The Newton Enigma.  A novel by Linton Herbert.

Chapter 6 b


“Yes,” said Jon.  “But we are supposed to find out about Newton.  And that’s what we’re doing.  Go on reverend.”


“The idea of perfect scientific laws led Newton to do something that everyone snickers at now.  He took ancient philosophy and prophesies very seriously.  But of course for him, the ancients were looking at the same world he was looking at, and he would learn everything he could from them.  And while we think that prophesy is again something spooky, he assumed that unchanging laws determined everything so anyone who was bright enough could look at what was going on and foretell the future as well as they could describe the past.” 


Tracy said, “I thought science was all about predicting the future.  Darn, now it all sounds spooky.”


Hapgood went on, “We are pretty sure now that we can’t predict the future absolutely, because we have looked closely at the mathematics, and it doesn’t work.  You can’t even predict how the waves in a swimming pool will react when you throw a rock in.  If you just calculate it as pressure waves going on indefinitely, sooner or later those waves will get together and throw the rock back to you.  That doesn’t happen because energy is dissipated. 


“So where did this energy, which is always being dissipated, come from in the first place?  It goes back to that flash of light.  Because energy is being dissipated swimming pools don’t throw rocks at you.  But for the same reason you can’t actually predict just what they are going to do.”


Jon said, “You seem to know a lot about science and engineering for a preacher.”


“Call it my sin.  I have lots of time to read here,” Hapgood confessed.


“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to interrupt.  Go on with Newton.” 


“I don’t mean to say Newton did not believe in divine revelation.  He did because he was so brutally honest and had the experience of God himself.  I know that because I am a minister.  Everybody has the experience of God.  We just interpret it in different ways and need social permission to talk about it.  But over many years I just don’t have a lot of people who are God-blind the way some people are color-blind.” 


“May I ask what your own relationship with God is,” Ivan inquired.


“We have an ongoing feud.  We compete over which of us can have the most unrealistic expectations of the other.”


Ivan smiled.  “Go on.”


“A lot of churches try to prove the existence of God by looking at history, seeing the hand of God in history.  Some look to creation and say Darwin was wrong.  Darwin wasn’t wrong.  Evolution is no different from animal breeding.  But the fact is that Darwin doesn’t explain everything.  You can’t get a mule by natural selection because mules are infertile.  Darwin says that speciation, the process by which one species becomes two after long separation, he says its just happenstance.  That hybrid infertility never did any species any good, so it couldn’t evolve.


“Poppycock again.  If evolution is good, then speciation must be good.  You open up a new environment, and a bunch of plants and animals move in.  There are a number of possible niches, ways they can get what they need to survive.  The specialists will always out do the generalists in their own specialty.  So the plant or animal that can undergo speciation the fastest can exploit those niches and specialize and deny the other forms the opportunity. 


“The theory of evolution has not come to grips with that yet.  They still worship Darwin.  But they’ll get there.  And what then?  Will I have to give up God because I only believed because evolution was incomplete?  Just because the experts have finally done their homework?


“What we should teach, what I teach, is not that science proves God.  People know God.  They are going to look.  My job is to teach them what to do when they have found Him.  I try to offer them, individually and as a community, a tradition for dealing with holidays, love, art, study, marriage, sex, work, birth, pain, loss, death and God, not necessarily in that order.”


“Can we get back to Newton?” asked Ivan.  “Lots of people argue about Darwin.  But we’re after Newton.”


“Well Newton knew as well as you or I that there was a real thing you could call the perception of God.  And he took that as a valid point of interest.  And he took it as valid that God could work through physical laws, as Darwin did by the way, and so ancient teachings and prophesies were not things he avoided.  He studied everything he could lay his hands on.  I rather think it drove him a bit mad.


“Anyway, one of the prophesies he took an interest in was the apocalypse, the end of the world, the second coming of Christ.  And he predicted that it would come in about 2060.  I don’t know how he arrived at that conclusion.”


