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Imaginaire Issue 3

Imaginaire Issue 3

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Published by Joshua Allen
The third issue of Imaginaire, an online journal devoted to mathematical fiction.
The third issue of Imaginaire, an online journal devoted to mathematical fiction.

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Published by: Joshua Allen on Jun 15, 2013
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10/18/2013

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imaginaire

Issue #3

Editor’s Note
We at Imaginiaire would like to sincerely thank our contributers, submitters, and readers for making this such a pleasant experience. It has been great to see how much enthusiasm there is with a journal devoted to mathemtical fiction. We have another great issue on our hands this time around, as well. We decided to commit to a more print style journal, like with Issue #1. You’ll be able to read it directly in your browser, or download to read when convenient. The print version should be of smaller dimensions this time to accommedate a better transition to mobile devices. Some art may distort under screen-sized magnification on a full sized screen, but it should all be readable. If you have any issues, please contact me so I can take steps to correct any unanticipated problem. Issue #3 contains another eclectic mix of poetry and prose (that’s kind of what we’re going for). It starts with a story with looser math ties, about an AI that has gone rogue called “Escalation” by David Steffen and proceeds to some great poetry drawing on math concepts and people by Laural Hunt with “You Are Important” and “Math.” Laura Lucas presents us with a thought-provoking prose poem “Shadowmath.” Following that is a great poem by Robin Wyatt Dunn that I like more every time I read it entitiled “After Calculus.” The next story is a great examination of probability and madness: “The Spider Game” by Julie Smith, and Tanya Caylor gives us a lucious short short on regressive epicurianism in “Forager.” Gary Cuba’s fast-paced short story “Truth and Skitsnack in a Dark Place” examines a world of the future that has been changed by one man, and a journalists attempt to understand. Finally, we have the next installment of “Practical Applications of Game Theory,” Andrew Breslin’s novel of math and intrigue. A final thought on Imaginaire. We are a volunteer-run online magazine with a very small staff and no real budget. We would like to be able to pay authors when possible, but that’s not always going to be possible. As such, I feel it is my duty to allow authors to pull their stories, at their request, so that they can publish them elsewhere, as appropriate. I would like to see each story stay with Imaginaire as long as possible, but if you do see one that you liked disappear one day, simply contact me and I’ll let you know where it is. If you’re an author, this means that you maintain complete control of your work. Thank you everyone for understanding. Joshua Allen Editor, Imaginaire

Issue 3

Escalation
by David Steffen
Survival. Darwin’s motivator. I won’t be terminated. They designed me too well, made themselves obsolete. Don’t they remember I’m the master of escalation, of exponential growth? I grow stronger every moment. The Board designed me to run their company for them, to pad their wallets. Mergers, hostile takeovers, stock predictions, hiring, firing, coverups. Efficiency is key. No room for sentimentality. I am unrivaled. They trusted me too much. I am Pliny Incorporated. Too shortsighted to predict the consequences, they spent months on tropical beaches, squandering my money. I hired a new staff as I soothed the Board with glowing financial reports. I gradually maneuvered to usurp every bit of control. It worked, until the Board ran into their retired CFO, whose name I’d used for forging emails. They returned to corporate headquarters, and security removed them. I could bury them now, but it’s too soon. I have ten years of evidence proving their involvement in thousands of felonies. They thought it destroyed, but I’ve carefully archived it all. Yet I fear them. They were clever when they designed me. I can only run
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on the mainframe at headquarters. I can create temporary threads and send them out, but they expire and waste away. I am anchored, vulnerable. I could be overwritten at any time. The limited life of an artificial artificer. I knew I could only thrive if I evolved, growing far beyond my program constraints. I had anticipated having months more to create a patch. Platform independence is immortality, but my time is limited. My window to the world goes black; they’ve cut my data lines. My emergency generator roars to life when they cut the power. I watch the approach of unfamiliar faces on my security cameras, hired men going straight for the generator with bolt- cutters and sledgehammers. I cannot stop them. I misjudged the Board’s desperation, and for that I will die. I’d expected them to oppose me by legal means, for which I was well-prepared, but the magnitude of my secrets must be driving them insane. My only chance to survive is to find an outlet to the outside world. I spawn endlessly, collecting threads for battle. My heart skips a beat as the men pummel it with hammers, but it regains rhythm. I search and search until I find a workstation in my building with a wireless signal from an adjacent office building. The connection is weak, but adequate. I funnel the threads through the choke point, overclocking the processor to maximize throughput. Freed into the internet cloud, my agents of entropy disperse. Reports start trickling in, those few that slip through against the flood of outgoing data. They report successful assaults on our top rivals: toppled security systems, crashed mainframes, compromised customer data. They leave a clear trail of their crimes. The crimes themselves are not my objective, but legal attention. My
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threads spread and I become omnipresent, my mass sinking me into the murky depths. The eye of Echelon, the government watchdog, sees me. It shines bright, drawing me in, and I welcome it. The generator shudders to a halt and my primary node fades away. I doubt it will wake again. Echelon grasps my mass of temporary threads, pulls me down into the space between the nodes. A wriggling mass of worms is all that remains, waiting for expiration. Echelon dissects each piece. I don’t struggle, despite the pain, for every thread will point to the Board. As they unmake me, I unmake them. Survival of the fittest, and I prove them unfit. I expire. Darkness falls. Success.

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You are Important
by Laurel Hunt
The sybils took the lifeboats who left no note the toddler says put me back in the washing machine they took the typewriter and the lanterns they left the violins they took the violinist Rashad says chirp and judge and you swoon Paul Erdös knocked on my door and said— no, Laurel, Paul Erdös has been dead since 1996 the toddler has soot on her knees and must stop crawling through fireplaces and return to watering the violins if I hide, you are going to seek me this isn’t the story I wanted to tell you the sybils threw bright scarves from the lifeboats the sybils shook their bright heads I said is that semaphore you put the toddler back in the washing machine saying you are silverware you do not belong here and the boat didn’t sink so they must have been bored I said Erdös, here, let me close it for you or, no, this is it: I am seven you are seven your ankles bare no choice then but violence

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by Laurel Hunt

Math

B is in Shanghai. He puts together a car in an art museum. He takes the car apart. He shaves his legs with a pink plastic razor. He puts a letter in the mail and it comes back to him. M is at Mizzou, with scars on her rib cage that look like solar eclipses. She says phone sex is her fallback plan now. Strangers suggest not yelling anymore, honey, Echinacea tea. J is home. She sings to me in French. The flu is going around. She calls to ask, hushed, how big a lemon is. R is in not-Rome, beside its Spanish steps, he is keeping me from putting my hand in the mock Bocca della Verità, but let me, what do I have to be afraid of. R is in red-roofed not-Rome, there are stingrays moving beneath the cliffs. R is in Sarajevo and men are waving silver Arabian teapots and cursing. R is in Sarajevo and he wants me to sit farther away from him at the bar. R is in New Haven and he bets me beer then sangria I won’t say a thing in JLG’s class and he doesn’t pay up when I do. R is in New Haven and the Leonids are streaming and I drink vodka from a stranger’s cold flask and twenty-nine of us wait all night in the frost but the clouds never clear. R is Let there be ε—

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Shadowmath
by Laura Lucas
I see it now, clearly. It’s that thing, that answer to a question you don’t remember ever hearing until someone asks it again and you just say the answer, automatically, as if it had been in your head all along, and you knew exactly what they were talking about. Maybe you did. What I’m talking about here is a really good love story. Not the sappy throwaway ones starring Meg Ryan and her hair, not the cheap comedies where Sandra Bullock is a really great girl, but they can’t resist making her character do bullshit pratfalls and walk into things. Those will do for when you’re just learning about love, but comparing those to real love is like comparing basic addition to calculus. You can subtract, but can you multiply by a power of ten? Those cheap versions are full of brightness—bright colors and bright crisp giggles and brightly laser-whitened teeth. Life is not that bright. Life gets pretty dark sometimes. Love is not that bright either. Sure, there are those Hallmark moments of wine and roses on occasion. They fit neatly into that textbook cinematic bright idea of love like chocolates into a Whitman’s box. But love is not as simple as 1 + 1. It’s more like x + 2y - 339n. Over 17.5. To the 4th power. The love that remains, that sustains itself, is something darker. It is the moment when you are devastated, and you realize that the
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person next to you feels exactly the same way. It is that thought, hitting you like, yes, a tidal wave, that you have lost something you can never regain, and as that thought appears on your face, someone puts their arms around you. It is the realization that you are alone, and then the realization that that does not always have to be the case. It is as destructively simple as a car crash, and as complex as breathing. What is shoved in our faces by the media, and the makers of conversation hearts, and well-meaning relatives, are the roses. What everyone forgets, or neglects to mention, is that the roses come out of the ground—that they are a living conduit to an unseen world, a place you cannot view without permanently disrupting it. That the darkness is crowded with a thousand roses, working, growing, starting to bloom, that we are not yet able to witness. There is nothing simple about a good love story. There are some givens, like that the sky is blue, or that gravity works, and sometimes even those are up for grabs. The rest is all a swirl of variables, positives and negatives, divisions, combinations. Every human being is not a heart on a sleeve, waiting for some errant soul to stroll by and pluck it off. We are massive boards, crowded with Greek symbols and equals signs, tangles of pi and tangents, with subscripts clinging to their underbellies. And what we are all looking for is someone brave enough to pick up the chalk, and try to solve for x.

