Monday 7 July 2008

The Secret Mathematic - Chapter Twenty-Six

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

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

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:


There comes a great flash of light.

(It glimmers, but too rapidly to know; it throbs and fades, its pulse speaking volumes about the aether.)

And then, with a dwindling hum, the generators cycle down. Detectors click over and then trigger the all clear signal to buzz. The ventilators gear up to a roar, cooling the apparatus and blowing roiling rivers of steam out into the sky while the intake pumps thrum, drawing in cold water from the twin lakes.

The gauges go green. The locks bang as they release.

Drago pushes his goggles up onto his perspiration-slick forehead. "Status, yes?"

A dozen graduate students pore over a dozen glowing displays crawling with dense blocks of text. Computers beep. The video array grinds and chuckles as it encodes the high-speed picture stream for playback. The lead shields on the capture boxes are folded back and cables are jammed into their ports. Geiger counters tick. Papers rustle.

Vikram Margasahayam turns in his wheeled chair, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Dr. Zoran," he says somberly. "We bottomed out at ninety-eight percent. The pattern failed to cohere again."

Drago sighs, running a hand through his bramble of black hair. "I don't understand..." he mutters. "It should be working now. What do we miss?"

"I'm isolating a resonance cascade at positive T two two six four eight," reports Vikram, swivelling back to face his displays. His long, cocoa fingers ply the keyboard. "We'll boil the data until we've nailed the source, sir."

Drago nods vaguely, patting Vikram on the shoulder as he wanders to the front of the control booth and lets himself out onto the experiment floor. The floor is painted as a giant chessboard. He steps over thick cables and around towering stacks of machines. The isolation doors groan open and he rushes inside toward the tank. Dr. Felix frowns after him. "Where the hell is he going?"

Vikram shrugs. "Beats me, Dr. Felix sir. Inspecting the apparatus, I suppose."

"There's not a damn thing he can tell just by looking at it."

Vikram shrugs again. "You know Dr. Zoran, sir. He has his own way."

Dr. Felix rolls his eyes. "Doesn't he just," he agrees darkly, then frowns again and pushes out the door after Drago. He nearly runs into him as Drago comes running back toward the booth.

"John!" he cries.

Dr. Felix holds up his hands. "Let's clear the floor, Drago, and give the crew a chance to reset the system. Maybe we can squeeze in another trial before --"

He stops abruply as Drago leaps at him and slaps a sweaty hand over his eyes. "Keep your eyes closed, John!"

"What? Stop it this instant!" growls Dr. Felix, tilting his head away from Drago's hand.

Drago keeps his hand insistently pressed over Dr. Felix's eyes, swooping to follow as Dr. Felix ducks and struggles. They spend a moment engaged in this push and pull ballet while the baffled students look on from the control booth. "John," breathes Drago fiercely, "you must answer a question for me! An important question!"

"I don't like having things on my face," sputters Dr. Felix, trying to twist out of Drago's headlock. "I can't breathe properly!"

"You don't breathe through your eyes, John. Close them. Listen to me."

Dr. Felix becomes still, his features curled into a grimace. "Fine, then. Quickly. What is it, Drago?" he shoots, face buried against Drago's T-shirt.

Drago nods and leans in close to his ear. He whispers, "What colour is the painting on the primary containment tank?"

"What? What does that have to do with anything, my boy?"

"Just to answer me. Please, John."

Dr. Felix expels a frustrated breath, still having difficulty not squirming in Drago's embrace. "The tank is green, of course. Now can we stop playing this intolerable game?"

Drago withdraws his hand and releases his mentor. He nods, the surrounding arc lamps winking in the glass of the goggles on his forehead. "That's how I was remembering it, yes. Green."

"Whatever are you on about?"

Drago gestures toward the isolation doors. "See for yourself, John."

"Something's happened to the paint? It's reacted somehow?"

Drago tilts his head oddly. "Just go look; tell me what you see. I'll do my waiting here."

Dr. Felix casts him a worried look, but obediently ducks under a whistling ventilation shaft and disappears between the heavy metal isolation doors. Vikram and Geoff Donner stand up at their consoles in the booth to see over their displays, peering curiously through the glass. Drago waves.

Dr. Felix returns. Drago spins. "So?"

"So what? The tank is orange, the same as it's always been. Now do you want to explain to me what all this is about, my boy?"

Drago doesn't reply. Instead he bolts back to the booth, throwing open the door and jumping to the video array. "Show me the playback!" Geoff slides his chair over and taps at a keyboard. An instant later the monitor illuminates with a time-stamped image of the apparatus. The colours are rich; the visible edges of the containment tank shine in freshly painted orange.

"Orange..." says Drago quietly, his brow knitted.

Dr. Felix jogs up beside him. "Well, of course it's orange, just as I said."

Vikram and Geoff exchange a confused look. The other students shift uncomfortably, their eyes sliding away from their work.

Drago closes his eyes and massages his temples, settling back into a chair. The chair squeaks cheerfully. Dr. Felix walks closer and touches Drago's shoulder. Drago's eyes snap open. "Dragana says it's green," he declares, eyes locked on the video image.

"Now, Drago, listen to me --" begins Dr. Felix, but as he speaks Drago leaps out of the chair.

"The raw datas!" he cries, spinning to face Geoff. "Where are they?"

"Uh, we spool it out to the archive servers while we encode, to keep the array defragged."

Drago nods. "Get the server room on the line." Vikram punches in a code and hands him a telephone. "Hello Zoran? Christina, Christina yes -- you see the data dump from this trial?" He pauses, listening. "I want you to look at a frame. Any frame, I'm not care. The uncompressed stream. Yes." He pauses again. "Listen careful, Christina: what colour is the tank?"

"Honestly, Drago --" starts Dr. Felix again, but Drago holds up a hand to silence him.

"Thank you, Christina," says Drago, hanging up the receiver. He crosses his arms and turns to Dr. Felix. "She says the tank is green."

"So the video system is miscalibrated?" guesses Dr. Felix.

"I don't think so," replies Drago cryptically, scratching his head and defocusing his eyes.

The telephone rings, startling them all. Vikram picks it up, then cocks his head as he listens. He hangs it up again. "That was Christina," he reports. "She says she made a mistake. She says the tank is clearly orange. She doesn't know why she said green before."

