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Monday, 17 October 2016 22:37

The Running Man

If you happened to be seated in the third coach of the 10 o'clock train heading west,  watching the luscious green countryside flash by, you most likely would have missed a young fellow lost in his notebook seated towards the aft of coach three by the name of Isaac Richard Alberts. You surely would have missed his bushy eyebrows as they furrowed beneath his neatly unkept mop of hair. Or rather, he fancied it neat.

Isaac was lost in the realm of a rather strange new science, you see. In truth it wasn't very new at all and Isaac used this as an excuse for his frustrating inability to fully grasp it. His university professor believed he had an understanding of the sciences far greater than any other's and at that very moment in time he was wrestling with a challenging riddle the professor had presented to him to contest with the depths of Isaac's understanding, an understanding that was rather vexingly absent.

If an object were accelerating towards the speed of light relative to an observer, it would be observed to disappear at a point, he thought, reciting the conundrum to himself.

In what direction is the object moving after it is observed to disappeared?

Had you noticed this scene playing out on the 10 o'clock train, you might have noticed an old man take a seat across from young Isaac. You would have noted his neatly combed and markedly silver mane and his weathered skin. You might have even caught the stranger as he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an equally weathered leather notebook and fiddled with his gold-crested pen.

"The countryside looks amazing this time of the year doesn't it?" the old man said, staring out the nearby window.

Puzzled by the man's sudden appearance, Isaac looked up from his notebook and kindly responded saying, "Yes, indeed it does," and went back to his notebook.

"The flora is especially wonderful around this time. I wonder... perhaps I can catch a glimpse of the blossoms."

"Well that's unlikely," Isaac replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "This train is traveling much too fast for that."

The stranger let out a sigh of resignation. "Pity," he said, "I would have rather enjoyed the sight." He peeled open the aged notebook and jotted something down before staring back at the countryside.

"I apologise, sir, but I must focus on a pesky problem if you do not mind."

"My apologies young man. In my old age I tend to overstep some boundaries. Perhaps you need a fresh perspective, lad," the stranger offered.

Isaac realised that maybe the man was right. Perhaps his way of thinking had been his error and he had over-thought the problem. It coud be that the old man's uncomplicated understanding could be what he needed. So he recited the riddle to the stranger.

We've established that you in fact did not notice this scene playing out on the west bound 10 o'clock train, so you won't have seen the stranger's eyes fill with excitement at this.

"I believe my wanting to see those blossoms is about as unlikely as you solving that riddle."

This felt as if it were an insult to Isaac. In a way it was. Who was this old man to question his ability to grasp the concepts necessary to solve the riddle? Isaac, after all, was the smartest member of his class. In truth, however, he had his own doubts about his own abilities.

"Say a deck of cards was to come out of the box, a shuffled deck of cards and alongside it is placed a fresh deck." The stranger was uncharacteristically animated at this point.

"Do you think it very likely that it would look over to its companion and think 'Oh my! Will you look at that? I am completely out of order!' and go about correcting itself unless it knew this much?" the stranger asked, leaning in closer to Isaac as he spoke. "The key is perspective, lad. It's all relative.  One state of order cannot understand another state. Matter could never observe energy. There is no way to know whe"

The younger man could almost feel the excitement pouring out from the stranger, and was baffled by the man's seemingly wondrous grasp of the topic. He made a quick note of what he had heard in his notebook before shutting it and placing his hands on its smooth leather surface.

"My apologies again. I get overly excited sometimes. I worry my heart won't be able to take it one of these days," the stranger said, reining himself in.

"Who are you?" Isaac asked, mesmerised by the enigmatic man seated across from him.

"Oh, I'm just an explorer. Who I am is otherwise inconsequential. This was a wonderful discussion young man, and I must know who you are so I may know who to thank. You must have told me, but my memory fails me in my old age," he said, readying his pen and notebook.

"I am Isaac Richard Alberts and I am a student at the university. But I must insist on knowing who to thank for..."

"Of course," the stranger said, cutting him off, "You invent the... hmm. What are the chances? I knew the time but there was no way of knowing the location..."

He cut himself off mid-sentence and stood up, hastily returning his pen and notebook to his coat pocket. "I'm afraid we are coming up on my stop. I must run and get prepared. I always find that the running man gets to see more than the man standing still," he said, and stepped into the aisle. "Tell me doctor, which way would have me travelling the quickest?"

Isaac paused for a little less than a second before pointing down the aisle to the front of the coach and adding, "I am no doctor, sir. I've barely started on the final stretch towards graduation."

The old man smiled and adjusted his glasses with his index finger. "That's relative, my dear Alberts. The earth rotates towards the east, remember? As for your little riddle... I think I'll catch those blossoms now I know where they are," he said, before stepping into the next coach.

Anyone looking towards the aft of coach three of the 10 o'clock train heading westward would have seen Isaac Richard Alberts as he leaned back in his seat, stared out the window and adjusted his glasses with his index finger. What they wouldn't have seen, however, was that he finally knew the answer to the riddle. And why the running man keeps on running.

And so I keep on running.
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