The Dualists: Chapter 5

(Chapter 4 of The Dualists can be found here)

 

 

“I should just say something,” Ivy thought, as she ate lunch with Coco in silence. “It’s not like she’ll think I’m a weirdo or anything. She’ll probably be thrilled to hear about something so spooky. I just need to say something.” But she didn’t. While the two were usually quite talkative, something was different today. Each wanted to say something, but couldn’t quite force themselves to, and was too wrapped up in their own thoughts to notice how unusual the other was acting. “I just need to say something,” Ivy thought once more. She took a deep breath. “Hey… remember when you said to tell you if something strange happened last night?” Coco asked, right as Ivy opened her mouth to speak. “Huh? Oh, yeah,” Ivy said, “I was actually going to say something about that too.” “Really?” Coco said, “Do you think they might be related?” “Oh, mine’s probably just nothing,” Ivy said, knowing full well that it wasn’t just nothing, “You go first.” “You sure?” Coco asked, “You look like something’s bothering you.” “Please, I insist,” Ivy said. “Very well,” Coco said, “Last night, I-”

 
“Do you mind if we sit here?” Regina asked, gesturing to two seats at the table, one of which Clover was already setting her tray at. “Well, well,” Coco said, “If it isn’t the drama queens of Noether High. To what do we owe the honor?” “What the Hell’s that supposed to mean?” Clover asked, indignantly. “I’m just saying, I was told that assembly was for an election,” Coco said, “Not focus testing a Lifetime original movie.” “It sounds like you’re the one who’s starting drama, here.” Clover growled. “Ah, c’mon, I’m just messing with you,” Coco said, “But, for real, election season’s over. Why are you so interested in hanging out with a couple of bozos like us?” “I just wanted to make sure our new student is feeling welcomed here,” Regina said, “It really is fine if you’d rather we didn’t sit here, though. I won’t be offended.” “But what about the thing we came here to talk about?” Clover asked. “What thing?” Coco asked, suspiciously. “Oh, I was just, uh, wondering if you two knew each other before Ivy moved here,” Regina said. Clover rolled her eyes. “Yes,” Ivy said, “We were best friends in elementary school.” “And now!” Coco said, “But why’d you think we knew each other before? Do you really think it’s so unbelievable that I could make a friend so quickly?” “I apologize,” Regina said, still standing, “I didn’t mean to offend.” “Because it is!” Coco said, “I mean, I’ve been here for years without making any friends. And the student council president sure as hell never made sure I was feeling welcomed!” “I apologize for not making your acquaintance sooner,” Regina said, “I hope we can be fast friends.” “I doubt it,” Coco said, “I don’t get along with normies. Except Ivy.” “What did you just call her?” Clover demanded with her mouth full. Regina stifled a laugh with a cough. “Then I think we should get along just fine,” Regina said, “A normie’s just someone you don’t know well enough. Everyone’s a weirdo, deep down.” “If you say so,” Coco said, “Speaking of weirdness, what’s with your face? Are you a ghost? If I ask, you have to tell me, that’s the law.” “Gee, I wonder why you haven’t made any friends,” Clover said, sarcastically. “I’m albino, actually,” Regina said, “I mean, I’m also a ghost, obviously, but I was this pale when I was alive, too.” Clover laughed. “Nice.” The mood lightened up a bit. But then Coco asked “So what’s with her face?” while pointing at Clover. “Nothing’s wrong with my face!” Clover said, “What, you’ve never seen a girl with freckles before?” “She’s a lich, actually,” Regina said, nonchalantly, “That’s just part of the undying process.” “Badass,” Coco said, “But where’s her phylactery?” “I’ve got a phylactery for you right here!” Clover said, flipping her off.