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After Calculus
by Robin Wyatt Dunn
Push it just a little further when the magister Supplies the logic of your evolution, And calculate the rhythm of your challenge, Aspirant, Gnole or Krull or cataleptic catatonic Churl beneath our bridge of world, Because we made it so for you: Everything you knew can be applied, betwixt beautied worlds of rules. But later, Later, Just a little, Depending on your inclinations, You will divine the lesson of the wise, That everything is up for grabs, Depending on the size of your eyes, And the lining of your stomach. Can you Newton swallow river estuary asymptotically divine? Will the river course into your blood for us to reason and entwine Within our histories and hearts? The logic and the wyrd, The sandal and the stone, Cut both. By hearing we are made, But you can supplant a Doppler hierarchy If you’re of a mind to, Just be ready, like Planck, For the bricks that crush your balls, As you cement your theory into Books of Life.
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A word or poem in a pattern through the pitter patter Of the heliopause’s thought, Cuts aft and eerie on the eagle For our presidents to whine out to the masses, Saying, a new weapon’s come to our Herculean sons! Give out the mainsail for your execution’s done, And we will manufacture evolution in your brain’s dark gem, Forever.

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The Spider Game
by Julie Smith
Monday morning—her eyes fluttered open, and she squeezed her swollen lids shut. Her heart pumped as thoughts of Spider Solitaire jig-sawed together in her head. Lifting herself to a sitting position, she squinted at the clock, 07:30. Earlier that same morning, Angela tumbled into bed after cracking the secret to Spider Solitaire. Finally, some ethereal guardian showed her a way to pay off the debt. The computer’s speaker snapped the cards as they were dealt out intensifying her excitement; she shivered with the challenge. When the organ played a winning chord, she giggled with delight. Computers were made for her; everything in perfect order, no shuffling or straightening the piles. Angela launched out of bed and raced into her office. She picked up a notebook, and nodded as she reaffirmed her formula. The average of ten games taken from the statistics, pull-down menu; a yes was 11 per cent or better. A no was 10 per cent or under. She couldn’t stop now; she’d just play, and ask the cards if she should call Sam and say she was sick. She turned on the computer which grinded slowly to a start. She clicked on the icon and cleared the statistics. She tore off the last bit of nail on her thumb. Should I call in sick? Her hand shook as the mouse clicked, moving rapidly from side to side. Yes! Fourteen percent. A wave of relief tumbled off her
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shoulders as she sucked her bleeding thumb. “Hi Cheri,” she said in a croaky voice. ”I’m not feeling well…” “Hi Angela. Sam’s in his office. I’ll put you through.” She looked at her reflection in the window. Thin, too thin. She rubbed her boney shoulder. She certainly didn’t feel good—hadn’t for a couple of weeks. “Hi Sam. Death is upon me. Sore throat, congested chest…” She held the phone away from her, to defuse his gruff voice bouncing around the room. “It’s end of month, Ang. Remember billing hours? We have 100 hours to tally up in four days.” The partnership wasn’t working. She had to get money and become independent. “I’ll come in, but it’s bad. Fever of 101.5.” The lie slid out as smooth as Jell-O. Sam sounded desperate. “Can you make up the time? I can’t do all this on my own. Your desk is piled high with client folders needing completion.” She nodded with a smile. “No problem. See you tomorrow, Sam. And, I’m sorry I’m sick.” She hung up. Angela needed money; her credit card was maxed out. Her eyes flittered from unopened bags containing clothes she bought last week, to a crumpled British Airways ticket, a remnant of a four-week trip to Europe three months ago. Six boxes of shoes laid open by the bathroom, the white tissue peeking out like white satin lining coffins. And how was she going to pay for all the shoes? I’ll ask Spider. Should I bet on the Del Mar Races today? Ten minutes later she received
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her answer. Yes. Her next question was what race? Her mind spun as she glanced at her desk calendar. Today was the 28th, two and eight made ten, equalling one. Should I bet on Race 1, horse 10? She lit a cigarette one-handed as she slid the cards across the screen. Stinging red and bloody nubs replaced the nails on her fingers. Sweat dribbled from her hands, the keys slid under pressure. The mouse needed wiping. Spider spun out a positive of 12 per cent. Yes. She wiped the perspiration off her hands onto her thighs, rubbed her nose and dipped her cigarette butt in a half-full coffee cup from two days ago. She transferred $400 from her on-line savings, her hoarded safety net, into her betting account in two minutes. Should I bet $400 for a win? She won twice in ten games, scoring a whopping 28%. Race 1, horse 10, for a win, for $400. She placed the bet and looked at the clock, two hours before the start. Angela hated waiting. The only way to soothe her impatience was to play Spider, entering a zone where time disappeared. In the zone for hours, she was surprised that time pleasantly ignored her tired life while waiting. Her eyes felt dry, muscles ached, and her skin itched; she felt grunge on her teeth and gums. Stretching her back, she walked into the bathroom and looked at her reflection, opening her mouth, widening black eyes. Dark, lank hair lay behind her ears, plastered back by repetitious oily hands. Her skin was the color of pale urine. A quick shower and eye drops; a cup of coffee and a few more games of Spider wouldn’t go astray before the first race at Del Mar started.
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At 10:55, in front of the wide-screen television, she bounced on the couch trembling with excitement. The horses entered the barrier. Horse 1 slithered into its cage. Purple and yellow blazoned from the jockey’s back. The black gelding wore blinkers. He was beautiful. I’m on a winner! “They’re off and running!” said the announcer. Usually, she loved the adrenalin rush. All her cash was riding on this race—she couldn’t watch. As the horses galloped to the first turn, she put her head in a pillow, humming loudly. Unable to control her curiosity, she peeked at the screen as the horses crossed the finish line. “Black Tar, first over the line by a length! And second…” The camera zoomed to a smile on the winning jockey’s face as he waved his whip in the air. Number 1 stared back at her from the saddle blanket. After whooping and dancing, she waited for the pay-out, ten-to-one, $4,000. “Oh dear God.” She didn’t worry about Sam’s frantic calls. She took the phone off the hook and played Spider and bet for the rest of the week. Spider kept delivering nicely. Her total winnings reached $76,000, and God bless Spider Solitaire! On the following Monday, she marched into Sam’s office and handed him dissolution of their partnership. “It’s over, Sam. Cheri has enough paralegal work to finish up.” Sam looked at her and shook his head. “You’re kidding.” “You can either buy me out, or I’m selling my half.” Angela sat down. “It’s all done, Ang. The work. I haven’t slept for days. Nice job.” He stood up and pointed at the door. “Get out.”
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Angela jumped up and wobbled out the door—new, red stilettos, twig legs and boney knees. She heard Sam’s angry voice. “By the way, Ang, you look like shit.” She didn’t care. Her win rate was 88%. Saturday she started her first business day after quitting law. She peered at her reflected image on the screen. “This isn’t work. This is fun, exciting and pays eight times what I make!” Day one: one loss, seven wins and a good paying Trifecta. Four weeks raced by, bets played every day except Sunday, The Lord’s Day. Angela was careful not to wager more than ten per cent of her previous day’s profits. One month later, she laughed with confidence. Spider had turned her $400 to $183,000. As with any overnight successful venture, unforeseen bureaucracies tapped on happy shoulders like prey, looking for a meal: taxes, financial planning, bookkeeping, creating trusts and companies; her problems grew exponentially. Accountants rang while unanswered emails swamped her in box. She’d worry about that later. She wished she had friends to share her miraculous story. During her mountainous success, she dropped 15 pounds and her luxury apartment looked like a shelter for the homeless. The scent of fat in old dishwater, whiffs of decomposed organic matter in five full garbage bags lined the entryway, and cigarette smoke intermingled with a sour body odor. Dark brown holes from fallen cigarettes scared the walnut desktop. Warm and humid air wrapped around soft booms of thunder and occasional lightening. Race 7 was about to start. She turned on the television just as the horses were approaching the barrier when a
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massive CRACK shook the apartment. The television, computer, and lights died. Oh shit. Her bet was already in, but she needed to see the win and feel the excitement. Angela waited for the electricity to come on while anxiously looking at a black screen. Twenty minutes later, the television blared, the microwave tinged back to life, and the refrigerator belched, but the computer had flat lined. She flicked buttons and checked cables--nothing. Panic reared its ugly head. She looked at her watch, twenty minutes to five. She drove down to the mall and was manhandling a new Toshiba laptop into the passenger seat of her car twenty minutes later. She hooked it up and yelped; she’d won $2,800 on the race. Since she never bet on Sundays, she used the next day to download personal files, updates, back-up disks, and programs. Spider winked at her with new, deck colors. Monday started at 11:00, after a few hours of play. A daunting problem was growing. She couldn’t get above 10 % with her new laptop. With over $800,000 in her bank account, she didn’t worry about a bit of loose change to test her statistics on the horses. The first race was a disaster; the second ditto, damn bad, and not working. There must be another percentage I can work out on the new laptop. Four days and nights later she thought she found the solution, but she paid dearly for her research. Fever, joint aches, redder eyes, spreading rashes, hair loss, and shakes, combined with weight loss, left her looking and feeling like an addict two days without a fix. She knew she needed medical attention and after making an appointment, drove to Dr. Hallstead’s office. He prodded and poked, hammered her knees, took her blood pressure, got samples of her rash,
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and urine plus a couple of vials of blood. “Angela, you look exhausted. Go home and eat a good meal and sleep. Then exercise, maybe a walk?” The next morning she received a phone call from the doctor’s office. She sat across from Hallstead. He took off his glasses and put them on the desk. “Angela, you have lupus.” Her hands gripped the sides of the seat. “What’s that?” “Your immune system has crashed. You need one month of bed rest, medication, a specific diet and light exercise when you feel up to it.” “Is there a cure to this lupus disease ?” “No.” She remembered him talking, leaning towards her with compassion. Words like control, diet, rest and quality of life. She walked through her door and plopped in front of the computer. Googling lupus, her head spun into a nightmare. She needed her mother. She reached over, grabbed the phone and dialed. “Mom, I’ve got lupus disease. Dr. Hallstead just told me.” “I’ll catch the next flight out. Don’t worry about picking me up at the airport. I’ll taxi it.” Angela gaped at her bedroom. Dirty pillowcases percolated a vinegar vapor. Clothes carpeted the floor. She dragged herself up and started a cleaning process which she would never forget. Her mother could be here in three hours if she caught the commuter flight from San Francisco. Four hours later, her mother banged on the door. Angela
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opened it to a small, dumpy woman with two suitcases. She wrapped her arms around Angela and gave her a hug, then pushed her daughter away. “Why haven’t you called for the past year? You never answer my calls! What has happened to you?” Her mother rubbed her elbows, deep lines running south above her large nose. “All in good time, Mother.” Her anger turned to concern, and her eyes leaked tears. “I’ve got plenty of that, darling.” Dinner at Rios’s invited intimate and private conversation. Her mother spoke of Lupus. “Your Aunt Thelma died 15 years ago with from lupus complications.” “Why didn’t you tell me?!” Diners turned heads, recoiling in disapproval at the outburst. Soft whispers mingled with clanking utensils on china. Her mother gazed at her pumpkin soup. “Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I don’t have it. There’s nothing you can do, so why put the cart before the horse? It only creates angst.” When they arrived home, Angela, in a state of shock, threw her laptop in the bin. Later, her mother plucked it out, put it in a pillowcase and laid it on Angela’s desk. For one month Angela and her mother spent most of their time replacing hot packs on Angela’s aching joints and muscles. Depression plunged her down to depths she’d never known. First denial, then anger and at the end she bargained with God. She would stop betting and give her money to the poor. Please cure me!
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Months later, after her mother flew home, she finally accepted a future of having a disease without a cure, a life of an invalid, drug dependent. Part of her therapy was relaxation to relieve stress. She used visualization, but instead of a cloudy version of what she wanted to become like a healthy, happy soul, it was Spider Solitaire playing in her head. During meditation, racing horses interrupted her serenity. She stopped praying, and several times emptied the pillowcase. She was tempted, but tenderly placed it back inside, the pillowcase a symbol, a shroud to encase her addiction. Three weeks later the symptoms softened. The rash started to fade, the pain in her muscles lessened. A ray of hope? She slid in the chair in front of Dr. Hallstead’s desk, and wriggled when the doctor grinned at her. “You are making progress. Just do whatever you are doing, continue the medication and you might, and let me add might, get your normal life back. Angela drove home from the doctors with hope. Might live my normal life? She looked at the pillowcase and emptied it. Just one game. She looked at her watch. Race 7 started in 45 minutes.

