The Second Time Around

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Dr. Mathis frowned at the screen trying his best to rationalize what he was seeing. The horse he’d bet on had clearly come in first, just as Gregory had said it would. Was it possible that Gregory had simply gotten lucky with his guess? Or was it possibly a fixed race? Dr. Mathis struggled to come up with some sort of rational explanation to steer his mind away from the very irrational thought that was trying to insinuate itself into his deliberations. Finally he settled on the fact that the race must have been fixed.

“Well, Mr. Paite,” Dr. Mathis began, “That was certainly an entertaining stunt, but all you’ve proven is that you know how to fix a horse race and con an honest man into making a bad bet for you so you can cash in on it.”

Gregory was grinning from ear to ear, and before Dr. Mathis could even finish his final sentence, the young man had actually started laughing in spurts and spits and he tried to control himself. Dr. Mathis began to become very annoyed, and he grated through clenched teeth, “I am not amused.”

“Sorry, Professor,” Gregory managed to say when he’d finally regained his control. “It’s just that whenever you run up against something you can’t explain your immediate answer is that somehow I’m cheating. If I was a less agreeable person, I might take offense at that.”

“If I recall, Mr. Paite,” Dr. Mathis said in his stilted, condescending tone he’d perfected over decades of implementation, “You did take offense to it and you brought me up before the professional review board.”

“You started that by accusing me of cheating, Professor Mathis,” Gregory shot back, his forehead creasing in a deep frown. “Anyway, in the end, it all worked out. I took my next two exams isolated with three monitors to make sure I didn’t slip in a cheat sheet or a hidden book or something and still managed to get a perfect score on both of them.”

“Yes, well,” Dr. Mathis grumbled, “I was rather impressed with that.”

“Look, Professor,” Gregory said as he checked his wristwatch anxiously, “I don’t have a lot of time, and I didn’t really come back to argue about old test scores.”

“Then why are you here, Mr. Paite?” Dr. Mathis asked, his patience wearing thin. “I admit that it was a neat parlor trick for you to name a winning horse, but is that all you’re after? Get me to place a bad bet that somehow ends up winning?”

“It wasn’t a trick, Professor,” Gregory answered, “And it wasn’t really a bet. I knew the horse was going to win, just like I wrote out a ticket for the next four races this evening in New York. I wrote down all of the horses and where they finished, not just the winners. A random winner could be a shot in the dark, but all of the placers in four different races? Even you can’t brush that off and ignore it.”

Dr. Mathis considered this as he looked at the track ticket Gregory slid across the desk to him. The young man had a point. Randomly picking a winner in a field of nine horses was a one in five hundred and twelve chance, assuming all other variables were equal and negated, which they most certainly were not. To correctly call each placement in four different races with nine horses each added up to something of a one in seventy billion chance. He had a much better chance of picking winning lottery jackpot.

"There's no way you could know that," Dr. Mathis said, refusing to touch the card on the desk. "Those races have not been run and you couldn't know the standings already. You just can't."

Gregory smiled slowly. "You know, I remember the day we covered quantum tunneling," he said. "There was one kid in there that couldn't have been more than about eighteen. He was smart, but the kind of smart that pushed everything else out and took up every inch of room. He looked at you with a confused frown and said something about the fact that particles simply can't jump through a solid wall. Your response always stuck with me."

Gregory tapped the track card on the table lightly. "You told him that can't is a very dangerous word, especially when applied to physics. It often tastes of crow."

Dr. Mathis couldn't help but chuckle. That was one of his favorite turns of phrase, and he used it as often as conversation would allow. A bit too often, perhaps it would seem. Gregory checked his watch and seemed to shudder briefly.

"I'm not going to make anymore bets for you," Dr. Mathis said seriously. "I mean that, Mr. Paite. I don't know what mess you've landed me in already, but I'm done with it."

"I wasn't going to ask you to, Professor," Gregory said. "Please, I need a note pad and a pen. I don't have much time left, and there's something you need to see."

Dr. Mathis handed Gregory a small legal pad and a sharpened wood pencil. The young man turned the pad on its side and began sketching a diagram. There was a long straight line with a dot in the middle, and arrows at each end. Gregory drew a dotted line from the midpoint back to a point on the left, and wrote -X along the dotted arch. He drew another arch going from the left hand point back to the right, ending to the right of the origin. He wrote X+y(d) along the arch to the right.

Gregory looked over the diagram for a moment, bent and scribbled some notes along the bottom to define the variables, and nodded. With a serious, but cryptic look on his face, Gregory slid the diagram across to Dr. Mathis. After a moment, Dr. Mathis looked up from the sketch confused.

"What is this, Mr. Paite?" Dr. Mathis asked, "I don't recognize the application."

Gregory reached over and gently took the sketch and pad back from Dr. Mathis with a small smile. "That, Dr. Mathis, is a schematic of what I have dubbed an interjection event. A traveler can go back by a factor of X, make a change, and snap forward by a factor of X plus the duration of their visit, y, times the delta factor."

Gregory paused and checked his watch again, and this time he was visibly shivering. "The longer you stay and the more you change, the more energy it takes to carry it off," Gregory said. He took a slow, deep breath to steady himself. "Watch close now. You don't want to--"

Suddenly Gregory seemed to wink out of existence. There was a brief shimmer where he'd been sitting, almost reminiscent of heat rippling in waves out of an open oven door, and then it was gone. Dr. Mathis looked around, a cold sweat suddenly standing out on his forehead. He got up and walked slowly to his office door and tried the knob, only to find it still locked.

Dr. Mathis felt the color drain from his face, and his knees nearly buckled. Gregory had somehow gotten into his office without unlocking the door, and he'd just vanished into thin, shimmering air while Dr. Mathis watched. He had to swallow several times to keep the taste of bile out of the back of his throat. The things Gregory was talking about were impossible, they simply violated too many laws of physics.

But, then again, much of what modern physics had discovered in the realm of the subatomic and beyond with particle accelerators would have been illegal according to the physics of the time a mere hundred years in the past. The idea of what was and was not allowed by the laws of physics seemed to be an ever shifting line in a sea of ever shifting sand. It made him wonder what would be possible in fifty or a hundred years that his contemporaries were just beginning to realize might be in the gray area between what can't physically happen and what simply hasn't been done yet.

When Dr. Mathis reached his desk, the track card was still there with every race result filled in. The Professor checked his watch and briefly considered going to get lunch. It wasn't quite eleven in the morning yet, though, and the first race listed on the card would run in less than half an hour.

So Dr. Mathis restarted his record, put his headphones on, and sat back in his chair to wait.

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