It was standard at the firm. When a new scientist or engineer was hired, they were given an impossible problem. Sure, it seemed like a reasonable task at first, until it foundered on the fundamental laws of physics. The really bright recruits would catch on in a week or so; most took longer.
Then there was Harper. Six weeks and counting. Burning the midnight oil, submitting massive computation jobs, cursing when she thought no one was listening.
The board had been nervous about Harper. Her academic performance had been good, but not the level the company expected. But Joe Petersen had had a hunch about her. “Give her a shot,” he told the board. “You won’t be sorry.” Now he would have to be the one to eat crow and admit that he had been wrong about her.
It was not the sort of message one gives electronically. It was late but Petersen knew where he would find his latest hire. He knocked gently on her open door before walking into her office. She was sitting back in her chair, her dark hair a mess, deep circles under her eyes, just staring into space, nodding slowly.
“Hello, Alice,” he said.
She seemed to remember where she was. “Hi, Boss.”
“I owe you an apology,” he said. “The task I gave you —”
“I solved it.”
Even worse than he thought. “The task I gave you. It was impossible.”
“Well of course it required super-relativistic interaction between particles with mass,” she said. “Particles going back in time. I saw that right away. But the way you asked the question… It got me thinking.”
Alice Harper shrugged. “And I solved it. I just sent a naked quark back in time to resolve an ambiguous energy state. On paper at least. Can I go home now? I’m very tired.”
“I’ll see you Monday,” Petersen said.