“To every world, a teapot.”
“Professor! Put down the rifle, please — you’re scaring us!” Grace edged around the corner of the bookshelf, hoping that Mesopotamian Theology and Sumerian Agriculture were well-researched, thick tomes that could slow down a bullet.
“To every world, a TEAPOT…a teapot..a teaPOT…” Professor Wilkins sobbed.
He was half-naked — stained evening-shirt tucked into sweaty undergarments, suspenders flapping off one shoulder as the other side strained to hold. Cans of paint were strewn everywhere across his corner study, reds and greens pooled. The academic’s hands were stained blue, and behind him on the wall was scrawled the crude outline of a teapot. It had a simple spout, and C-shaped handle — the lid handle was shaped like a leaf. Around it immaculate drawings, calculations, and words in forgotten tongues had been etched with a butter knife. Blue and green dripped from his white goatee.
Grace peeked over the rim of books. “Please. let us help you, Professor!” She gestured imploringly across the aisle to the red-coated soldiers. Their captain rolled his eyes, and added “Indeed, sir. We simply want to figure out what is bothering you so. Please put down the rifle, and allow us to assist you. I am Captain Marcus Landon of Her Majesty’s forces, and you can be certain that my word is good.”
The brass astrolabe above his head exploded as the rifle went off. Captain Landon ducked, and shot Grace a murderous look. “Get him to put the rifle down, or I will order my men to shoot.” he hissed.
Grace grabbed a thick volume on cuneiform, and held it in front of herself like a shield. She winked at the captain and resolutely stepped out from behind the bookshelf.
“Professor, it’s Grace. Your niece, and woefully underpaid research assistant. You’re creating quite an uproar, and we’d all like very much for you to calm down, and explain to us what the problem is.” She kept her voice level and calm, while taking small steps across the paint-stained floor.
“Grace? Is that you, Grace?” he stammered, the rifle shaking in his thick hands. “There is so much – the understanding of the world taught at Oxford is flawed beyond any reasonable assurance of repair. Worlds like the skin of an onion….”
Grace took another careful step, red paint squelched up the sides of her boot.
The professor slowly lowered the gun, and turned back to his artwork with a look of rapture. “But, like a needle pierces to the center of an onion — present in all the layers at once. And what’s more — binding them, holding them together, connecting them. And I’ve found it — found the link. I pour the tea, and he holds the cup, and she passes the crackers, and I eat the crackers, and we all sip. And he pours the tea, and she holds the cup, and I pass the crackers, and he eats the crackers, and we all sip. She pours the tea…”
Grace brought the book down on the back of her uncle’s neck firmly. He tottered to the side, and fell face first into a pool of green paint. She quickly rolled him over, and checked his air — the professor breathed evenly, his face slack.
“Good work, madame.” Captain Landon approached, two of his men pulling the unconscious academic up from the floor.
“He’s a brilliant man, Captain — tell your men to take great care with him.” She scanned the insane painting. “If only I had sensed this mental break coming, perhaps I could have prevented it.”
“Don’t berate yourself, madame.”
Grace walked over to an overstuffed chair unmarked by paint, and flopped down into it. A serving tray was laid aside, crumpets and a tea bell were scattered. She idly picked up the metal strainer, and shook free a few tea leaves.
“The funny thing captain, is that my uncle doesn’t care for tea. Coffee in the morning, and cognac in the evening — I can’t imagine the source of this nervous fixation, if only..”
She stopped talking, her eyes locked on the tea leaf fragments falling onto the silver tray. They were green. Green leaves. She picked up on fragment, pinching it between her fingers and bringing it a hair’s breadth from her eyes.
There were no green leaves on Terra. Never had been.
[Story on Demand for Margaret. She’s an amazing artist, and you should check out her site and give her money for arts.]