So the two young men had met over a common problem ... time to see what came of that....
At DuQuesne's knock, a somewhat tired tenor voice from within the office said "Come in."
DuQuesne took a deep breath, trying to make sure he stayed calm and focused, and glanced at Richard Seaton, who nodded. DuQuesne grasped the knob and opened the door.
Professor Bryson's brown eyes widened and eyebrows rose momentarily as he saw both DuQuesne and Seaton enter, then dropped lower; DuQuesne thought there was a touch of defensiveness as well as annoyance in the expression.
"Excuse us for bothering you, Professor," he began, with the most conciliatory tone he could manage. That wasn't particularly conciliatory, and he'd wanted Seaton to do the talking, but the other man had insisted – he wasn't quite sure why. "First, we both owe you an apology."
Bryson started a thin smile, then it faded. "I… believe I owe you one as well, sir."
DuQuesne was momentarily startled out of his train of thought. "Sir?"
"I… was rather childish in my dismissal of you. I do run an ordered classroom, and I dislike intensely being interrupted – let alone contradicted – while I am teaching. However, none of that excuses juvenile mockery, and deliberately mispronouncing your name was juvenile and uncalled-for. For that I apologize." He turned to Seaton. "And in turn, I apologize to you, Mr. Seaton, for an equally insulting turn of phrase, perhaps prompted by confronting the exact same contradiction twice in two periods."
Dammit. It's a lot harder to try to just crush a man's arrogance when he goes and apologizes first. "Accepted, sir."
Seaton waved it away. "Don't worry, already forgotten, Professor. And as Marc says, we owe you one too."
Bryson smiled, a smile less sarcastic and more professional. "Harkness, Smith and Jones are very good, aren't they?"
"They are," DuQuesne acknowledged. "They put forth the theoretical underpinnings clearly and proceed to march you through to the conclusion in a pretty much inescapable sequence. And it's clear that you not only know the sequence, you understand it, and so we were arguing with you in your specialty – and, as you say, in front of your class. So for that, we both apologize."
"As he says, sir," Seaton confirmed.
Bryson nodded. "Apologies both accepted." He began to turn to his papers, then looked up as he realized the others were not leaving. "Is there… something else, gentlemen?"
"Yes, sir." DuQuesne looked over at Seaton, who pulled out a sheaf of papers.
"We're still not entirely convinced, sir," Seaton said, "but perhaps you can show us where we're going wrong."
For a moment, Bryson's narrow face reddened, giving him the look of a man who thinks he's being played for a fool. But he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and opened them. "At least this is the right setting. And I suppose I can't fault someone who actually wants to see where things come from." He took the papers and started to glance over them. "Ah, questioning the basic postulates. Always a fine place to start, though of course it's the one everyone tries. How long have you two been working on this?"
Seaton looked embarrassed. "Well, sir, since that evening, pretty much straight. We keep banging into the same brick wall."
"Skipping some of your other classes to work on this?" Bryson shook his head. "Gentlemen, I admire dedication and thoroughness, but I would prefer it be focused on something other than trying to undo well-established work. I confess, however, that I wish more of your classmates were willing to spend a tenth that much time on their work.
"Still, it's a terrible waste of time for such obviously talented young men; I'll wager I'll find your error within fifteen minutes."
DuQuesne, while feeling vastly warmer towards Bryson now than he had in days – maybe since he came here – found the last part nettling. "I'll bet you don't, not that fast."
"Shall we say… ten dollars, then?"
DuQuesne's own black eyebrow rose. "Didn't see you as a betting man, sir."
"I only bet on sure things, Mr. DuQuesne. I know six different extremely common errors in this area, two of which are quite subtle and able to throw off even very clever young men. Are you going to go through with this bet now?"
DuQuesne hesitated fractionally. How sure am I?
Seaton spoke up. "If he won't have any of that action, I will, sir. You're the expert, but between the two of us we've poured an awful lot of skull sweat into this and there's just no way you're finding anything that fast."
"Exactly and precisely right," DuQuesne confirmed, momentary hesitation gone.
Bryson chuckled. "Very well then. Ten to both of you. Now step outside and give me fifteen uninterrupted minutes, and when you come back in I will explain to you where you went wrong."
Seaton led the way out; the two glanced at each other, with Seaton being the first to speak. "So, Marc… you figure we've just totally embarrassed ourselves?"
DuQuesne shrugged, trying not to look as though the idea bothered him. "If you're worried about it, you shouldn't have taken that bet." DuQuesne knew now that Rich Seaton was far from rich – unlike DuQuesne's father, Seaton's hadn't owned particularly valuable land, nor saved much to pass on to his son. He regretted having taken his new friend to Perkins' Steak and Chophouse, because Seaton had spent a hell of a lot of money he really couldn't afford at that dinner.
"He thinks he's got us, Marc, but I think we were the ones with a sucker bet."
"I sure hope you're right."
The two didn't talk much more, just walked short distances and paced, both checking their watches at intervals that seemed to be giving evidence that the watches were slowing down. The last sixty seconds of that fifteen-minute wait, DuQuesne said to himself, took longer than the fourteen minutes that came before them.
On the very tick of the last second, DuQuesne pushed open the door. "Professor?"
Bryson did not appear to hear him. To DuQuesne's surprise, the notes they'd given to Bryson were spread out over half the desk, with a large chunk of the rest of Bryson's large oak desktop covered by sheets filled with scribbled notations, half-finished calculations, and other papers which had not been there when they left. Bryson was bent over one particular part of their notes, with a notepad in hand, slowly working through parts of the calculations.
"Professor? Professor Bryson?" Seaton said, trying to get his attention.