 

Ivy and Coco gasped in shock. “Clover, please,” Regina said, “They won’t cooperate if you keep being so rude.” “What?” Clover asked, “I’m just showing them the ring.” She wasn’t lying. On her middle finger was a ring with a red jewel shaped like a three leaf clover. “Does this mean that we all got rings?” Coco asked. She showed a similar ring, with a red, heart-shaped jewel on her ring finger. Ivy and Regina nodded. “But if mine is a heart, and hers is a clover,” Coco said, “What’s yours? Ivy?” “It’s not a clover,” Clover said, “It’s a club. Regina’s is a spade, so Ivy’s would be a diamond, right?” “Yeah,” Ivy said, showing the ring on her pinky to everyone at the table. “Also, why would you think the rings are based on our names if yours is a heart?” Clover asked. “Coco Roe is a pun on ‘kokoro’, the Japanese word for heart, because my dad is a fucking weeb,” Coco said, “Although, if yours is a club, why’s it red? Shouldn’t it be black?” “Don’t ask me,” Clover said, “But Regina’s is black, like you’d expect.” Regina, still standing, set her tray down to show her ring. “Oh, uh, you can sit with us, by the way,” Ivy said, “Sorry for making you stand for so long.” “Thank you,” Regina said, taking a seat. “Awww, you’re no fun,” Coco said, “I wanted to see if she’d stand there for the entire lunch period.” Clover sighed. “Since we all have similar rings,” Regina said, “I take it we all had similar dreams?” “Mmhm,” Ivy said, “I don’t remember too much, but Clover and two other girls I didn’t really recognize were there. I’m guessing that was you?” “Probably,” Coco said, “I’m pretty sure they were in my dream. I suspected something spooky was afoot, and figured that may have been the real reason they wanted to talk.” “So you’ve just been messing with us this whole time?” Clover asked, angrily. “Mostly just you, to be honest,” Coco said, “Did it really take you that long to notice?” “You know what I mean,” Clover snapped.

 

“Anyway,” Coco said, “I think that, in the dream, the rings gave us some kind of powers that we used to kick ass. Does that sound about right to everyone else?” Everyone else nodded. “I know it was my idea to meet here,” Regina said, “But perhaps we should continue this conversation elsewhere. If someone overheard us here, they might think we’re lunatics.” “People thinking you’re a lunatic’s not so bad,” Coco said, “It’s really quite freeing, not having to care what other people think.” “Not all of us can afford to be as unpopular as you,” Clover said. “It’s a damn shame you let everyone else control your life,” Coco said, “I think you could be pretty cool, if you just lived on your own terms.” “I don’t let everyone else control my life,” Clover said, defensively, “For instance, I don’t give a damn about what you think.” Coco laughed. “Well played.” “I… don’t think we should be arguing,” Ivy said, “We’ll have to work together to figure out what’s going on, and that’ll be easier if we all get along.” “What are you talking about?” Coco asked, “This is the best I’ve gotten along with anyone in years. We’re just joking around, right?” “Right…” Clover said, unconvincingly. “I agree with Ivy,” Regina said, “We can’t discount the possibility that these rings are dangerous. And if that’s the case, we’d be safest if we all worked together.” “I’m down,” Coco said, “It’s not like I like you, or anything, I’ve just watched enough anime to know that the power of friendship always wins.” “I guess I could try to get along with her,” Clover said. “Then it’s settled,” Regina said, “Let’s meet up in Riemann Park after class.” “Where’s that?” Ivy asked. “Don’t worry, I’ll lead you there,” Coco said, “And I promise, I won’t take you to The Pits of Sacrifice this time,” she added, with an exaggerated wink. “Thank you,” Ivy said, completely sincerely, “Although that was a lovely dagger you gave me last time.” Regina laughed, while Clover just looked confused. They spent the rest of their lunch period eating and making small talk.

