It all started during the June after her A-levels. Although one couldn’t really say that it ever started, as physics is more of a transition-free process, she was just about to begin her degree programme: theoretical physics at King’s College. It was a sunny day in London.. She had never experienced so much sun at once in her home city. Rose Newton loved sunny days like nothing else in the world. There was almost nothing she loved more than the feeling of the sun on her skin. During her short time in London the young woman slowly discovered that she especially liked to work by the bank of the river. Something about the Thames, the reflection of the sunlight on the surface of the river, made her relax. The steady river managed that nothing and nobody could feel bad at its sight; at least, when regarding the part of it where one could get lost in thoughts of unknown depth and she would fight anyone who said otherwise. The young woman on the bench had her thoughts occupied by things like the butterfly effect and Schrödinger’s research results. For years these were her only concern. She lit herself a cigarette and looked as some notes she had done about a week ago. While she was delving deeper into the unknown parts of physics, she started to lose herself in all these thoughts. Some of her ideas seemed too easy to believe, but she had been taught that physics wanted to be easy and that it wanted to be understood. Her red hair disturbed her vision as it was tossed around by the wind. Usually she loved the wind, but now it annoyed her. She absent-mindedly braided her hair. Even at eighteen years she still didn’t like it. Even though it was always in her way she couldn’t bring herself to cut it all off. She thought about all kind of random things, mainly equations, but in the end, they were all just unrelated thoughts. Anyone standing behind her wouldn’t be able to understand a thing of what she wrote. But that was no problem, because she couldn’t stand distraction...not at all. People repelled her, which was probably the reason she had only one friend, somebody she had met before she got to know of the existence of physics.
’What are you doing?’
A dark voice spoiled her concentration in the one moment when she could use it least. The noise is so typical for a day in London, the woman thought as she ignored the question. She didn’t want to talk. He - and with him his irritatingly deep voice - was standing in her sunlight. At least she thought it was a man, the shape was quite man-like. No woman could have such a dark voice. The young woman was truly upset. How could he dare to take all direct light from her? Turning her concentration back to her notes she ignored him completely. At least she tried to do so, but somehow it felt like if the man was still looking at her...as if he was expecting her to talk with him. Why should she?
’Why would that be any of your business?’
The question came harsher than wanted, but he didn’t seem to bother. He just kept on taking her light and irritating her immensely. It made her furious, but she tried to control herself. If he was one of those creeps who went after women who walked through London on their own, he would have to face a very unamused individual today.
’I’m incredibly curious about what you’re writing.’ he said and tried to catch a glimpse of her scribbled notes.
OK, now the man’s behaviour was just about too much. She had no reason to share her ideas, but since he didn’t seem to be keen to get away, she surrendered.
’You don’t happen to have any idea of physics, do you?’
It was worth a shot. Usually, starting to talk about physics made people go away. She was sitting on a bench at the river, not even close to the university. If her time at school had taught her anything, then the chance for a random stranger to understand anything of physics was practically zero. There were days when the young woman also had no tolerance for being interrupted when she was scribbling. Today was one of these days, when she just wanted to be alone. The only reason why she didn’t tell him to mind his own business, was the way he talked with her. He seemed to be genuinely interested in what she was doing and she had no idea why. She wondered if she would be able to explain her hypothesis to him, if he asked. His answer to her question made her look up.
’I actually just finished my PhD in experimental physics. Doing my postdoc over at King’s now.’
Her eyes widened. Not only because she would have never expect that a physics postdoc would find her scribbles interesting, but also because he had never seen such a piercing gaze. His eyes were terrifying, as if he was probing her for information. In addition, she hadn’t considered him older than herself. The man in front of her must be at least in his late twenties. He smiled at her like a billion suns and she didn’t know why. Was something wrong with her face, or why was he smiling that much?
’Well, what’s the deal with your notes there? They look like equations to me.’
He asked while he sat down next to her as if the previous past of their conversation had never happened. She blinked. What the hell was wrong with the guy? Couldn’t he see that she was working or was he asking everyone such annoying questions?
’I’m just collecting my thoughts on supersymmetrical waves and what would happen if they were to behave chaotic.’ Rose snapped.
Maybe, now he would go away. She didn’t want him to mock her or tear her ideas apart with one simple remark. But today was not her lucky day. Instead of leaving he pointed at one of her notes.
’That’s not possible.’ Ok, this was worse.
She just wanted a hole to open in the ground and make him disappear. His opinion might be qualified but she didn’t want to hear it. He would probably tear apart her work. How could he even read that? Her flatmate always assured her that her handwriting was absolutely unreadable. He pointed at one part where she used a simple calculation to keep her argument stable. It wasn’t really an argument, more a suggestion of how energy could be regarded in that particular part of her idea. She knew that she should tell him to mind his own business, but she just couldn’t.
It just seemed logical to her that the small step worked. She had tested it over and over again. It didn’t contradict any theory she could think about. As he smiled his eyes were shining with several megawatts. She might have just met him, but she already hated his smile. Yet for some reason she couldn’t bring herself to tell him to leave her alone. After all his opinion could probably help her.
’Your approach is only valid for immobile objects. Now here you need some additional parts...at least unless you don’t want any particles to move in your field. If you had regarded any movement you would have seen that your approach demanded an infinite amount of energy and I am pretty sure that’s not available anywhere around.’
She could see that he actually knew what he was talking about, and what he was talking about made everything sound... trivial. She inwardly surrendered. It was not like she wouldn’t accept constructive critique. Maybe she could just accept that somebody had found her who knew a bit about the stuff she was working on. She wasn’t above admitting it.
’I guess, I owe you a thanks. If you didn’t tell me I would have followed my approach forever without even noticing that there were some conditions that I had just ignored.’
