Saturday, March 2, 2024

“As Flies to Wanton Boys” • by J. M. Eno

King Edmund liked to think that he presided over an efficient court,
and so when he found himself facing the stranger—a small, unimposing man in tight-clinging clothes—he found himself nearly out of patience. A stranger’s presence was always an unwelcome diversion, especially when it had happened five times already this morning.

“Hello there,” the stranger said. “I’m Dr. Robert Alexander, a scientist from the, uh, United States.”

“It is customary to bow before your king, Robert,” said King Edmund.

“Right. Sorry. So is it more of a bend at the waist or a genuflect?”

The king’s men showed Dr. Alexander the prostrate position in which the king preferred to receive surprise guests.

“What brings you before the court?” said the king.

“Happy to discuss. If I could just rise up a bit? No? Okay. Well, you see, I’m the first physicist to solve Hirota’s equations.”

“Do go on…” said the king. One his men snickered.

“Hirota’s equations were postulated to conform general relativity and quantum mechanics, but only for closed-end systems. They were proposed by a physicist in the, uh, what’s west of the New World for you?”

“We are aware of the existence of the shogunate in Edo.”

“Right! So as it happens, my wife is a huge fan of period pieces. Those are stories about the, uh, time period you all live in. So I decided to take the machine we’ve been working on for a test drive if you will. All thanks to Hirota’s equations.”

“Very good,” said the king, “But it appears you’ve solved them incorrectly.”

“That can’t be, said Dr. Alexander. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Is it possible that you performed a linear, rather than affine, transformation of the matrix represented in Hirota’s Third Equation?”

“What? How could you know that… oh no.” Dr. Alexander noticed that he had begun to flicker and fade, as if his body were the flame of a candle melted down near to its candlestick. “But that means… the paradox I canceled out in the Third Equation. It—”

“—wasn’t cancellable after all.”

“My God. The math was so beautiful. How could it allow such an outcome?”

“‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods / They kill us for their sport.’”

“Hey—Shakespeare! I know that one. Fainter still… that’s troubling. There’s a way out of this, isn’t there?”

“I’m sure you'll find one.”

The last of Dr. Alexander’s body faded out of view. The king wondered for a moment if there would finally be peace in his court.

From the antechamber, a small, bespectacled man approached.

“Hello there,” the man said. “I’m Dr. Robert Alexander, a scientist from the, uh, United States.”

“God’s Wounds,” said the king. “Let’s let him stand this time.”





J.M. Eno’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in House of Zolo’s Journal of Speculative Literature, Cobalt, and The Fabulist. He can be found among the trees with his family and a recalcitrant English bulldog or on Twitter at @jmenowrites.




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