You are alive, do you know why?|
You don’t. Pity, oh such a pity...
I went with my story to all the journals, those main ones first, local ones first. I even threatened one editor with a Smith & Wesson, okay, it was her own lipstick pressed against her spine but she thought it was a Smith & Wesson and it ended my day in jail. Then when they all, with the exception of the afore mentioned editor, finished dying laughing I tried the small ones, the national ones, the international. TV stations, radio stations, short-wave hobby stations, what stations had I left out? I spent around twenty million dollars of efforts around the globe and all I remember is the laughter in front of me, behind my back, at the end of a line or of an email. Oh, yes, I found a listening ear at a ‘we are not alone’ weirdos gathering, and another at a ‘the end is at our door’ different weirdos, different gathering. Both of which I had to get off my back later on with five K dollars, you’d be amazed how easy it is to buy or to sell beliefs for five thousand dollars. No one believed the truth. What a pity.
My wife divorced me at the end of two years of misery seen my incessant travel, after first kicking me out of the house, scared. Took the three kids with her. She loved me, she was desperate, she had no choice. I gave her the rest of the money, two hundred and five million dollars so she would take good care of herself and of the kids and I ended here. Forty two years past now, forty two years of my own misery, yes – she pays all my costs. No, I did not and do not lack anything, I was well taken care of at all times; even when I needed a kidney transplant – one of my kids donated it and my wife absorbed all the hospital costs. Yes, good people, worth saving. Many good people in this world, all worth saving, Knowledge that does not assuage my pain even a tiny bit, it is not assuageable if I be allowed to place this tongue knotting word here.
And then, recently, it downed on me – I will write it as a story. Maybe send it to some sci-fi publisher or contest and if I get accepted or if I win, many will read it, the truth will come out. They will all think it to be a great story, I will know it to be the truth. At least I will have some kind of partners to the knowledge. Probably I’ll have to add some embellishments, to make it ‘sellable’. Nevertheless, the truth will come out. Yes, good decision, Joe.
So I sat down, I wrote. It took me exactly three months, twenty three days and four hours, just in time for my first contest and now... send it, Joe!
I sent it. Oh, by the way, my name is not Joe.
I was following the main road from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, it was close to midnight and I was in no particular hurry. I managed to survive an interminable dinner which in itself followed a long meeting at the university and my mind was geared to “easy”. An uneventful drive until, on the Brooklyn bridge, I was about to overtake the car in front of me and it suddenly swerved into my overtaking lane. OK, happens, I tried again to overtake it on the right and it swerved on cue to the right as well. What the hell, the driver was either falling asleep or talking on the cell phone. It upset me slightly so I honked in anger twice and tried again on the left, the car moved left, tried right, it moved right. And it was then, at that precise moment that rage suddenly hit me, illogical, blinding, red rage.
I turned on the ship-horn that was reserved for the car’s alarm system and squeezed the accelerator through the floor, yes, through, probably pedal-through-the-metal would have been the correct description of my feet muscles’ intent as I raced towards the back of the obstinate car ready to ram it over the bridge, with me following. This time the car swerved further right, trying to get out of my way... no way mister, I win this duel and we both die today rushed through my mind as the impact followed and the other car hit the bridge railing with my front bumper welded to its back bumper. No air-bag is going to save us today, mister... hey, what is this?
The railing exploded like a lump of butter meeting a bullet and the car in front fell off the side with me following and falling after it... no, the railing is not supposed to collapse under a car’s impact was the last coherent thought that flashed through my mind as I slid through a mixture of incredulity and outrage at being cheated out of my right to die my way, and I faded into pure, dreamless blackness.
It was when I woke up from the nightmare that I found out it was not a nightmare. What was it then (I asked myself, not you)?
I got up from a comfortable bed – I was still dressed, mind you – there was a carpet underneath me, a stereo system... hey, expensive, against the wall, something that looked like a kitchenette, a terminal looking at me with a blank screen... I did not have to pinch myself to make sure it was not a dream. I was a stark hard realist and what I was seeing around me was stark hard reality and yet not the reality one finds in a house or an apartment but rather the reality one finds in no such place. Since the entire “room” was ball-perfect round, the exception being the floor but I had the impression it was due to a flat platform on top of a round cavity. And the – plastic? glass? – wall around me was continuously flickering in hues of red, yellow, orange, with dark stains puncturing the image from time to time before getting swallowed by a lashing tongue of kinds. The way I’ve seen behind the glass door of my wood-burning fireplace when I glanced its way. Which happened rarely.
“Hello, Professor Moskowitz.” The voice had male intonations.
I did not throw a tantrum. I did not react with ‘you will not get away with it’. I love science fiction yet I don’t believe in science fiction and since this was clearly a science fiction setting, I swapped my ‘don’t’ to ‘do’ at a fingers snap. Science fiction turned reality for me and the question was not necessarily how, but rather why. My normally repressed humanity, i.e. curiosity, took this once the higher ground and “cold fish” (the way my students called me openly) flicked his tail this once.
“And who are you?” I was not actually sure that the ‘you’ I addressed was the one addressing me. It was the single incongruous item in the room, not even the gigantic mainframes blinking idiotically to my left impressed me as incongruous (horrible word) as that supposed to be ‘you’ in front of me.
