. "You don't get it, do you? This says that what we've always known and experienced in our human minds is not, in reality, a force of nature. It isn't real!"
She condensed her smile as she could see her taunting was getting to the poor antisocial fellow. "Look, congrats man, I hope you win some big prize or get your face on the cover of Discover Mag or something."
"You really don't get it, do you?" he said.
"I guess not, Dude; no need to rub it in, you da man, praise Nathan. Anyway, is it just me, or do they need to crank up the heat in here? It's cold as hell, and I can't get a deep breath to save my life. Are you cold? Shit, I hope I'm not coming down with something."
"Nathan's eyes were huge, fixed on the blackness through the window behind Rebecca. "No, I'm cold too. Very cold, and the air is getting very thin, that's why you are having trouble breathing."
As he spoke, a chime sounded overhead, and air-masks fell from the ceiling like spaghetti. "This is the Captain speaking, we're having some issues stabilizing our altitude and are compensating as we speak. In the meantime, if you are experiencing shortness of breath, please use the oxygen masks that I just deployed. Flight attendants, please return to your seats."
"What the Hell is going on, Nathan?" Rebecca grabbed his arm with both hands.
Nathan's face drained of blood, his expression reminding her of every well-wisher at every funeral she'd ever attended. "I shouldn't have shown you those equations," he said in a whisper, then pointed to the screen on the seat-back in front of her.
"70,000 feet? Is that possible?" She squeezed him harder, her eyes wide and white like golf balls.
"No," he said. "We're floating."
"Don't play with me Nathan, this is not the time for sarcasm; I'm scared!"
He pulled his arm from under her grip then pushed it back towards her like a lance, offering both an introduction and an apology. "I'm pleased to meet you, Rebecca, my name is Nathan Oslington, and I'm dreadfully sorry for what's about to happen.