Science Fiction & Fantasy

IntheNightWood-Banner_Final_Lightspeed Oct 2018

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Fiction

The Philosopher’s Stone

The row of horseless vehicles moved slowly along Kensington High Street. The green translucent leaves of Kensington Garden were colored red by the setting sun. The day had been unusually hot for this time of the year. Workers headed homewards now that the diminishing daylight no longer made it sensible to continue working.

The row of horseless vehicles had come to a standstill.

Dr. Isaac Barrow didn’t curse the evening rush. He was on time for his appointment. Sir Robert Boyle had made a great discovery, which he wanted to introduce to the most distinguished scientists of England.

Barrow repented that he had chosen the open vehicle for his trip to London. The smoke from the other vehicles was annoying and made him cough. His running eyes stared at the barrel at the back of the vehicle in front of him. He turned his head to look at something more pleasant.

Many female workers were hurrying home to take care of their families. Some of them had an appearance worth resting an eye on. Since Queen Elizabeth had forced through women’s equal rights with men, many women worked outside home and earned their own money.

One young woman didn’t seem to be in a hurry. She walked slowly and confidently, looking like she owned the world.

Barrow leaned out of his vehicle: “Need a ride?”

She stared him up and down with peculiar green eyes and then turned away.

The row of vehicles suddenly moved forward some yards. It stood still again when the girl passed him once more. “Sure you’re not changing your mind?”

“I will reach my destination faster by walking.” When she spoke, he understood she was probably Scandinavian or German, although she didn’t look like it. She had black curly hair and a tanned complexion. In addition, she wore long golden earrings. He would have guessed North African.

However, he didn’t see her the next time the row of vehicles got into motion. Besides, he had reached his destination in Holland Park and turned up a quiet side street. He wondered whether his timid companion from Cambridge had found Sir Robert’s address. The young man insisted on sightseeing alone that day.

Barrow had picked up young Isaac Newton when he failed to pass his first examination in mathematics and had to try again. The student had found Euclid “a dreary task.” Newton was a shy and reserved boy from Lincolnshire having to pay for his tuition and board by being a servant to his teacher. When Barrow became his tutor, he soon discovered that young Newton did his duties as a servant without being asked. Barrow sometimes got the feeling that the boy was able to read his mind. Newton’s ambition was to study history and chronology. But his interest in the subject was rather queer, Barrow thought. He had read Thomas Norton too thoroughly before he came to the university. Oh yes, he had read a lot, both sane and unhealthy literature. Unfortunately, he was more inclined to the mystics. He firmly believed that Pharaoh Sesostris the Third had known the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone, and kept on insisting that only the body of Sesostris had died. Isaac Newton, Barrow believed, might gain outstanding ability in geometry if he only learned the most fundamental theorems and definitions. Luckily he succeeded in turning his mind towards that subject instead. In addition, Newton absorbed the new geometry remarkably quickly. When Barrow had taught him all he knew of mathematics, he resigned his last lecturer’s place to his pupil.

Barrow handed his card to Sir Robert’s servant. It was so hot outside that he didn’t have any coat. The servant showed him into the living room. “The others have arrived, sir.”

“Dr. Newton too?”

“Yes, sir.”

Barrow went inside. Six persons were present, sitting by the fireplace, which was lit, in spite of the heat outside. However, Sir Robert’s living room was quite gloomy with its leaden windowpanes and heavy velvet curtains. One couldn’t decide which season it was when sitting inside his house.

Sir Robert Boyle dominated the conversation. The subject was obviously alchemy. Officially the scientists didn’t bother in regards to such ancient sorcery and scientific witch-craft. In private, though, several of them were attracted to the irrational element which called upon the mystic in them. Boyle was very eagerly talking, perhaps a little loud and breathless. His face had grown almost as red as his hair.

They all turned when Barrow arrived. He knew most of the faces. Robert Hooke was, of course, present. The irritable and cynical cripple who criticized everybody and insinuated that they had stolen the fruits of his labor was Sir Robert’s assistant. John Locke, the philosopher, had placed himself in a chair near the fireplace, so that the fancy colors of his suit were revealed. He smoked a pipe and regarded the flames. Sometimes he nodded, confirming. “I admit that I’m an amateur in the natural sciences,” he said and, chuckling, emptied his pipe into the fireplace. “I had to ask Dr. Huygens whether the mathematics in Dr. Newton’s Principia was sane before I would accept its philosophical parts.” He cast a glance at the young man sitting beside him.

Newton sat as far away from Hooke as possible.

The two others Barrow had never met before.

