‘Incognito?’ Treason asked.
‘Yes, that’s me. And I take it you’re the woman who called me earlier?’
‘Yes, thanks for taking the time to come here. My name is Treason. You’re highly regarded by friends of mine so I wanted to sound you out about a few things. Well, just one thing, really.’ Treason paused. ‘I’m thinking of getting a new identity and would like to find out more about it.’
‘Another one,’ Incognito said with a smile. ‘This tends to happen in the run up to New Year’s Day. My usual advice to the person is to think it through and return in a few days if they still wish to do so.’
‘Ill-thought out New Year resolutions, eh? That won’t apply here; I’ve not made this decision lightly.’
‘I’m sure you haven’t but I’ll just run through the whole procedure and point out things which may not have occurred to you.’
‘Sure, that makes sense. Is this the best location for such a chat?’
‘Probably not; let’s go back to my room. If you’re doing this to escape from something or somebody, it’s best that you’re not seen with me. I’m not purely synonymous with identity change but…still.’
When Treason relayed brief details of the episode with Crusade and her concern over being pursued, Incognito’s sharp mind recalled the lovelorn man who’d sought her advice and assistance in effecting his own disappearance two days earlier. Being spurned by a woman was the reason for his identity change and the circumstances sounded not dissimilar to Treason’s. Incognito had told Crusade/Ubiquarian that she wouldn’t disclose any of the details of their meeting except in the event of enquiries from the authorities. Now, however, convinced that Treason was the cause of Ubiquarian’s flight, she pondered whether she should break this pledge. Treason clearly felt remorse over her actions in light of her suitor’s disappearance and hoped to meet him again.
‘The guy you mention, the guy who wanted to, you know, get it on with you…..what does he look like?’
‘Why?’ asked Treason.
‘Oh, just curious. I wonder whether I’ve met him, is all.’
Treason shrugged. ‘I’d prefer not to go into too much detail, if you don’t mind. It was just one of those things and what happened isn't the reason per se for me doing this...a contributing factor, yes, but not the only reason.’
Incognito nodded; she knew it was best not to probe any further.
‘Well, your case isn’t typical. I think you’d be best just laying low for a while ‘til things sort themselves out. You seem resourceful and I’m sure you’ll know when it’s safe to resurface and with some time to yourself, you can think through what you wish to do about the, er, other party involved…’ Incognito caught the grimace on Treason’s face. ‘Er, however obliquely they may be involved, that is.’
‘OK, that’s pretty much what I want to do. So, what’s your suggestion?’
‘I don’t know what your views are on this but have you ever wondered what it’d be like to be a number?’
Coin clenched a fist and smiled as he rolled towards a table in the Cross Bar to join Crumpet, Clever, Correspondent and Cynic.
‘And…’ Correspondent said, eyebrows raised. ‘What did you find out?’
‘Loads; much of it is just stuff about the interesting goings-on in A-block but I’ve got the name of Crusade’s lady friend: Treason. It has to be her; black-hair, dresses in black, looks high maintenance and – here’s the clincher – left the A-block with Crusade on Monday night, the night of our session here in C-block; the night we last saw him.’
‘Well done, Coin…good piece of detective work,’ Correspondent said.
‘Yep, it’s her all right,’ said Clever as he held out his mobile phone to the others. ‘I’ve just looked her up and this photo of Treason is definitely the woman who was in the bar the other evening…the woman Candle recognised. Now that we have a name, I think we should pay her a visit and see what she knows.’
‘Agreed,’ nodded Correspondent. ‘Let’s head over to the T-block. She may well be innocent of any wrong doings but let’s find out.’
‘I don’t think we should arrive there mob-handed though, it may intimidate her, make her defensive. It would me anyway,’ said Clever.
‘True,’ said Cynic. ‘Last thing I’d want to see is us lot on my trail. How about leaving it to Crumpet? Treason would probably react better to a female.’
‘OK,’ said Coin. ‘But she mustn't do it alone...you know the reputation of the terrible Ts. We can go over to T-block separately and just meet in the lobby while Crumpet finds Treason. We’ll be on hand, if needed.’
Ten minutes later, all five had arrived at the T-block where they went through elaborate “fancy meeting you here” greetings which only made them appear conspicuous. Crumpet asked the receptionist to call Treason’s room as the others tried to look indifferent to her conversation. Trace, the receptionist, noticed this. She dialled a random number, immediately cut off the call and waited a few seconds before telling Crumpet that there was no reply. ‘Shall I leave a message for her?’
Crumpet half-turned towards her friends but then checked herself. ‘I’ll wait here if that’s OK.’