It was a perfectly round ball of... what, glass? plastic? crystal?... the flickering colors outside the wall reflecting from its smooth surface but except for that there was no sign of activity in or around it. No crack, no protuberance, and after I took a step forward and passed my hand around it, nothing supporting it from any side. It was floating. I tried even to push it. I could as well have tried to push the Empire State Building.
“I presently weigh, in terms of mass, one trillion tons. But as far as you are concerned, I could weigh one gram. I control my mass and my gravity.” The voice had a strange reverberation but its English was fluent and it seemed to be talking straight into my head, not through my ears, I did not sense any kind of vibration in the air.
“Do you read my thoughts? Do you speak straight into my nervous system?”
“No. Yes. A few million units of my being are presently attached to your auditory system and they vibrate, thus creating the sensation of hearing, a voice synthesizer of sorts. Professor Moskowitz, you still did not ask me how and why. Maybe even before I answer your ‘who’ question?”
I did not answer. I did not feel frightened. I was even partly amused by the situation and I took a tour of the ‘room’ before I made up my mind what to answer. I made a toilette stop, how considerate, before stopping next to my car, its hood still warm and not one scratch on it. Then there were the few metallic monsters bunched together, most of whom I recognized from my visits to several universities around the globe as supercomputers, all in the range of petaflops, several tens of quadrillion floating point operations per second each. I will not provide here free advertising to their manufacturers, but there were fourteen of them in the room, strange cabling exiting and entering the entrails of each and connecting them to each other, with the smell and vapors of liquid nitrogen clearly invading the air and yet... the surrounding temperature was that of a nice summer night.
“I imagine you stole all these from their relevant owners,” I murmured to myself, touching each one in academic appreciation.
“Yes. And we re-engineered them and this is presently a ten thousand and four exaflops supercomputer, a level humanity will most probably never reach, ready to be used.” No infliction in the voice, no shame, no pride, pure factual rendition.
“And we are?...” I drawled further, not voicing one key w-word that kept bothering me but was not yet aired in this room yet clearly and specifically meaning it. Where?
“We are close to the center of the Earth. And no,” he continued, as if expecting me to flinch in incredulity, which I did not, “you face no risk of getting either crushed or incinerated. We are in perfect control of this environment. We need you, professor Ferdinand Moskowitz, to save our species.”
Ferdinand Moskowitz, oh, how I hated my parents at such moments.
“Nando, to friends,” I said with a tinge of rebelliousness in my voice, even though I did not feel rebellious at all. But let them, it, she, he... whatever, think so. “And you are George, I presume,” thus temporarily removing the ‘who’ from our closed environment.
“I am George,” he assumed his baptism without an eye blink. Eye blink, ha.
“Tell me, George.” I sat down on the nicely upholstered sofa they either manufactured or stole for me, and closed my eyes, listening. Strange how I accepted the situation as if it was my daily routine. Was I on some kind of drug or similar?
‘They’ were with us since eternity. A few billions of years is eternity in human terms, isn’t it, and the ‘us’ part of the equation started crawling on the surface of the Earth barely recently in terms of said eternity.
George was a nation of exactly 68,719,476,736 units which in our terms is 2 to the power of 36. They used a binary counting system for reasons of their own and anyway they were not bound by the human ten fingers; however they had no problem counting in any system. The limitation on their population size was of an energetic nature. You see, the George units (they had no name for themselves) were of an energetic nature, something between a photon and a graviton – aha! – and an energon, which he called it this way for my sake but it was something humanity didn’t even start speculating about. They had no history or never cared to memorize it, they simply existed, had a collective conscience and ‘fed’ on Earth’s liquid fire. Originally their numbers were much higher, but as Earth’s surface started cooling they started moving towards its center where the temperatures we still bearable for their need. They had to start reducing their numbers as well... “...we do not die, we coalesce four units into two,” he said and I did not pretend to understand, just accepted it as fact.
“Once we reach 4,294,967,296 units, 2 to the power of 32 in your terms, we die. At earth’s core present cooling rate, it is probably a matter of 20 to 30 years. No more billions of years. We get absorbed in whatever energy source is nearby and we disappear.”
“And what happens to this energy source that absorbs you?”
“It turns into a small sun, or nova, or whatever you wish to call it.”
“So Earth dies, humanity dies along with you.” I followed my human logic. They did not possess human logic.
There was silence, heavy silence. I felt kind of a stir in my ear, the George nation seemed to be conferring and I somehow felt it through the units present inside my ear.
“Sorry, Nando, you are correct. We did not think about it, I apologize for our selfish interpretation. I use the word ‘apologize’ which I believe correctly represents what we have to say and what we truly feel. Again, ‘feel’ is a term I believe I use correctly.”
Oh, correctly you use George, ‘apologize’ and ‘feel’ and why the hell did you wake up so late, George? It was for the first time since the ‘event’ as I started calling my disappearance there and my appearance here, that something like emotion started stirring my insides, something like worry, like fear. Maybe like panic – Soraya, my wife, Antonio my eldest, sweet Susan, two years old baby Jack – my children, my neighbor the cop and his wife and their two boys, the permanent beggar at the corner of my street and his dog... hey, entire humanity, Ferdinand, humanity! I never called myself Nando in my thoughts.
