posted in: Collab Week 2014 | 0


This story was written by me on May 29th, 2013. Since I have nothing to post today, here’s the fifth of eleven stories I’m saving up to be published one day.

Albert really liked the stars. He liked the vastness of eternity; the limitless expanses of nebulas and galaxies. He liked probability. He liked the randomness of it, and within the randomness, he loved the chaos of civilisation, life and physics. It seems so ordered, so rigid. Laws of physics, laws of thermodynamics, laws of the universe. It’s set in metaphorical stone, drowned in disappearing logic and facts.

Sadly, logic and facts didn’t run the world. If it did, there would be absolute order. Fortunately, logic and facts didn’t run the world. If it did, there would be absolute order. And Albert knew that lack of order represented chaos, and chaos is the defining characteristic of life. Life, with all its predictability involving societal norms, conventional rhetoric and body language cues, was still largely unpredictable, and in the giant alarm clock of the universe there was one tiny little thought that stopped Albert’s gears from spinning.

“What’s for breakfast?” he asked.

After breakfast he knew what he had to do, or rather, what he didn’t; the answer to that was everything.

So he grabbed the fourth volume of his favourite trilogy and crossed the road towards the well kept circular park near his house. He sat on a bench, quietly reading. Around him, life went on as usual. Important businessmen and presumably lawyers walked alongside secretaries and teachers and school children and delivery men, going about their lacklustre yet fulfilling jobs. Squirrels pawed on their occasional acorns and birds chirped as if it were their birthday. While engrossed in the book, Albert failed to notice a man sit down next to him.

“Fond of space, are you?” he asked. Albert was startled when he spoke. Presumably the man had seen the book he was reading.

After getting over the initial surge of fright and the proceeding feeling of confusion, Albert recollected his thoughts and stammered, “umm…. ye- yes.”

The man had the sort of twinkle in his eye that you’d find in eccentrics who’d been gently subsided by the infallible reasoning of society. The sort who’d only put butter on their bread instead of salt because it was shunned, or the sort who’d refrain from using telescopes at night to avoid accusations of privacy invasion from neighbours. On the outside they’d appear perfectly normal with a few quirks that are complimentary with their trade, but on the inside they were children with a sense of adventure that burned as passionately as peat on a dry summer evening.

“I happen to be a professor in Biology, specialising in the root colonisations of Trichoderma,” he said.

“I see,” replied Albert. He was lying.

“But when I have time I do some stargazing. What you’re reading is one of my favourite trilogies, you know.”

Soon Albert and he were having a rather uncomfortable but still enjoyable conversation about the book. It was unusual for someone to come and sit down at the park and talk with you. Unusual, but not unheard of. Besides, Albert couldn’t really complain about the man’s eccentricity. He knew that, bored enough, he would have approached strangers at the park for a conversation too. He actually rather liked him. He seemed knowledgeable and they shared the same interests, so far.

“Imagine you’re in a tin can in space,” spoke the man. “Not a tin can – you know what I mean – a spaceship. I have a theory, you know. In space, it’s impossible to tell which way you’re facing without looking outside. Everything is relative; there is no north or south, or up or down. Everything is relative to either celestial bodies – stars, rocks, planets and the like, or your face. And as you know, both of these are susceptible to changes. Change your position is space and suddenly the configuration of those bodies change. Get punched or something and your face changes. Well, not always, but you get the point.”

Albert was visibly amused and somewhat confused at where he was getting, but he let the man continue.

“I mean, that can be solved now with gyroscopes and electronics. Time in space is measured either relative to Earth, or mission countdown. But what if you’re out there. No contact with Earth and there’s a system malfunction! Imagine, floating through the void while you sit around and chat with your tin-mates (which is what I like to call astronauts). And you can’t see outside, let’s assume. How will you know where you are?”

Albert cocked his head pretending to think about it; the answer wasn’t obvious, but it mattered so little, and it was such a trivial point to be discussing amongst life’s more obvious problems that it almost demanded no attention. And yet, here he was, in a park talking to a man about the very same.

“I have a theory which I think will solve this problem,” he continued. “Turtles.”

“Turtles?” asked Albert, surprised.

“Turtles are able to tell where the Earth is, relative to any point in space. I’ve analysed their brain composition, and I’ve analysed the facts extensively, and there seems to be no doubt in the fact that a turtle will always point its head towards Earth’s core when given a quarter of a saltine.”

This was marvellous to Albert. It was so preposterous and wild, yet said with such stern seriousness much like the professor that he claimed to be, that he didn’t know where to begin arguing. He sat there for a couple of seconds thinking of which question to ask first, or which claim to nullify with his knowledge. At the end of it there were too many variables, so he simply asked, “and how did you find this out?”

“I didn’t,” replied the man. “That’s why it’s a theory. There’s simply no possible way I’m wrong. Their neural structure ensures that with the adequate amount of sodium, provided by a fourth of a saltine cracker, their heads will always point towards Earth’s core. Except when on Earth, of course. The effect of gravity is a bit too overbearing on turtles to perform this activity. It’s so good that it’s almost as if turtles evolved solely so we could use them as a space-compass.”

“Have you ever actually been to space?” asked Albert.

“Well, no, but I’m sure it’s true.”

“I’m sure it is too,” Albert said, sarcastically. “Good day, dear fellow.”

A week later Edgar returned from vacationing, and met up with Albert at his house.

“Did you hear about the guy who sent a turtle into space?” spoke Edgar, over his lunch. “Apparently he proved some bizarre theory and now he’s getting an honourary doctorate in Astrobiology, whatever that is, and he’s going up on the Space Station soon.”

-Upamanyu Acharya
This is his blog.

Follow Upamanyu Acharya:

IIM Ahmedabad MBA 2021. My hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words. This is my personal blog where I write on topics ranging from blockchain, to leadership skills and the consistency of jam.

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