‘And it’s good to meet you, 42. Like Statistics said, I’m Ubiquarian. I’m not officially in the OED yet so I thought this was a good opportunity to sample a bit more of the world around me.’
‘I see. I have visited word buildings. It was confusing. I was invited to a meeting as a guest. The meeting was not work-related. It was attended by people who called themselves hitch-hikers. They spoke about books. They said I was the answer to life, the universe, everything. I did not understand this. I am 42. I am a Catalan number. I am a pronic number. I am a sphenic number. I am not the answer to life, the universe and everything. Why do you laugh?’
‘I’m sorry; it’s just that they were probably in a book group. The number 42 has special significance in one particular novel.’
‘Yes. One of the words attempted to explain this. I was still confused. They laughed. I said that I wanted to leave. They asked me to stay for longer. They asked me questions about supercomputers. I explained to them in detail how computers work. They did not understand me. Some of the group seemed tired when I spoke. They asked me about deep thought. I told them I did not understand. Do you understand deep thought?’
‘They didn’t mean it in a literal sense. Er, I think it’s best to forget about that particular encounter with the word environment. Have you met other words?’
‘Yes. I have received many visits from words. In the last 150 days, 82.46% of these visits related to work. Of the remaining 17.54%, I was unable to understand the reason for 13.61% of them. The other 3.93% were related to what we call tourism. I consider this visit from you to be tourism. I must revise that calculation to reflect this. Of my meetings with words, tourism now equals 4.32% of all visits over the last 150 days. Would you like a full breakdown of who the visits have been from?’
‘Thanks but it’s OK...I think I get the gist of it. Do you have any interest in a reciprocal visit to the word buildings? You know, become a tourist yourself?’
‘I do not perform many tasks which require words. Why would I wish to make such a visit?’
‘Hmmm, I don’t know…curiosity, perhaps. Don’t you have any desire to see what exists outside of the numerical world? Live a bit?’
‘Please do not mock me. I have many interests, all of which can be met within Fibonacci House. I am interested in cinema. I am interested in…’ 42 was interrupted by the arrival of a small man, grinning impishly. Most of the numbers Ubiquarian had seen wore jeans, t-shirts and jumpers but the newcomer wore a well-cut suit, shirt and tie. ‘Hello, 13. How are you? 13, this is Ubiquarian. Ubiquarian, this is 13. Ubiquarian is visiting us in a non-work capacity.’
‘I am pleased to meet you,’ said 13, affably. ‘Statistics contacted me and said that there was somebody he wanted me to meet. May I make the assumption that it is you?’
42 squirmed on his chair and gazed longingly towards a work station positioned at the next table. They were in a café on the 13th floor of Fibonacci House where tables were interspersed among work stations. Even here, the hum of machinery was louder than the muted conversations.
‘May I go now?’ 42 asked. ‘Do you have any more questions for me? I have no questions to ask of you.’
‘OK, thanks for taking the time to speak with me,’ said Ubiquarian, proffering his hand to 42. They shook hands, 42 left the table and sat down a few feet away at a computer terminal, clamped on a pair of headphones and seemed to relax for the first time since he’d been introduced to Ubiquarian. Ubiquarian turned to 13 and smiled. ‘Yes, it is me to whom Statistics referred…shit, this clipped locution is contagious. Er, sorry, yeah, nice to meet you too.’
‘Statistics said that you are interested in hearing about life as a number. I hope I can help.’
‘Please don’t tell me you’re here under duress. Your colleague, 42, didn’t seem to enjoy conversing with me. Then again, Statistics intimated that you’re more familiar with the word environment than 42.’
‘Even we regard 42 as geeky,’ 13 replied. ‘That is the word you use for numbers, is it not?’
‘Well, it is a term used, yes…not that we believe in generalisations; I like to think that we see individuals rather than cyphers.’
13 gave Ubiquarian an appraising stare. ‘I do not think that is always the case but we shall disregard negative profiling. Is this your first visit to Fibonacci House?’
‘Yes, I’m in a bit of a limbo at the moment so I thought I’d take the chance and see a bit of life. Admittedly, my perception of you guys is pretty much in line with many of my colleagues but that’s probably part of the reason I’m here…to open my eyes.’
13’s expression hadn’t changed. ‘We shall see. I do admire your open-minded attitude. I have a reputation in Fibonacci House as being untypical. I do not quite fit into the equation, as we say. I think this is why Statistics asked me to meet you. Do you enjoy being a word? Is there something you wish to escape from? I sense hesitancy.’
Ubiquarian laughed. ‘I thought you guys took everything at face value, only saw what was obvious. You appear to have an inquisitive mind.’
‘Oh, we all do that, Ubiquarian. Gosh, you’re right; this is catching. I’m using, my apology, I am using phrases which are outside of my normal vocabulary. But you have not answered my question.’
‘You’re right, I didn’t. Yes, I enjoy being a word. Am I trying to escape from something? Aren’t we all?’
‘You conform to our perception of words. You answer a question with another question. That is one thing we do not understand about words. How do you ever resolve anything with such doubts and qualifications?’