Drago's eyes widen, then he sprints out of the booth.

Geoff clears his throat awkwardly. "Uh, Dr. Felix...? Don't take this the wrong way, but is Dr. Zoran losing his shit?"

Dr. Felix doesn't answer. He grabs his sport jacket from the back of his chair and takes off after Drago. His shoes chirp on the grimy tiled floor. He questions everyone he passes until he's pointed to the maintenance shed outside the south building of the geology station. He jogs inside and then leans against the doorframe to catch his breath. "...Drago?"

Drago and Mitchell Sapin, the caretaker, wander out of the walk-in supply cabinet. "John," says Drago urgently, "Mitchell painted the tank green. He's showed me the cans -- cans of only green paint."

"Youse said youse didn't care what colour I did," says Mitchell, hooking his thumbs into his belt. "Is there a problem or something, gents?"

"But -- the tank is orange," insists Dr. Felix, blinking.

"Look to the cans for yourself," says Drago, pointing.

Dr. Felix does so. He emerges from the supply cabinet more bewildered than ever. "I don't know what to say," he says, looking back and forth between the two men. Mitchell's weathered face is crinkled in concern; Drago's expression is rapt, sweat dripping from his brow. Dr. Felix coughs. "There's nothing on the shelf but three cans of orange paint."

Drago pushes past him and returns a second later. "He's right," he says. "The cans are now orange."

"Well now," says Mitchell, hitching up his pants. "That makes sense, Dr. Zoran. You told me yourself I could paint that thing any colour that suited, and there was a special on orange so that's what I bought off Jenny at the depot."

Drago nods slowly. "Yes..." he mutters. "I'm not certain why I was mixing up."

Dr. Felix blows out a long breath and pulls his damp shirt away from his chest. "How was it that it seemed to you we had green paint, my boy?"

Drago rubs his temples again in slow circles. "Did I say that?" he asks, his face a study in childish innocence. He closes his eyes and frowns, then shakes his head. His eyes open. "Green, green, green. Dragana says green. The tank is green."

"Green?" echoes Dr. Felix. "You want to repaint the containment system?"

"No..." whispers Drago. "It was green. Before the trial."

Mitchell casts Dr. Felix an inquiring look. "With all respect, Dr. Zoran, I'm the one that did the painting and I painted the whole kit-kaboodle orange from the get-go, like I been saying. There wasn't any other colour underneath. It's never been no other colour but the orange from the depot."

Drago mouths, "The depot!" and then scrambles out. Dr. Felix watches him pelt across the yellow lawn through the window. With an exasperated sigh he turns and follows him.

He catches up in the garage. Drago is sitting in one of the dented geology station trucks, flooring the accelerator while the transmission is in neutral. The truck wobbles and rages but stays stuck in place. "It won't go!" he cries as he spots Dr. Felix.

Dr. Felix opens the cab door and gestures at Drago to slide over. "Really, my boy," he says in a tired voice, "you simply must learn to drive one of these days."

"Make it go to the depot!" urges Drago, clicking his seatbelt into place and then drumming on the dusty dashboard. "Hurry!"

Dr. Felix presses his lips together grimly, shifts gears, and lets the pickup amble over the threshold of the garage and onto the rude gravel road that winds down to the shore of the southern lake where the planes come in. Over the grumbling engine and the sound of pebbles ringing on the truck's sides conversation is next to impossible. Drago is practically bouncing in his seat, and the instant the small, tin-roofed sundries depot is in view he opens his door and hits the ground running, stumbling but regaining his footing as Dr. Felix stops the truck and jams it into park.

"Miss Jenny!" calls Drago urgently. "Miss Jenny!"

Jenny saunters out to the stoop, a cigarette dangling out the corner of her wide, gap-toothed mouth. She squints at Drago. "What's the panic, Professor?"

Drago slides to a halt in front of her and she coughs as she's washed over by dust. He throws his forearm across his own eyes as he shouts, "What colour paint is on special?"

"Are you in some kind of desperate paint situation?" she asks, tossing her cigarette away. "I mean, Jesus."

"What colour?" bellows Drago, arm still thrown over his face. Dr. Felix walks up behind him. Drago spins. "Cover your eyes! Don't look at her! Don't touch her!"

Dr. Felix rears back, startled. Jenny stares at both of them, her face slack. Then she glances over her shoulder and looks back. Slowly she says, "I got overshipped on green. I got lots of green, if that'll do ya, Professor."

Still muffled behind his arm, Drago asks, "You sell this green to Mitchell, yes?"

"Yup. Sold Mitch six gallons of green on Monday."

"Ah-ha!" croons Drago victoriously, dancing around in place with his arm still over his eyes. He hits the edge of the stoop and sprawls to the ground.

Jenny and Dr. Felix look at one another. Dr. Felix shrugs apologetically. Jenny makes a face, then leans over and helps Drago to his feet. Drago gasps, staring down at Jenny's hand on his arm. "Now what's the matter, Professor?" she asks him.

He only gapes at her, eyes darting around.

She straightens and crosses her tattooed arms. "You still want me to go round back and scare up some of that orange paint?"

Dr. Felix does a double-take. "Wasn't it green paint we were discussing?"

She frowns and shakes her head. "Couldn't be, Doc, sorry. I haven't got no green right yet, but I got a buttload of orange if you're not fussy. I got too much, matter of fact. It's on special. Sold six gallons to your Mitch just a few days ago."

A shiver of gooseflesh shimmies up Dr. Felix's spine.

A quarter hour later he has parked the truck on a rocky outcropping overlooking the southern Lac a l'Eau Claire. He kills the engine, then shifts in his seat. He looks at Drago guiltily, then slips a worn pack of cigarettes from inside his jacket. He lights one. It is very stale. "I think these date from my last divorce," he says with forced jocularity, then drags on it and coughs explosively.

"Smoking will kill you," says Drago, eyes out over the water.

Dr. Felix nods as he drags again. "Life kills you," he muses, then turns to face Drago. "So," he says, "what the devil is going on here? Honestly, my boy."

Drago doesn't look at him. "The trial wasn't a failure."

Dr. Felix snorts, then coughs. "The objective was to create a proper electron from scratch. That objective wasn't realized."

