Dr. Strazinsky stood in front of the class, staring down at the pile of paper in his hands. Then he looked at me, making me wonder what I’d done.
This was my Calculus III class, one of the few prerequisites I hadn’t comped out of. I was only taking it during my Junior year because of some annoying scheduling issues between my double major in electrical engineering and chemistry.
The professor took a long breath and looked out at the class. From his appearance, I guessed that he had to be in his thirties, but he felt older. I didn’t know whether it was the tan suit jacket with tie and slacks, or the slightly balding hair.
Whatever it was, if you were hoping for a young, charismatic professor, this wasn’t your guy.
That’s not to say that I didn’t like him. I did like him. He seemed smart, knowledgeable, and good enough at explaining the material. I didn’t need anything else in a professor.
He looked directly at me again—making me wonder what was going on, back down at the papers, and then back to the class. Then he began to talk.
“I know that no one enjoys taking a quiz on the first day of class, but I like to know what people actually remember from Calculus 2. As a class, you did well—well enough that I’m comfortable starting without too much review. So, we’re going to go over the quiz. Feel free to ask about anything you want, but I’ll go over the quiz in order.”
About a quarter of the class raised their hands. Dr. Strazinsky blinked but pointed to a blond guy wearing a blue and gold University of Michigan t-shirt.
The guy said, “What was up with that last question? I had no idea where to even start. I’ve never seen that covered anywhere. That’s not part of this class, is it?”
The prof shook his head, smiling a little. “Don’t worry about that question. You’ll never see anything like that again. It’s not part of this class. It’s not part of any class you’ll ever take in this university. I put it on the quiz to see how you’d try to solve it and not because I thought you could find the answer. It’s not something an undergrad should be able to solve. Most PhDs don’t have the necessary background. So, don’t worry about it. In fact, don’t worry about this quiz. It won’t be part of your grade.”
Then he passed back the stapled piles of paper.
As the stack of quizzes passed from one person to another, my stomach began to ache. I’d thought back to the last class, trying to remember the question, but I couldn’t. Nothing in it had seemed hard and the last question hadn’t stood out from the crowd.
Maybe, I told myself, I hadn’t noticed it. If it were on the back of the last page, it would have been easy to miss. I’d done that sort of thing before.
Except then I thought about the looks the prof had been giving me. I hadn’t missed it. I’d probably answered it strangely. Using the implant the Xiniti had installed in my head, I’d been investigating advances that aliens had made in math. Even with the implant, I didn’t have the background to understand all of it, but I’d made a good beginning. I’d have made a better one if the Xiniti were more interested in physics and less interested in war.
Off the top of my head, I decided that all I’d have to do is explain some of the shortcuts I’d taken or maybe offer a proof for one or more of them.
Then I got the quiz back. I flipped it over to look at the back of the last page. It was blank. I hadn’t missed the last question.
I opened it to the last page and looked at my scribbled answer. It seemed simple enough. The question asked the reader to solve for the value of a variable assuming other values that the question defined.
Then I recognized where I knew the equation from. It was a type of equation used in calculating the distance a jump drive would send a spaceship. I’d learned a lot about them early in the summer when I’d taught myself the basics about jump drives.
It wasn’t impossible that someone on Earth would come up with an equation like this. The math needed to put something into practice often predates a need to use it. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder how it had gotten on my quiz.
It was only at that point that I noticed the words, “See me after class,” written next to the answer I’d written on my paper.
It appeared that I was about to find out.