“And why the hell did you wake up so late, George?” I asked.
He did not answer, he continued telling his story, somehow it seemed to matter to him, them. Maybe it was important?
“We know it for more than one hundred million years already, but there was nothing we could do about it. We accepted it. You see, Nando, we possess good mathematical skills, different to the human skills but insufficient. We can shift time for a few seconds. We can predict thermal events with the accuracy of years. We can change our structure to any known element and many yet unknown elements and we can control gravity in our close environment. Yet we do not have any artistry or creativity in us; what we can do is copy and improve, take an architectural design and build it into a final product. But we cannot think this final product up front. For that we need something or someone to copy from, to learn from, to emulate.”
And then the dinosaurs passed away from the world and humans started descending from the trees. They saw a flicker of hope, to use our human expression.
“We followed human evolution. We learned from humans languages, arts and sciences watching these evolve as well, and we followed some great minds around. Brahmagupta, Pythagoras, Fibonacci, Laplace, Fourier, Fermat, Euler, Gauss, Hardy...
“This was our need. And still is. And you are one.”
“And how did you get me here? And why did you get me here?”
I finally decided to ask my two questions starting, illogically, with the curiosity oriented one and ending with the purpose oriented one. ‘Cold fish’ was after all, unknown to many, human. And I felt there was nothing of major interest outside these two questions.
The how was easy, if to accept their explanation and I had no problem accepting it. Since they could practically emulate any kind of material and controlled their internal gravitational fields, they used these ‘skills’ and sent several billion units to cocoon, reduce and transport anything that was inorganic matter to the present room. Once here, they allowed the gravitational forces resume their respective strength.
“What about the electric force, the weak force?...” I wasn’t much of a physician but there were some basics that even I was aware about. “Nando, you don’t know much about the atomic structure yet. Shall we skip your question?” By ‘you’ he did not mean specifically me, Ferdinand, he meant the whole of our human knowledge on the matter. I let him skip.
They had a bigger problem with organic matter, i.e. the one organic unit registered with humans and human authorities as Ferdinand Moskowitz. This is why they needed me in a protective box that they could ‘smuggle’ to our present location, with me nicely handled by the units in my head: first triggering my ‘insanity moment’ and then reducing me to a state of suspended-life and fully cocooned in a protective internal and external layer for as long as it took them to create a passage for my box - my car - to reach this protected environment. “Not longer than 3 minutes, thus no damage to your brain.” He did not sound apologetic. I don’t think he was boasting either. “The other car was us, a real-life emulation. The entire setting was for the eyes of the surveillance cameras. We don’t fear humans, of course, but we prefer humans not to know certain things. Oh...” the ‘Oh’ sounded human indeed, “we don’t think anyone will believe you once you return. If you return.”
I left the last comment pass unchallenged. So now I was inside a room about center Earth, the room walls were some other billion units that created for me a livable environment complete with units constantly evolving into oxygen for my sake, with a monster supercomputer re-engineered by George with units from his ranks, and importantly and considerately with a john that someone up on the surface certainly was missing at the moment and wondering at that smooth, round hole on the floor where it once was. I hoped that this whoever was not sitting on the john the moment it was subtilized.
As this thought hit my mind I exploded in the kind of hysterical laughter that you got to see only in a Laurel and Hardy movie, both on the screen and in the cinema itself. Maybe it kept accumulating and maybe it reached its critical level. The hysteria I mean.
I finished, blew my nose, wiped my eyes and was ready.
“OK. Nando.” The expressed punctuation was that of a full stop but the implied meaning was that of a question mark.
“Professor Moskowitz,” if it started that respectful way then something serious was about to be mentioned, “your theory of the finality of numbers. We know it is correct.” Huh? What? Are you kidding me? The question marks designed themselves on my facial features in sequential manner, and I could only hope that George had something akin to a sense of sight because none of above words had left my larynx. It was too constricted. “There is one number we are interested in, only one, and this number is Pi. There were better mathematicians before you – Leibnitz, Gauss, Euler...” and even though I felt pissed-off I felt also honored to be mentioned as trailing those illustrious names... “...however, first – they did not possess the tools to help us, second – they did not even think of the existence of such theory. The tools you now have, the super computer waits for you. The theory it’s you who developed it, so you know how to look for what we need. Professor Moskowitz, save us!”
It was the second time he said it, and this time the trailing sentence in my mind was ... ‘yeah, and save this damn Earth too, in the process.’
“And what you need exactly is?...”
“In human decimal terms, we need the last 1024 digits of Pi. I don’t want to go in too many details both because I am not sure I am able to explain but also because I am not sure I understand it myself completely. However I know, a fact which does not necessitate understanding.
Pi ends and the last digit repeats to infinity, I know neither after how many digits it ends, nor what this last digit is. I certainly do not know what the last 1024 digits are. Knowing this number will allow us to contract and create a... no, THE perfect ball of George-matter,” George was developing a sense of humor “and this is the only shape capable to travel all the way to the sun and sink into it without exploding into nothingness.”