The Dualists: Chapter 2

(Chapter 1 of The Dualists can be found here)

“IVYYYYYYYYYY!” As she started walking home from school, Ivy heard her name shouted at a volume that only one person she knew could achieve. When she turned around, she saw Coco charging at her, at speeds that she did not know Coco could achieve. Too surprised to move, Ivy found herself on the receiving end of a hug so powerful that it knocked her to the ground. “Agh? What was that?” Ivy shouted. “A glomp,” Coco said, picking herself up and offering her hand to Ivy. “Is that some kind of wrestling move?” Ivy asked, as Coco helped pull her up. She was surprisingly strong. “No, it’s a kind of hug. One person runs at another and embraces them. The second person remains standing, and the momentum of the first person causes them to spin around. I suppose I should have known that my hug game would be too strong for an amateur like you.” Ivy almost mentioned that the weight difference between the two was likely a factor, but she bit her tongue. “So is this a thing from your…?” Ivy trailed off, searching for a word she’d forgotten. “Anime? Yes,” Coco said, indignantly, “If you like, I can give you an etching which you can use as a reference for what a successful glomp looks like, but you’ll have to wait a bit.” “I remember seeing you drawing- er, etching– something during the assembly. Is that what you were working on?” Ivy asked. “I was,” Coco confirmed, “But I had to stop partway through. Those speeches were too distracting. I decide to look up just once, and she was almost crying all of a sudden!” “Yeah, I was meaning to ask about that,” Ivy said, “That whole student council election thing was unusual, yeah? Like, as a newcomer, I can’t tell if that’s just the way things go around here.” “Don’t worry, that was definitely an anomaly,” Coco assured, “This school is mostly pretty normal. Present company excepted, of course.”

 

Coco paused for dramatic effect. “Unless you believe the rumors circulating in the occult underground, that is!” “Well, I can’t really say that I do, so-” Ivy began. Coco continued, despite Ivy’s disinterest. “Word on the street is that a massive gathering of supernatural entities is fast approaching, on this, the night of the Full Moon!” This piqued Ivy’s interest. “What do you mean, ‘supernatural entities’? You mean, like… ghosts?” “That’s exactly what makes it so mysterious. No one knows for sure!” Coco said, dramatically, “Some say they’re spirits. Others believe them to be gods, or demons, or incubi, or succubi, or elves, or gnomes, or… well, anything!” “That’s kind of vague. What are they supposed to be doing at this ‘gathering’?” Ivy asked. “Well, here’s where it gets really weird. Even though no one has any idea what these things are, key members of the community, myself included, strongly believe that they’ll try to possess humans.” “Why?” Ivy asked. “To make mischief, probably!” Coco responded, “Think of all the shenanigans you could pull off with that kind of power! A few believe that they may have humanity’s best interest at heart, but I wouldn’t bet on it.” “I meant to ask why you believe they’re possessing people,” Ivy clarified. “You know, I’m not quite sure. Maybe I’ve already been possessed, and my subconscious is trying to warn me. Or maybe…” Coco’s face twisted into a grin that Ivy found at once nostalgic and terrifying. “I’m possessed right now! HAHAHAHAHAHA!”

 

Ivy was too polite to admit that she was actually frightened, but Coco didn’t need her to. As her witch-like cackling died down, she apologized. “I’m sorry, I keep forgetting that this is our first time hanging out in years. I’ve only been getting spookier, but you haven’t been leveling up with me, so it makes sense that you’d be scared.” “Then I guess I’ll just have to train extra hard!” Ivy said. “Well, if you think you’re up to the challenge, I have a bone-chilling story about this old mansion I haunted a few centuries- er, I mean, what I meant to say is that I’myourfriendCocoanddefinitelynotaghostpossessingher” Ivy laughed. Same old Coco. “But for real, though,” Coco said, in an uncharacteristically serious tone, “If you don’t believe in the supernatural, it probably means they’re not targeting you. So even if something does happen tonight, I’m sure you’ll be safe.” “Thank you,” Ivy said, in a characteristically sincere tone, “If there’s one thing I don’t need right now, it’s something else to worry about. This goddamn move is stressful enough as it is.” Coco giggled. “Well, look at my little Ivy, all grown up! Finally using some words with some fuckin’ firepower.” “Oh, sorry,” Ivy said, “I guess I picked it up from my old man.” “Why are you saying sorry?” Coco said, “You should be saying you’re welcome! It wasn’t a very high level cuss, but I could feel the heat in it.” Ivy laughed. “You really haven’t changed a bit. Anyway, I should probably get going. Those boxes at home aren’t going to unpack themselves. Anyway, be sure to tell me if anything strange happens to you tonight!” “Will do!” Coco said, “Try not to get possessed by demons while you sleep!” And with that, they went their separate ways.