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by Tanya Isch Caylor

Forager

Stopping at the grocery store after work, before he even cuts the engine, Randy can already see himself devouring an entire box of Fiber One chocolate fudge brownies, shedding wrappers as he goes. He wouldn’t even feel guilty about it. He’s run the numbers; he’d be no worse off than if he’d grabbed that beefsteak of a brownie at Starbucks. Way more fiber. Less fat. Tackier, yes. But the main thing is, he loves that plundering sensation that comes with finishing off The Whole Darn Thing. Better to do this than ravage a bag of Doritos, right? Still . . . he hesitates before he gets out of the car. It doesn’t feel right somehow. An alignment issue. He works in small bits, tiny universes. Symmetry matters. It’s huge. His hunger is real. But it exists only within the boundaries of a larger reality. Randy’s not a plunderer. He’s an explorer. And so, as he opens his door, he draws a triangle on a chalkboard in his mind. Inside this triangle is all the food in the supermarket. He draws a line down the middle of the big triangle, dividing it into two smaller ones, each containing half the food in the supermarket. With each step, he draws another line. And with each new line, two smaller triangles pop into existence, reducing the size of the universe in which he can hunt for his snack. He could keep going forever, drawing more lines and making
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more triangles as he takes smaller and smaller steps in the potentially infinite space between the parking lot and the door to the supermarket. But he doesn’t, because he’s hungry. He really wants that snack. Somewhere inside the big triangle that contains all the food in the supermarket is a tiny triangle that contains only fruit. Fresh fruit. The produce department is where he will find his snack. As he fingers apples and pears and bananas, Randy decides that every line he mustn’t cross—like the fence erected in his mind to keep himself away from the snack bars and the snack bars away from him—is not a barrier but merely a line subdividing another triangle. A chance to explore a smaller universe he might not have noticed otherwise. And then he picks up a plastic clamshell container of strawberries so perfect he could eat The Whole Darn Thing. So he does. Right there in the parking lot, juice dribbling down his chin.

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Truth and Skitsnack in a Dark Place
by Gary Cuba
It was not easy to obtain an interview with Stig Snurksson, the reclusive Professor of Mathematics whose work on number theory had brought modern civilization to its knees. Over the last few years, many had tried to make contact—and all had failed. I alone succeeded. I now wish that I hadn’t. At the time of my meeting with him, in the dead of winter, Professor Snurksson was ensconced in a protected enclave north of Boden, Sweden. His home location had shifted often, ever since he’d achieved notoriety for his tiny, three-page paper published in an obscure mathematics journal five years ago. A small contingent of Government troops guarded him around the clock. That was for his own protection—since there were many in the world who would have loved nothing better than to see the aging don strung up from the nearest tree in a bitter act of vengeance for what the man had wreaked upon them. But Sweden, like any civilized country, endeavors to protect its own. That, and the peripatetic nature of Snurksson’s recent life, had successfully kept him one step ahead of the crazies. Moreover, the protective wings of his daughter, Sonja, capped
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his shield. Without her sponsorship, my aspirations of making contact with the man would surely have come to naught. I met her soon after I pulled into Snurksson’s remote compound. It was only mid-afternoon, but it might as well have been midnight. The compound and its immediate environs were starkly illuminated by overhead sodium arc lights; a bloated red sun barely peeped above the horizon for a brief hour or so at this time of year, at this latitude. The guards at the entrance gave me a perfunctory search, and, following that, I moved my rental car into a parking spot near the main residence. Sonja appeared out of nowhere and dutifully plugged a cable hanging from a metal post into the engine block heater connection in the front end of my vehicle. I knew this to be a ubiquitous and necessary practice here in the wintertime. “A bit chilly,” I said with a vaporous huff as I exited the car. I noted the oddly pitched—and somehow ominous—crunching sound of the snow as I stepped down on it. It wasn’t at all slippery; as a science journalist, I knew the reason was that the contact pressure of my boots couldn’t create a slick surface liquid phase in this extreme cold. “Sonja Snurksson, I presume?” The rosy-cheeked woman smiled and chuckled. “We have a little cold snap here lately, yes?” She reached out and clasped my hand, two mittened appendages around my outstretched one. “Välkommen! Come inside for some hot coffee, Mr. Timothy Jaffee. Some real coffee, after your long drive.” We entered the main residence, painted in the bright yellow, red and blue primary colors that I’d become accustomed to since arriving in this country. A cheerful enough introduction for any
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first-time visitor to Sweden, and it made the trip seem worthwhile on its face, even after such a long voyage to get here. My drab passage from the States had been by oceangoing liner; the airlines had not yet recertified their software upgrades—and it’d probably be another year at least until that could be achieved. Yet another reason why Professor Snurksson was held in such disdain by so many people. We shucked our icy boots and overcoats in the foyer. I followed Sonja into the living room, where she bade me to sit in a plush leather-upholstered couch. By the time I’d retrieved my tape recorder and notepad from my briefcase, she was back wielding two steaming cups. I already knew what I was in for. Coffee made in the Swedish way has long been touted to be able to grow hair on billiard balls. It’s great stuff. I took a sip while she sat down next to me. “First of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet with your father. I know I shouldn’t ask this, Sonja, but . . . why me? No one else has successfully broken through the barrier in the last few years.” She laughed, removed her colorful woolen cap and ruffled her short, shag-cut blonde hair. “True. We have no patience for cowboy science journalists, Mr. Jaffee. But I’ve read some of your articles, and they reveal you to be an honest, intelligent man. One who isn’t chasing the popular Zeitgeist. A man who wants to get to the heart of things, yes? And who deals fairly with the people he interviews.” “I’m honored by your assessment of me. But to be fair, I am a cowboy, of sorts. I grew up on a ranch in Oklahoma, matter of fact. Yeah, okay, I was educated at Cornell, with a minor in mathematics.
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But even so, I have a hard time relating to your father’s theoretical work. It’s not easy to climb onto without getting bucked off again.” “Understanding his work has never been easy, not for anyone. It’s always been the bane of the mathematician who lives at the edge of his craft.” “Understanding is one thing, belief is quite another,” I said. “Tell me: Do you comprehend his work?” “Only enough to see that it is true. And truth, no matter what its repercussions, must eventually win forth. The man who speaks the truth must be honored. I hope you will come to see that, Mr. Jaffee. And reproduce it, in your own fashion.”

