Alone now, Ptaclusp fanned himself and staggered into the shade of his tent.
Where, waiting to see him, were Ptaclusp IIa, Ptaclusp IIa, Ptaclusp IIa and Ptaclusp IIa. Ptaclusp always felt uneasy in the presence of accountants, and four of them together was very bad, especially when they were all the same person. Three Ptaclusp IIbs were there as well; the other two, unless it was three by now, were out on the site.
He waved his hands in a conciliatory way.
‘All right, all right,’ he said. ‘What’s today’s problems?’
One of the IIas pulled a stack of wax tablets towards him.
‘Have you any idea, father,’ he began, employing that thin, razor-edged voice that accountants use to preface something unexpected and very expensive, ‘what calculus is?’
‘You tell me,’ said Ptaclusp, sagging on to a stool.
‘It’s what I’ve had to invent to deal with the wages bill, father,’ said another IIa.
‘I thought that was algebra?’ said Ptaclusp.
‘We passed algebra last week,’ said a third IIa. ‘It’s calculus now. I’ve had to loop myself another four times to work on it, and there’s three of me working on—’ he glanced at his brothers – ‘quantum accountancy.’
‘What’s that for?’ said his father wearily.
‘Next week.’ The leading accountant glared at the top slab. ‘For example,’ he said. ‘You know Rthur the fresco painter?’
‘What about him?’
‘He – that is, they – have put in a bill for two years’ work.’
‘They said they did it on Tuesday. On account of how time is fractal in nature, they said.’ ‘They said that?’ said Ptaclusp.
‘It’s amazing what they pick up,’ said one of the accountants, glaring at the paracosmic architects.
‘How many of them are there?’
‘How should we know? We know there were fifty-three. Then he went critical. We’ve certainly seen him around a lot.’
Quantum accountancy. I'd laugh harder if it wasn't such an astute observation of financial crises.