(Chapter 3 of The Dualists can be found here)

The Dualists: Chapter 1

(The Prologue to The Dualists can be found here)

This story begins as so many do: with a transfer student. Namely, one Ivy Klein, who moved to the small town of Hooke Springs because of her father’s work. It was definitely a change of pace from the big city she came from, quite literally what the doctor ordered. Her father had suffered a minor heart attack, if any heart attack can truly be described as minor, which the doctors attributed to job-related stress. Thus, they prescribed him to move “out in the middle of goddamn nowhere,” as he always said. Then, like clockwork, his wife would roll her eyes and point to the swear jar, and he’d add another quarter to its impossibly vast riches. “What those-” he just barely managed to stop himself before he lost any more change. “What those dang doctors don’t seem to get is that moving is a whole-” he stopped himself again. “A whole heck of a lot more stressful than anything I’ve ever done for my job. And don’t even get me started on how much harder it is to conduct business over a conference call, rather than a good old-fashioned face-to-face meeting.” “Trust me, we wouldn’t dream of it”, his daughter would say. “Well, I was just about to go on to say that the worst part is that it puts my lovely wife and daughter under the same stress, but I guess if she’s going to be such a…” he sighed. “If she’s going to be such a smartass about it, maybe she deserves it!” At the very moment he said “smartass”, he flipped a coin in the direction of the swear jar. The very next moment, it hit the floor, several feet from its intended destination. Ivy couldn’t help but smile. “Was it worth it?” “You bet your-” he decided he’d lost enough for today. “You bet it was.” And then they’d all laugh.

 
Ivy was sure she’d miss her old friends from the city, but at least she’d always have her family. She decided to think of this move, not as the loss of her old friends, but as an opportunity to gain new friends, as well as reunite with one friend in particular. Coco, her best friend since elementary school, had moved to this very same town two years prior. No one better embodied the saying “opposites attract” than those two. Ivy was, for the most part, a perfectly normal girl. She had decent grades, performed adequately at sports, occasionally drew for fun, listened to popular music, and loved chocolate. If she had to name one unusual thing about herself, it’d be her status as an introverted extrovert (or an extroverted introvert, depending on how she was feeling that day). She enjoyed making friends and talking to people, but often had trouble striking up conversation with strangers, so she usually only had a few good friends. This, of course, only made her even more normal, but she was not aware of this. Coco, on the other hand, was… abnormal. Her grades were just good enough to get by, to the great frustration of her teachers, who could tell that she was plenty clever enough to excel. She proudly proclaimed that she “only moved when she had to,” so she was not the most physically fit person; she was far from dangerously overweight, but it was noticeable enough to get her teased. She never drew; she insisted that her creations were to be called “etchings”, and were only produced when she entered a trance-like state, or so she claimed. She insisted so ardently that her “art,” which seemed to inspire a precisely honed confusion and unease in all who gazed upon it, was the product of supernatural inspiration (or possession), that Ivy had no choice but to play along. Her tastes in music were similarly extreme, favoring either The Common Practice Era (Baroque, Classical, Romantic), various subgenres of Metal appended with creative adjectives, or something called “Neo-classical Darkwave.” She was an extrovert, but her desire to make friends was far stronger than her ability to do so. She’d always approach strangers, excitedly recounting a cool bug she saw, or a crazy song she just heard, and they’d politely play along until she left, never to speak to her again. Despite having so few friends, (or perhaps because of it) she treasured them dearly, and would go to any length to ensure their safety and happiness. She also loved chocolate, because who doesn’t love chocolate?

