Mathématique: Chapter 44
With a growing sense of horror, he tried to recall anything about himself.
Revised Author’s Notes: This is a piece of fan fiction. It’s a trope-twisting, epic-length, crossover AU that spans all three series of Stargate. There’s a lot of science. A lot of plot. A lot of emotions. Timelines have been slightly altered so that season 4 of Stargate Atlantis (without Carter in command) occurs contemporaneously to season 10 of SG-1, which occurs in the year prior to season 1 of SGU.
Disclaimer: I’m not making money from this; please don’t repost to other sites.
Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Injury.
He woke alone, beside a river. The sounds of traffic, unseen and irregular, accompanied his view of a pale sky unobstructed by clouds. Beneath his back, the ground was warm and damp and covered with grass.
He sat, and the world pitched, unstable.
Clutching a handful of grass with a primitive clamping of fingers, he waited out the tilting of his visual field with eyes fixed on the swath of green in front of him. The ground. The ground that shouldn’t move. The ground that was a static reference frame. Most of the time.
His shoulders hurt with the ache of an unremembered wrenching.
When visual vagaries capitulated to a stability of landscape that seemed real enough, he looked out over the water, a brown tinged blue, irregularities in its surface crested with reflected light from the low-set sun.
It was late evening. Or early morning. The scarcity of human activity put the odds on the latter. Like as not it did. He thought it did.
The more-or-less-maintained spread of green on which he found himself gave way to the river in a ledged margin of reeds and the shallow wetness of water on the verge of bursting its banks. A short distance ahead and above him, a bridge rose over the river, white-painted railings decking a triple arcade of stone. Cars rattled across it, half-concealed. The low murmur of their engines could be heard at intervals.
He considered the bridge, the only thing spanning the void of his thoughts.
He looked over his shoulder, at the not-too-distant asphalt of the road—pale and smooth, bordered by the off-white ribbons of sidewalks scored with regular grooves where grass infiltrated cracks in the cement.
The formation of his question and its incipient answer seemed to grow together out of the empty places in his mind.
Where was he? He didn’t know.
With the acknowledgement of aberration came an attendant alarm. His hands rose in uneasy symmetry, passing over his shoulders, his chest, his hips, his legs—looking for any kind of injury, for something that might explain his presence here. His right side was a patchjob of pain, sharp and occasionally stinging, running from shin to hip to ribs to shoulder to arm, evidence that he’d done himself something of a damage. He must have fallen. But he’d not woken on his right side. He’d woken on his back.
His shirt, white with an uneven crispness, was torn at the right cuff; a disquieting fringe of dried blood ornamented the edges of the tear. He rolled up the sleeve to conceal its bloodied fringe and saw an irregular abrasion on his right arm, as if he had skidded across a hard surface. The stinging of his right leg beneath the denim of his jeans indicated that there might be another injury, so he gingerly pulled up his pant leg to reveal a second expanse of abraded skin stretching from mid-calf to knee.
He brought his hands to his face and—the glasses surprised him. But, finding them in place, he checked their integrity and then continued, combing his fingers through his hair, searching for evidence of a head injury, evidence of—
His left hand stopped at something. Something—something made of metal and affixed to his temple. He pulled at it, gently at first, and then harder, with both hands. Stubborn thing, it was. It wouldn’t come. He stopped pulling so hard, and with an apprehensive tracing, he explored the edges of whatever it was with the tips of his fingers.
The device was small, smooth, subtle, likely mostly concealed by his hair, and attached with a troubling tenacity. Running his hands through his hair near his right temple, he found an identical device.
Right then, definitely atypical. Also upsetting.
It didn’t seem to be doing anything? Searching for context, he realized his context wasn’t adequate. Maybe it was doing something. Probably it was. Certainly it was. What kind of person would have pieces of metal affixed to his head? In the face of increasing sympathetic activation, with the distraction of racing heart and shallow breath, he couldn’t think of any class of person for whom this would be normal.
What kind of person was he?
He realized he didn’t know.
Why was he here?
He didn’t know.
Where was he?
He didn’t know.
If he didn’t know these things—then who might know them?
He didn’t know.