The mention of his name caused the older man to start and glance up. "Yes?" He looked at the two of them, and an expression of chagrin crossed his face. He put the notepad down, reached into his pocket, and drew out his wallet; from that he pulled two ten-dollar notes and silently handed them to DuQuesne and Seaton, gesturing for them to sit down.
"And now you have thoroughly chastised me, young men. None of the obvious errors at all. We have considerable work ahead of us – as I presume you are still interested in knowing the answer?"
"Well, of course, Professor, but we don't want to take up too much of your time –" Seaton began.
Bryson waved that away impatiently. "Think nothing of it. This is not a classroom, where I have a responsibility to maintain order and keep the focus on the vast majority of the class who need to understand the basics – and won't, unless I beat them into their heads. You've presented an interesting problem and I've never yet seen this particular approach used before. It's more than worthwhile for my own knowledge to see how this one comes out."
The two young men sighed with relief. This is working out better than I thought. Seaton was right. The whole idea of coming to do the apologies had been Rich Seaton's, even if he'd had DuQuesne do some of the talking; DuQuesne had felt Bryson would at best accept their apologies and then kick them out, and at worst assume they'd come to argue again and kick them out before they had a chance to talk. I was wrong. He's a martinet in the classroom and probably jaded and bored from teaching the same thing over and over, but he's nothing like what I'd thought – or, for that matter, what Rich thought. He grinned; Richard Seaton had emphatically negated using the other common nickname for "Richard" – given the recent slang use of the word, DuQuesne couldn't blame him. "Then we'd be honored to work it out with you, sir."
"Pull your chairs up, then, gentlemen – and get that other table over here. You've spent two days on this problem, and I now am forced to admit that not only are you both extremely bright, but also that you are very meticulous in your work. If you've spent two days, I'm sure that even with my help this is not going to be a matter of minutes." He grinned suddenly, the expression making him look years younger. "Fortunately we have the weekend ahead of us, eh?"
The two laughed. "I hope not the whole weekend," Seaton said as he bent over the desk, "I've got a tennis tournament on Sunday morning!"
"By God… I think this is it," Bryson said slowly, rubbing one hand over his exhausted face and shoving away a small mountain of paper, take-out boxes, and other debris from the last… two days?… to make room for the new sheet of paper that DuQuesne and Seaton had just finished. He reached out and picked it up in a trembling hand. "By God, I think it really is."
"But it's complete speculation, sir," Seaton pointed out; DuQuesne saw the circles under his fair-haired friend's eyes, wondered if his were as obvious with his darker skin.
"Not speculation, Mr. Seaton!" Bryson corrected sharply. "Theory. What we… no, let me be honest with myself, you, you and Mr. DuQuesne, have devised is a new theory of spacetime, one extending our simple understanding of what we might term etheric physics to imply a new order, a third order of being which exists in what we might call the… meta-ether? Super-ether?"
"Sub-ether, I'd say. It deals with underlying foundations of the ether, so sub for below," DuQuesne said.
"Sub-ether, then. And thus your argument – which proceeded from your intuition initially, based on minor statistical anomalies in the experiments of Arcot, Wade, and Morey earlier in this century – is shown to have excellent basis. As nuclei become larger, past a certain point this concentration of mass-energy begins to interact with the sub-etheric matrix, creating a… well, resonance, a vibrational reaction in multidimensional space, which has the effect of strengthening the binding forces within certain resonant bands. Thus there can, and in fact must, be stable elements to be found past those currently known."
"But doesn't this completely contradict Einstein, and Arcot's conclusions?"
"No more than Einstein 'contradicted' Newton, young man. Newtonian mechanics are still perfectly valid within their realm, and to at least some extent we have observed Einstein's predictions to hold – despite certain anomalies in later experiments such as gravity lensing. Now these anomalies, and others, can be reconciled, showing relativity itself to have the position of a special case within some still-to-be-defined set of cases."
"And it's not just us, sir," DuQuesne said. "Without you, we might still be banging our heads into that wall. You at least showed us where we were making unwarranted assumptions, even if it turned out those left us heading in a completely different direction."
Bryson sat up, face brightening despite his exhaustion. "Well… that is true, possibly. Yes, I suppose I could take some credit for that."
"Not all that much to take credit for," DuQuesne said, momentarily pensive. "Anyone can construct some airy-fairy theory. If we can't produce some real evidence –"
"That's right, Blackie, find us the problems," Seaton said with a grin.
"'Blackie'?" Bryson repeated with a raised eyebrow as DuQuesne looked momentarily embarrassed.
"I nicknamed him that because he's always finding the tarnish on the silver linings. And because he's dark everywhere I'm light, too, of course."
"But I'm right, aren't I?" DuQuesne said, sticking to the subject.
"Hmm… not precisely, er, Blackie," Bryson said with a small smile. "Firstly, not just anyone can create a theory that holds together under scrutiny. What we have here not only allows for known physical behaviors, but successfully explains some known anomalies which have been puzzling physicists for the last decade and more, a theory which in addition offers some clear and testable predictions. Secondly, most theories of major elements of reality must, in fact, start as theories with no more evidence than that." He looked at the two of them, and a broad smile slowly spread across his face. "You boys don't quite understand what you've done here, but we might – just might – have changed the entire way we view the universe."
Adjustment complete. Preparing for first Denouement and Resolution. A pause. The rehabilitation of Bryson was reasonably easy, but I would caution against … additional enhancements.
Ha! Worried that I might be heading in her direction? Never fear. No more changes than implied by the current course.
Well enough then. Her requirements demanded an additional T-9 just to handle design and implication resolution. A flicker of a smile. It is not within my Visualization that you would make those mistakes.
I want to watch the real story unfold, not rewrite it on every level.
You can relax, then. It will be some time; next event in… one month, taking accelerated time into account.