 
Ivy could still remember the day that she was approached by that weird girl that she’d heard unpleasant rumors about. “Hey, will you be my friend?” she asked, catching Ivy off guard. “Um, sure! But why me?” Ivy asked. “Well, I want a friend, and no one else in this school seems to want to be my friend. I think it’s because they’re boring,” Coco said, very matter-of-factly. “So you’re saying that I’m the last person in the school that you asked to be my friend? Gee, I’m honored.” Ivy said, sarcastically. She was only joking around, but this was lost on Coco. “Yeah, you’re right. Sorry, I’m just being a bother. As always. You really don’t have to be my friend if you don’t want to.” “I’m so sorry! I was just teasing. I really didn’t mean to hurt you. Of course I’ll be your friend!” Ivy said. Coco was unconvinced. “I can tell you’re just saying that because you feel sorry for me. But really, it’s fine. I’m used to it. You don’t have to feel bad for me.” “I-” Ivy wasn’t sure what to say. She DID feel sorry for the girl before her. But… “Look, since we’re friends and all, I’m not going to lie. I do feel sorry for you. But you know what? I also kind of envy you. I always want to make friends with people, but I’m too scared to say the wrong thing, so I don’t say anything. But you’re brave enough to be yourself, no matter what, and that’s awesome.” After a short silence, Coco spoke. “Soooooo… what you’re saying is that ‘being myself’ is ‘saying the wrong thing?’” “What? No, not at all! I mean, I was just-” Ivy began. “I was just teasing!” Coco said, with a wink. They both laughed. Coco said, “You know, going with the whole ‘not lying’ thing, you were kind of right. You were one of the last people I approached to be my friend, because I thought you looked boring. And I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong about anything in my life. I’m glad that we’re friends.” “Me too,” Ivy said. “So, how do we make this official?” Coco asked, “Do we just shake hands? Or do we do that thing where we spit on our hands and then shake hands? Or is it on each other’s hands? Or do we do that thing where we cut our hands open and then shake hands? If we do that, we probably shouldn’t also do the spit thing, because infections are-” “I think just shaking hands is fine,” Ivy interrupted. They shook hands, and from that moment on, they were friends.

(Chapter 2 of The Dualists can be found here)

The Dualists: Prologue

If there is one thing that sets Man apart from his fellow creatures on this Earth, it is his recognition of the Abstract. While the animal sees only what is, Man sees what isn’t, what could be, and what cannot be. When a dog sees a tree, it sees only a tower of wood with branches. It may understand that it provides shade during the summer, and it may consider the tree to be its territory, but to the dog, the tree is nothing more than a physical object. A human, however, sees more. A human can grasp the idea of a tree, the concept of a tall, sturdy, unmoving organism, which encompasses so much more than the tree he or she sees presently. The human sees what it is that makes the collection of matter before them a tree, and what makes it different from everything that is not a tree. When the human sees a different object that shares these properties, it recognizes it as a tree, and can use its knowledge of the idea of the tree to understand how this particular tree is similar to, and different from, other trees. This idea can even be applied to the imagination, to create objects that cannot be found in real life, but may be considered trees, nonetheless. One might imagine a living tower of polished obsidian, branching off in geometric patterns, adorned with crimson blades of glass which throw the glimmer of ultraviolet fireflies at impossible angles. It takes its energy from gravitational waves emitted by the binary black holes that its home planet orbits, and slakes its thirst on the blood of any creature unfortunate enough to burrow beneath its roots. Such a terrible obelisk could surely never exist, yet the human knows that it might still be a tree, for the idea of a tree is not bound by the rules of existence.
It is the hubris of Mankind to suppose that they are the inventors of the abstract, that these ideas did not exist until a human conceived of them. In truth, these Ideals, as they are formally called, were not created by us. Rather, we were created by them. They exist in the Domain of the abstract, and shape the concrete world in their image. Yet there is a kernel of truth to be found in this belief. Just as the abstract shapes the concrete, the inverse process occurs, and the concrete shapes the abstract. Since the birth of humanity, the equilibrium between these two universes has been relatively stable. Just as differing ideals have sparked wars among humanity in the past, mankind has now fanned the flames of conflict among The Ideals. A great war has broken out, pitting hope versus despair, life versus death, chaos versus order, good versus evil, cats versus dogs, and so on. The futility of this war is plain to see, as it can reach no conclusion; it is, after all, impossible to kill an idea. Yet it is possible to kill everything which stands for an idea, and there are those who believe this is just as good. Since an ideal has little influence over that in the concrete world which is not a target of their domain, they must rely on humans to accomplish this. And so, they select champions, and grant them the power to fight on their behalf, on a battleground which exists somewhere between the real and abstract, mind and matter. Some fight for their beliefs, or the thrill of combat, or for a vain hope that they can put an end to the war. Yet fighting will only beget more fighting; only by bringing about Unity can we end this cataclysmic threat to the existence of our universe as we know it. And there are but four with the capability of bringing about Unity: The Dualists.