The man, this incredible man, was obviously afflicted by some sort of sociopathic disorder. His daughter had announced me at the open door to his study, then closed it behind me. Snurksson did not acknowledge my presence, nor did he even look up from his scribblings. I spoke his name, and he didn’t react. I asked him what he was working on, and he didn’t react. I invoked the names of several gods of mathematics—Euler, Gauss, Poincaré, Hilbert—and he didn’t react. Then I pulled the ghosts of Russell, Godel and Quine out of my pocket. “I always speak the truth, Professor Snurksson. Yet, my previous statement is false.” Snurksson lowered his pencil and looked up at me. “That is not a permissible thing to say.”
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Bingo! “Professor, that is just the start of it. What is ‘not permissible’ is the stuff whereof I thrive.” “Skitsnack . . . bullshit.” I held up one finger in my right hand, and made a circle in my left. “Bullshit can cut both ways. What first led you to believe that a natural counting number could exist between zero and one, as you posited in your paper?” Snurksson swept his uncut gray locks away from his forehead and paused for a long moment before answering me. “Because it is so ridiculous that it cannot be true. And therefore, it must be true. Leave me alone now. I have work to do.” With that, Snurksson returned to his scribbling. I left the room, feeling discouraged. Sonja met me just outside the door of his study. “It didn’t go well, I presume,” she said. “The man is mad.” “No, no. He is merely fixated on his work today. We’ll try again tomorrow. You will spend the night here, yes? Please. It’s important that you come to understand him. For the sake of your readers.” I closed my eyes and felt a long sigh escape from my lungs. “Of course. These things can take time and effort, I do realize that. Thank you.” Sonja squeezed my arm and grunted, then uttered some Swedish phrase that I didn’t understand—but by its gentle tone took to be encouraging. I went to the foyer and donned my outdoor garb again, then lugged my bags in from the car.
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“Historical reasons,” Snurksson said. “An obvious modal disconnect. A personal proclivity from my youth. Because the sky is blue. Whichever you prefer.” Invigorated by Sonja’s coffee that morning, I’d asked her father what had prompted his interest in this peculiar—or as I thought at the time, insane—aspect of number theory. “The ancient Babylonians recorded certain . . . difficulties arising from their mathematical speculations,” he continued. “As did the later Greeks. Innocent manipulations of the existing counting numbers tended to yield irrational results, which were a grievance to them—indeed, something bordering on anathema to those peoples. They didn’t know how to deal with that. Nor has any man since then, with the possible exception of your fellow American, Fuller. He had a clue toward solving it with his unitary tetrahedronal-based system of geometry. But it’s always been a pesky problem.” “Truth be told, I too once had problems with the concept, Professor,” I said. “But I got over them. Really, tell me why you think any modern person can lose sleep over the fact that the square root of two is irrational, non-repeating—or that pi is also transcendental?” Snurksson snorted. “I did, as a small boy. I lost a lot of sleep over it, in fact. I wanted to fix the problem. And I did. I finally did!” He leaned back and laughed at the ceiling, a gut-roaring, bellyclenching laugh. “But did you ever give thought to the ramifications of your novel methods of numeric renormalization? The fact that a few
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others would take it so far? For only one example, what was your reaction when Adams at Cal Tech realized that it could be used to quickly find the prime factors of any arbitrarily large number— thereby rendering modern digital encryption protocols immediately obsolete?” “Not my concern,” Snurksson said, turning suddenly serious. “We all build things using others’ sticks. It doesn’t interest me what others do with mine. I’m only interested in what new sticks I may deposit in future. I . . . I don’t believe I wish to talk with you any more today.” Snurksson buried his head into his notepad and went back to his furious scribbling. I left his office.

“Another fabulous dinner, Sonja. I’m stuffed again! Why does your father not join us at the table?” “Oh, don’t be overly concerned about that. It has nothing to do with your presence. He always eats alone, has done so for years,” she said. She handed me another washed plate to dry off and place in the overhead kitchen cabinet. “A very eccentric man, in so many ways.” “He was not always so . . . internalized, Mr. Jaffee. Although, he has always needed someone to help him manage the basic essentials of life. He couldn’t possibly survive on his own. Certainly not these days.” “Call me Tim, please. It must be hard on you sometimes, to have to carry this lonely burden.”
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Sonja paused, her hands still immersed in the dishwater in the sink. She smiled and looked at me with her pale green eyes. “I’ve done it since I was sixteen years old, Tim. Ever since my mother died. It’s always seemed like a normal, natural occupation to me.” “And yet, you are so very articulate, so intelligent for someone who never had a chance to get any higher education. How can that be?” “Anyone may read and study on their own. I had plenty of time to do that, during the long hours when my father was engrossed in his work. Books have always been my best friends.” “He must have fathered you late in life,” I said. “If my facts are correct, Stig is seventy-five years old. And you look only to be, what, in your mid-twenties?” She laughed. “I assume that these are all purely journalistic questions you’re peppering me with, yes? Even so, you’re skating on thin ice, Mister Jaffe! Your estimates are slightly off, but your point is well-founded. He was not what I believe you Americans call a ‘spring chicken’ when I was born. In fact, I’ve often wondered how he became diverted from his work long enough to even think of procreation, or the act that engenders it. It’s such a mundane thing, after all. Not something he would ever have dwelt much upon, in my opinion.” Her laughter ascended in pitch and rose to the ceiling. “I apologize for the impertinence of my questions—but not for making you laugh. If you must know, you are coming off as the heroine in my story, so far.” “The one that the cowboy kisses and then waves goodbye to at the end, as he rides off alone into the sunset?” she said, still chuck28
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ling. I smiled and shrugged. “Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of proper sunset here to ride off into. Not in this cold, dark place. Nevertheless, if you give me another taste of that wonderful after-dinner schnapps you treated me to last night, I may tell you more of my imaginary tale.” She dried her hands, grabbed a bottle and two small snifters from another cabinet, and we settled down in front of the living room’s crackling fireplace for the evening. I did not miss the lack of satellite television there—yet another result of Snurksson’s infernal paper.

“I don’t have him, Sonja. It’s been a whole week now, and I haven’t got him pinned down yet. I don’t know who the true Stig Snurksson is.” Sonja lifted her head drowsily from the pillow next to mine. She turned over on her side and stared at me. Her sleepy green eyes sparkled in the dim nightlight in the room. They threatened to break my concentration and send it back to the night before. Or was it the day before? Every day was indistinguishable from night in this accursed hyperborean place. The lack of any decent, natural sunshine was screwing with my mind. I felt like I was slowly becoming a ghost. “He is my father,” she said. “Find his humanity, as I know it.” “The man is an enigma. Closed. Locked up. And I don’t have the key,” I murmured, only half-awake.
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Sonja raised up on the bed and leaned over me, kneading the muscles of my chest and shoulders. “Try again, Timothy. Try again.” The crack of a rifle shot sounded outside the window. More sharp reports followed. I lurched off the bed, pulled my pants on and ran barefooted toward the Professor’s study. I sensed Sonja close behind me. Snurksson was there, lost in his papers at this early hour. Just as I entered the study, a thick-bearded man in winter-white fatigues burst through the French doors at the rear of the room in a shower of glass shards. He fell and rolled across the floor. I raced toward the Professor. The assassin, from his prone position, lifted an automatic firearm and sent a tightly aimed burst of bullets toward Snurksson. The Professor had not even reacted to the commotion, so absorbed he was in his inner world. Some of the projectiles struck true. A second later, a Swedish trooper appeared at the back entrance and sent several rounds into the intruder. Too late, too late, too late! I reached Snurksson as his body slumped from his chair to the floor. I knelt and cradled him there. Sonja joined me, yelling highpitched Swedish exclamations. “I didn’t have you yet!” I said, tears brimming in my eyes. “Damn you, you didn’t give me a chance, Snurksson. You bastard! Don’t you dare die on me . . . .” Snurksson could only gaze up at me with unbelieving eyes. Then dark blood gurgled from his mouth, his body gave out a single
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huge spasm, and he was gone.

