“Ah, walruses. The vampires of the sea.”
“With those huge teeth. They can latch on to whales, with hundreds of them sucking the whole whale dry. It’s a sight to make landlubbers like you queasy!”
Her last name wasn’t Sr, it was rather S—r, the dash standing for some ten to fifteen letters of Germanic nature. I didn’t know which were the right ones, much less in which order they should be put.
Neither did anyone else.
Nearly every instance disagreed on the spelling of her name: the university website alone had seven different spellings, and it seemed every exam result paper, secretary-typed and pinned to the departmental noticeboard next to the stairwell, had a different transliteration above her wavy sine-line signature.
There were some six variants that made up some 70% of the instances her name appeared in; none of these occurred in more than 15% of the sample.
As far as any of us knew, Thube Sr, a tiny, grey-haired, wrinkle-faced imp of a woman, didn’t give a damn about this.
“That’s not the worst the sea contains, argh me unsalted matey. Have you ever been on a ship romanced by a dim whale?”
“Argh, that be a situation where the whole ship be fucked.”
The prof was a Lars Larsson; he went by the last name. The final name, some said; or a terminal name, even.
Prof. Larsson was a man liable to inspire terms like this.
He was also the vice head of the department. Vice, as is well known, is in police circles drugs, prostitution and the like. Also pornography and gambling.
Larsson’s exams were gambling and the grades were likely to drag you to drugs, so that was right.
“Look, I can guess your next bit is going to be about ‘seamen’, so please don’t go there.”
“Argh, I was about to speak of mermaids, rather. Are mermaids okay?”
“Is this going to be the reverse mermaid bit? Which have a fish for the upper body and—”
“Argh, I never seen that one nowhere. I’ve seen the werewhale of Tasmania, but I’ve never seen that one.”
“The what now of Tasmania?”
“A poor sailor, bit by a whale, who turned to a blue whale every full moon. Good thing no place in Tasmania is too far from the shore, argh, but still. Can you imagine a dark night in Hobart, just one ridge too far from the embrace of waters? Being there, wide, blubbery, a whale in the remains of a trailer, thinking this will be a night of spectacular discomfort even before the blue lights blare? An’ come morning there be a man in the emergency tank, and questions of a whale he stole, for what legend tells of the werewhale but the most obscure kinds of legend. Argh, this be a sad tale, this one, and many a Hobartian could tell it: the tale of the weird night when a whale burst the jail.”
Doesn’t the existence of a “regional tsunami warning” imply the existence of a global one?
“Every child is an inner product”, read the banner over the enticement stall. Two pale women (with faces like skulls, eyes like marbles) sat inside, each behind a chin-high stack of brochures.
I hesitated for a moment, and the one on the left, with black hair on a ponytail so severe I first thought she wore a cap, noticed me and whispered: “Interested in mathematics, are you?”
Not wanting to be rude, I took a step towards her, and nod-shrugged in vague affirmation.
“Ah, you should be”, the other woman said. Her hair was a white halo, more dandelion that Einstein. From behind her stack of papers, I could see she was wearing a black t-shirt with the name of some band on it; she looked as if a strong breeze could carry her away. (No fear of that; the University Fair for High Schoolers was, as usually, held in a hall hot like Arabia, charming like a Moscow suburb, all concrete and yellowing paper.)
“Why?” I asked; my voice a cracked a bit. If I had been a girl, I would have been envious of how good she looked, despite the cadaver look and the crazy hair and the marble eyes. If I had been inclined that way, I might have been attracted; but despite that, she had a Presence.
White-halo smiled, and black-cap followed suit; apparently I had said the right thing, and that was something they didn’t see often.
“Mathematics is the secret language”, White-halo said, leaning over her papers towards me, “the language the world obeys, the language that controls your life, the flow of your money and hormones, advancement and accidents—”
“—that defines success and failure alike”, Black-cap said, in a breathy whisper, “that in this godless universe is the most divine thing, and the master of mathematics, she is the master of all!”
“All illusions are stripped from those that calculate”, White-halo said, taking a handful of papers off her pile, spreading them like a fan with a turn of her wrist, revealing a lot of pyramids, eyes, pentagrams, “all questions of morality die faced with the logic of numbers and sequences—”
“—so are you now more interested?” Black-cap finished.
I stood there for a moment, transfixed by their fervor and evil; then I turned and fled, and have never thought of mathematics the same since.
“—and that was the end of the werewhale. A sad, sad, sad tale that was.”
“I find your story highly improbable, though it would make a good Michael Bay movie.”
“Argh, much obliged. Which do remind me of the sad, sad tale’s sequel, the revenge of the fallen werewhale from the dark side of the moon! I—”
“Do not move, boy, for behind you on the wall—”
“—the cursed, weak, unwise seaward wall, left unprotected and free for toothed things to come through, snatching sailors and devouring the first that moves—”
“—that be the gaping maw of a wallrus!“