(Chapter 1 of The Dualists can be found here)

And Beyond

“And that wraps up our section on Month Theory,” The Chronology professor said to his class, “Let us now move on to the next chapter.” He could tell by the groans of his students that class was almost over. He checked his watch. He had plenty of time. “Now, now, class,” he chided, “Did you honestly hope I’d end class early? Have I ever done that?” “No!” Sam, the teacher’s pet, eagerly spoke up, while the rest lazily shook their heads. “Now, let us devote the last minute of class to studying eternities,” the professor said, “First of all, does anyone know what an eternity is?” Unsurprisingly, Jared jeered “Listening to your lectures!” The professor chuckled along with the class. “That is an example, yes,” he said, “Can you explain why that is?” Jared was dumbfounded. “W-what? I was, er, only joking, sir.” He stammered. Several students stifled giggles at his expense. “Well, I’m not,” The professor said, “So I ask again: does anyone know what an eternity is?” Sam spoke up once more. “Isn’t an eternity, like, forever?” That was the answer he expected to hear. “Sometimes, yes, in a certain sense,” he said, “But that’s not very rigorous. For a useful definition, we need something quantitative. We need to know how long an eternity is. So how long is it?” Sam began, “It’s in-” The professor cut him off. “Someone who isn’t Sam, perhaps?” Silence. “I know you know the answer,” he said, “I know you’re all thinking it. I just need someone to say it.” “Infinitely long?” he heard, from somewhere in the room. “Yes!” he said, “Exactly! An eternity is an interval of time that is infinitely long. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

 

“A standard way to construct an eternity,” he lectured, “Is to suppose that an hourglass with 2 seconds of sand in the bottom is flipped. Then, for every second that elapses, an additional second of sand is added to the top. The duration of this hourglass is an eternity.” A few students nodded to indicate understanding. “Now suppose that such an hourglass, we’ll call it A, is flipped at noon. Now suppose that an identical hourglass, B, is flipped at 1 PM of the same day. Which hourglass has the longer duration?” Silence. He pointed to a student at random. “You,” he said, “What do you think?” She looked around nervously. “Me?” “Yes, you,” he said, “It’s OK if you say the wrong answer, just say something.” “Well, A, I guess,” she said. “And why’s that?” he asked. “Well, ‘cuz it’s an hour longer,” she said. “And what is infinity plus 1?” he asked. “I guess infinity,” she mumbled. “Precisely! So you see, no matter when the hourglass is flipped, the duration is the same eternity. In fact, even if it’s flipped infinitely long ago in the past, its duration is still the same. Two times infinity is still infinity.” “So what you’re saying is that all eternities are the same length?” “Not quite,” he said, “All eternities of this type, called countable eternities, are the same duration. But there is a second type of eternity, called an uncountable eternity, which is far longer. Can anyone think of what might be an example?” The entire class looked confused and bored in varying measure, except for Sam, who was visibly straining not to raise his hand. “Perhaps you can think of an example, Jared?” He said. Jared, who had sunk into his chair to avoid attracting attention, was startled upright. “Uh… your class?” “Very good!” The professor said, “Or a second or a minute or a year. Any finite interval of time contains an eternity which is longer than the previously discussed eternities.”