Sir Robert rose, greeted him, and led his new guest to a chair by the fireplace. Then Barrow was introduced to the two strangers. “Captain Edmond Halley, just come home from his travel to the southern hemisphere,” Sir Robert said.

“Congratulations. I read about your discovery in the National Geographic,” Barrow said. “Was it a common comet?”

A humorous hint to the unidentified flying objects was always welcome among the alchemists. The handsome face of Captain Halley stiffened. He probably had no sense of humor.

“Humanity will soon enough conquer the air, too,” Sir Robert broke in. “I’m also expecting our impressive sailing ships to be replaced by ships driven by steam, like our horseless vehicles on the ground.”

“God forbid,” Captain Halley said and laughed.

“My consolations. I’m sorry for your father’s accident. A pity. We used to go out together,” Barrow said.

Halley just murmured some polite remarks. Barrow thought he had changed for the better since he was a child. His red, curly hair had straightened and become almost black, and his freckled complexion now had a tanned, even color, probably due to his visit in a warmer climate. Amazing that a person could alter his appearance that much only by growing up, Barrow thought.

The second stranger sat on a pillow in front of the fireplace. She wore long golden earrings like women from North Africa. Barrow recognized the girl he had tried to invite into his vehicle.

“Dr. Fredrika Wilhelmina von Leibniz, the famous German mathematician,” Sir Robert said. “I guess you two have much in common.”

Barrow didn’t blush. During their correspondence he had never fallen upon the idea that Dr. F. W. von Leibniz might be a lady. Germany had not yet given women equal rights to men. However, she lived mostly in Paris. Barrow, who sat between her and Newton, lit his pipe. Newton had been annoyed when Leibniz invented a mathematical method similar to his own. Barrow bellowed out a big cloud of smoke which made Leibniz cough and turn away. He knew Leibniz was the elder child of a noble family in Germany, famous for its many scientists and philosophers. The present Dr. F. W. von Leibniz had a reputation for being a greater genius than any of the ancestors. Barrow had always admired Leibniz’s abilities in mathematics, language, and arts. But he had thought her to be a man and much older than she looked.

At dinner Barrow managed to sit beside her. Truly, she interested him even more than before. “You must come to Cambridge and give some lectures in your new mathematical method,” he said. As a master of Trinity College, he might invite whom he wanted as a guest lecturer, although the university still hadn’t allowed any female students or tutors. It was a matter of housing, proctor used to say.

Her translucent green eyes met his. For a moment he felt being emptied of all thoughts below those eyes. “I accept,” she finally said.

He didn’t reveal that she had to live in his flat during her stay, due to lack of housing regarding female visitors.

After dinner they continued discussing alchemy. Barrow yawned in secret behind his hand. He comprehended that Sir Robert tried to tell them something important, but he used a very long time to come to the point. Sir Robert raised his brows. “Am I exhausting you, my friends?”

“Not at all, your theories are very interesting,” the always polite John Locke assured him and put away his pipe.

“As you certainly know, my friends, we can’t divide or change a basic element into another,” Sir Robert continued. “Therefore it is my firm conviction that we can’t make gold out of mercury the chemical way. We must find the Philosopher’s Stone. I have been scrutinizing Arabian manuscripts lately to try and find a hint.”

“It’s an old rumor I won’t trust,” Locke remarked.

“It’s the only solution I can see. While I was trying to make gold out of mercury the ordinary way, I found the secret of the basic elements. There are not only four, but many, which can’t be divided or changed into others, and both gold and mercury are among them.”

“I read your theory last year.” Locke nodded.

“Then we might perhaps give up trying to make gold out of mercury?” Barrow snarled with the pipe between his teeth.

“It is possible to transform mercury into gold,” Newton suddenly exclaimed. He hadn’t said a word the whole afternoon, so they all turned and stared at him. There was a glimpse of determination in his eyes.

“Since you seem to know so much, why aren’t you rich?” Hooke said.

“I don’t practice alchemy to become wealthy. I see alchemy as a way of living, a kind of philosophy. A true alchemist must resolve to give himself up wholly to it, and the prosecution of the same, next to the service of God. He must join prayer to God, with serious meditation, and diligent industry, this is the way to attain true knowledge.”

Barrow was amazed by Newton talking so much. The man must have used a lot of time contemplating the subject to have reached such a conclusion, he thought. Newton was secretive, but Barrow still hadn’t expected him to delve so deeply into alchemy. “True knowledge, is that another word for the Philosopher’s Stone?” he said.

“They who search after the Philosopher’s Stone by their own rules are obliged to a strict and religious life. They may be granted the discovery of the Stone as a gift from God, and must solemnly engage not to use the knowledge revealed to them for selfish ends or betray the secret to the wicked.”

