Collected Letters of Francis St. James, Letter 3 |



Collected Letters of Francis St. James, Letter 3

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(1 day past The Boundary)

Professor Zakharov:

As it seems with every letter I write lately, I fear I must begin with an apology for the lengthy time that it has taken me to begin the correspondence. I can only say that the beginnings of a voyage, whether by sea or - as is lately the case in my particular instance, magnetic currents – are fraught with both activity and error and it has been rare for me to find a moment’s respite, when I can slip into my bunk and devote myself to anything other than my ‘official’ ship’s duties. So, given that, I cannot offer overly much to report in the way of ‘progress’ towards the endeavor that, as I shared with you but a fortnight ago, I have lately embarked upon. I know and believe that you must support me in for I will prove, once and for all, the correctness of your noble theory (and, conversely, the wretched error of your critics, who besiege you as gnats pester the noble elephant). And I must say that I presume to take the present you gave to me as we parted (which no, I have not yet opened – as per your explicit instructions, I am deferring that moment until a time when I feel explicitly in need of your inspiration) as a tacit endorsement of my project.

But I must momentarily digress, and put the heady thoughts of Mechanistic Philosophy aside, for I feel that I must share with you the experience of traversing the Boundary. I know that there are few who have done so – Maxwell, of course, being the first – and I know that it has long been your dream to join that rarified group; I weep that your circumstances and the smallness of minds that surround you have prevented you from doing so. Let me put all that aside, for such human concerns truly pale behind the magnificent experience of crossing over the Boundary. I knew we were getting closer when a certain luminescence (distinct from that conveyed by the phytoplankton that I was supposed to have been studying over the years) began to insinuate itself into the previously opaque waters, and the throb of the engines began to acquire a distinctive thrum. I could not help but think of Maxwell, adrift on his life boat, heading ever closer to what was depicted as the literal end of the world, the precipice that the mighty waters of the Atlantic streamed over in an eternal cataract; how terrified he must have been and how despondent, to have been thrown from his ship in a mutiny (and that word reminds me – something is amiss on this ship – something has happened in the time immediately prior to my joining – further investigation is warranted) and then drawn, irrevocably, towards what he can only have believed was to be certain death.

But, as we all know, as he lay there in his boat, mumbling to himself in that distinctive way that prompted the mutiny, he began to realize that the one sound conspicuous in its absence was the thundering of the water as it flowed over world’s edge. That gave him hope, and he sat up, gazed out across the world, and beheld the same magnificence that I confronted, centuries later. Where the Boundary ‘twixt water and magnetism lay, a luminous mist erupted, as water vaporized in the flux and was lit by the numinous energy that it flowed into, and was annihilated by. And oh, Professor Zakharov, how beautiful it was: a vast and glowing wall, alit with every color you could imagine and a million more arose before us. I felt a momentary burst of the same terror that Maxwell reported, and then it engulfed us – every hair on my body stood on end as a labored intensity overtook the sound of the engines.

Then we were through – seemingly adrift in a void, the currents about us mere sketches of drifting rust. Those same rusty currents, I know, seized the imagination of Maxwell, and provoked him to derive those beauteous equations that inform every facet of our world. And it was so beautiful, so wondrous, so alien and so terrifying. I wish you had been there or, failing that, I wish my paltry ventures into the non-Sciences had led to my writerly skills being up to the feat of describing the magnetic currents that we did and do sail through.
But back to my real task and my true love: Mechanistic Philosophy. As I told you at the beginning of this missive, I have little to report: no great revelations have been found, cross the Boundary did not yield any immediate proof of your theories. That aside, I have just completed the construction of a machine, informed by your ideas, that may give some hints as to which direction I will take my investigations over the course of the voyage. After a sleepless night of thinking and construction, I have created a device that will extract the rarified essences of the universe. I realize that the simple extraction of such essences will offer no proof of their underlying substance, no great ‘snapshot’ of the mechanisms that sit behind the smooth surfaces of our worlds; nor will it definitively show that the Mechanistic conception of this and every universe is the correct one; I believe though, that it is a vital first step.

Next to me, as I type, sits a glass jar containing a single feather. One might think that this is a mere relic of my ostensible role as Ship’s Naturalist – nothing could be further from the truth; it is the first subject of my machine, the first attempt to extract the mechanistic essence of universal branes, from a coagulated and instantiated form. I must confess a disappointment that the first extraction is thus far limited to graphs and writings that offer limited proof of our theories, but I will persevere, that my researches into Mechanistic Philosophy might flourish, and that I may someday offer definitive proof of your most insightful thoughts.
Until that day, I remain

Your student,
Francis St. James