imaginaire

Issue #4

Editor’s Note
Happy Holidays from Imaginaire! First things first, we must again thank our wonderful contributors, submitters, and readers. Pulling together this issue has been somewhat more difficult for me, as I recently lost my job. No worries, though, I have irons in the fire and things will turn around soon enough. In the meantime, I was very excited to read the most recent submissions. I am very pleased that not only am I getting many great submissions to Imaginaire, but also that I am able to accept a high percentage of them, because they are so great. I am still eagerly awaiting other types of submissions. I would love to see some great comics or other alternate writing types with a mathematical bent. If it has something to do with math and you aren’t sure if we’re interested, email me (joshuallen.writer@gmail.com) and let me know. If Submittable won’t take it, you can send it to me directly. I am interested in anything creative, so don’t be shy. That said, our offerings this issue are exciting. We start off with a neat little speculative fiction story in which fractal patterns signal something potentially sinister at work to our protagonist, Marma Shells. We then move onto two poems—Reciprocal Functions and Grandmother Numbers—exploring the metaphorical meanings that run through mathematics before we reach another short story that takes us on a journey through the mind of a young man who is brilliant at math, but lacking in other areas of life in The Countable. After that, it is a quick jaunt into a very strange Room for Rent. Frequent Imaginaire contributor Robert Dawson then gives us a lovely little piece of historical fiction about the slow and somewhat painful birth of non-Euclidean geometry in The Fifth Postulate. A foray into a word problem with real-world relevance follows in the brief but powerful 0.216(Recurring)Seconds. We get to explore a different kind of math problem in a little gem that is part police procedural, part cryptology word problem in the fun 13 Cents. Finally, we have the third installment of our serial novel Practical Applications of Game Theory. In this episode, our hero deals with a tough shower situation in prison and walks us through a classic con in a flashback sequence. Welcome to Issue #4! Please peruse these pages and enjoy. Like us on Facebook to show your support for Imaginaire. Joshua Allen Editor, Imaginaire

Issue 4

Marma Shells

O

Deborah Walker

ld Marma Shells was in her chair, in the shade of the porch, minding her own business, just rocking and watching the heat blooming into shimmering waves,

when Ababuo burst out of the folds of the jungle. She ran over shouting, “Marma, it’s happening, just like you said it would.” “What is it, Ababuo? Calm yourself down, girl.” Marma shook her head. Her turban quivered. It was a fine turban made from a
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headscarf edged with old lace. The turban’s tail sloped over Marma’s shoulder and touched the plastic beads garlanding Marma’s neck. Ababuo took a shuddering breath. “I’ve seen the patterns, Marma. The red-ants in the forest are making them. You said I should come and tell you, if I ever saw them.” Marma took the well-chewed cigar out of her mouth, and regarded it. Marma never smoked her cigars. She said she liked the taste. It reminded her of the days when she worked in the cigar factory. In those days she could have smoked as many fine cigars as she wanted, but she never got a taste for smoking. She laid the cigar in a woven pot that rested on her rickety porch-side table. “You’re not having a joke with me, are you?” “I am not,” said Ababuo. Marma suppressed a chuckle. That girl had too much dignity for a young one, but she had the eye all right. Ababuo could see things that others glanced over. “Aren’t you going to do something, Marma?” “I am doing something: I’m thinking. Tell me exactly what you saw.” “About three miles from here. Like I said, the ants were making the patterns you told me about.” “The fractals? Show me.” Ababuo snapped a dry stick from a camwood tree. She sketched out the patterns in the dry earth. She drew ferns, looping and elegant, Mandelbrot patterns. Marma squinted at the earth and nodded. “Yep, looks like they’re coming through, again. That looks like one of their number
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gates.” She stood up and climbed off the porch. “It can’t be a big one, or I’d have felt it, but I suppose I ought to see to it.” With a shuffling motion of her feet that set her white ruffled skirts swaying, she erased the patterns in the dirt. “Trouble is,” said Ababuo, “they’re on the Jackson land.” “That white man’s land. Ah,” said Marma. “That puts a certain problem on it, don’t it?” She retrieved a fresh cigar from the pocket in her skirt and placed it in her mouth, rolling it from side to side. “Well, never mind, never mind. We’ll get over there. You better tell young Josiah to lend me his motor-cycle.” “What? You going ride the bike, Marma?” “Be the quickest way to get there.” Ababuo looked doubtful, but she nodded and ran off the path, to Josiah’s house. Marma watched her with the same thoughtful scrutiny she’d given her cigar. Ababuo must be thirteen or fourteen. Old enough to be thinking about boys. She was a skinny little thing. No man would want a rag of skin and bone like that, although Marma supposed some foreigner might take her on. They seemed to have a taste for the tall, skinny girls. It took all sorts.

Five minutes later, Ababuo came puttering the track riding a battered motor-cycle. When Marma climbed aboard the suspension creaked and complained. “Josiah is a nice boy,” said Marma. “Is he walking out with anyone?”
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Ababuo sighed. “Marma, I’ve told you a hundred times that I’m not interested in boys.” “Oh,” said Marma. “Oh, I see.” “What do you see, Marma?” said Ababuo with exaggerated patience. “There’s a nice girl who’s the daughter of my friend, lives not too far away from here.” “Marma! I’m not interested in anyone. I just want to concentrate on my school work.” “Ah, yes,” said Marma. You can learn a lot of useful things at school, I suppose.” Marma adjusted her turban. “Well, girl, are we going to get going or not?” Ababuo revved the cycle and they set off onto the jungle track.

It didn’t take them long to reach the Jackson place. A teenage boy was in the yard. When they approached, he ran toward them, waving and shouting. “Who’s that?” asked Marma. “Justin Jackson. He’s at school with me.” “Keep going,” said Marma. But Justin was a fast sprinter. He leapt onto the pathway right in front of them and Ababuo pulled the motor bike to a halt. “Hey, Justin,” she said. “Ababuo? Marma Shells? Where are you going?” “We’ve got business here,” replied Marma. “Is your daddy in?” Justin shook his head. “He’s gone into town.”
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“Well, we’ll just be on our way,” said Marma. “Wait.” Justin placed his hand on the handlebars. “You can’t go on that thing.” “Why not?” asked Marma. “This is a site of special scientific interest. You can’t ride through on that polluting thing.” “I don’t see why not,” said Marma. “A bit of dirt never hurt anyone.” “This is our land,” said Justin. Marma turned to Ababuo. “How far are we?” “Pretty close,” said Ababuo. She pointed beyond the yard. “Just past that next clump of trees.” With heavy grace Marma climbed off the bike. “Then we’ll walk.” “Hey, you can’t just wander over our land,” said Justin. Ababuo smiled apologetically. “It’s best to let Marma do what she wants, Justin.” “Then I’m coming with you.” “Suit yourself,” said Marma. She headed toward the trees muttering. “Protecting the sites of special scientific interest, are you? Ridiculous. You can’t throw a stick without it landing on something of interest in this place.”

Ababuo led them to the colony of red-ants, swarming outside their nest, thousands of the creatures, crawling over each other. Marma, Justin, and Ababuo knelt down to take a closer look.
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“Why, they’re forming fractals,” said Justin, staring into the mass of tumbling ants. “3-D fractal shapes. That’s incredible.” “Most people wouldn’t see that,” said Marma. She stared at Justin appraisingly. “I’ve never known a man to have the eye. And a white man at that.” “Marma!” said Ababuo. “What?” “You shouldn’t mention it.” “Why not? He’s a man, ain’t he? Or nearly so. And he is the whitest man I ever seen with that yellow hair of his.” Ababuo shook her head. “I’m sorry about Marma, Justin.” Justin smiled. “It’s, err . . . it’s fine.” “Never mind all that,” said Marma. “Just look at these little fellas.” She inched a little closer to the moving mass of the ant colony. “Yep. Definitely fractals. I can see the iteration of those equations. And that feedback recursion, my, oh my.” “I didn’t know you knew about mathematics, Marma,” said Ababuo. Marma grinned. “Young ones always think that old ones don’t know much about anything. Oh, it’s no good denying it. I’ve seen fractals like this all over Africa. Look at the weaves in the roof thatching, in the layout of the villages, in the braiding of the women’s hair. Of course, I’m not suggesting that every builder or hairdresser knows the secrets, but all those numbers have got to come from somewhere, don’t they? These number gates have been coming through for thousands of years.” “Fractals,” said Justin. “This is incredible.”
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“Yep,” said Marma cheerfully. “You white folks found out about fractals a little late. We’ve known about them for longer, and Old Mother, well, she’s known about them a little bit longer. You only have to look at the ferns and the trees to see them.” “But why are the ants making these patterns?” said Justin. “It doesn’t seem natural.” “Fractals are as natural as the mountain ranges, the lines of the coast, the ocean waves, the network of your blood vessels, the beat of your heart, the shape of your DNA,” said Marma. “And the shape of a cauliflower,” suggested Ababuo. “That’s enough of your cheek, young lady.” “But,” said Justin. “Making these fractal shapes isn’t natural behavior for ants. Is it?” “Nope,” agreed Marma. “Maybe their pheromone signals have gotten confused,” said Justin, “or, perhaps, some kind of parasite is causing this behavior.” Marma chewed on her cigar. “Parasite. Maybe, maybe.” “I really ought to record this,” said Justin taking out his phone. “No,” said Ababuo. “This isn’t something that should be recorded.” “Now, you two, go and stand away from me. I’ve got something that needs to be done,” said Marma. “Why?” asked Justin. “Is it dangerous?” “Only dangerous to those who don’t know what they’re doing.” Marma stared at the ants. “Tsk. This is only a small gate. I remember the first gate they built, you should have seen that. Now that was
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really something. Go on then, you two. Give me a bit of breathing room.” “But what’s causing it?” asked Justin. Marma smiled. “They’re dreamers who found themselves in the wrong place. You let Marma handle it.”

“Best to leave Marma to get on with things,” said Ababuo, pulling on Justin’s arm. “What’s she going to do?” “Take care of things.” “Is she going to do magic?” Ababuo shrugged, “She’s going to do what needs to be done.” She nodded to Justin, and walked away from the colony of ants, taking a seat in the shade of a palm tree, fifty meters away. Justin walked over and sat beside her. Marma started to chant in her low voice. Repetitive and powerful, the beat of the myriad jungle, earth, and plant, and animal, closing around them. Blending the voices into a harmonious sound. Marma’s voice was an old thing. “It’s like the chanting I heard in the village,” whispered Justin. “It’s a bit like that, but it’s different,” said Ababuo. “Different, how?” “Marma’s magic works.” “Is it magic?” asked Justin. “Am I witnessing actual magic?” “Just the old ways,” said Ababuo. “We know how to handle

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ourselves. Music is a wave, isn’t it? And waves are numbers, everything is just numbers.” Marma’s voice died down to stillness. The earth, and the plants, the sky, and the animals seemed to hold that stillness for a heartbeat, until Marma shouted, “It’s finished. You kids get over here.” The swarm of ants had dispersed. “Are you going to tell me what that was all about?” asked Justin. “Nope,” said Marma. “But if you ever see them acting strangely again, you come over and tell me. It’s not just ants, you know. You might see the shapes in the roil of a waterfall, or in a cloud of blossom. They come through in all types of way. You’ll be able to see them, so you be a good boy and run and tell me. Otherwise, you know, there might be interesting consequences. Very interesting indeed.” Justin swallowed. “Yes, Marma.”