With a growing sense of horror, he tried to recall anything about himself. Anything at all. His occupation—because, yes well, people had occupations, and he looked like a person with an occupation, given the dark leather of his shoes, the state of his jeans, the dress shirt he was wearing, the fact that he owned a pair of glasses. Where he lived—because he like as not lived somewhere, people didn’t wander the streets in clothes like this. People he knew—he must know someone, because everyone knew someone. Even in the face of a demonstrable, gaping deficit in his knowledge regarding himself and his circumstances, the final question and its realization seemed a long time in coming.
Who was he?
He didn’t know.
He didn’t know.
He took a deep breath, abruptly lightheaded as his fingers pressed against the edge of the device affixed to his right temple. Who was he and where was he and why was he here and where was here and other unanswerable questions continued to interrogate the places in his mind that used to know but no matter his concentration, no matter his petrifying intensity of focus— No answers came. Nor did any feel imminent.
He looked at the knitted strips of river, road, and sidewalks, at their fraying intersection with the curved stone arc of the bridge that stretched before and away from him. Twisting, he followed the ribbons of lawn and water back until they overlapped out of sight behind the tumbled lines of an unfamiliar cityscape viewed from too low a vantage point to enable any kind of recognition.
He was alone.
He was fair certain that when people woke up next to rivers, not knowing who they were, the next step would be to locate a hospital. But. He was also fair certain that when people woke up next to rivers, not knowing who they were, dressed like they’d been attending some kind of business-casual meeting, and with devices affixed to their temples—well, perhaps a bit more prudence would be in order.
He stood, feet to the grudging give of grass. As he straightened, he felt a sharp pain in his right knee, right shoulder, and back. The landscape took on a greyish cast, the green strip of choked earth and the blue of sky and water faded, blurring to a spectral slate. He leaned over, hands on knees, head down, until his vision cleared, before he staggered to a tree maybe six meters or so from where he was standing and pressed a hand against its ridged solidity.
He felt sick and famished in confusing simultaneity. Was it possible he had gotten himself wrecked? Pure wrecked? Was it possible that he was, currently, wrecked? He didn’t feel hung over. Mentally, he felt relatively sharpish, dubious coordination aside.
He leaned against the tree.
Only then did it occur to him to check his pockets.
Right then, maybe he was not quite so sharpish as he’d assumed.
With one hand still pressed against the rough bark of—well, he wasn’t skilled with tree classification, apparently, because he hadn’t the faintest—of whatever type of tree this was, he shook his head, realized that was a mistake, and then held still until he restabilized. Using his free hand, he began a rapid inventory of the pockets of his jeans.
In the front right pocket he turned up nothing. In the front left pocket he turned up a posh cigarette lighter engraved with the words: Knock it off, won’t you? Not useful. He repocketed the thing and moved on to the right back pocket, from which he pulled an unadorned wallet of black matte leather. Flipping it open, he found the California Driver’s License of ‘Nicholas Rush’.
Struggling with the attendant sense of dread that accompanied his total lack of recognition when presented with the name and features of what was likely an abstracted version of himself, he studied the picture and the description. It took him only seconds to conclude that there was strong reason to believe that he was, indeed, the person pictured. He was going to need a mirror to be certain.
He grimaced and shut the wallet in the face of unexpected guilt at the lack of cognitive dissonance. He felt no sense of recognition. Absolutely none. Maybe it wasn’t his wallet.
He needed that mirror.
He gave his surroundings an agitated once over. Other than a lone jogger who had rounded a distant corner and was proceeding along the sidewalk, her hair tormented by the rhythm of her gait, there was no one to be seen.
The principle of parsimony would suggest that the wallet he held was indeed his, and therefore there was no need for guilt of any cause when examining it. If he was Nicholas Rush, then it was a fair bet that this was California, though nothing in the restless murmur of the river or the architecture of the distant bridge struck him as particularly reminiscent of the western coast of the United States.
It should be noted, however, that his ability to judge such things was limited at best.
He reopened the wallet and resumed a quick inventory of its contents, beginning with the card at the upper left and working his way down and then lateral. A blue and white insurance card—a Federal plan, issued to Nicholas Rush. Several credit cards. A University of California at Berkeley Faculty ID card. The business card of Victor Swift, ‘avant-garde flautist’? Frowning, he turned that one over, to find a message written in scripted pencil on the reverse side that read: What do you say we get out of here, darling? Unsigned. He replaced it where he’d found it. The business card of Dr. Daniel Jackson, Ph.D. in Archeology, Linguistics, and History. No institutional affiliation. The business card of Colonel David Telford, United States Air Force. A phone number was scrawled on its reverse side in loose ink. The black and pink business card of someone by the name of ‘Vala Mal Doran’ who purported to be a: Peaceful Explorer, Personal Shopper, and Fashion Consultant.