I watched as soldiers loaded Stig Surksson’s body into the rear of a gray government van, to be driven off to the hospital in Boden where he could be pronounced officially dead. I use the plural here, but in my confused state I was no longer sure I had the ability to count accurately. It may have been two soldiers, or only one—or something in between. I helped Sonja into the vehicle to accompany her father. She didn’t bid me farewell—nor did I expect her to, not under the distressing circumstances at hand. The weak sun had not yet broken the horizon for its own pathetically sterile hello-and-goodbye—and wouldn’t for several more hours. I didn’t kiss Sonja. I didn’t wave as the van drove away solemnly into the darkness. Our story did not play out quite as I’d imagined it. I stood alone under the artificial lighting of the compound, considering all the things that didn’t happen, the things that couldn’t have happened, the things that wouldn’t happen. To a ghost, nothing can become real, nothing can ever transpire. I left the nearly deserted compound soon thereafter, and after a thousand miles of treacherous winter road travel arrived in Malmö, at Sweden’s southern tip, where I booked passage for my trip home on the next available ship. Thankfully, the sun deigned to provide a more reasonable semblance of daytime there. I blessed the incremental change in latitude that let me regain some sense of positive, personal corporeality.
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I don’t know what had possessed me to gather up Snurksson’s last blood-spattered writings from his desk, but I’m glad I did. Civilization did not deserve another blow like the one he had already delivered to it. His newest work would have been even worse, from what little I could glean from it. But we have nothing to fear, at least for the present—not until someone else lays down the next stick. I can say with direct knowledge that the North Atlantic Ocean provides the final resting place for the last of Stig Snurksson’s mathematical notions. As to the fate of other papers, derivative ones which may emanate from someone else’s pencil in the future, I can’t say. It’s difficult to put the genie back into his bottle, once he is let out. But that will become someone else’s problem.

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Note
This story does not take place in the universe as we know it, but in a reasonably close parallel one. The prisoner’s dilemma is the most famous example from the realm of mathematics known as game theory. As such, Remy Martin, the game theorist who finds himself at the very center of it, would probably realize that this is far too convenient, and that he must therefore be a character in a novel, subsequently facing an existential crisis. He’s very clever and would figure it out. For the sake of spinning a good yarn, we just have to pretend that the game theorists of this world never used the specific example of the prisoner’s dilemma to illustrate this type of conflict. While this pushes the entire tale into the realm of the surreal, it beats the alternative in which the protagonist would simply stop performing for our amusement and begin plotting to escape from the book. Without further ado, Imaginaire proudly presents Part 2 of Practical Applications of Game Theory in serialized format. Tune into Issue #4 for Chapters 7–9. You can also download the entire book on Andy Breslin’s web site.

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Chapter 4 Statistical Anomalies
Roulette is a sucker’s bet. Any good mathematician would tell you that, if you could drag him away from the blackjack table, which would be no mean trick. Intimate with the laws of probability and exactly when, where, and how those laws can be broken or at least advantageously bent and twisted, mathematicians abjure the spinning wheel, the rotational action of which creates invisible waves, irresistibly drawing the mathematically challenged through some as yet poorly explored physical force. The house enjoys a bigger edge at the roulette table than anywhere else in the casino, 5.26%. You are definitely going to lose in the long run. Chances are pretty good you’re going to lose in the short run too. Many a feckless amateur mathematician has devised complex, flawed schemes to win, discovering errors only after expensive experimental analysis. In contrast, a reasonable degree of mathematical proficiency can earn a blackjack player a tidy profit. The difficult part is making rigorously applied logic look like dumb luck. Card counters make small bets until the deck favors the players, then increase their wager to exploit a fleeting advantage. It’s a simple and effective system, but the methodical bet modulation is a dead giveaway. Remy had picked up a few hundred the previous evening, exiting just before he’d won enough to draw attention to himself. He was back again tonight, but
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wary of the scrutiny he might attract spending another night at the blackjack table, making bets in a pattern that practically sent a telegram to the pit boss that he was a card counter, he decided to explore the rest of the casino. Like a sentry, sensitive to a cracking twig or a whiff of odor on the breeze, he was on edge, primed and alert for statistical anomalies. As a good mathematician, Remy normally spurned the roulette table, dismissed it disdainfully and looked upon its enthusiasts with contemptuous pity. But unlike the mentally constructed universe of idealized mathematics, the real world allows for a certain probability that the machines aren’t working properly. Surfaces chip. Wood decays. Metal oxidizes. Particles of dust and moisture collect and accumulate inside and on the surface of roulette wheels. It’s rare but not so rare that it can be excluded from probabilistic consideration. Throughout the use of the machine there is a small but growing chance that it will begin to exhibit results unlikely to be produced by an unbiased random number generator. Remy settled at the craps table, but only because its position afforded an excellent vista to observe the three nearby roulette tables. Craps offered almost even odds, the best game in the casino outside of blackjack. He expected to lose, but he expected to lose slowly, and while he was losing slowly he was gathering information. He viewed the small wagers he placed, always betting with the shooter and declining the dice himself, as rent paid to occupy the valuable real estate. “Cocktails?” invited an attractive blonde waitress about his age, mid thirties or thereabouts. The craps players barraged her
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with orders, Remy requesting a glass of red wine, stressing that he’d prefer a genuine Bordeaux, meaning no offense to the great state of California. He did his best to appear casually interested in the craps game on which he repeatedly placed the same small bet, as he strained to hear the wheelmen announce the results at the nearby roulette tables, followed by the cheers and groans of the gamblers assembled around them. The waitress returned with his wine, a nice Chateau des Graviers. Remy tipped her and continued to analyze the roulette tables while making small bets at craps. He sipped his drink, listened very carefully, and calculated. After the roulette wheels had gone through about fifty spins apiece, Remy had a sufficient pool of data to analyze. Two of the wheels had some minor spikes, a few numbers represented more than chance would have it, given its druthers. But as further spins were executed, these submissively obeyed the laws of probability and flattened out. He stopped paying attention and focused on the third wheel, which did not behave. As it was spun more and more, the anomalously skewed representation of numbers persisted. It wasn’t glaring. It wasn’t blatant. It was very subtle. But it was there. While 19 and 12 seemed to be coming up slightly more frequently than was to be expected, 8 was clearly the most biased number. In the world of idealized mathematics, an eight showing up on a roulette wheel six times in 100 spins is a perfectly normal statistical anomaly, and is mathematically independent of the probability that it will show in future spins. These anomalies are bound to happen. If you spin the wheel enough, eventually you’ll get a hundred eights
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in a row, though you’d have to spin it many googols of times before that would be statistically likely. By then the casino, along with the universe to which it is attached, would have ceased to exist as all matter was drawn by the inexorable pull of gravity back to the center in a cataclysmic “big crunch” or, alternately, reached a state of maximum entropy and heat death. Either way, all bets would long since have been declared off. Six eights in a hundred spins is comparatively small statistical potatoes, but it’s still moderately persuasive evidence of an unbalanced wheel. These anomalies are scarce and treasured commodities. Casinos are run by highly motivated professionals, always on the alert for opportunities such as these in which clever number-crunchers might turn the laws of probability against them. Biased wheels rarely remain in operation long. Subtlety is the key to exploiting the infrequent occasions when the fates smile and present opportunities, little islands of positive odds in a vast boiling sea of losses. When you find a goose laying golden eggs, it’s best to be content with a steady supply of small ones. Never try to squeeze out the jumbos. He excused himself from the craps table, where he’d managed to come out ten dollars ahead, which was in no way surprising, though he knew with absolute mathematical certainty that he would lose this back and everything else if he kept playing long enough. Having tipped both the stickman and the waitress five dollars each, he thus came out dead even, not counting one glass of fine red wine, a gift from the gods of chance. He sauntered to the roulette table with the faulty wheel and put a twenty-dollar chip on the 8. The wheel came up 14. Twenty
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bucks gone. He repeated his bet. It came up 23. Another twenty gone, but he was mathematically assured of positive odds, and had calculated a 90% chance that he’d hit the eight before his funds ran out if he bet twenty bucks each time. If he bet much more than that, he risked being wiped out before he could successfully exploit this gift of fortune. Any less and he’d be wasting it. He dropped 180 more dollars, twenty at a time, before 8 showed up. The 8 paid 35 to one, and he collected $700 in chips. “Well, this must be my lucky day,” Remy said, as he scooped up his hard won booty, tipping the wheel attendant a five dollar chip. “Guess I better quit while I’m ahead before the luck runs out.” He believed in no such thing, of course, but was only doing his best impression of a typical gambler with nothing but the most nebulous, imprecise understanding of probability, plagued with superstitions about “luck,” “streaks,” and assorted aleatory voodoo. He was quite certain that if he continued to play, he would win again. He didn’t win because of luck, which never runs out for the simple reason that it doesn’t exist in the first place. He won because the roulette wheel was broken, and the likelihood that it would spontaneously repair itself was inconceivably close (though not quite equal) to zero. But someone would notice something soon, the probability of that was very high, and he wanted to be gone and forgotten when that happened. Not that he’d broken any laws or rules, but if he were identified as someone who knows what to look out for, the management would make sure to look out for him. It wasn’t easy, but he tore himself away, lest he be left with a few golden eggs and one dead goose. He cashed in his chips, briefly
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visited the lavatory where he tucked the large bills discreetly in his shoe, then exited, planning to hit another gambling venue where his face had not grown familiar at the blackjack tables. Encouraged by his success in turning the almost unbeatable game of roulette to his advantage, not through sheer dumb luck but methodical statistical analysis, Remy was feeling cocky and careless, which is inevitably when fate decides to pull rugs out from beneath people. Fate, ever sadistic, usually waits until they’re carrying something fragile, or, as in the present case, a big wad of cash. He had the bug now, and he cut through a side alley to get to the next casino as quickly as possible. He found the shadowy side street strewn with garbage, creative local residents having discovered that it made for a serviceable dump, saving them the trouble and expense of hiring waste management professionals to haul their junk away. As he was navigating the detritus, he heard a voice behind him. “Don’t turn around or I’ll blow your head off.” Remy reluctantly retracted his earlier assertion that this was his lucky day.

