"What you ask of me is impossible!" cried the Architect.
The God glanced down from his throne.
"That I can conceive of it suggests otherwise."
And a world was born.
It had been raining for days in Kraków. The streets were flooded with shallow rivers flowing thick with dirt and trash. It was that dark kind of rain, where endless layers of black clouds turn day into night. The wind howled. The downpour would not stop. The people forgot what it was like to see the sun. And the storm had not once abated. That night was no different.
A carriage pulled up outside a small home at the end of a road far from the center of the city. The two black horses that had pulled the carriage through the grime stomped in the pond that had formed along the curb and shook the water from their backs.
There was a flurry of motion in the cab and a tall, broad man in a dark suit stepped outside. He slipped some coins into the cabbie’s outstretched arm before donning a bowler hat.
The rain pelted his clothing as he walked to the front of the house.
He brushed himself off under the awning and gave the door three firm knocks. A few moments later a woman cracked open the door and peered out. She had brown eyes and hair. Her skin was pale yet flushed. She was beautiful.
From deep in the bowels of the home a voice called. “Who’s at the door, Łucja?”
The unannounced guest stepped forward. “I am Detective Pawel. I work for the government at the bureau in Warszawa. Is this the home of Professor Stefan Banach?” His thick voice carried the question through to the back of the home. Łucja stood in silence and stared into the eyes of the man in the doorway.
He looked to his watch. It was eight o’clock.
A few moments later the door opened fully and a young man stepped forward. He held out his hand. “Welcome! You’ve come a long way! I’m Stefan Banach. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Pawel grasped his hand. “Likewise.”
Banach turned and beckoned the detective to follow. “Let’s get you out of this rain. Łucja, would you take the detective’s coat and hat? Is there anything you’d like to eat or drink? Coffee, perhaps?”
After Pawel handed his coat to Łucja he said, “Coffee would be fine, thanks.”
Banach said, “Łucja, would you make the two of us some coffee? And if you could bring me some black bread and smalec.” He turned to Pawel. “I’ve been working in the study all day, you see. Don’t think I’ve eaten yet. Anyway, how can I help you?”
Pawel shifted. “I think it would be best if we retired to your study. I have a few questions I’d like to ask you.”
Banach raised his eyebrows. “Oh my, then we should certainly go to my study. Follow me.” He led Pawel down a hallway past the kitchen and through the living room. At the back of the house he turned and gestured toward an open set of double doors. “After you, Detective.”
Pawel stepped inside. The room was littered with countless reams of paper and deconstructed notebooks. Shelves crammed with books of all shapes and sizes lined the walls, and piles of even more books were haphazardly thrown around the floor. A fire burned steadily in a hearth along the side of the room.
“I apologize for the mess.” Banach picked some papers off of a chair that sat in the center of the room. “Please, have a seat.” He stepped with care to the other side of the room and sat down behind a cluttered desk.
“So tell me, Pawel, are you enjoying this weather we’ve been having?” He flashed a smile. “It’s quite dreadful, really. Spring should be much prettier than this. If only.” He pointed to the ceiling. “The old man upstairs though. He couldn’t care less about us. Ha!”
Pawel laughed. “I must say I’m with you on that account. Warszawa has been seeing its fair share of rain lately as well.” He sat upright in his chair. “But let’s get down to business, shall we?”
Banach held out both hands. “By all means, let’s begin.”
The detective pulled a notepad from his back pocket and a pen from his shirt. “You are the Stefan Banach who teaches at”—He glanced to the pad—“Jagiellonian University?”
“And you work with the mathematician Alfred Tajtelbaum, correct?”
Banach beamed. “Absolutely. He’s a great friend of mine. We’ve been working together for some time now. It’s a shame he couldn’t live nearby, but we’re quite close to a breakthrough nonetheless.”
Pawel looked up sharply. “So I’ve heard. Do you think you could explain to me what it is you’ve been working on?”
“Why, I’d love to!” Banach shot to his feet and began rifling through papers. “But where to begin?” He looked at Pawel, narrowing his eyes. “You wouldn’t happen to be familiar with Vitali’s Convergence Theorem, would you?”
Pawel stared blankly.
Banach looked back down, muttering to himself. “No, no, of course not, Vitali was only in Lublin a few months ago…” His head lifted. “Rudimentary decompositions of spheres in the Euclidean plane?”
Pawel set the notepad on his lap. “Pan Banach, I haven’t studied mathematics since my third year of gymnasium.” Banach’s smile lilted. “Could you explain in simpler language? It’s of the utmost importance for my investigation.”
Banach dropped the papers he was holding to the desk. He sighed. “Ah, I suppose I can, although you will be losing out on the guts of the problem, you know. The beauty is in the guts.”
Łucja appeared at the doorway.
Banach’s smile returned. “Come in, my dear.”
She entered, bearing a tray laden with porcelain, her face blank. She placed it on the desk and left without a word.
“Cream or sugar?” asked Banach.
“I’m fine. What have you and Tajtelbaum been working on?”