“This sounds more like an immaterial Stone than an actual physical one,” Locke said.

“If you by accident reveal the secret to the wicked, of course unintentionally, what happens?” Barrow said.

“Then the Stone will revenge itself,” Newton said.

“Nonsense, a dead stone can’t perform any actions,” Hooke said.

“The Philosopher’s Stone isn’t an ordinary stone. It’s a living thing, it leads its own life, independent of all other forms of life in the universe. It is, you may say, the true spirit of God.”

Newton had never before been that informative. Barrow decided to take advantage of the rare situation. Religion was his area of knowledge. “You are talking about God. What kind of a God do you worship? What kind of being is He, according to your opinion?”

“The true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being, and, from His other perfections, He is supreme, or most perfect. He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient, that is, His duration reaches from eternity to eternity, His presence from infinity to infinity, He governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. He is not eternity and infinity, but eternal and infinite, He is not duration or space, but endures and is present. He endures forever, and is everywhere present, and, by existing always and everywhere, He constitutes duration and space.”

Locke nodded. “Much knowledge disappeared during the centuries. But we’ve still got some clues. The Rosicrucians claim to have their knowledge from such ancient societies.”

“I’m a skeptic,” Barrow said. “I fear that most of it has been drowned in mysteries and rites based upon several religions during the millennia. You can’t be sure of what is pure religion and what was true science.”

“The base was always science,” Newton said. “The ancients believed in only one omnipotent and omniscient God, and therefore the other gods had only a symbolic meaning.”

“How can you be so sure?” Barrow was amazed. Was Newton’s mind completely screwed up? The poor fellow had been working hard for such a long time, and in addition had probably read some unhealthy literature.

“The Roman king Numa Pompilius erected a round temple in honor of Vesta, and ordained perpetual fire to be kept in the middle of it, as a symbol of the figure of the world with the sun in the center,” Newton said. “In the Vestal ceremonies we may yet trace the ancient spirit of the Egyptians, for it was their way to deliver their mysteries, that is, their philosophy of things above the common way of thinking, under the veil of religious rites and hieroglyphic symbols.”

“Are you being serious?” Locke said. “Do you mean to tell us that the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian religion were nothing more than a display of their natural philosophy? What about their many gods? Are they literally celestial bodies moving according to mathematical laws?”

“Since you are talking of the Vesta temple, do you believe the one omniscient God is a female?” Barrow said.

Locke chuckled, but Newton didn’t seem offended. “The word God usually signifies Lord, but every Lord is not a god,” he said. “I am convinced that the ancient gods of Egypt were divinized kings. In the case of Osiris, he is in reality the divinized Sesostris. Just look at the resemblance of the names.”

“We all know that Egyptian kings were named after gods,” Barrow said. “A slight resemblance in names doesn’t prove anything. And where does Jesus Christ fit into this system? Is he crushed between the gravitating bodies of your mathematically treated system? Do you mean God is a mathematician?”

“As a blind man has no idea of colors, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things,” Newton replied. “He is in a manner not at all human, in a manner not at all corporeal, in a manner utterly unknown to us.”

“I thought the human being was made in His image. We must resemble him in at least one way,” Barrow said. He knew he was regarded as the most learned clergyman of his time. He had been beneficent enough to free Newton from his duty to hold sermons, since he knew the young man felt awkward about it. “After all you have said, that resemblance must be grounded in our ability as mathematicians, is that what you mean?”

“Then the conclusion should be that the most powerful prophets are those who have the greatest understanding in mathematics,” Locke concluded. Barrow glanced at him. Newton had no sense of humor, so the point was wasted upon him, he thought.

“What if it really is so?” Leibniz broke in. “What if God only reveals Himself through mathematical coincidences in the universe as a whole, coincidences which can’t be mistaken and not discovered before a civilization reaches the technology necessary to detect them?”

“Where does the Philosopher’s Stone fit into this?” Halley said. “I mean, you said you started out as an alchemist.”

“Honestly, I don’t believe in that Stone,” Barrow remarked. “I will classify it in the same category as the unidentified flying objects people have claimed seeing lately. After the ingenious Dr. Newton here introduced his theory of gravity and wrote that famous article in Time Magazine about artificial satellites, combined with the appearance of Halley’s comet, people have been seeing things flying in the air. We haven’t got one proof of the existence of the Stone yet.”

“Would you believe in it if you saw it?” Sir Robert suddenly said.

“Many persons have claimed that they found it. They all showed a remarkable ability in hiding it from others under the pretext of secrecy,” Barrow said.

“Then I suggest we go to my laboratory.” Sir Robert rose and turned in the opened door.