 

“But that doesn’t make sense,” Amelia interjected, “An interval can’t contain any intervals of larger duration, much less infinitely many of them. So how can infinity seconds be shorter than one second?” “That’s an excellent question,” the professor said, “in fact, you’ve just described the well-known ‘Eternity Paradox’, a famous unsolved problem. But a key part of it is measurement. A countable eternity is measured in seconds, which have duration, but an uncountable eternity is measured in moments, which have 0 duration. And the number of moments in a second is greater than the number of seconds in a countable eternity.” “So there are more than infinity moments in a second?” She asked, “Then how many are there?” “Well, it’s a bigger infinity,” he said, “you know how there are more irrational numbers than rational numbers? It’s kind of like that. But you’d have to ask a mathematician for a full explanation.” From the defiant look in her eyes, he could tell that she would. His work was done. “Well, that’s enough for today,” he said, “I don’t want to keep you over time, so class is dismissed…” He looked down at his watch. “Now!” The class all checked their phones, and began muttering in confusion and disbelief. “Huh? That was all in a minute?” “No way, he must’ve lied.” “Maybe it really was an eternity…” Their muttering died down as they all shuffled out into the hall.

 

All but one. Even after the rest of the students left, Sam still sat in his seat. “Hey, how come you didn’t tell them?” He asked, “Er, I mean, why didn’t you tell them, sir?” “Tell them what?” The professor asked. “How you’re the leading expert on eternities! How you practically invented them!” “It wasn’t relevant to the course,” the professor said, “besides, I’m nothing special. I just took some ideas from Cantor and Zeno and shuffled them around a bit.” “But no one else would have thought up a longer eternity that can fit inside a single second. How did you even come up with that idea?” “Well, son,” the professor said, “a long time ago – an eternity ago, in fact – your mother said that she would love me forever.”

Unphased

She knew his type. There was one in every class. Some hotshot whiz kid who was untouchable in high school, who is sure he would’ve been accepted to Paracelsus University if only he’d applied, and thinks that his natural talent for casting makes him smarter than everyone around him. Even his professors. “Actually,” he said, confirming everything she suspected about him with a single word, “Moonlight is physically indistinguishable from sunlight. A photon is a photon, no matter where it comes from. Well, it’s also an oscillation in the electromagnetic field, but-” “I’m sorry, but if you’re trying to impress me, it’s going to take more than a Wikipedia-based understanding of particle-wave duality,” she snapped. It wasn’t very professorly of her, but she’d put up with enough wizards like him in her short time as a teacher. They were always wizards. “Care to share with the class why Night Magicks can only be performed during certain phases of the moon?” she asked. “Sure, I’ll do your job for you,” he said, “It’s purely psychological. For many years, dark magic-” “Night Magicks,” she corrected, reveling in the opportunity to be as annoying as he was. “You know, most people who nitpick pedantic things are a lot less clever than they think they are,” he retorted. The class snickered. She rolled her eyes. The difference between Night Magicks and Dark Magic was as stark as the difference between a firefighter and a Fire Warrior. But she saw no point in correcting him. His grade was his problem. “Noted,” she said, curtly, “as you were saying?” “Anyway, Night Magicks,” he said, voice dripping with indignation, “were outlawed by The Orthodoxy in ancient times. As such, it was only practiced at night, despite requiring light to perform. So people came to believe that it relied on the phases of the Moon. This myth has become so firmly entrenched that wizards think it won’t work during certain phases, so it won’t. A self-fulfilling prophesy. I don’t even know why I bothered coming to this school if my high school teachers were smarter than the professors here.” “That’s an interesting hypothesis,” the professor said, barely maintaining her composure, “but I’d like to see some evidence. If you’re so sure that any light suffices, cast a Nyxian infertility hex. Right now.” “What’d I even cast it on? It’s not like we have a field of crops handy,” he said. “Cast it on me, then. You won’t get in trouble,” she said. “What, are you crazy? I doubt you could shield one of my hexes. You’d-” “Oh, I have no intention of shielding anything,” she taunted. “Because it won’t work.” “Fine!” he shouted. “Anything to wipe that smug look off your face.” He took the words out of her mouth.

