Temptation of the Seven Scientists
a short story
Once there were, and perhaps still are: a certain seven scientists, each with a yearning heart. They lived by a forest so dense and vast that not one scientist knew another, though their spoor often met on the forest paths. The scientists were named S1, S2, S3 and so on, all the way to S7; and although some were M and some, F, we shall speak of them as M, for it matters not a hoot.
Each scientist set off each morning on his own, hunting his prey--the Great Theory. Not to kill it, but to capture it, tame it, and display it for all to see.
The forest teemed with Great Theories, no two alike. However, they were all very elusive beasts, and the hunters hardly ever caught one.
S1 was an exception. When he was still a shock of greasy youth, he caught a Great Theory and became quickly renowned for his skill. Only he knew that he had fallen asleep in a glade, and the Great Theory had stumbled over him and woken him up. He leapt to his feet in fright, thereby jerking a line he had forgotten to tie up neatly, and the Theory, who was just rising to its feet, stumbled again, tangled in the mess of S1's sloppy work. It only remained for S1to properly hobble the beast and lead it back to S1's village, where the young hunter was immediately lauded as a great hero (it was indeed, a splendid Great Theory). S1 became known far and wide, and was feted by the King. No one except S1 and the Great Theory ever knew the true story of the capture, but to have netted such a magnificent catch at such an early age boded a brilliant future for the young scientist.
But though S1 hunted diligently, the flame of his reputation dimmed a little with each passing season, as he made no other catches, saw no other Great Theories, and had not even heard a Theory's swishing as it rushed through the forest. And each year, S1 grew older, as we all do.
One night, S1 had a dream so vivid that he remembered every detail when he woke, and he knew sure as he knew his own prowess, that the dream spoke the truth.
And this is what the dream said:
"Go to your most secret spot in the forest, and a Great Theory will be waiting for you there, roped to a tree. Take hold of her bridle and she will be yours."
The second scientist, S2, was a curious sight in the forest. Tramping before the dew dried, braving wind, sleet, ice, fog, and pouring rain, S2's skill in tracking was only just exceeded by the graceful fleetness of the lovely Great Theory that he sought. They had been so close to each other for so many years that you would have thought they were almost on speaking terms. But he never quite caught her. Birds often shat on his head, but he never noticed. Fantastic flowers bloomed, but they were not to his interest. His eyes focussed only on the trail of the Great Theory. S2 praised his Great Theory to others, but as he was a puny fellow with skin like a toad, everyone only laughed at him, even his own mother and father, whose only words to him if they spoke to him at all, were "Why don't you do real work as we do!" So he rarely spoke now, except to himself.
And one night, S2 had a dream, as real and convincing as the dream of S1. And this is what S2's dream said:
"Go to your most secret spot in the forest, and the Great Theory that you have followed all these many years will waiting for you, roped to a tree. Take hold of her bridle and she will be yours. Lead her home and no one will ever laugh at you again."
No one ever laughed at the third scientist. On the contrary, his whole village ran out to meet him when he strode wearily into sight of an evening. They led him to his house, where his wife tenderly massaged his feet while he ate and drank the good meal that she had laid before him. And after his wife had wiped the grease from his elbows, he spoke to the waiting throng. And all the village trembled at his day's exploits, including the latest thrilling slip of his fearsome prey. Although he was handsome as a new coin, many listeners closed their eyes so as to hear his voice better. For the voice of S3 could make the nightingale faint in envy. His tales were so exciting, the Great Theory always so near his grasp, its breath so terrifying, that wenches often did faint, and needed his reviving arm to be brought to life again.
Between S3 and his imagination, only one of them had ever encountered any Great Theories. S3 knew that he should really have become a troubadour, but he had become a scientist instead, so he left it to his imagination to do all the work, and hoped that he could keep his looks and voice. However, lately his looks were beginning to fade.
One night he had a dream, and he knew it to be real and true, just as S1 and S2 knew the same of their dreams. And this is what his dream said:
"Go to the secret place where you eat your morning meal, and tied to a bramble bush, you will see a real Great Theory, not formed by your imagination. You will know it to be a Great Theory because it will be wearing a halter. Untie it and lead it back to your village, and though your looks will fade and your voice will lose its sweetness, the villagers will still love you because you have brought them the Great Theory."
The fourth scientist had no loving wife nor adoring village wenches fainting at his words. He had no home hearth to go to, nor any comforts. The only fire in his life was the Great Theory, and if he met you on the road, you would soon wish he were a bandit who would only steal your jewels and victuals, and be off. Instead, S3 was famous for exhorting you to see his Great Theory in your mind's eye, whether you be a scientist or not, whether Great Theories stirred your blood, or not.