Perhaps Nicholas Rush was a collector of notable business cards?
Along with the unimpressive imprest of twenty-eight dollars in cash, he also found a piece of paper, folded to fit alongside the bills. He opened it to see an intricate and mostly incomprehensible drawing signed: J. Shep, in an angular hand that very much fit the unsettled aesthetic of everything above it. There was something disturbing that haunted the edges of those freehand lines, and he put it away, uncomfortable.
None of it, not the collection of cards, not the identity or name or appearance of ‘Nicholas Rush,” not the drawing by ‘J. Shep,’ nor the engraved lighter, triggered even the faintest echo of recognition.
None, at all.
He shut the wallet and pocketed it in a fluid slide that seemed to lend credence to the idea that it was, indeed, his. Possessed of a slowly increasing remorse at confronting the evidence of an overwritten man he couldn’t remember, struggling with a precarious sense of selfhood, and feeling fair wretched, he leaned against the tree and tried to decide on a sensible course of action.
He traced the contours of the thing on his left temple. He needed a mirror. He needed a mirror, some privacy, a better idea of his current location, and a place to sort himself that was not an exposed strip of grass between a river and a road.
The jogger he had noted earlier was getting closer to his position. In the distance, he could see another. He wondered what time it was. It felt early. It felt like he hadn’t slept. But of course, that was impossible. Because he’d just woken up.
Unless he’d been unconscious.
Yes well, upon reflection, that seemed more likely.
Pushing away from the tree he’d been leaning against, he cut toward the road with its fringe of sidewalk, hoping he didn’t appear too obviously unkempt in any way.
It was warm and humid and the cloudless sky promised the inevitability of oppressively high temperatures as the day progressed. California was warm. Was that where he was? Odds were good.
He found it difficult to address an anxiety that had no point or condition upon which it could be fixed.
Reaching up, he traced the edge of the device affixed to his right temple as he headed toward the white-railinged arch of the bridge. The rising grade of the sidewalk was enough to make him feel lightheaded and more winded than he might have expected as he made his way to the near end of the bridge. Leaning against the metal rail, he surveyed his surroundings.
The river stretched in both directions, wide and blue and empty, until it vanished in a curve around and through a low city skyline of red brick and white trim. Across the water he could see the spectral outline of intermittent skyscrapers through the haze of humid air as they jutted above an older stratum of rust-colored masonry.
It did not look immediately familiar to him, but—
He very much doubted that he was in California. The aesthetic of Berkeley, of the San Francisco Bay, was something—not that he personally remembered per se, but that he could name—something bright and glittering and crawling out of the sea. That was somewhere he would be able identify, he was certain of it, with the same certainty he had when it came to the naming of things—the identification of shirts and watches and lighters and wallets and bridges and water and roads.
This panorama of river and city was an unfamiliar mixture of urban and collegiate, and it did not help him locate himself within the confused geographies of his thoughts. He looked up at the nearest pair of street signs—white letters on a green background announced the convergence of Memorial Drive and Western Avenue.
Rather than crossing the bridge and heading toward the irregular vista of skyscrapers in the distance, he turned down Western Avenue, toward the wood-trimmed red brick jutting within, around, and through the leaves of overhanging trees.
The air was thick with invisible water. The sidewalks were uneven and cracked, panels of cement or drapes of brick made irregular by the heave of an underlying tree-root. The narrow streets were lined with buildings of brick and of wood and choked with vehicles bearing license plates of the New England persuasion—Connecticut, Vermont, but, most frequently, Massachusetts.
A rusted box of blue metal with a transparent plastic cover, advertising copies of The Boston Globe cut through the converging of his emergent suspicions and straight to a final answer. Boston, then. Or some subsidiary city. He supposed that the homes and businesses he had passed evinced a stochastically colonial style. Possibly. Architecture, it seemed, was not an area in which he had more than marginal competence.
What was he doing in Boston when he was, at least presumably, from California?
Or, the better question certainly was: what had he been doing. Because whatever it had been, he certainly wasn’t doing it now.
He needed to get a look at whatever it was that was attached to his temples, think his current situation through in a logical fashion, and obtain as much additional information about himself as possible in a manner that was relatively circumspect. A public library seemed like a reasonable means to such an end. He was certain he couldn’t be far from one, not in an area this outrageously, reassuringly collegiate.