"It was the wrong objective," says Drago forcefully. "We've missed the point entirely."

"What is then point, then, as you see it?"

Drago turns to him seriously. "We altered reality, John."


Drago tugs on the goggles still on his forehead and wrings his hands together excitedly. "Three days ago Mitchell painted the containment tank green. It was green right up until the trial, and then it was orange. It didn't turn orange, it became always orange. It was as if it had never even been green."

"I don't know how to break it to you, Drago, but it never was green."

Drago shakes his head, scoffing. "I remembered it as green until a moment after I saw it with my own eyes, and it was orange. My memories, it was changed."

Dr. Felix makes a sour face at his stale cigarette, but then drags on it anyway. "How would one know one's memory had been changed? What other reference have you?"

"There was a lag, John. I remembered it green until I saw it orange, and then I remembered it orange. You told me yourself it was green until you went to look."

"I certainly did not."

"You did. And now your memories is changed, too. Christina checked the frame, John -- she said it was green."

"She made a mistake."

"No, the change caught up with her. We interacted with her. We propelled it along to her. The processed video showed orange, but the raw datas showed green until Christina interacted with it. The further we got from the apparatus, the longer the delay before the old reality and new reality reconciled. Jenny had green paint on the special until she touches me, and then some connection to the apparatus is made, and suddenly it's orange paint on the special. You were there, John. You heard her."

"She was just confused. Flustered by your mania, I'd wager."

"No. No, no, no."

Dr. Felix cranks down the window and tosses away his cigarette. "You're worrying me, Drago. How could you pretend to know what you remembered before your memories themselves were altered?"

"Dragana," hisses Drago, eyes narrowed. "Dragana, she is somehow insulated. Dragana's mind never changed. Even now, looking through her eyes, I can see the remembered tank is green."

"Memory is notoriously unreliable, my boy -- and it should go without saying the memories of an imaginary dead sister living inside your fantasies are geometrically more so."

"No," insists Drago again. "John, you miss it. We may not have knitten the electron, but our attempt did have an effect -- and that effect rippled backward in time at a finite pace. In less than twenty minutes it changed which colour of paint Jenny had too much of, and -- who knows? -- this very moment the change is spreading from there, touching the man who flies in her supplies, changing his inventory, bleeding all the way back to the paint factory." He looks Dr. Felix squarely in the eye. "John, we have altered reality."

Dr. Felix's eyes flit as he tracks a falcon swooping down low over the lake. He shrugs indulgently. "We could check. We could make some calls..."

Drago shakes his head again. "The moment we call we build a more direct connection between ourselves and them, accelerating the change. We confirm the new reality the more we are interacting with it."

"Then our wondrous discovery will remain forever unprovable, lost even to those who perform the experiment. You have to ask yourself, my boy -- if this effect were to be considered 'real' in any meaningful sense, how much reality is there to an effect that leaves no record in the world?"

"But there is a record: Dragana knows."

"Drago, Dragana is not real."

Drago turns away abruptly, his pinched expression a pallid reflection in the mud-spattered glass. He watches the waves on the lake reflecting the sun with fractal regularity.

"I think you should talk to someone," says John gently. Drago says nothing. John shifts in his seat again. "I think things would be better for everyone if you were able to sort some things out. I've...I've spoken with your mother about it."

Drago twists to face him. "What do you mean?"

"I didn't know where else to turn. She knows you; she loves you. We're both of the opinion that this obsession over your sister is hindering your career, and your life." He pauses, swallows. "I'd like you to think very seriously about seeing a professional."

"A professional what?"

"A doctor, Drago." He coughs. "A psychiatrist."

Drago's face darkens. Very softly, looking straight ahead, he says, "This is a day when, for the first time, mens have touched the fabric of the universe and seen it react. This is a day in history." He takes a breath. "And yet all your concern is because you think I'm crazy."

"I don't think you're crazy --"

"Delusional, yes? Disconnected from the world, yes? Obsessive, compulsive, irrational, yes?" demands Drago, voice rising with each question. "Why do you work with me if you think I'm mad, John? Why?"

"It isn't quite like that, my --"

"Do not call me your boy," hisses Drago. "My father -- he believed in me. That's whose boy I am, John. Not yours."

Dr. Felix nods quietly. "It's never something I would force on you. But the people who care about you are worried. Just promise me you'll give the matter some thought. Won't you?"

Drago says nothing for a few minutes. A gull lands on the hood, looks at the men, and then flaps away. "Okay," says Drago.

"You'll think about it?"

"I'll do it. If it means restoring your confidence, John, I'll do it. Make your arrangements. Book me a flying." He looks at his friend and mentor. "But you must to promise me one thing."

"Anything, Drago."

"When the doctor says I am not crazy, you have to believe it, and never doubt Dragana again. Are we agreed?" He offers out his slim hand.

Dr. Felix shakes it. "We are, my friend."

On Friday Drago rides a pondskipper down south to Lac St. Jean, then changes planes and flies into Montreal. His mother meets him at the airport, though she's confused at first to be accosted by a man with a bushy auburn moustache and a pony-tail of fair hair. "Mama, it's me -- it's your Drago."

Danica's mouth quivers. "But...your hair?"

"I'm in disguise," he says with a quick look around the terminal. "I'm keeping low profiled."

She hugs him. "I came as soon as I heard."

"Heard what?"

"That you were having troubles. Your John is a very good man, Drago. He's concerned for you. He wants nothing more than for you to be well. That's what we all want."

"You've travelled all the way here from Paris just to escort me to the doctor's office?" asks Drago, shouldering his bag and bumping around vaguely until his mother takes his arm and begins leading him toward the exit.

"I was coming to see you anyway," explains Danica as the automatic doors part before them. "John's call came at the perfect moment."

Drago squints against the sun. "Why? What's going on?"

She pauses, them beams. "I've met a gentleman, Drago. His name is Vassily, and he truly does love our family. I'll tell you just how much: he's been working with me to establish a memorial for our Dragana."

"A memorial?"

"A statue," she says, nodding. "And a garden. It's to be built in les Bois de Boulogne -- dedicated to victims of cancer. Vassily has made it his personal mission to make it happen. He's made all the arrangements, contacted the charities, coordinated the funding." She checks her fake Rolex. "We should go. I'll tell you the rest when you've finished your appointment."