Jon spoke.  “Well let’s see.  He was English.  The English pretty much date their founding to the Norman Conquest.  That was in 1066.  Now it is common coin that England has been called the New Jerusalem.  That is supposed to last a thousand years.  Which brings you to 2060.


“Good.  But of course it brings you to 2066.  That is not the kind of mistake Newton would have made.  He could just as easily have said 2066.  I’m sure his arithmetic was as good as mine.”


“So that is what you know about Newton.”


“Yes.  But you want to know more.”


“If we can find out.” 


Well Terra Lane did leave something for you.  I haven’t opened it.”  The minister got down on all fours and reached under his desk.  He pulled out a long wooden box.  With an effort he hoisted it onto the desk top.  “Mr. Ivan, I think it’s up to you.”


Ivan looked at the box reverentially.  It was a gift and a challenge from his old friend.  Slowly he reached out, undid the latches and lifted the lid.  There were objects inside.  There was a briefcase.  There was a box of double ought shotgun shells, there was something long wrapped in red cloth.  And there was a sheet of paper. 


First he opened the brief case.  There was a large amount of money in it.  There was a satellite telephone based on a European company.  There was a global positioning system.  There was a laser range finder.  And there was a night vision scope and a laptop computer.


Ivan unwrapped the red cloth to reveal the terrible beauty of a fine shotgun.  The blued steel lock was slick with oil.  The rich mahogany stock was reddish brown and also fairly glowed.  There was a sighting rail along the barrel.  This was not a military piece, a hunting gun or a sporting gun.  This was pure luxury.  But it would serve admirably in any capacity.


“Pardon me,” ventured Hapgood.  “Would it be all right if we had James hold that, just for the present?  He’s county skeet shooting champion.  He would love just to heft it.  And if Terra thought we might need it soon …”


“Sure,” said Ivan.


James eyes lit up when he came in and saw the piece.  Hapgood told him, “Now don’t get yourself hurt. And try not to hurt anybody else either.  But if anybody gets really rude about interrupting us, it might be nice to have a talking point.”


James took the gun with the kind of awe that Ivan had shown.  He flicked open the box of shells and expertly fed a few into the pump magazine.  Then cradling the gun with the barrel straight down and tucking the rest of the shells under his arm he went back to stand guard again.


They looked at the paper.  It was another code.


Batf, ipxn Ruplstwun ex vx vku jdptnbqs.  Wxxo tv vku skxpvusv wbfu hteo vx vku xwq jdptnbqs.  Tww xi kbsvxpd bs wtbq xf t sbfcwu wbfu.  Dxl nlsv ixwwxz vku wbfu itp hteo bf vbnu.  Wxtquq xf vku exnjlvup tpu zxpos xi Fuzvxf.  Wxxo tv vku itvu xi unjbpus.  Dxl etf suu zktv ku stz.  Vtou t wxxo tv vubp tcus.  Zktv zts vubp qtfcup?  Kxz qbq bv ektfcu?  Tfq zkd?  Zkd?  Zktv zts ku suubfc vktv etf cuv ls fxz?  Fxhxqd zbww wbsvuf vx nu.  Hlv vkud’ww wbsvuf vx Fuzvxf.  Dxl fuuq uabqufeu.  Wxvs xi uabqufeu.  Xvkupzbsu fxhxqd zbww wbsvuf.  Tv vku jdptnbqs B ktau wuiv sxnuvkbfc zbvk nd cptfqitvkup Tnxs xf Mltoup svpuuv, vzx hwxeos fxpvk xi vku Nuvkxqbsv eklpek xf vku pbckv.  Vplsv Tnxs vx ouuj t suepuv.  

                                                                  Etaoin Shrdlu


Jon glanced at it.  “Looks simple enough.”  He was about to explain when he was interrupted. 


A young man spoke from the door.  He was a red head, and he was holding a deer rifle.  “Excuse me, reverend, but there are a bunch of guys skulking around outside the church.  I wondered if there is trouble.  I came in the back door, but I locked it.”


