“You really must stop saying such things, you know,” I said.
Dr Rex peered at me short-sightedly across the restaurant table. “Why should I?” he asked mildly.
I shrugged helplessly. Much as I loved him and long as I’d known him, he was so impractical that he could reduce those who knew him to helpless frustration. “Because institutions don’t like hearing such ideas,” I explained. “Because it might get you known as a crank. Universities are chary of hiring cranks, so you might not get that professorship you’re angling for.”
“And a lecturer’s salary only goes so far,” Dr Rex’s wife whined. “Can you imagine how we live? It’s been months since we were even in a restaurant like this one and…”
We both ignored her, which wasn’t easy. She was a great whiner. But we’d had a lot of practice.
“Still,” Dr Rex said, “the truth is the truth.”
“And a hypothesis, which this is, is still only speculation. Even if you think it might be possible, why speak of it? It can’t have the slightest relevance to everyday life, after all.”
“Lots of things have no relevance to everyday life, like neutrinos for instance, but we study them all the same.”
I knew that was aimed at me, because neutrinos were my special field of study. “Neutrinos,” I said, “exist. You are, on the other hand, talking of things that even you admit are merely possible – in an alternate universe. And even alternate universes are pure speculation.”
“You tell him,” Dr Rex’s wife whined. “You tell him to think of the real world for once instead of his awful creatures.” She shuddered. “Just imagine, thinking rats could run the world. Ugh!”
“But I never said anything about rats,” Dr Rex protested.
“Whatever,” she sniffed. “It’s all horrible.”
“She has a point though,” I informed him. “You claim that it might be possible, in an alternate universe, for mammals to become the dominant life forms.”
“So?” asked Dr Rex, blinking. “What’s wrong with that? Scientifically, there’s nothing wrong with the idea.”
“It’s just that most of us are usually attached to the notion that mammals are unimportant parasites hovering around the fringes of our existence. You might as well claim that insects could rule the world.”
“Insects,” Dr Rex said, “lack brain mass. They lack cognitive behaviour patterns. Mammals, on the other hand…”
“Here he goes again,” his wife wailed.
“There’s nothing – scientifically speaking – to say dinosaurs have to be the ultimate in evolution,” Dr Rex pointed out. “That’s all, really, that I’m saying – no more.”
“In the old days, such a thought would have got you labelled a heretic.”
“It’s the age of enlightenment.” Dr Rex shifted his little arms and blinked at the window. “Look at that,” he said.
I followed his gaze. Resplendent in his green skin and red horn, his crest flattened by the wind, an Ornitholestes went by on roller skates.
“He must be going to the punk rock concert that I saw in the papers,” I said.
“Degenerates,” Dr Rex’s wife said. “Our son – if we had one – would never have been like that.” I glanced at her. I never could understand why he’d ever married her. After all, it wasn’t as if they were even the same species. In any case, I never could figure out what would make anyone marry an Acrocanthosaurus. They are known to be the most difficult to get along with of all the sentient species.
“They’re young, dear,” Dr Rex said, shifting on his heavy tail.
“No, they’re an inferior species,” she said. “I know it isn’t right to say so, but it’s true all the same.”
We paused as the little Bambiraptor waitress brought up our plates of Seismosaurus steaks. She was a fast moving little creature, with big eyes and a narrow intelligent head. Her arms and tail were lined with feathers.
“You look at that little creature,” Dr Rex said, “and you can tell what I meant about mammals being able to rule the world, if things had been different. Look how fast and agile and intelligent she is, with her large brain.”
“And with her large brain,” I observed, “she’s still serving dishes at the restaurant, while we are – with our smaller brains – speculating about alternate universes.”
If Dr Rex had ever heard the word “irony” he didn’t show it. “Give that Bambiraptor and the similar species the education we’ve had, and do you have any idea how far they could go? But the places in the universities are kept for the approved species only, no matter how dumb they are. And they can be very dumb. I know first-hand all about the university.”
“You really think brain size is all that matters?” I asked.
“Take this Seismosaurus, for instance,” Dr Rex replied, prodding at his large and undeniably somewhat overdone steak. “If it had the brains, it might have been sitting here eating us for supper, but –“
“They’re vegetarians,” I interjected, but he’d already moved on.
“But, even though it’s a dinosaur like us, it’s a farm animal we slaughter and eat.”
“So?” I felt a bit adrift, as I often did with the old Tyrannosaur and his sudden shifts of logic. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“You see, we’re evolved dinosaurs; now I’m talking about evolved mammals. Not the rats my wife is so scared of.”
“Evolved to what?”
“Just what, I can’t tell you. But it would have to be bipedal, of course, like us – so that it could use its front legs as hands to pick up and do things. It would no longer need a tail, perhaps. It would also probably lose most of its body hair…you know how the mammals are covered with hair…because, well, it’s really only an idea of mine but I believe that if it lost its hair it would feel the cold and want fire and clothes for warmth, which would spur it to develop sentience and civilisation. What I’m expecting is something much smaller than us, of course, because the mammals need more food, but bipedal and hairless.”
“It would look horrible,” said his wife. “Imagine, a two-legged, hairless rat.”
“Not horrible to themselves, my dear,” said Dr Rex. “They might speculate about us – and we’d be horrible to them.”
“We can’t be horrible,” said his wife, firmly.
“You know,” I said, “most of the population does think along her lines. They’d think your intelligent mammals to be just large, bipedal naked rats. In any case, what’s the point of your theory, anyway? How does it change anything?”
“It’s supposed to teach us humility,” Dr Rex mumbled through his Seismosaurus steak. “It’s supposed to teach us that nothing is forever, either.”
“You mean the mammals might still take over?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said. “After all, we aren’t here forever, as the Allosaurus fossils teach us.”
“Mammals are rats,” I said firmly.
“Rats,” he said. “And what are we?”
“Dinosaurs,” I said, and bit angrily at my steak to take away the shiver that ran down my spine. “We’re dinosaurs.”
Now why do you suppose the mad old tyrannosaur began laughing like that?
Copyright B Purkayastha 2014