The bus seemed to hand in mid-air. In front of it stood a skinny teenager, cowering, his arms crossed in front of his face. It was a frozen scene, both the bus and kid as unmoving as the zebra crossing on which he stood, and yet it was obviously a moment captured in time. As per the laws of universal cartoon convention, speed lines trailing the bus demonstrated the momentum with which it was bearing down on the unprotected youth.
From a shadow emerged the agent. Wrapped in his trademark fedora hat and trench coat, collar turned up despite the heat (of course), he strolled to stand between the bus and its target. Having adopted his current look in the post-war twenties he’d stubbornly refused to refresh his image with the changing time. It made him immediately obvious to those who knew what to look for. He was Albert Feynman – Physics Cop.
Removing his cigar with a sigh, he flicked ash onto the road and said to the air, “OK Thelodious, I know you’re out there.”
Nothing happened. Despite time being frozen, Albert thought he saw a shimmer from the heat haze rising off the searing bitumen. If that were true, he’d have to make sure he talked with the guys from the convection department to ensure that the molecules were restored to their original position after this was over. If a butterfly flapping its wings in the outback could theoretically cause a typhoon in the China Sea, there is no telling what rearranged molecules during a temporal freeze could do. Probably nothing, but you just never knew – that was the thing about Chaos Theory.
He folded his arms and said once again, “Come on Thelodious. You know this sort of thing isn’t on.”
Waiting what seemed like an eternity, Albert was about to try again when from behind the bus stepped a tall slender man. Strolling deliberately in his pin stripped suit, hair immaculately plastered in place, he tried to appear nonchalant as he presented himself before Albert.
“Ah … Thelodious Rouge Tapus”, said Albert, “of course it would be you.”
“Who else”, said Thelodious indicating the zebra crossing, “it is my job. This is an emergency freeze to forestall a legislative breach by the bus.”
“And it is my job to stop you when you overstep you jurisdiction”, countered Albert. “This is a gross breach of protocol, even for a Legislative Cop like you.”
“Not at all”, protested Thelodious, “Australian Law clearly states that vehicles must give way to pedestrians on zebra crossings.”
Albert gave him a withering stare. “And yet,” he continued dryly, “you are still outside of your jurisdiction by taking this action.”
Thelodious stood his ground and radiated unrepentant resolve. He was a legal man and rules must be kept, otherwise what was the point? This wasn’t his first confrontation with Albert and it wouldn’t be his last. He was damned if the bus was going to flout the law on his watch by failing to give way.
Albert continued, “May I refresh your memory about our little tussle decades ago in the States? It was about pi I believe.”
“Indeed it was,” said Thelodious wincing slightly but refusing to expand on the incident.
In the yawning silence that followed Albert plunged on, “And if I recall correctly, the State Legislature had passed a bill to set the value of pi at four. Four!? I mean come on, four! What on earth, even three would have been miles better.”
“Four was an excellent value administratively speaking,” Thelodious interjected. “Being an even number it simplifies so many calculations. Think of the savings to be made.”
“But it’s not correct.”
“That’s why we changed it.”
“You can’t, it’s a physical constant.”
“Really?” insinuated Thelodious his temper rising. “Because of all your meddling, we didn’t get a proper chance to see how things ran with a value of four. Now we’ll never know how well it would have worked”.
“Oh yes we do,” growled Albert under his breath.
The agents lapsed into silence as they re-gained their composure. Around them the scene remained fixed. A cicada hung mid-flight in the bushes to the side of the road. Only centimetres behind it, its recently departed branch was in the process of being flexed down by a cat paw. It wouldn’t take long for the look of predatory intent etched on the face of its stalker to fade once time was restarted, the cat realising it had just missed its quarry.
Even then, Albert mused, the cat wouldn’t have time to experience its disappointment. By his calculations, the bus would strike the youth within 0.6 of a second. The wet thump of impact, the squeal of tyres and eventual screams from passengers would drive it away almost immediately. He turned to look at the youth and shook his head sadly at the waste.
Without looking away, he said, “So Thelodious what is your plan now? How do you get your outcome?”
“To be honest”, Thelodious drawled, “I don’t see that I have to do anything. Look at the situation as it stands, no laws infringed. Quite perfect as far as I can see.”
“How about the fact that time is no longer progressing?” asked Albert.
Thelodious glared. He loathed Albert and what he perceived as a self-righteous elitism from the other agent. “You and your onerous Physical Laws. What makes them so special?” he spat.
“They are reality,” explained Albert, “it is how the universe is structured.”
“And these Legislative Laws are how society is structured,” said Thelodious.
“And yet your laws change with society but ours stay fixed. Doesn’t that tell you something?” asked Albert.
“Only that we’re progressive and you’re not”, stated Thelodious smugly.
Albert realised that he was gritting his teeth and consciously forced himself to relax. The man drove him mad. He often felt that these debates got dragged down to a level of stupidity and then the other guy would be on his home turf and thrash him from experience. It was exhausting.
“So let me get this straight”, Albert said, “you’re protecting a progressive law that is defined and made relevant by the society in which it exists?”
“That’s right”, said Thelodious.
“And you’re happy for this to happen by time being permanently frozen, hence keeping the status quo?” asked Albert.
“So wouldn’t that then render the dynamic operating culture from which the law was derived obsolete and make the law pointless?” reasoned Albert.
“Damn”, said Thelodious. He paused mouth open for a while, cogs whirring inside his mind looking for a way out. His jaw worked a few times as he started to say something only to stop and eventually gave up. “Fine”, he said, “restart time. Let the bus through.”
And let the kid be killed thought Albert.
When time started again, the youth was perplexed to be hit in the face by a warm ball of fur that turned out later to be a cat and not 10 tonnes of bus. Quite a good thing to be perplexed about in the scheme of things. The cat for its part never worked out how the cicada transformed into a human and vowed in its small catty mind to only hunt lizards in the future.
The bus driver was the source of much hilarity amongst his workmates whenever he told the story of the phantom zebra crossing boy. The mandatory drug test his boss insisted on came back negative however and he was cleared for further duty.
As Albert faded back into the shadows, he had to suppress a feeling that he might have done the wrong thing. If a few molecules of gas out of place could cause such big consequences, what was transposition of a cicada and human going to do? It didn’t bear thinking about – but that was the thing about Chaos Theory, you never quite knew what difference it would make. The boys in the convection department certainly wouldn’t be hearing from him on this one.
He’d be getting a call from his boss this evening though, of that he was sure. That prat Thelodious would see to it. Once the opportunity to uphold his Legislative position was lost, he could care less for the boy. Well too bad, his boss could be dealt with, right now he was off for a drink. He needed to forget this recent breach of protocol.