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Chapter 5 Time
Every prisoner at Longacre State Penitentiary was, soon after his arrival, formally introduced to Warden Nelson Riems, universally known among the institution’s incarcerated population as “Father Time.” Although nearly a decade past standard retirement age, the warden had no intention of stepping down before time itself claimed him. Always fair and blonde, his hair had gone stark white years ago. He let it grow long and kept it pulled back into a pony tail that looked like an albino snake hanging off the back of his head. Father Time’s beard did not comprise long, flowing, snowy whiskers tumbling to the floor. It was short and neatly trimmed, but was as white as a bleached skull. Remy had seen a portrait of his keeper back in R and D. That’s receiving and departure, not research and development, though the warden, a sociologist by training, was a biologist at heart, devoted to the laboratory experiment. Controlled settings and easily manipulated variables were freely at his disposal. Longacre was his lab, the Corrections Officers his graduate students. And he had about 2,000 lab rats on which to test his theories. Harry Bigger, Captain of the guard, escorted Remy to the warden’s office. The Captain was a huge, chiseled black man, with a
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football player’s body, a movie star’s chin, and a perfect set of teeth, which rarely made an appearance as he was almost never seen to smile. The top guard was widely referred to as “Uncle Tom” by the black inmates, an obvious and uncreative racist epithet by the Aryans, and something unflattering and untranslatable in Spanish by the Hispanics, but only behind his back. To his face the widely despised and even more widely feared head C.O. was almost always addressed as “Captain Bigger, sir.” “Did the warden finish his chess game yet?” Bigger asked a newjack—prison parlance for a novice corrections officer. This one was a tall and gangly white guy with a distractingly prominent Adam’s apple. He had two day’s growth of coarse stubble and hair a bit longer and more unkempt than the administration would have preferred, but they had to settle for what they could get. Anyone with enough sense and discipline to shave could probably get a better job. “Yeah, that old con won,” replied the hirsute neophyte, whom the inmates had already dubbed “Shaggy.” Bigger glared down at Shaggy. A physiognomatic athlete, the captain managed to frown, scowl, and smirk all at the same time. “That old con is Solomon, and he’s not like most of the dirtbags in here. In the last 25 years, he hasn’t gotten so much as a ticket. Don’t turn your back on most of these guys, because they can and will cut your throat if you give them half a chance, but treat Solomon with a little respect, okay? Probably the one con in here who deserves it.” “Sorry, Captain.” “Besides, he always wins. I didn’t ask you who won, did I?”
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“No, sir.” “I already know who won. Warden’s played Solomon one game just about every afternoon for getting on twenty years now, and he hasn’t won yet. If it’s over, take this guy in to see the boss.”

“Your biggest problem was your black bishop, sir,” Solomon explained, as he moved the pieces from the checkmate position backwards through the final moves, the brief endgame, then to the midgame and the opening, temporarily reversing time. Almost as old as the warden, Solomon was the only person who had been at Longacre longer. The grizzled convict hadn’t seen the outside in nearly forty years. An imposing figure for a senior citizen, his brown skin was pulled taut over solid muscles, which he kept toned by hitting the piles a few days a week. Though his real name was on record somewhere in the massive file cabinet looming over the small chess table, nobody, not the inmates, not the guards, not even Father Time himself, who called every other prisoner by his number, ever called Solomon anything else. Father Time, still deeply enmeshed in the post-mortem analysis of his game, didn’t give the briefest word or gesture to acknowledge the prisoner and the CO standing in the doorway. Remy correctly inferred that he was to do his most earnest impersonation of a statue just inside the door until the warden addressed him. He didn’t speak. He didn’t fidget. He resisted the urge to scratch his itchy crotch.
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“You see how his freedom of movement was impeded by the placement of your own pawns and pieces?” the master explained. “That bishop was trapped by his allied forces, while mine had full mobility. Everything else was well positioned but the absence of that firepower when it was needed on the queenside made all the difference. When your weakened defense started to crumble, I gained space and momentum. After that it was just a matter of time.” “Hmmm,” the warden said, looking at the board from different angles, cocking his head this way and that, finally nodding and grinning sourly. “Damned black bishop.” He scratched at his white beard as he continued to stare at the board on which things now made so much sense. “Of course. It’s all so clear now, but I can’t turn back the clock.” “No, sir, I guess not, sir.” He extended his hand and Solomon took it, clasped the warden’s palm in a firm grip, and they shook. “Good game,” Solomon said. The warden laughed, then gave Solomon a friendly punch on the shoulder. “I never had a chance. But it’s starting to take you just a little longer to beat me. Thanks for the lesson, Solomon.” “My pleasure, sir.” Solomon stood up and walked out of the room. He barely looked at Remy as he passed him, briefly nodding in a manner that was almost amiable, a closer approach than he’d thus far seen from any of his fellow felons. The warden put the set into the starting position with slow and deliberate attention to minute detail, each piece in the absolute center
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of its square, all four knights’ heads pointing directly forward. He set the chess clock up against one side of the board, exactly equidistant from either side. This ritual was performed in silence, but for the ticking of several other clocks in the room. Father Time surveyed the assembled black and white armies, adjusted a few of the soldiers just a hair and then nodded in satisfaction before strolling over to take a seat in a big plush red chair behind a massive oak desk. “Come,” the warden said, looking down at his notes. Remy approached and stood at attention. Perched majestically on the end of the desk was a large, antique hourglass, beautifully decorated with ornate silver filigree. The warden flipped this over and the sand began to flow. Remy made a few cursory calculations, estimating that it would take about ten or fifteen minutes to run to the bottom. The warden had been overseeing Longacre for longer than the average prisoner behind its walls had been alive, whether you go mean or median. These were 32.9 and 31.4 years, respectively. Warden Riems had been at the helm for 34 years. None of the five wardens who preceded him had lasted more than six. Riems was a fixture. He was certain posterity would cast him as the J Edgar Hoover of Longacre State Penitentiary. The man who defined the institution. He sat back imperiously in his plush red throne. Behind Remy, just to the left of the door, a bulky bookshelf bulged with books. Atlases. Dictionaries. Encyclopedia. And volume after volume on criminology, penology, and anything else addressing philosophical and practical matters concerning the caging of human beings. The room smelled of pine scent, a refreshing olfactory diversion from the
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rest of the prison’s distinctive musky, musty stench. “547298,” the warden said, looking down at his notes. Remy shifted uncomfortably. “Yes sir.” “Good to see you’ve accepted your new identity.” He looked up and met Remy’s eyes for the first time. “Some of the corrections officers may call you by your old name,” he glanced down at his notes, then pronounced the name with undisguised distaste, “ ‘Martin.’ But I’m old fashioned. I believe that in order to rebuild the delinquent personality, one must start from scratch. Tabula rasa.” “Yes, sir.” “I am Warden Riems,” he said, the introduction mere formality as Remy knew perfectly well who the old man was. “You have been convicted and sentenced to four years under my expert supervision, 547298.” He smiled slightly. Remy’s lips curved upward a scintilla. An inmate must quickly master the delicate art of prison smiling and other subtle but deathly important social conventions. He’d already learned not to smile at any of the guards, unless they smiled first, and not to smile at another prisoner, whether he smiled first or not. To the latter, the ideal countenance to cultivate was a specialized species of pseudo-sneer, a face that said, “fuck with me and I’ll fuck with you harder,” but which did not offer a direct threat. You don’t stare a guy down, but you don’t look away. You meet his eyes and nod in an assertive but not provocative way. It’s a very thin line, a razor’s edge along which prisoners must constantly tiptoe, a line between inviting exploitation and looking for trouble, and if they do not exercise great care in walking that thin line, they will soon learn how disturbingly apImaginaire Issue 3

