Sunday 27 January 2008

The Secret Mathematic - Chapter Six

The Secret Mathematic is a science-fiction novelette told in an indefinite number of chapters, posted serially by me, your grand unified host, Cheeseburger Brown.

Chapters: 1|2|3|4|5|6|...

Multimedia: Listen to the The Secret Mathematic Overture in MP3 format, by Syntax Error.

Related reading: Three Face Flip, Stubborn Town, The Long Man, The Extra Cars

And now, our tale continues:


New Jersey. 1955. Spring.

Elsa's portrait is on the mantel, though her body is in the ground. Albert polishes the glass once a week. He often hums as he does so. He hums Schubert, because Schubert was her favourite.

The house is modest and crammed full of bookshelves. The tables are papered in academia ringed by the imprints of coffee mugs, paperclipped according to topic, yellowed according to age. In the diningroom is a record player and a stack of vinyl discs in cardboard sleeves. Most of them are Mozart, but none of them have been put on to play in a dog's age.

Albert considers the stack. He runs a wrinkled thumb along the golden spines of the Deutsches Grammophon imprint. He giggles, then coughs, then selects a Eugene Istomin rendition of the Andante for a Small Mechanical Organ in F Major.

Tomorrow will be a big day. Like a schoolboy, Albert is enthused. He will address the world via television broadcast.

The music begins, first with anticipatory crackling and then with a fluid burst of ingeniously interleaved melodies, playfully scampering up and down the keyboard, spinning and leaning and keeling in a way that would shock poor Bach. Albert drinks it with his ears, closing his eyes as he settles into his patched easychair. His fingers tap on the armrests and he smiles.

The doorbell rings. His eyes snap open.

With a grunt he heaves himself out of the chair and shuffles across the house to the front door. He peeks through the spyhole, but he can't make out a thing. He wonders where his glasses are, pats the pockets of his sweater, then opens the door.

"Herr Einstein!"

Albert blinks. On the porch before him is a swarthy man with a stark white Van Dyke beard. He's wearing a fine, cream-coloured suit. The lines around his eyes are pronounced as he breaks into a wide smile, splitting his dark face with bright teeth. "I can't believe it," breathes Albert. "Is that really you, Turk?"

"It is very much me," confirms the Turk. "And you will allow me to introduce my protege, Bahram."

Albert nods to the lean, handsome young man standing at the Turk's elbow. He has a moustache like a dash of ink across his smooth upper lip. "How do you do?"

"Very well, sir," says Bahram.

"Won't you come in?"

Prince Siraj and his protege sit on the dusty loveseat across from Albert's paper-strewn coffee table. He rattles in the kitchen, muttering about tea. "It's very rude of me to call you Turkish," he calls. "It's an old habit. Forgive me." He walks in carrying a tottering tray, the cups clinking against one another.

"Let me help you," says Bahram, taking the tray and setting it down. His fingers are long and slender, his nails manicured. Like the prince, he wears several rings emblazoned with inscrutable insignia, some Arabic, some obscure. The rings glint.

Albert turns down the phonograph player and then sinks into the easychair across from his guests. His knees crackle quietly when they fold, which makes him wince. "I'm delighted to see you, of course," he says. "It's been such a long time. What brings you to America, old friend?"

"Why you do, naturally," says the Turk blithely. "I understand you're to make a speech tomorrow, Albert."

"Yes, yes. It's the seventh anniversary of Israel, you understand, which I believe is a perfect occasion to make my announcement."

Bahram and the Turk look at one another. "The new theory?" prompts the Turk.

"Oh yes, yes," nods Albert, gripping the worn arms of his chair. "This time, you understand, I'm going to go about it right from the start. This time, it begins with responsibility! Your father would be proud, I'm sure."

"I'm sure," agrees the Turk.

Albert falters. "He's still with us, your father?"

The Turk smirks. "Oh yes," he confirms. "The Shah is in splendid health."

"I'm glad to hear it," says Albert, then rushes ahead: "You know about my letter to the White House, I'm sure. It was thirty years too late, wasn't it? It was certainly too late for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That's a mistake I will not make again. This time, I go ahead with my eyes open."

The Turk pours out three cups of tea. He looks up. "You've really found it, then? A unified theory?"

Albert's eyes gleam. "Yes!" he hisses. "And I was right: God does not play dice. The universe is, ultimately, deterministic." He leans forward in his chair, wags a finger purposefully. "Do you know what an electron truly is, my dear Turk? Shall I tell you?"


"It is an idea," he says, raising his chin. "An electron is nothing, old friend, but a little bit of something wound in a particular way. It is a pattern. The medium is inconsequential. Inconsequential. Utterly! Whether one were to be twisting dimensions or twisting yarn, the emergent behaviour is identical." He pauses significantly. "In other words, an electron is a knot."