‘You’re assuming that we do resolve things,’ laughed Ubiquarian. ‘Anyway, let’s not get bogged down in semantics. I know numbers are synonymous with work and problem solving and certainties and such like but what do you do for recreation? You must have down time.’
‘I conclude that you have not seen much of Fibonacci House? It is not just computers and technology, you must understand. We have cinemas, galleries and a theatre. Culture is not exclusive to your world.’
13 offered to show Ubiquarian what he was referring to and there followed an eye-opening hour for Ubiquarian. He was astonished that the art gallery was full of prints of expressionist and abstract art.
‘But this is so the opposite of what I expected. I assumed it would be wall-to-wall copies of Escher, Da Vinci at a push, Durer probably, lots of architectural drawings.’
13 smiled. ‘I did say that we appreciate culture. It is true that we take our work very seriously. It may be the case that we look for something different away from work. Is this not the case for everybody?’
Ubiquarian shrugged and they continued their tour of the complex. 13 explained to the attendant at a cinema that he was showing a visitor around and they were ushered inside for a few minutes. A screening of Last Year at Marienbad had attracted a packed auditorium and Ubiquarian was amused to see that the subtitles were in binary code. They passed another cinema which was showing the latest in the Batman series. Ubiquarian pressed his face against the door; there were, at most, 10 people inside.
They ascended to the next floor, much of which was given over to a theatre where a long queue waited patiently for admittance to a performance of Ibsen’s The Master Builder – a production which had only attracted a meagre audience when performed in a theatre in the word section. When Ubiquarian picked up a flyer with a list of forthcoming productions, he saw that a season of Harold Pinter plays had sold out in advance. The pattern continued; outside a concert hall where a performance of Debussy’s work was scheduled, a sign said SOLD OUT and another notice read RETURNS ONLY for a season of minimalist music featuring performances of works by Steve Reich, John Cage and Philip Glass.
Ubiquarian was amazed by the evident popularity of non-mainstream culture. 13 smiled and asked: ‘Was it your opinion that we would have no time for anything outside our specialised area of interest?’
‘I suppose it was, yes but you can see why I’d think that when I speak to somebody like 42. I can understand the demand for tickets to see Pinter’s plays; you folks seem to like your silences and pauses and I guess the same is true of John Cage’s work. Come to think of it, the repetition and angular structure of minimalist music would appeal to mathematicians and I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s an appetite for what we’d term “difficult” films or music or theatre among intelligent folks like you but I’m stunned by quite how much of an appetite exists.’
‘You mention appetites; would you like something to eat? I am hungry. I need some food.’
They made their way back to the café on the 13th floor which 13 claimed was the best in the building ‘although I may be biased in my opinion.’ 13 pointed towards a board which listed the menu for the day:
Quattro Formaggi Pizza
Salad with Thousand Island dressing
‘Wow! You guys don’t let go of a joke, do you?’ Ubiquarian groaned. ‘Are those the regular items on the menu or does somebody come up with new ones each day?’
‘I do not understand. What do you mean by joke?’
‘The menu is all either number or mathematics-related puns.’
‘You do not find them amusing?’
‘I wouldn’t if it was the same every day. I wouldn’t find that funny or particularly interesting from an eating perspective either.’
13 shrugged. Ubiquarian selected the less-agna: ‘I hope it doesn’t contain any e-numbers.’
The food was good and Ubiquarian wanted to show his gratitude to 13 by buying him a drink; besides, he was curious to see what the bars were like in Fibonacci House. He was captivated by his introduction to the world of numbers where interests seemed to oscillate between highbrow concepts and juvenile humour with little middle ground. It was certainly not what he expected and he wanted to observe more of it. 13 declined the offer of a drink, saying that he had to meet somebody but offered to direct Ubiquarian towards one of the bars in the building.
‘Actually, I am scheduled to meet a word. My alpha-brother, Thirteen, wants to introduce me to a word. He wants me to talk with her and show her around. Yes, a lady word. I believe she has a desire to make friends with numbers. This is quite exciting for me. Not only is she a word but a female word. I believe you use the word “kinky” to describe a situation like this. We call it irregular singularity.’
‘You would do,’ Ubiquarian laughed. ‘Well, I’d better let you go to meet your date. I guess she’s the reason for the suit and tie? I hope you have more success than I’ve had with the fair sex recently. Who is she, by the way?’
‘I am not at liberty to say.’
‘Fair enough. I hope it goes well. Would you like to have that drink another time?’
‘Yes, I would like that. That must be her at the door with Thirteen. Good evening.’
‘Yes, good evening. Hope it’s your lucky night.’
13 left. Ubiquarian’s view of the canteen doorway was obscured by a pillar and when he shifted position for a better vantage point, all he could see through the frosted door were three silhouettes. He stood up and slowly walked to the exit. Not wishing to be seen to pry on them, he paused and glanced at a large screen where a chess match was being transmitted live on an in-house channel. He reached the door just in time to see 13 and his companion walk into a room at the far end of the corridor and close the door behind them.
‘Jesus Christ,’ he said aloud. It was, unmistakably, Treason who accompanied 13. What the hell was going on?