Story for the Day: Doing Science

Science is the greatest export from Marridon. Whilst many other nations on the continents have their strengths and weaknesses, Marridon has all the joys and horrors of scientific discovery to call their own. When the Adiethians left Adieth and abandoned their worship of Myrellenos, they replaced religion with science and did rather well for themselves. Allied nations like Frewyn embraced natural sciences without relinquishing their Gods, but countries like Bellatrim would never dare accept the evils of knowledge into their ranks. It might lead the masses to revolution, once they become touched by the virus of education. While sciences of every denomination are embraced in Lucentia, Peppone has never seen applied science in its full bloom, and who better to show him how the thing is done than Bartleby Crulge?

Read about Peppone in The Ship's Crew

The first round of games for the evening were over, and after the dinner was finsihed and the plates cleared away, the crew of the Myrellenos were perfectly prepared to spend the rest of their evening rapt in all the gratulation of their usual gaieties until the letter from Prince Lamir that was to bear
Captain Danaco away from the ship was come. It was promised to arrive in the morning, allowing for communal jollity until sunrise, and set dances were called for and dice games were rolled out, all in celebration of their newest crewmember. Rather than parade himself about the main deck, however, Peppone, though the latest joined, was the first to retire for the evening, not to retire to his bunk in the hold, which he was shown by the captain immediately after dinner, but to Bartleby’s library, where he had the pleasure of invigilating the old man while he worked. He was Doing Science, a foreign practice to one whose ideas of physiology involved disassembling his enemies to study their limbs and organs, and as this Science involved ceaseless study and hours of quiet inference and calculation, it naturally intrigued Peppone as something he should like to see done. It was easy to study anatomy from eviscerated foes; it was much harder to do it from a desk with no severed heads about.
                After inspecting his bunk and noting that he had been given one within perfect view of the door, Peppone emerged from one side of the hold and went down the hatch on the main deck to the other, where a few stairs conveyed him to Bartleby’s lair. His ideas of laboratories had little to do with books and everything to do with frothing carafes braised over controlled flames, but when he descended and saw Bartleby sitting at a desk, collocated by stacks of papers and bookcases, he owned himself somewhat disappointed. He had expected more from such an old eccentric, had expected experiments strewn about and dissected victims hung along walls; here was no dungeon with racks and gibbets, here was a phrontisery, the librarious hideaway, a sacred place devoted to knowledge and understanding, replete with bookshelves groaning under the weight of wisdom, notebooks stacked in neat corners, and wax candles melded to metal stands. It was more of a record room than it was a laboratory, and the resident laboritorian was at work preparing his samples for study. He was mantling over a mechanical instrument, an odd looking metal apparatus Peppone had never seen before, and was placing the collected skin samples onto thick glass plates. The plates were pressed carefully together and slipped it under a lens attached to a long looking glass, which hovered precariously over a flat stage. Bartleby peered into the eyepiece and looked downward, flouting and miffling about what he saw at the end of it. The sample was not refined enough, a lens was out of focus and must be brought into alignment, some adjustments were made, the stage was raised and the neckpiece was turned, and a few deliberations were hummed out, and an “Oh, yes, that is very good, all the cells are perfectly intelligible…” meant Bartleby was deep in the throes of Science, performing all the operations of empirical prowess with methodical fervour, looming over the device and peering into it as it for life, frowning and straining, tootling to himself his “Oh, how very odd, yes, quite interesting,” whilst recording his discoveries in a notebook beside him, writing at haphazard on perfectly tailored lines, his gaze unwavering from the eyepiece.
                Curiosity will work its powers on anyone with a proclivity for professional prying, and Peppone was sincerely interested in this Science. What was the old man doing, gaping into a long lens with one eye closed, looking at something nearly indiscernible? How could he see anything at all in such a small space? He inched closer, trying, by way of standing on tiptoes and craning his neck, to get a more comprehensive view of the old man’s methods: he was adjusting the instrument, he was turning the neckpiece, he was moving the slide about, he was fiddling with the height of the stage, and the more Bartleby doctored and fussed and recorded, the more fascinated Peppone became.
                “Do not try to skulk about me, you hulver-headed huggermugger,” the old man grumbled, without looking up from his work. “I can see you very well from the corner of my eye. Peripherals, you know.”