They went through some dark damp corridors to a secret room below the rest of the house. Sir Robert went ahead of the group with a torch, and Leibniz followed next to him. When they reached the innermost door, Sir Robert gave the torch to his assistant Hooke, put an old ornamented iron key into the lock, and turned it round.

“Please enter, my friends.” Sir Robert let Hooke wait outside until they all had gone in.

The laboratory lay in darkness. However, at the far end of it, they discovered four sparkling spots. This was a secret Sir Robert hadn’t revealed to anyone, not even to his assistant Hooke.

“The Philosopher’s Stone,” Sir Robert announced proudly.

“But there are four,” Locke exclaimed.

Sir Robert’s assistant came in and hung the torch on the wall. Then they noticed that the laboratory was almost completely filled with a red rock.

“What purpose serves this rock?” Barrow enquired. “I suppose it isn’t the Philosopher’s Stone smashed to pieces because it was too big to get into the room?”

“It was during my experiments with mercury and grains of dust from this red rock I discovered the Philosopher’s Stone. It hides in small portions within it, my friends.”

Newton took up a piece of rock and examined it carefully before he threw it back.

“I have extracted everything of importance, this is only the leftovers.”

Barrow stood behind Leibniz and divided his interest between her warm body, smelling of roses, close to him, and the Philosopher’s Stone.

“Feel how odd the Stone is to touch,” Sir Robert suggested. “It’s necessary to store it in four parts, its powers are so great.”

The others progressed carefully. Newton was the first to stretch out his hand to get the smallest of the four pieces. He held it in his hand for a while, then slipped it back into the test tube. The scientists stumbled over each other in eagerness. Newton was standing in the corner washing his hands carefully. Leibniz withdrew and refused to touch the Stone.

The Philosopher’s Stone was very remarkable, Barrow thought. It was warm and heavy, and yet it shone with a cool alien light, like an evil eye.

“Have you ever tried to make gold with the Philosopher’s Stone?” Newton enquired from his corner.

“No, I will investigate it further before I try its powers. It is an element, but it seems unstable.”

Locke held one of the pieces up to the light, carefully, between two fingers. “It is really glowing with its own light.”

Barrow took two pieces and tried to bring them together. Leibniz had turned her back to him. When she noticed Newton staring, agitated, in that direction, she turned and peeped over the shoulder of Barrow. He felt her breath on his neck. Both pieces of the Stone were glowing more intensely. “They are getting hotter,” Barrow remarked.

Suddenly Newton did something unexpected. He grasped the hand of Leibniz and ran out of the room. Captain Halley followed.

Barrow laughed. “I’ve always challenged the Devil, but I’ve never lost yet.” He threw the two pieces back into the test tubes. “As a matter of fact, the Devil and I are very good companions, although I deny him the many victims Calvin offers him.” Barrow went to the basin in the corner and washed his hands. “I must get rid of this devilish stuff. Are you never afraid when you experiment on it?”

“Now and then, perhaps,” Sir Robert said.

“Alchemy is the science of the demon and of sorcerers and witches. Therefore no alchemist can be careful enough.” Barrow went to the door. “Was I seeing Drs. Leibniz and Newton fleeing upstairs hand in hand?”

“Captain Halley went after them. They won’t have a chance of being alone and causing embarrassment,” Locke said.

The three others were still standing in the living room when the rest of the party came up. They turned their pale faces towards Barrow.

“Did you feel the cold touch of the Devil?” he enquired.

“No, rather the heat of Hell,” Newton replied.

Barrow laid a hand on one shoulder of each of Newton and Leibniz. “I’m glad you two are becoming friends.” His grip hardened. “I suggest both of you come with me back to Cambridge.”

“I will stay in London over the summer,” Leibniz said and brushed off his hand. “But I promise to visit your university this autumn.”

Halley’s dark eyes flashed. “Keep away from her. She is not what she pretends,” he wheezed.

Barrow looked astonished. “I’m a grownup man. I don’t need any advice from youngsters like you, Captain Halley.”

“This is not advice. It’s a warning.” The handsome face before him twitched.

A terrible temper, Barrow thought. Terrible enough to commit murder? He shuddered. He felt the warning was seriously meant. Did old Halley get one too before he walked himself down into the river? Barrow began to comprehend that he was being mixed up in something he didn’t quite understand.

• • • •

The summer became very hot.

Barrow went to the Continent to visit John Locke in Paris. There he met a lot of other scientists, among them Dr. Christiaan Huygens. The usually popular Barrow found that the other behaved rather suspiciously towards him. Barrow wondered if he had heard something unfavorable about him. He invited Huygens to a coffee shop to become better acquainted.

