Imaginary Numbers

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Sunlight

Beloeuie, France.


From behind the silver clouds in the sky, a ray of sunlight broke, changing the dreary marshland into ribbons of gold marbling the barren landscape. The three emerged from the sparsely wooded area where skeletal trees stood sentinel over the trail leading from the road. The professor was dirtier than he has ever been, and Vivienne’s stylish dress was stained in the autumnal tones of the bog.

When seen in direct sunlight, the clay girl seemed more lifelike. Her skin felt smoother, and with a little effort it was not hard to imagine her as a real woman. Once on solid ground, she became more coordinated.

Stoically, the doppelgänger looked at the professor and bowed to thank him. Dr. Borgiac nodded his head. Vivienne maintained her one-sided conversation as they walked, and when they got to the car, the professor removed his large overcoat from the trunk. He wrapped it around the artificial Vivienne, not because she looked cold—in fact, with no body heat, she seemed completely impervious to climate—but she was naked, and he felt embarrassed for her being so exposed next to the road.

They stood outside next to the car. He didn’t know if they should go somewhere, or where they would go. He wanted to take her back to his lab, to do some tests, but it would be a long drive.

“Vivienne,” he said, “what do you want to do?”

“I don’t really know. I’m trying to find out about myself, but she is still disoriented, as if she’s not completely present.”

“Very well. If you don’t mind, I’d like to return to my lab in Geneva. It will be a long ride, but I could do further tests there.”

“Professor,” she said smiling, “I’m starting to love our road trips. Let’s go!”

The clone mimiced “Let’s go” in a rough, breathy voice. They both laughed.

It’s a long way to the border, but they traveled fast, passing villages, farms, towns, and cities. They crossed the Loire with its medieval river forts, and skirted the suburbs of Paris. The professor recounted the entire tale of Joan of Arc to Vivienne, who was enthralled by the female general’s resolute belief in herself. The construct listened, repeating some English words, trying to communicate. Mostly it was silent and unresponsive, but there were burst where Vivienne listened intently and nodded to silent speeches. They talked about things Vivienne found difficult to understand, concepts she could not translate to the professor. “She’s teaching me,” Vivienne explained when he asked. The clay woman’s condition seemed to deteriorate over time. After two hours she was dried out and her skin cracked whenever she moved. Vivienne fed her water from the case of bottles the professor had brought, but the doppelgänger found it difficult to drink. It lost consciousness for an hour at a time, then came back to ask specific questions about their location, destination, and intentions—all of which Vivienne translated back-and-forth. Outside Paris, the spaces between its fingers cracked and its left hand fell apart. Vivienne panicked, but the construct seemed fearless. It assured her that it felt no pain, and that all things must come to an end. It was clear that Vivienne sympathized deeply with her earthen counterpart. When they stopped, she switched to the back seat and held the clay girl’s hand while she slept.

When the construct woke up again, they had been driving for more than four hours, and the road signs pointed towards Lyon.

“Are we almost there?” Vivienne asked, between sips of water.

“Yes, we’ll be there soon.” The professor looked in the rearview mirror and noticed the clay girl. Her eyes were open and she was looking out the window. “Vivienne,” he asked, “can you ask your friend about Galatea?”

“What’s that?”

“It’s something you said while you were under hypnosis.” When Vivienne turned back and asked her earthen image, the doppelgänger responded with a long, profound silence accompanied by intense eye-contact. After a while, Vivienne recounted the tale of Galatae as they crossed the border into the mountainous region of Europe.

“Galatea was the name of a statue. The sculptor Pygmalion, was a famous goldsmith on Cyprus, who carved a beautiful woman out of ivory. He was an ascetic, and swore never to love women, but one day during the festival of Aphrodite, he prayed to find a woman as beautiful as his statue, and asked the Goddess of Love to allow him to break his vow of chastity. When he came home, he kissed the ivory figure, and felt that her lips were warm. He touched her breast and noticed that it too was soft. And so, the statue stepped off the pedestal and told him that with Aphrodite’s blessing they would be married and produce a son, who will found a city in her honour.”

In the rearview mirror, the professor frowned. He wondered how these two strange people were connected. Did the clay girl have the same soul as Vivienne? As a scientist, considering the soul itself was unusual for him. But in seeing them both sitting in his car side-by-side, he determined that, in fact, they only resembled each other physically. Where Vivienne was energetic, excitable, and vivacious, the clay version was serious, stoic, and lackluster. Perhaps they were two opposing sides of the same being, he thought as they passed through the narrow streets of Geneva towards the laboratory in the mountains.