Trace shrugged and gestured towards the seat furthest away from the desk. Crumpet sat down, glanced towards the others and dropped the pretence that she wasn’t with them. As they chatted among themselves, Trace dialled Treason’s number and, sotto voce, described the scene in the foyer. Treason, recently returned from her meeting with Incognito, thanked Trace and asked her to maintain the charade.
She descended to a floor where a screen permanently showed the scene in the foyer and recognised some of the group from the evening she’d been in the Cross Bar. Grateful to Trace for her quick thinking, her sense of being pursued intensified and her thinking crystallised into certainty; she had to disappear and she had to do so immediately. Treason returned to her room and sifted through her belongings. She had no wish to make her disappearance permanent; a week, two at most, should be sufficient to allow a resolution to her predicament. Incognito’s suggestion that she could become anonymous as a number sounded like a good one so she arranged to meet Thirteen that evening to garner an idea of what life in Fibonacci House was like.
Within the OED community, a cardinal (or written) number was treated just like any other word – although words’ disdain towards numbers meant they were seen as disadvantaged – and their colleagues went to great lengths to ensure that they weren’t singled out for any mistreatment. Cardinals, for their part, held an affinity towards their digital equivalent and Treason knew this was true of Thirteen. At the pre-arranged time, she met Thirteen in a T-block café.
‘Treason, good to see you,’ said Thirteen, a squat figure with a roguish smile. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure?’
‘Oh, it’s just curiosity on my part. I’ve always wondered what life is like in Fibonacci House and thought you might give me some insight.’
‘Oooh…those mysterious digits and their strange, structured world and look at you, showing an interest in them! Good for you, girl; most words hardly give them a second thought. Then again, with a name like yours, you’re probably a bit more receptive to other schools of thought and behaviour.’
‘Er, I just said I was curious, that’s all.’
‘OK. So what is it that you want to know?’
‘Like I said, it’s just curiosity on my part. I like to think that there’s a world beyond ours.’
‘Well, where do I start? I have a foot in both camps although I hold the view that our digital brothers and sisters are just a bit too cloistered, too regulated. Mind you, they don’t all act like automatons, though. I like to think of my own digi-brother as not your average number.’
‘13? Why so?’
‘Well, he delights in giving superstitious people the heebie-jeebies and he pokes fun at some of his own kind too. Likes referring to himself as a rational number and seeing other numbers get into a lather about how that’s not strictly correct and should be defined in…..oh, some mathematical terms. Doesn’t sound funny when I tell it; you have to be there, I guess.’
‘I guess. Tell me, what do you call each other? Say if you and 13, Seven, 7, Eleven and 11 are all in a room together – it must be confusing if you’re trying to address someone.’
‘Like that happens on a regular basis…even us cardinal numbers don’t fraternise with our digital bretheren much more than is necessary. Snobbery, it seems, is endemic – even in our rarefied world – but to answer your question, the numbers are given the prefix of “number”.’
Treason slowly nodded. ‘OK, so you’d call 13, Number 13 and he’d just call you Thirteen? Makes sense. Are they, numbers I mean, expected to conform at all times? At least we’re given some latitude in shaping the English language as it’s spoken – not a huge amount, admittedly – but we are encouraged to keep it vibrant and evolving as well as accurate.’
‘A number would counter that everything grinds to a halt without them and they view their rigid laws as an immutable part of that. I think there’s some sort of a happy medium where the two worlds could happily rub up against each other.’
‘Not going to happen though, is it? I mean, being realistic. I suppose we could do with a few pioneering types who are prepared to knock down barriers.’
‘Indeed,’ replied Thirteen, stroking his chin and smiling. ‘Now, where in the OED might we find such an individual or individuals? I wonder if there’s anybody in, let’s say, T-block who might wish for an introduction to a number or two. If such an individual exists, they’d probably be the type who’s a bit more receptive to other schools of thought and behaviour, would you say?’
Treason smiled. ‘Oh, I don’t know where you’d find someone like that. Most words would see such behaviour as tantamount to, ahem, treason. But let’s say there was such a word and let’s say that word knew someone with a foot in both camps, as it were. Someone who could make a few introductions? It would probably come to nothing but, at least, it’d be an interesting experience all round.’
They both laughed. Thirteen said that he had to visit Fibonacci House that evening on a social visit and why didn’t she join him. Treason was pleased to put her plan into action straight away. The encounter, or near encounter, in the foyer made her eager to leave T-block…now, she could do so.
‘I’ve got one favour to ask, Thirteen. Can you keep this to yourself? Not everybody would approve of whatever it is I’m about to do.’
‘Not a problem, Treason. It’ll be our little secret. This evening, I won’t be able to stay for long as I have a function to attend so I’ll just do the meet and greet with my digi-brother, 13, and leave you to it.’
Next episode: We meet some numbers and there's a shock in store for Ubiquarian....