Perhaps Huygens too wanted to settle any misunderstanding between them. “Mr. Locke told me that you met Dr. von Leibniz in London.”

So, that was the problem. “Quite briefly at Sir Robert Boyle’s. She’s doing some work in chemistry at Gresham College this summer. Do you know her well?”

“I was one of her father’s students. I was around twenty the first time we met. She was six, a lovely child, very intelligent. Her father said she had a slow development in the beginning. As a four-year-old, he was afraid she was retarded.”

“May I ask a personal question: Are you in love with her?”

Huygens concentrated on his chocolate. He got a mustache of crème on his upper lip when he sipped on the warm liquid. “Yes, you’re right. We better settle this. I love her. But I promised her father to protect her. She lived in my house while she was a student. I taught her mathematics for two years. But I never touched her in any indecent way. I kept my promise. God knows I wanted her. I even proposed to her. But she’s not the marrying kind. She’s only interested in science.”

They changed the subject. Now that they had settled the problem, the conversation ran more freely. They began discussing the solar system and the latest versions of telescopes. Barrow mentioned the unidentified flying objects seen over England the previous spring. He admitted that he hadn’t seen them himself.

“We watched some over Paris, too. I actually saw them myself,” Huygens said. “I wonder if they are space ships from Venus or Mars or even from the other planets. Swedenborg mentions inhabitants from other planets in his book. Our Earth too is a planet, and it is inhabited. Why shouldn’t the others be? And if we can conceive of artificial satellites and spaceships, why shouldn’t the others?”

“The idea seems farfetched to me. It is one thing to speculate about spaceships. It is another to build them. I guess the sightings are the result of a hysterical concept after Dr. Newton’s theory of gravitation and its interpretations were published. However, is it of any concern to us?”

“Of course, if the others come as conquerors to Earth, it is the concern of all mankind. I remember Dr. von Leibniz was attracted to the problem even before Dr. Newton’s theory was published.”

“So? I find the speculations a bit naïve. Mr. Locke always says that new ideas are more disastrous to a fixed society than are advanced weapons. If the others want to destroy us, it is sufficient to plant a couple of their own philosophers in our society to alter its structure to their benefit.”

“So that we will destroy ourselves in due time? Honestly, Dr. Barrow, isn’t that a rather slow method?”

“Well, the question of time may be different to people from other planets. Besides, it will save them from using any heavy artillery in a direct confrontation of which the outcome is uncertain.” Barrow rose. “You are welcome to visit me at Cambridge if you wish. Dr. von Leibniz will be holding lectures in combinatorial analysis for us this autumn.”

• • • •

Middle of August.

Sir Robert Boyle and his assistant Robert Hooke died within a few weeks interval. Barrow came too late to Hooke’s funeral, but he reached Sir Robert’s.

The large family Boyle was present, and a rather pale and timid looking Leibniz. After the funeral, Barrow ate lunch with Sir Robert’s eldest brother, John. He grieved the sudden death of a brother and good friend. “He didn’t die a natural death,” John Boyle said. “He just dwindled away, lost his hair and bled from many small bruises. I guess his experiments with the Philosopher’s Stone took his life. There ought to be a law against alchemists. As a matter of fact, I will pose that in the Parliament.”

• • • •

The following day Barrow fetched Leibniz and her belongings in Sir Robert’s house. He used his biggest horseless vehicle with a roof, having learned from smoggy London last time. They went to Sir Robert’s lawyer, another one of the numerous Boyle brothers, to listen to the will being read aloud. It turned out that Sir Robert had given the four pieces of the Philosopher’s Stone to Locke, Barrow, Newton, and Leibniz. In addition, Locke got his scientific writings.

• • • •

The weather was still warm when Barrow and his female companion set out for Cambridge. Leibniz sat silently looking at the English landscape passing. The vehicle got very warm inside. Barrow opened a window.

“Were they killed by the Philosopher’s Stone?” Barrow finally asked.

“I think so.”

“Dr. Newton often talked about the Stone. He, in fact, foresaw how it would affect those who came into too close a connection with it. He tried to warn Sir Robert.”

“I read those letters.” She sniffed. “I’m sorry I didn’t do more to make him stop doing those experiments. But I was occupied with my lectures at Gresham’s.”

“You couldn’t have stopped him. He was obsessed.” Barrow laid his hand over hers.

Barrow parked the vehicle outside a countryside inn. “Come on, let’s have some food. We have been busy the whole morning.”

She nodded and followed him inside. She looked timid and defenseless. He ordered food for them both and discovered that he liked to have her beside him at the table.

