Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Gilded Gravity

This morning, a fourth passenger came to our compartment. I've stayed in the same compartment with the umbrella-plant man since my arrival; his name (I think) is Flishel. His umbrella-plants have continued to grow in the warmth of the Train far beyond when they would normally have been dropping their leaves. If they didn't fold up, I doubt he'd ever be able to get them back out the door. We still can't speak to each other - I don't even recognize his language - but we've found that we sleep at more or less the same time of night, which is one of the most important things on the Train. When you're sharing fairly cramped quarters with large numbers of other people, almost half of whom are nocturnal, it's best to be careful about that. Passengers who are awake at different times tend to disturb each other's sleep. When people introduce themselves on the Train, they include their bedtimes along with their names: "Navadine Strane, midnight." "Archelgram, ten in the evening." "Camber Sugmithophulous, daybreak." "Nigel Tangelo, two am."

The third passenger in our compartment, who shuffled onto the Train in early October, doesn't appear to wake up at all. We've passed stations with brass bands rehearsing on the platforms - even a Thiglian SmashBang group, once, who were asked to leave the station when the percussionist started breaking glass jars on the tracks.* Our fellow passenger slept through it all. I think he (or she - there's too much hair to be sure) may be hibernating.

Lady Mallory, the Engineer, doesn't ever seem to sleep. Whenever I look into the engine, night or day, she's standing there with her ears tied back and her hand on the brake lever. The Conductor never seems to sleep either. I think it's beneath his dignity.

The fourth passenger introduced himself upon his arrival as Professor Chelonious Flanderdrack, one in the morning. (Professor of what, he hasn't said yet.) This was close enough to the rest of us (two am, midnight, and interminably) that he decided to stay.

Professor Flanderdrack spent the rest of the day, between meals, explaining his theories to us. As Flishel didn't understand him and the other passenger didn't wake up, I think I'm the only one who really got much out of them. That didn't seem to discourage the Professor. He has theories on Hill Builder reactors (they contain a type of plant native to the center of the planet, adapted for extreme heat and no air to speak of), kudzu (it distorts reality, thereby covering more space than is physically possible), and language (it's really just a sensory aid to the innate telepathy that is how people really communicate; unfortunately, this telepathy is imperfect due to lack of training, and ceases to function at all outside of face-to-face conversations, which is why so many people disagree about literature).

His favorite theory, though - or at least the one he talked about the most - is about gold. He has a theory, he said, that all the gold in the world is attempting to gather itself in one place, and that the existence of money is largely a result of this fact.

It makes a kind of sense, actually. If someone has gold, they usually do their best to keep it, or give it to someone else who has gold of their own. Its value means that people are careful not to lose it. We dig the tiny, scattered particles of it out of mines and streams, refine it, and make it into dense little shapes like coins and jewelry. The more traditional dragons pile it up in their caves. Banks keep it in tidy, concentrated stacks in their vaults. The reason for the Bank of Bannarbangle's success, according to Professor Flanderdrack, is that it was one of the first banks to start stockpiling gold. The mass created a pull ("economic gravity," he called it), that attracted more gold, like planets forming. Customers flocked to the Bank to add their money to the pile. People collect gold because it's the nature of gold to be collected; money and metalworking exist mainly as ways to move it around.

The Professor was wearing a small gold earring. When I commented on it, he said that he's keeping it in reserve. He's been watching the gold accumulate for two hundred years, he said,** and he intends to be there when it finishes doing so. It's been getting faster - too slowly for anyone less than a century old to notice, but faster nonetheless. According to his calculations, all the gold in the world will have coalesced within the next thousand years. He's been keeping an eye on the biggest masses - the Museum of Antiquities in Karkafel, the Bank of Bannarbangle, and the hoards of a few ancient and wealthy dragons.*** When all the gold has gathered, he intends to still have his earring. He wants to be the one to drop the last piece on the pile.

He can't wait, he said, to see what happens then.

* I must admit, it did make a rather interesting sound.

** He has the variation of the Shapeshifter's Curse that comes with immortality, so he doesn't look a day over forty. The only side effect he mentioned is that his fur never stops growing. He keeps his eyelashes trimmed and braids the rest, except for his whiskers, which are magnificent.

*** Interestingly, quite a lot of dragons keep their hoards in banks these days - economic gravity at work again?

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