Monday, 23 June 2008

The Secret Mathematic - Chapter Twenty-Four

The Secret Mathematic is an original novel told in an indefinite number of chapters, posted serially by me, your densely-scheduled host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the twenty-fourth installment.

Chapters: 1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9|10|11|12|13|14|15|16|17|18|19|20|21|22|23|24|...

Multimedia: Listen to the The Secret Mathematic Overture in MP3 format, by Syntax Error.

Related reading: Stubborn Town, Three Face Flip, The Long Man, Plight of the Transformer, The Extra Cars

And now, the story continues:


In the Shah's country, at the heart of the Shah's city, nestled in the most secure chamber of the Shah's palace, six top generals and their aides convene around a dodecagonal conference table of solid black opal, their faces reflected as inky ghosts trapped inside its polished surface. Hanging from the ceiling above them is a humming video projector; splashed over the wall before them is a dizzying array of graphs, flow-charts and maps.

The windows are shaded. The air slowly churns with cigar smoke.

"The question is," continues the speaker, "how much do they know? Next slide, please. Our best intelligence had posited the possession of Jamijama codices twenty through twenty-nine, but a review of more recent activity indicates that their copy of the twenty-ninth codex may be incomplete. Current operations suggest no knowledge of the tenth stanza of codex twenty-nine, which may play to our advantage if combined with a careful infusion of psyop misdirection."

The Shah nods from his high-backed chair, adjusting the gold-rimmed spectacles that sit on his nose. "Very good, General. Design a campaign. I would like to review it before the end of the week."

"We have a psyop team developing the programme now, Highness."

"Excellent. And what of the possibility of collusion?"

The general flips through a dossier handed to him by his aide. "The Secret Church of Heindel's Law has a complete copy of twenty-nine, Highness, but we estimate the risk of collusion as low. The Heindelites and the Hubbardians have a long-standing feud still in progress -- cooperation between them would be unthinkable at this point in time." He looks up from the dossier. "Victory is a more imminent threat, Highness. The Hubbardian objective seems to be to bleed the Heindelites by a thousand small wounds inflicted via a concerted payload of civil legal actions."

The Shah rasps the white whiskers on his chin thoughtfully. "What is your recommendation, General? Shall we shore up the Heindelite defense?"

The general hesitates. "The numbers aren't with us, Highness. My recommendation is to annihilate the Heindelites and thus remove them from the equation entirely."

"What about a tactical strike on their secret library?"

"With respect, we could not ensure containment that way. The Heindelites have a long history of employing hypnosis to encode fragments of critical data across a sampling of followers." The general leans forward, his hands folded before him. "If the objective is to nullify this threat, Highness, there is simply no alternative: the entire congregation must be purged."

The Shah is silent for a moment, staring at the graphs over the general's head. At last he sighs and says, "So be it, General. Silence them all."

When the generals have concluded they file out of the chamber, replaced within the minute by a retinue of scientists and engineers. They shuffle their papers and clear their throats as they take seats. The video projector flashes error blue for a moment before engaging the new package of material. The projection on the wall glows orange with a vista of rusty, rocky terrain.

The Shah bids the project leader to begin.

"Ahem, thank you. Highness, ladies and gentlemen. Ahem. As of fourteen hundred hours GMT yesterday our group has completed Phase Seven, successfully landing a team of six new specialists at Camp Alpha. They will be proceeding today with the initiation of Phase Eight by assembling and testing launch vehicles for our second stage global telemetry project. We anticipate completion of this next phase within five months, with full functionality of the new satellite network following over the course of two to six weeks thereafter. Once fully operational, our interorbital coverage will be one hundred five percent of field, nineteen times out of twenty, for timescales exceeding four hours."

"What about the American survey mission?"

"We have arranged a sabotage, Highness. The JPL vehicle will never reach orbit."

"Very good."

When the scientists and engineers retire they are replaced by a team of academics. "Highness, we have identified a candidate at Peking University in Beijing, name of Wong Lee Chen, twenty-four years old, currently developing a promising theory under the auspices of Professor Yao involving a novel method of automated set analysis. My man in Asia says the theory has remarkable depth."

"Is the boy one of ours?"

"Not yet, Highness."

"Get him a scholarship. Filter his contacts. Keep me apprised."

The Shah takes lunch on the western patio. He's still wearing his gold-rimmed spectacles, peering through them to ply passages of Nazik Al-Malaika's free verse, his fork a paperweight to keep the book open beside the plate. The loose edges of the pages flutter in the seabreeze.

He eats beef wrapped in grape-leaves. He washes it down with mango. Despite the affectation of insisting that his place be set in the Western style, his utensils remain clean. The Shah uses only his right hand.

After lunch he takes a brisk constitutional through the gardens, his guards diffused around him at a respectful distance. He kneels to sniff a bed of cymbidium orchids.