“This calls for a little celebration,” said Marma, when they got back to her house. They’d left a rather subdued Justin in his yard. She uncapped a bottle of dark rum. “You old enough to drink, Ababuo?” “You know I’m not, Marma,” said Ababuo. “How old are you, girl?” “Thirteen, Marma.” “Hmm. That’s old enough for some things. I reckon it’s time for me to take on a helper, if you think you’re up to it.” Marma poured herself a generous slug of rum and took a drink. “What do you think those things were, Ababuo?”
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“Well, they looked like ants.” “They did.” “But they didn’t act like ants. No swarm makes those fractal patterns. Something was controlling them. A parasite, maybe, or something else trying to get through what you said was a number gate. You sent them on their way.” “That’s right, Ababuo. I’ve got the gift of it. I could teach you and maybe that boy as well. Though I don’t really know if I should. Ah well, I reckon if he’s got the sight of it, I should.” “Marma,” said Ababuo, “just exactly how old are you?” Marma let slipped onto her sofa. “Now there’s an interesting question. What makes you ask that?” “You said that you were here when the first fractal gate first opened. But the fractal patterns have been around for thousands of years.” “Ah, did I say that?” Marma grinned. “I can’t quite recall saying that.” “Yes, you did. I heard you most definitely.” “That white boy. What do you think of him? Ain’t no shame in dating a white boy.” “Marma, I’m only thirteen. I’ve no call to be thinking about boys.” “Things have changed since my day. Seems to me that at that age all I could think about was boys. White boys like skinny girls,” Marma said encouragingly. “Marma, I know what you’re doing.” “You do?”
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“You’re changing the subject.” “You’re so sharp, girl, you better be careful not to cut yourself. Boys don’t like girls who are too smart.” “Marma! Will you answer the question?” “What was your question again?” “How old are you?” Marma took a long, slow swallow of rum. “Well, imagine there was once a girl that came through a number gate and instead of being sent home she got lost. Imagine that she stayed here a long time and most of the time she was weeping and wailing and feeling sorry for herself, until one day she’d had enough of all that, and decided to make a life for herself. A body is only a fractal thing, Ababuo, blood vessels, heart-beat, DNA. Put in the differences bit by bit, it’s not too difficult—if you practice enough.” “So you’re saying that you’re one of those ant people, Marma?” “No, Ababuo. I’m saying that form shapes mind, and that’s what they haven’t learnt, yet, in their world of maths. Beautiful it was, but you get a taste for other kinds of living; it takes all sorts to fill a universe.” “Don’t you want to go back, Marma?” “Nope. That’s a paradise lost for me, Ababuo, I’d be tainted, and I don’t know if I’d like it there. I’m too much of myself, now.” Ababuo nodded, “Marma you are about as much yourself as a person can get.” Marma nodded in satisfaction at the compliment. “But, Marma,” said Ababuo slowly. “What I don’t understand is why you don’t let them come through.”
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“They’re just dreaming, slipping through into the wrong realm. They’ve got their place and you’ve got yours. That make sense to you?” “I guess it does, Marma.” “So, you going to be calling that boy, or what? I hear that’s what you do, girls phoning up boys on their mobile phones and texting and such-like. It wouldn’t have happened in my day. In those days you needed a matchmaker.” “Maybe,” said Ababuo, “or maybe I’ll just hang around here and see if I can learn anything.” Marma Shells grinned as she rummaged in the pocket of her dress. “Seems to me like that calls for a new cigar.”

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Reciprocal Functions
6 billion people on this Earth. That’s 9 zeros. Ten figures. In such a wide data set it’s hard to see the fish for the sea, or ride the sine waves of information, hoping the torsion of distance will shrink over time until A meets B. And of course, we’ll meet tangentially. You’ll be the spurious dot, no correlation. They’ll say we have great chemistry but really it’ll be that your gravity pulls me in, falling at 9.8 m/s2. I’ll be the valent electron orbiting

April Murphy

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your element, vaguely negative but ready to bond, to build, to create ions of being. Our constancy adding together our lives subtracting our fears as we multiply, making two into three or four sharing our love exponentially. I’m looking for something you can’t measure. Something integral to existence, an infinite but not imaginary number. But I’m not saying that our equation will always make sense. Numbers can be odd and even reciprocals can’t always be right. We’ll fight, we’ll divide, we’ll miscalculate. There will be plenty of variables to confuse us. Ones to carry. I believe we’ll get back on track, meeting at the X and Y axis, so it’s all equal and we’ll laugh at the origins of our problems. I’m aware that numbers aren’t real, they’re irrational. That the answer to my theory relies on the acceptance of the very first premise. The universal law that states we can do this, if and only if you want to.

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Grandmother Numbers
Deborah Walker The mobius track The paper-twisted ribbon woods. Fractal leaves in Mandelbrot murmurs. The insistent surging wind, oozing. Rain as cold as stainless needles. The malignant howl of the wolf A blood beat, a proliferating pulse A biological uncontrollable complexity. The isolated cottage. One alone. Once a prime location. Grandmother Numbers waiting to run thin fingers over your face. Read you like a page of common logarithms worn skin-smooth, yellow with age.

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Grandmother Numbers will break butterfly wings, rich chaotic dust into bubbling matrices, cast runes of symbolic computation. Obsolete computer screens looking backwards to time’s functionality. Blank eyes blinking into life. Vibrant upon the screen, in red against green. The secret wolf cast into a cancer dance of unfolding multiplications. Tangled and obscene. The equatic beast, ravenous as Fenrir. In the end of days to swallow the sum. Grandmother, teach me to kill the malevolent wolf Count my soul. Model me well.

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The Countable

T

Ken Liu

his is what most people would consider a rational moment, David thought. The interrogation room looked the way it did in TV

shows: grey everywhere, bare except for the table and folding chairs, harsh, bright fluorescent lights. But on TV they never mentioned the smell of antiseptic floor wash, trying but failing to cover up the lingering odor of all the desperate, sweaty bodies that have passed through the room. The lady lawyer on the other side of the table was talking to his mother, who was sitting next to him and crying softly. His mother probably thought what they were discussing very important and the lawyer’s advice sensible, but David wasn’t terribly interested in what

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she had to say. From time to time, bits of their conversation fell into his awareness, and he let them drift along, like leaves on a pond. ...psychological evaluation...keep him in the juvenile system... He didn’t look at the lawyer’s face. He seldom found anything useful in people’s faces. Instead, he was interested in the buttons on her blue blazer. There were three large buttons, all black. The top and bottom ones were round, the middle one a square. ... a little odd...quiet, shy, gentle... He was not anxious. He hadn’t been afraid when the sirens grew louder and louder and his mother opened the front door and the flashing lights from the beacons spilled into the living room, where he was sitting on the couch, waiting. His mother had been terrified and confused, and the baby, sensing her anxiety, had begun to cry again. He had cradled the baby, and tried to explain to her that there was no reason to cry. Most moments were not rational, he whispered to her, and this moment was no different. ...undiagnosed...high-functioning...pattern of abuse... The designer had probably intended the square button to be the same size as the circular ones. That’s an old problem: squaring the circle. He wondered if the design was meant as a joke, but doubted it. Other people’s humor had always confused him. Perhaps the designer was interested in the problem the same way he was, as a statement about the beauty of math glanced through a veil. ... petition...pretrial hearing...justifiable defense...expert witnesses... It was not possible to square the circle, of course. To do that you needed the square root of pi. But pi was not rational. It was not even merely irrational. It was not constructible. It was not algebraic, so
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it was incapable of serving as the root of some polynomial snaking about the Cartesian plane. It was transcendental. Yet for thousands of years people pursued the fool’s errand, trying to achieve the impossible. He was tired of pursuing the impossible, of trying to make the world rational. Almost all of the numbers in the world were transcendental, just like pi, but most people paid no attention to them. They were preoccupied with the rationals, though they were merely scattered like infinitesimal islands in the transcendental sea. His mind was drifting away from the present, and he let it. These supposedly rational moments held little interest for him. They made up such a small part of life.

As long as he could remember, he had trouble with other people. He thought he understood what they said, but it often turned out that he hadn’t, not really. Words sometimes meant the opposite of what the dictionary said they meant. People got angry with him, seemingly for no reason, even though he was listening with all his attention and speaking as carefully as he could. He could not make himself belong. He was angry and frustrated that the world did not seem to be rational, did not make sense to him the way it did to others. And then he would get into fights that he could not win, because he did not understand why he was fighting. “What does that mean?” Betty asked. “You are saying something is wrong with David?” David felt his mother’s hand tightening
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around his. He was glad that the principal’s words did not make sense to his mother either. “Well, nothing wrong. Not exactly. David has demonstrated difficulty in establishing empathy with his peers. He takes everything so literally that it’s—we just think he should be evaluated, properly.” “Nothing is wrong with him,” Betty said. “He’s shy. That’s all. His father is dead. That will mess anyone up for a bit.” Gradually it dawned on him that people carried on two conversations at once: one with words, the other with seemingly inconsequential signals—the overtones in the voice, the angle of a tilt of the head, the direction of an eye glance, the crossing of legs, the fluttering of fingers, the pursing of lips and the wrinkling of the nose. He was deaf to this language beneath the language, oblivious to the rules that everyone took for granted. Painstakingly, he formulated explicit axioms and deduced complex theorems about this other, unspoken language. It took him years of trial and error to figure out a system of rules that seemed to work. Following them, he did not draw attention to himself. He could appear to be trying, but not too hard. This made middle school a safe place, for the most part. Ideally, he would have liked to get B’s in everything so that he would fade into the anonymity of the crowd, but that was very difficult in math. He had always liked math for its certainty, its rationality, its precise sense of right and wrong. He could not bear to make a deliberate error on a math test. It seemed a betrayal. The best

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he could do was to erase the answers to a few problems on each test after he worked them out. “Please stay after class, David,” Ms. Wu said as the bell rang. Some of the students looked back at him briefly, wondering what kind of trouble he was in. But the room quickly emptied, leaving David alone at his desk. Ms. Wu was here just for the semester as a student teacher. Young, pretty, the students liked her. She wasn’t yet too cynical to be curious about her students. She walked over to his desk and put his latest test in front of him. “You had the right answers on the last page, but you erased them. Why?” David examined the paper. It was empty. He wondered how she knew. He was always careful to write lightly and erase vigorously, leaving as little impression behind as possible, the way he did everything in life. “When I walked around during the test, I saw that you had written down the right answers. You were done long before the rest of the class. Then you just sat there, staring into space until half the class turned their tests in. I saw you erasing right before you came up.” David said nothing. He liked the way Ms. Wu’s voice washed over him. He imagined it as the graph of a polynomial, smoothly rising up and then falling down. The pauses in her speech were the roots, where the graph crossed the x-axis. “It’s not a bad thing to be interested in something, you know.”

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She put her hand on his shoulder. She smelled of fresh laundry, of summer flowers. “To be good at something.” It had been a long time since anyone paid attention to him without something bad happening. He didn’t even know he missed it.

David had one picture of his father, taken on the day his father was graduating from high school. The cap and gown seemed a few sizes too large on his slight frame. His fine features were still boyish, the bridge of the nose thin and delicate. He was not smiling into the camera. His eyes seemed frightened, focused on something infinitely far away. Perhaps he was thinking about David, then still barely visible under Betty’s dress. Or perhaps he was seeing a vision of the truck with failed brakes that would mow him down as he walked home from his job as a filing clerk at night five years later. Those eyes were blue, with long lashes, just like David’s. Seeing those eyes always enraged Jack, whether he was sober or not. “You’re a goddamn wuss and a sneak, just like your dad.” So David knew not to look Jack in the eye, and he always tried to look away when Jack was around. Some nights that worked. But not tonight. “Look at me,” Jack said. They were having dinner. Betty was feeding the baby on the couch. It was just the two of them at the table. The TV blared in the corner with the evening news. “I feed you, put clothes on you and keep a roof over your head.

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The least I can ask for is some respect. Sit up and look at me when I’m talking to you.” David did as he asked. He tried to keep his face expressionless and his eyes focused on something beyond his stepfather. He counted the seconds until Jack would explode. In a way he was relieved. The worst part about each night was the anticipation, the uncertainty of not knowing what sort of mood Jack would be in when he got home and what he would do. But now the wait was over. All he had to do was to endure. “Don’t you dare sneer at me, you little shit. You’re asking for a beating.” Betty took the baby into the bedroom. She always left when Jack’s voice took on that particular tone. David wished that he had his stepfather’s height, his thick arms, his fat knuckles and flat nose, a nose that could take a punch. He wished that he had claws and sharp teeth.

“Georg Cantor was the first man to think rigorously about infinity,” Ms. Wu said to the room. The Math Club was David’s secret. He took a risk in being here. Joining any club revealed something about yourself, made you vulnerable if your mission was to fade away, to leave no trace. He could imagine how Jack would taunt him if he found out. “You think you’re smart, don’t you?” He imagined Jack’s leer, wet, yellow teeth, and alcohol on his breath. “Just like your dad. Look how far his smarts got him when he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants.”
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“He thought about the size of infinity,” Ms. Wu said. “It’s difficult for human beings to understand infinity, but Cantor made it possible to glimpse it and hold it, if only for a second, in your mind. “Which do you think is bigger: the infinite set of all positive rational numbers, or the infinite set of all natural numbers? “It might be natural to think that there are many more positive rational numbers than natural numbers. After all, there are an infinite number of rational numbers just between 0 and 1. And there are infinitely many intervals between each successive pair of natural numbers. Infinity times infinity must be bigger than just infinity alone. “Cantor’s great insight was that this was not true. There is a way to map each natural number to a positive rational number such that you can see that the sets are the same size.”

