"By the Dawn's Early Light"
By 1st Endeavor
Disclaimer: All the characters and references to the show "NUMB3RS" are the property of Cheryl Heuton and Nick Falaci, CBS and the Scott Brothers. I am not making any profit from this and no infringement is intended. This disclaimer applies to all of the chapters in this story.
However, the story and original characters are mine.
Chapter 1: An Epiphany
The late afternoon sunlight filtering in through the tall windows of the room did little to brighten the disposition of the man sitting at the massive oak desk.
Professor Ludwig Schiller sighed heavily and leaned forward, bowing his head in despair as he absently rolled the small orange vial back and forth between the palms of his hands. The clacking sounds of the pills as they rattled against the sides of the bottle seemed to bounce eerily off of the empty walls of his office but he didn't seem to notice it as he tried to get his head around his present situation.
Just a few days ago these very walls had been decorated with his most prized possessions; his awards, certificates and diplomas…..his life's work.
Framed photographs of himself taken with dignitaries, faculty members and students that had once lined the walls now lay in open and sealed boxes on the floor; an unwelcome reminder that his journey at Princeton University had come to an end. He shivered at the thought of leaving and could take little comfort from the warm, sunny afternoon that was so prevalent on the other side of the glass. His thoughts grew darker as he studied the empty walls surrounding him and his lips curled upwards in a sneer as the vial began to roll faster and faster in his hands. Ludwig's frame of mind was anything but pleasant and of late his mood swings were becoming more and more erratic….and once he had actually resorted to violence.
He scrubbed a hand through his hair in frustration; the first signs of his illness had begun a year ago but he had denied them and had been able to keep them hidden from everyone around him, refusing to believe that he of all people could succumb to a mental disorder. Ludwig had never been a man to concern himself with such matters; this type of illness happened to other people but could not possibly happen to him.
He sighed audibly and pushed his chair away from the desk unfolding his long frame as he came to his feet and slowly shuffled around the room. The professor came to a stop in front of a large ornate bookshelf that was enclosed by decorative glass doors. It too stood bare; its contents packed away, just like all of his memories…and his life.
Ludwig stared at his faint reflection, feeling as if it represented his life, as if he was fading away to a mere reflection of what he used to be. He barely recognized the visage in the glass now; intelligence no longer lit up his hazel eyes….instead they seemed to light up from some strange inner light….was it madness he wondered? Could you really tell if someone was insane from the look in their eyes?
He leaned closer and noted that the shadows beneath his eyes were becoming darker, shadows brought on by lack of sleep, sleep that he could no longer count on because the voice in his head would inevitably begin its nightly discourse. He rubbed his forehead and grimaced as his fingers touched his thinning hairline and snorted in disgust; soon the only hair that he would have left would be his gray and brown busy eyebrows. The dark round frame of his glasses only seemed to heighten his light complexion, giving him the appearance of being a frail man but that was only an illusion.
Many of the Professors there ignored their body's needs for exercise but not him; he was a broad, muscular man and he had been taught that to have a strong mind one had to have a strong body as well. He turned sideways and studied the rest of his reflection, noting with some satisfaction that he was still physically fit even at the age of sixty-two; his daily work outs at the pool had kept his muscles strong allowing him to move around with the agility of a much younger man.
"But how long will that last if I take these?" he mused darkly, glancing downward at the vial in his hand. He hated taking the pills, they made him tired and he couldn't think…..couldn't do his work.
Ludwig closed his eyes and rubbed at his forehead; swaying slightly on his feet. He braced his hand against the cabinet to keep from falling and looked around when the door to his office suddenly opened. Schiller's half smile faded away as his eyes narrowed suspiciously and he watched in silence as a man crossed the threshold of his doorway.
Dr. Peter Edwards, head of Princeton University's Mathematics Department, strode purposely forward until he was standing directly in front of Professor Schiller.
"I'm sorry Ludwig but the Trustees agree that it would be not only in your best interest but those of the university's as well for you to take an early retirement." He raised a hand to forestall Schiller's argument. "Take some time to pull yourself together and once you have recovered, perhaps we can find something part time for you to do."
"I told you before." Ludwig hissed angrily. "There is nothing wrong with me!"
Edwards stared at him in total disbelief. "You can't be serious. How can you say that Ludwig?" he asked incredulously. "You struck a student! You physically beat Mr. Carpenter because he disagreed with one of your theories!"
Schiller's eyes flashed angrily. "The boy lacks discipline!"
"He does not and even if it were true, Princeton does not hold with corporal punishment and you know that."