“You mean into a nova.”
“I mean into a nova. By the way, what you see now is only half of me. The other half is sunk into the core, absorbing energy for us all. The final resulting ball size will be the same as you see now and its mass will not change. Please, don’t ask because I don’t know the answer.
And I think that you are now itching to ask a question, Nando.” So we were back to Nando terms, and to itching, and I preferred it this way.
“Yes, George. Assuming all goes well and we get this number and you survive and Earth survives... you still have a long travel to the sun, our sun – right? Even at the speed of light, which I believe is not what you are talking about. How are you going to survive the travel, disconnected from the energy here and not yet connected to the energy there?”
“Nando, if there was such a thing I would have recommended you for the George medal of intelligence. This is where the last 64 digits of Pi play a crucial role for our survival. Nando, you heard about E equals m times c to the power of 2. Did you hear about E equals m times c to the power of 4? No, don’t correct me, c to the power of 4. And what about c to the power of 8? And what about?...”
“...c to the power of 16... 32... 64... we could not extrapolate beyond 64 and even this is probably not achievable. But 4 is achievable and we need it for our travel.” He paused, maybe for emphasis. How easily and wrongly we apply our human conceptions and misconceptions to other species, be it dogs or fishes or trees. Or George.
“You speak here of energies that could create or destroy a universe.” It was phrased as a statement, not a question. “And after we succeed, assuming we do, I take this knowledge with me ‘upstairs’ and humanity suddenly owns this immeasurable power.” It was phrased as a question, not a statement.
“And humanity destroys itself and the solar system, us included. God forbid.”
“Do you believe in a God?” It rattled me for a moment.
“No, we do not possess any such notion as belief or faith. And you will not be able to take this knowledge ‘upstairs’ with you.”
“Because I will be dead?”
“Because we will make sure your brain doesn’t have it.”
It made me feel inexplicably good. My theory would be vindicated, after all the ridicule it faced in those much respected academic circles where it was presented (‘the end of all numbers?... you must be an idiot, mon cher Ferdinand’), I will not be dead at the end of whatever even though he did not say it positively but rather did not say positively the opposite... sorry for the blabber, and I will not remember what I wished not to remember. Hey, not a bad guy, George. And now it was time for the other how.
“And now it is time for the other how,” said George. Hey, George, are you sure you do not read my mind?
The other how, namely how to find the end of Pi sequence, was up to me and my mathematical model, adapted to the specific situation I was in: 1. the knowledge that my theory was correct; 2. the almost unlimited computer power at my service. Truth was my model and my Pi calculating process was never tested on any of my university’s computers, let alone a supercomputer. The reason was exactly the ridicule the model was received with and this, irrelevant of my standing or rather outstanding stature as the mad scientist in the wild fields of math hunting there for crazy numbers. The only computer time I got were some stolen sessions which proved only that it runs correctly for a couple thousands iterations. But millions, trillions?
I sat at the terminal and wrote the entire program from memory. My memory was infallible, it was one of those wonders that go unexplained. Maybe my brain found a door to its unused and dormant grey brother, maybe I was some kind of autist showing no major signs of his affliction, maybe I was some kind of genius which was my preferred explanation Irrelevant. It took me about three days to finish inputting the program with eating, sleeping, washing sessions part of the count.
“Ready,” I told George.
“We are ready as well,” he said, referring to that Georgehood faction which was linking the supercomputers in their mysterious supersupercomputer monsterhood. I pushed the ‘return’ key on the keyboard and we all went into wait mode.
My programming allowed the screen to present every millionth Pi digit found and the screen flashed at the beginning extremely fast. Since the program used an internally ever evolving search pattern, I couldn’t start my search from the presently known Pi value, but this meant losing just a few hours. Around the billionth digit it was still flashing fast and we reached the trillionth area inside 8 hours. It was here that the supersupercomputer power started getting fully engaged in the effort, since my algorithm was starting around this position in the calculating cycle to find clusters of digits. Starting with 2 digits in one go, then doubling every trillion digits until it reached a maximum of 64 digits per iteration at the six trillions mark and continuing at this rate until the quadrillion was reached. Then doubling again the rate up to 4096 digits per iteration and continuing at this rate until the quintillion was reached. The supersupercomputer performed brilliantly, the monster power generator (where did George steal this one?) was never overloaded. It was when we reached the sextillion area that things started showing a bit of fatigue. The cluster numbers, now 262144 per iteration were still showing quite fast but they were not a blur on the screen anymore. Slowly I started being able to read the numbers, and at the rate it presently slowed down I started worrying that we would not make it to the septillion inside my life time. My algorithm had a built in capability, based on need, to reduce the number of digits found with each iteration if the software judged this to be more efficient. And it started going this way. It was a bad omen. Somehow I did not expect the speed to pick up again, though I may have been wrong.
We were at the thirty-fourth day time-mark after I pushed the ‘return’ key. I looked at George, at least I looked at the ball I called George and I supposed he looked back at me. He did not know what was happening, he did not write the program. I knew.