Jon said, “Tracy was wondering when they would show up.  Yes, I’m afraid there may be trouble.  Check with James up at the front, and see how he’s doing.”


At that moment there was a thunderous crash against the front door.  The young man took off at a lope as there was the sound of a window smashing.  The shotgun barked in fury.


Tracy said, “I wonder why they always do it the same way.  Don’t they ever try the back door?” 


Someone in the front of the church shouted, “You want me?  Come and get me!  Come on!”  There was the snort of the deer rifle. Then there was a crash from the back of the church.


Tracy murmured, “All right.  I’m sorry I said that.”


Hapgood stood up.  “We need to get out of here.  Fortunately every church has a secret way out.  He pressed on a panel, which swung back to show steps leading downward.  They descended and entered a tunnel.  The tunnel was lit by tiny light bulbs.  It was roughly lined with wood.  After a few yards Hapgood knelt and pushed on a board.  It swung back.  He lay down and slide through.  The others followed, finding themselves in another tunnel.  This one led for some distance to a flight of steps, at the top of which another concealed door let them out into a maintenance shed. 


They left the shed and were making their way across the street when another young man with a rife ran up.  “Are you all right reverend?” 


“Yes, but Jody and James are in the church.  It looks like a raid.  See if you can help them.”


“Yes, sir.”  He took out a cell phone and started pressing buttons as he ran.


They crossed the street and began walking.  Behind them they could hear the gunfight getting louder and more furious as shotguns and deer rifles were answered with the chatter of automatic weapons.  Then there was the blare of multiple police sirens converging.  Suddenly the fight was over.


As they walked, Jon later thought he remembered something unusual, but as he made no mention of it at the time, he could not be sure.  What he later was to seem to remember was that they were passing a lush hedge.  He thought he saw a face made up of the leaves of the hedge.  Of course there is nothing unusual about that in itself.  People see images in leaves, in clouds and even in crumpled clothes.  But the face was unusually distinct, and it seemed to be speaking.  As they moved, the relative positions of the leaves shifted, so of course the image changed.  But it seemed to open its mouth. 


Beyond the fact of its moving, it the face had a distinct personality.  It looked like an elderly Black woman, her face drawn not with fear but with concern, the face seemed to want to help but not to know quite how.  Then he was passed it.


Then he saw it again, the same elderly Black woman, a pleasant face indeed, but straining to be heard, to say something difficult, even dangerous to say.  And then it was gone.  And then he saw it again.  He looked ahead and shut it from his mind. 


They entered the preacher’s house.


“We should be all right now.  Cuthbert’s finest are going to be very curious about any armed strangers if one shows up.  Come into my study.”


They settled in and began to look at the code.


“It looks straightforward,” said Jon.  “It’s got to be a simple substitution cipher.  Each letter stands for some different letter.  The giveaway is the signature. ‘E’ is the most commonly used letter in English, followed by ‘t,’ then ‘a,’ then ‘o’ and then ‘i, n, s, h, r, d, l’ and ‘u.’  So we could start counting letter frequencies and have a good start on it. 


“But we don’t have to go that far.  It is obviously a letter to Ivan, and it starts out ‘B-a-t-f” which should spell ‘Ivan’.  So we already have four letters.  Then the group ‘v-k-u’ keeps cropping up.  So that’s probably ‘the.’ If so, then we have seven letters.  Let’s see.  ‘U’ turns up sixty five time.  That’s more than any other, so it’s ‘e,’ which fits what we know.  I don’t expect we can get much more out of letter frequency in such a short note.  But here is a capital ‘B,’ which has to be ‘I,’ but again we already know that.  ‘T’ turns up a lot isolated in lower case, so that’s ‘a’ but we already knew that, too.  Let’s see.”