"I did what I thought was necessary!"
"Perhaps you should have given it a little more thought." Edwards said mildly as he pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow. "You are very lucky that we were able to persuade the boy's parents from having you arrested for assault and from suing the university. Your doctor's diagnosis and your retirement from Princeton was the only way that we could get them to drop the charges against you." He shook his handkerchief at Ludwig. "You should have told us about your condition as soon as you knew about it instead of hiding from us for a year. We could have prevented this atrocity from ever happening."
"Their diagnosis was wrong…they made a mistake!" Schiller retorted angrily.
"Hmm….yes….well…uh…I think that we shall abide by their assessment." He cleared his throat and tilted his head sideways; giving him a sympathetic look. "Ludwig, I know how hard this must be for you to accept but you know as well as I do that studies have shown that people who are predisposed to higher abstract thinking are quite vulnerable to mental illness."
Ludwig's nostrils flared, and then he gave a snort of disgust. "That happens to other people, not to me."
Professor Edwards raised his hands in a pleading gesture; trying another tactic to get through to the man. "Look at Nash, he walked these halls for many years after taking his medication and he was able to get his life back together. You can too; you just need a little time to work things out, that's all. When you are well, you can come back and we will find a position for you, not this one of course, but there will always be a place for you here at Princeton."
"Haven't we had this conversation before?" Ludwig snapped angrily and made a grab for the man's shoulder…only to have his hand pass through Edward's body. Schiller gasped; his hand covering his mouth in surprise as the professor seemed to dissipate into thin air. Horror filled his eyes as he slowly turned in a circle, scanning the room for Edwards.
"He's not really here." Ludwig whispered in disbelief and began to tremble. "Maybe I do need these pills after all." He muttered and glanced at the orange vial that was still clutched tightly in his fist.
"Today….today is Wednesday" He said aloud. "Edwards was here two weeks ago….on…on a Monday….not today."
His shoulders drooped as he turned away from his reflection and glanced around the room; his gaze drifting from empty bookshelves to cartons that were neatly stacked along the walls while others were scattered haphazardly across the polished wooden floor.
This office had been his home for more years than he could remember; it didn't feel right to have to leave it now….he loved it here…this was his sanctuary. Schiller's head jerked upward suddenly, his jaw stubbornly jutting forward.
"Damn it! I won't go…you can't make me leave!" He cried out in anguish, daring anyone to contradict him but the room remained silent and soon after his shoulders sagged again; his chin dropping to his chest in defeat. The decision had been made by a higher power and he really didn't have any choice in the matter.
"It just isn't fair." He whispered brokenly to the empty room. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket he wiped at the moisture collecting at the corners of his eyes and blew his nose. With a sniff he tucked it back into his pocket and shuffled toward a table littered with open and sealed cartons of various sizes. Ludwig pushed aside a flap on an open carton and gazed at its contents.
This particular box contained many of his published papers, a couple of framed photographs and a number of awards that he had earned during the course of a distinguished career. The Professor picked up one of the pictures and smiled fondly at the visage. He closed his eyes and tried to recall the students that were pictured there; their names came easily to his mind and he said their names aloud as he remembered them.
That year he had taught an exceptional class and many of them had left Princeton to make some remarkable discoveries. His eyes lingered on one student in particular; a child prodigy that had arrived at the university at the young age of thirteen. The boy had the ability to rival Einstein himself and he could still remember the joy and excitement that he had felt at having the opportunity to teach the young genius.
Despair once again overtook him and his arm fell listlessly to his side and with the picture still in his hand he stumbled back to his desk and sat down heavily. He slouched back in his chair and stared at the photograph but his eyes no longer saw it as his thoughts began to wander to the deeper recesses of his mind.
If he came back as Edwards had suggested would he join John Nash and become another "Phantom of Fine Hall"? Would he become just another shadowy figure that wandered the halls in the middle of the night and scribbled arcane equations on the blackboards? His vision blurred and a sob escaped his lips as tears ran unchecked down his cheeks; he didn't want that life but in his heart he knew that he couldn't prevent it from coming to pass.
Day changed into night and sunbeams became moonbeams but still the old man remained motionless. Finally, just before dawn he began to stir and in a dream-like state he rose silently from his chair. It struck him suddenly, how quiet the school was at this hour; it was a sacrilege to him for his revered house of learning to be so still.
The window drew him and he marveled at how beautiful his beloved campus was in the moonlight.