His next appointment is with Dr. Abrams. He hops up on the examination bed, the crisp paper crunching under his thighs. He unbuttons his shirt awkwardly, then peels it away to expose his scar-crossed cocoa chest under a layer of white hair. Dr. Abrams strides in a moment later. "How's the arm today, Hasan?"

The Shah stretches out his right arm, the gears clicking quietly. Dr. Abrams leans in close to the straps and cup at the shoulder. He unzips a small pocket that allows him to more closely examine the points of connection between the Shah's flesh and the woven graphite superstructure. The Shah says, "It feels fine. I think it's getting smarter."

Abrams sniffs. "It's you that's getting smarter, my friend. The arm is an idiot. Your nervous system, on the other hand? It's adapting well."

Using a small rubber mallet he taps the flexors and extensors of the Shah's wrist and times the responses. He puts the mallet and his stopwatch aside and makes a note in the Shah's thick file. "Reflex times continue to shorten," reports Abrams. "Your body, it never ceases to amaze."

"You give too little credit to the arm, Morris. It's pure genius."

"It's metal and clay. That's not the kind of engineering that turns my crank. Have you seen the arms that God makes? Now that's genius."

"It's a Zhang," presses the Shah. "Molecular kinaesthetic memory, realtime generation of proprioceptive stimulus, direct ulnar messaging -- all without the benefit of silicon electronics. This, Morris, is a feat of engineering that should turn anyone's crank. Atomic clockworks, arranged to perfection by a master."

Dr. Abrams waves this off. "I don't go in for gizmos, Hasan. What can I say?"

The Shah rolls his eyes. "You're a mule, my friend. Thomas Zhang is one of the most gifted artisans I have ever met in all my long days. His creations are no mere gizmos."

"Well, if my arm is lost then maybe I'll rouse some interest. Until then, it's only your stump that matters to me. Call me old fashioned, I like things with a little blood in them. It gives body parts a homey feel."

"You're a ghoul, Morris."

Abrams looks at him askance but says nothing for a moment as he draws a fresh rubber glove from the dispenser on the wall. "Now let's have a look at that prostate."

"Must we?"

Abrams pulls on the glove and snaps it into place. "We must. You know, when a cyborg reaches a certain age..."

"Oh, don't even start, Morris."

Abrams chuckles as he applies lubricant to his gloved index finger. "Drop your shorts and roll over on your side. And try not to clench, Highness."

The Shah sighs and does as he is told.

Twenty minutes later he is at his desk, ringed by a cadre of Indian accountants with their round glasses, prim vests, quaint ties and light suits. The Shah listens to their reports with his chin propped up in one cupped hand, fighting to keep yawns at bay. When the time comes he cracks his knuckles, takes up a pen and signs a stack of proffered cheques with a centuries-old flourish. "Sign here, Your Highness, and here," narrates the clerk. "And initial here, please. And here."

Next comes the security review. A chamber maid needs to be fired, and the Shah is presented with a report indicating she has had little or no exposure to sensitive projects. "She can live," he decides. "Escort her to the gates. Total surveillance for six months, peripheral surveillance for nine."

As one group leaves another enters. Footfalls echo throughout his apartments. Everything the Shah says is studiously written down. The pages are dated, annotated, censored, copied, and finally marked for shredding. So many days, so much the same.

"Shall I send for your coffee now, Highness?"


He smiles broadly when his next appointment arrives. He stands up and comes around his desk to kiss her pale hand. "Dr. Hallow, a pleasure as always," says the Shah. "Please, let's not sit in this office any longer. Won't you join me on the balcony?"

"My papers might blow away, Shah."

"Leave your papers behind, then. If it isn't important enough to remember than it isn't important at all."

"I don't have your memory, of course."

"It won't be the end of the world if something is missed today to be made up tomorrow. C'est la vie, et cetera and tra la la. Besides, you would be obliged to come back and I'll enjoy the company of a lovely young lady again."

"I'm not so young anymore, Shah."

He snorts. "Young enough. Come -- won't you walk with me, Elizabeth?"

The afternoon is cooling. A bank of grey, water-heavy cumulonimbi are rearing up over the sea, the tips flattening and smearing at the tropopause. The breeze brings the smell of rain. From the horizon, thunder rumbles.

The Shah and Dr. Hallow stroll out to the balcony's edge, the palace gardens spread out before them. She eyes the clouds. "We might have to retreat before too long."

He shakes his head. "It's a sea storm. It shan't come inland, my dear."

"You sound so sure."

"I've watched many storms from this balcony. One gets to know their character. A thousand tiny factors conspire to keep the thunderheads off the coast in May, and I'm sure my meteorologists study each of them. Myself, however, I simply smell the wind and watch the whorls. Heuristics over statistics." He smiles grimly and turns to her. "You've made a finding?"