Following what she would later think of as a strange impulse, she had an idea and handed him her notes and pen. It was about as spontaneous an action as she would ever get, but then she had never been a spontaneous person.
’Would you mind adding the corrections?’
He looked quite astonished and she remembered how harsh she had been. Suddenly the young woman felt very guilty about the way she had initially reacting to him interrupting her pondering.
’But it is your work.’ he complained and the scene froze.
Neither of them moved until she realised that his words had demanded a statement from her. She really wasn’t good with people.
’You were the one who found the mistake, so you should correct it. Plus, you probably know the equations better than me.’
If she was honest, she was just afraid to make another mistake. Smiling again, he took them and scribbled around for a while.
’It should work, if you slightly alter the equation here.’ He said, ’May I ask how you got the idea?’
’Well, it started when I was first told about waves in a physics class that I attended some time ago. I got interested and kept on reading more and more and while reading all the books I could find I learned of more specific topics. The more I read, the more ideas I developed. You know, at the beginning I was still easily believing anything I read, but with time I started to question certain theories and to work on my own ideas. For example, with Brownian motion: I tried to avoid any contradictions that it had with general relativity until I found a way around them, by reading publications. So, I read some papers and with each paper I read there were another ten that I had to read after until I came to the point where the research was still not finished. But seriously, what I do is nothing special. I merely read what smarter people wrote and then draw my very own conclusions. I’m merely playing around with fields... ’ She chuckled nervously.
Stop babbling around! she basically screamed at herself mentally. For a moment the stranger didn’t move. His mouth was slightly open, and the young woman thought, she could see him thinking.
’You know... ’ he started slowly, as if he wanted to carefully choose every word. ’I used to... ’ he stopped himself, cleared his throat and started again ’It is rather wonderful that you are actually interested in the topic. I did some research on Lagrangians featuring different degrees of freedom some time ago. You just made me genuinely curious about what you scribbled together. Would you mind, explaining me your ideas a bit further?’
She smiled and opened the beginning of her little notebook.
’So, Ovchinnikov wrote about how the butterfly effect and supersymmetry didn’t exactly exclude each other and for that he reformulated Brownian motion using relativity.’
She looked at him expectantly.
’I know that. My boss worked in the same department as Ovchinnikov for a bit. Are your notes like a supplement to Ovchinnikov’s publications?’
’No, it’s more like I developed them further.’
He looked a bit confused. Then he stood up.
’I’m gonna grab a sandwich. Why don’t you come along and explain to me what you have developed?’
She just nodded and followed him. They found their way through the masses of tourists. Initially she still tried to talk but the streets were just too noisy. Rose wasn’t short and still she had trouble following his pace through the crowd. They only managed to rekindle their discussion as they got to the supermarket, pushing past people as he went to the sandwiches with determination.
’Essentially, I’m trying to use Supersummetry and the Butterfly effect to build a proper mathematical framework for String theory. Saying that chaos is a break in symmetry just seems like the most logical assumption that can be made.’ She looked at him expectantly while he searching his pockets for coins to feed to the self-checkout machine.
’Okay, that sounds plausible.’ He said as they left the supermarket. ’I do agree with you but honestly... ’ he paused to take a bite. ’Weren’t you even a bit suspicious about the relativistic Brownian motion?’
’Should I have been?’ She couldn’t really see what he meant. ’It’s not like I found any reason to disagree with it.’
’Then that’s what all your notes are about? That the theories that are around now are correct?’ He looked at her with a suspicious look that made her less than sure about what she had just said, but she just nodded happily. ’Damn, that’s ambitious. Congrats, if you manage to pull that off. The maths on that is pretty hardcore.’
’Thank you.’ She had a large smile plastered on her face now.
It was very unusual for her to thank anyone for interfering with her work. Actually, it was unusual for her to thank people in general. She was absolutely used to working alone and she had never explained her ideas in such detail to anyone. But today had been really nice. He had been so helpful.
’Well, now that we have exchanged ideas, may I ask a more personal question Miss... ? Wait, what’s your name?’
Oh no, she already made the experience that telling people her name was never pleasant. People tended to develop great expectations and they really liked to make fun of her. Inwardly she braced herself for the worst.
’Rose Newton, yours?’
’So, you were basically destined to become a great physicist. But well, as they say: Nomen est omen.’
His megawatt-smile reappeared. Now that was not half as bad as the reaction she had anticipated. People had said worse things. ’Of course, I don’t have a name as prominent as yours. I’m Quentin Reeve, but just Quentin will do and I am very pleased to meet you.’
And again. Rose smiled. Since when was she so open about herself to strangers? Rose genuinely felt as if Quentin could understand the struggles she had with the theorems she worked on.
’How would you feel about meeting here again...some day? To talk more about Ovchinnikov’s theories?’ He seemed to be terribly uncomfortable asking her.
She was sure he would have blushed, had he been a little less tanned and Rose was at a loss of words. Ever since she had started dabbling in theories, she had worked alone and she couldn’t remember for it to be different. One random encounter couldn’t change that.
’Of course, only if you have time.’ he then added quickly.
She had time, of course she had. The semester wouldn’t start for a while. But Rose wasn’t sure that she wanted to share the exact details of her theories. She never shared with anyone. Even her best friend was rarely ever told about Rose’s results and she wasn’t sure why she should make an exception for Quentin.
’I’ll have to think about it. Are you going to be at the Thames again tomorrow?’ She should have just said no, but something about the way he looked at her, with so much hope, made her reconsider, even if only a little.
’Sure.’ He smiled at her and she almost felt bad for considering not to turn up. ’Let’s talk then.’