Hyperboloids of wondrous Light

Hands wrapped around an imaginary cup of tea, the ghost waited patiently in the green vinyl booth seat while I set down and arranged my gear.  If my laptop and smartphone were unfamiliar to him, he made no indication of it and instead stared directly to the front with a slight, nervous smile on his lips.

"Even though I lost my faith at a young age, I always believed in an afterlife," he said, quietly, shifting soundlessly in his seat.  "I've never felt less joy about being right."

I tried to lighten things up.   "Well, if you'd been wrong, we wouldn't be able to have this conversation, right?"

"Yes, well, there is that, I suppose."  He paused.  "Anyway, I'm sure you didn't seek me out to discuss my theories on the persistence of post-mortem intelligence."

"No, no, you're right, you're right.  Heh.  As it turns out, you've been right about a lot of things, Alan."

His smiled a little more distinctly, looking down to where his cup would be as he said softly "So I've noticed.  I can't properly touch anything, but I've seen a great deal in the last few days.  You people have worked wonders with making things small," he said as I followed his eyes towards my iPhone.

"Ah, yes.  Yes, I suppose this must look like magic to you."

"I supposed it must do.  I suppose it couldn't conceivably be a calculation engine, miniaturized to a great degree,  as well as a wireless telecommunications device, speakers, microphones, et cetera.  Storage of some sort, probably magnetic since the mechanical devices we had wouldn't scale to that size.  Oh, and a very small television screen that can't possibly be using cathode tubes but it's a television nonetheless.  Clearly magic."

"Ah...yes, well..."

I scowled.  This was, after all, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.  You forget that sometimes when you're talking to a man you can see clean through. The man I could see clean through gave no indication if he was amused by throwing me off my game or disappointed that I'd underestimated him so badly.  He just stared distantly out the window.  Duly chastened, I started again. 

"Well, let me get to the point then. What brings you to the U.S.?  I've been asking around your, um, community, and none of them have any idea."

"Community, you say?  Do you mean "mathematicians" or "dead men?"  Never mind, it doesn't matter.  Let me start by saying that I'm as much in the dark with respect to what brings me from place to place as you are.  I have some theories, but my opportunities to test them with the proper rigor are, shall we say, limited by my condition."

"That said, there does seem to be some degree of guidance in my manifestations.  More often than not, I find myself in times and places that possess some connection to me or my work.  For example, I was on hand when a program of logical operations took part in a televised quiz show on your west coast."

"You mean a computer?"  He waved his hand dismissively. 

"No, no, the computer is just the machine, the chassis in which the operations are performed.  It's the brain, perhaps, but not the mind.  Anyway, I suspect I will be back in England next year.  I understand there's to be a centenary celebration of my birth."

"Oh yes!  They're calling it 'The Alan Turing Year.'  A celebration of your contributions to computing, biology, genetics, cryptography, artificial intelligence, if I understand it correctly."

"Hmm...these things, cryptography, artificial intelligence, genetics, these are things people are interested in?  My contributions are well known?"  His tone suggested that, despite hoping he was wrong, he knew the answer already.

"Well, no.  Not widely.  But the people that do care about these things are genuinely excited by the event.  You were ahead of your time, you know."

"I'm afraid I don't know.  I was very much of my time.  It was my time, after all, that let me study with Wittgenstein.  It was my time that made Einstein's work available to me."

"Now he was ahead of his time."

"Rubbish.  He was just following up on Gauss' work.  Don't try to romanticize it. There was nothing romantic or magical about it.  I happened to exist at nexus of ideas that allowed me to piece together things that were, for the first time, possible to stitch together.  If not me, then someone else."

He paused, gathering his thoughts, his intense eyes still distant.

"It was my time, too, that made my life one of scandal and ridicule.  I was, you know, forced to take chemicals that would cure me of my so-called 'deviancy. Ironic that England would make a show of celebrating my life.  They couldn't wait to sweep me under the rug when I was alive and I think they were relieved when I ended their embarrassment by my own hand."

I wanted very much to ask him about the apple, but ghosts are, by nature, fleeting creatures, and not prone to overlong conversations.  He seemed to be on a roll and I didn't want to interrupt.

"The madness of it still bothers me.  More than that, it angers me.  Sixty-some years on, and I'm still angry.  Not so much for me, but for our entire species.  Are we so petty, so threatened by differences, that we feel we must destroy a man who, and I won't stoop to false humility, a man who contributed to extending the reach of mankind's knowledge as much as I did?  Where is the sense in that?  How can rational beings act in such a pig-headed fashion?"

His shoulders slumped slightly, only slightly and for the briefest of time, before he gathered himself again.

"Still, I think I know what it is that has brought me here, now.  Do you see those two gentlemen across the street? The ones looking into the shop window?"

"Sure. The tall guy with the bald spot and little blond fellow with the white pants."

"Exactly.  I've been watching them for some time.  Their hands are clasped in a way that leaves no doubts.  And that is, if I am not incorrect, a jewelry store they're looking into.  They are looking at rings, are they not?"

"Could be.  Kind of hard to tell from here."

"They are, they are.  I've counted three police cars passing them in the last 15 minutes and not one has stopped."

I smiled.  For the first time, I think I may have been a step or two ahead of him.

"These gentlemen are clearly sexual inverts.  No,they're queer, there's no doubting it.  They're making no effort to hide it.  And, what's more, no one is taking any notice of it.  And the jewelry store..."

"Yes, Alan, I think they could well be looking at rings."  His eyes never moved, but his features softened and a touch of wistfulness crossed his face.

Alan Turing squared his shoulders to me grinned just a little, and said "Yes, of course they are.  Of course they are."  Then his eyes returned to his non-corporeal cup of tea.    "Ahead of my time after all."