After approximately fifteen minutes of walking in the warm shade of quiet streets, Western Avenue broadened. The trees thinned out and the buildings rose higher on either side as cars and joggers and early morning commuters with their purposeful strides and their sunglasses became more frequent.
He wished, fruitlessly, for shades of his own.
Once residential neighborhoods had definitively given way to coffee shops, vintage clothing stores, and the other useless ephemera preferred by the American intelligentsia, he spied a likely looking person—male, young, about his own height, with dark, spiked hair sporting bright green streaks. He wore headphones that vanished into a pocket and had a racket of some kind slung across his back. In response to a raised hand, the man slowed, pulling his shades down in reflective, cautious courtesy.
“Awright mate,” he said, “we wis lookin’ t’ fin’ a lib’ry, y’thin’ y’mi’ know ah one?” He immediately clapped a hand to his mouth, closed it into a fist, and then let it fall away as he stepped back a pace.
“Um,” the young man said, pulling off his shades entirely and cocking his head. “What?”
Bloody hell. What was wrong with him? Because something was. Something was definitely wrong with him. He’d taken a worse turn than he’d thought. He’d had a stroke. Had he? Was he neurologically damaged in some way? He didn’t feel neurologically damaged. But then, like as not, he wouldn’t, that was the thing with neurological damage.
“Are you okay?” the young man asked, taking a half step forward, and mirroring the alarm that he was certain was written all over his face.
He waved the man off and continued on, determinedly and quickly in the direction he had been headed, resolutely not looking behind him, even when the man called after him, persisting out of curiosity, or some altruistic impulse.
“Fuck,” he whispered, in experimental alarm. That sounded all right. “Nicholas Rush,” he murmured. That sounded, if not perfect, at least passable. “Excuse me,” he said, voice low, trying not to appear crazy or three sheets to it to any passersby, “but where is the lib’ry. Library. Li. Brary?” He tried to think of something else to say and settled instead for reading a nearby street sign. “Nae parkin’,” he read, trying to loosen up on his diction and listen to himself, “’tween th’ hours ah—two AM an’ six AM.“
He was not an American. He had an accent. “From the U.K.,” he tried, “eh no?” Right then. He was Scottish. He was, quite literally, from Scotland. So he had not seen that one as having his name on it. But then, he supposed he wouldn’t have, not with a California issued ID.
Half an hour of walking and an inquiry more articulate found him in front of the Cambridge public library, surveying an expansive, modernist rectangle of paneled glass that was difficult to look at in the reflected light of early morning, when the rays of the ascendant sun lit up the surface to a searing yellow glow.
The place was, of course, closed. Not unexpected at something like the back of six in the AM. After fruitlessly trying the doors and checking the hours of the place, he walked back across the pale expanse of unvarying cement in front of the thing and sat down to wait in the shade of a low wall, adjacent to an empty rack where bicycles might be locked.
A nonchalant twenty minutes after the official opening of the library, he straightened his undoubtedly worse-for-wear dress shirt and entered the building, passing into air-conditioned space with the feeling of breaching some invisible, atmospheric wall. In front of him, shelves of books spread out, low and labyrinthine around a central, open altar to the personal computer before they rose at the periphery of the room, creating false corridors and a sense of spaces unseen.
Children, coffin-dodgers, and dubious persons not otherwise engaged had already begun perusing the shelves, retrieving newspapers and opening them atop sunlit wooden tables. This was not what he wanted.
So he followed the promise of the peripheral shelves, certain that there must be areas less trafficked, and finally found a staircase. He descended to a lower level, and, after a short time spent wandering amidst a dimly lit collection of the back-issues of various periodicals, both academic and popular, he found an isolated lavatory, tile floored, fluorescently lit, with a greenish cast that implied that this particular room had either escaped a drastic renovation or had been part of some other, older building, demolished to make way for the modern glass cube that now lay over it.
He walked to the sink, turned, and regarded himself in the mirror.
Someone unfamiliar looked back at him from behind glasses he didn’t recognize, beneath the fringe of sweat-damp hair that was slightly too long. He gave his reflection a disapproving look as he compared it to the image on the driver’s license he carried. A quick shift of gaze from hand to mirror was all that was required to conclude that he was, indeed, Nicholas Rush, a middle-aged, underweight Scot of tastefully masculine apparel, who had, at one point, lived in California and been a faculty member at UC Berkeley. Other than a scrape along the underside of his right jaw, he was of unimpressive appearance—if one did not consider the small, identical devices attached to each side of his head.
