Mark was chattering about something as Joshua unlocked his office door, but Joshua wasn’t listening; he was trying to listen for anything moving inside the office. He pushed the door open with his heart in his mouth, sure that there was going to be someone sat at his desk or standing by the bookshelf. The room was empty though, and as he came in Mark came in close behind him.
“You didn’t turn your lights off, mate,” he said. “If Hawne catches you doing that you’ll get another lecture.” Dr. Hawne was very keen on energy efficiency and watching costs to the department and was quite happy to stop her colleagues in the corridor and complain that they’d left lights on or doors unlocked to rooms that contained expensive equipment.
“Lucky for me she’s gone off into town then,” said Joshua. “Said she was going to that bookshop she likes so much.”
“Oh yeah?” Mark didn’t sound interested. He looked around. “Where’s your visitor’s chair?”
“I haven’t got one.”
“Why not?” Mark perched himself on the edge of the desk, ignoring the stack of papers that wobbled behind him as he pushed them back. “Got no friends to visit you?”
“I don’t think there was one when I got here,” said Joshua. In fact Dr. Hawne had had the chair removed when she’d spotted that Joshua was only using it a place to stack more papers, but he didn’t want to have to explain that to Mark, who would pass it on throughout the department.
“Weird,” said Mark. “With all the furniture in this place you could probably just nick one from a coffee room or somewhere; try the reading room, that’s on this floor. You need somewhere for people to sit.” He looked around at the paperwork. “Christ mate, you need somewhere for you to sit!”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Joshua. “Look, here’s that journal.” He picked it up from where it was leaning on the Macbook. “Careful with it, it’s ancient.”
“Can’t be that old,” said Mark opening the cover. He scanned the front page and then paused. “Holy –. Well, maybe it is that old. Does the library know you’ve got this? They don’t like them being removed.” His face was serious now, and when he looked up his smile had disappeared.
“I didn’t get it, remember? It was on my desk when I came in.”
“Did you leave your door open?”
“No. I don’t think – no. I had to unlock it when I came in, it was definitely closed.”
“So how did it get in here then?”
The two young men stared at each other for a few moments, and then Joshua shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know, and that’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. Who put it here, why did they put it here, and weirdest of all, why is there an article in a journal that old that’s talking about modern-day mathematics?”
“You what?” Mark was staring openly at Joshua now.
“Yeah, I hadn’t told you yet. There’s a bookmark in there, have a look at the article it’s on.” Joshua sat down at the desk while Mark turned the pages of the journal, looking through the article. He opened the Macbook and waited while the Wifi connected, and then checked his email. There were a couple of announcements for conferences he wasn’t going to, and an emailed response about a paper he’d submitted six months ago, plus two emails marked Urgent with two exclamation marks each, both from his mother. He closed the computer down again.
“Well?” he asked.
“Well crap,” said Mark. “This is weird. This stuff can’t have been published two hundred years ago, there’s stuff in here that’s like less than thirty years old. Someone’s playing a joke on you, mate.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” said Joshua. “And then I thought of you, obviously. But if it’s not you, then who is it?”
Mark closed the journal up and handed it back to Joshua. “I haven’t got a clue mate, but that’s a lot of effort they’ve gone to. You might want to be careful when you find out. They might be a bit… odd, if you get my drift.”
Joshua nodded. Academic departments tended to have a slightly higher percentage of eccentrics than many other places of employment, and although that was strongly tolerated, occasionally even they found behaviours that stretched tolerance to its limits. “Yeah,” he said. “Just what I need, a stalker that breaks into my office and leaves me pasted-together versions of other people’s papers pretending they’re hundreds of years old.”
“Right, that’s what so weird,” said Mark. “I’m no expert on this stuff, but it looked, well, coherent, if that makes sense.”
“Oh it’s more than coherent,” said Joshua. “It all works through, whoever’s done this knows the material and understands it pretty well. I’ve had a few ideas from reading this as it goes, a couple of directions to push. Nothing concrete yet, but I think there might be some good stuff lurking just below the surface.”
Mark was shaking his head and he’d gone a little pale. “That’s just freaky,” he said. “You’re going to have to ask security who came in here today then. How long were you gone for?”
“Couple of hours, tops,” said Joshua. “I was in the library; I’m still trying to find Lambert’s p-adic Calculus. The system says it’s there, but I’ve no clue where it’s hiding it. It’s definitely not where it says it should be.”
“Yeah, great stuff mate,” said Mark. “Go and get security to review the tapes and find out who put this in here,” he pointed at the journal, “and then go and report them. Tell Hawne or Silverman, they’ll know what to do.”
Joshua looked at his friend and reluctantly nodded.