In front of the lab, a large mass of journalists had gathered, waiting for something to happen. The professor turned onto a side street to circumvent the mob. He drove around to the back entrance, where the loading docks were, and parked next to a bio-waste dumpster. The three of them entered through the back door. Vivienne supported her counterpart, since she had started to move with difficulty.

The bio-research lab had been destroyed. The large exterior window was shattered and cold mountain winds swooped in, blowing papers and plastic covers around in tight spirals. There were piles of yellow sand hugging the corners of the room, and large dirty footprints everywhere. The professor simply shook his head in disbelief, and walked on, guiding the girls to the genetics lab in the central core of the building. They helped the clay girl out of Dr. Borgiac’s overcoat, and made her lie down on a steel table—with her flat back, she fitted perfectly, half-in, half-out of the surface.

He went to this office to gather some instruments, and found there a similar mess of tiny footprints and chaos where he had left only order a few days ago. He checked to see if his violin was safe, which it was, thankfully. Using the sink in the washroom next door, he washed his hands and face, and looked deep into his own green eyes. What could have caused such destruction? The notion of entropy popped into his mind. A concept that states every organized molecule in this fragile universe must venture, whether is likes it or not, towards disorder. It is a law that at some unfathomably distant time in the future, would result in the heat death of the universe. Life, he thought, is so unpredictable; one moment you are existing in balance of the world around you, working towards a goal, then before you can even understand it, everything is upside-down. He questioned whether he could even trust his own beliefs. Can the scientific method prevail in a world where soil can come alive and speak? Where a girl can resurrect a dead animal? What unknown force was responsible for all this?

Back in his office, he changed out of his dirty suit into a spare set of clothes, which he kept in case of contamination. He put on a lab coat and brought Vivienne a similar lab coat and a large SUPSI sweater, with the university crest emblazoned in front.

In the lab, She was holding the construct’s hand, cooing encouraging phrases at it.

“Vivienne, I don’t have any trousers, but feel free to change into this, if you like. There is a water-closet down the hallway to your right, where you can wash up.” She took it and then left. The creature followed the professor with its eyes. He placed a stethoscope on her chest, but heard nothing. He did notice, however, that the skin resembled a dessert landscape, cracked and dry.

“Dio mio! Bisogno di un po ’d’acqua,” he said to himself in Italian, and as he retrieves a spray bottle from the cupboard, he heard a deep voice in his mind: “Acqua con sale.” Shocked, he turned around and saw her for the first time as another being, someone who, despite being made of dirt, also had needs. She reached out her hand, nightmarishly torn apart by the deep cracks between the fingers, and mouthed “Sale per favore.”

He replied to her in Italian: “Give me a minute and I shall bring you salt.” A moment later he returned with a bag of sodium. He mixed a solution in the spray bottle and gently misted the surface of her body. The salt water moistened her parched skin, and by the time Vivienne returned, tightly wrapped in the white coat, the girl on the table once again had smooth, almost natural skin, which shone under the fluorescent lights. She lay naked and still, a hairless, half-made human on the silver table.

In Italian, the professor was interrogating her.

“Who are you? You are not like Vivienne.”

“I am the eyes from under the ground. I am here to help you.”

“How can you help us?”

“For some time now, I have been trying to find the girl. She came at the right time. She is important.”

“Why is she important?”

“She is the keystone. She is the counterweight.”

Vivienne interrupted: “William, what’s happening?”

“Vivienne, I can hear her. She knows Italian!” Then he addressed the construct. “How do you know Italian?”

“I learned it a long time ago. I need you to find me. Come to me.” Vivienne stepped closer and held her hand. The clay turned to mush, disintegrating in her hands.

“Oh no!” The professor noticed the abrupt change in the consistency of the clay.

“Are you alright?” he asked. “Do you need more salt water?” The clay girl ignored the professor and stared at Vivienne.

“What did she say?” the professor asked.

“She said that her form is flawed, unlike mine. She said that I have to come find her.” Vivienne placed her hand on the clay girl’s face. “But I don’t understand. She’s right here. Eímai edó̱! I am here!” she said feeling more and more panicky as the construct’s extremities started to fall away, returning to inanimate earth.

“Vivienne, ask her where she is?” Then he switched to Italian and asked the same question.

“Metapontum.” The word echoed in the Professor’s mind. As the construct looked at Vivienne, the features of her face sank in, becoming shallow, running like viscous lava onto the steel table. Its voice, rough and old as the earth itself, spoke its last words, “Μην ανησυχείτε. Θα περιμένω. Θα συναντηθούμε ξανά.” Although he could not understand the meaning, it was clear to the professor that the construct was consoling Vivienne, who had started crying into the remains of her counterpart, a moist pile of soil lying formless on the table.

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