After the meal, Barrow fired the vehicle up again and they climbed into it. He tried to concentrate on the driving, but got distracted by his passenger. Every time he cast a glance at her, he noticed that she was studying him with her peculiar green eyes. He moved uneasily in his seat.

A thunderstorm was threatening on the horizon when they reached Cambridge. Barrow parked his vehicle at Trinity College and led Leibniz across the Great Court to Master’s Lodge. It was already raining. Well inside, he placed her in front of the fireplace, which was lit by a servant. She took off her wet sandals. Barrow settled in a chair halfway in front of her. He wanted to look at her. She was the most attractive woman he had ever met.

“I have invited Dr. Newton for tea in Master’s Lodge this afternoon,” he said.

Leibniz nodded.

Just then the servant showed in the young mathematician. Suddenly it felt as if the electricity of the thunderstorm filled the room. Barrow could literally feel the connection between the two youngsters. It was almost supernatural. The servant brought tea and scones. Newton put butter on a scone and devoured it. Barrow thought the young man had probably forgotten to eat the whole day. Only the slurping of tea and the thunderbolts outside could be heard. Nobody wished to start a conversation. The air was electrical. The silence became unbearable. If nobody talks, this tenseness will cause an explosion, Barrow thought. It was up to him to start the conversation. He began talking about Sir Robert’s funeral and mentioned the pieces of the Philosopher’s Stone the three of them had inherited. “I hope you won’t try to make any gold with it,” he finally said.

They just nodded silently.

It struck Barrow that their adversity against each other had ceased the moment they met.

Leibniz looked uneasy when Newton left. She clasped her hands in her lap, shuddered, and moved closer to the fireplace. Barrow put his arm around her and felt it was too intimate for her comfort. “You’re shivering. Is it too cold in here?” He let go of her. “The servants have made up a good room for you upstairs during your stay in Cambridge.”

• • • •

Barrow noticed that the students, at first, were uncomfortable with a female teacher. Soon they accepted her, especially when her method of calculus turned out to be easier to use than Newton’s. The young man didn’t mind. He had moved on to another subject, the study of light and colors. Barrow had decided that Leibniz was to take her meals in the Great Hall together with the other tutors. Some of the old fashioned clergy expressed their dislike. However, Barrow was Master of Trinity College and had the final decision.

Soon after Newton’s experiments on light and color began to leak out, Barrow got a letter from Huygens that he wanted to visit Trinity College. Barrow suspected Leibniz was the true attraction. He consented. A discussion between Newton and Huygens might be good for the scientific climate at the university. Barrow was tired of the old clergy working against the younger scientists. He comprehended their dislike really originated in Leibniz living in his house. However, everything was correct between them. He hadn’t tried touching her since that first attempt, although he admitted that he wanted to. Besides, he needed to talk to an outsider about certain suspicions that had popped up in his mind lately.

• • • •

Huygens arrived before dinner on a crisp autumn day. Barrow had offered to fetch him in London, but Huygens declined. Since he came in a carriage behind two horses, Barrow suspected that Huygens didn’t like the noisy ride in a horseless vehicle.

They all ate in the Great Hall. Afterwards Barrow invited Huygens, Newton, and Leibniz to his home for a nightcap.

Huygens enquired about the latest results obtained in optics in England.

“I admit that I wasn’t very lucky with my hypothesis of colors when I tried to explain, for example, yellow as a different degree of red and white intermingled.” Barrow looked at Newton. He was pleased that Huygens himself brought forward the subject.

“I am more interested in Dr. Newton’s peculiar theory,” Huygens said.

“Why is it peculiar?” Leibniz asked.

“Although he obviously believes in corpuscles, he doesn’t seem to be able to make a final choice between the two theories.”

“I prefer to speak of light in general terms,” Newton remarked. “And I consider your theory geometrical rather than mechanical. It contradicts physical principles, because of lack of periodicity. There’s no use in producing a beautiful mathematical theory if it isn’t confirmed by experiments.”

“I didn’t say that light waves don’t have periodicity. I believe that light is longitudinal waves crossing each other without in any way interfering with one another.”

“Such waves can’t account for colors,” Newton said. “If I were to believe in light waves at all, they must be transverse rather than longitudinal.”

“Do you suggest transverse light waves when using those rather obscure phrases fits and sides?” Barrow interpreted.

“Really, I haven’t investigated the problem thoroughly yet,” Newton said. “I’m sorry certain undigested parts of my theory have leaked out.”

The party broke up. Leibniz withdrew to her own room, and Newton went home. Huygens was lodged in a guestroom at Trinity College.

“What about a walk around the quadrangle before we go to bed?” Barrow suggested.

They walked the quadrangle twice before talking.