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“A positive rational number takes the form p/q, where p and q are both natural numbers. By following the arrows in the diagram, we can be sure that every positive rational number will eventually be enumerated in our zigzag path across the plane (skipping over any repeats): first, 1/1, second, 2/1, third, 1/2, fourth, 3/1, fifth, 1/3, sixth, 4/1, seventh, 3/2, eighth, 2/3, and ad infinitum. By counting, we map each natural number to a positive rational. Even though it seems that the universe of rational numbers would be so much bigger than the universe of natural numbers, it turns out that they are the same size. “But Cantor’s argument is even stranger than that. You can show, by the same method, that there are as many rational numbers between 0 and 1 as there are all positive rational numbers.

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“Just by changing our path slightly so that we always stay below the line p = q, we’ll be able to enumerate all the rational numbers between 0 and 1. Since there’s a one-to-one mapping, or a bijection, between the naturals and the positive rationals, and a bijection between the naturals and the rationals between 0 and 1, we know that all three sets are the same size, or have the same cardinality. The cardinal number of the set of all natural numbers is called aleph-null, after the Hebrew letter aleph.”

“Aleph-null confounds our intuitions. You can see that all the rational numbers between 0 and 1 take up half of the plane of all rational numbers in the picture above, with all the other rational numbers in the other half, and yet one half is not bigger than the
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other, or the whole plane. Divide infinity in half, and you still have infinity. Turn the number line into a plane, multiply infinity by infinity, and you end up still with the same size of infinity. “It seems to say that a part can be just as large as the whole. And it is possible to map the whole infinite line of rational numbers into the seemingly finite segment between 0 and 1. In every grain of sand is the universe.”

One of the few memories that David had of his father was a trip they had all taken to Myrtle Beach. David could not even be sure that it really happened; he was so young back then. He remembered digging in the sand with a plastic shovel—red, yellow? Well, in this particular moment the shovel was blue, like the blazer the lady lawyer was wearing. Betty was sunbathing to the side, and his father was helping him by moving the sand that he dug up into a plastic bucket. The sun was hot but not unpleasant. The voices of the people on the beach faded into an indistinct murmur. One shovelful. He was mesmerized by the smooth, hypnotic way sand moved: solid particles that flowed like a liquid, falling, sliding, tumbling from the blue plastic shovel into the bucket. Two shovelfuls. The particles were so fine, like flour, like salt. He wondered how many grains of sand had tumbled from his shovel between the time he began this thought and now, right now. Three shovelfuls. If he stared really hard, could he see the individual grains? Four shovelfuls. He held his breath.
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“You are counting?” His father asked. He nodded. The sounds and sights of the world flooded back into his awareness. He gasped, like a swimmer coming up for air. “It will take a long time to count all the sand on this beach.” “How long?” “Longer than it took you to count the triangles on my towel,” Betty said. He felt her hand, cool and smooth, lightly caressing his back. He relaxed his back. It was a nice feeling. His father looked at him, and he stared back. It was an intense stare that others would have found off-putting, but his father smiled. “It would take until infinity, David.” “What’s infinity?” “It’s beyond the time that you and I have. Let me tell you something the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi once said: if a man can live a hundred years, that’s a pretty long life. But a life is filled with sickness, death, sorrow, and loss, so that in a month of days you might have just four or five when you laughed out loud. Space and time are infinite, but our lives are finite. To experience the infinite with the finite, we should just count those transcendental moments, those moments of joy.” Betty’s hands continued to stroke his back, and he saw that his father was no longer looking at him, but at his mother. This is one of those moments, he decided.

“You keep on fucking around with those numbers and books, and you’ll end up like those criminals on Wall Street,” Jack said.
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“Nobody in this country wants to work honestly with his hands any more. That’s why the Chinese are eating our lunch.” David took his books and notes and retreated to the bedroom that he shared with the baby. She was taking a nap, and David stared at her face, so peaceful, oblivious to the sounds of the TV blasting from the living room. Perhaps the world did not make sense because he was not counting properly. Maybe he was out of sync with the world. David sat down at the desk. He drew a vertical line down the page, labeled the bottom 0 and the top 1. Then he tried to map out the sequence of rational numbers between 0 and 1 along the zigzagging path of the Cantor pairing function traveling in the Cartesian plane that Ms. Wu had drawn on the board at school. He drew a short horizontal line for each rational in the sequence. Gradually, he filled the page.

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The lines accumulated one after another, reaching high on each zig up the vertical axis, before methodically stepping down and filling in the blank space left behind on each falling zag to the horizontal axis. There are an infinite number of moments in a finite life. Who says that you must stay in the present, and experience them in order? The past was not the past. The same moments would be experienced again and again, and each time something new would be added. Given enough time, the blanks would be filled with the rational. The lines would complete a picture. The world made sense. All you had to do was to wait.

Parts of our brain, consisting of regions in the frontal, parietal and medial temporal lobes, are active only when we are not presently engaged in a cognitive task. When we are computing the sum of 12,391,424 and 38,234,231, figuring out how to get from home to the next job interview, or reading the latest mutual fund prospectus, these regions of the brain go dark on an MRI brain scan. But when we are not actively thinking about anything, the dark network of the brain lights up. A much younger David flipped the page. Betty was out with Jack, and he was locked alone in the house. She had left him with a warning that he shouldn’t answer the phone or the door or let anyone know that he was home. He did not find this strange. For all he knew, this was how all eight-year old boys spent their evenings when their mothers went on dates. He enjoyed the company of the

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boxes of books left behind by his father far more than the company of other people, or Jack. He did not like the novels much, but forced himself to plod through them slowly, reading them as textbooks about social and emotional rules that he could not fathom. He preferred the books about math, with their beautiful equations, fantastic graphs, and strange symbols that he could not pronounce. And then there were the books about science, which he devoured the way other children read fairy tales. Like this one: It turns out that the dark network is where our species practices its most amazing power, a power more uniquely human than language, than math, than our ability to go to war and compose poetry. The dark network is where we engage in time travel. Jack had begun to come over more frequently and sometimes stayed nights. David cataloged and enumerated the changes in his mother carefully, analyzing them as clues to what he could not intuit: the way his mother giggled, like a young girl in movies; the dresses that he had never seen her wear; the way more and more of Jack’s things accumulated in their apartment. The brain’s perception of time offers up one mystery after another. There is no easy answer to how the brain perceives the passage of time, the steady conversion of the future to the present, and the present to the past. Is there a cluster of neurons that pulse steadily, like a metronome or the clock signal in a modern integrated circuit? Or is it the analog delay of activation potentials cascading across the neurons that tells us time is passing? Or perhaps time is measured by the chemical diffusion of neurotransmitters,

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and maybe that explains why time slows down when we are under the influence of drugs like cocaine, which boosts dopamine. The key rattled in the door, and Betty and Jack stumbled in. David paused in his reading and looked up. A momentary cool breeze was followed by the smell of cigarettes, sweat and alcohol filling the hot, stale air of the apartment. Jack plopped down on the couch and flicked on the TV. Betty came back from the kitchen with a half-filled glass, and as she approached Jack, she laughed, lost her balance, and tumbled into Jack’s lap. The drink, miraculously, stayed unspilled. She kicked off her heels and put an arm around his neck. “The boy is leaving books everywhere,” Jack said. He surveyed the piles all over the floor. “You can hardly walk around without kicking over a stack. What’s with all the books anyway? I never see you read anything.” In any event, research seems to suggest that we do not so much live in the present as an illusion of the present. Although your eyes may perceive your foot striking the ground a fraction of a second before the nerve impulse carrying the sensation travels from your foot to your brain, you do not perceive a delay. The brain sits in the cranium in darkness, and signals from around the body are integrated into a sense of now only after the slowest signal has arrived, which suggests that our conscious awareness of the present is delayed, a bit like a “live” broadcast. We may be like train passengers in rear-facing seats, always perceiving the “present” only when it has become the recent past. “His father was a big reader,” Betty said. “He did real well in school. Got into UVA.”

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Realizing that she was killing the mood, Betty stopped. She tried to kiss Jack. Then he got into you,” Jack said, moving his lips away from hers. A nasty tone had crept into his voice. He caressed her breasts through her dress. Betty blushed and reached up to stop him. Jack slapped her hands aside and laughed. “Stay still. I’m showing the boy what you can’t teach him.” David turned his eyes away. He was not good at reading faces and could not explain what he saw in his mother’s face at that moment. He felt it was like looking at her when she was undressed. Not only is our sense of the present illusory, but we do not even spend most of our time in it. The dark network is where the brain takes its trips down memory lane and simulates the future. We relive our experiences to draw out lessons and play out possibilities to plan for what is to come. We imagine ourselves in other times, and in the process we live out many lifetimes in one. “We need to clean this pigsty up,” Jack said. “Too much stuff you don’t need any more.” Unlike a computer, which can retrieve data from long-term memory without alteration and process it in short-term memory, the brain’s memories, patterns of activations potentials, are processed in-place, and are thus altered each time we remember. We cannot step into the same place in Heraclitus’s river twice not only because we cannot physically go back in time, but because even our memory of each moment remains ever changing. “The boy sits there and reads all day. It’s not natural. Look at him. Not a peep out of him all this time we’ve been back. He’s creeping me out. Hey, I’m talking to you!”
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He threw the remote at David. It thudded against his chest and clattered to the ground. David flinched and looked up. Their eyes met. After a moment, Jack swore, and he began to push Betty off. Jack he found most baffling of all. He could not figure out the rules needed to predict his outbursts. In the end Betty coaxed Jack into coming with her into the bedroom. David was left alone in the living room. Slowly, he uncurled himself, ignored the pain, and cradled the book in his lap. The dark network is the default mode for our brain. It is the state that our brain drifts toward whenever we are not occupied by some pressing concern in the present. Whenever we are not thinking about anything in particular, we drift in time, cast off from the anchor of the present to wander over the infinite paths of our lives, those taken, untaken, and yet to be mapped. The brain’s capacity to manipulate time remains mostly unexplored. If simultaneity of the senses is largely an illusion, could our sense of the linearity of experience similarly be constructed? We seem to be skipping over the river of time, aware of the present only from time to time by an act of will. If trauma or disease affected the relevant regions of the brain, could we cut experience into ever-finer slices, experience them out of order, or stay forever away from the present, lost in time? The next day, Jack and Betty packed up all the books and brought them to the dumpster. “You can’t read those books anyway,” Betty said, trying to comfort David. “I don’t even understand them. We need to move on with our lives.”

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“You might think,” Ms. Wu said, “based on what we studied last time, that all infinities are aleph-null, but this is not true. The countably infinite is only the smallest of the infinities. “The set of all real numbers, for example, is not countably infinite. It is far bigger. Cantor found a way to prove this. “Suppose that the real numbers are countably infinite, then there must be a bijection from the naturals to the reals. The reals must be capable of being counted. Since every real number can be written as an endless sequence of decimal digits—just pad out the end with repeating 0’s if they don’t go on endlessly—we can imagine that the enumeration will look something like this:

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“Remember, this is supposed to be an enumeration of all the real numbers. But we can easily construct a new real number that cannot be on this list. Just take the first digit in the first number on the list and write down a new digit that’s different. And take the second digit in the second number on the list and write down a new digit that’s different. Continue this diagonal movement down the list.
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“When you put the new digits together, you have a new real number. But this is a real number that does not exist on the list anywhere. It differs from the first number on the list in the first digit, from the second number on the list in the second digit, from the third number on the list in the third digit, and so on.

“You can construct an infinite many such real numbers that cannot be found on the list just by drawing new diagonals and flipping to new digits. There is no bijection from the naturals to the reals. No matter how you try to arrange the reals, more of them will slip through your fingers. The real numbers are infinite, but it’s a much bigger kind of infinity than aleph-null. There are so many more real numbers than the natural numbers that the real numbers cannot be counted. We call the cardinality of this uncountable infinity, beth-one.”

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“But even beth-one is still only a very small transfinite number. There are many more numbers that are much bigger, a true infinity of infinities. We’ll get to those the next few days. When Cantor first wrote about their existence, some theologians were deeply threatened by his work. They thought Cantor was challenging the absolute infinity and transcendence of God. “But even just knowing beth-one is bigger than aleph-null allows you to see some wonderful things. For example, we know that the rational numbers are countable and have cardinality aleph-null. But the real numbers are the union of the set of rationals and the set of irrationals, and we know that the real numbers have cardinality beth-one.”

“Therefore, the set of irrational numbers must have cardinality greater than aleph-null since we know that doubling aleph-null only gets you to aleph-null, not beth-one. In fact, we have proven that there must be uncountably many—or beth-one—irrationals. “In other words, there are many, many more irrational numbers than rational numbers. Almost all real numbers are irrational. And by a similar argument, you can prove that almost all irrational numbers are transcendental and not algebraic, not findable as the root of a polynomial with integer coefficients. Even though so few transcendentals seem to touch our daily life—like pi and e—they make up most of the number line. Most of the math you’ve been
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studying in school all these years has been focused on just tiny slices of the continuum.”