Blinking and bewildered at this enthusiastic outpouring of news, he follows her meekly to the curb to hire a taxi. "You're going to marry him, this man?" he ventures.

Danica beams again as she holds up her hand to present a glittering ring. "It's already happened, Drago. When the memorial is done, we'll be moving in together at his estate outside Petersburg. You'll visit, of course. It's wonderful."

Drago frowns as he climbs into the back of a taxi. "You had a wedding without inviting me?"

"You have your important work, Drago," she says coolly, squeezing in beside him. "Besides, it all happened so very fast."

Drago hands the driver a slip of paper. The car gets underway. Drago strips off his false moustache and wig, stowing them in his shoulder bag. He feels very strange, his heart prickled by what he's heard. He begins to feel even stranger, however, when she continues.

"Vassily understands presentation, Drago," she tells him, watching the view outside scroll by. "He understands how to frame an issue to get the desired results. It's an art, and he's a master."

"What is his line of work, Mama?"

"Oh, he does all sorts of things. To win the memorial funding, he's taught me how to present myself. He says, 'It's the story that sells, not the person.' In our story, I have had a very tragic life. My husband a drunk fool, my home destroyed by war, my talented daughter taken from me. Do you understand, Drago?"

"I think so, Mama."

"The perfect finish, of course, is that my poor son is in the care of Canadian doctors. You can see how, for the Danica in the story, this very sad. It is just one more thing that hasn't gone according to her prayers."

Drago's face tightens. "Because your son is mad."

"A troubled genius," she corrects, "burdened by the emotional scars suffered when his beloved sister was torn away from their lives." She puts her arm around him and squeezes his bony shoulders. "I think spending some time with the doctors will be very good for you, Drago. And the best part is that it could be very good for our Dragana, too. It completes the story, and the timing couldn't be better -- the committee in Paris meets next week to decide it all."

"You want me to stay with the doctors until next week."

She nods and squeezes him again. "Yes, Drago. You will do this for Dragana, won't you? Stay on a few extra days? Allow the doctors to send a letter to Paris, telling them so?"

She takes his hand in hers and looks him in the eye.

Drago blinks, then nods. "Yes, Mama," he says. "I will do this for you."

"Not for me, silly boy," she cooes. "For her."

Their shoes squawk on the polished floor of the hospital. At the check-in desk she takes the forms from him and fills them in herself, then pulls a wrapped pastry from her purse and makes him eat it. She waves and smiles as a nurse leads him to a small office to meet with a doctor.

The doctor's name is Dr. Gershwin. He has a round, friendly face framed inside a wooly brown beard. He's losing his hair. He sits opposite Drago with an unadorned desk between them, and opens a small notebook beside a dossier containing the forms Danica filled in. "I understand you're going to be staying with us for a spell," says Dr. Gershwin pleasantly as he clicks his pen.

"Yes," concedes Drago. "For my mother."

Dr. Gershwin makes a note. "Not for yourself?"

"Also for John, my colleague. No, not for myself."

"You're feeling quite well, then?"


"How is your appetite?"

"It's fine."

"Do you sleep well at night?"

"Yes. I don't need much. The night is sometimes a good time for figuring a thing out, when everyone else is quiet."

"Do you feel stifled by the presence of others?"

"I don't know what 'stifled' is to mean."


"No, peoples are always very nice to me."

"Why don't you tell me a little bit about your work. What do you do, Drago?"

"I've been trying to create a new electron."

"Aren't you a mathematician? That sounds like physics to me."

"In my field the line between the two is blurry."

"What field is that?"

"It doesn't have a name yet. When my work is complete it will have one. The world will name it."

"Your work is quite significant?"

"To me, or to the world?"

"Answer however you'd care to."

"To me, it is everything. To the world, I believe it may be too. That's why I am so closely watched."

Dr. Gershwin makes another note, raising a brow as he writes. "Who watches you, Drago?"

"The blue pants people. I don't know what they're called. They can control the streetlights."

Dr. Gershwin pauses in his note-taking almost imperceptibly, then continues jotting. His lips silently mouth, "Blue...pants...people."

"And the Jews," adds Drago as an afterthought. "The ones with the big hats."

Dr. Gershwin looks up. "I'm a Jew, Drago. Do you think I've been watching you?"

"You're not wearing a big hat."

"I have a very little one -- a kippah." He turns his head to present the little black cap on the crown of his thinning hair. "See?"

"No," replies Drago. "I don't think you watch me. Your job is to be the doctor. I'm talking about the Jews whose job is to steal my science. They have long coats, long beards, curly hairs from their ears. They stand on the streetcorners and watch me go by. They whisper about me."

"Can you hear what they say?"

"No, it's whispers. Too quiet to hear."

"What do you think they're saying?"

"How should I know?"

"Why do you think they're interested in your work?"

"Because they watch me."

Dr. Gershwin finishes off a note with a flourish, then turns to a fresh page. "Would you like to tell me about your sister?"

"What do you want to know?"

"How do you feel when you think of her?"

"I love her," says Drago quickly.

Dr. Gershwin glances over at the open dossier. "She passed away several years ago, is that right?"

Drago shrugs. "That is mostly true."

"But not entirely?"

"No. Her ghost lives inside my mind."

Dr. Gershwin stops writing and looks up at Drago again. "Would you describe yourself as possessed by her spirit?"

"No. She's too soft to hold anything. I do the possessing. She has only her thoughts and her feelings."

"Does she speak to you?"


"What does she say?"

"I'd have difficulty to translate."

"She speaks to you in Serbo-Croatian?"

"No, she speaks in chess."

"What does she talk to you about?"


"Patterns in what?"

"Patterns are independent of medium, Dr. Gershwin. They are of the information, not substance."

"What sorts of patterns does she talk about?"

"Fundamental patterns. The patterns at the heart of all patterns. The weave of the world, the geometry of events. The kind of counting the universe itself counts with, the kind that makes the laws of physics inevitable."

"She was a mathematics enthusiast?"

"Well, she is now. She never used to be. She was a photograph model."

"Did she enjoy being a model?"


"Why not?"

"It makes me uncomfortable to say. It's private."

