1+1=5

Isaac blinks and tries it again. There is an apple on the table in front of him, and another on the shelf to his left. He reaches out with his left hand and picks the fruit up. It has the texture and heft of an ordinary green apple. Isaac lays it down beside the red one in front of him. He hesitates as he does so, although he knows, has deduced by empirical observation – which he is rather good at – what will happen.

It happens again. He blinks once more, then takes the green apple away. There is one red apple in front of him. He wonders what will happen if the green apple is cut in half, but he has had no access to any implements since he arrived, by means which he does not yet fully comprehend, in this place.

There is a stranger seated across from him, but Isaac does not meet his gaze. He has devoted his life to observing and deducing, but he is genuinely disturbed by what he has seen here. The fact that his companion appears to find it mildly amusing has put Isaac in a foul mood, and he can no longer contain himself.

“This is impossible! Sir, I demand to know by what trickery you make these abominations appear!”

The other man, who has not even so much as introduced himself, smiles at Isaac, which causes the old man to sigh intemperately.

“There is no trickery, Isaac. This is the natural order of things. Simple mathematics. You have one object, and you add another to it, then there are five objects. Take one away, and there will be one left. How it is, and how it must be.”

Isaac is irritated enough not to notice that he has, once again, been addressed inappropriately. His mind is on another path now.

“Is this Hell, sir? Is this my punishment for whatever transgressions I am deemed to have committed? If so, I demand my judgement! I demand to be heard, and to face the wrath of my creator in person. Not to be trifled with by some insipid underling. Sir, you mock me, and I will not tolerate it!”

“It amuses me, Isaac, that so many of the ones we retrieve from your dimension talk in these terms – although not, if I may say so, always in such eloquent language. If it pleases you to consider this some kind of judgement upon your character, then we will accommodate that. In truth, it is your mind, rather than your character which has alerted us to you. We feel certain that your thorough understanding of the mathematical principles of your limited subset of the – ah, I must apologise; as far as we can discern, your language has no word for it; let us call it the universe – will help us in our studies. Given time, we feel sure you will come to relish the challenge.”

Isaac does what he often does when he feels discomfited; he harrumphs loudly, which seems only to provoke more amusement. The other man stands and leaves the room. Isaac glares after him.

Outside, in a space which Isaac might have recognised as some kind of corridor, the other man passes his case notes over to his supervisor.

“I think he will come round; he’s certainly the most promising one we’ve had yet. No sign of mental instability at all. In fact, he’s mostly just irritable.”

The supervisor smiles thinly. “You did remember to tell him not to eat the apple, didn’t you?”

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