“George, we have a problem,” I said. I wanted to sound dramatic and yet I did not call him Houston, though for a moment I felt like it. ‘Then’ and ‘There’ with the Houston original case they found a solution. ‘Now’ and ‘Here’ I was not so sure at this stage that we were going to. And it was not three but three billion humans, give or take a few, we were talking about here.
“Thank you, Nando.”
“Thank me for what?”
“For not making a joke out of it.”
I looked at the ball, hard. Damn you, George, are you sure you are not reading my thoughts? Not that it mattered, because I was at a dead end and all the supercomputers in the world could not help me, us, now. The numbers on the screen kept crawling at the rate of two every second. At least the rate did not go as low as one per second, per minute. It will, I told myself, anytime soon it will.
“George, I am terribly tired. Do you mind if I go to sleep now?”
I wasn’t just tired, I was disappointed, angry, upset, and suddenly worried... even more, not so, Ferdinand? The euphoria and relative indifference of the first days suddenly change polarity and I became terribly depressed and, ok, I’ll say it, frightened.
“OK, Nando, I hope you dream a solution.”
“Yes, I hope so too. Please wake me up in 4 hours, sharp. I always remember my dreams best when I wake up in the middle of one.”
“You are joking, Nando?”
“No, I am not joking, George.”
I did not bid him good night, it was meaningless. I lay down on the bed, covered myself up to the chin for the heck of it... maybe for the womb-like feeling? maybe... and fell asleep within seconds. When I woke up or rather was woken up I was in the middle of winning a bowling tournament. I never bowled in my life. My mind was clear as a crystal ball, as the George ball before me.
“George, how did you connect the fourteen supercomputers into one single supersupercomputer?”
“Nando, I cannot explain it to you in any kind of terms that you will understand. We just knew to do it. Told you – we cannot invent but we can well damn improve on things we learned from humans.”
Wow, George using the D word and he wasn’t even human. Was George starting to show signs of piss-off the way I was showing signs of impotence? The “HAL-syndrome”, ha, and I laughed shortly, not hysterically, mentally lifting my hat and bowing in reverence to that master of creativity which was Kubrick.
“George, you, and I, and us – we were all wrong from the beginning. There is enough computer power out there,” and I pointed to the bunch of interconnected machines, “to invent Pi, not just find it. George, do you know what a musher needs more than anything else?”
I forgot for a moment that I was talking to a ball of ‘something’ and that there might have been some words that escaped his attention. I elaborated.
“Musher, George is the block owning the sled and the dogs that pull it. You, the musher, George. And you own there the best dog pack ever to pull a sled – the best swing dogs to guide and direct the rest of the pack, the best team dogs to power-pull up any slope or across any rough surface, the best wheel dogs to pull the sled around and in any tight corner, the best team George and it is worth nothing because you, musher George, miss the most important element to make a great pack into a winning team. George, what you are missing here is the lead dog..” And I made a short pause, as if talking to a human, to make my point as sharp as a needle sharpened to the level of an atomic sized nip. “George, what you are missing is me. George, is it possible?”
He understood me, oh, God, he understood me. George was quiet for almost twenty four hours. When he spoke again in my ear I could swear I heard a tinge of excitement in his voice. Probably just my overworked imagination.
“Yes, it would be possible, but within certain strict corollaries.” Now here was a word that I certainly understood and even gave me hope. “One of which is that your body must be placed in a state of suspended animation, better said death. Therefore not more than 3 minutes. Maybe slightly more but we do not want to take chances with your life, Nando.”
“My life, George?”
“Yes, your life professor Ferdinand Moskowitz.” Again the title, underlining the solemnity of the moment. “Because if you die we all die, George, humanity, your family. We. All. Die.” George was becoming a poet. I always claimed that the best poets were those who found themselves under extreme distress.
“Then connect me, George, the correct way. And please, don’t let me die.” There was no mockery. There was sincere, heartfelt emotion in my words. And I almost fainted, unheard of for professor Moskowitz, when a protuberance started breaking the ball’s smooth surface and grew outwards, extending towards me while growing at it extremity five smaller protuberances... my God, damn and damnation, for goodness sake, holly crap.... what other expressions out there do exist that I could use and didn’t when George’s protuberance became a hand extended my way, waiting for me to grip it and shake it in this oldest, most eternal, most symbolic, most basic sign of unbreakable comradeship. Brotherhood. Solidarity. Companionship. God, I was getting poetic myself.
I gripped his hand in mine and squeezed it the way I would have squeezed the hand of a best friend I might have had. I never had one, it was time I did. He squeezed back, the contact a mix of softness, roughness, warmth. Five seconds later I let go and the protuberance retracted into the ball.
I sat on the chair, close to the machines, my back turned to them. I was the lead dog, wasn’t I?
Something started growing around the top of the head. It was almost weightless, hardly touching, as if thousands, millions of fibers were attaching themselves to my skull and holding, maybe penetrating, I wasn’t sure. Some of it descended to my eyes, penetrated my nostrils, there was a tingling down my trachea, were they penetrating my chest, my lungs, my heart. ‘I hope I am not going to sneeze,” I thought, and suddenly I smiled. The first alien-human handshake. Ferdinand Moskowitz. The first alien-human symbiosis. Ferdinand Moskowitz. The first and last alien-human save-humanity cooperation. Ferdinand Moskowitz. And, hey, no one will ever know, even if I tell them. I know my humans, I told myself, my smile dying. They will think me crazy and lock me up.