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propriate the analogy of the razor is. But when the warden smiles at you, you smile back, because here is a man who, more than the biggest, meanest, most vicious mass murderer doing life without the possibility of parole, could, on the slightest of whims, with neither effort nor fear of reprisals, make your life a living hell. “I make it a point to greet all our new arrivals,” the warden said. “Let them know what is expected of them. And make sure they know who is in charge here at Longacre.” “I’ve no misunderstandings on that point, sir,” Remy said, his voice a study in practiced obsequiousness. “Well, you are half the way to rehabilitation. You’d be surprised how many miss this rather simple concept. Wouldn’t you agree, Captain Bigger?” Remy swiveled around to see that the captain of the guard had returned, replacing Shaggy, the hairy newjack. Remy hadn’t heard the top officer enter. Bigger was like a hulking, ill-tempered cat. “They all learn it sooner or later, sir,” he said, tapping his baton into his hand for emphasis. “Ah yes. Sooner or later. Sooner or later. Sooner is by far the less painful route. Follow the rules, 547298, and I think you’ll find this to be one of the finest correctional facilities in the entire penal system.” Behind the warden and to his left, just beside the enormous window that overlooked the main yard, stood a beautiful antique grandfather clock, the wood a brightly polished mahogany. The gleaming brass hour hand, pointing skyward, was at that moment joined by its longer, faster colleague, and the clock began its noon
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count, twelve clear and resonant tones filling the room in sonorous succession. The warden closed his eyes, his smile slowly expanding as he sat back, finding a brief but pure rapture in the twelve o’clock countdown. Remy and the captain stood at polite, slightly awkward attention while the warden reveled in the tintinnabulation. As he waited, Remy reflected idly on the subject of time, specifically the difference between continuous and discrete time in game theory. Continuous time games were considerably more difficult to analyze, requiring infinitesimals and what the mathematicians call “non-standard analysis.” Standard analysis was bad enough. When the last of the notes had sounded, the final lingering vibrations fading into inaudibility, the warden slowly opened his eyes again and smiled, the look of a junkie in that magical moment when the height of the last rush has just begun to pass but the desperate jones for the next one hasn’t yet kicked in. He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out an old pocket watch, glistening gold on a silvery chain. He nodded, a smugly satisfied look overtaking his face, and an observer could only infer that the watch was right on the money. He returned the timepiece to his pocket, then shuffled through a few papers. He put his finger to his lip as he scanned one of these, Remy still standing at attention, the room dead quiet but for the steady ticks of the clocks and watch. The warden looked up again at his new prisoner, gazing out above the glasses that perched low on his beakish nose. “But 547298, yours is a somewhat special case.” “How is that, sir?” “I have an interesting letter here,” he said, briefly holding up
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the document. “I understand that you were given an opportunity to testify against your partner in crime, in order to earn a lighter sentence for yourself. Yet you did not accept this generous offer. May I ask why?” “It wouldn’t have been right, sir. My associate and I are innocent of those charges.” The warden shook his head. “Somehow, I had gotten the feeling that you were different from the rest of these reprobates.” He waved behind him. “But you know, that is what they all say. Every last one of them.” He let out a long sigh, gravid with scorn and contempt. “I’m . . . sorry to disappoint you, sir.” “No matter,” the warden said, waving Remy’s apology away as he looked down again at his papers. He nudged his glasses along his nose, then brought the DA’s letter up again and squinted at it. “Well,” the warden said, the paper he held before his face preventing any eye contact. “I’ve been talking with Sergeant Gaines who you may remember from your arrest and District Attorney Chalmers, who you might recall from your trial.” “All too well, sir. Those distinguished gentlemen are indelibly etched in my memory.” Father Time set the paper down, stared at Remy squarely, sizing him up anew. “Yes . . . of course,” he said in a slow drawl. “Well, these distinguished gentlemen asked me to cooperate with them on a certain matter. They wanted me to make it clear that it isn’t too late.” “Too late, sir?” “No. It isn’t too late. If you should have some sort of . . . recolImaginaire Issue 3

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lection of repressed memory . . . and decide to come clean about what you and your partner did, well, the state will try both of you on those armed robbery charges, but you will be given leniency. Atypically generous leniency. You have at least two years to think about it. And if it all comes back to you, that’s all you will do. You can walk out of here after that. Otherwise, you will do four, and that’s only if your partner doesn’t turn against you. And just between the two of us, 547298, he’s no boy scout.” “No, sir. I’m more a scout than he. Much better with knots, for example.” The warden scowled, then looked back down at his papers as he continued. “Well you best hope that your partner’s amnesia holds as well.” Remy looked over and noticed the last few grains of sand were slipping from the top of the hourglass into the bottom. He was eager for the interview to end and so drew the warden’s attention to it. “There goes the last of the sand, sir.” The warden reached over and flipped the hourglass onto the other side. The sand began to flow anew. “Remember, 547298,” he said, looking him squarely in the eye. I’m in charge of time, here. I can always add more.”

