Monday, 3 February 2014

Episode 17: Dangerous liasions - Piper and 11, Drummer and 12....Treason and 13?

Stunned, Ubiquarian slowly walked away from the door where he’d spent a full minute listening to the muffled giggles, laughter and clinking glasses from within. It was clear that Treason, the catalyst for his disappearance, was cavorting with a number. A number! Treason’s individuality was one of the things he liked most about her but this was bordering on the perverse and hadn’t 13 said something about “kinky”? It didn’t bear thinking about.

He’d heard stories of such liaisons, stories he’d assumed to be apocryphal. There was that bawdy song about relationships between words and numbers, a song which was banned from airplay on Radio Word and one whose author remained unknown. It told of sordid goings-on between Swan and 7, between 10 and Lord, between 11 and Piper and others. If memory served him correct, this litany of scandal ended with 12 and Drummer. Would it now be updated to include 13 and Treason?

Treason was open-minded but was she the sort who engaged in…engaged in what exactly? And why was it such a taboo subject? Despite his involvement in campaigns and protests, Ubiquarian’s life had been relatively sheltered. Recently, he’d begun to question some of the inviolable tenets by which he and his colleagues lived and now, he could add open relationships between words and numbers to that list.

And was it so perverse after all? The two numbers he’d met that evening, although a bit obtuse at times, had been agreeable company. He’d seen evidence of refined cultural taste throughout Fibonacci House and a picture emerged at odds with the derided image he’d hitherto held of numbers. Perhaps Treason had reached a similar conclusion and hadn’t 13 said that she wanted “to make friends” with some numbers. Who was Ubiquarian to deny her the right to do so? He thought of engineering an encounter with her in the neutral ground of Fibonacci House where she might see him as an equally enlightened word, a fellow traveller with the added intrigue of his new identity. He could explain the reason for this and she’d recognise her impact and she’d…Enough! This was futile conjecture.

In the morning, he would contact 13 and find out what happened during 13’s evening with Treason. He left Fibonacci House and returned to the sanctuary of his temporary home. It was comforting to be surrounded by garrulous words again after the unsettling mechanical hum of Fibonacci House even if some of the garrulousness was purely attention-seeking. Unlike the blocks where official OED words had their own rooms, here the accommodation consisted of small dormitories with up to 10 beds in each.

Exhausted after his day’s wanderings, he left behind the noisy chatter and headed to his dormitory. As he was walked from the room, he spotted a familiar figure sitting at a table: Onesie. The one-piece outfit he wore had a pattern of magnified snow crystals against a sky blue background and he sat grinning gormlessly without contributing to the conversation. Awkward and removed from the others at the table, he glanced shyly at Ubiquarian from under his hood.

‘Hi,’ Onesie said. ‘Had enough for one day, have you?’

Ubiquarian scowled as Onesie stood and stretched his hand towards him: ‘Hi, I’m Onesie. You may have seen me around. Who are you?’

‘I’m someone who doesn’t chat with a person who wears a babygro in public or even anywhere, really.’

‘Hur, hur, hur,’ guffawed Onesie, his shoulders shaking. ‘That’s a long name. You must get tired even saying it. Hur, hur, hur.’

Ubiquarian glared at Onesie without replying.

‘Oh, we’re not a happy camper, are we? Join me, I’ll tell you some funny stories. Don’t look so cross.’

‘Oh shut up, you irritating clown.’

‘Hey, don’t be like that. Everyone likes Onesie. Hur, hur, hur, I do crazeee things, I’m wacky, I’m fun.’

‘No, you’re not. You’re a moron…and you’re blocking my path. Get out of the way.’ Ubiquarian swept past him and walked to the stairs. Elevators weren’t provided in the temporary accommodation blocks and Ubiquarian faced a climb of five flights of stairs to his dormitory. He heard the door open and close behind him and saw Onesie advancing down the corridor.

‘Hey, hold on a second. I know you. You look different but I recognised that look you gave me just now. You were in a C-block bar the other day and you shot me that same look.’

‘You’ve mistaken me for somebody else,’ Ubiquarian said, suppressing a frown.

‘No, it is you. You’ve changed your appearance but I recognise you. You and your pal made me feel a bit scared so I’m keeping a low profile for a while.’

‘A low profile? Dressed like that?’ Ubiquarian scoffed.

Onesie grinned and then smiled slyly. ‘There must be a reason for you changing your appearance. I could mention this to some of my friends in C-block; people like Crook, Criminal and see what they think. They might be interested in finding out why you’re here and they’d like to see me back again too.’

Ubiquarian stared at Onesie who – briefly transformed from a cowed, hesitant youth – returned an assured, confident gaze. Onesie was an imbecile who deserved ridicule but this was no idle threat as he’d effectively confirmed that Criminal and his gang’s interest in him stemmed from word-trafficking. They would certainly view Ubiquarian’s involvement – however nebulous – unfavourably.