He stood, inscribed the appropriate symbols on his quartz runestone, uttered the necessary incantations, and… nothing. “Is something the matter?” she asked, “You said any light would work. Would a flashlight help?” “It’s not that I can’t cast it,” he barked, “I just don’t feel right hexing a pretty lady like you. That’s all.” “A likely story,” she said. He began laughing. “You do know that it’s a full moon, right? So even if it were powered by moonlight, your point is invalid. You know, I really hope, for your sake, that you have tenure. If I employed a witch as idiotic as you, I’d have her fired!” “But Night Magicks are most powerful during the New Moon. That’s because they’re powered by a kind of light you can’t see: imaginary light,” she said. “Imaginary light? Are you mentally unwell? I’m seriously concerned,” he sneered. She sighed. “Since you were so eager to explain quantum mechanics to me just a bit ago, I assume you’re familiar with complex numbers: sums of real and imaginary numbers, which can be described by their magnitude and phase. The latter is an angle which describes the proportion of the imaginary to the real component. And this is exactly what phases of the moon are: the moon is always reflecting the same amount of light, it’s just how much of it that’s real that changes.” “What, you’re talking about math, now? How cute. Math is just something mortals do because they’re not clever enough to figure out magic,” he said. “The Merlin Committee certainly didn’t seem to think so when they awarded the most prestigious magical honor to the inventor of Complex Lunar Analysis,” she said. “Yeah, right,” he said, pulling out his phone to prove her wrong, “Like anyone would get a Merlin Award for that crap.” When he looked it up, he almost dropped his phone in shock. “Awarded to Cecilia Holly? That’s impossible! After what happened with Morgan le Fay, Merlin specifically forbade his riches from ever falling into the hands of a witch!” “Oh, I’m no witch,” the professor said, smiling, “Just a mortal who’s cleverer than you.”

What is the Meaning of This?

At the heart of all language lies a singular paradox; namely, that it is impossible to define a word without using more words. Each of those words is then defined with other words, which are themselves defined with yet more words, and so on. If all words are defined with other words, where does the meaning come from? This is among the biggest questions of abstract linguistics. One hypothesis asserts that the meaning is entirely relative: all that exists for certain is the structure of language, imposed by dictionaries and conversations, and individual people assign their own personal meaning to words based on context. Some find this theory rather troublesome. For example, it would imply that there is no way you can be certain that the meaning you have assigned to the words you’re currently reading matches the meaning I have assigned to the words that I am currently writing. Worse still, if there is a disparity between how we define words, it is irresolvable. The only way to explain to someone else that their meaning of a word is different from yours is by using other words, which may also be defined differently by both parties. These worries are usually hand-waved away by assuming that the structure of language is complex enough that only one mapping of meanings to words satisfies all of it, plus or minus a few quirks here and there. However, this assurance is a conjecture, rather than a theorem; while no one has been able to rigorously prove it, no one has been able to disprove it either, and it seems more plausible than implausible. The “Holy Grail” of this field of linguistics is to disprove this conjecture by constructing a proper linguistic isomorphism: a way of assigning substantially different meanings to each word, such that the structure of language is preserved. That is, every meaningful sentence remains meaningful, albeit with a different meaning, and every unmeaningful sentence remains unmeaningful.

 
Then there are those linguists who maintain that relativity is a matter for physicists, with no rightful place in their field. Linguistic absolutists, as they are commonly called, believe meaning to be derived from The Primal Dictionary: the minimal set of word-idea pairs that can be used to construct a maximally robust language, that is, one capable of expressing any possible (or impossible) idea. Though the phrase “The Primal Dictionary” carries more gravitas than merely “A Primal Dictionary”, the latter is technically more correct; even without knowing whether or not such a dictionary exists, linguists have proven that it could not be unique, as the existence of one implies the existence of many more. For previous definitions of a Primal Dictionary, (readers are recommended against trying to fathom how one defines that which defines all meaning) it sufficed to be able to construct a language as robust as English. Whether or not this new condition is stronger is a tremendously difficult problem. How can one know whether or not there exist ideas that are inexpressible by human language? And if one were to find such an idea, how would they convince their colleagues?