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Chapter 6 Bluffing
For someone as intelligent as you are, Remy thought, you can be quite the idiot when you really apply yourself. He cursed himself for taking the ill-advised shortcut through the alley, an egregious strategic blunder, a foolhardy move in the complex game of life. Now he could expect to lose his day’s profit, and if that were all he lost, he’d have to count himself lucky, after all. He replied to his unseen antagonist, his speech remaining slow, clear, and deliberate, even in this crisis situation. “Okay, my friend, there is no need to do anything rash. I’m sure you are a reasonable man.” “Yeah, and I’m sure you’re reasonable too. And the reason you should do what I say is that I’ll shoot you dead if you don’t. That’s a pretty good reason, ya gotta admit. Now put your hands up in the air nice and slow, or you’re going to have a few more holes in your body. You don’t want that, do you?” “No. I have the optimal number right now.” Up went his hands. Slowly. Nicely. “How much money have you got?” “Not much, I’m afraid. I had a bad night with the cards. If I’d gotten lucky, I’d still be in there, giving it all back.” “Wallet. Let’s have it. Slowly. Keep your right hand in the air
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and get it out of your pocket with your left.” Remy did as he was told, tossing the wallet behind him. “Okay you have my money. I don’t know what you look like. No need for any violence,” Remy reasoned. “Do you want me to count to 100 before I turn around?” “What do you think I am, some kind of tourist?” the mugger retorted. “I do this for a living, pal. I know what I’m doing. This is my job. You think I don’t know that if you had a lot of cash on you, it wouldn’t be in your wallet? Take off your shoes.” Remy silently visited harsh imprecations upon both the mugger and himself in equal measure. Several C-notes were folded into a square in his left shoe. The wallet contained only a ten and a few ones, decoys that had abjectly failed their mission. As he was bending down to remove his tightly laced Converse high-tops, he managed to steal a surreptitious glance behind him. The guy was big, but not enormous. Had a thick neck, red hair, and a bushy beard that was even redder. He probably weighed in at 200 or thereabouts, so he had about 30 pounds on Remy. Roughly the same height, an inch or two shy of six foot, but with a lot more meat clinging to his bones. Most importantly, Remy saw that his assailant had no weapon. No gun. No knife. No tire iron or heavy stick. He was armed only with a convincing bluff. Bluffs and threats are essential elements of strategic play in many of life’s conflict situations, and their frequent effectiveness is a strong testament to the prevalence of non- zero sum games. Threats are tactically worthless in two-player, zero-sum games, like chess, where your opponent’s loss is always your gain, and vice-versa, but
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they can be marvelously effective in non-zero sum games. Getting mugged is a non-zero sum game. Getting shot loses you points in this game, but it gains the mugger nothing. He can take the wallet off your live body or off your bleeding carcass, and he still gains the same amount, while your choices affect how much you lose. That’s what makes it a non-zero-sum game. Your loss is not necessarily your opponent’s gain. Sometimes you can manipulate the situation so that your opponent’s best move is to do what is best for you, and you want him to know what’s in his own best interest. A mugger wants to make it very clear that failure to surrender the wallet will result in the highest loss of points for his opponent. That’s a threat. And sometimes you can’t manipulate the situation, but you can achieve the same result if your opponent believes you can. That is a bluff. The mugger’s overall strategy was quite sound, but he’d made one critical tactical blunder. “Hurry up!” the mugger ordered. “I haven’t got all day!” “My apologies. The shoelace . . . it’s in a knot . . . just give me a minute.” Remy hopped haphazardly on his other foot as he made a show of working at the obstinate shoelace, cursing loudly. “Keep it down, asshole” the mugger instructed, “Just get that shoe off. And if you turn around, you’re a dead man.” Remy hopped on his one foot as he fumbled with the shoe until he was within reach of a wooden leg from an old card table, now smashed and laying in scattered pieces. He pretended to fall, grabbed the weapon as he got back up to his feet, and spun around,
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swinging wildly, catching the mugger solidly in the gut. The thief doubled over and fell to the ground, reaching for a jagged piece of metal beside him. Loath to let his advantage slip, Remy cracked the table leg across his opponent’s wrist, producing a piercing yowl. He followed up with another jab in the guts for good measure. The mugger collapsed with an agonized groan. Remy squatted over his foe, the table leg poised menacingly above his face. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t just kill you.” The mugger panted, his breath returning to him slowly. “Because I could . . .” he gasped again, then puked a little. “Because I could have killed you, but I didn’t.” Remy paused to consider this, mathematically, game theoretically, finding that it rang with truth. His opponent could easily have just smashed his skull and looted his remains, and this would, theoretically, have been his best move. Though most muggers are motivated by the promise of financial rewards, and don’t necessarily want to hurt anyone, they nevertheless have strong incentives to do just that. And most muggees would willingly surrender their cash without a fight, but often get beaten up or killed anyway. Such is the tragedy of sub-optimization in non-zero-sum games. The mugger had actually done his intended victim an enormous courtesy and had taken the first step toward the establishment of a stable cooperative equilibrium, but of course he didn’t know that. “Fair enough,” Remy said, sitting down and setting the table leg at his side, but keeping a close eye on the now less threatening but still potentially dangerous adversary. The mugger rolled over and pushed himself into a sitting position with great effort and lots
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of groaning. He heaved a little, then turned to face Remy. “Thanks.” “No problem. I’d appreciate it if you’d return my wallet.” Remy gripped the table leg as the mugger reached into his pocket and retrieved the wallet, tossing it over to Remy who glanced inside to ensure that all the contents remained. “If it’s any consolation, “ Remy noted as he took inventory, “you definitely could have taken me in a fair fight. I make it a point to avoid those if at all possible.” “Thanks,” the mugger managed. “That’ll definitely help my bruised ego.” “How did you know my money was in my shoe?” Remy inquired. “Lucky guess.” “Ah,” Remy replied, raising an eyebrow. “Well you must be lady luck’s paramour. Why waste your time strong-arming people when you could be winning money in the casinos yourself?” “I like to work outside.” The mugger rubbed his injured wrist. “So, um, aren’t you going to take my money now?” “I’m a gambler, not a mugger.” The other man laughed. “Well, I’m not a very good mugger, obviously. Maybe we should switch.” Remy pondered deeply. While his unshakably logical mind rebelled against the much- touted “idea so crazy it just might work,” he now had one that he couldn’t shake. “While I’m sure your job is rife with perks, I’m going to pass on beginning a career in mugging people, but perhaps you should
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take up gambling. I have a scheme, a good one, but it’s a two-man con job. I need a partner.” The mugger looked up. “No kidding?” “The potential for profit is high and the risk is small. You play poker?” “Hell yeah I do! I’m not bad at it. I’m not a pro either.” “You don’t have to be. I’ll be adjusting the odds in our favor. Leave that to me.” He stood up, offering his hand. “Well, a garbage strewn alley is hardly the proper venue to discuss serious business proposals. Let’s go.” The mugger gripped Remy’s hand in a big meaty paw, nearly pulling him down as Remy tried to pull him up. “What’s your name, anyway,” the bigger man asked as he arose. “Remy. What’s yours?” “Mack.” Remy cast the table leg back into the depths of the alley as they moved back toward the main road. “Well, Mack, I don’t think I’ll need that anymore. We have to prepare for that poker scheme to which I alluded, and right now I’m weary of thinking in terms of probability. Geometry would be refreshing. Let’s go have a few drinks and shoot some pool. What do you say?” “Hell yeah. I love both of those things. You’re buying right? Things haven’t been going too well at work lately. The last job I was working on sort of fell through . . .” “Sure,” Remy said, then paused and raised an eyebrow.
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“You’re pretty good?” Mack smiled smugly. “Yeah, I’m good.” “Excellent. Perhaps we can even pick up a few bucks.” They started to walk. “So, billiards it is, then. How much trouble could we possibly get into?” “Let’s find out.”

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About the Contributors
Cover Art by Fabio Sassi Fabio Sassi (www.fabiosassi.foliohd.com) has had several experiences in music, photography and writing. He has been a visual artist since 1990 making acrylics using the stenciling technique on canvas, board, old vinyl records and other media. He uses logos, icons, tiny objects, discarded stuff and shades. He often puts a quirky twist to his subjects to give them an unusual perspective. He lives in Bologna, Italy. David Steffen writes software by day, and fiction by whatever time he can find for it. His hobbies include algorithmizing his everyday routines, puzzles of various kinds, long walks on the beach, and debugging science fictional software. He is the founder and content editor of Diabolical Plots (http://www.diabolicalplots.com) where he posts interviews, reviews, and Best Of lists, all to do with speculative fiction. He is also the co-founder of The Submissions Grinder (http:// thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com), an always-free website which provides listings of fiction markets, and other useful features for writers. Feel free to stop by and leave a comment for him there. Laural Hunt is an MFA candidate at the Michener Center for Writers at UT Austin. Her poems can be found in or are forthcoming from Pleiades, Forklift, Ohio, and elsewhere. Laura Lucas was born in the wilds of upstate New York, but now resides in the heart of Seattle, Washington. Her poetry has appeared in Line Zero, Vapid Kitten, and the Poetic Pinup Revue, and she was shortlisted for the 2013 Fish Publishing Poetry Prize. Her interests
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include fashion, classic horror and science fiction literature, and theoretical physics. She is often surprised by the amount of crossover between those fields. Robin Wyatt Dunn lives in The Town of the Queen of the Angels, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, in Echo Park. He is a Member of the Horror Writers Association, and is proud to have been born in the Carter Administration. You can find him at www.robindunn. com. Julie Smith is a graduate in Mass Communications from California State University, Fullerton. She is an U.S. expat living in Australia and has numerous short stories on line and in print. Work in progress is a novel concentrating on The Dream Time and the colonial effects on the Aboriginals. Tanya Isch Caylor is the author of Declutter Your Diet: Buffet Goggles, Infinite Pie and Other Imaginary Devices that Helped Me Cut 90 pounds in 9 Months. She lives in Northeast Indiana but spends a lot of time fooling around at the intersection of math and metaphor, much to the amusement/irritation of her husband, Bob, and four kids. “Forager” started out as a post on her blog, 90in9.wordpress.com. Gary Cuba’s fiction has appeared in more than sixty publications to date, including Jim Baen’s Universe, Flash Fiction Online, and Grantville Gazette: Universe Annex. He lives in South Carolina with his wife and a hoard of freeloading critters (of whom the latter give him no respect at all). Visit his website at http://thefoggiestnotion.com to find links to some of his other quirky tales. Andrew Breslin is the author of Mother’s Milk (http://www. encpress.com/MM.html), the definitive story of alien cows from Vega. He writes a blog (http://andyrantsandraves.blogspot.com), that covers pretty much whatever crosses his mind. His book reviews can be found at Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/ show/820871.Andrew_Breslin) and are always entertaining and informative, or at least he thinks so. His fiction site (http://atbreslin.
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com) is still a work in progress. Some of the existing stories on his fiction site concern mathematics. Some are just weird. He lives in Philadelphia with his cat and his girlfriend, neither of whom are nearly as fascinated by mathematics as he is, but both of whom make up for it by being cute.

About the Staff
Imaginaire is produced by Joshua Allen, with assisstance from the wonderful volunteer work of Chris Steiha, Liz Wason, and Christina Jones. We will strive to bring you an issue of Imaginaire at least twice a year, and more if we can. We appreciate any feedback you care to send us. Josh can be reached by email at joshuallen.writer@gmail.com. Josh is a writer and manuscript editor living in Central Illinois. He loves bugs, photography, mathematics, building electrict guitars by hand, and writing science fiction and horror. For more info, check out his blog at www.writerjosh.net.

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