But that, of course, was primarily what he focused on. With a tense glance at the closed door behind him, he swept his hair aside and leaned in close to the mirror to get a look at the thing on his right temple. It was small, square, silver, and rested just below the frames of his glasses. There was a piece of electrical tape overtop the device. He pried it up, sliding the nail of one index finger beneath it to reveal a shallow depression from which a blue light shone.
He pressed his eyebrows together, unsettled. Right, so that was odd. To say the least. He reaffixed the tape.
Parsimonious analysis would dictate that if one woke up disoriented to person and place, with pieces of unfamiliar technology attached to one’s head and positioned in such a way that suggested said technology might be capable of influencing the neocortex, yes well, the most prudent course of action would then be to remove those devices.
Off they’d come then.
Careful inspection revealed two depressible regions on the superior and inferior edges of the metal. He pressed both regions simultaneously, and, with a sickening, stinging release, the thing came free and dropped into his palm. He examined it intently, his eyes tracing its contours, following its form as if that might be some kind of window into its function.
In the silence of a deserted bathroom, he heard the eerie echo of a low chord, at once alien and autochthonous. Startled, he turned, his eyes sweeping the room. But he was alone.
He looked up at the ceiling and then down at the thing he held.
He whistled a cautious, perfect overtone and heard a difference between the sound carried over the air and the sound that resonated in his thoughts.
He swallowed. Slowly, he reached up, left handed, and snapped the other device off his head. As it came free in his hand—
A tonal wall crescendoed into him, dissonant and de profundis; a hostile note implicit in its sweep across his thoughts. His back tightened in celeritous, perilous sympathy with its endless build and he must, he had to, he must, rebottle that which he had unleashed, unknowing.
His hands returned to head in a blind press of painful reaffixing. As the things latched back to his temples with the sting of metal to skin, the terrifying chord in his thoughts dampened, then faded entirely.
He stood, trembling, sweating, gripping the edge of the sink, gasping, short and shallow.
That had almost. That had nearly. It had nearly—what? He didn’t know.
He staggered backward, shutting himself within the drab green confines of a lavatory stall and slid down the white mosaic of cool tile, unable to halt the tremors in his hands, his shoulders, his back, his legs. He shut his eyes, shaking hands pressed to his face.
This was not right. This could not be right. He lacked nearly all the context that should come with a human life but even he, even he, who didn’t know his name, who had been forced to discover it from the things he carried, knew that what had just happened—that it hadn’t been right. That it hadn’t fit, even within the unobstructed framework of a life mostly unremembered. Who was Nicholas Rush, that such a thing might happen to him?
He hadn’t the faintest.
After a breathless interval uncounted, he became aware again of the cool press of tile at his back. There were answers to be had. There must be. But none of them were here with him, near paralyzed with fear on bleached tile beneath fluorescent lights.
He stood, unsteady, and walked back to the sink. He regarded himself again, and if there was an edgy trepidation in his expression this time, yes well, he supposed that was understandable.
“Who are ya?” he whispered absently. “Y’ bastard.”
He took a deep breath, leaned forward, and, as artfully as he could, he brushed his hair over the things on his head, then positioned his glasses with a minimally disruptive slide. That done, he set about cleaning himself up to the extent that it was possible, given his limited resources. He hiked the sleeve of his dress shirt above his right elbow and cleaned the abrasions on his jaw and right forearm as best as he was able to manage with soap and water, then repeated the process for his right shin and knee, which had fared better than his arm, given the protection of his jeans.
That done, he unrolled the bloodied sleeve and soaped the edges of the right cuff until they were an unappealing brown, then re-rolled both sleeves above his elbows with all the crispness he could manage. He dusted himself off, and twisted to get a look at his back, which sported a rime of dark, fine dirt down the right shoulder. When he attempted to brush it off, he was rewarded with the sharp pain of underlying bruised tissue. There wasn’t much to be done about that.
Satisfied that he looked more like a Cambrige native who’d suffered a recent bicycle accident and less like a amnestic vagrant with mysterious technology strapped to his head, he turned on the water, cupped his hands, and drank as much as possible. It did absolutely nothing for his hunger, but avoiding dehydration seemed like a good idea.