Bahram tilts his head. The Turk's lined brow furrows as he strokes his white beard. "A knot in what, pray tell, Albert? You're calling it New Kelvinism. Has aether come back into vogue?"

Albert cackles. "That's just the point, Prince -- the medium does not matter. The essence is the message. It is the flow of information with which the universe is both concerned and composed, and the language of that flow is my New Kelvinism. Can you see where this inevitably leads, old friend?" He sits back again, nodding solemnly, his eyes shining. "We are on the cusp of knowing a method for programming the world. It is nothing less than that."

The Turk shakes his head and chuckles. Bahram is expressionless, his hands folded in his lap. "Albert," says the Turk, "I've read your letters to my father. I've tried to follow your proofs. I admit I remain baffled. What I must bear high in mind, though, is what implications there might be to your releasing this theory openly."

Albert sits back, frowning beneath his white moustache.

"You know all too well the consequences of atomics," continues the Turk softly. "Dare we imagine what your next revelation might beget?"

Albert sniffs. "Science is not secret," he says.

The Turk looks into his eyes for a long moment. The clock on the mantel beside Elsa's portrait ticks. Albert shifts. The Turk sighs and then smiles. "I had wondered if your opinion on these matters had changed, but I can see you're as stubborn as always, aren't you?" He laughs. "Your correspondents have contributed to the theory, of course."

Albert blinks. "Of course, yes, yes." He stands up and shuffles over to a wooden writing desk and rolls back the lid. Inside are brown dossiers brimming with trifold-creased papers. The package is marked NEW KELVINISM, LETTERS '53-'55. "There's Roman Klinger in Warsaw who has been instrumental in working through the quantum field proofs, and a young student in Sarajevo, Ratko Zoranovic, whose mind is so limber it absolutely makes me green with envy. I admit it freely." He chuckles. "Oh, to be young."

The Turk laughs and nods. "You should come with me to Anwar. My father can provide you with facilities, funding, minds: anything you need to perfect the work."

Albert stops chuckling. "Provided I keep my research private?"

The Turk nods.

Albert shakes his head. "You know I will not do it."

The Turk shrugs and sips from his cup. "Never the less, I am obliged to ask. Civility first, after all." He glances down at the table. "Your tea is getting cold, Albert."

"Oh, yes," agrees Albert. He drinks.

He pauses, watching Bahram watching him.

The Turk clears his throat. "Is your speech quite prepared?"

Albert considers this, gesturing vaguely. "It's more than begun," he confesses as he takes his seat again, "but not altogether finished, as such. I'll tell you freely that I was procrastinating about it when you came calling." He sips his tea. "It's almost finished, it's almost fair to say."

The Turk laughs again. "You thrive on improvisation, my friend. You always have. Your decisions nip at the heels of your actions, as they did when your hair was black and my spine was straight."

"I'm an idiot," laughs Albert, absently patting down a fluff of wild white hair. "Some things I never learn."

The Turk sighs. A sparrow flits at the window, then flaps away. Albert watches the protege watching it. He finds the young man's gaze seems cold, and it makes him feel uncomfortable. His joints ache.

The Turk rises from the loveseat and strolls across to the writing desk. He picks up the closest dossier of correspondence, then slips out a couple of letters. He scans them and tucks them back. To Bahram he says, "We'll take all of these."

Albert turns. Bahram crosses his legs on the loveseat as he fits a cigarette into the end of a long, ebony holder. He lights it with a silver lighter, his black eyes calmly locked on the old man. Albert opens his mouth but doesn't say anything.

The Turk sighs again. Albert turns back to him. The Turk is looking his age all of a sudden, the skin beneath his eyes swollen and his brow heavy. "It will be nearly painless, naturally," he whispers. "You know my father is very fond of you, Albert."

Albert pales. His forehead glistens.

Bahram shifts on the loveseat, exhales a snake of smoke.

"There is a mild sedative mixed in," explains the Turk, "so when the clot forms you'll be numbed. It will look like a simple aneurism. Try not to worry about it too much. There won't be a fuss."

Albert's breath is becoming shallow. He's dizzy. He sinks lower into his chair, hands slipping from the armrests. The teacup drops from his limp fingers, the last drops sliding out and darkening the carpet. His eyes are wide, his pupils small.

"But you've never really understood the stakes, Albert. It is a source of profound regret for me that things have turned out this way, and for my father that sorrow is double. Still: you always had a choice."

Albert closes his mouth. He loses feeling in his left arm. His vision turns grey.

The Turk straightens, wincing at his back. He clicks his heels smartly, dark lashes brimming with tears. "Auf wiedersehen, Herr von Steissbein."

Albert settles. Bahram is already collecting papers. The Turk checks his watch.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you chose to suggest Einstein as the source of the Secret Mathematic (in combination with Zoran).

