Saturday, October 3, 2009

52. Tellurium


A Change of Seasons

A tellurium is a variety of orrery. An orrery is, of course, one of those delightful mechanical devices with models of the Sun, Moon, and all the planets which, when cranked, demonstrates the relative speeds of their orbits. The tellurium is comprised of brass or wooden balls representing the Sun, Earth, and Moon with associated gears, arms, and pulleys, and is used to demonstrate the mechanics of eclipses and of the seasons.

The single finest tellurium in existence was built by the New England machinist, astronomer, and misanthrope, Benjamin Dee, in 1816. So precisely constructed was it, in fact, that by the laws of sympathetic magic, a simple adjustment to the tellurium would change the seasons in the real world as well.

It didn't take "Old Ben Dee" (so his neighbors called him, though he was only thirty-five) long to learn the secret of his device. Thirty-five eclipses in a single day convinced him of its efficacy. Then, desiring vengeance upon the world for unspecified slights, he cranked the tellurium around to winter, and tied down the handle.

That was how 1816 came to be known as "Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death," or "The Year Without a Summer." The winter snows never went away. The planting was never done. Livestock froze dead in August, and there was no harvest in October. In his saltbox house, Ben Dee gloated darkly.

The only reason the Earth wasn't thrown into a new Ice Age is that one morning in April, 1817, the Widow McKenzie came to Dee's door to beg some firewood. So lovely was her face, flushed with cold, that he invited her in for a cup of tea. The two hit it off something grand. In the morning he slipped quietly from his four-poster bed, careful not to wake her, and untied the tellurium's arm. The seasons returned to normal.

Benjamin Dee died at age 86, survived by fourteen loving children and countless grand-, great-grand-, and great-great-grandchildren. His tellurium underwent various adventures and now rests forgotten in a box stored in a library basement, not far from the furnace. Every year the old building gets a little draftier. Every year the janitor stokes the furnace up with a little more coal.

This is how we got global warming.

Speaking of which, when did you last visit your local public library? Don't you think it's time? Drop by, do a little browsing, borrow a few books. And while you're there, drop a couple of bucks into the jar marked "Building Fund."

It could be money well spent.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

No comments:

Post a Comment