Chapter 8 – The Instrument of Improbability (Part III)

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The entire set of testing took almost three hours as Brad had predicted and by the time they finished a sense of night had fallen over the Law Library. Even without windows open to the outside and the artificial lighting, everyone felt the weight of the day upon them. Elaine rubbed her neck and watched as Frog fought off a yawn. Outside, the sun would be setting and casting the campus into a hazy twilight.

Elaine set the Enoch to the task of trading the numbers with her server cloud in the Computing Commons and let the machines there start the simulation crunching. Without a context for what it expected to fall out and a broad breadth of data to mine, she let the screen just spin with numbers and interaction totals rather than a time-remaining display. The simulation would take as long as it would take and she could study the conclusions once it finished.

Frog had engaged Casey in a light conversation about why she’d gone in with the cheating clique her Freshman year, Elaine listened in.

“My father’s an aerospace engineer who graduated from National Polytechnic in Mexico City,” she said. “He’s a first generation immigrant to the United States. The government rushed his citizenship when he applied to work for Lockheed-Martin and that’s where he met my mother. I’m the fourth child in a family of all boys and all three of them have already graduated with engineering degrees. So, of course, I am expected to get a college degree also. My mother, bless her heart, couldn’t bear to have me leave home now that my brothers are all out of state so I got in at ASU.”

“But you’re really not into engineering?” Frog asked.

“No,” she said. Casey rubbed her fingers against her wrist where she had a discoloration on her skin. “No, no, don’t take me wrong, engineering is interesting and it’s got some good jobs attached to it, but it’s not really my thing. I like working with my hands and the program here at ASU doesn’t give me a lot of that. So I’ve been taking classes in mechanics and materials engineering.”

“How did you get tangled up in this mess with Brad and Larry? You don’t sound like the sort who’d go for this kind of thing.”

“Wright and I found it by accident,” she said, “but he can explain it a lot better than I can. It reminded me of something superstitious more than something I actually thought might work. You know. Like, who expects a rabbit’s foot to actually be lucky? It wasn’t lucky for the rabbit. Like that.”

Elaine cut in. “Now’s a good time to go over how the cheating system works,” she said. “The data is crunching right now and we’ve probably got an hour or so before it comes back with anything useful. Can you demonstrate?”

“As I said, ask Wright,” Casey Vargas said.

Brad moved around the table and started sifting through the journals scattered around it. Now that she’d completed and collected the tests, Elaine took a moment to examine their titles. All of them were journals and serial publications about German Language and Literature, all published by the same imprint—a small press at Yale University. After a minute of searching, Brad found what he was looking for: Issue 271, Volume 1. He set that aside and next grabbed Issue 828, followed by Issue 182, then Issue 845.

He moved to hand the second issue he’d grabbed to Elaine and said, “You probably haven’t noticed the pattern but—”

“It’s Euler’s Number,” Elaine cut him off as she took the journal. “Two-point-seven-one, eight-two-eight, one-eight-two, eight-four five. The next issue will be nine-oh-four. I suspect that this is significant to the effect, the natural log. Did you know that Google used the first ten-digit prime in e as a web page to invite candidates to apply for a job? No doubt the people who wrote this algorithm hid their function using a similar intelligence test.”

“Oookay,” Brad said. “Remind me never to try to pull one past you. Anyway, yes, it’s e. We didn’t even realize that until after we’d discovered the pattern. If you look at the inside back cover of each of the journals you’ll find the formula for a sort of mathematical trick that the writers suggest can be used to influence statistical analysis of any survey. Specifically it’s for tests.”

He flipped one of the journals open, pointed to neatly handwritten text along the inside-back cover and handed it to Elaine.

She cocked her head slightly to one side. “If you didn’t solve the problem using e originally, how did you discover enough of the algorithm to do anything?”

Casey Vargas spoke up. “Wear patterns,” she said. “I know very little about the number but I did notice that only certain issues had been touched, and touched a lot. That’s when we found the manuscript in back. Wright noticed the number and then used that to discover the seventeen total volumes and put them in proper order.”

Elaine looked at what appeared to be the clean lines of an expertly drawn scientific diagram. It had been done in blue ink with a fine-tipped pen wielded by a steady hand. Upon first glance she spotted symbols that appeared to be from chemical notation alongside architectural notation—except what she saw diagrammed didn’t incorporate designs from either. It ran across the page in intersecting outlines that connected Greek and astrological symbols with a haphazard notation that she figured must have been written in German. As she ran her fingers along one line, Brad Wright handed her the next journal and it immediately became clear where it would sit. Just like a jigsaw puzzle with all the edge pieces completed.

The back covers lined up side-by-side five across the table as Brad continued to hand opened journals to her. As the intersections increased, so did the complexity of the diagram. Upon the fifth, the next journal went below instead of to the right and the pattern continued. Once the entire seventeen journals had been placed on the table, they spiraled inwards, culminating in a final journal with a nautilus shell of overlapping lines.

The German writing interlocked into five different paragraphs across the entire schematic. Looking at it, Elaine could make several educated guesses at its function: (1) it was a probability circuit; (2) this meant that the central diagram (the nautilus shell) was a probability engine; (3) it would power itself on a deep meta-linguistic similar to what she ran the Enoch on; (4) this meant it required a simulation space, much like the Enoch did when running Astral code.

“Which one of you speaks German,” Elaine asked. She held the Enoch up and started to take photographs of the completed diagram. It hummed as it scanned in the diagram, OCRed the German into memory, and began to track out the myriad lines of the probability engine.

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