She nods, adjusts her glasses and passes a small notebook from one weathered hand to the other. "Codex ten, Shah. We've managed to corroborate the Korbanot Interpretation by cross-referencing the text with the new Solomon tablet your men recovered from the Rosicrucians."

The Shah's white brows rise. "And?"

"It's a man, Shah," Dr. Hallow declares in a serious tone. "The flesh-abacus is a man. A deformed man, to be specific. The Nazis used the Solomon numbers as a template to re-create the physical traits of the deformity in hopes of thereby re-creating the cognitive deformities that fulfill the abacus function."

"We've been through this. I think we've moved beyond mere speculation that Hitler hoped to hasten the prophecy's fruition by generating favourable conditions for this flesh-abacus to arise."

"True, Shah, true. Now we have their blueprint. Now we have the means to identify the flesh-abacus, should he ever actually arise. The pharmacologically-induced phocomelia is an attempt to draw out a symptom only, a signpost -- the real goal is an exceedingly rare disorder known as Somnianimus conscientia; the Nazis wanted a man with neither arms nor legs --"

"That much we've long ago established," interrupts the Shah impatiently.

"-- Who remains conscious throughout the sleep cycle," persists Dr. Hallow, raising her voice to continue over him. The Shah closes his mouth. Dr. Hallow leans in closer to him, speaking with whispered intensity: "You see, that's the key. We're talking about an individual with unfettered access to the raw calculatory power of his own subconscious. We're talking about a walking biological computer."

The Shah blinks slowly. "Somnianimus conscientia..." He pauses then, furrowing his brow. "We have intelligence that a pair of girls were born several years ago in Orissa, India -- a set of identical Untouchables with birth defects the local people consider divine in origin."


- "Conjoined twins, fully fused, with a growth of abnormal corpus callosum-like tissue bridging the brains." He looks at Dr. Hallow significantly. "They say the girls are asleep and awake simultaneously."

Dr. Hallow's eyes widen. "This has been verified? Physicians have seen the girls?"

The Shah shakes his head. "The parents don't want doctors anywhere near. They're afraid someone will take their girls away. They believe they have been blessed, and through them, the world." He straightens. "Naturally, I have a team en route."

"Naturally," she says with a small smile. She takes off her glasses, polishes them, and put them back on. "What are the limbs like?"

"I would have to consult the report, my dear. I believe there is an extra arm -- shrunken, semi-functional."

She bites her lip. "I don't think that's our abacus. If codex ten is indeed our guide, then we've now established a very explicit qualification for 'he who is called by the hidden calendar' -- no natural limbs. In light of the Solomon tablet this is no longer a question, but one of our firmest and most specific leads."

"You're certain, Elizabeth?"

She nods primply. "You pay me to be certain, Shah. I'm a scientist first. Personally, I don't mind telling you that I've never been fully convinced that any of this is necessarily true -- what I do know, however, is that a thread of internal consistency can be teased out of the source material. If the prophecy is a fiction, I can detail for you what shape that fiction ought to take. That's it. And I'm telling you now, the flesh-abacus has a preternatural continuity of consciousness, is very likely male, and is certainly limbless."

As the Shah considers this the sound of hurried footfalls begins to echo from within his apartments. Dr. Hallow turns to the doorway. Bahram runs out to them, slows as he crosses the balcony, then leans into the railing to catch his breath. "Father!" he gasps.

"What is it?" cries the Shah, touching his shoulder with graphite fingers.

Bahram straightens and faces him, his chest still working to capture more air. Between breaths he manages to say, "We've found him!"

Dr. Hallow frowns. "The flesh-abacus?"

"No," cries Bahram. "The author!" The sun has disappeared behind the thunderheads as they drift west. A country of shadow bleeds over the city, over the palace gardens, over the balcony.

The Shah staggers backward, his eyes very wide. "Bahram -- can it really be?"

"The author of what?" demands Dr. Hallow.

A halo of sunshine, the rays tinted by moisture, wreaths the anvil cloud over the sea and casts a strange, unearthly light on Nuribad. Distant thunder mutters. "The author of the Veiled Computations," replies the Shah heavily. "The man who lives at the crux of everything my entire long life has been about." He wheels on Bahram. "The details, boy. Now."

Bahram nods wearily, wiping sweat from his brow. "He's a Serbian mathematician, one of ours. His name is Drago Tesla Zoran, and his latest paper is...remarkable. More than remarkable. Frightening."

"Zoran..." the Shah echoes thoughtfully.

"We started funding him while he was at Budapest, Father. He showed middling promise -- an unusual character, gifted but erratic. He rode one of our scholarships to Canada where he's been collaborating with Dr. John J. Felix at McGill. We decided to move in for closer scrutiny when their team began registering patents at a very intense rate beginning eighteen months ago. And now...this."

