Imaginary Numbers

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The Assumption

Geneva, Switzerland


They decided to return to the Dr. Borgiac’s chalet, which unbeknownst to them, had been used by Marius to recover from his injuries. Once inside, the professor immediately understood that someone had been living there. He assumed it was Marius, and where normally he would have felt simply annoyed, today he felt violated. It’s clear that he had left in a hurry: take-out containers were left on the kitchen counter, the TV was blaring advertisements loudly, and the bed was unmade. He apologized to Vivienne for the mess, but she didn’t care. She had already recovered from the pain of losing her imperfect doppelgänger, and bounced into the house, gushing over the view of the lake. She told the professor in the car that the clay girl had promised them to wait for them in Metapontum, wherever that was.

He laid his violin down on the table, and proceeded to clean up Marius’ mess. Vivienne was humming an unfamiliar tune, most likely something she was making up on the spot, when the television news broadcast started recounting the top stories: Middle Eastern peace talks, the looming threat of terrorism, the train derailment in Geneva, and the blackout in France. He was unconcerned and determined to return his house to order, but stopped abruptly when the Swiss correspondent mentioned his name.

“William, look! It’s your lab!” The television showed the shattered window and the path of destruction running through the streets.

“Authorities still have found no trace of the escaped animal. There are conflicting descriptions of the animal, though it is believed that it was a research monkey that escaped from the Swiss Centre for Biophysics and Nano-Engineering, run by Dr. Charles Borgiac. It is believed that days before the incident, Dr. Borgiac sent home the majority of his employees after a professional disagreement.” The real professor stepped forward, and turned up the volume. The screen showed the front door of his building where the mob of reporters were waiting. Marius existed and pushed a camera out of his way. The reporters shouted questions in French and Italian, but he didn’t respond. “Dr. Borgiac had no comments, and he is avoiding any contact with the press. The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health has confirmed that they will be conducting a thorough investigation of the Biotechnology laboratory, which is currently sitting unused.” He turned off the television.

Vivienne stood in front of the window which displayed the valley around Lake Geneva with the city’s buildings nestled tightly into a mountainous horseshoe shape. She was still wearing the lab coat, buttoned tightly.

“But, William, that wasn’t you they showed.”

“No,” he said, “it wasn’t.”

“Do you know him? They think he is you.”

“I suppose it’s an expected case of mistaken identity.” He put the kettle on for tea. “Vivienne, that man is assuming my identity. He has been trained to act as me, therefore I can’t entirely blame him. He is doing what I paid him for.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Well, I paid him to represent me at conferences and symposia.” He sighed. “You see, I am deathly afraid of public speaking, but it is expected of a researcher to present their findings to their peers. Originally, I hired Marius to be my chauffeur. He listened while I practiced my speeches in the back of the car. For the first year, I struggled, sweating through every presentation I made, often getting a spontaneous bout of insurmountable hiccups, or finding myself stuttering through statistics. It was terrible.”

“It sounds unpleasant.”

“It was,” he said, pouring them some tea. “But Marius stepped up. One day he asked me if he could try giving the lecture. I was astonished at his memory. He recited, with a certain eloquence, the entire opening of my speech. So, I allowed him to pretend to be me, and he excelled!” Vivienne clasped her hands around the hot mug, inhaling the steam. “At the end, he even answered the first few questions exactly as I had answered them at the previous symposia. When an Irish scientist asked a difficult question, which he hadn’t heard before, he acted quickly and said, ‘That’s such a simple question that even my chauffeur could answer it,’ and he directed it my way. From my comfortable seat in the audience, I felt much more at peace, and answered it clearly without stumbling once.”

“Wow! That was a smart move!”

“Indeed. I realised then that Marius would be an invaluable asset in my career, and I hired him on as my personal assistant, as my agent by proxy.”

“So you think he is just doing what you’re paying him to do?”

“He might be,” the professor stirred his tea, the spoon ringing bell-like inside his cup. “However, I must say that something is not right. He is not answering his phone, and it is clear that he was sleeping in my bed. I believe that the act might be becoming reality for him. Perhaps he actually believes that he is me.”

“Really?”

“Well, I cannot be sure, but evidently something has gone awry. He has destroyed my lab, after all.”

“I hope he is okay.”

“So do I,” he said and watched Vivienne finish the hot tea in one gulp. “I need to ask him some questions.”

“That was delicious!” she smiled. “So are we going to go to Metapontum then?”

“We will. But first we must find out where that is.” Professor Borgiac charges his phone, and opens his laptop to access the internet. According to Wikipedia Metapontum was an ancient city in Magna Grecia in southern Italy, which was reduced to ruins in the second century AD. Currently the closest settlement is Bernalda, a 15th century castle town, which for a long time was controlled by Naples. The nearest international airport is in Bari, the nearest airfield in Grottaglie.

Because Vivienne wouldn’t be able to fly without a passport, he decided to charter a plane.

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