Joshua hadn’t actually managed the four steps back to his desk before another knock sounded at his door. Puzzled, expecting Security to have returned, he opened it.
“Joshua,” said Dr. Hawne walking in and forcing him to walk backwards. “I’m so glad I caught you this morning; I’m out all afternoon. There’s a Royal Society meeting that I want to go to, and the trains to London really aren’t as fast as they lead you to believe.”
“Dr. Hawne,” said Joshua, trying to smile and remember his excuse.
“You were going to show me your plan for the seminar,” she said, still advancing. Joshua darted behind his desk and sat down. He turned the Macbook’s screen so that she could see it.
“I’ve only just received your email,” he said, pointing at the unread messages in the mail-client. “I’m sorry, you must have sent it after I left the office last night.”
“I wasn’t working that late.” Her eyes narrowed, and Joshua decided to abandon that tactic.
“Well,” he said. “As it happens I have a result to show you, and that will be main thrust of the seminar. The overall plan for the talk is to simply lead up to this result, present it, tell people where it will be published, and then open the floor for questions.”
“Hmmm,” said Kathleen. She looked at the screen, waiting until the pdf viewer had loaded and showed the paper that Joshua was writing. “Where are you submitting this to then?”
Joshua listed three journals that he had in mind; one was prestigious and probably wouldn’t accept this paper, but he thought that the other two would probably take it. To his mild surprise Dr. Hawne nodded at all three of them.
“Let me know if you need any help,” she said. “I have friends on editorial boards. While it would obviously be unethical to try and influence their decisions, I can certainly ask them to fast-track your paper when it arrives.” Journal publication could take easily a year for print-media, so fast-tracking would help Joshua out enormously.
“Thank-you,” he said, meaning it. “That’s very generous of you.”
“Just deliver a good seminar on it,” said Kathleen, tapping the page-down key-combo a few times. “There’s no point screwing up the advertising if the product’s actually good.”
Someone knocked on his door.
“You seem to have visitors,” said Dr. Hawne. “I’ll let them in.”
Dr. Hawne left as Venkat came in, holding the door open for him. He looked a little surprised, so Joshua decided to explain.
“She’s not quite my boss,” he said. “She’s important here though, and she wanted to see how some of my work was progressing.”
“Oh,” said Venkat looking around the room for a seat. Joshua was, of course, sat in it. “I hope it’s going well.”
“Well enough,” said Joshua. “Did you get your pass ok?”
“Yes, thank-you,” said Venkat. “Your security people are very efficient. More so than any others I’ve encountered, I think. I wasn’t expecting it.”
“They’re like the Spanish Inquisition,” said Joshua. Venkat didn’t smile.
“In what sense, please?”
“Oh,” said Joshua realising that the joke had fallen flat. “Well, no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition, do they?”
“I wasn’t aware that there was still a Spanish Inquisition,” said Venkat carefully.
“Yeah, forget about it,” said Joshua. “It was a joke. A bad one, apparently. What did you come to see me about then? You said something about anachronistic mathematics.”
“Could I sit down somewhere?” asked Venkat, looking around again.
“Sure,” said Joshua. “Let’s go to the coffee lounge.”
As they walked, Venkat started talking.
“I have been told that you have read something recently that would have seemed out of place,” he said. “The word used was anachronistic, but I’m not familiar with that word. I was told that you’d understand it however. It is connected with mathematics somehow, and now that I’m hear I see that you are a mathematician of some kind.”
“Some kind, yes,” said Joshua. “What do you know about a journal that turned up in my office a couple of days ago then? Because that’s what you’re talking about.”
“I came back to my office a couple of days ago and found a journal in there with a bookmark in it,” said Joshua. “Security can’t find any evidence of anyone coming in to my office to put it there, and I know I didn’t put it there. So it just appeared there somehow, and the bookmarked entry was the kind of mathematics I do. But it’s dated at least a hundred years ago, and these mathematics weren’t invented back then. So this is some kind of weird practical joke, and now that you’ve turned up and admitted to it, I want to know what’s going on, and who this is supposed to be funny for.” He pushed open the door the coffee lounge and walked through ahead of Venkat. Venkat looked around and then waited. Joshua got coffees and sat down on an armchair, holding the other coffee out to Venkat.
“Is there any milk?” asked Venkat, so Joshua pointed. When he returned and sat down as well, Joshua sat forward.
“So, who thinks this is all funny then?” he said.
“I don’t know,” said Venkat. “I don’t think you quite understand what I mean when I say told.”
“What?” Joshua looked at him and blinked. “You mean you got a message and you don’t know who from?”
“No,” said Venkat. “I know who the message is from, but I’m just the messenger. I’ve not been told anything about what the message means, or why it might mean something to you. I’ve just been told that you know this and that I’m to come here and help you get to Oakvell.”
“Why would I be going to Oakvell?”
“Because that’s where these mathematics that are in the wrong place were found.”
“Back up a moment,” said Joshua. “Where is Oakvell? And how do you know that this is where the writings were found if you don’t know anything about this journal? Who is telling you all this stuff, and why are they only telling you bits and pieces? And why are you doing it? This doesn’t make any sense.” He sipped his coffee, his eyes on Venkat. “Why don’t you just tell me whose idea this is of a joke and I’ll go and talk to them directly. You can get back to doing whatever you do in real life.”
“This is what I do in real life,” said Venkat. “Last week I was doing an exorcism, this week I’m trying to make sure you have the help you need for your mystery. Maybe next week I’ll be scuba-diving off the coast of Africa making sure that someone does or doesn’t find ruins that pertain to Atlantis.”
“You’re a crank,” said Joshua. Suddenly everything clarified; the weird paper with its mysterious appearance, the strange pronouncements, the turning up unannounced and the insistence that Venkat could help Joshua. “You planted that journal yourself; what did you do? Bribe a student to leave it my office when I wasn’t looking and then wait until you heard I’d found it?”
“I had nothing to do with the journal,” said Venkat patiently. “I have only been told that you’ve found it and that you need help.”
“The mathematics in there is very good,” said Joshua, ignoring him now. “You probably don’t need to do any of this. Lots of it is already known, but you’ve got an interesting angle in there and it definitely doesn’t need a whole lot of work to take it further. You should be able to get help you want without needing to make all this fuss. If you’re local and you’ll drop all this pretence I’ll help you myself. I’ve got some ideas from it, and it’s only fair to give credit where it’s due.”
“It’s not mine,” said Venkat. “I don’t know much about mathematics. I just provide help where it’s needed.”
“Well I don’t need any help,” said Joshua. “It’s you who needs help, whether publication or a psychiatrist. I’d go with the first, if I were you.”
His words hung in the air, and they both realised together than the room had fallen quiet just before he’d spoken. Several faces had turned to see who he was speaking to, and they were now slowly turning away again, interest turning to disinterest as they failed to recognise Venkat.
“I don’t need a psychiatrist,” said Venkat. “Look, you’re going to go to Oakvell. I just want to go with you and help you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Joshua. “I can’t be going to somewhere I’ve never heard of, and I definitely don’t want to go there with you. I think you need to leave now.”
Venkat looked down, and when he looked back up there was a note of defiance on his face. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll go. But I want to come with you when you go to Oakvell. I’m being told that it’s important.”
“Yeah, right,” said Joshua. “No problem, I’ll text you my itinerary. Thanks for the visit, try not to do it again.” He stood up and walked out of the coffee lounge, not bothering to check behind him to see if Venkat was leaving or not. He was pretty certain that Security would pick him up now that he’d seen how good their monitoring of the building was.