“I guess we’ll have to have class indoors then.” This was not the first time Professor Clifford Barrow made this joke but his students laughed just the same. Despite his tendency to be a bit of a recluse and his inability to make a good joke, Professor Barrow was well respected. Some of his students even liked him.
The class room was bright which stood in stark contrast to the rain and darkness outside. Before Clifford arrived on the planet, he did not realize that when they say it always rains on Ravis, they mean it always rains on Ravis. The sun never broke through the constant rainstorm and the dark clouds enveloped the entire planet forcing a perpetual state of night. This provided few distractions for the students and was one of the reasons Ravis was known for producing the brightest minds in Council Space.
The weather never bothered Clifford. He spent most of his time indoors where things were well lit and always dry. He taught in his classroom or existed in his apartment or traveled in a shuttle on the way from one to the other. The University provided him a driver, so even in transit the constant rain was never more than a backdrop.
“Steve, please bring up the first equation.” A small hum emanated from the 7 foot tall robot in the back and the view screen on the wall lit up with a 2,311 character mathematical equation. “Who recognizes this?” After a few moments several hands went up. “Miss Klein?”
Natalie Klein, a young woman in the front row responded, “Is that the Crabbe equation?”
“I don’t know, is it?”
“Yes, sir. It’s the Crabbe equation, first designed by James Crabbe from Earth.”
“Excellent Miss Klein; extra points for the history lesson. Who knows what is significant about this equation, someone other than Miss Klein? Adam?”
“I didn’t have my hand raised, sir.”
“Does that mean you don’t know the answer?”
“Yes, I mean no, I mean I think I do.”
“Well let’s hear what you think it is.”
Adam fidgeted in his seat for a moment and leaned in as if staring at it long enough would make him more certain of the answer. “It’s for calculating Wormhole jumps, I mean, it’s for navigating or plotting the entrance or exit points when traveling great distances. Right?”
“Boom! Couldn’t have said it better myself, sir. Congratulations.” Clifford stepped out from behind his desk and began addressing the entire class. “The Crabbe equation is what has allowed travel through human generated wormholes. Now, the hardware was developed first. We could generate entrances and exits but it was impossible to know for certain where the exit came out at; there are planets, stars, moons, comets and any number of astrological bodies that could make exiting blindly very dangerous. So to safely plot the exit points we needed to know the math. Now, I want each of you to plot a course from Ravis to Landes 4. You may use your star charts to fill in the variables of course, but shut off your automated navigation systems. I want you all to do the math.” A groan erupted from every student in the room, even as they shut off the systems and began their calculations.
Bryan Chapel, a third year in the back row raised his hand. Without even looking Professor Barrow said, “Yes, Mr. Chapel?”
“Professor, is this really necessary?”
“Do you mean, is it necessary for you to do an assignment your professor is giving you? Yes, that is necessary.”
“But when would we ever need to actually do this? Every Omni-Interface can to work out this equation. It just seems like busy work.”
“You want to know when we would need to do this. Well, ‘need’ is an interesting choice of words, Mr. Chapel. To survive, humans need only to take in nutrients, breath oxygen and expel waste. But as a race, humans have never been satisfied with the bare minimum; of merely existing. There is a drive inside all of us Mr. Chapel,” Clifford slammed his fist down on a desk of a sleeping first year student who jolted in response. “Apparently it’s deeper inside some of us than others. But to make use of this drive, to actually go forward, works like the Crabbe equation must be developed and perfected yes, but more than that they must be understood. What good are tools if a person doesn’t have the wisdom to use them? It is people like you who can take a club and turn it into a purposeful precision instrument.”
“But professor, that’s my point. If someone has already made the club work great, shouldn’t we move on to other clubs?
“Let’s assume for a moment that the reason you’re asking this is because you have a genuine philosophical concern and not simply that you’re lazy.” Clifford never hid his annoyance from his students. He would say it was because he respected them too much. “My job as an educator is not to have you memorize short cuts but to cultivate in you both knowledge and a desire for wisdom. How can you ever go beyond running if you don’t understand walking?”