The textbook from Ms. Wu included poetry quotations at the beginning of the chapter. David did not usually like poetry, which seemed to be composed of the same language beneath the language that he was not attuned to, with metaphors and figures that confused him. But these were different. These seemed to say how he felt. Ah, awful weight! Infinity Pressed down upon the finite Me! —Edna St. Vincent Millay, Renascence I am large, I contain multitudes. —Walt Whitman, Song of Myself The lines he had been drawing would never complete the number line; he understood that now. The irrational space between them was infinite. The picture would never cohere and make sense. Life could not be reduced to its rational moments. But the rational moments were not worth counting. There was nothing wrong with him. He finally understood. Isn’t it wonderful to know, to really know, that the irrational is the rule, and not the exception, and to know further that most of that is transcendental, even if we are aware of so few of them? Life did not make sense. It did not need to. Why were the theologians afraid of Cantor? This
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was a truth to be celebrated. It is only the transcendentally happy moments that should be counted. A scream from Betty on the other side of the bedroom door interrupted him, followed by the cries of the baby. David was amazed that such a small body could be the source of such loud cries, the full-throated demand for justice, for sense, so fearless and sad at the same time. When the baby stopped to take a breath, he could hear Betty’s muffled voice pleading indistinctly. Then came the sound of plates smashing on the floor. He opened the door. He could tell that Jack was only a little drunk. He stood steady on his feet. Betty’s long, smooth hair, of which she was very proud, was wrapped around Jack’s hand and held in a fist. She was on her knees, her hands pulling at his hand holding her hair. She had put the baby down on the couch, where she flailed her limbs and her face was turning red from crying and the lack of air. Maybe Jack was fired from his job again. Maybe he got into an argument with the Vietnamese grocers down the block. Maybe he didn’t like Betty’s dress when he got home. Maybe the baby was crying when he didn’t wanted to hear her. “You dirty slut,” he said, quietly, calmly. “I’m going to teach you a lesson. Who was he?” Betty’s voice came out in wordless sobs and denials. Keeping his hold on her hair, he began to punch her in the stomach and kidneys. He isn’t hitting her in the face, David thought. That’s rational. Otherwise neighbors might ask questions.

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Betty continued to apologize, to try to explain and make sense of this world, to herself and to Jack. David could not speak. He felt a dull, hot force rising inside himself, pushing on his throat and choking him. He reached out to grab Jack’s hand, and Jack threw him to the ground without looking at him. The cries of the baby grew louder. A white hot pain throbbed inside David’s head. He had never felt this angry and helpless. He could not do anything to stop the pain and terror; all he could do was manipulate symbols in his mind. He was useless. He has demonstrated difficulty in establishing empathy. He takes everything so literally. Betty’s pleas and the baby’s cries faded into the throbbing, pounding pain in his head. Time seemed to slow down. His mind began to drift, to leave the present. One, Myrtle Beach. He looked at the door leading to the kitchen. He got up. Two, Ms. Wu’s hand on his shoulder. He looked down at his hand, and was surprised to see that he was holding the chef’s knife. Like train passengers in rear-facing seats. The fluorescent light reflected from its cold blade. Three, “Nothing is wrong with him. He’s shy. That’s all.” Betty was curled into a ball on the ground. The light was failing in the apartment. From the back, Jack’s figure was implacable, a dark heaving mass that slowly lifted a fist into the air. The baby screamed again.

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Four, the diagonal line of digits stretching into infinity. He was on the floor again. He looked down to see that there was blood on his hand. The knife was on the ground. Jack sat quietly on the floor, his body leaning against the couch without moving as blood pooled around him. Betty crawled toward David. Five, this moment. Right now.

[Ms. Wu’s presentation of Cantor’s diagonal argument glosses over the point that any real number’s decimal representation as an infinite series of digits is ambiguous. That is, a number such as 2 can be written as either 1.9999... or 2.0000..., which raises the possibility that the new number constructed via the diagonal argument might simply be the alternate form of another number that is already numerated in the list. This can be addressed by requiring that the real numbers in the list adhere to the ...9999... form, and that the constructed number not use the digit 0. The section on brain and the perception of time draws from the research summaries given by David Eagleman and Daniel Gilbert: David Eagleman, “Brain Time,” Edge: the Third Culture, June 24, 2009 (available at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/eagleman09/eagleman09_ index.html) Daniel Gilbert, “The Brain: Time Travel in the Brain,” Time, January 19, 2007 (available at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580364,00. html)]

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Room for Rent
Daniel Ress

T

he room’s story is as strange as its construction. The story is full of bizarre permutations of character and circumstance, swirling like so many shadows, absences

set into the backdrop and deepening one another. The construction involves such unlikely dimensions as to bespeak a forbidden branch of calculus derived only to construct this room, and then forgotten. In one corner, two angles meet to forge a perfect polyhedron, curved and meaningful, bowing to no old gods or laws of geometry and form. Spiraling out are arms of inequalities exclusive of one another, gaps and holes filling space with beam and board. And what
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wood could grow such textures, such raw colors, never painted, or if painted never kept painted, the surfaces too slick for paint to stick, what wood could carve or be carved or grow or be grown to participate in such madness? No mortar could keep the joints, no nails could hold the impossible holdings of space and time forced unnaturally into this sequence. The room is bigger on the inside than on the outside, yet cloying and binding, like a limit set to define not just its own boundaries but those of any that set foot inside. The mad architect who designed the place must have killed herself after its construction, one assumed upon entering, if ever an architect existed mad enough to dream such a design, let alone to realize it. Perhaps the architect is still dreaming, through the sleep of death, or even stillborn but dreaming a world unbounded by experience; a dream might explain the Eschered rails and staircases implied by the room’s unprecedented surfaces and sudden slopes. Perhaps indeed there was no architect, but rather the place exists only out of necessity, because of the utmost extreme end of the infinite curve of probability, an extreme that must exist somewhere, for absurdity must exist in order for rationality to have any meaning, and indeed that curve seems to have rainbowed down just to this room with no pot of gold but for the gilded sense of wonder that forces eyes to inspect the plain floors or walls or ceilings until they run out of light, left sputtering in the darkness of what they beheld. Somehow it is more comforting to think of this construction as unconstructed, unbuilt, as simply existing and apt to stop existing or to reorder in the span of a head turn, spinning insideways to leave a more wholesome chamber surrounding the turner’s head.
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And somehow, I think that is how the room’s story, unfinished, incomplete, is bound to end, but not before it flexes its power a bit more, rips just deeper into the collective subconscious through its meager access points, those few of such luck to enter, most of whom even leave to spread tales of the room, none of them true, but all strangely affecting. This is my tale. When I found the room, I needed quarters for a month during which I would conduct my research on some writer, a poet or philosopher, it does not matter who, by delving into the small wealth of material, unsorted and esoteric, maintained by his estate. The writer was concerned with the nature of Truth, and while I thought I knew what that meant, I was also pretty sure that no one really did. After some searching, I noticed the faded “For Rent” sign on the post just across and down the street, having had no luck so far in finding the cheap, short-term lodgings I’d sought. I called the number, spoke to a gravelly, disembodied voice across an unknown gap in space and time, and agreed to terms and a showing later that day. I stopped for lunch at a local sandwich place, turkey with bacon on a Kaiser roll (isn’t it strange which details you remember years after, miles away, some you should have forgotten, some that you know ought to still remain but have drifted off, leaving only dust and shadowed gaps?), and met the voice outside the building around two. No longer disembodied, the voice was still far from reassuring. “I haven’t had much luck with renters,” it said. “Well, I haven’t had much luck with landlords,” I countered

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awkwardly. The voice’s eyes informed me I’d made a mistake. “Just joking,” I added, choked already and to little avail. “That’s why I’m willing to consider a monthly rate, instead of keeping it to annual cases.” I really didn’t care for the use of the word “cases,” or the slight emphasis on the word. That really sticks out to me in memory. “Well I’m happy enough to keep my case to a month, no problems here.” It really was an awkward conversation. “I mean, the price is right, right?” “Yeah, about that. I do need it all up front. So, do you have it?” “Of course.” Something in the voice’s eyes made me hedge. “Uh, I mean, not on me, but of course I’ll give it to you later today. If I like the room. Can we check it out?” The voice grimaced, sighed, as though it thought its trap had almost snapped shut around me, but I had somehow jammed a bone or a branch between its jaws and hopped out at the last moment. Now it might go hungry. “As you say. This way.” The voice led me up a few flights of stairs, which creaked in an unusual way, sort of like an out of tune guitar, except, well, stairs creaking. There was only one room on this floor, not the top, but somehow the smallest, like some giant had pinched the building, squeezed it between his thumb and forefinger. The voice opened the door, and I walked inside, and I stared. I’m not sure how long I stared. I’m not totally sure that I’m not still staring, seeing everything that has followed in some crevice between two boards that should never have been able to connect in that way. When I came to, or at least when I think I came to, the voice was talking.
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“…and make sure to lock up when you leave. We’ve had an increase in burglaries the last few years.” I can’t imagine a person breaking into that room, even through a widely open front door, and stealing anything, ever. “Uh, y-yes, of course,” I managed, mouth still agape. “And you won’t be having any gentleman callers…?” “Uh, no, of course, no, I mean—” “Good. Because I run a Christian house.” Who in God’s name would bring anyone over to this place, Christian or any other religion? And for that matter, no god had power here, it was obvious. How could a god rule over a place that broke all of her rules so blatantly? “Yes, of course. Well, uh, everything seems in order,” —in the loosest sense of the term— “So I’m anxious to get moved in, get started on my research.” “That’s right, you mentioned you’re a student.” The voice implied that such was an ignoble pursuit. “No, not so much. I mean, well, yes, but only at university. I mean, it’s doctoral research.” The voice’s eyes spoke volumes, indicting the entire bastion of academia both for allowing the existence of such nonsense generally and also specifically for affording such a babbling idiot a place in its high ranks. “Yes. Well, just make sure I have the rent by six tonight. We’ll sign the papers then, too. If there’s nothing else, I’ll see you once you have your things, and my money.” The voice didn’t beat around the bush.

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We parted ways, and later that night I signed and paid and took the keys. Then I moved in. Did I ever really move out? The next month passed strangely, with amazing speed and focus. I had never worked so hard, or focused so much. My subject seemed to be moving closer and closer under my lens, deeper and deeper into my understanding. I was so close now, so deep. The Truth was almost tangible just outside my grasp. I needed more time, so I signed up for another month. The really strange thing, though, what I should have noticed, was that I never actually made it over to the poet or philosopher’s estate to look at the material. Rather, I stayed in the room and researched; instead of venturing out, I turned inward, and investigated what the great thinker meant through the insane whorls in the room’s southwest corner, which seemed to point towards the rising sun, as did my subject’s ideas, they pointed and curled together with the room, and so did I. And on the other side, the East let the calculations continue on their own, like pi or god or time, and all the time, facing the South, the writer sat smiling, and I was so close to understanding why, I just needed more time, so I signed up for yet another month. I decided a more systematic approach was necessary during that third month, so by the end of it, I signed up for another six, despite a really touching note of concern from the voice (“Are you sure?” — Yeah. “Okay, then. If you’re sure. All in advance still”). I investigated each grain in the unearthly wood, wound with it around the room, which was bigger, much bigger than the space it seemed to fill from the outside, bigger than the whole building, a puzzle, a string winding like a labyrinth through all things, microscopic and
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enormous, bigger than any labyrinth ever conceived, and I followed and got lost, had to start over. Another year. Because that’s what it all meant. All it was was time and distance, and what are time and distance but gravity pulling us this way and that, keeping us here, shoving us there, and it all feels the same, whether we’re going towards one place or away from another, and people only fit in the crevices. We crash towards each other or away from one another, and it’s the same, just a matter of perspective. And that’s what all the words were. They were just perspectives meant to keep us tied together like a life raft through the chaos, but the raft was only a figment, useful in painting dreams but not genuine light or darkness, and the words ultimately meant only that, that the boats are not real, that we are who we are or who we aren’t, it doesn’t matter, but whoever that is it’s alone, alone and crashing, careening, sprawling, and alone. Finally I concluded my research when my family pretended to crash into me and I believed them and let them dislodge me from the infinite crevice of that infinite room. But you can never really remove something from infinity. Needless to say, my words were not allowed on the university’s raft. However, I like to think it’s a matter of time and distance—not until they award me that doctorate, I don’t think I could possibly care less about doctorates anymore, but maybe some day they’ll realize, and then my words, then all words, will mean something, and maybe then we can build a raft that will glide through the cosmos with intention. Perspective is only a matter of perspective. I’m sure it can be overcome in favor of Truth, the Absolute through which we’re all falling, all grasping through and against instead of
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with, and why not build of our own falling, our own loneliness, our medium of madness. And I know the perfect place to build such a raft.

