Gideon and his new, somewhat irascible friend are already deep in conversation by the time Font gets back to their table with three mugs of dubious looking substance called coffee. Font can’t understand why someone would want to drink something that tasted bitter and made you shake all over, much less why someone would want to build houses that sold the stuff and encouraged you to buy more, but he supposes time travel broadens the mind.
Two more weeks, Font thinks, two more weeks of field training, and he can go back to the theories of chronological travel, his blessed, blessed theories.
The gentleman — a stern-faced, magistrate-looking type with a nose that could saw through meat — is arguing with Gideon This doesn’t surprise Font. Gideon, himself the mildest-mannered man Font has ever known, has the gift of playing devil’s advocate at moment’s notice, no matter what his own personal opinion. Currently, the two men are arguing about the laws of the universe. Just normal tea-time talk, then, Font thinks wryly, maneuvering the mugs down on the table and trying to figure out who the gentleman is.
“And I tell you, sir, that a true and just God would not leave us to flounder alone in this universe,” the gentleman is saying, with a sort of quiet, angry heat in his words. Font almost flinches as the prototype neural implant translates the gentleman’s words. “If the universe is not governed by such laws, how is it that the alchemy and the science of human bodies, that the laws of motion, are all so closely allied? Surely there are underlying reasons that link all activities together, that bind the fabric of the universe and weave it together.”
Underlying reasons, Font thinks, frowning. Something about the — universality…
“An interesting argument, good sir,” says Gideon calmly. “Nevertheless, there could be any number of discoveries in the future that could prove your careful alliances between subjects false — discoveries that prove that the world is made of chaos and that you have only scratched the surface of all that is possible in the universe.”
Font nearly snorts. They were about to publish the full text of the Theory of Everything at the next inter-disciplinary conference in Europe, for heaven’s sake. This gentleman was probably right after all, in his own primitive way.
“Then why can the argument not be made, sir, that there are even further underlying principles behind these different behaviors?” retorts the gentleman. “That is no argument; that is an excuse!” A faraway look flits across his face. “Think, just briefly, of light.”
Gideon is silent, but almost smiling, so Font jumps into the fray. “Light, sir?”
“Light, boy, light,” says the man impatiently, scowling. “I have been lecturing on light these past months, the way in which the light from the Sun may enter a prism and be split into colors. When they are combined however, sir,” this to Gideon, “they form into white light again, through another prism!”
The gentleman looks almost majestic now, and triumphant. “A good analogy, sir, I believe. As all the shades of light combined must transmute themselves into a single white source, so indeed can the laws of nature be combined into one single truth! So, indeed, can we all be traced to the ultimate source, to the Almighty God.”
Font just barely stops himself quirking a highly skeptical eyebrow. Wouldn’t do to offend the man, after all. Something about this was nagging him, though. What was that about prisms? Someone had done experiments with prisms, now who the hell… He’d always been terrible at the history of pre-19th century science.
“There is, of course, only one thing remaining regarding that experiment,” the gentleman is musing, sipping at the awful coffee drink. “The light itself separates into several shades, but I cannot really determine how many. I have attempted to trace the delineations most painstakingly, but it proves difficult. There are perhaps five, or six, or seven.”
Font can’t resist it. “Why not seven, sir? A most potent symbolic number, I hear it said.”
The gentleman fixes him with a piercing eye. For a second, Font is sure he’s about to get either a tongue-lashing, or a direct transportation out of 17th century England. Gideon, he sees at the corner of his vision, has stiffened and lowered his drink.
Damn damn damn damn.
“Well said, young man,” says the gentleman slowly. “It is well said. Seven, indeed.” And then the dreamiest look in the world descends on his face. Font blinks.
The gentleman rises, almost forgetting to place coins on their table. “Forgive me, sirs, I must take your leave. There are some ideas I must note down immediately… inspiration from the heavens itself, it cannot wait…”
And the madman hurries out of the coffeehouse, takes a right turn, stops dead, whirls around, takes the opposite direction, and strides away, his face pinched and concentrated in thought.
Font gapes after him.
“Font, do you know what you have done?” says Gideon with a sort of deadly calm.
Font shakes his head numbly, watching the ridiculous wig weaving through the afternoon crowds.
“The man who formulated the theory of gravitation, the first universal theory mankind produced. The alchemist and mystician-scientist of his time. The lecturer of optics. The inventor of classical non-quantum calculus,” says Gideon, in an almost wondering tone of voice.
A pit of — sheer dread, possibly, or impossible wonder, opens up in Font’s stomach. He knows he’ll never forget this one moment.
“You’ve just introduced Sir Isaac Newton to the seven colours of the rainbow,” Gideon whispers, giving him a slow, delighted, wicked smile.
“… oh my god,” says Font, and watches as the wig and the man with the impossible brain disappear into the distance.