“I would like to talk more with Dr. Newton about his curious theory of light, but that’ll wait until his book is published,” Huygens finally said. “I understand he’s rather sore as regards undigested material.”

Barrow nodded absentmindedly. “Have you ever thought upon the possibility of producing death rays?” he suddenly asked. “Just think of the trumpets of Jericho. The walls were destroyed by sound waves. When you were working on your theory of light waves, didn’t the similarity of the two in your own theory occur to you?”

“Really, Dr. Barrow, I don’t believe in the trumpets of Jericho, I mean, that it happened exactly that way, literally.”

“I don’t intend to scorn your brainchild, but suppose the corpuscular theory of light turns out to be the right one?”

“That can’t be. I’ve performed a lot of experiments proving that light is propagated in waves. Therefore some of Dr. Newton’s experimental results baffle me. They indicate light to be of both natures, and that’s impossible. Plain logic shows that one thing can’t be of two such fundamentally different origins.”

“If it really turns out to be so?”

“Then such a discovery is abnormal for our age and lies in the future, because the conceiving of a totally dualistic nature requires a logic wholly different from the one we are used to.”

“I want to show you something.” Barrow turned and went across the quadrangle to his home. He removed a thick Bible from its place on the shelf. There he kept his piece of the Philosopher’s Stone. It was glowing in the dark. Huygens reached eagerly for it. “Be careful,” Barrow said. “It killed Sir Robert Boyle and his assistant. I think it emits death rays.” He might as well tell Huygens of the meeting in London. If the man was into the science of light and color, maybe he could explain how an element could shed out light by itself. “Captain Halley was frightened of it.”

“Captain Halley,” Huygens said. “He was mixed up in an unpleasant story lately. Grave robbing in Egypt.”

“Pharao Sesostris the Third’s grave, perhaps?”

“How did you know?”

“He was interested in the real Philosopher’s Stone. I don’t think he believed the glowing element in Sir Robert’s laboratory was the true Philosopher’s Stone. I have been suspecting Captain Halley all the time. You see, when I went to Oxford to visit a friend some years ago, I met the real Edmond Halley. As a child, he had red hair and freckles. A grownup man can’t change that completely. I was puzzled when I met him at Boyle’s. I know his father was murdered. He didn’t walk himself into the River Thames when drunk. His heart was penetrated by some kind of ray, very hot and very fast.”

“And who is the present Captain Halley?”

“I suspect he might come from Venus or Mars. You remember all those lights in the air last summer? They may be their vehicles.”

“Why should they be interested in pharao Sesostris?”

“Maybe they believe a precious item is buried in his grave.”

Huygens shook his head. “It seems too farfetched to me. A pity I have to leave for London tomorrow. I had hoped to discuss more on light and colors with Dr. Newton.”

“I don’t think he will talk about it anymore. He feels that his theory isn’t ripe yet.”

• • • •

The day after, Barrow didn’t meet Leibniz before she came back from her lecture. He and Huygens had been sitting up the previous evening talking about Barrow’s travels and consuming a lot of wine. Barrow had slept in and didn’t come down to breakfast with her.

The autumn afternoon was chilly. Newton didn’t show up. Perhaps he was afraid of being embroiled in another discussion with Huygens. Barrow was alone with Leibniz. They were silently regarding each other. He sat in a chair before the fireplace, she on a pillow below him. Physically, he was attracted to her. He had never before wanted a woman that much. At the same time, she repelled him, as if his instincts told him she wasn’t quite human. This was a new situation. He had learnt to rely on his innermost feelings and warnings of danger during his stay in the East.

“Who are you?” he finally said. “What’s really going on?”

“It’s about the future of the Earth and our own civilization. It begins with the presentation of the true son of God. Firstly, he signs his secret alchemical writings Isaacus Neuutonus, which can be transcribed into Jeova sanctus unus. As the only son of God, he thinks that he alone has access to the true knowledge. His method of describing the system of the world will, in a few generations, be regarded as the only method, even in fields where it doesn’t fit. The true God of our beliefs will be crushed in mechanistic philosophies, based upon artificial mathematical systems. The sciences based upon mathematics will eventually replace religion. The mathematicians and scientists will be looked upon as mystics and high priests by the common people not learned in the art. Civilization will reach a point where the sum of its advances in different fields will supersede the ability of perception of a single human being.”

“Are Dr. Newton and Captain Halley, too, mixed up in this?”

“Captain Halley is captain of a fleet of spaceships coming from a civilization which has been trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone. He revealed himself by breaking into Pharao Sesostris the Third’s grave. Now that we know his identity, he will be properly taken care of.” She laughed. “For a while, I thought you were that interstellar spy.”

