The Gift of Numbers

Alan Nourse | published Aug, 1958

added Jun 19, 2024
cover Image
First Date of Publication
Aug, 1958
Original Source
Super Science Fiction
Original Source Type
Magazine - Pulp
Short Story
Original Language
Kasman Review
Summary: If mathematical abilities could be transferred from another person to yourself, would you regret the side-effects?

Story Tag Line: “Strange things can happen when there is a switch of talents from one personality to another. Nobody can really understand such matters. But they do happen!”

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  • Vijay Fafat
    Published on

    A mild, “deal-with-the-Devil” type of story about an accounting book-keeper, Avery Mearns, who runs into a stranger called, “The Colonel” at the local bar. “The Colonel had a way with numbers like no other guy around. It was sort of an inward and spiritual grace with him”. The Colonel offers to swap his own gift of numbers with Avery in exchange for $20 and some reciprocal transfer of Avery’s physical qualities.

    What is this Gift?

    “With the Gift of Numbers the columns of figures should take care of themselves. Numbers have a powerful quality of cohesion, you know. No number is an independent member, but only a member in relation to its fellows So if you yourself can enter into the cohesion, the numbers become a part of you and you a part of them. They can’t help but obey you.”
    “Sounds pretty nice,” Avery admitted. “I guess I’ll just have to go on adding.”
    “Nonsense,” said the Colonel. “You have a column of numbers to balance —it’s balanced!” He waved his hand airily. “An error to find on the page? A mere nothing—one look, and there it is!”
    “Just like that?”
    “Just like that.”

    What is the process of transfer?

    “ You could transfer part of your gift to me?”
    “Certainly. It isn’t all one way, of course—you’d transfer some of your bookkeeping tendencies to me at the same time. It’s a function of higher cerebral centers, you understand. Constant high-frequency synaptics from the transthalamus and the hippocampus, communicating with the frontal and parietal cortical layers. Very close contact must be made, of course — a form of supratentorial juxtaposition.
    “Of course,” said the Colonel, “I couldn’t consider anything permanent. The transfer is too deep-seated. Some authorities claim it’s a basic subtotal somatic and psychomatic interexchange…”

    Once the transfer of gifts takes place, Avery finds a sea-change in his perception of numbers.

    “The columns balanced like magic. The errors on the pages lit up like neon signs and winked at him enticingly. Quite suddenly he found himself feeling a sense of warmth, of kinship, with those pretty little numbers that tracked up and down the page. Almost as though they were blood brothers, you might say.”

    But with his preternatural numerical abilities come other side-effects - an overwhelming urge to gamble, to steal, to embezzle… naturally, after a brief stint with the law, Avery becomes the most sought-after expert by all the financial power-brokers in the nation - and abroad. His kind of financial wizardry is not commonly found.

    And then… the final twist in the story with the Colonel…