“Nando, we are ready,” I heard the voice.
“I am ready,” someone answered with my voice, probably me. I died.
My brain, freed from the gruesome travails of keeping the body alive and maybe using additional channels to hidden resources unknown of until then started pulling the calculating monsters through paths never thought of by any of their designers. The human brain, the most efficient ever computer and a pack of wild dogs chasing the prey, Pi its name, with all the flair and the determination of a pack of hungry animals leaving it all to pure, basic instincts. I knew with incredible clarity what was happening, which way it was happening, which way I had to go, the prey within reach... how many quintillion quintillions ahead?.... just a few.... And then I woke up from my death.
“I can get there, George, I know I can get there, it was within reach. I need a couple more minutes, George, just a couple more minutes,” I was almost whining.
“A couple more seconds and you die, Nando.”
“OK, let’s try it again. Let’s try again.”
It wasn’t better the second time. I tried intuition, inspiration, imagination and a few other, similar i’s. I kept ending more or less at the same distance from my target, and I knew the target was there but my hand was just one inch too short to reach it.
“George. I need a couple more minutes. Then I have it.”
“Nando, a couple more minutes and no one has it. Think of another approach. Think of a shortcut, cutting through a ravine, swimming across a river... you are human, you know your metaphors better than I.” He should have said ‘better than me’, George was slipping. It was frightening to hear George slipping.
“I am human, I know my limits better than you as well. George, didn’t you mention earlier on that you could, to a certain extent and under certain circumstances, manhandle time?”
Quiet. Was it a good sign or a bad sign? I was not going to move from that chair, whatever waiting time it took.
“We can give you an extra sixty five seconds, Nando. Your body will decay at a reduced rate, compared to the rest of the universe. Your brain will function normally. I hope this will be sufficient.”
“This will be sufficient,” I said, with confidence that I did not feel.
It took them more than an hour to prepare me for my time travel. My entire body was covered with several additional layers of George-units, this time I felt them penetrating inside my chest, my mouth, around the finger tips, toe tips, George seemed to be familiar with the proceeds and he was taking it all very seriously. ‘George, if there was such a thing I would have recommended you for the Ferdinand medal of thoroughness,’ I plagiarized his earlier remark in my mind.
“Are you ready, Nando?”
I got there. Just 2 trillion digits away. Nothing, in terms of distance to the goal. And yet I did not get it. I got there, in the courtyard, and I saw our pack’s prey sitting on the roof and laughing at us and at the stupid, human time-limit-steel-chain forcing us to stop short of it and bark our heads off at the sky.
“George. I am ready.”
“Ready for what, Nando?”
“Ready for the last trip. No need for time travel, it played its role, I know where I have to get to. I will probably not need now more than ten, twenty seconds of death. Then I will have it.” He did not scream in excitement, the way I would expect a musher to have done. He did not ask the human-way, how? He just waited the George-way, shutting up, and letting me do the excitement and the how things. “Now that I know the leading path, I am going to take a completely different approach. I will tackle the problem from the back forwards. I will use all tools at my disposition to find the only combination of digits that will fit and lead from the correct end of Pi to the leading path I found already. A child’s game.”
“Nando, are you certain?”
“As certain as a statistician can be. Hey, bad joke. I am certain George. And soon enough I will have the honor to define the math sciences as the one additional member in the family of inaccurate sciences. Though nobody will ever believe me, correct? You will make sure I will forget the sequence.”
I got the sequence. They got the sequence, all 1024 digits of it. I did not remember it.
“Nando, it is time to send you back to your life.”
“After this? I am not sure I have much life left up there, certainly no scientific life. I hope I still have a wife and kids. But, the way humans say it, I would not have changed one bit of what happened during this period. Well, one little bit, maybe – I would have removed you calling me Ferdinand, he he. Just a little bit, told you. Are you going to return all these machines to their owners?”
“Yes, we will.”
“Hey, there will be riot speculations after this, but humans have a very short memory, I tell you. Luckily there are computers around. Or unluckily, maybe. George, is it time for me to get into my car?”
It was the first time I saw the ball moving from its place, as it floated behind me on the way to the car.
“Say, George. Are you a perfect ball now?”
“Yes, as perfect as the last sequence of Pi allows, and amply sufficient. Some units will have to stay here, they cannot fit in the perfect volume created. They will be split into single units and dispersed around the surface of Earth where they will, in your terms, die. Some will continue a reduced existence in clusters of 2, 4, 8... just to keep an eye on humanity. One never knows.”
“Say,” I was burning to ask it and now that he seemed to be in a positive, talkative mood it seemed as good an occasion as any. “What is this obsession of yours with powers of 2? Or is it a non-disclosable, racial secret?”
I heard laughter in my ear, looked like George had finally discovered laughter. Or maybe he knew it all the time but hesitated on the propriety of using it.