The Shah reaches out to take the publication Bahram has produced from the inside pocket of his cream suit. It is the current issue of the American Journal of Mathematics. The Shah unrolls it and then flips through to a marked page. The article is headlined: THE ACTUALIZATION OF ALGORITHMIC ARTEFACTS VIA VIRTUAL PARTICLE PROBABILITY SHEARING -- An analysis of non-passive information constructs and their effects on waveform collapse; D.T. Zoran, J.J. Felix, et al.

Dr. Hallow scans the abstract over his shoulder, then looks up. "What does it mean, Bahram?"

Thunder rumbles again, closer now. "It means that this man, this Zoran, is on the cusp of learning how to directly manipulate spacetime with mathematics," replies Bahram. "In short, he claims it is possible to describe events with a form of numeracy so akin to the qualities of spacetime itself that the universe doesn't know the difference."

The sun vanishes behind a wall of cloud again. Dr. Hallow shivers. "I'm sorry?"

"Events described by such a system," explains the Shah with slow emphasis, his eyes burning and reverent, "would be indistinguishable from real events. In this way a numerical fiction could become fact. With it, we could speak the very language of Allah himself."

"It's a trick," claims Bahram. "It's a trick that fools even God. What Dr. Zoran is suggesting is that the laws of physics can be hacked -- that we might induce the universe to run programmes of our own design."

The Shah nods solemnly. "The very essence of the Veiled Computations, summed." He reaches out and touches Bahram's shoulder again, his brow sloped in concern. "Could it be coincidence?"

Bahram shakes his head firmly. "There's more, Father. You'll recall, of course, our campaign to collate data on unusual events in the hopes of capturing a sample of warps in probability directly affected by the genesis of the full set..."

"Yes, of course."

"One of them has found something," says Bahram, withdrawing a paper from his pocket and unfolding it to reveal a map of the North American continent. "The spots marked in red are events our operative has investigated; the blue regions represent areas in which he believes investigations will soon be warranted..."

The Shah draws a shallow breath. "It's an interference pattern."

"Yes, it is. And enough of the pattern has been filled in to make forecasts possible." He taps the page with one manicured brown finger. "The zone in green shows the extrapolated origin of the pattern."

The Shah and Dr. Hallow both squint at the map. Dr. Hallow looks up at Bahram. "Those lakes...they're astroblemes?"

"Yes. Current geological opinion puts the impacts in the Permian. Both impacts are imagined to be have been simultaneous -- a binary meteor, possibly a result of an atmospheric break-up, possibly a co-orbital pair. The respective ejecta blankets have comparable content and structure. But it isn't the craters that caught my attention."

The Shah hands off the map to Dr. Hallow. "What caught your attention?"

Bahram clears his throat. "It just so happens that McGill University operates a geological sciences station there at Lac a l'Eau Claire. It also just so happens that Dr. Zoran and Dr. Felix have just relocated their applied research Lac a l'Eau Claire."

The Shah turns pale. He reaches behind his back blindly, finds a chair and lets himself drop into it. His hands are shaking.

Dr. Hallow says, "Why would mathematicians be interested in a geology station?"

"I don't know," admits Bahram. Lightning flashes; thunder rolls.

The Shah is slowly shaking his head back and forth. "This is it," he whispers, then looks sharply to Bahram. "Endgame. After such a long, long time...this is it, my son."

Bahram hesitates, then nods. "I believe so, Father. Yes."

"Tell me about the man following this pattern. What is his name?"

"Mississauga, Sky Mississauga. I've met with him only once or twice. He's a former intelligence investigator with the Canadian government, now on contract with us."

"What do we provide him?"

"Next to nothing, as a matter of fact. Goodness knows I've offered -- even insisted -- but Mississauga is a stubborn, stubborn man. He's never accepted anything beyond a basic stipend to cover gasoline, food and tobacco. Last time I met with him he was driving around the country in an old schoolbus, eating canned soup. I told him that based on his results to date we'd be happy to equip him more adequately, but all he would ever say is, 'I'll manage.'"

"This is too important for pride. We absolutely must see this man Mississauga taken care of."

"I agree."

"There must be something we can do for him. Does he have any special needs?"

Bahram cocks his head as he considers this. "Well, he is handicapped, but he's loathe to even acknowledge that fact, let alone permit assistance."

The Shah shoots out his chair. "Handicapped? How?"

Bahram shrugs awkwardly, startled by the Shah's latest fervour. "He was a thalidomide baby, Father. Like hundreds of others born in the late nineteen sixties. He has no arms and no legs."

The Shah turns to look at Dr. Hallow. Her jaw has dropped open, and the tiny hairs all over her body have tensed to stand on end. "The flesh-abacus..." she mouths silently. The Shah nods.

