The Trigonometrist

The time traveler was bursting with excitement as he traveled to the land and time of the pyramids and the great inundations. A cloudless blue sky stretched eternally over the endless white sands. After visiting the site of the pyramids, he made his way to the city, in search of a renowned scholar who had written treatises on trigonometry and suicide. Although he admired the scholar’s genius and foresight, he also could not wait to demonstrate the advances of mathematics, science and astronomy. The city was desolate. After searching various streets he knew from archaeology, and finding nobody, he began to panic. A dead horse gathered flies by the roadside. The cloudless sky burned. At last, he came upon an engineer, working with some complicated irrigation machinery by the river. The engineer spoke through sign language and writing in the sand. The time traveler said that he was looking for the man who posed the following word problem: when the pyramid is 250 cubits high, and the base is 360 cubits long, what is the measurement of the slope? You are too late, the engineer laughed and gestured, for he died centuries ago. He wrote a chronology in the sand for emphasis. What time is this? the traveler asked. It is the time of plagues. Which plague is this? the traveler asked. It is the apparent end to the plague of silence, said the engineer. Are you the one who wrote the treatise on plagues? The very same, said the engineer, playing with various, unidentifiable machine parts. Nobody has written of your plague of silence; it is mentioned nowhere, and at any rate, we know now that such plagues were mere proverbs and parables, not events! Besides, your chronology is wrong, and it is you who are too late–you were supposed to be alive ages ago! The engineer set down his tools again and asked the time traveler to speak of the future. The traveler spoke of flying machines, pandemics, bombs that wasted cities, raising pillars of cloud and fire, of machines that produced visions of love and suspense, and of machines that could think and speak. Those are not events, the engineer laughed, those are parables, too! Do not be afraid, though, this whole world and the universe is a word problem or a parable. Where can I find the bloody trigonometrist? the engineer demanded. I don’t know, the engineer sighed. I’m not a time traveler and my land is in ruins, as you see. There are real events, the traveler screamed, kicking at the dust to erase the chronology in the sand. It is not one giant parable or word problem! The engineer pondered the sand and the cloudless sky. It was in the days of the plague of silence. The lost traveler sat down and wept.

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