Ren shoots Compton a look to say sorry, I owe you one. Compton looks back, amused. He seems to be saying, don’t worry, this is worth it for the story. They’re at the Terminal Building cafeteria entertaining Tyson Kipnis, who is giving the departmental seminar this afternoon. Ren has roped in Compton to help him cope with Tyson, who seems to be, as his reputation has it, a tinge on the eccentric side, to put it mildly. Tyson has been travelling with his wife, who is reputed to look after him almost all of the time, but on this occasion she has had to leave him in the care of Ren, because she has an urgent errand to undertake. Ren overheard her asking Wendaline Clugston (the department’s administrator) where the nearest pharmacy is, and Ren worries that maybe some of the medicine that keeps Tyson marginally sane has been lost.
Tyson is a seventy-year-old American with a straggly beard, paranoid eyes, yellow British teeth, a strong New York accent, and a unique combover. He has a small amount of thinning hair left, and he’s let this grow long at both the front and left side of his head. The combover is created from both of these rugs, but even with both there is still nowhere near enough hair to cover the large area of bald scalp. So what Tyson has done instead of a standard combover is to create what Ren can only call ‘the graph paper look’. Thin strands from the front of his head are drawn back across the bald patch, like lines of longitude on a globe. These are interweaved with thin strands of hair from the side of his head, which intersect the other strands at ninety degrees, like lines of latitude, so he looks like he has a net on his head. The whole lot is presumably kept in place by some sort of hair product, and judging by the greasy looks the strands have, this product is something old-fashioned, although perhaps that’s just what his hair is naturally like.
Ren cannot think why Tyson bothers with this hair arrangement that is, even by combover standards, ineffectual in the extreme, until the logic of it suddenly strikes him. Oranges. Oranges! That must be it. Oranges are usually sold in netted bags made of thin orange-coloured twine. The deep orange colour of the twine fools our perceptual system into thinking that the oranges inside the netting are a darker shade of orange – and thus are riper and juicier – than they really are. You notice this when you open the netting and you’re disappointed that the oranges are somehow lighter-coloured than they appeared when they were in the netting. That must be the sort of effect that Tyson, in his mad way, is going for. He knows full well that he cannot hide his lack of hair with what he has left, but he believes he can fool our perceptual systems into thinking that he has more hair than he really does by creating the hair equivalent of an orange bag.
This is, after all, the man who created his own fiendishly complicated system of seven-dimensional parietal logic, which no-one can properly understand. This is the man, after all, who recently declared that his seven-dimensional parietal logic was, all along, really a seventeen-dimensional logic. Even his supporters have professed themselves unable to understand what the fuck he’s talking about now. His fame in twentieth-century philosophy is assured, so no-one knows why he feels compelled, at his age, with his problems, to constantly tour the Philosophy departments of the western world giving talks, especially seeing as he was, until five years ago, famed for his reclusiveness. He doesn’t get paid anything for the talks other than expenses. Is it some sort of therapy? Or making up for lost time? But he gives no indication that he enjoys travelling around giving talks. If anything, he seems to dislike it – it’s a difficult business at his age, and he’s socially very awkward. And mostly he stays in budget hotels (except for the big conferences, when he gets put up somewhere better).
Ren and Compton are asking him questions, but not getting much sense out of him. He keeps asking Ren to go up to the counter and buy him a cupcake. So far he has six of them, which he has lined up on the table. He isn’t eating them, he’s arranging them and talking to them like they’re toy soldiers.
‘So, Tyson,’ says Compton, ‘de Rossi and Parfitt say that your M4 entailment is only valid if you assume the structural equivalence of P2 and S7. What do you say to that?’ says Compton.
‘Those two, what do they know?’ Back to the cupcakes. Mumble, mumble, mumble. Rearrange the cupcakes. Laugh. Mumble. Ren and Compton raise their eyebrows at each other. There’s been a lot of that today.
‘And, er…’ tries Ren, ‘Oswold Osbourne and Anthony Iommi say that it all leads to the negation of the double Blackmore rule.’
Eventually Tyson looks up from the cupcakes.
‘What do they know about the double Blackmore rule? I’ve been teaching that since before they were born. I first taught that so long ago that I don’t even remember it any more.’
He fixes them with a cracked stare, keeping his eyes up long enough for them both to see how bloodshot and mad they look. His eyes look older than the stars, old enough for so much to have gone wrong with them and the brain tissue they’re connected to that there’s nothing fixable left.
‘Remarkable,’ says Compton. ‘Not many people know about the double Blackmore rule outside of Aston.’ But Tyson is oblivious to their probing. He’s too busy mumbling and playing with the cupcakes. Ren tries to see if he can decipher what Tyson is saying, but he can’t. He wonders whether what Tyson is mumbling is just gibberish.
‘So I take it you’re not bothered by, er… Stavely Makepeace’s psychological criticisms then?’ says Ren.
Compton mouths ‘Who?’ at Ren.
Tyson fixes Ren with a baleful glare, the veins in his bloodshot eyes seeming to pulsate under the fluorescent lights. ‘I don’t know half these modern pygmies you’re referring to,’ says Tyson. ‘Nor do I want to. Go and get me four more cakes.’
‘Four? You want four more?’
Another glare. ‘Perhaps you’re right. Going to need six, aren’t I?’
When Ren comes back with six more cakes Tyson has cheered up a bit, in so far as he is cackling more often as he plays with the cakes. Compton seems to have decided that there is no more need for psychiatric evaluation, and is no longer studying Tyson intently.
‘I said eight more,’ says Tyson.
‘Um, actually, you said six.’