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The Fifth Postulate

Robert Dawson

I

Alexandria, 280 BC t was the first book of his geometric masterpiece, the Elements; yet it would be the last to be relinquished into the hands of the scribe. Old Eukleides sighed, put down his stylus, and

slipped the beeswax-dipped wooden tablet carefully back into its proper place in the stack on the table, mindful of the delicacy of the inscribed characters and diagrams. “Ianus!” he called. “Come here!” The handsome young Cimmerian slave got up from his wooden stool in the shade of the gateway, and stepped into the dazzling sunlight of the sandy courtyard. “Master?” Eukleides had purchased Ianus four years ago from Cassius, a smooth-talking Roman reprobate with an ever-replenished stable of handsome young men. Was the young man really named for the Roman god of doorways, beginnings, and endings? Certainly, Eukleides had told Cassius he was looking for a doorman; and it was a standing joke in Alexandria that if you asked Cassius for a laborer or a bedfellow, he would always remember a “Herakles” or a “Ganymede” in his slave barracks, “just the man you’re looking for, my friend!” But Eukleides had never had cause to regret his purchase. Within a few months, he had fallen into a comfortable habit of using the new doorman as a sounding board while he worked in the courtyard, as
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some men talk to their dogs, explaining the propositions and proofs to him one by one, as he sketched his diagrams in the sand. At first the young man stood silently, listening to Eukleides explaining why such and such an angle must be greater than another; but after a while he began to ask questions—why does this line go here? why are these areas equal? Answering, Eukleides found his proofs growing clearer. Sometimes, now, it seemed as if the slave knew the Elements as well as he did himself. (Eukleides had changed his will last year; upon his death, Ianus would be manumitted, with a small inheritance. His nephew Damianos had sworn, though slightly reluctantly, that he would see it done. Eukleides had, of course, kept this to himself; there are things a wise man does not tell to even the most beloved of slaves. The Fates, as the proverb runs, have many servants.) “Do you remember where Atys the scribe’s workshop is?” “Of course, master. It’s just this side of the Street of the Tanners.” Eukleides nodded, and indicated the stack of waxed writing tablets on the table. “Take these to Atys. Tell him I need three copies on papyrus. Tell him that he must use the same copyists that he did for the other books, and that he must be very careful that I get the tablets back undamaged.” The slave’s eyes were wide. “You’ve finished your book? Praise the Gods!” “It’s as finished as it’s going to be.” Eukleides’ voice was flat. Ianus busied himself squaring the stack of tablets and replacing the linen wrapping. Slowly and carefully, he tied the cloth strips that

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held the wrapping in place. Finally, he spoke. “Have you—did you ever manage to prove the parallel postulate?” Eukleides stood silently. From the street outside came the harsh voice of a fig-seller crying his wares as he pushed his cart along the street. “Go and shut the door, lad,” he said. Ianus went, silently, to obey. The problem was infuriating. The first twenty-eight propositions of the first book could be proved without the parallel postulate, and there he had carefully avoided it. But the remaining ones were like a phalanx of hoplites, each defending itself and its comrades equally; one breach in the shield-wall and all would be vulnerable, but until then they could stand against anything. If he could prove any one of them without using the fifth postulate, then each of the others, and the postulate itself, would follow. But that first stroke, the proof that would bring the others easily, had eluded him. Lately he had tried another tactic, reductio ad absurdum, that he had occasionally resorted to in proving other recalcitrant propositions. He had supposed the parallel postulate to be false, and tried to find a contradiction—any contradiction—in what resulted. He had found much that was strange. If the postulate were false, you might draw as many different parallels to a line through a single point as you chose—but that was not a contradiction. Lines parallel to the same line need not be parallel to each other; but that was not a contradiction either. His head ached from imagining a world where lines bent apart like unfriendly snakes, while planes curved like saddles or shrank into discs. It was a chaos, a nightmare, in which
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squares could not exist; where, as triangles grew larger, their angles shrank to spearpoints. The more he learned, the less it seemed to have anything to do with the pure reality of which, Plato taught, this world was a shadow. But though it became ever more bizarre, he could never catch this slippery false geometry in the flat selfcontradiction that would allow him to trap it, convict it, and banish it from the gleaming polis of geometry. It was time to call the Elements finished, to put it aside and move on to other things. Maybe he should open the school of geometry that his friends had suggested, and pass his hard-won knowledge on to the young men of Alexandria. The thought appealed to him. Ianus had returned, and was standing a respectful few paces away. When Eukleides finally spoke, he did so with the composure proper for a philosopher. “No, lad. I cannot prove it from the other postulates. It will have to remain among them.” The slave shouldered the heavy bundle. “I am sorry, Master,” he said softly, and looked at the ground, as if embarrassed to witness the old man’s defeat. “Don’t be. The muse has granted me much; it would be impious to demand all. One day, somebody will see farther than I have. Who knows? Pythagoras used to teach that the soul moves between bodies, in the same way that a bee goes from flower to flower. Perhaps, if he was right, in some future life you might answer the riddle yourself. Now, don’t let me talk any more. Get those tablets over to the scribe. But first…” He beckoned. Ianus presented his cheek for an affectionate kiss, then

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shouldered the precious burden and walked thoughtfully out into the noise and bustle of the Alexandrian street.

Vienna, 1823 AD

#

It was late at night, and the candle was burning low. Outside the window, heavy wet snowflakes were falling. Young Janós Bolyai read through his manuscript one more time, with a shiver due more to excitement than to the chill of the garret, gradually letting himself believe. Everything meshed, everything rang true. His new “hyperbolic geometry,” in which the parallel postulate did not hold, was every bit as consistent as the geometry of Euclid. The strange sharpangled polygons, the circles that expanded at the perimeter like monstrous lichens as their radii grew, were no less possible in the allencompassing mind of God than the square and triangular building blocks that he had played with as a child. He took up his pen, and began a triumphant letter to his father back in Kolozsvár: “I have made such wonderful discoveries that I am myself lost in astonishment. Out of nothing I have created a strange new universe...”

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0.216(Recurring)Seconds
She is walking to school for the first time, a ten year old girl kicking her feet against the gravel with a strut that would make a peacock feel ashamed. She likes rockets. First she will learn to read big words like atmosphere and combustion, she will learn how gravity is a force and then how it is actually a field, and she will go on to learn suvat equations; if s is distance, u is initial velocity, v is final velocity, a is acceleration and t is time, use the equation s = ut + ½at², where the distance between the girl and the man is 72 m, the speed the bullet leaves the gun at is 333 m/s and the acceleration of the bullet is 0 m/s², to determine how long it takes for the father to stop his daughter disobeying him.

Andy Cashmore

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13 Cents
Doink, doink. “So I’m like, sir, have you been drinking tonight, and he goes like, no shirt, Sherlock! Then he puked all over his steering wheel,” Sgt. Bell recalled. “No shirt, Sherlock?” asked Sgt. Wall as she adjusted her ponytail. “That’s exactly what he said,” Bell said. They were just sitting in the police cruiser when they heard a horrible screeching noise. “What was that?” Wall asked. “Some lady driver just made a U-turn in the middle of Woodward,” Bell said, pointing to an SUV sloppily parked in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts. “Said Sgt. Bell to his new partner, a woman driving the squad car,” said Wall. She started the car and drove up a block to get just behind the SUV. “Amanda Knapp, a parking ticket from 2010, nothing else,” said Bell, reading off the computer.
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Alonso del Arte

He unbuckled his seat belt. “I got this one.” “No, I got this one,” Wall said. “I don’t want you saying something sexist to that ‘lady driver.’” Wall got out of the squad car and walked to the SUV. Amanda rolled down her window. She looked like a wreck. “Is there a problem, officer?” Amanda asked. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Wall asked. “Speeding?” “You just made a U-turn on Woodward Avenue, I don’t even care about the speeding.” “Look, I have to get to my kid’s school, he got into another fight, I got to get to the bank because my account’s cleaned out except for thirteen cents but they close at five, my ex-husband won’t sign the divorce and his lawyer is a real bastard, my boss said I can’t be late again for my shift, my boyfriend’s gonna dump me because—” “I get it, you are being pulled in every direction. If it were up to me, I’d let you off with a warning, but I have to give you a ticket. I won’t show up to court if you choose to fight it. But for now, pick one thing to take care of and go to it, but no more U-turns on Woodward, okay?” “Okay, thank you, officer,” Amanda said, wiping away her tears. “I’m going to my son’s school first.” “Good.” Wall looked at Rodin’s Thinker for a little bit and then got back to the squad car, musing that it belonged to the city, for now. “I just remembered, I have to go to Fourth Sixth to cash my check,” she said to Bell. She started the car and made a U-turn to get southbound on Woodward.
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“I don’t know why you don’t just get direct deposit,” Bell said. “Twelve oh one a.m. on payday, boom, my paycheck’s there.” He got out his iPhone and logged in to online banking. “That’s odd...” “What happened?” “My last check is the only thing in there. See?” “You’ve got your stub?” “Yeah.” Bell pulled out an envelope, opened it and pulled out a document marked “This is not a check.” Wall took her eyes off the road to look at the document and compare it to the bank’s website. “Carry the one...you only had thirteen cents in there...thirteen cents...” The car had veered off a little into oncoming traffic and Wall had to quickly turn the wheel to get back on the right side of the road. Ta-da la-ra la-ra laa... Detective Lopez finished another cup of coffee and bit down on his wooden cigarette. Detective Washington came in the room. “You haven’t quit smoking yet?” “Nope, I had a real one of these an hour ago,” Lopez answered, holding out the wooden cigarette as he kept his eyes fixed on a black and white video screen. The screen showed a parking lot with a couple of cars in it. Then the tape reached the end. “That’s the last one of those.” Captain Matthews walked in. “See the gun thief in any of those tapes?” “No, captain, but there are three gaps in the tapes,” Lopez explained. “So we’re going to start looking at surveillance tapes from the businesses neighboring the gun store.”
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“Actually, I’m going to have Baker and Lewis do that,” Matthews said. “You two are probably tired of looking at all those tapes, so I’m going to put you on a different case for a little bit.” “Something easy, I hope,” Washington said. “It’s not easy, but you can kick it to Computer Crimes or Identity Theft once you figure out what you’re dealing with,” Matthews said. “Come with me.” They went to the captain’s office, where Bell and Wall were sitting with a bunch of bank print- outs. Matthews introduced them to each other. Then Wall started to explain the case to Lopez and Washington. “A bunch of people are getting their bank accounts cleaned out, left only with exactly thirteen cents. Including my partner.” Bell handed Lopez a print-out. “So you went from ten thousand and change to just change,” Lopez said. “I was saving for a down payment,” Bell said. “We went to a couple of banks and found out at least another dozen people have been left with thirteen cents in their accounts,” Wall said. “You two are Traffic Enforcement?” Washington asked. “Yes. A woman we pulled over mentioned she had just thirteen cents in her account,” Wall said, handing Washington a print-out for Amanda Knapp’s bank account. Lopez and Washington compared the two print-outs they had been handed. “Notice anything weird besides the thirteen cents at the end?” Washington asked. “No,” Lopez answered.
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“Bell had $4.21 and then $0.13, Knapp had $6.21 and then $0.13.” “Oh yeah...and look, before that, Bell $45.34, Knapp $42.34; and before that, Bell $89.55, Knapp $101.55.” Matthews went to his desk, grabbed a yellow highlighter and gave it to Washington, who then highlighted the cents column in both print-outs. “It could be a huge coincidence,” Matthews suggested. He grabbed another print-out. “This one doesn’t fit the pattern.” “But this one does,” said Wall pulling out yet another print-out. “So what does it mean?” “Maybe certain amounts trigger a red flag in the bank’s computer system,” Lopez said. “Both banks?” Bell asked. “These three statements are for two different banks.” “We are out of our depth here,” Washington admitted. “I suggest we go to an expert computer programmer, someone like Prof. Charles S. Grantham at Oakland University.” “Any excuse to go to the suburbs,” Lopez said. “All right, you two go read the professor in on the case,” Matthews said to the detectives. “And you two get back to your beat,” he said to the traffic cops. At Oakland University, Prof. Grantham silently looked through the bank print-outs for several minutes as the two detectives uneasily waited. Then he grabbed a pink and a blue highlighter and highlighted the cents column in two print-outs that hadn’t been marked up. Then he finally said something: “You are actually