Bahram shivers as he looks back and forth between the Shah and Dr. Hallow. "What?"

"The Jamijama," rasps the Shah, his mouth dry. "Codex ten. He who is called by the hidden calendar. A malformed man whose unique mind will catalyze the formation of the final set."

Lightning flashes, making the balcony and its occupants appear briefly ghost-like and blue. Bahram's face goes tight. He swallows. "Then I'm right. This is it." He looks to the Shah. "Endgame."

Thunder punches through the air. A curtain of rain sweeps out from the sea, its first drops pitting and patting on the balcony tiles. The Shah stares into it. Dr. Hallow wipes drops from her face. "I thought you said it wouldn't turn inland, Shah."

"There are so many more ways to be wrong than to be right," says the Shah without turning around. His voice sounds strained. Dr. Hallow notices that his shoulders are shaking.

"Shah, are you unwell?"

The Shah rubs his temples, then takes a breath as he slowly turns around. "Elizabeth, I must ask you to leave us." He reaches inside his jacket and withdraws a small key. He tosses it to his son. "Bahram, open my nightstand and bring me the envelope you find within the drawer."

They both hesitate until the Shah barks in an uncharacteristically harsh voice, "Move!"

Bahram returns alone to the balcony a moment later with a sealed Manila envelope. He hesitates on the threshold, uncertain whether he should allow the envelope to become wet. The rain is pouring down now, Nuribad cloaked behind shifting sheets of grey weather. Lightning flashes, silhouetting the Shah. "Father?"

"Take the package to your apartments," says the Shah, staring out into the storm. "Memorize the contents, then destroy it."

"But what is it, Father?"

The Shah turns around, water streaming down over his craggy face. "Protocol Four. Your instructions, in the event that I become compromised."

"What do you mean?"

The Shah's eyes narrow. "I was born Zoran's enemy, Bahram. I cannot be trusted. I do not know -- cannot know -- how or when I might be caused to serve that end. But I do know that it cannot -- must not -- come to pass." He gestures at the envelope. "This is the endgame, my son. Should something dark awaken within me and compel my will, you must know the signs to watch for and the codes that will confine me. These apartments will become my prison at your command." He swallows. "Should the need arise, do not hesitate."

"Father, I cannot --"

The Shah holds up a hand, rain running over his palm. "Do not hesitate," he says icily, his eyes locked on Bahram's. "This is more important than love."

Bahram grimaces but nods as he looks down at the envelope in his hand. "Yes, Father," he whispers.

"Send a thousand men to the New World," he continues, sounding suddenly more weary. "Use the shadow shipping network. Use the railroad if you have to. There must be no records, no paperwork, no stamped passports."

Bahram nods silently.

"And then, when the last of them is in place -- send a thousand more."

Thunder cuts off any response from Bahram. The Shah turns back to face his rainswept city, shoulder square and hands gripping the balcony's edge. Beyond him, bright forks of light connect the sea to the sky.

Bahram turns to go, but before he's crossed the threshold the Shah calls out, "And, there's something else..."

Bahram stops. "Yes?"

"This investigator of ours..." says the Shah, looking over his shoulder at his son.

"What about him?"

The Shah touches the slick hide of his artificial arm, fingers fondling the edges of the Zhang Workshop logo. "Talk to Zhang. Get Mississauga set up with some arms and legs."

The Shah turns back to face the oncoming storm.

Bahram slips the envelope inside his jacket. "Thy will be done," he says softly.


Anonymous said...

Everything is starting to come together... I had goosebumps through the whole chapter... So brilliant!

Teddy said...

Right, so time flows backwards which is why the effects of Event Zero happen BEFORE it, rippling out in an interference pattern. What the heck is this about a meteor crash 275 million years ago in the Permian era though? That was WELL before Lallo became long, which was WELL before Tim and Jeremiah visited Jesus and Jeremiah at least was presumably left behind.

We are very close. I would go so far as to wager that the next few chapters are practically concurrent with each other, documenting the motions of each of our main player parties during the same event. The only question is, what IS Event Zero? It infuriates me that we have NO CLUE WHATSOEVER as to what it actually is that could be that potent as to send ripples flowing actually downstream in time. Everything in the world as we understand it has a cause and then an effect as we percieve it. This is an event of such potence that it's effects happen after it AS TIME ACTUALLY WORKS (which is, in a word, "weird").



mandrill said...

Nice, liked the use of the storm, nice bit of forboding injected there.

SaintPeter said...


I'm excited!

Simon said...

Ah, nice to see Elizabeth Harrow again after that incident in Algeria. The Shah keeps and maintains his own.

And, more importantly, now we know why the JPL failed in its Mars mission. Some secrets must be protected, obviously.

But now I have to wonder HOW Mississauga will catalyze the final event. How will he interact with Zoran's math, if that is, in fact, what will happen?

