Albert Einstein looked older than in the photographs Scrumtumbler had seen. The eminent physicist was in his thirties now, but he seemed as dapper as ever with his inky black hair combed sleekly back. He was flanked by two lanky, imposing Swedish lab assistants.
“Albert,” Scrumtumbler stammered. “I—I mean Doctor Einstein. I’m an admirer of yours…”
“Are you now,” Einstein brushed past him to pour a mug of coffee, which he gallantly offered to Elsa before pouring himself a second cup.
“Of course,” Scrumtumbler went on. “I believe in you. In your theory of relativity. Even though there is no experimental evidence to support it.”
“There will be,” Einstein said confidently. Then he gestured to the papers Scrumtumbler clutched in his hands. “I suppose you want me to endorse your thesis for publication.”
At first, Scrumtumbler could only nod and lay out his papers on the table with a shaking hand. “You see, Doctor Einstein, I have unified your theory of relativity with your discovery of discrete light quanta. Theoretically, my calculations also indicate the existence of particles governing gravity and possibly also time.”
“Theoretically,” Einstein said without enthusiasm. He studied Scrumtumbler while he took a long, slow sip of coffee. The Swedish lab assistants folded their lanky arms and glared at him. Elsa, cup forgotten in her hand, peered at him in scornful expectation until she turned to gaze at Einstein.
“Y-yes,” Scrumtumbler felt as if his brain had turned into butter. “The practical applications are limitless. I believe it is possible—maybe not now, but perhaps for some sufficiently advanced culture—to create a bridge through space. Someday it might be possible to travel to another planet by simply stepping through a doorway.”
“Practical applications?” One of the lab assistants stepped in between Einstein and the papers as if the equations might pose a danger to their honored guest. “This is a symposium for theoretical physics. Practical applications have no use here.”
“No, it’s alright,” Einstein placed a hand on his assistant’s shoulder. “It is obvious that this young man has worked hard and he deserves an explanation. You see,” he turned to Scrumtumbler. “I am asked to review more papers than there are hours in the day. I simply cannot review your calculations now, but if you would like to forward them to my department chair I will be happy to remember your name and look for your submission.”
Scrumtumbler could only nod. Einstein departed with his coffee and with Elsa. One of the lab assistants lingered just long enough to ensure that Scrumtumbler did not follow. As soon as Einstein had turned the corner, the assistant placed his hand on Scrumtumbler’s calculations and swept them to the dark carpet.