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dealing with at least three different repeated sequences of numbers across these statements.” “Do you know what any of these sequences mean?” Washington asked. “No, but any time I am stumped by a sequence of numbers, I turn to the On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, or OEIS.” Grantham opened his laptop, connected a mouse and punched a few keys, then a projector screen came down on the other side of the room and displayed a Web browser. He clicked on a bookmark, bringing up the OEIS website. “It’s like Google, but for sequences of numbers,” he explained. He typed “3, 89, 55, 34, 21, 13” in the search box and hit Enter. “The terms do not match anything in the table,” Lopez read from screen. “So much for that. Sorry to have bothered you, Professor.” “You’re giving up that easily?” Grantham asked. “Let me try something else.” Without using the mouse, he brought the cursor back to the search box, deleted the first 3 and the comma, and hit Enter again. “First n nonzero Fibonacci numbers in decreasing order,” he said triumphantly at the first result. “The Fibonacci numbers backwards...” Washington said tentatively. “What’s a Fubanacci number?” Lopez asked. Grantham launched on a long explanation: “It’s a second order linear recurrence initialized by—“ “You take two Fibonacci numbers, add them up and you

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get another Fibonacci number,” Washington explained to his partner. “That’s not entirely accurate,” Grantham said.1 Lopez took one of the print-outs highlighted with yellow. “Thirteen plus 21 is...” “Thirty-four.” “She had $59.34 in her account.” “And 21 plus 34 is 55.” “She had $97.55 in her account.” Lopez pauses for a second. “But why would the thieves go to all the trouble of putting the Fibonacci numbers in the cents column? And why not clean out the account in one fell swoop?” “I do not know,” Grantham admitted. “Maybe the other sequences might shed some light,” Washington suggested. Grantham looked at a print-out highlighted in blue and typed in 6, 17, 2, 15, 7, 13. “No results.” “What about putting it in backwards?” Lopez asked. The search 13, 7, 15, 2, 17, 6 brought up exactly one result. Washington read the title: “Consider any chain of consecutive primes which divides n; take all longest such chains; maximize the product of the primes in the chain.” “I don’t get it,” Lopez said. “Me neither,” Washington added.
Grantham’s objection is that any two Fibonacci numbers don’t necessarily add up to a Fibonacci number, for example, 5 + 21 = 26, which is not a Fibonacci number. But then he understands that most people will intuitively assume the definition to call for two consecutive Fibonacci numbers.
1

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“Do you know what a prime number is?” Grantham asked. Lopez looked confused. Washington started: “It’s a number divisible only by 1 and itself. Numbers like 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19 and so on.” Lopez still looked confused and Grantham looked uneasy. “Did I miss something?” Washington asked. “We don’t consider 1 a prime number anymore,” Grantham said hesitantly, as if afraid of sounding racist. Then, pointing to the numbers highlighted in blue, he added “It’s a tiny detail that might possibly affect the meaning of this sequence of numbers.” “But 1 fits the profile,” Washington said. “The ‘profile’ has been changed to say a prime number has exactly two distinct divisors, 1 and itself,” Grantham explained. “Sorry to interrupt the math lesson,” Lopez said, “but can we move on to something we can report to our captain?” Driving back to Detroit, Grantham finished explaining the sequence to Washington. “...and that’s how you get 13!” said Washington. “Exactly,” said Grantham. “In college I thought about majoring in mechanical engineering,” Washington recalled. “Why didn’t you?” Lopez asked. “Part of it is that I have never understood calculus, and it’s pretty much required, but part of it was also social expectations. When I told the counselor I was going into criminal justice, she acted like that didn’t surprise her in the slightest.” “It’s never too late to go back,” Grantham said.

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“Perhaps not, but now I am more interested in electrical engineering than mechanical,” Washington said.

Back at the precinct, having brought Grantham along, Lopez summarized their findings: “The cents columns in these bank statements contain five different sequences of numbers all leading to a final 13 in the cents column and a 0 in the dollars column. Though two of the sequences are almost the same. With the help of the OEIS, we have identified two sequences that are very different: the Fibonacci numbers and a sequence having something to do with chains of primes that I don’t quite understand. Prof. Grantham here couldn’t find any mathematical explanation for the sequences of dollar amounts, which all seem to be different except that they are descending sequences ending up at 0.” Matthews thought for a little bit. “So, does this math mumbojumbo tell us who is robbing these people?” “Not to me it doesn’t,” Lopez said. “What if someone is trying to send a message?” Washington asked, looking at Grantham. “What would that message be?” Lopez asked. “Look at me, I’m robbing you blind and you can’t catch me?” “I’m not sure there is enough information content to encode that message,” Grantham said. “‘Look at me, I’m robbing you blind and you can’t catch me,’ even without spaces or punctuation, that would be forty, forty-one, forty-two bytes.”

#

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“You’re using 8-bit ASCII?” Washington asked. “Or can you ignore uppercase and lowercase and that way reduce by half the—” “I am concerned,” Matthews started delicately as he slid his thumbs under his suspenders, “that all this math talk is distracting us from catching the thieves. I can believe that they would deliberately leave just thirteen cents in the accounts at the end, that would be enough of a calling card. But if the other numbers are there purely by chance, then we’re chasing zebras trying to find patterns that just aren’t there.” “It is possible for these numbers to be here purely by chance,” Grantham said, pointing to a print- out with yellow highlighting. “The odds of that are roughly one in three hundred billion. You have a better chance of winning a lottery jackpot.” “All right, you’ve convinced me that these numbers are not here by chance,” Matthews said. “But you haven’t convinced me that these numbers are some kind of encoded message.” “Could the message be in the dollar amounts?” Washington asked. “Maybe. It is a descending sequence, but it might be possible to encode a message with it,” Grantham said. “Wait a minute: what about the seconds column in the transaction times?” Lopez asked. “I only see hours and minutes in this statement,” Matthews said holding up one of the print-outs. “That’s one of the Fourth Sixth Bank statements,” Lopez explained. “But the Third Michigan Credit Union statements also show the seconds.”
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Washington looked among the print-outs for another Third Michigan print-out highlighted in yellow. “Let’s see... 10:59:22 a.m., 11:00:26 a.m., 11:01:14 a.m., 11:02:26 a.m.” Lopez read from his print-out: “6:47:22 p.m., 6:48:26 p.m., 6:49:14 p.m., 6:50:26 p.m.” “And when it reaches 13 in the dollars and cents column, there are a bunch of reward points transactions,” Washington said, then grabbed a blank sheet of paper and pinned it to a wall. He wrote “vznzlrnefbyqubfgntrvafbhgusrvyq” on the sheet. “You know those sheets the printer spits out when it’s confused? That’s what that looks like to me,” Lopez said. “That looks like ROT13 to me,” Grantham said. “ROT13?” Lopez asked as Grantham wrote “Imamyearsoldhostageinsouthfeild” under “Vznzlrnefbyqubfgntrvafbhgusrvyq.” “You rotate letters thirteen places: As become Ns, Bs become Os, Cs become Ps and so on and so forth,” Washington explained. “Imam years old hostage in Southfeild,” he read. “An imam is going to blow up Southfield?” Matthews asked. “No, I’m a 13-year-old hostage in Southfield,” Grantham said. “Some of the numbers are meant as numbers, not letters.” Grantham then grabbed a Third Michigan print-out with blue highlighting and started writing some more apparent gibberish followed by something that made a little more sense. “Huh. An address in Parsons Drive, Southfield,” Matthews said.

#
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An unmarked van showed up near the Parsons Drive address. Lopez deployed a small flying camera to the second floor of the house. They saw a hallway with all the doors closed. Then one of the doors opened and a man came out of the room, leaving a boy tied to a chair in front a computer. The man went downstairs to talk to another man. From the van, Matthews said “All units, move in.” One SWAT team member jumped into a second story window and untied the boy. A couple of SWAT team members burst into the house through the front door and arrested the two men. Another SWAT team discovered a family of four tied up in the basement. The boy was brought to Matthews. “Are you all right?” he asked the boy. “I’m fine,” the boy said. “How’s my dad, my brother, my sister, my baby brother?” “We don’t know yet. Did your captors touch you in any way you do not like?” “They tied me up when they couldn’t keep an eye on me. They said they would kill me if I used the computer to call the cops.” “What did they make you do on the computer?” “Rob banks.” The boy broke down crying. “They killed my mother when I tried to e-mail my uncle.” The SWAT team members allowed the father to hug his boy. “I love you, son, you are okay now,” the father said crying. Then he said to the cops: “He has always been a bright boy.” “He misspelled Southfield,” Lopez said. Washington gave Lopez a weird look. “That accounted for the two sequences that were
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almost the same.” Lopez took a few steps away and lighted a cigarette. Washington turned to the kid: “Don’t listen to the haters.” The cops read the kidnappers their rights.

[13 Cents is a story for a teleplay for a police procedural set in Detroit. If it were to be produced, it would be the second episode of the first season. In the first episode, the detectives solved the case of the garbage truck robbery but made little progress on a gun store heist. All persons in the story are fictional, but the following institutions are real: the Detroit Police Department, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), Oakland University and the On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (OEIS).]

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Chapter 7 Equations
Remy was starting to stink. He’d been putting it off, delaying the inevitable, but sooner or later he had to take a shower and wash off the accumulating grime festering beneath his orange jumpsuit. Now was the time. He resolved that under no circumstances would he drop the soap. Technically, this would be his second prison shower. When he was first admitted, he, along with the other new fish, were deloused and hosed down in accordance with admissions protocol. But that had been at least marginally under the supervision of corrections officers. This would be his first time rubbing naked elbows with the general population, and he’d been dreading it. Over the last couple of weeks, his only ablutions had consisted of the occasional wash at the sink in his cell, serving to dilute the filth, but not removing much of it. And if you smell bad enough, the other inmates might be less inclined to rape you, but after you reach an intolerable level of olfactory insult, someone may simply kill you, just to be rid of the stench. Your anus isn’t the only thing exposed and vulnerable in the shower. All that soft flesh around it is undefended as well, from head to toe. There is nothing stuffed beneath your shirt to partially turn a shank, and you have precious few places to hide a weapon of your
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own. There’s nowhere to run. The guards don’t go into that wet, slippery deathtrap, so they allow the rule of the jungle in there. Only after the prisoners are safely locked down in their cells will a couple of corrections officers occasionally venture in to pull a soggy corpse out. Trying to project an aura of confidence and psychopathic danger, Remy strode as casually as he could to the end of the short line that formed outside the shower. The other men, a pair of skinhead Aryans, their toned, muscular bodies covered in swastikas and white power tattoos, paid him scant attention. The Nazis were swapping tales about the many women they’d enjoyed on the outside, exploits of dubious authenticity. Another prisoner came out of the shower and one of the skinheads went in. The other turned around and met Remy’s eyes for a brief instant. Remy looked up. Didn’t look away. Didn’t smile. Didn’t grimace. It was a coldly calculated look, cultivated by all prisoners who are serious about getting out alive. It said, “I mean you no disrespect. None whatsoever. But I am not afraid of you and I will kill you if I have any reason.” The skinhead said nothing, his head nodding almost imperceptibly before he turned back around. A fat, hairy biker, with a beard like a Brillo pad, came up from behind. He stepped between Remy and the skinhead, clomping the latter on the shoulder. The skinhead spun around instantly, hands up, the left balled into a tight fist, the right in a sort of claw, ready to gauge out eyes, punch throats, whatever was necessary. But he relaxed when he saw who it was.