When he was finished, he walked up the stairs, back to the deck of the library. He returned to the center of the place, near the entrance, and found a free computer as far as possible from the human eddies that seemed to spring up around architectural vertices.
He sat down beneath the roof of glass windows, and then, with an unsettling and fluid familiarity, he typed the words ‘Nicholas Rush’ into the waiting space of a search engine.
He paused for a moment, then sent the query into the vastness of interconnected branching computer networks with the click of a button. Faced with the instantaneous results of his inquiry, he pressed his eyebrows together.
Nicholas Rush was—well known. Quite well known.
He clicked the first link, blue text against a white background, and was presented with the image of a man in a brown jacket and dark jeans, glaring at the camera over the tops of square framed glasses like a percipient bastard. He decided he looked much the same in the image as he did at the present moment, except his two dimensional version had shorter hair and a more confrontational demeanor. His eyes shifted laterally to the accompanying text.
Nicholas Rush (born 1 November, 1965) is a Scottish American mathematician and computer scientist, considered to be one of the most significant thinkers in the field of computational complexity theory. His major academic works include a proof of the Hadamard conjecture, which he published in his final year at the University of Oxford and for which he was named a Fields Medalist in 1986, and the demonstration that P=NP in 2007. The 2007 P=NP proof has resulted in large-scale changes in cryptography and information security world wide as academicians, the private sector, and governments around the world brace for an efficient solution to 3-SAT, believed to be an inevitable consequence of the proof.
P equaled NP? Well, that sounded right to him. But then, he supposed it ought to.
He grimaced and hooked his left hand over his left shoulder, his fingers digging into the tense musculature at the back of his neck. It seemed he had been instrumental in the current or eventual obviation of most existing cryptosystems. He could understand why that would make him unpopular. Or, alternatively, too popular. He continued reading.
Biography Rush was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He entered New College at the University of Oxford at the age of 17, where he studied mathematics and computer science. He was heavily involved with the music program at Magdalen College, where he met his wife, Gloria Whitbourn Rush. They were married in July of 1987. After completing his graduate studies, Rush joined the faculty of Imperial College London, where he stayed until 1995, when he was recruited to the University of California, Berkeley Mathematics Department.
During his tenure at Berkeley he published two seminal papers on the Hodge Conjecture in the late 1990s before unveiling his P=NP proof in early 2007. Rush remained on the faculty at Berkeley until April 2008, at which point he took a leave of absence of uncertain duration to work as a consultant to the United States Air Force. His current affiliation is Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
His wife? He glanced down at his left hand. Looked like that one hadn’t worked out.
The Air Force? Looked like that one hadn’t worked out either.
He glanced around the interior of the library, skimmed through the encyclopedic summation of his research, which had been gratifyingly prolific, and then moved on to the next article, hoping for something a bit more useful.
Cracking the uncrackable—NYTimes.com—Science Times—March 31st, 2007
“I remember where I was when I heard it,” says Professor Dixon Clark of NYU, “and I will for the rest of my life. I was pouring myself a cup of coffee, in the middle of proctoring a midterm for Algebraic Topology when a friend of mine called me from the Joint Mathematics Meeting, called me, you understand, and he said, ‘someone’s done it. Someone’s solved it’. I didn’t have to ask what ‘it’ was.”
The demonstration of P=NP by Dr. Nicholas Rush, Fields Medalist, and former chair of the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department, was the kind of moment that happens once in a generation. Both the presentation at the JMM meeting and the release of the subsequent paper took the mathematics and computer science communities by storm and has elevated a previously obscure problem into the cultural lexicon alongside F=ma, E=mc2, and other easy-to-remember equations that have captured public imagination. But in order to understand the importance of this mathematical proof, we have to trace its roots backwards through the field of computational complexity from Gödel and Turing to Cook and Levin.
He scanned through the poorly laid out historical and theoretical underpinnings of the proof and recommenced reading carefully at a point approximately two thirds of the way through the article.
All of this brings us, finally, to Nicholas Rush, the Oxford educated mathematical wunderkind whose first claim to academic fame was the demonstration that there exists a Hadamard matrix for every positive multiple of four; a proof that made him the youngest-ever recipient of a Fields Medal. Following his graduate studies at Oxford, it seemed that the same fate would befall him that had befallen scores of mathematicians before him—that his greatest accomplishments would be the work that was done in his twenties. But he continued to reinvent himself within the field of computational complexity, much to the admiring irritation of his professional colleagues, until finally, in his latest iteration, he presented an abbreviated version of his P=NP proof at the JMM meeting in January of this year.