Fine Hall, home of the Department of Mathematics, was the tallest building on campus, and his office on the seventh floor afforded him a most impressive view. He could see a corner of Lake Carnegie, located at the southern end of the campus, glistening like a silver ribbon in the darkness. His gaze drifted over the shadow encased structures and in the glow of the full moon he easily recognized each one of them by their shapes. Nassau Hall, the oldest building on campus, had been built in Victorian Gothic style but after the nineteenth century the university had adopted a consistent Collegiate Gothic style but distinguishing between the shapes was not a problem for him. Ludwig knew the campus like the back of his hand; every piece of stone and hallowed hall was a part of him…..this was his life and now he was being forced to leave it behind.
The Professor glanced down in surprise, suddenly realizing that he was still holding the photograph in his hand and his thoughts drifted back to his students. His heart skipped a beat when it occurred to him how much he was going to miss them; not only from the teaching aspects but also the social ones as well. He truly enjoyed the late-night concerts given by the a cappella undergraduate groups, the annual street fairs, the Cane Spree and all of the other traditional activities associated with the university. His lips curved in a slight smile and he spoke softly as one of the traditional chants came to mind.
"In Princeton Town the Youth abound, and do young Tigers make. Women return as Gilded Lilies, the men as Frosted Flakes."
"Oh…to be young again," he whispered wistfully, "young and full of ideas." But that could never be: his chance had disappeared with time.
Ludwig sagged dejectedly against the window; despair once again consuming him. He should have done so much more with his life than just teach; why…he could have made important discoveries that might have changed the world.
His head swiveled around as he followed a shaft of moonlight to another open box containing more of his concepts as well as an incomplete theorem on axiomatic systems.
"Is that all I will be remembered for?" He mused sadly. "A bunch of papers and ideas or worse…." His thoughts turned dark as he stared at the box. "What if all they remember are these last few months? The fact that the student involved had deserved the punishment was irrelevant now….the academic community would only remember this incident as an inappropriate action on his part and his reputation would be ruined.
That idea struck fear into his heart and in a panic he began to pace frantically around the room, absently pulling at his hair as he wove his way in and around the scattered boxes; nearly tripping over an open carton before he managed to grab a larger one to help him regain his balance. A sharp pain seemed to pierce his skull and he doubled over with an audible gasp as the picture clattered against the top of the carton. He pressed his hands against the sides of his head and pushed, squeezing hard in an attempt to force it away. The pain was imaginary, according to his doctor, but Ludwig knew better; it would always strike…just before the voice began to speak to him. Moments later the pain subsided and as he slowly straightened up he steadied himself against the carton. His hand brushed against the photograph and white-knuckled fingers closed around it as he lifted it higher to view. Ludwig's gaze drifted from student to student and he stared solemnly at them. Random thoughts darted out of the darkness of his mind as he focused on his former class.
"Where are they now? Had they accomplished their desires or had they become distracted along the way….just like him?
He glanced at the windows and stumbled blindly toward them like a puppet being manipulated by some unseen force; compelled with no will of his own to move forward. Ludwig raised his head and stared through the glass panes of the window; his gaze drifting outward, once again encompassing his beloved campus.
Schiller focused on the distant chapel; head tilting sideways as he studied the church steeple. The light colored limestone reflected the bright moonlight making it possible to see every detail of the steeple and as he watched it began to shine even brighter. His eyes widened in awe as it suddenly lit up with a luminous white light and he had to cover his eyes to protect them from the pulsating light that was emanating from its tip.
A chime began to play, resonating eerily around the darkened room and he absently pulled his pocket watch from the pocket of his vest. With a trembling hand he opened the case and checked the time; the fifth chime would mark exactly five a.m. and dawn's arrival.
Ludwig glanced back at the steeple and abruptly stiffened up, his hazel eyes shining brightly as if they were also glowing with that distant white light. It came to him suddenly….in an epiphany….the solution to his problem and the way to save his career.
It was as if the Divine One himself had reached out to whisper in his ear. A profound look of reverence crossed his features as he continued to gaze at the glowing steeple. Of course…..it had been HIS voice that he had been hearing all along….pointing him in the right direction.
"Yes, yes." He whispered excitedly. "I can redeem myself, I see that now. I can prove to everyone that I am not going crazy….that I am just answering a higher calling."
Ludwig relaxed with the knowledge that he wasn't sick after all, that the Divine One had been telling him what to do all along. A genuine smile lit up his face this time as he lowered his gaze to the class photograph; they still needed him and he would be there for them.
He was moving…yes…but now he had a higher purpose to fulfill.