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“Jeez, Turbo. Ya scared the shit out of me. I thought you was one of them fuckin’ rugheads that’s got it in for me.” “Yeah, you wish,” the biker joked. “I know you secretly want a big black dick up your ass. All you fucking skinheads do.” “No, I just want to fuck your mother again. That’s what I want.” Remy ignored the witty repartee. But there was something he couldn’t ignore. Turbo had cut in line right in front of him. How much was it worth? One place in line. Maybe a two-minute wait, maybe less. For this, would Remy risk getting killed? Certainly not, but this was a subtle game with complex strategies. There was far more at stake. As casual as Turbo had been about it, he was gauging Remy, who had far more to lose than two minutes waiting in line. At stake was his reputation, the single most valuable possession a man in prison has. He has to guard that with his life, because without it, his life is worth nothing. If you don’t fight back over a place in line, a bowl of Jello, or a couple of cigarettes lent out at the standard 100% interest, then you are setting yourself up for constant repeated victimization. On the outside world, a sensible man would never get into a fight over something as trivial as a place in line. But here, if you don’t fight, tooth, nail, and shank for that place in line, that bowl of Jello, that apology that was your due because someone bumped you in the chow haul, any of a thousand tiny, virtually insignificant slights and transgressions, then there may as well be a big sign painted on your ass, reading: “come on in!” Remy paused, considering his move, noticing that another

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convict was on his way out. He waited for the skinhead to go in. The biker had at least 60 pounds on him. No reason he should have an ally as well. When the skinhead was gone, Remy took his stand. “I’m in there next.” The biker turned around, slowly, his face reddening. “What the fuck did you just say?” “I said I’m in there next. You want to step in front of me to talk to your dawg there,” the prison slang fell awkwardly out of his mouth, “that’s your business. No disrespect intended. But I’m in the shower next.” It was looking more and more likely that Remy’s first prison shower experience was not to be a pleasant one, but he had little choice in the matter. Backing down, showing weakness: that was certain to hurt him more in the long run, though it might save him a beating in the short run. The game was iterated, and every inmate knew it. Game theorists would represent it something like this:

This is a payoff table, game theorists’ most ubiquitous tool. Each player chooses between two options, and these two choices determine one of the four boxes in the table. The first value in each
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pair, in the lower left hand corner of each box is for the player on the vertical axis, in this case the attacker (specifically, Turbo). The second, in the upper right hand corner, is the payoff to the player on the horizontal axis, in this case the victim (Remy, right now). The attacker receives 1 point, if the victim gives up. A free Jello. A place in line. Whatever. Some small reward that makes prison life just a tiny little bit more bearable. The victim loses that Jello or that place in line, which is represented by the loss of one point. If he fights back against a much larger, meaner opponent, the beating he receives will entail considerably more suffering than the loss of the place in line, and so we have a five point loss representing broken bones, lost teeth, etc. Why then would he resist? Because although it causes him considerable discomfort to fight back (a loss of five points, instead of just one), the assailant experiences a small but significant loss as well, as his weaker opponent is still likely to get at least a few solid hits in (one point lost as opposed to a one point gain, as our handy chart shows). These games are iterated, repeated over and over, and contestants adjust their choice of strategy based upon the strategies the opponent chose on previous encounters. So, although in a non-iterated game, the “give up” strategy is clearly superior, in an iterated game with a rational opponent, the “fight back” strategy emerges as dominant, because the attacker doesn’t care how many points his opponent loses, five points every time in our example above. He just gets tired of losing that one point himself upon each repetition of the game. Most game theory experiments allow the contestants to define
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algorithms dictating what strategy they will use against opponents, based upon their previous experience with those opponents. In prison, the assailant chooses opponents based upon the strategies they are likely to employ. Naturally, they choose opponents who employ the “give up” strategy, as this provides the largest payoff. Players who expect to be playing the game for a substantial length of time (e.g. not up for parole any time soon) are thus advised to shun this seemingly superior strategic approach. The biker got right in his face. “I could snap you in two.” Remy just stood his ground. “Maybe you could. But then you’d have a murder rap on your hands. Unless you’ve already got one, I don’t think you want that. Are you in for murder?” “None of your fucking business, bitch.” “You’re right. That’s a breach of etiquette, isn’t it?” Remy said, not breaking eye contact, not trembling or flinching. “Aggravated assault,” the biker growled, cracking his knuckles. Asking what someone is in for can be a serious prison faux pas, but some guys like to brag. “Well, don’t you have the impressive credentials on your résumé?” Remy said, leaning in a little closer. “You’re obviously not a man I want to fuck with. But if you are taking me for easy prey, you are sorely mistaken. I want to make that clear. I’ve hurt people, badly. If you decide to fuck with me, it will be a grave mistake and you will eventually regret it immensely. I’m just giving you the facts so you can make an informed decision.” No game theorist, Turbo took a swing.
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Remy dodged, the massive fist slamming with a crack into the wall behind him. He shoved his left elbow into the biker’s solar plexus, driving him back. Overestimating the damage inflicted, Remy let his guard down as he pulled his fist back to pummel his opponent further. Turbo swept his right foot out, hooking Remy’s left leg and knocking him down. He shielded his face with his arms as the kicks came in. Only one of these landed, only partially deflected, the rest bruising his upper arms but doing no more serious damage. Then they stopped, suddenly. Remy looked up and saw Turbo entering the shower, cursing and cradling his right hand. “You there. What’s going on?” A guard had just rounded the corner, saving Remy from further injury. Turbo had made his point and had no interest in spending a month in the hole, so he’d quickly shuffled into the shower. “N-nothing,” Remy said, getting to his feet, slurping up the blood coming out of his mangled lip. “I, uh, slipped. It’s slippery over here. You know . . . water, soap . . . ” He spit some blood. “Uh, huh,” the guard said, not believing this explanation for a second, but willing to pretend he did to save himself trouble and paperwork. “Look, just get down to the infirmary, okay? We don’t want you bleeding all over the place. That’s a health hazard.” “Yes sir,” Remy said. A direct order from a guard was a godsend at that point. He didn’t want to go into the shower with Turbo in there, but backing down now would have been no better than if he’d given up from the start. As an added bonus, several cons in the shower and the hall had witnessed the altercation and heard Remy’s

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refusal to snitch, which immediately boosted his reputation, at least a tiny little bit. He didn’t back down, and he didn’t snitch. Limping off to the infirmary, blood trickling down his chin, the casual observer would be unlikely to guess that Remy had just scored an impressive number of points.

The infirmary staff patched him up as best as they were able, or at least willing. They wouldn’t give him any painkillers, which they seldom dished out to any but terminal AIDS patients or those beaten into unrecognizable sacks of smashed bones and inflamed nerve endings. But they did give him sterile towels to absorb the blood, and some oral antibiotics, along with a receipt. The cost of the antibiotics was being charged directly to his commissary account. He’d been under the delusion that some incarnation of socialized medicine existed within the prison system, though he had to admit there wasn’t any justification for that asinine assumption. As he was leaving, he saw Turbo enter the infirmary to see about getting his mildly fractured hand set in a cast or at least wrapped in an ace bandage. He scowled at Remy, but didn’t say a word. A pair of guards seemed to read the biker’s thoughts, tightly gripping the clubs hanging at their sides, ready for trouble. Remy caught his eye squarely, glancing briefly down, then back up again. The injured biker was holding his right hand in his left. Remy applied the cold press to his face, shaking his head from side to side. He allowed the subtlest suggestion of a grin to steal stealthily across his swollen lips,
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hoping this would convey the idea, “Don’t you feel just a little bit stupid?” The biker returned a look connoting nothing but cold rage. Now sweatier and stinkier, Remy returned to the shower. There was no line now, only a few others scrubbing up. Four black prisoners were singing a polished R&B number as they washed, their voices remarkably harmonious, evidence of considerable practice. A few others lathered and rinsed in silence. New fish are inevitable objects of scrutiny. The choir didn’t miss a beat, nor did the others make any overt gestures, but all watched him as he came in. While they made no threatening moves, their searching eyes were nevertheless unwelcome, but Remy ignored it and removed his clothing, drawing more attention as his body art was revealed. Beneath his shirt, covering most of his chest, back and shoulders, ending just above the elbow of each arm, Remy was decorated with tattoos. This alone was no mark of distinction. Many in the prison sported far more ink, but his tats were different. They caught the eye, boggled the observer, confused, and on some level, intimidated. Others bore swastikas, bleeding daggers, snakes with fangs bared, some rendered so vividly, one could see the reflection of light off the copiously dripping venom. Remy’s tattoos wouldn’t send enormous men with overactive pituitary glands and extra y chromosomes running off in fear, but on some ineffable, visceral level, his were even more disturbing. People fear what they cannot understand, and permanently painted upon his skin, in a dizzying collage covering his torso, were dozens and dozens of mathematical symbols, expressions, and equations.
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  Chapter 8 Billiards and Euclid
Ancient Greek mathematicians did not, according to all available historical and archeological evidence, shoot pool. A shame, because they really would have loved it. Pythagoras would have executed devastating breaks. Thales of Miletus would have performed devious multiple combinations. Archimedes would have delighted in finely crafted bank shots to sink the 8-ball into the corner. There are few games that make better illustrations of classical geometry. All those parallel and perpendicular lines, reflected angles and so forth. Virtually every geometric principle described in Euclid’s Elements can be expressed in some situation that might arise on a pool table. And, if one is a diligent enough student of this branch of applied geometry, there are frequent opportunities to turn knowledge into profit. But when money does come into play, so too does an entirely different aspect of the game, a meta-game, having nothing to do with geometry or eye-hand coordination, and quite closely resembling poker and similar endeavors addressed by game theory. When people hustle one another at pool, it’s a series of escalating deceptions in which the players pretend to be worse than they are. Knowing when to call a bluff is a delicate blend of gut instinct and cold, reasoned analysis.
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Mack was right at home on the green felt rectangle, and his game was far above average. Back in the days of his wild and frivolously misspent youth, he would regularly forgo his classes, choosing instead to haunt pool halls. There he intensively developed his billiards skill, a fiendish nicotine addiction, and the network of business contacts that would come to serve him well in his chosen occupation of lowlife criminal. Mack was good. Remy was even better, having honed his hand-eye coordination to match his deep geometric understanding of the game. And, his mathematical acumen leaning even more in the direction of game theory than classical geometry, he was considerably more adept at the meta-game. “So, you’re pretty good?” Remy asked Mack as they made their way down the street in the direction of the pool hall. A light misty rain began to fall and they quickened their pace. “Yeah. I’m pretty good.” “How are you at using a pool cue to beat people who welch on billiards wagers?” “Even better. I may turn pro.” “Good. Playing well and having the strength to collect are important, but we must also give attention to the hustling end of things, convincing the other players that they are better than we are, when we know they aren’t. Or, rather, when we can ascribe a reasonably high level of probability to the fact that they aren’t. The approach I’ve always found to be effective is to use greed, recklessness and testosterone to our advantage.”
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“No problem. I’ve got plenty of all three.” “Not ours. The other guys’ ” “Oh. Right.” “Now, we will lose the first game, which we’ll negotiate for a mere five dollars, the sort of wager rank amateurs might consider interesting.” They proceeded briskly down a dimly illuminated side street, the light but chilly rain beginning to dig into their bones. “Play as well as you can play but still lose. Don’t knock in all our balls like clockwork and then scratch the eight at the end. They must feel that they could win again, that they will win again, not that they got lucky. And it’s no good letting them annihilate us, and then trying to bet more, as this will advertise the fact that we are sharks.” “Check.” “We lose a close game, and then we get a little sore. Not too sore. We get a little sore and say something that feeds their egos.” “How about, ‘ah, you cocksuckers got lucky,’” Mack suggested. “Eliminate reference to felatio and that will do just fine. We are trying to win money at pool, not to become enmeshed in a brawl. Let’s try to stay goal-oriented.” “I kinda like brawls.” “Your fond memories of lost teeth will not stuff our mattresses with cash. ‘Ah, you got lucky’ is good. Perfect. They will undoubtedly agree to another. This time for ten dollars. We lose this one too. Just barely, but we lose.” “Boy, we suck.” “At this point, it will serve us to act as if we are more intoxicated
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than we actually are. We do not take our loss well. Again, Mack, let’s steer clear of references to sexual services, but we need something that will appeal to their false sense of superiority, make them feel like they are taking a couple of hotheaded novices for a ride.” “How about ‘I never saw such lucky bastards in my life.’ ” “That will do nicely. But don’t get creative with it and start a fight.” “Your lack of faith wounds me,” Mack said, clapping his closed hand to his chest, then hacking up a loogie and spitting into a puddle. “We get them to go for twenty dollars a ball on the last game,” Remy continued. “We’ll flip a coin for the break. We’ll win. You let me break.” “How do you know we’ll win the coin toss?” “I’ve got that part covered.” They stepped into the pool hall, a seedy joint called “Bank Shots,” hoping to find a pair of cocky, drunk, reasonably wealthy suckers to hustle. The smell of beer and cigarette smoke assaulted and battered the nostrils, and at least one of the players, unseen but not unsmelled, was smoking a cheap cigar, its distinctive odor cutting through the other scents and demanding aromatic center stage. The foul, fuliginous atmosphere was poorly lit, though an inverted cone surrounding a single suspended bulb above each table illuminated the green rectangular arenas, oases of light in the desert of dim shadows. Colored neon beer signs glowed through the smoky haze but did little to illuminate it.