“We live in pairs, Nando. We multiply by two units merging and splitting into four. The binary numbers quantities are for us a way of life. When we multiply we multiply as a nation – half merges with the other half, doubling at the end of a short gestation period the previous total number. Elementary, my dear Watson.” I was about to rush ahead of him verbally and tell him that Doyle actually never created the phrase, but maybe he knew already, maybe he even knew who was the first to ever have said it. I shut up. George carried on. “When we remove units from existence we make sure that the next binary level is reached. It may happen in isolated clusters, it will soon happen for our entire nation. Once we are in the sun we will reach again billions of units. Very fast so, as you certainly have calculated.”
“Yes, times two. The ‘wheat and chessboard problem’,” I smiled.
“Yes. And I could tell you who really invented the game of chess....” and as I was about to answer, a floating small glass ball appeared in front of me... “...but I would rather leave something materialistic with you.” I watched the piece of glass and decided to pick it in my hand, it did not show any resistance. “These are some of the living units that we have decided to leave behind. They are expected to remain basically inert, forever probably.”
“I guess this cluster numbers a power of 2, units” I smiled. “OK, I will put it on display on my books shelf,” I said, placing the glass ball in my pocket.
“Just a small gift from us to you, for giving us life. By the way, I don’t know if you are aware of it, but this is a 200 grams diamond ball in your pocket, about one thousand carats, perfect composition and the smoothest that humanity ever saw. Probably worth a few billions of your money. Thank you Nando, you were a good friend.”
I was probably too stunned to answer in kind, and by the time I remembered my tongue and my manners, complete dizziness overtook me. I hoped this was going to be the last time I was going to die ‘make-believe’ mode. Next time I expected it to be the real one.
I reached my house, dumped the car on the sidewalk and rushed to the door. It was late evening, everybody should have been there. Everybody was there, even and certainly the first – the dog. He started barking madly and jumping madly around me, then my wife fell into my arms and I hugged so wildly that she had to force her way out of my embrace.
“Nando, you are crushing me.”
“Are the children home?” The answer came in the form of a thousand hands, well, figuratively speaking, literally only six which clambered all over me, pulling, screaming, kissing and the dog kept yapping and yapping and yapping and drooling all over everybody inclusive the dinner table... a cacophony that was more melodious to me than all my Elvis concerts, my Stones concerts, my Philharmonic concerts... all of which I’ve been to and loved to pieces.
“Nando, where have you been?” she asked, Sorushka, my sweet, beautiful, lovable and loving Sorushka. I didn’t think of her as Sorushka since those far away courting days, we kept to Soraya for many years now, with the Sorushka emanating from some deeply penetrating racial roots pulling back to my long forgotten Yiddishistic origins.
“Sorushka...” it had the opposite effect to the one I expected. She stiffened, then went to the fridge...”You are probably hungry.” I was actually starved.
I sat down and between bites I told her everything. Not in detail, just the bare amazing facts, my eyes glowing with fervor, my mouth spitting crumbs which the dog gulped immediately. I was sweating, trembling with inner fire... I was finally, academically, vindicated and I expected her to understand perfectly, clearly. She understood. Perfectly, clearly.
“Children, to the bedroom, now!”
It was the tone of voice that did not allow disobedience, the one she kept for those occasions that demanded immediate compliance and execution. They executed, to loud sounds of protest. Even the dog stopped yapping and hid under the table.
She waited for the children to get behind the bedroom’s closed door before she got up, the chair falling noisily behind her, she did not bend to pull it up. She just made a few stumbling steps backwards until she was close to the wall, inching her way to the bedroom door as well.
“Nando, you need help.” Which was a euphemism for ‘Nando, you are insane’. I shove my hand inside my trousers’ pocket, pulled the round bead out and placed it on the table. “What is this?” she asked, watching the glassy object with suspicious eyes.
“This is a diamond. Proof. Worth probably one billion dollars or more. I am not insane, Sorush.” I probably did not sound as un-insane as I tried to. The emotional shiver permanent, the chocking sensation permanent, my voice partnered by a tremolo that made it sound more like the dog’s whine that like Nando’s plea.
The apprehension in her eyes turned real fright. I’ve never seen such fright since that event three months back when we rushed baby Jack to the hospital, burning with terminal 42 Celsius fever. Some bacteria eating his little life away. He was declared clinically dead and a couple minutes later he woke up as good as new. It was declared a medical miracle. I suddenly had a completely new theory about the origin of this miracle.
“Nando, please leave. Please find help. I will prepare a suitcase with sufficient stuff for you to move to a hotel for a few days. Please find help, Nando. I love you, tremendously.” She disappeared behind the door and I heard the key turning in the lock.
I did not wait for my suitcase. I left for a hotel and next day I started my Odyssey. Starting with the police, in case they were looking for me. In fact my wife did report me as a missing person but they assumed it was a romantic escapade... “Not so?” and the female officer winked at me and placed a CLOSED stamp on the paper file. Yes, they heard about the unexplainable hole in the rail of the bridge, impossible but fact, repaired since... hey, do you know something about it? No, the police was not the right place for me to say I knew something about it.
I drove to the university, entered unceremoniously the dean’s office and slammed the bead on his desk.