"Her privacy or yours?"

"What's the difference?"

"For one thing, her sense of privacy is a matter of the past while your own is a matter in the present, in the here and now."

"You're making her feel funny. She wants you to stop asking about that."

"Talking about the past makes you uncomfortable?"

"No, it makes Dragana uncomfortable. She says the past is the present, and if you can't understand that neither us should bother saying another word."

"Drago, are you hearing this right now? In your head? Are you hearing Dragana?"

"Not hearing, no. Knowing." He crosses his legs and blushes. "You'll have to excuse. Dragana always gives me the hard penis. She is very beautiful."

Dr. Gershwin clicks off his pen and closes his notebook, gathering it together with the dossier as he pushes back his chair to stand. "I think I have enough for now, Drago, to put together a preliminary assessment. Thank you very much."

Drago shifts in his seat. "What's to happen next for me?"

"I'll consult with my colleagues to decide how best to work with your issues. We'll start first thing tomorrow. In the meantime, a nurse will be along to bring you some pajamas and show you to your room." He smiles. "All you have to do is relax, and try to bear in mind that you're going to leave us feeling a lot more settled than when you came in. That sounds good, doesn't it?"

Drago nods. "Okay."

They shake hands. Dr. Gershwin turns to leave. Drago stands. "Doctor?" Dr. Gershwin hesitates at the jamb, looking back over his shoulder. Drago swallows. "Do you think I'm a crazy man?"

Dr. Gershwin smiles again. "We don't think in those terms here, Drago."


The doctor leaves. The door sighs shut against a pneumatic stopper. While he waits for the nurse Drago notices for the first time that the tiny window on the far wall has bars running across it behind a tight screen of thick wire mesh. Thin strips of metal along the edges of the sill announce the presence of a security alarm.

Somewhere, on a floor above, someone howls.


Simon said...

I like the tie-in with the chess board pattern at the beginning and the talk of Dragana at the end. Nice influence there.

(The second mention of Drago and his goggles was spelled, "googles", by the way.)

And I think I have to re-think my previous opinion about Event Zero being the first use of the Math. I remembered that, in Three Face Flip, Drago tapped into the Math to fling the watermelon to save the girl from the falling lamp post. What *will* it be, then?

And will Drago use the Math to escape from the hospital? His emotional state at being confined against his will will probably match the one that allowed him to fling the watermelon.

Tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion...

Anonymous said...

It's really starting to feel like Felix is a villian.

Eric said...

So this must be the part where Felix imprisons Drago, giving him enough time to steal and/or take credit for the math.

I enjoyed the conversation between Drago and the doctor a lot. Drago's innocence is fun.

Mark said...

The tension builds.

What a thrilling chapter this was. I was just as confused as the characters at the start of the green vs. orange part, so I truly was in the moment with them. The more Drago explained it, the clearer it became. Excellent writing on that.

Can't wait for more.

Teddy said...

Don't worry, Eric: Sandy will save Drago. We saw her only a couple chapters back in passing with John.

Also, anonymous: remember, there are no true villains here. Everybody's point is well thought out and valid, and the good guys aren't all as good as they'd like to think they are.

I'm pretty darn sure Event Zero is the birth of the Execs, Simon. See my superpost at the end of last chapter for my assembled evidence.


Anonymous said...

Right, okay, fine... My point is that its starting to really seems like Felix is not looking out for Drago's best interests.

Tolomea said...

I see no reason why the first use should be any different from any other use, the universe is running on this stuff they are just tweaking it a bit. That's why I've always maintained that it has to be something significant, however by significant I don't mean big and impressive to the spectators (although it may be), more that it needs to be a significant violation of the underlying order of things. Things that would produce contradictions or causal loops seem like particularly good candidates.

Anonymous said...

I never thought of Drago's bit in TFF as something involving the Secret Mathematic, but as just another (albeit more mundane, by comparison) example of his genius.

I'm in agreement that event zero is the birth of the human executives. The forced creation of another sentient life form out of nothing is pretty friggin significant.


Anonymous said...

So many questions still unanswered! I wonder why Sandy decided to hook up with John, given all the other con artists in the world... can't wait for this meticulously-built character to be unleashed at a critical moment of our story.

At first I wondered why there would be a painting on the tank; then I realized Drago's English may be getting worse as time goes on :)

Speeding along now... this is going to be quite a ride.

Teddy: Your statement that "everyone's point is well thought out and valid" is a matter of opinion. Latching on to a promising associate and then tricking them into being imprisoned in order to steal their work? That sounds villainous enough to me.

Tolo: yes. I don't know that we're clear on what that event will be yet. Besides, the Math has been used by Jeremiah in the barn before now!

Anon: I tend to agree that the watermelon incident was just applied conventional mathematics rather than anything Secret.

Somebody tell Mel Gibson he's got a sympathizer :)

Anonymous said...

I think event zero just moved a little futher into the future(past).

Dragos coworkers, grad students, family, etc. all think he is off his rocker. Everyone involved clearly remembers the room was ALWAYS orange and all evidence agrees. Without Drago, there is no one around motivated to do anything absurd enough to kick off EZ.

The bad guys for now are winning.

Felix doesn't seem so bad anymore. I'd probably be trying to get Drago to see a doctor too.

Tolomea said...

"I'm in agreement that event zero is the birth of the human executives. The forced creation of another sentient life form out of nothing is pretty friggin significant."

That depends entirely on how high a pedestal you wish to place sentience, if you take the view that it's just basic physics and chemistry applied in a complex and specific pattern then that's no big deal at all.

This is much the same as saying that a computer is just transistors in a complex and specific pattern.

Now of course how things stand in the Burgerverse is entirely up to Mr Brown, there have been a few little things that imply that sentience in the burgerverse is more than just physics and chemistry. I think the most notable of those is probably the way that Dragana seems to be outside the flow.

Orick of Toronto said...

so no one else thought this was event zero?

like fluttering of butterfly wings...

Orick of Toronto said...

and does Dragana = Name?

Dan said...

It is clear to see that Event 0 will occur when Drago causes Dragana to appear in the flesh in the present.

THE Danimal

Simon said...

Sorry guys, I've got you all licked.