“The title of his talk was unannounced,” recalls Dr. Marcus Smith of Princeton University. “And the guy gets up there, clicks on his power point, cool as you please, and sure enough, on his title slide are the words, ‘A demonstration of the relational equivalence of P class and NP class decision problems.’ Let’s just put it this way. I’ve never been in a room like that. I mean, the man was already veritable academic rockstar of the first order, taken very seriously, and for him to stand up at a meeting and launch into a talk with that kind of title—well it’s the kind of thing that’s either the herald of early retirement or the stuff that legend is made of.”
The talk was received with an enthusiasm that was wild by any standards, and the following paper was reviewed and independently verified not only by the mathematical community, but by a federally appointed panel of mathematicians, cryptographers, and experts in information security, who would be tasked with determining the practical effects of this proof on the infrastructure of global information security. In its aftermath, the government, the broader academic community, and the public would be left wondering about the man behind the proof.
Nicholas Rush was born in Glasgow, Scotland. Relatively little is known about his early life, and he has rarely, if ever, spoken of it, either publicly or privately. “You get the impression, if you know the man well enough, that he had a tough time of it. But he wouldn’t ever tell you as much,” comments David Starr, a professor of combinatorics at UC Berkeley. Whether because of a troubling past, or because of the typical disdain for the press evinced by many members of the academic community, Dr. Rush has unarguably been a difficult character to pin down, refusing to give both televised and print interviews that do not directly and entirely pertain to his research. Perhaps it is this personal reticence, perhaps it is the nature of his work, perhaps it is the rumor that he is being aggressively recruited by the Air Force to Cheyenne Mountain that has caused the explosive proliferation of theories about the man in the public consciousness.
“Oh fantastic,” he muttered.
“If you know what the implications of the proof are,” says Evan Casterbridge, former physicist and now host of NPR’s Monday Math, “then you know that its very existence implies a huge threat to privacy and informational security. It guarantees that most of the encryption systems that we use to secure our data are not only vulnerable to decryption, but that they will be decrypted, most likely within a window of less than five years. Given that Dr. Rush is at least considering consulting for the Air Force—and consulting on a project that is so highly classified it doesn’t even have a publicly available name, well, I can understand why it might make people uncomfortable.” Whatever the fate of America’s most preeminent cryptographer, the consequences of his proof are here to stay.
He sat back, his fingers absently tracing the edges of the device attached to his right temple as he surveyed the mostly empty library, tracing the movements of a headphoned employee restocking the shelves, an elderly man reading the paper at a nearby table, and overtly petulant twelve-year old accompanied by the overgrown child in an inane red T-shirt who was obviously his tutor. No one seemed to be watching him. Which was all to the good.
He was a well-quoted mathematician who had turned information security on its head. Shortly thereafter, he had gone to consult for the Air Force for reasons unknown. And this morning he had woken up, alone, beside a river, with no memory and a pair of identical devices attached to his head. He was certain it was no accident that he’d woken up without any conception of who he was. Who he had been.
Someone had done this to him. It was a virtual certainty.
The question was who and, more importantly, why.
Two things troubled him, in that they didn’t easily fit into the narrative he was beginning to construct about himself and what had happened to him. One—whoever was responsible for his current condition had left him his wallet; he found that puzzling. Two—the devices he was wearing seemed to be preventing some kind of catastrophic perceptual problem; he also found that puzzling. Despite these two areas of uncertainty, he was in no way inclined to make his way back to the United States Air Force.
Not when they topped the list of potential perpetrators of this cognitive cut-up. He was certain that if the Air Force didn’t know his current location then he wasn’t particularly inclined to advertise it to them. He had the resources to last for a few days while he sorted himself.
In all likelihood, he could make a reasonable go of it. He wasn’t certain how well undisputed mathematical brilliance translated into the ability to survive, undetected, in Cambridge Massachusetts, but he preferred to find out rather than to use the cell phone number of the colonel whose business card he carried in his wallet.
If the Air Force or other parties unknown came for him before he’d decided on a course of action—well, he supposed he’d find out if he had the resources and wherewithal to evade them.
He looked back at the computer in front of him, readjusted his glasses, and continued reading.