I would have alternatively suggested Maxwell, particularly given his characterization of scalar tensors. Those seem to be a far better match to your Secret Mathematic than relativistic relationships.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear CodeWright,

In this instance the question was which part is more important -- the secret or the mathematic. The decision I reached is that the secret is paramount, since this is a story, after all, and not a dissertation.

Thus, the figure of Albert Einstein served my purposes here better than anyone else could have, because of the popular awareness of his existence, the qualities of his public character, and the period in which he lived/died. These conspire to make him serve as an effective and (most importantly) a recognizable personage to illustrate some backstory for the Shah and Bahram.

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

I understand the appeal of Einstein -- he's a ready made "character" in his own right.

Fleshing Maxwell would have been more daunting and certainly not have the immediate recognition of Einstein.

Historically, however, you've demonstrated an inclination toward the obscure, hence my slight surprise at Einstein instead of Maxwell.

In fact, Tesla might have been a good choice -- he cuts nearly the "peculiar character" swathe that Einstein does and, further, is "Balkan" for a Zoran tie-in... and was also an assiduous student of Maxwell.

Tesla's work was also, demonstrably, stolen and suppressed....

Teddy said...

Actually, this is string and quantum theory, not relativity. Interestingly, I recently heard a study on knots in vibrating pieces of string as a means of studying why DNA knots, with possible implications on string theory as well.

Interesting that Einstein was killed for his involvement...what will Zoran say when they want to keep him silent? He's young, more eager for funding, probably willing to stay quiet...although the secret math was not initially secret.

Interestingly, we did actually see the point at which it became "The Secret Math". All those redactions in Tim, Destroyer of worlds...I'd wager that was the first time secrets of the math were ever kept hidden.


al said...

Nice. I liked this chapter the best. The first five chapters were like watching someone throw stones into the air. Now I see where they are landing.

Dan said...

I don't know much from theoretical physicists, but I do enjoy a good yarn. As usual I am enthralled with your writing, CBB.
Keep up the wonderful work.

Codewright: I believe Maxwell made his contributions almost a hundred yeas to early to fit with the Zoranic timeline. But again, I don't know from theoretical physicists.

THE Danimal

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear CodeWright,

Be patient: Tesla's part will come, if only tangentally.

A kuro5hi'ite did notice another gaff, however: in Chapter 3 no one should've had any right to use an expression like "neutron ray" a quarter century before neutrons were "discovered." I'm going to have to go back and change that to "neutral cathode ray" or something like that. Does anyone have a better suggestion?

Dear Teddy,

Actually -- and here I speak out of plot for a moment -- TSM is actually secret from the start. The "active number sciences" employed by the Martians in Tim, Destroyer of Worlds is a subset of the math forcibly declassified by the military in an attempt to wrest control from the Zorannics.

The math they had access to is called "The Northern Body Math" (internally by Zorannics and allies) is, in fact, just one half of the theory. "The Southern Body Math", in contrast, is not even suspected to exist outside of the Zorannic inner circle.

So, we have secrets within secrets: what the Martian militarists believe is TSM is actually just the Northern Body. It is this subset of the math that is used to build their weapon.

Dear al,

Good. That was this chapter's function: to show where we're going with all this.

Dear Dan,

Thanks. This definitely isn't aimed at theoretical physicsts (because it would showcase my own ignorance too much), but I do hope it isn't offensively stupid for someone with a knowledge of maths and sciences to read.

Cheeseburger Brown

Simon said...

I had my suspicions as soon as the Turk mentioned the TV interview. And then with his phrase "Civility first," I knew they were there to kill Albert.

What I really like best is Albert's unflagging insistence that science should not be kept secret. Even though that standpoint has been maintained to the detriment of many human lives in our history, the corresponding suppression of advancing information would be far worse, in my mind.

I see a correlation here between the secret math and the atomic badgers. What *would* human society have been like if the math had been allowed to run rampant in the hands of relative technological toddlers, especially considering how much more power it represents versus mere nuclear energy?

I think that story, certainly in relation to this one, nicely shows what *can* happen when the suppression of a technology isn't even an option and you have to live with it.

Anonymous said...

Simon: yeah, it had an ominious tone from the beginning. The whole thing certainly sheds new light on the involvement of Anwar...

"Albert falters. "He's still with us, your father?"

The Turk smirks. "Oh yes," he confirms. "The Shah is in splendid health."

Still waiting for the rest of this piece... also, the use of "protege" rather than "son" makes this more realistic in view of what we know of the reproductive limits of (what I like to refer to as) Lallokind.


So anyway, CBB, you continually surprise me. I was thinking that the senior Zoran would be Drago, but this I suppose makes a bit more sense...