Given the rampant speculation that going on here now, Event Zero will occur, contrary to all current postulates, and in line with Name's sense of irony and paradox, when one of CBB's readers accurately guesses what Event Zero is.

Think about that for a second and tell me your brain didn't just melt a tiny bit.

Anonymous said...

My guess would be that Event Zero doesn't refer to the creation of the math, but the use of it to do "something". What that "something" is, I have no idea, but someone will try to use the math, and it will backfire (like in T:DoW).

Mark said...

I like Orick's idea that this was Event Zero. Do buildings need to topple for it to be significant?

It seems like it is spreading just as Mr. Miss described it in stories past.

James Andrix said...

I don't know/remember if this has been covered.

In the Blue Man/dream story Mr. Miss says he recognizes himself, in armor. This I take to actually be an executive.

I suspect that the executives are based on Mr. Miss. Drago still doesn't seem to be working on AI. If anyone's mind could cope with becoming an uploaded secret-math-based-entity, it's Mr. Miss.

In another line of thought, a flesh abacus with no arms or legs perfectly describes Jeremiah right now.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

I just wanted to let you know that I'm reading all the comments with great interest, but I've not been chiming in too much because I couldn't easily do so without unduly influencing the exciting bouts of speculation which I'm loath to disturb.

You all come up with some inspired connections -- some very close to the mark, others less so, but all fascinating.

I'm hard at work on Chapter 27, which is a bit of a long one. It likely won't go up until mid-week next week...Monday seems unlikely, given how my weekend is filling up.

Man, it's hotter than a monkey's bum today. I'm wilting.

Cheeseburger Brown

fooburger said...

This was pretty fun.
The use of the term 'pattern' brought Roger Zelazny's good old Amber series crashing in.. oh... I change something in the pattern... now let's watch those changes propagate out to the rest of the multiverse... :)

At this point, I don't see any reason EZ couldn't be as simple as Drago's green/orange conversion, or more complex than Felix or conspiratorial forces attempting to use the apparatus further... creation of execs sounds reasonable too.

I do think this event sounds quite different than Mr. Miss. precursor events, as he described those as an interference pattern (presumably through some wacky mix of time and space).

But I'm with the other user-defined event-zero speculation... event zero is the finishing of this book. :)

Anonymous said...

Alright, so I’m gonna dip my feet into the speculation pool. I’m going to start out with the things we know about Event Zero. Then I’m going to propose a timeline. We’ll see where it goes from there.

In TSM 19, the Shah reveals that EZ takes place in 2012. In TSM 24, he refers to “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.”

In The Extra Cars 6, Miss says to Sun in regard to his case files: “each manifestation is characterized by unlikelihood. I believe that a dimension of our universe that normally operates at a sub-microscopic scale has been -- or rather, will be -- somehow inflated. I believe that in order to make room for this inflated dimension, the familiar macroscopic dimensions have been forced to squeeze aside. Something foreign is compressing them, and causing interference between them where their bounds intersect, leading to a warping of probability." Also: “Event Zero will be very brief -- on the order of Planck Time -- and in that brief instant it will drag a tear through our world as the universe moves beneath it.”

In Life & Taxes 2, Paramjit says the corporations have to be evolved. We also know that the lab is actively involved in “forking, amplify[ying] and delet[ing]” the corporations’ evolution. Each of the corporations percolates in a virtual tank of “trillions of interacting particle waves” that form a probability base. The matrices get moment from “collapsing waveforms as the virtual system changes.”

In Simon of Space 33, Jeremiah affirms that each human executive pattern was “bred individually,” and each new executive is grown individually—perhaps much like the initial corporations—beginning with one of the 16 original “initial conditions.” Then they are socialized and given the memories of the Strain. From what I read, it sounds like every executive is 'built' the same way the original 16 were. If that is the case, plus the briefness of Event Zero, it seems unlikely that the birth of the executives is it.

Now, the timeline. In Barrington House, Mike is 10, and dressed as Neo—the movie came out in 1999. Since his wife Sarah just graduated from university in The Reaper’s Coleslaw, that puts ‘Reaper’s Coleslaw’ and ‘And Bananas for All’ at around 2010—when they are 21. Assuming Paramjit is Sarah’s age, he also just graduated, and is heading into his doctoral program. Note he is after his doctorate in “neural computational architecture” (RC 2), in 2010.

Back in Extra Cars, Phat-So has already been in college for at least a year. He wears a Queen’s University shirt (EC 2), and refers to the university girls calling him Doogie Howser (EC 3). Since Miss says Event Zero takes place 14 months later, EC takes place in 2011 or late 2010, which makes sense, because Paramjit is in Zoran’s lab in Life & Taxes. Sun worries about the possibility of a draft (EC 6), which leads me to believe the war with Mars/China is already underway.

Thus, L&T takes place at least two years after EC, since Phat-so also appears in L&T. Since the corporations have been established for 6 years in L&T, I think it is safe to say that the corporations were started before 2012. If the formation of the corporations was Event Zero, then that places L&T in 2018. That means Paramjit would have been a grad student for 8 years. My bet is that L&T is placed in 2014 or 2015. Phat-so would be a beginning grad student, Paramjit would be finishing up his studies. Since Paramjit is entering the field of neural computational architecture in 2010 or 2011, this almost assuredly precludes the formation of the executives to be Event Zero.

We know Zoran is born in 1986 (TSM 4). When he visits his father, Ratko says there’s been a chess game waiting for him for “20 years” (TSM 16). Either Drago is 20, and it is 2006, or Ratko means 20 years since Ratko left the house, so maybe it’s 2008. I vote 2006, because that gives Drago 6 years to become entangled with and disassociate from John Felix, and start the lab in Montreal.

A few questions arise, if this timeline is correct. When does the war begin, and why? If the corporations are formed before 2012 and it seems like they must be, when does Zoran find the time to begin the project while he’s finishing the Math? What do Lallo and Jeremiah do for the 10 years between 2001, where we left them, and Event Zero? Furthermore, why is one of the corporations named “Felix” if Felix turns out to be a swindler? Does Sandy just make him disappear?

Finally, Ratko speaks of a brief window when the Secret Math will be naked “before it can be enclosed behind protective jaws” (TSM 16). If we still have 18 corps in L&T, and I think we do, that means the math is still naked in L&T. Cassandra is a grad student, and nobody is giving her a second look. Why hasn’t someone made a move?