“Professor Moskowitz, where?...” he did not continue ‘in hell...’ etc, but did the unusual gesture and invited my esteemed colleagues to an urgent meeting in his offices, since “Professor Moskowitz has something extremely important to say and it may place our university on the map...’. They came, all of them - my detractors, my supporters, professors, doctors in mathematics, physics, materials... some of them close to geniuses.
They all listened politely, they all laughed politely, none of them believed me. Not even my supporters. They all looked at me and my disheveled appearance with strange eyes, their regards reminding me very much of my Soraya’s regard. ‘You are crazy, dear professor, clinically so, certifiably so if you ask me.’ It did not help that a couple of gemologists inspected superficially the round blob and voiced an opinion that it might indeed be a very unusual object, a very unusual diamond yet more probably a very accurate zirconia. Such round and pure and big diamonds were impossible, they did not exist.
I thanked them and left. The diamond clasped in my fist and from that moment on this was where I kept it at all times. Even when I went to several gemologists to confirm its composition and assumed value, they had to do it with it resting on my palm. When I went to the auction house I refused to leave it there – take my offer to auction it or go to hell. They did not go to hell. For the short period until the singularly dedicated auction was supposed to take place (they were proposing it to a selected list of potential customers and needed time to approach them) I kept it in my fist. Even when I showered.
There were four attempts at robbery, two with knives, one with a pistol and one with a car trying to run me down. They ended unexplainably with either hands smashed or the car completely disappearing. I was not afraid and I did not look for explanation. There was no attempt after the car event.
It auctioned at one point five billion dollars. I don’t know who the buyer was. After taxes, agents, commissions, security, insurance, sandwiches and other parasites got their share I was left with two hundred and twenty five million dollars. You know the rest. Oh, yes, I even offered the story to a number of Hollywood producers over a couple of very expensive dinners, concluded with nameless cigars and nameless champagne filled glasses. Nameless, told you, no advertising comes for free and I won’t apologize for it. They were all interested. However they wanted a few changes to the scenarios, since it was too bland, they did not see how they could use the marvel of visual effects with the story the way it was. They wanted me to throw a couple Godzillas in, or turn my image into a super hero carrying a sword or at least an arc and arrows, and where was the female character?.... I said good bye to the cigars, the champagne, the Godzillas and sent them all to hell exiting then restaurant through the glass window. Somehow it broke in front of me.
I toured the media, I toured the world. I got tired.
I finally retired to this padded cell with its unlocked door and its three warm meals a day, the doctors are nice, the nurses are gentle, they better be for the money they get. My wife visits me from time to time, she re-married and is happy. She says she still loves me, I believe her. My kids visit rarely. I miss the dog, he died many years ago. I miss my life but, hey, I saved the world. It should count for something in my memoirs, no?
I am about to close this last chapter. You have here all of it - the query, the synopsis, the story, ha... the ‘story’. The world is still alive. I am close to that last and final death I was looking forward to. I am ranging now on the table the few treasures I am left with – newspaper cuts, clippings. A solar flare about forty four years ago. An unexpected volcanic eruption in the ocean around the same time. A small paragraph about a senile (senile?) professor who claims he had met with aliens.. The Brooklyn Bridge maintenance crew cannot explain the railing damage. My wife’s re-marriage in a framed announcement. A singularly strange diamond’s auction. A singularly strange diamond’s disappearance from a vault which still baffles inspectors, probably a Romanian sophisticated gang. A supercomputer stolen and returned. Jack’s graduation with high distinction from the faculty of mathematics, not even one A grade, all of them A+, all the years.
OK, I keep babbling, age, you know.. The piece of granite on my shelf winks at me to end this story... just joking, huh? I do not remember putting it on the shelf, I wonder how it got there. No one dares touch it, the nurses fear it, he he, one tried to clean it...
Thank you for the opportunity and if I win this contest it means you did not believe me either, which is what I would expect. Of course, it also would mean that you enjoyed it as a story. Pity, oh, such a pity...
Joe. Oh, by the way, my name is not Joe. Oh, I said it already?
Local News (http://localnewsatoclock.000webhostapp.com)
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Scientists are baffled at the high rate of solar flares observed around noon in the Northern hemisphere, 87 high energy occurrences counted inside one hour. The flares represent no real danger to life on Earth, however as a matter of precaution small children and people with sensitive skin are advised to avoid any outdoors activities. Flights over the poles are being temporarily suspended, pending ongoing scientific reports.
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Ferdinand Moskowitz, Ph.D Mathematics, 87. In a strange coincidence, professor Ferdinand (Nando) Moskowitz, age 87, passed away peacefully this morning, at his residence in the North Mental Hospital. Professor Moskowitz became momentarily famous 25 years ago for his strange mathematical theories and mainly for his even stranger ‘theories’ related to alien life on Earth. Professor Moskowitz retired from academic life soon afterwards and spent the rest of his life in the Mental Hospital.
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The famous ‘round diamond’ which was stolen mysteriously from its vault about forty years ago, reappeared as mysteriously inside the vault. The owner thanks the thief’s sudden repent. The police and the insurance company investigate a possible fraud attempt.
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Due to unfortunate financial reasons, our local news site is closing. Sorry! We apologize to...