“I don’t follow professor.”
“Steve, bring up the next slide.” The equation vanished and the image of an elderly man replaced it. “Who knows who this is?” Every student, even Bryan and the sleepy first year student studied the image trying to place him. “Anyone? Does anyone even have a guess?”
“Is it James Crabbe,” Natalie said.
“Negative. Nice try though, Miss Klein. Anyone else?” Clifford let the class sit in silence for over a minute before he continued. “Abraham Meysenburg, not satisfied with the Crabbe equation and possibly tired of having his professors make him workout the solution, insisted that the equation could be simplified. Even though it had been in use for generations and the computers were more than capable of doing the work for him, Meysenburg knew another answer had to be out there. He spent most of his life searching for it. After years of diligent searching, he found it. Steve?” The face was replaced by another, much shorter equation. “The Meysenburg Theorem.”
“So,” Bryan began, “He just made it shorter.”
“Just made it shorter?” Clifford was visibly offended.
“I don’t want to belittle how difficult it was; he was brilliant, clearly. But you said yourself he spent years working on this thing. It just seems to me that it might have been a waste.”
No one made a sound and every eye turned to Professor Barrow waiting for what he would say.
“Mr. Chapel, are you familiar with the Solnet?”
“What is it?”
“Explain to me what the Solnet is, please.”
Bryan wondered what his professor was getting at. He looked around the room hoping someone would back him up. No support was in sight. “The Solnet is a communications network that spans across the known star systems.”
“Correct. Did you ever wonder how it worked?”
“Not really. But then, I’m not a communications major.” The class let out a small laugh and even Clifford chuckled.
“Well, it’s an extremely complex and difficult task to plot a course and then to generate a traversable wormhole and then to send a ship from one star system to another. Imagine then, the incalculable bits of data that would be needed to allow your handheld devices, those little POI’s on your wrist, to connect to and to retrieve information that was being generated from another handheld device on another planet, even one in the same system let alone from another star. Now imagine billions of people accessing the same system at the same time. Are you imagining?”
“And it seems like a lot of data.”
“Indeed it is. For years communication on a single planet was easy but to communicate to another star system was a process that took months and was only available to a few. That is until… Steve?” The face of Abraham Meysenburg reappeared on the screen. “I present to you the father of the Solnet, who was also not a communications major. You see Mr. Chapel, while Meysenburg did stand on the shoulders of Crabbe, it was his full understanding of Crabbe’s work that allowed him to go further. A computer can answer questions, but only humans can ask them. Never be satisfied with standing still. The more prepared you are the further forward you can go, and if you’re prepared enough, humanity will follow. Now, I’d like to see some courses plotted to Landes 4.”
Clifford and Steve walked through the halls of the University toward the transport landing pad. The two were a common sight for the students. There was Clifford Barrow, the not tall professor in his late twenties and Steve, the 7 foot tall faceless android. Like all Simov-3 model androids, Steve had an optional face but Clifford always thought it was creepy. When they first met Clifford programmed Steve to find the face uncomfortable so he never wore it. The only drawback was that when the two of them were speaking Clifford had a hard time knowing where to look.
Unlike other professors, Clifford didn’t keep office hours and always raced to reach the shuttle without being stopped by a student or some other faculty member that felt like a chat. He thrived in the classroom setting where he was confident that he was the smartest person in the room. Outside, where people valued skills other than intelligence, he preferred to be alone.
“How did they do, Clifford?”
“Not horrible. See for yourself.” He uploaded the Landes 4 results into the droid’s memory. “Most of them at least would have arrived at the right star. Adam Clark got the closest. He plotted a course directly into its core.”
“I wouldn’t say that. Can you think of a quicker death than sudden exposure to those temperatures?”
“I was imagining the gravity pulling every atom in his body apart.”
“Gruesome,” Clifford echoed.
“How did you know the Meysenburg Theorem would be relevant to today’s lesson?”
“It was today’s lesson. I want these kids to be motivated to seek out information rather than just replicate it. Math is not often thought of as an exploratory science; hopefully they think a little differently now.”