“Where do you come from? Venus? Mars?”

“Venus—Mars! You know nothing of the universe. I might tell you secrets which would make your mind twist itself into insanity forever. Captain Halley flies around in his impressive spaceships, but my people don’t need such primitive vehicles. Unfortunately, he spotted us at Sir Robert’s when we fled out of the laboratory. He was, however, distracted by Newton’s writings about Pharao Sesostris and thought we had hidden the Stone in his grave.”

Barrow listened attentively. He could feel the cold from outer space settling in the room. He suddenly conceived there might exist other solar systems outside the path of Saturn. And yet, he would be able to hold this attractive female being in a firm grip because she had chosen such a weak shell to hide in on Earth. “So, where do you come from?”

She rose and beckoned him over to the table.

“Sit down. I’ll show you.” Leibniz took a paper and drew a square on it, then some figures indicating openings. Barrow recognized an architectural drawing when shown it, and comprehended it was the room they were sitting in. She also drew two circles, one inside the room and one outside. “They are two-dimensional beings. If the being inside wants the one outside to come in, he must open the door. Agreed?”

Barrow nodded. He had many questions, but understood he wouldn’t have to ask.

“However, we are sitting up here in the third dimension looking down into the room of the drawing. We can enter it from above without opening the door. If you let a globe pass through the room, the two-dimensional beings would comprehend it as several different circles passing through their world. It is not just the room which is open to us. Even the inside of the bodies of the two beings would be open. Now, try and comprehend a being of four dimensions. A three-dimensional house cannot keep him out. He can even enter a three-dimensional body without doing any damage to it. And that’s what we intend to do.” She produced a beautiful item that looked like a sparkling blue, delicate egg. “This is what we really look like. However, to function in this crude world, we need a human body. We are not individuals like you are, we are all one. But we can put parts of ourselves into different human beings and yet stay undivided.”

“Where did you hide that thing?”

“I didn’t hide it. I can produce it out of my being and take it back whenever I want.” She made a small gesture, then showed her empty hand.

“Why are you showing me this egg or whatever it is?”

“We will put it behind your forehead, between your brain halves. It will make you omniscient.”

“Why me?”

“We need a person like you. You are one of the greatest scientists of your time. You have done important work both in mathematics and language. You are looked upon as the most learned man in England. You are well traveled. Besides, you are Master of Trinity College and an influential man people look up to.”

This was the same situation as Jesus Christ experienced when he was tempted by the Devil in the desert, Barrow thought.

She rose to go upstairs and change for dinner. “Think it over until tomorrow.”

• • • •

Sunday morning.

Barrow was going to preach in Trinity College Chapel. He had hardly slept. He was reminded of a philosophical saying: “If God was standing before you holding the truth of everything in his left hand and the yearning for knowing the truth in his right hand, which hand would you choose?” He realized that he himself would choose God’s right hand. Barrow didn’t wish to become omniscient.

He was standing before the shelf putting on his gown, and then took his personal Bible to bring to the chapel. The test tube containing Sir Robert’s stone was revealed. Suddenly it was in his hand. Barrow felt its warmth towards his skin. “It will certainly bring me luck in my last sermon of my Judgment Day,” he thought and put the hot little thing into his breast pocket, near the heart. In a glimpse from the corner of his eye, he noticed Leibniz coming down the stairs behind him.

They walked across the Great Court, the short way from Master’s Lodge to Trinity College Chapel. He already felt the deadly rays from the stone in his pocket penetrating him. Sweat began running down his body. He wondered whether he would be able to reach the Chapel before he collapsed. Barrow more felt than saw Newton coming up on his other side. They wouldn’t let him choose. He already knew too much about them.

Barrow entered the pulpit. His sermons usually lasted for three hours. He intended to keep on talking until the stone had done its work, even if he had to collapse before the crowd. His eyes ran across the front row. Leibniz and Newton sat alone together.

Barrow knew the end was coming fast now. He laid his hand to his heart, uttered some well chosen words from the gospel, then stumbled and fell. Professors and students screamed. Some of the elder teachers and proctors rose, but Newton and Leibniz came first to the spot. Leibniz flung herself across the dying Barrow’s body, searching his pockets. How he had wished to have her that close all the time he had known her. She smelled of lavender and something he remembered from his mother when he was a child.

Then he lost consciousness.

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Tora Greve

Tora Greve

Tora Greve was born in Norway and currently lives near Malmö, Sweden. She is a textile artist and active amateur astronomer with a special interest in eclipses, traveling around the world to observe them. She has published science fiction, fantasy, and historical novels, some of which have been translated into German and English, along with various short stories.