“I take my coffee black as well.” Banach raised the cup to his lips and took a sip. “In general I’m actually rather secretive about what we’re working on—around other scholars that is. Competition, you see. But since you’re a detective…” He took a piece of black bread and a long silver knife and smothered the bread with a copious amount of yellow goose fat. He took a bite and chewed it thoughtfully as his eyes lingered on the fire.
He looked back to Pawel. “You at least took geometry, yes?”
The detective nodded.
“Good. So you know that a line contains an infinite amount of points, and thus an infinite amount of discrete segments. A sphere also contains an infinite amount of pieces, and so does any other three-dimensional object in the Euclidean plane. Alfred and I believe that if a sphere were to be reduced to a finite yet seemingly uncountable amount of pieces, it could be put back together to form two spheres, or any number of spheres. If we are correct, and I am certain that we are, then you could take any object, and from it create anything. A world. A universe. Life.” Banach stared expectantly at the detective.
Pawel blinked and then waved a hand dismissively. “That’s crazy.”
Banach laughed. “You think the world around you is all that’s real? What you can see with your little human eyes?” He laughed again. “Mathematics is the language of reality. Mathematics is God’s tongue.”
Pawel shook his head. “I’m not following you, Pan Banach.”
“But it’s so simple! The world is founded on principles hidden to the naked eye. The pursuit of mathematics is about finding these principles that govern the universe. But Alfred and I don’t just want to learn the language. We want to wield it.”
Pawel glanced away. “Have you heard the tale of Icarus?”
Banach scoffed. “What are you getting at, Pawel? Why are you here?” He took the knife to dress another piece of bread.
“When was the last time you heard from Tajtelbaum?”
“I received a letter from him just yesterday morning, actually.”
“And what did it say, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Well, to be frank, Alfred was rather ecstatic. He said he was on the verge of an unprecedented advance in our knowledge of transformations involving equidecomposable sets…But you would rather we not speak of these things, correct?” He arched an eyebrow. “Regardless, the proof is fundamental to our research. It’s the last piece of the puzzle. And so I must ask again—Detective, why are you here?”
Pawel took his first sip of coffee and set the cup back on the desk. A grave look settled upon his face. “I am sorry for putting you through this questioning, but you must understand. I needed to know what you were working on.”
“I’m sorry?” Banach set down the knife.
“I regret to inform you that Alfred Tajtelbaum is dead.”
Banach jumped to his feet. Żartujesz! Tell me the truth, Detective! Why are you here?” His voice was trembling.
Pawel raised his hands. “I know this is difficult, but I am telling you the truth. Two nights ago Tajtelbaum’s girlfriend Maria entered his study. He was gone. There was only one entrance. No windows. He’d gone inside maybe an hour before. She found nothing there but his clothing, and inside of them, ashes.”
Banach’s hands shot to his mouth. “Kurwa mać!”
“Naturally, Maria immediately got the police, and I was summoned to Tajtelbaum’s residence shortly thereafter. Which brings me to why I’m here, Pan Banach.” He reached his hand into his back pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper, which he then put on the table. “The police found this on his desk when they arrived. They tell me the ink was still wet. It was addressed to you.”
Banach put on a pair of spectacles with unsteady hands. He took the letter and began to read:
I have found the answer. It was there all along. It lies in the blade, Stefan! I have not yet begun to draw up the plans. I will wait until we meet. I shall guard them with my life, right here, in my head. But the blade! It must be sharp, unimaginably so! But I have figured out how me might construct it. I have the design. I will come to Kraków as soon as I can. Stefan! We will become Go
The letter cut out abruptly, and ink was splattered across the cream-colored parchment. Banach placed it delicately on the desk.
He stood and began to pace. Pawel noticed the bags under his eyes for the first time.
“Pan Banach? Are you okay? Should I fetch Łucja?”
Banach stopped and stared right at the detective. “Are you a God-fearing man, Pawel?”
He shrugged. “You could say that. What’s the matter? What does that letter mean to you?”
Banach retook his seat.
Pawel asked again. “What’s all this about a blade?”
“Nothing, nothing at all. Just a metaphor.” Banach started at the piercing look on the detective’s face. “Truly. A metaphor.”
Banach continued. “Listen, this is a shock for me. Alfred and I were terribly close. I need some time to take all of this in. Can we resume this discussion tomorrow? Do you have a place to stay?”
“Ah, I understand, Banach. You have my sympathy. I served in the war. You would’ve still been too young. I lost friends, loved ones. I know the toll it takes.” He got to his feet. “Yes, I have someone to stay with. Shall I return here tomorrow, let’s say around noon?”
Banach forced a smile. “Yes, that should work. Thank you, Detective.” He held out his hand.
“Until tomorrow, Pan Banach. Get some rest.”
Pawel turned and left the study.
After the door closed Banach dropped to the floor. He shuddered there for a few moments before climbing back to his feet. A frenzy came over him and he rushed around his study, grabbing armfuls of papers from different piles and drawers. They were covered with an endless stream of numbers and symbols, diagrams and designs.
He threw them all into the hearth and watched as they burned.
Tajtelbaum kneeled before the throne.
The God looked down upon him. “Hubris,” thundered his voice, “will be the fall of man.”