“Professor?” a voice called out from behind.
“Keep walking Steve. Pretend you can’t hear.”
“I can hear her heartbeat Clifford; it is not likely that she would believe that I could not hear her yelling from 25 feet away. Besides, she is running to catch up. You might as well turn around.”
“Damn.” Clifford turned to face the enthusiastic young Natalie Klein. She hadn’t expected the professor to stop and couldn’t stop herself in time. She collided into him and knocked him back into Steve who didn’t budge an inch. “Miss Klein, what a pleasant surprise.”
“Sorry sir but I’m glad I caught you.”
“Actually I’d say I caught you.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she said stifling a snort.
“I was close to leaving. So close. What can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to thank you for today’s lesson.”
“Really?” Clifford failed to hide the surprised look on his face.
“Absolutely. Most teachers just bark out the information and want us to repeat it back. You seem like you genuinely want us to lear. I appreciated that.”
“Of course I do. I’d be wasting time if I didn’t, both space and time.”
Natalie laughed again and Clifford wondered if he missed a joke that she had made. It would not have been the first them something like that happened.
“I didn’t really do anything. You’re a very bright student and you’ve come a long way this semester. You should be proud of your work.”
Steve’s voice piped up. “Your transport is waiting Professor.”
“Oh I’m sorry,” Natalie said, “I’m sure you must have other important things to do. I don’t want to keep you.”
“It’s no worry,”
“Do you mind if I walk with you?”
“Not at all.”
The three made for the landing pad. “So, you’re a fan of Nikolai Haldane?” Natalie asked.
“What makes you say that?”
“You quoted him, during your lesson, ‘The more prepared you are the further forward you can go; if you’re prepared enough humanity will follow.’ That’s the last thing he said before the maiden voyage of the Yngvar. Right?”
“Right. You could say I’m a fan, I guess. Kikolai was a genius.”
“Like Meysenburg and Crabbe?”
“Nikolai Haldane is in a class all his own, or was. Don’t get me wrong, those two were revolutionary but how can you compare them to the man who created the synthetic brain technology? He actually invented something that can learn. He’s the reason I have Steve. Not to mention he designed the on board TW generator. The day the Yngvar disappeared the human race lost a great man.”
“Good thing we have others to take his place, right?” Natalie jabbed her elbow into Clifford’s side. He couldn’t stop his grin.
“I guess. But I’m just a professor.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, sir. You are brilliant. I think you could do something just as great or greater than old Nikolai.”
Clifford was taken aback, not by her opinion, but by how much it suddenly seemed to matter to him. “Well, we all have to have goals Natalie, no matter how futile they may be. If we aim for nothing…”
“We’ll always find it. Here we are.”
He realized they had arrived at the landing pad. Steve was standing near the open door of his transport. “Yes, here we are.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, professor. You too Steve.” She turned and started to leave.
But before she got far Clifford shouted out, “Congratulations by the way, you plotted the closest course to Landes 4.”
“Really,” she took a few steps back towards Clifford. “Did I reach orbit?”
“Let’s just leave it at you were the closest.” Clifford took an over exaggerated look around and whispered, “By a long shot.”
“Wow, thanks.” Her eyes brightened when she heard the news and he noticed for the first time that they were a light blue with black flecks outlined in gold. Optical Implants, he thought.
“Excellent observation, sir.” She held out her hand. “Tomorrow?”
“Absolutely.” He grabbed it and gave it a hardy shake. “Good day, Miss Klein.”
“Good day.” Natalie turned and walked back towards the University corridors. Clifford Barrow turned and crawled into his transport but he kept his attention on the young woman walking away, until the doors closed behind her.
“Where to Clifford?” Steve asked from the front seat.
“What? Oh, just the apartment.”
“Yes sir. Clifford may I ask you a question?”
“Upon review of the results from your class I find that Miss Klein did not plot the closest course to Landes 4.”
“That’s not a question Steve.”
“In fact hers was not even in the top 10.”
“Really? I guess I must have been mistaken.”
The vehicle hummed to life and lifted with ease off the landing pad and pulled out into the rain.