He spent a few minutes figuring, and then he copied out the message in the clear:


Ivan, from Jerusalem go to the pyramids.  Look at the shortest line back to the old pyramids.  All of history is laid out on a single line.  You must follow the line far back in time.  Loaded on the computer are works of Newton.  Look at the fate of empires.  You can see what he saw.  Take a look at their ages.  What was their danger?  How did it change?  And why?  Why?  What was he seeing that can get us now?  Nobody will listen to me.  But they’ll listen to Newton.  You need evidence.  Lots of evidence.  Otherwise nobody will listen.  At the pyramids I have left something with my grandfather Amos on Quaker street, two blocks north of the Methodist church on the right.  Trust Amos to keep a secret. 


“All right,” said Jon.  We know Jerusalem is supposed to be Cuthbert.  So how far south and east do we go to get to the pyramids?  Can I look at your globe, reverend?”


“Of course.”


He measured with his fingers a moment and said, “It’s New Orleans.  Or at least it’s so close as makes no difference.  Imagine that.  Two great cities, Cairo and New Orleans, at the same latitude, each at the mouth end of a great river draining the land of a great world power – the oldest and the newest, some one hundred twenty generations apart and one hundred twenty degrees apart.


“Here’s something else.  The north south line, the longitude, through Cairo and the pyramids covers more land than any other north south line you can find.  And the latitude, the east west line, through there goes through more land than any other east west line you can draw.  The Mississippi and Missouri together are the longest river in the world.  If you say the Mississippi really starts as the Ohio, then it isn’t as long and the Nile is the longest river in the world.  How odd.


“But we’re supposed to find the shortest distance between the pyramids – Cairo – and New Orleans.  Reverend, do you have a bit of string?”


They all stood around while Jon placed the string between Cairo and New Orleans and pulled it tight.  There was a united gasp.  Jon silently mouthed the words “Well … I’ll … be ….”


There was a knock.  James had come with the shotgun.  He was beaming.  “It’s all quiet, Reverend.”


“Well done, James.  Anybody hurt?”


“A couple bad guys got winged, but they should be all right.  Those cops know their first aid.” 


“I’m glad it was no worse.  James, we are going to have to go to New Orleans, and it would not be wise to take my car.  Can you borrow a car for us?”


“I’ve got my van, and I have family in New Orleans.  Can I come along?  It’s been a little dull around here before today.  I’ve been getting restless for a road trip.”


“We wouldn’t dream of going without you.” 


An hour later, the van was on the way to Dothan and interstate highway ten.  James flicked on the radio.  The announcer said, “Good news for Gigacorp, the food and communications giant so recently injured by the skyscraper attack.  They have concluded a merger that will put them in technical control of all telephone communications in the continental United States.  This massive market should do much to repair their tragic loss.  The Chief Executive Officer could not be reached, but a representative for the company said that the responsibility was humbling and the company would continue to do everything it its power to deliver a reliable and cost effective high quality service to the people of America.”


“The chief was probably too drunk to speak,” remarked James.


In reality, the CEO of Gigacorp, Hans Turelli, was close to being too furious to speak.  At that moment he was in his headquarters repeating what he had just heard over the phone.  “Vanished without a trace.  The whole strike squad vanished without a trace.  Well why the shit didn’t you send backup?  … You did send backup and THEY vanished without a trace.  WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON DOWN THERE?  I give you enough resources to conquer Guatemala, and all you have to do is grab one man, one unsuspecting man.  … Yes I KNOW the Florida swamps are unbelievable.  That might be why I am having trouble believing you.  Well FIND OUT what happened to them.  Do it.  I have another call. …”  He punched a button on his phone to connect to the incoming call.  He listened, speaking occasionally.  “ Yes… Yes…  IN JAIL?  The whole strike team in the Cuthbert jail?  What kind of clown act is this?  YES we bail them out.  Figure out a way.  Create some maiden aunt who’s sweet on her nephew, or some girlfriend heiress.  Keep our name out of it.  Get them out, and then get me a reeeeeal good story of how this happened.” 


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