Laotzu and Confucius were out in the early morning poling their skow on the lake. The two friends were going to gather reeds to replace the thatched roof of their house. It was still foggy. There were cries of birds.

As they poled along they discussed the legendary Onyx stone. Confucius said that this stone, which conferred long life on him who possessed it, was perfectly round and had a mass of 0.7629 ounces. It appeared to be made of layered chalcedony that changed colors as you looked.

Laotzu agreed but he said there was more to the story. There was not just one gem. There were actually twentysix, each one ten times larger than the last. The smallest had one twelfth the mass of a common atom of carbon. The next was tenfold more massive, and the next, and so on. The largest was 1025 times the carbon twelfthmass. This was the legendary Onyx, which was believed to be possessed by the Emperor and to confer long life.

The skow glided out of the fog, into a patch of clear chilly air. There was no wind and the smooth water was the color of chalcedony — grey, blue, changing. The two men quietly rested their poles athwart the boat. Their breath, warmer than the surrounding air, rose in two clouds straight up.


Copyright © 2002 Leonard Cottrell. All rights reserved.
Table of contents for the New Metric Fables