                “Well, I’m not trying to hide,” Peppone observed, “so I hope you can see me.”
                Bartleby replied with a careless, “Mmm, yes, well…” and seemed well-inclined to ignore his intruder. He turned again to his device and began studying the slide, when his furnishings sensed something and stood on end. “Why are you standing so close to me?” he hissed, drawing back in his chair. “Go stand over there, if you must stand anywhere.”
                Peppone did as he was told and went to stand in the corner closest to the stair, but his smiling interest, his eager penetration made him seem more present than he was before. He canted his head and pointed to the device Bartleby was looking into. “Is that Science?”
                “What do you mean is that science?” said Bartleby, with unanswerable dignity. “Fff! Of course it is science! Everything you see is science, but you’re Lucentian or Sesternese or whatever two nationalities flung together, neither of which prizes scientific understanding. Science is the system by which we collect information and acquire knowledge by testable hypotheses, which are then proven through quantifiable and certified evidence. There are natural sciences, formal sciences, social sciences, applied sciences, domestic science, and so on. Everything from the batting of an eyelid to the frightful indentation in your head can be explained by science.”
                “Not everything, Bartleby,” came a voice from without.
                “Quiet, Rannig,” Bartleby sniffed, glaring at the ceiling. “I was speaking to the imp, not to you.”
                Peppone browsed the dent in his skull with his fingertips. “It doesn’t make me look like an imp, does it?”
                “You need more than what science can offer if you think a misshapen skull is why you look like a man who has been use as the back end of a barge mallet.”
                 Peppone considered this and the, shrugging, he decided, “I don’t mind how I look.”
                “No,” said Bartleby, in a careless hue, staring into his instrument, “nor should you. Appearences are the great trick of existence. They mean nothing where intellect is concerned. The brain and all its processes are more important and reliable than anything an outward pageant could imply.”
                He mumbled something about the folly of youth, putting grave importance on the ephemeral, and returned to his work, and Peppone crept quietly closer to the desk.
                “Can I watch you do Science?” Peppone asked, with a crooked smile. “I’ve never seen Science being done this close before.”
                “Point of fact you have, sir, this very day, though you didn’t know it,” Bartleby humphed, taking down a few notes. “You threw a piece of bent steel with angle and rotation enough to have it cut down a flag from forty feet up and have it return to you. A sublime example of applied physics as I have ever seen one, and you had no idea of it. To you, I suppose you just threw your murderer’s tool, or whateveritisyoucallit, but you performed a mathematical wonder, throwing your blade on a pefect angle, taking into account wind resistance, aerodynamic lift, gyroscopic procession, and so forth.”
                Peppone was surprised and pleased all at once. “I guess I did. But how did I do that?”
                “How else would you do it without knowing the significance of what you were doing? Practice, sir. That is the only way the illiterate stumble into scientific accident. If you are determined to stay and invigilate as I study your rind, as you seem to be, you will stay where you are and come no closer, and you will learn to be silent. This is my library and laboratory, and if you want to remain in it, you will behave yourself, do you understand? You will not glaum anything or climp anything, you will not breathe on my books ir sniff on my slides, and you will not speak unless I have given you leave to do. And you certainly do not have permission to drape over me like an unwanted sallow or hang about me whilst I am working--”
                “What is that device?” Peppone asked, pointing to the looking instrument.
                Bartleby straightened, and his eye twitched. “Did not I just say, not a second ago--?”
                “You said not to distrubn you while you were working, but you were looking up and talking to me just then.”
                Bartleby’s mouth opened and then closed again, his remonstrances failing him, and when he opened his mouth again to make some sharp answer, a familiar laugh echoed from without, the stifled reboation raising the old man’s spleen and making his lips purse.
                “Rannig,” he called out, “you are supposed to be varnishing the deck, not trinkling on other people’s conversations. We have talked about your espial habits at length already.”
                “I’m varnishin’, Bartleby,” Rannig insisted, from above deck, “but I can hear ye through the wood anyhow.”
                “Yes, well, ask Panza to deafen you with a song. That should cure your earwigging.” There was a pause. “There. You are quiet now because I have mentioned earwigs.”
                There was a soft, “….Well, they got pincers and all…” whimpered out, and Rannig was silent under the sussuration of a brush being scraped in circles long the deck.