This was not the first time Scrumtumbler’s theories had been doomed to death in a lightless place. Twenty-five years before he had been trapped in the molemens’ pit with an unseen terror, Scrumtumbler had been a young man with bright eyes and a Ph.D. so new that he still remembered where he kept his diploma. He had traveled to a symposium in Stockholm. His idol, a dashing young physicist name Albert Einstein, would be giving the keynote address—but that was not why Scrumtumbler had come. No, he had come for a girl.
“Elsa,” he said, clutching sheets of his calculations in sweating hands. “Elsa, I’ve done it, just like I told you I would. I’ve done it—for you.”
Elsa peered at him over the rims of her glasses. She cut a heroic figure in her tweed skirt: lean and languid, with an air of ennui that belied her brilliantly curious mind.
“Oh. You.” She said coldly. “You’re that grad student. Scrimshaw, was it?”
“Scrumtumbler,” he said. “Lawrence Scrumtumbler. And I’m not a grad student any more. I’ve got a Ph.D. now.”
“Only one?” her eyes passed over him, evidently looking for someone else in the crowd. He had cornered her at the back of the conference room, next to the pastry trays and coffee pots.
“Don’t you remember me?” he asked. “I promised you that I would unify the fields and complete Einstein’s theory.”
She looked back at him and troubled herself to laugh. It came out as a single syllable, more like a hiccup than an expression of amusement. “Is that what you promised? I’m sorry, Scrumtangler—”
“The point is that Einstein has made the most momentous conclusion since Newton penned his Principia Mathematica. His will be a household name. And your name—people aren’t even going to remember how to mispronounce it.”
Scrumtumbler felt a burning in his chest, and his feet seemed about to give out from under him. He was seized by a sudden urge to run out of the room. But this was Elsa, and he had loved her since he was an undergraduate, when he had seen her diligently transcribing the professor’s lecture on her sleek Olivetti typewriter. That was the day Scrumtumbler declared his major. And this was his chance to make her remember him, so he opened his mouth and willed his throat to make words.
“Please understand, Elsa, this theory of mine will expand on General Relativity in a way that will re-write text books.”
“In which journal has it been published?”
“Ah, well…” Scrumtumbler drew back his sheets of paper, gripping them tightly enough to smudge the ink. “It isn’t published. Not yet. But I’m sure Doctor Einstein will be very interested to see my calculations.”
“Will he now?” sounded a voice behind him.
Scrumtumbler turned and saw that Albert Einstein himself had arrived.