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The bar did not cater to the refined palate, and, in fact, a refined palate could not help but feel openly mocked. No top-shelf liquor on their top shelf. No micro-brewed beer. It was exclusively bottomshelf and macro-brewed. One glance at the neon was enough for Remy to infer that his own preference, red wine from the Bordeaux region of France, was out of the question. They got a couple of bad beers and took a table near the center where they could observe the other players. “Just knock the balls around a little,” Remy instructed under his breath. “No fancy shots.” “Yeah, okay. I’m not as dumb as I look.” “I wouldn’t trust you with a long stick if I thought you were,” Remy said with the barest intimation of a grin as he retrieved the rack from beneath the pool table and Mack chalked up his cue. “Now, let’s go trolling for marks.” “How about those two?” Mack suggested, pointing with his chin to a pair of young guys, one of whom had just sent the cue ball over the side with an overzealous break and was chasing it across the grimy floor. “I sincerely doubt they could be persuaded to wager much on the strength of their skill. Have patience.” He racked the balls, a ritual reeking of geometry. Positioning the 15 spheres within the equilateral triangle, placing one vertex of that triangle on the center point of a line segment perpendicular to the long axis of the large rectangle, one quarter from one end, while Mack positioned the cue ball in the center of a parallel line segment, one quarter from the other end.
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“Just break,” Remy said, adding quietly, “Play a mediocre game. We’ll find the marks.” Mack broke, dropping a low ball. He knocked another one in to follow and was sizing up a long bank shot when Remy hissed between his teeth, shaking his head almost imperceptibly from side to side. Mack nodded, almost, but not quite as subtly, and took a shot at a ball close to a side pocket. From the relative position of the cue ball, the target, and the hole, the shot was not difficult; it was impossible. Though many an amateur would have found it an inviting target, thinking he could put it in if he hit it just right, there was no way to make that shot. Barring influence from some external forces, the laws of physics would not stand for it under any circumstances. Mack knew it. Not with the precise, mathematical certainty that Remy knew it was impossible, but from the experience of having tried and failed that shot countless times in the past. The ball missed the hole, bouncing a few inches back from the cushion. “Oh shucks,” Mack said, with less thespian skill than he could have mustered, had he made a more diligent effort. Remy sent him a brief, vicious glare. “Sorry,” Mack said, pulling out a cigarette from the pack in his shirt pocket and lighting it. A little damp from the rain, it sputtered and hissed as it burned. Remy knocked one ball in, a simple straight shot. He continued to glance around the room as he pretended to survey the arrangement of balls on the table, his gaze falling again on a pair in the corner he’d been clandestinely surveying.

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“There they are,” he said, as he made another easy shot. He said it casually but with unquestionable confidence, his eyes darting for the briefest instant over to indicate the pair of marks. He took another shot, intentionally scratching the cue ball into the corner as it caromed off the target, then made a very convincing grimace of frustration. “I’ve been discreetly observing their play,” he continued, speaking quietly out of the side of his mouth as he moved to retrieve the cue ball. “I can tell by the way they’re playing that they’re good— not great, although definitely above average—but they’re holding back. Don’t turn and look at them. Here. Come take your shot.” Mack switched places with Remy, moving around to position the cue ball at a convenient point behind the head string, his eyes flickering up from the table a few times to take a gander at the marks. They each made a few shots and missed a few. Mack dropped the last of the low balls, then blew a relatively easy shot on the eight. “Don’t overdo it,” Remy mumbled quietly. “Don’t miss a shot any novice could make.” “You worry too much. Nobody’s paying any attention to us.” “Are you paying attention to the way they are playing?” “Yeah.” “Well, it’s never a good strategy to presume that your opponents are idiots. They might not make the best moves available, and you can hope that they don’t, especially in zero-sum games such as this one, where that is always to your advantage. But your own strategy should always assume the opponent will make the best move. Basic game theory.”
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“Fine.” Remy tapped the 8-ball in, ending their game. “Should we just go up to them now? Challenge them to a game?” Mack asked. “No. That would send a message that we think pretty highly of our own ability. We want them off their guard. See that group of people outside coming down the side of the building, toward the entrance? They’ll be coming in the door in about 30 seconds. When they do, they will find this table open, because we are going to go to the bar for more beer.” “Here, here,” Mack enthused with raised pool stick. “More beer.” He hung the cue back up on the wall and leered shamelessly at a passing bosom. The group outside came in just as Remy and Mack were ordering their drinks at the bar. As predicted, the newcomers took the table they’d just vacated. “Now look at that,” Remy said. “No open tables.” He scowled at the opportunists who had moved in on his territory. “So now we casually approach those gentlemen over there, asking if they might be interested in playing us, as we timed our beer break so poorly and lost our table. This will reduce suspicion that we are hustlers and put them less on guard than if we simply walked right up and challenged them.” “Hey, you’re good at this,” Mack said. “I know. Just be prepared to back me up when I drop the 8-ball on the big money game. There could be violence.”

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“Hope springs eternal.” They finished their beers, Remy leaving half his bottle of Budweiser on the bar, comparing its flavor to moderately chilled equine urine, and not too well chilled at that. This assessment didn’t stop Mack from polishing it off. “Belch,” Remy suggested discreetly as they strolled toward their marks. Full of carbonation, Mack easily obliged. “Hey, uh, you guys up for a game?” Remy mumbled as they approached, adopting more colloquial diction and elocution. He addressed the idle player, standing off to the side while his buddy made a shot. The unoccupied one was a tall skinny white guy, with a scraggly confusion of dirty brown hair. He wore a leather vest and had a hand rolled cigarette the size of a small cigar clamped in his jaw, the burning tobacco dry, cheap, and stinky. The one taking the shot was on the chunky side. Of indeterminate though obviously mixed lineage, with a black man’s nose, but very light brown skin. His head was cleanly shaved bald on top, but a thick, untrimmed beard hung on his chin. In the few minutes Remy and Mack had been surreptitiously observing the two of them, this one had produced no oral expressions save a few grunts. A bead of sweat had run from the top of his hairless head and took the path of least resistance down the slalom of his nose. He wiped it away, grunted, and banked the five into the corner. “Nice shot,” Remy said, sounding very much as if he were genuinely impressed, though he was not. “Grunt.”

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The tall one took a deep drag on his cigarette, then tapped the ashes onto the floor. “Lost your table?” he asked “Yeah,” Remy said, glancing back toward their recently vacated real estate. “Look at ‘em. Couple of kids with their girlfriends. Probably don’t even know how to play.” “So I guess you guys are pretty good, huh?” “Yeah,” Remy said, shrugging his shoulders. “We’re not bad, I guess. But, it’s your table. We’ll give it back to you after it’s over, even if we win. We just want to get a game in.” The squat, chubby one looked up and grunted again, then knocked the two ball closer to a corner but didn’t quite sink it. He grunted. “You think you might win, huh?” the skinny one said, snickering as he chalked up his cue. “Care for a friendly little wager on the outcome?” “Jeez, I don’t know Remy,” Mack said. “I don’t wanna lose any money.” This was not a part of their script, but Remy improvised. “Come on Mack. Um, how about five bucks. How’s that sound?” he diffidently asked the chubby one, who’d switched places with his partner while the latter made a long shot across the table knocking the 13 into the corner pocket. “Grunt.” The skinny guy looked up. “Sure. Five bucks. That’d make it a little interesting, at least. We don’t have to finish this one we’re playing.” “Thanks. I’ll rack,” Remy volunteered.
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The skinny guy broke, but nothing went in. The four of them then knocked the balls around for a while, Remy and Mack holding back in order to reel in their fish. But as poorly as they tried to play, the others were even worse. Mack got impatient and dropped a few balls in a row. They were so easy, he couldn’t very well miss them and maintain the illusion that he was earnestly trying to sink them. He expected a dirty look from his partner, surprised to receive only a brief knowing grin, though he couldn’t tell exactly what it was that the grin knew. Remy himself finally made a few easy shots to end the game. The tall one set down his cue and pulled out a tobacco pouch to roll another cigarette. “Ah you guys got lucky,” he said as he twisted up his cancer stick. “But that’s all it was, luck. Ten bucks on the next game, unless you’re chicken.”  

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Chapter 9 Ethical Calculus
“Rise and shine, Martin,” Captain Bigger ordered from outside Remy’s cell. “Got some news for you.” A couple of uneventful weeks had passed, weeks full of monotonous days made up of tedious hours composed of essentially nondescript minutes. It was a little before 7 a.m. The morning count had yet to commence and all the prisoners on the block were still locked in their cells. Some of the Muslims were chanting morning prayers, occasionally punctuated by a shout of disapproval from a sleepy infidel, but other than that the cellblock was quiet. In half an hour, lights would be switched on all up and down the tiers, speakers would blare orders, and hundreds of men would scramble to get their clothes on and line up to be counted, but for now all was dim and still. “Open 31,” the captain barked into a walkie-talkie, remotely commanding one of his underlings at the control station in the center of the cellblock. A second later the door electronically snapped ajar and Bigger stepped into Remy’s house. “Yes, some news for Remy Martin, and it doesn’t look good for you. Vicker’s gonna sing.” Remy sat up; raised an eyebrow but didn’t speak.

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“Looks like you’re gonna be in here for a long time. Longer than you thought. Sorry to disappoint you.” “You appear quite devastated, Captain. I appreciate your heartfelt sympathy.” “Yeah, well you ought to can the sarcasm, Martin. I’m doing you a favor.” “Really?” Remy raised the eyebrow again, a scintilla higher this time. “How is that?” “You can cut your sentence down by two years if you turn evidence against him. It would serve that bastard right. You’re going to do ten years if you don’t. You’ll be out in eight if you do. Take what you can get, Martin. I got the paperwork right here. You just have to sign on the dotted line. But you better do it fast, or he’ll cut the deal, be out in two years and you’ll be stuck with ten.” “And what has moved you to such benevolence, Captain?” Remy asked, his elocution as slow, clear and somewhat spooky as ever. “It’s simple enough. I know a little bit about the situation and I consider you the lesser of two evils. It would really irk me to see that son-of-a-bitch partner of yours skip out in just two years, that’s all. I don’t particularly give a damn if you do eight or ten, okay? I’m not pretending I have any great affection for you.” “I thank you for not insulting my intelligence.” “Yeah. Look, Martin, that rat has turned on you, and I want him locked up as long as possible. Why should he get a slap on the wrist, while you rot away for a decade? Do yourself a favor.” He shoved the papers at Remy.

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“I’ll take it under consideration,” Remy said as he reached up slowly to take the forms. “You do that,” Bigger said as he left, locking the door behind him.

Maybe it was true. Remy had no way of knowing. Though he was an astute observer of human behavior, alert to the subtle nuances unwittingly expressed through non-verbal communication, he couldn’t tell. He’d be willing to bet, at steep odds, that the captain was a skilled liar, though he’d have to find a damned foolish bookie. If true, if Mack had really agreed to testify, then Remy had nothing to lose by turning evidence against him. He’d be out in eight years if he did, instead of ten. But even if Bigger were lying, he’d still cut himself a break by testifying. He’d be out in just two years if he cooperated with the authorities and Mack didn’t. He’d be in for four if they both stayed quiet. Whether or not the captain was lying, trying to trick him into testifying, it didn’t change his position much. Either way, he’d be better off if he turned Mack in. Regardless of what Mack did. Likewise, Mack had everything to gain by testifying against his former partner, no matter what Remy decided to do. And Remy could only guess that if the state, through the persuasive Captain Bigger, had lied to him, it had lied to Mack too, and told him Remy was a snitch, a rat, a stool pigeon, about to sacrifice his partner to save himself. No matter what either of them did, the other was better
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off jumping in bed with the DA, but they’d each be better off if they both kept their lips sealed than if they both testified. Each would score more points if neither of them made their best move than if they both did. This was a real dilemma, an ethical conundrum of surprising complexity and, like anything that got Remy thinking at all, it filled his head with thoughts of math. Throughout his life, Remy had been constructing what he called his ethical calculus, a rigid mathematical formalism for deciding whether behavior was right or wrong. He was a criminal. He stole things. He cheated at cards. He devised complex schemes to hasten the inevitable separation of fools and their money. But only after making extensive calculations, applying logical rules of inference to his basic ethical axioms and incorporating appropriate mathematical treatment of probability to uncertain but pertinent data. He would then act—steal, cheat at cards, club a harp seal—if and only if his equations indicated with a high degree of confidence that the action fell firmly on the side of what he’d defined as ethical behavior. Remy was not the first mathematician to conceive of a rigorous deductive approach to determining what was right and what was wrong. His hero, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz had undertaken a similar endeavor centuries earlier. Even non-mathematicians—such as, merely by way of example, the vast majority of humanity—make ethical decisions on the basis of some sort of rudimentary ethical calculus. Or, more frequently, they rationalize their positions and decisions by constructing a framework that produces the desired
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conclusions. They do what they want first, then try to built a logical explanation of why it was the right thing to do. The less logical they are, the more likely they are to succeed. Even without logical and mathematical errors, rational people can still differ in their views on contentious ethical questions. Their ethical frameworks may be based on different sets of axioms, and two systems may each be entirely internally consistent though they produce conclusions wildly incompatible with one another. This is one reason people don’t agree on complex issues, but axiomatic differences are not the most significant factor. Mostly, people just aren’t very good at math.

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