Phew! I found this chapter to be pretty tight—here’s what I’ve got, glitch-wise.

“Drago pushes his goggles up onto his perspiration-slick forehead.” Should be ‘slicked’—perspiration-slick would mean merely ‘slick as perspiration’

Felix asks Drago to clear to floor: abruptly misspelled as abruply

Felix consenting to have Drago’s hands over his eyes. “his features curled into a grimace. "Fine, then. Quickly. What is it, Drago?" he shoots, face buried against Drago’s T-shirt.” Not sure ‘shoots’ is the best verb there, considering John’s asking a question. Also, ‘pressed’ might make more sense than ‘buried,’ considering no one’s taken a shovel to Drago’s chest recently.

“ "I don't think so," replies Drago cryptically, scratching his head and defocusing his eyes. ” Unless he is purposefully defocusing his eyes, you may want to make that detail its own sentence or drop it entirely.

Anonymous said...

CBB, thanks for the word... and the chapters! This means that when I get back from my vacation away from civilization, I'll have some tasty reading material.

James: it has :) Ever since Stubborn Town I have speculated about the origins of Jeremiah's unique mind, and my opinion was further strengthened by the exposition in Life and Taxes. When Blue Tim came along with his allies in tow, it was sweet, sweet vindication. Now all that remains is *how* this momentous transfer/transformation occurs.

Simon: whatever this game is, you win.

SaintPeter said...

Thank you Evan! Great summary!

The end of this chapter taps into a fear I've always had: How do you prove you're not insane?

Much of the DSM-IV is based on societal norms. If you are far enough off the mainstream, you may be "sane", but diagnostically crazy. Also, some of the definitions in the DSM are politically motivated. What if your particular worldview is deemed to be insane?

Luckily, I believe most doctors are ethical enough to not bow to a book for their diagnosis.

Another lovely chapter! Tapping F5 until the next one!

Mark said...

Whoa. I think evan just made the Wikipedia entry for CBB shiver. Perhaps a copy and paste operation is in order here.

I still haven't read all of it, yet already I stand in awe. Nice detail, evan.

fooburger said...

Evan you've got the nod for biggest CBB geek ever from me! :)
I've read everything on CBB's sites, as they came out, since Darth Side was linked on /., but there's no way I could have all that data cached in whatever Evan's got for correlating these details. :)

Anonymous said...

+1. Teddy, Simon... I think our competition is over.

Dan said...


Evan makes me feel like I don't want to play anymore. BROWN NOSER!!!

THE Danimal

Teddy said...

Yeah, I agree - Evan takes the cake for the day.

For his glorious victory - Evan gets to put together a full timeline for the wiki! We expect to see it by Tuesday.


Tolomea said...

what is the status of the wiki and who is running it? I notice the front page hasn't been updated in more than 14 months

James Andrix said...

Felix's phone conversation with christina seems unnatural. He says nothing and hangs up.

I'd have expected him to charm her a little.

Anonymous said...

Guys, don't hate the player, etc. I've been working on this on and off for the past year or two, but couldn't put it all together until The Secret Math started up because I didn't realize Zoran was so young.

I updated the timeline with a rough history of story main events. I think the key to tying it all together is looking for the Easter eggs in the story. There are parts of my timeline that I feel absolutely must be wrong, but all the evidence points to them being right--mostly to do with Drago's timeline. Right now I have Three Face Flip taking place in 2000, because it's a summer Olympics year, and Lallo has a Zhang arm in 2001. But that means Drago got his doctorate when he was 13 or 14. Possible, but then when does he first meet Piroska?

Anyways, I would like anyone who is interested to look over the timeline and see if you can't find out where I went wrong.

Tolomea said...

So everyone knows...

The wiki:

Recent changes:

Oh and Evan recently gave the chronology a major update based on his comment above.

Teddy said...

Yeah, wowza Evan! Saw that, gave it a cursory glance, I'll give it a bigger glance, later on.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Just a thought, as I was enjoying re-reading some of the earlier stories:
Ready Farmer from "Robots Bury The Dead" is a peculiar character. He looks zorannic to me, but I can't make any connections... If he's not zorannic, then that's also strange, since it looks like regular bots in that period are mostly dumb.
Do I miss something?

Anonymous said...

Anon: I got the same vibe--Ready Farmer seems awfully human for a robot. I hesitate to label him Zorannic because his body is worn out, and he says he is due for an upgrade. Executives are self-repairing, and I don't think they get upgrades. Even so, he's suspicious at least.

The only connection I see between RBTD and other stories is that the (holographic) picture of Yi's great-grandmother was a treasure of Mars. That probably means she was famous--the only probable candidates that we would know of are either Nicole Gavrilovna, or her and Drago's daughter Nikola (a ship in Tim, Destroyer of Worlds is named after her).

Anonymous said...

Evan: That, and the conflictual background between Ares and the Joviat...

Anonymous said...

Of course if RF said he was "due for an upgrade", it could just mean that he hadn't yet been to Robot Camp.

...Coming soon after TSM?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Sheik,

Here's a secret tidbit, just between me and you and everyone reading:

"Robot Camp" will be the epiloque of TSM.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

EpiloGue, even.

Anonymous said...

Please don't let this be another chapterless week! :(

I know CBB is busy but I needs my fix. I'd suck cock for some TSM right now. Seriously.

Dan said...


Nice sentiment. Do you eat with that mouth?

THE Danimal (42)

Anonymous said...

Methinks a certain author needs to start locking his door.

Also, yay for the epiloguical (?) Robot Camp!

Cheeseburger Brown said...

I won't lie: it's going to be another few days.

Also, could you get out from under my desk please?


Anonymous said...

CBB: you don't need to get too worried unless he's wearing a red wig and asking you to call him "Utopia".

Teddy said...

or a red cape, goggles, and there's a hot-air balloon parked outside...


Simon said...

So I should go back and re-read Robots Bury the Dead for a little epilogue-ical refresher on this here Secret Math stuff?

