I’ve always felt compelled to find the shortest possible way to get from one place to another.
I could barely read when I first started planning shortcuts. I’d pour over the old fashioned paper street directories we had back then and map out the shortest routes to school and nearby parks. When it was time to go, I’d grab mum’s hand and take her via the new shortcut I’d “discovered”. I’d giggle in glee if my shortcut got us there more quickly than the usual route.
As I got older, I started optimizing my family’s trips. Gradually, I became the guru of shortcuts. I did much more than simply work out the shortest distance. I’d factor in predicted traffic density, road conditions, weather forecasts, speed limits, the type of vehicle we were travelling in, the duration of rest and food stops, and a dozen other things. I’d fill my notepads with calculations until I came up with the data that best predicted the fastest way of getting to any given destination.
Of course, you can’t plan for every possibility so I didn’t always get it right. Sometimes, taking my supposed shortcuts took far longer than I’d anticipated. But I kept trying and, gradually, my shortcut data became more and more accurate.
I often wondered how far I could take it. Could I calculate my way to the ultimate shortcut? A shortcut that could never be transcended?
All that youthful number-crunching steered me towards a career in mathematics. Although my contribution to science was not exactly groundbreaking, I was a respected academic at the university where I worked. But, few people knew about my life-long obsession with shortcuts. Even fewer knew about the secret device I’d been working on for decades.
Now, I’m an old man, retired from my work. But, every day, after breakfast, I retreat to the shed and tinker with my device. One whole wall of the shed is a blackboard on which I scribble complex equations that I alone can understand. A sturdy wooden table in the centre holds the device itself. The shed’s benches are littered with wires, cables, tools, scraps of metal and plastic, and all the other eclectic paraphernalia of the ever-hopeful inventor.
And, I DO feel hopeful today. I’ve discovered a tiny error in one of my equations and made a change to the device’s configuration. This could be the day that my device finally works!
I strap the device on my back and press the start button. I can feel the device’s hum, almost too low to hear, vibrating my old bones. I peer through the shed’s window. Suddenly, the world outside looks ever so slightly out of sync. Like watching a movie in which the audio and video tracks don’t quite match.
Perhaps the device IS working!
To find out, I prepare to walk to my pre-planned destination, the suburban park around the corner from my home.
Time after time over the years I have switched on my device and walked to the park only to trudge back, despondent, knowing that my test has once again failed. Soon, I may not be able to conduct my tests at all. My aging shoulders will not bear the weight of the device for much longer.
But today feels different.
Excited, I walk towards the shed door. As I cross the doorframe, I spot a familiar figure walking towards me at the top of the driveaway.
It’s me! It’s me!
Both of us shout out in triumph when we see each other.
Finally, after all these years, I’ve discovered the ultimate shortcut!
I’ve created a shortcut so good that I got there and back before I even left!