I'll echo Teddy's "GHA!", but it's tinged with anticipation, knowing that the pay-off will be worth the current hunger pangs.

pso said...

Fantastic. Wonderful. The storm captured what I was feeling perfectly.

Smiley K said...

Absolutely Brilliant.

So the Shah isn't evil. Just Machaveillian and with thousands of years of grim inertia behind an iron will to restrain himself from doing the wrong thing.

I venture the binary collision 275 MM years ago is a panspermia event. Genetic material from the aether sets the whole ball of wax in (reverse) motion.

MM gets his cybernetic components from the Shah!

Tolomea said...

hmmm, unlike the others I found the lil weather injections distracting, perhaps that's because after months of waiting I was in a hurry to get some more details on what's happening

gl. said...

*hums happily, bounces on tiptoes in anticipation*

Ivern said...

Ahem. This chapter makes me think of the possibility that the Shah is Lallo the Long. The scars, the Jamijama, in a way it makes sense. At the same time I have a hard time believing that the chapters involving Lallo would be in such a seperate time frame from the chapters involving the Shah.

Then again, as Jesus said, time is weird.

It is possible in my mind that as Lallo is nearing the end of his adventures he begins to set up business as the Shah. He is a very powerful and intelligent man.

On the third or fourth hand, Lallo is heading to Canada 'as we speak' and that is where all this begins. So I'm not sure...

This is hard to see. This is also just my thinking out loud.

I propose to you that the craters were created when the Sun went new.

Mark said...

Exciting tying together of the different characters here.

The classic dark, stormy scene was a nice touch.


Tolomea said...

Ivern: I'm pretty sure we've been essentially told that lalo ripped the shahs arm off and beat him with it.

evan said...

Some small concerns:
As I interpret the first sentence, you're trying to hook the reader with a literary zoom-in on the Shah's seat of power. Written as it is, it isn't strong enough to draw in the reader or set the mood, but it's long enough to distract people from jumping right into the narrative. I suggest you either start off this chapter with "six top generals" and let the reader figure out the logistics from there, or you spend a couple sentences describing the Shah's country, then the city, then the palace, and then drop the bunker buster. Also in that paragraph, you say the table is dodecagonal, and that it is filled with the six generals and their aides. If so, where is the Shah sitting, and why aren't all thirteen of them either facing the same way to look at the graphs, or the Shah facing the twelve of them while they give him their reports? Also, "their faces reflected as inky ghosts trapped inside its polished surface." I like the image, but I think the clause is on the fence between metaphor and simile. Either their faces are reflected as inky ghosts inside the surface, or their faces are trapped as inky ghosts inside the surface. As written, it sounds like a mirror's hanging above the table, and you have one of those hall of infinite mirror effects going on.

When Bahram reminds the Shah of the campaign to search for probability warps, he says “one of them has found something,” but he only references the campaign before that, not the investigative teams themselves. A few paragraphs below this, the Shah asks about the man following the interference pattern, and it implies that the Shah knows that there is a lone dude out there, riding the wave of evidence. Is Miss the campaign, or one of many independent investigators? If he is only one of several investigations (and I’ve little doubt that he is), then would the Shah automatically know that there is only one man behind the job, or that the dude is, so they say, a dude?

Are the Heindelites and the Rosicrucians the same group? If they’re not, Max Heindel (I assume that’s their inspiration) is closely enough related to the Rosy Cross that it might confuse readers if they do some research to find out who the Heindelites could be, especially since it sounds like both groups have the completed 29th codex. If they are the same group, I assume the recovery of the Solomon tablet does not absolve them as a threat because of their penchant for making copies?

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Goosebumps indeed. I love, love, LOVE a good penny-dropping scene.

(The "Hallows" typo belies your leftover Potter fascination, no?)

It seemed fairly evident that Sky would get his limbs from the Shah. Nice to know how the Hubbardians got their power, too.

So SM will put together the final piece that will make the math live, eh?

What a sad, lonely vantage point you've created for Hasan... who just may know how to enjoy life more than any of his fellows. I do hope he and Lallo patched things up after the beating, as seems to be indicated by our first dialogue with Dr. Abrams.

Assuming he's right, and the surviving Long will indeed be called by some embedded instructions, one wonders why Cassie and her E-friend didn't make more of them. Are they just the right number for some mystical calculation, or is it more like the uber-ninja that was just too expensive?

Man, I can feel us rushing toward the climax now. Great use of the storm. Full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes... or something like that.

fooburger said...

game on....

Anonymous said...

Sheik: I always got the impression that there were once many long, but that Lallo has met with a significant portion of them.

Orick of Toronto said...

chilled down my spine for the whole story

Somehow I think the chapter would end nicely at: Bahram's face goes tight. He swallows. "Then I'm right. This is it." He looks to the Shah. "Endgame."