"Blue-headed, it is," he would tell you, with his face so close you could read his pores. "...with black and white plates on it like floor tiles," and you'd have to nod agreement, even though you'd certainly never seen his Great Theory. Even then, he'd not let you escape without paying more of a toll, listening to all the characteristics of the beast as if he'd lived with it close as man and wife. And you'd have to exclaim, "Yes, yes!" as if you also knew the Great Theory to be exactly as he described, and found it as fascinating a creature. And finally, after you thought you could bear no more, he'd yell out, "There it is!" and be off running down the road, with you seeing nothing, but getting away from him as fast as if the forest were haunted.
And one night, S4 had a dream, as vivid as the dreams of S1, S2, and S3. And so real that when he woke, he cried out in agony. And this is what his dream said:
"The Great Theory you have chased and described in such detail to so many strangers these long years is not a Great Theory at all, but a bluejay sitting on the head of his friend, a spotted boar. Go to your most secret spot in the forest, and they will be waiting for you, roped to a tree. Take hold of the bridle, and they will turn into your Great Theory, in looks and character, exactly matching your belief."
The fifth scientist was a simple man, with only one goal in life: riches. If he could have paid a simpleton nothing to catch a Great Theory, and then sell the thing, he would have done it. The problem was, he didn't know a simpleton who could catch a Theory, and the smarter men would all want to be paid themselves, if they were to pass the prize on to him. So instead, S5 worked in a secret spot, making a Great Theory. He had to make it look convincing, with legs that flopped, a mouth that gaped, a tail that looked as if it had once slashed the air. His plan was to arrive at the King's court laden with his catch. Dead, unfortunately, but, he calculated, still worth quite a lot. By the time the King discovered the fraud, if ever, S5 would be raking his fingers through his riches, safe in a far-off kingdom.
S5 toiled alone, and was a great admirer of himself. So he cursed everything but himself, for his project was still unfinished, and was, moreover, becoming more difficult, costly and time-consuming than he'd ever considered.
And one night, S5 had a dream, more real than his constructed Theory would ever be, and so convincing that he believed the dream utterly. And this is what the dream said:
"When you awake, go to your secret place, and in the corner where you've propped your ragdoll Theory, will stand a real, live Great Theory, more magnificent than your wildest imagination. Take hold of its bridle and it will be yours."
The sixth scientist would have admired the flair of S5, as he had none of his own. Every day he ate his breakfast, and walked to the same spot in the forest, sat down in the same place, sharpened his pencil, polished his spectacles, opened his pad, and recorded what went past. He was the child of two scientists, and always knew he would grow up to be a scientist himself. But he never expected to find a Great Theory, so he didn't consider it worth wasting his time looking. He did his work dutifully and trudged home, every workday the same, hour for lunch, a space in his log for public holidays.
And one night he had a dream, and he was startled but he did believe it, and this is what it said:
"Go to the workplace where you sit, and a Great Theory will be waiting there. She is very tame. Take hold of her halter and she will be yours."
The last scientist was S7, and though he went to the forest every day, he never saw a Great Theory. He examined spoor from many beasts, including his fellow hunters. He listened to the birds' speech, and observed them at their rest, and when they suddenly took flight. He put his nose to the stones and sniffed, and crumbled droppings between his fingers and peered. He had heard many stories, but believed no tales except the tales that he observed, by adding up their own unspoken words.
He heard certain sounds, and some days he thought with a leap of heart, that they might be the sounds of a Great Theory. Odd wild smells woke him in the night with their strange vigour. He saw footprints like no other. Some days, a flash amongst the tree trunks left him breathless, his eyes throbbing.
He never spoke of these things. He had never seen a Great Theory.
Over the years, the forest taught him many things, as he looked and saw and listened and heard and observed all around him.
One day, deep in the woods, he reached a little bare patch of ground. He picked up a little stick and squatted down, and scratched a picture in the dirt. It was a picture of one Great Theory, as he thought it could possibly look. Its tracks had been fresh daily for a moon, and it almost seemed to be following him. Then there had been smells, leaf rustlings, flits of colour through the trees. When he was finished drawing the picture, he suddenly stood, and rubbed the dirt smooth with his boot. His cheeks were warm, and glowed red. He was embarrassed to have drawn the picture. After all, he had not SEEN any Great Theory.
And that night, he had a dream. And when he woke, he knew it to be real, and absolutely true. And this is what S7's dream said:
"The Great Theory that you have drawn is the Great Theory that has been watching you. When you wake, go to the place where you drew her picture, and she will be waiting for you. Take hold of her bridle, and she will be yours to parade for all to see."
And so, each scientist woke and knew his dream to be true.
And each scientist went to his own special place, and did as he was told, and a Great Theory was his.
Except for one scientist, who sat and gazed at the beast and marvelled.
And the beast gazed back at him and said, "Take hold of my bridle and I am yours."
And he took hold of the Great Theory's bridle, and she bowed down her head in acquiescence.
And he cried, for she was more beautiful to him than he ever thought any thing could be.
And with his two hands, he removed the bridle and left her naked as she was born.
"You are free," he said. "I will not capture you."
And at that, the Great Theory tossed back her head.
"Then I..." she said, "will walk with you."
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