Nikolai's role still intrigues me; I wonder if it's anything like Douglas MacArthur's role in the naming of Robert Shaftoe's son.

Hmm... maybe you and Neal Stephenson should consider a collaboration; THAT would get your name out there!

Thus concludes this ramble.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Simon,

Ay, that's the rub. To be sure, I personally believe that open collaboration is essential to the advancement of science. I agree with Albert and his pals in Berne.

However, a story where I agree personally with everything that goes on would be boring, in my opinion. At least it would be boring for me. I'd much rather have to work to bridge gaps of moral ambiguity from both sides than have bad guys dressed in black and good guys dressed in white.

Dear Sheik,

It could be argued that an equally effective way of telegraphing this plot would be to simply stick with a single storyline about the Shah (and his proteges), but ultimately I think that would be, so to speak, blowing the load all at once. I think it's better this way, spaced out between the biographies of Dr. Zoran and Mr. Mississauga, to heighten tension and lend context.

That's all part and parcel of saying that we're definitely going to become more intimately acquainted with how and why the Shah of Anwar runs his affairs in the chapters to come.

Um, you've lost me though with "Nikolai." I'm pretty sure, as is Google, that I've never referred to anyone by that name in my stories. Am I forgetting something? How embarrassing if so.

Adding ESP eeriness to confusion, in an earlier rough Ratko Zoranovic's name was "Nikola."

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

Dear CBB,

Sorry, typo; that should be "Nikola" (as in Tesla). Blame it on my cold-ravaged brain. Still wondering how that works its way into Drago's life, and who "Nicola" is...

Believe me, I'm enjoying the ride. The twists make it all the more fascinating (and besides, we get a nice rush when our speculation pans out, e.g. Sky's final destination).

Time to go and see if I can actually eat now...

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Sheik,

Get well!

I follow you now. Nikola as in Tesla I get. Indeed, Tesla won't be a character in this tale, but certain affairs of his which have bearing on the plot will be touched upon, at least (that's not a promise though...I have a habit of changing my mind about references like that if they don't pan out or fit right).

Nicola, of course, is the girl who will become Drago's wife. In Paris he saved her life with a watermelon, and in Montreal they dine together and fall in love. Like Mike, she has a spaceship named in her honour, so I expect that relationship will stand the test of time.

I'm glad you're enjoying the ride. Myself I'm stoked that, provided my kids go to bed smoothly tonight, I should get some time to make some progress on Chapter 9.

Chapter 7 should go public later this week, and Chapter 8 the week after that. Hopefully by the time we get there I'll still be maintaining my lead and be working diligently on Chapters 10, 11, 12 to stay ahead of the game and avoid having to ruin any of these posts by rushing.

The trick is to keep up on my reading, so I don't say too many obviously ignorant things about math or physics. Many thanks go to Brian, who's been helping me steer clear of some of the worst kinds of gaffs.

Cheeseburger Brown

Tolomea said...

Presumably Sheik is referring to Nikolai Tesla and you did mention that he would have a part.

Tolomea said...

\o/ my lulu order has arrived and after only 3 1/2 months

although in fairness I do live in an obscure third world country (australia) and they did replace the first shipment after it became apparent that it was a lost cause

anyway \o/ now I ownz it all

Tolomea said...

p.s. I'm still keen to get some stickers

Shadowphone said...

Thanks, CBB; I was thrown because she's only referred to as "Nicole" in TFF, but of course he would call her something a bit more... eastern-sounding (particularly since she appears to have roots in that area as well).

Congratulations on maintaining your lead!

Mark said...

The assassination of Herr Einstein, eh? Interesting.

The contrast in chapters keeps me intrigued, and I think it would do the same were I reading them without a week between.

Good backstory, indeed.

fooburger said...

I'm not sure about this quibble. The term 'program'/'programming' wasn't always in usage. I think it might have become common a bit after Einstein.
It leaped out at me... so I figured I'd mention it. Some quick googling didn't provide an answer though.

I have a physics prof who is always going on and on about Einstein supposedly having stolen everything, and that it was all Poinecare' (sp).
Whatever... I'm not going to debate Einstein's mathematical prowess, but he clearly was the guy who connected the math of Maxwell (JC)/Lorentz to the real world. It's weird how amazing discoveries can come from 'the math is right, yer just thinking about it wrongly'. :)

Anonymous said...

oops; looks like I forgot to replace the google alias that I was required to register with for something or other.

Brian: that's usually how all the great new successful business ideas get going... not from new technology, but from somebody putting it together the right way (usually with flair for marketing as well).

CBB, I found a typo:

What I must bear high my mind...

Anonymous said...

Boy, I'm forgetful today.

Isn't an aneurism a dilation/weakening of a blood vessel, as opposed to a clot which is a blockage formed by coagulated blood?