Then again the instruction that follows is important too.


"On the third or fourth hand..." I think you meant "on the gripping hand..."

Simon said...

Evan, regarding the first bit of your comment, I'm going to respectfully disagree.

CBB's opening paragraph worked very well for me. It was the hook that drew me it. The repetition of the Shah's title at the beginning (three times) and the description of the generals at the table - which I thought worked nicely as-is; it did not give me the impression of a hall of mirrors effect.

At this point in the story we well know who the Shah is and what - at least in part - his role is in the grand scheme of things. Thus, I had a zooming-in sort of sensation by beginning with the Shah's country, his city and his chamber. Sucked me right in, and I was held rapt by the goings-on, aided by the storm. Good times, in my books.

Not trying to invalidate your own viewpoint, of course, just presenting my own, slightly dissenting one.

evan said...

Teddy: As far as WHAT Event Zero is, it seems increasingly clear that it is at least in part the genesis of the full Math set. Even if the Event is 'merely' the Math's birth itself, it wouldn't surprise me if time-travellers, rogue Executives, or the Long showed up with the cigars and party hats.

Sheik: The intended purpose of the Long is a puzzle, isn't it? What's the point of creating these immortal superdudes, but then just letting them run hog-wild for thousands of years. Are they going to be sent into a blind berserker rage to attack Zoran? Were they meant to accumulate power and influence like the Shah? And hey, come to think of it, if the Long nanites are from the future, why aren't they being used in the military or something? (or are they?)

Simon: No need to apologize--if everyone thought in the same way, we wouldn't need writers in the first place. It's true that the Shah is by this point a rather conspicuous character, and his mere mention presents his terrible majesty to acquainted readers.

Miss's role in the Math's genesis will be very interesting to see--the idea of him interacting with Zoran at any level is hilarious to me. Although he's an organic supercomputer, he's not a scientist or a mathematician--so considering he (assumedly) has little training in either, I'm wondering if he's consciously going to be helping Zoran complete the set, or if he'll be exposed to the Math and a chain reaction of computations will pound mercilessly inside his skull. I know there's a Mississauga machine in the future, so Zoran probably meets him, and they perhaps even work together for a while.

jomohek said...

This is a fascinating read.
Since commentors are speculating,how is this for speculation ?
Jeremiah fixed SOS with millions of nanabot fixers.Then, Simon shows up as Simeon in JATR. Is Simeon actually Simeon Peter[see NT] who is Moses' best friend Peter? Did SOS become a long made by Jeremiah ? And,if so,why ?Surely Jeremiah in SOS knew the history and causation of the longs.
And now, Jeremiah's head needing clay and graphite, the same materials as the sheik's new arm,Lallo,Zoran, Mr Miss all
show up in Canada together.I wonder who else is coming to the party.
This is a masterfully told tale whch will leave many loose ends for speculation and/or future writing.Perhaps that is the point. Everyone becomes their own creator with TSM.Reality and existence are created by each person using their own SM.

Tolomea said...

I don't see why the discovery of the math would have repercussions, but then I have always subscribed to the view that math is discovered not created.

I'm more inclined to think that event zero will be a notable exercise of the math. Now given that we have had no indication of time ripples from the Tim incident I'm inclined to think that it's also something that directly impacts the flow of time.

Currently I'm liking alternatives along the lines of creating either a contradiction or a loop in the time lines. Old Jeremiahs presence seems to add a lot of potential for this, but then so does future Cassandras historical meddling.

Also I don't recall the blue dream featuring on the current stage.

Simon said...

Tolomea, I think it's obvious that the discovery of the Math will have severe repercussions.

I completely agree that math is discovered and not created, but it's in those discoveries that great things realise their potential. We can say (truthfully, I think) that Newton discovered calculus rather than having created it; but what new things did he make possible through that discovery that had never been realised?

So too will it be with the Secret Math. It has to be discovered, not created, true, but until SOMEONE discovers it, it cannot be used.

And Johomek: I just love the possibility that Simon from SoS could actually also be Simon/Peter from the New Testament. Knowing what CBB can throw into his stories, I will definitely NOT rule out that possibility. How cool would THAT be!!

Teddy said...

I don't think Simon had the right kind of nannites to be Long, just regular old fixers. It is, however, plenty possible that he became Simon Peter, who was the closest apostle to Jesus, not Moses.

Also, it's been established that Jeremiah requires basic elements ("right now, for instance, I crave carbon") so we can presume that those are Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen and Hydrogen, the four basics to most proteins and amino acids and almost assuredly necessary for maintaining the carbon nanotubules that make up his muscle systems.