Fine then. Here I go.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to bring this up so late in the game, but I think it is a question worth answering. In Felix and the Frontier, it is mentioned that Felix has never been replicated as any other executives. Yet in another story, there is another iteration of Felix. I noticed it on the wikipedia article there is a Felix 1st and Felix 8th, so I think it's accurate. Which one, though, is correct? Or is he saying that his memories have never been dumped into another executive?

Anonymous said...

What up, Krauss?

I don't think anyone's quite sure what the deal with Felix is, yet. Theoretically Felix the First and Eighth are the exact same dude, who we see in 'Felix and the Frontier.' He's known as the eighth because each of the Executive strains has a number attached to it from the time the original Executives were brains in virtual vats (re/read 'Life & Taxes'). The Jeremiah strain is the fifth, and the Felix strain is the eighth. Felix is known as the First because he was the first Exec to get a body (I think).

Felix, as we know from 'Felix and the Frontier,' is well-known throughout the galaxy as being unique, the only Executive in his strain--there shouldn't be any other Execs out there based off his consciousness, or with his memories.

However, we have the story 'Free Felix,' in which we see a brand-spanking new Felix hanging out on Mars while we would think he's supposed to be traipsing through the Local Fluff. The question is whether this Felix (F2) is the same one in 'FatF' (F1). If the Exec bodies were built on Jupiter's moons or something and shipped back to Earth, then it's possible that F1 got shipped to Mars by mistake when he was first built. However, we know F1 has met Dr. Zoran, and F2 spent at least 35 years on Mars. The question is whether the Executive bodies were developed soon enough on the timeline for F2 to meet Dr. Zoran as an old man when he finally gets to Earth. If so, then there is one Felix. If not, there's trouble in River City, you know what I'm saying?

Anonymous said...

Krauss, are you referring to Free Felix when Felix describes himself as "a professional-grade twelfth-generation precision automaton derived from the eighth pool"?

Mark said...

CBB, I just thought you might like to know that Sheik and I are rustling up a group in our area to go see The Dark Knight.

Not because you might care about the movie, but because Sheik and I "met" out here in the Burgerverse, as did Simon and I.

Your works bring people together, man (see how that last word made it not quite as mushy somehow?).

fooburger said...

*tap tap tap*
*flip flip flip*
*twiddle twiddle twiddle*

Dark Knight... yeah... I enjoyed it. I thought it was great movie, but still... somehow, I felt over-hyped.
When something hits #1 on imdb, I expect a completely different kind of movie... something that will really set me back in my seat saying "Wow!" This was a really good tale told well.... but I'm guessing I'll have a difficult time remembering the plot five years from now.... so I can't really rank it in my top ten.

Ah... the things we do to amuse ourselves between TSM posts... speaking of which....

*tap tap tap*


Anonymous said...

foo, you need to take time out for WALL-E.

Also, Mark made it to one of my LAN parties last year; that was the first iteration :)

CBB, do what you need to do. We know you have a family and a day job.

Dan said...


What state do yous hail from?

THE Danimal

Anonymous said...

Currently, we're in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas. I live in Dallas proper, and Mark hangs out in a satellite city (McKinney, I believe).

Where are *you*?

By the way, I'm actually hosting a little geek party tonight (Halo for PC -- the kind Mark attended), so if anyone from the list is interested, give a shout and I'll shoot you the evite with all necessary info.

Dan said...

I hang in Ohio. I'd love to join your pitiful band of geeks. But, alas, I am not of sufficient wealth to afford an xbox.

THE Danimal

Anonymous said...

IT's okay; I don't have an Xbox either (in fact, the only console we own is an 8-bit Nintendo from my wife's childhood). That's why we're playing Halo for PC :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, about about that story...

I wonder if the ninjews are going to take John to task regarding this latest, um... "strategic move".

Teddy said...




Dan said...

My refresh button is wearing out!

THE Danimal

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

I'm working on it.

Chapter 27 is...well, REALLY long. I just finished doing a re-read of what I have so far, and I'm excited by it, so I think it will be worth the wait.

That's the good news; the bad news is that I only have about another half hour to write tonight, so it's unlikely I'll get to the end. Even with no disturbances, I have too much to tell before this sucker can wrap. I'll need at least another day.

Here's what I can tell you:

1) It's a Mr. Miss story.

2 It's a Mr. Miss story unlike any I've told so far. Imaginative readers may even be able to suss out connections to some heretofore unconnected stories.

3) There are hints about Mr. Miss having taken part in another great case, on an altogether different mission. This is, perhaps, a point we will return to after TSM is all said and done.

4) It is an adventure chapter, with thrills and chills.

5) The climax will re-introduce yet another familiar face from past stories, and pair them up with Mr. Miss.

So -- resume hitting reload, I guess. I'll send Chapter 27 out on the wire the very second it's baked.

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

Cheeseburger Brown... you rock.

Now I'll quit commenting so as to give you fewer interruptions.

Mark said...

Having hung out with sheik two times now, I can honestly say he means it when he says, "You rock."

I, for one, am all a-twitter at the thought of this wonderful upcoming Mr. Miss chapter. "Thrills and chills," eh? You're such a cliffhanger-er, CBB.

Anonymous said...

Hey, partying with Mark and Alvis (the talkative sidekick?) was great fun as well; I found it more enjoyable than the movie, but then again you just can't beat real human interaction.

...or a good CBB story.

Teddy said...

Damn, I hate living in this frozen northerly wasteland. I wanna live where I can hang out with cool burgerites!

And yes, constantly reloading. This next one sounds SOOOPERCOOL MAN! Myp prediction? Nonstop Rock Awesome Action. Names will be kicked, and asses will be taken.


fooburger said...

Yeah.. teasers like that drastically increase crtl-r rate.. :)

Looking forward to it too, as is everybody.

al said...

Everyday there is no update I scream a little in my head. Does this count as addiction?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

We're almost there.


Work's been thick.



Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

I'm going out of town for a few days.

I promise to return with a finished chapter.


Dan said...

Even though it was comment 69, I still feel like I took one in the ass. I can only imagine the railing CBB has taken at work this week.

THE Danimal

fooburger said...

Heh... I see a potential looming problem here.
Once Drago figures out TSM, he'll have effectively figured out the universe. As we all know, once someone has figured out how the universe works, it immediately explodes and is replaced with something far more complex.
*sigh* ya just can't win...

Teddy said...


This has already happened.