‘Are you deaf? Eight.’
Ren looks over at Compton, who grins and says, ‘He definitely said eight.’
Tyson doesn’t appreciate Compton’s intervention. ‘What are you grinning at, jackass?’ he says to him. ‘Go and get me another eight. You shouldn’t be letting your friend pay for everything anyway.’
Compton obediently trudges off.
‘Ha, ha, these will do nicely,’ says Tyson, taking the six cupcakes. He’s a whirl of activity now, talking in what sounds more like the clown language Grammelot than English. Ren doesn’t dare interrupt.
Compton comes back. ‘Sorry, they only had seven left,’ he says.
‘Seven?’ shouts Tyson. ‘Seven? Why would you think an odd number is of any use to me? Are you trying to jinx me?’
He takes one of the cupcakes Compton has placed on the table and puts it on the floor near his foot.
‘Bam!’ he yells, as he violently squashes the cake with his shoe.
‘You see what I can do?’ he says to them. ‘That could have been a whole world, and I’ve just crushed it.’
‘All those cream miners, squashed flat,’ says Ren.
‘I don’t think the Galactic Cleaning Company will be too pleased with the mess,’ says Compton.
‘Shut up, shut up, shut up.’ Tyson turns his attention back to the cakes. The whole table is covered with them, and Ren and Compton have had to move away from the table to give Tyson room for his manoeuvres. They chit-chat quietly to themselves, keeping their worried eyes on their prestigious guest, who is getting more and more animated. Ren wonders whether they should get him out of this public area, but he doesn’t really want him in his office. God knows what he might do in there, and he’d probably want to take the cakes with him.
‘Uh huh hah,’ says Tyson loudly in a triumphant, bird-like voice, as he completes another cake rearrangement. He giggles in a high-pitched voice. They look blankly at him. ‘It’s all coming into place now,’ he beams.
‘Great, Tyson, great,’ says Ren, who is about to finally suggest they make a move, when Tyson raises his fist and violently flattens a cake.
‘BAM!’ he shouts as he does it. Cake shoots everywhere. People look over at them, but it has all happened so fast that no-one else in the place knows what has transpired.
‘You see?’ Tyson whispers excitedly. ‘Do you get it now? All my work, you and I and he and Monkman and all the fritters thought it was about logic, but no, no, no no. Ha. Of course not. Code. Instructions. In code. Flat stuff, and all. You know code? You won’t know this code. Telling me what to do, how, when, what, why, up, down, when, why, repeating myself, over and over, when, how, why. It’s after the Universe shifts. Folding the wheel again. Have to know it, otherwise you get caught in the shift. Torn apart. Unless you’re a super strong. Know how to roll with it.’
‘The soup?’ says Compton. ‘Yes, I think you do get a roll with it.’
Ren kicks him under the table.
‘Souperman, souperman, souperman, shut up, shut up, shut up. A message from the future. Or another Universe. Maybe from the future me. I’m all there, I’m everywhere. Even in the soup. Think I didn’t get the reference? Pots and pans all spick and span. The shift, encoded the answers into the formulae. They’re all here now.’ He points to his head. ‘In here. The clarity is so intense now, it hurts. Jesus, it’s burning my mind. BAM!’
He has squashed another unfortunate cupcake with his fist. People look over again, puzzled now. Tyson starts laughing hysterically, grabbing bits of squashed cake and putting them all over his face and hair. Ren and Compton try to get him to leave.
‘Can’t you see? Can’t you? It’s all around, the evidence, you dummies, put this stuff in your eyes, it shows you the truth,’ he says, offering them some squashed cake. People are looking over at them uneasily.
‘We’d really better be going, your talk starts soon,’ says Ren.
‘BAM! BAM! BAM!’ shouts Tyson, expertly squashing three more cakes.
‘You’d better stop that now,’ says Ren ineffectually.
‘These machines kill fascists,’ shouts Tyson, holding up his fists.
‘Hadn’t we better tell everyone the news about what you’ve found?’ says Compton. ‘At the talk? You can tell everyone! Let’s go.’
‘Yes! Tell them! Tell them all. Spread the news to the elect, and infiltrate the electrical circuits. The chosen will understand the code. The fritters will be finished with. Binoculars! BAM! BAM!’
Two more cakes bite the dust before they manage to get him away from the table and out the exit. Ren avoids looking at the cafe staff on the way out.
‘The ones who don’t get the code will be rearranged, of course,’ says Tyson as they’re going up the stairs.
‘Well, that’s nice to hear,’ says Ren.
They get to Ren’s office. He’s not sure what to do. Despite what they told Tyson, the start time of the talk isn’t for another thirty minutes. Tyson isn’t currently in any shape to do it, even though he has calmed down considerably, and is smiling beatifically. Where is his frickin’ wife? Should they get him to a doctor?
‘What strange garb you wear,’ says Tyson. ‘Are you fifth century?’
‘No, I’m, ah, just ran out of normal clothes to wear today,’ says Ren. ‘So I just grabbed these.’
‘You don’t fool me. But I’ll take your little secret to the grave. Anyway, I’m just going to take a little trip to another world for some more revelations,’ says Tyson. ‘Back soon.’
He lies down on the floor on his stomach and goes immediately to sleep.
‘What do we do?’ says Ren.
‘He needs a doctor,’ says Compton. ‘But the NHS…’
‘Yeah, we don’t want to spend all night in A&E to get two aspirin.’
‘What we need is his wife to come back. She’ll know what’s up with him. And she should have his medicine. And we shouldn’t wake him now.’
‘I have no intention of waking him now,’ says Ren. ‘Let him sleep.’