Clay and graphite both contains LOTS of good carbon, which is the only thing that would be a little harder for him to get - plenty of Oxygen and LOTS of Nitrogen in the air, and water isn't hard to find around either for the hydrogen - apply electrolysis and you get oxygen gas and hydrogen gas. Perhaps the Shah's Arm contains a way of metabolizing raw materials and applying those to the structures. Zhang Creations include animatronic rats, so perhaps this is true.


Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

Thanks for all the wonderful feedback, edits and speculations. Evan, I really appreciate the detail you go to in supporting your arguments for smoother prose. I'll consider each carefully when I get a spare sec to look at Chapter 24 again in the next couple of days.

Recently, I have come to more fully understand what needs to happen in the climax of this story, and I'm very excited to get there (as are many of you, evidently). I'm trying to make sure, however, that my excitement to get there doesn't cause me to rush things -- while this all may seem to be moving ponderously slowly to you readers getting each installment with such long breaks between, I'm trying to keep in mind how the story will read as a book, and I'm trying to pace it as such. That means no rushing, and letting the bits come together as they may.

I can't tell you how much more at ease with this telling I feel now that I've got a solid grip on the ending.

As many of you have speculated, we are now entering the phase of TSM where the timelines of the various plot streams will synchronize, and our characters will come together to act within a common frame. I think we'll be all synched up two chapters from now, at the most. That should help ratchet up the pace for those of you so patiently waiting to see things move along.

A few miscellaneous notes:

* If you, or someone you know, is considering ordering a copy of Simon of Space, I would advise you to hold off until after 15 August 2008, at which point a new, freshly edited softcover edition will become available. Some people who actually have a copy of the Ephemera Bound hardcover (my copies were never sent to me) have suggested that the EB final edit may contain unacceptable levels of suckage. My advice is to skip that edition, and wait for the fresh one in August.

* A softcover, edited version of The Secret Mathematic will go on sale on the same day I post the final chapter online, for those of you who might like a hard copy keepsake.

Cheeseburger Brown

Tolomea said...

CBB: is the secret math going to be a lulu one? (from the timing it seems likely)

Simon: When I said repercussions, I was meaning to refer specifically to the anomalies that Mr Miss has been chasing down. With that in mind I don't think the discovery of the last bits of the math (drago already has a bunch of it) will cause the repercussions, but instead that the discovery will be associated with some notable exercise that will in turn be the source of the repercussions. And given the path of the story I imagine that exercise will likely be part of the Cassandra Drago conflict.

Anonymous said...

I had to jump out of my chair in frustrated anticipation after reading this one. I want more!

I took my copy of SoS with me on a business trip to Tallahassee earlier this week, and an older gentleman on the flight back explained to me that his grandaughter had the same book. Said he remembered it because of the author's "rediculous pen name" and the artwork on the (yours, not the EB one) cover. Whatever; the point is that your name has spread to the deep south! So, erhm, congrats!


Mark said...

CBB - The errors in the EB edition are truly astounding in both intensity and frequency.

I still loved reading it again, but I think it had more double words, missing words, typo's, and whatnot than the online version. I still haven't read my signed Lulu copy for comparison (I'm not good at preserving spines).

I look forward to the August new release. Happens to be on my wedding anniversary. Gift idea!

Sheik Yerbouti said...

anon, that's an awesome story.

Simon: I rather thought that Simon of Space was Simon the Zealot rather than the Simon called Peter (who was not exactly the closest to Jesus; that would have been John). Given CBB's

It seems fairly obvious that Zhang's collaboration will help give bodies to the Executives -- also, this was foreshadowed in the epilogue to Three Face Flip -- and I'd venture to say that one of the major players (Shah, Scientologists, someone) offs John Felix in the big showdown. Or maybe he takes the Ninjews' words to heart and gives his life for Drago's in the conflict.

This is shaping up to be like the battle of five armies in The Hobbit.

I wonder when we'll hear more about Mike and his chimps meeting up with the Aresians.

Whew. So many connections made, so many new questions created.

Lead on, Big Cheese.

Orick of Toronto said...

CBB, is the new soft cover SOS going to be on Amazon?

Mark said...

orick raises a great point. Because the hardcover publisher's half-hearted marketing and order fulfillment efforts curbed my enthusiasm, I found it hard to get motivated for SoS evangelist mode.

I would like to make up for that, if the book will, indeed, be widely available for reliable purchase.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Orick, Mark,

I expect to make it available via Amazon, yes, though I haven't yet sorted out the particulars (I hear, for example, that Amazon has introduced new constraints with regard to print-on-demand suppliers). I just have to find the time to muddle through that stuff, figure it out, and apply the new rules to my layout.

I've completed my first pass at re-editing the manuscript, and my linguist wife will be doing a pass over the next couple of weeks to catch what I've missed.

My brother will also very likely be composing a musical overture for Simon of Space as he did for The Secret Mathematic.

Cheeseburger Brown