Friday, September 10, 2004


The Hole

Grisha Perelman stood as close to the hole as he dared, watching it throw rocks at the heavens.

Occasionally he'd add a rock or two to the mix. He'd never been athletic as a boy, never learned to throw like a boy, but there was no one here to watch him pick up fist-sized rocks and launch them awkwardly, his left elbow jutted forward, toward the deafening upward streaming of the hole.

This was the last place, he hoped, his enemies would think to come look for him. And if they did, he could simply step into the hole and be forever beyond their reach.

The hole, maybe fifty feet across, was in a sacred desert in northern New Mexico. For centuries, perhaps thousands of years, the Navajo had worshipped the powers in these rocky hills. Now there wasn't a Navajo for hundreds of miles around. The only one left to worship the power was Grisha Perelman.

As he stood there, feeling mostly rather empty, experiencing only the odd half-conscious shudder, he muttered a kind of mathematician's mantra:

"The n=1 case is trivial. The n=2 case is classical. The n=3 case is me. The n=4 case was proved by Freedman in 1982. The n=5 case was proved by Zeeman in 1961. The n=6 case was proved by Stallings in 1962. The n=1 case is trivial. The n=2 case is classical. The n=3 case is me."

And so on.

As he bent to pick up another rock, he didn't see the glint of sunlight off a pair of high-magnification binoculars from a rockpile just over a mile away.

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