‘Look, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I’m sure that any time I meet somebody who looks like you, I’d be dismissive but you’re wrong about me being in C-block.’

‘No, I’m not. I may not be the smartest but I have a good memory for faces and I remember you. Ignore me if you wish but it might not be such a good idea to do so.’

And with that, Onesie turned on his heel, walked back towards the room he’d just left and, with a glance over his shoulder to ensure Ubiquarian was watching him, showily took out a mobile phone and punched in a number. Unsure whether this was a ruse or genuine, Ubiquarian tried to appear nonchalant as he walked out of the building to return to Fibonacci House.

It took Treason a few seconds to realise where she was when she woke. The room in Fibonacci House, although sparsely furnished, was comfortable with an impressive array of gadgetry on a table. After 10 minutes of pushing various buttons, she was none the wiser as to what each one was; she could try again later and could ask 13 to explain their purpose. Or she could ask 33, the number 13 had introduced her to.

33 offered to show Treason her around the building if she wished but, right now, she wanted to get something to eat and return to her room. She guessed that she would need to stay in Fibonacci House for at least a few days before she could consider a return to T-block. It would, most likely, be boring and she didn’t want to run out of things to do or exhaust her hosts’ hospitality too quickly. For her breakfast, she went to a restaurant where the menu consisted solely of puns on the theme of food, mathematics and numbers:

0range juice;
F-root salad;

She joined a queue for coffee and toast which she took to a table close to the most voluble group in the café allowing her the opportunity to eavesdrop on the conversation. The group of four conversed without looking up from whatever they were writing while mechanically eating their food. Treason struggled to avoid falling into the most clichéd generalisation which words held about numbers…they all looked the same. They really did! All four wore crisply-ironed shirts, well-pressed jeans and trainers; all four had the similar centre-parted hairstyles, similar pale complexions and spoke their curt, clipped sentences in adenoidal voices. They could’ve been cloned! Treason strained to hear the conversation.

‘I have completed it.’

‘Oh, you just beat me to it. Well done.’

‘I have also now completed it.’

‘It was not very difficult today. I have also finished. That just leaves you, 28. Is there any one square causing you a problem?’

‘No. I made a mistake which took 21 seconds to correct. I have now finished. Shall we do the 16x16 one now?’

‘Yes. I am ready. I am happier working on a grid with an even number of boxes.’

A fifth person joined the group and addressed each of the others in turn: ‘Good morning, 12. Good morning, 48. Good morning, 64. Good morning, 16. Have you tried the Sudoku in the Daily Number? It is the most challenging one, I think.’

‘Good morning, 120. No, I do not take the Daily Number. I do not like the new tabloid-sized edition although I sometimes read the binary version on-line.’

‘Good morning, 120. Do you still read the Daily Answer? I find it sensationalist. In my opinion, it pays too much attention to the celebrity numbers. I do not need to know what 100 and 250 are doing each day. I also think that the page 32 girl feature is demeaning to our female colleagues.’

‘Good morning, 120. I agree with 12. Females are more than just vital statistics, however pleasant those may be on the eye.’

‘It is good to hear you say that, 48. We live in a more equal…’ All five laughed. ‘…A more equal society. You mention girls, I heard that…’

Their voices were lowered and Treason sidled along her seat attempting to follow the conversation. She thought, but couldn’t be certain, that she heard 13 being mentioned. When the chatter died, she realised that all five were staring at her.

‘Good morning,’ she said. ‘May I borrow a newspaper?’

Four newspapers were immediately offered to her. She chose one, thanked the donor and settled back in her seat to read it. When the silence continued, she saw that they were still staring at her.

‘Er, is anything the matter?’ she asked.

‘No. There is no problem,’ one of the group replied. ‘I am 120. I do not recognise you.’

‘That’s no surprise. I’m just visiting.’ There was no response and she stood up and handed back the newspaper. ‘I have to go, thanks for this.’

She walked away, conscious of ten eyes following her. When she returned to her room, she felt listless and contacted 13 who told her that he was scheduled to meet one of her fellow words that morning.

‘Oh, who is it?’ she asked.

‘It is the person I mentioned last night…Ubiquarian.’

Here was a chance for a more normal conversation. ‘Ah, so you did. Do you mind if I tag along?’

‘I cannot see why not. I will meet him in the same café where we met last night. Do you remember it?’

‘It’s the one with some sort of a sign outside saying “café” and it’s on the same floor as that room with the well stocked drinks cabinet? I think I can manage that.’

‘Good. I have arranged to meet Ubiquarian between 11:06 and 11:10. I am sorry that I am vague but I have some things to do. That is the best estimate I can provide.’

Treason smiled as she remembered Thirteen’s words about 13 being one of the less robotic numbers. ‘OK, 11:08 or so, then. Thanks.’

She put down the phone, pleased by the prospect of meeting somebody with whom she might find common ground, somebody in the limbo status of waiting for OED acceptance…another new experience for her.

Next episode: Will Ubiquarian and Treason meet again?

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