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Piqued - A Toki Ponist Adventure
Chapter 21: Mesmerism

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lon li ike sama lon.
Toki Ponist Pu

With his hands still elasticated behind his back, Tipi looked at the manuscript and while he recognized most words, sentences built from them did not make immediate sense. This was toki pona but not pu. Or was it?

“Can you even read it?” Vasco said.

“Of course, конечно, but understand you can’t translate the text word by word.”

“That is what translation is all about, so just do it!”

Tipi began to translate piece by piece the first paragraphs of the top page. “Number works according to long times,” he translated. “You have number one, then you don’t cut it to make number two. Then you do it by a lot, or no, probably three. Then do by one extra, and one extra, you stop at the number of two hands. But you should do it backward. The building house eats a smaller self. These are the ticks of a holy period.”

“That makes little sense,” Körbl said. “I thought you knew how to translate.”

“I do,” said Tipi. “This is what it says, I can’t help you lack the imagination to figure out what it means.”

Körbl slashed his knife across Julian’s leg, who struggled and howled in anguish. Blood flowed down his leg into his shoes.

“Stop!” Tipi called out.

“Then stop being a such a sage-face. Now that you see what I do with my limited imagination, I suggest you guess what that means for how you proceed next. Explain the text to us.”

Tipi never left a puzzle unresolved. “So it is about numbers,” he began. “Maybe even a math problem. The not-cutting might be the opposite of dividing, so maybe multiplication. It says to multiple one by two and three. So that gives you six. Then it says you should continue until you have both hands? This may refer to ten fingers. If we multiply the six with one extra, four, we already get twenty-four. Or maybe it means to continue with the multiplying until you multiply by ten. So you get one times two times three times four times five times six times seven times eight times nine times ten, which is… large.”

“Three million six hundred twenty-eight thousand eight hundred,” Vasco said, who had been tapping along on his smartphone. “What’s so special about this number?”

“The text continues,” Tipi said. “It says we should in fact do the computation backwards. So ten times nine times eight and so on.”

“I’m no a mathematician, but that gives the same result, so what gives?”

“The result is the same, but the process is not. If you start with the number one, how do you decide when to stop? If you start at ten, the meaningful end is always one. Multiplying by one less, zero, always gives you zero, so that means the entire process cleans itself up in the end. Have you done no math at all in school, these are factorials. Here, the next sentence explains it: the building house eats the smaller self. It talks about recursion. The building house is the function, or factory if you will, the activity of the factory is that it uses a smaller version of itself. The factorial function of ten is ten times the factorial function of nine, and so on. It calls upon itself and needs nothing else.”

“Look, that’s a marvelous piece of mathematics, but what does the number mean and how is it related to the secret of enlightenment.”

Tipi did not know how it related to enlightenment either. It surprised him to find a piece on mathematics written in toki pona even though he, well his body at least, had been the supposed author of this passage. As far as he knew, toki pona as a language was ill suited for conveying complex mathematical or technical ideas.

“The text said it was the tick of the holy period. It has something to do with time.”

“Go on.”

“It would not kill you to put your own brain cells to work. Don’t you like a good puzzle?”

“I’ve got my job right here,” Körbl said, squeezing the sobbing Julian.

Tipi looked away. Looking Julian in the eyes would not help him focus. He had to find a way out of this mess, and this puzzle would buy him some time to do some multi-threaded thinking.

“We have the numbers one to ten. We can forget about the one because everything can be one, it will be our base unit. My instinct tells me to get seven out of the mix too until we understand more. There aren’t much things a multiple of seven, except for the days in the week. So now that we’re thinking time, let’s see. There are twenty-four hours in a day, that could be four times six or three times eight. I like threes, so let’s work with that. There are sixty minutes in an hour and sixty seconds in a minute. We can make sixty with three times four times five and two times three times the ten we have left.”

He paused a little. “But then we need three threes instead of one.” He tried to do the math for the case where twenty-four is four times six, but that also did not work out.

“Do you have some paper?”

“Why? Are you going to write with your mouth? Your hands are not coming loose. Do it in your head, smartypants.”

Tipi sighed and took a few breaths to chase away the number munching monkeys in his brain. It would have helped if he could visualize anything, Kalisa told him that his aphantasia made him the best candidate to fight off evil because it could not get into his mind. But then evil put its evil eye on him as something to get out of the way. He tried not to re-enter that dream prison memory; he shivered.

“I have a problem, he said.” Sometimes talking to your cat helps. Here, the cat was a crow. “I have three threes and I should only have one.”

“Three times three is nine,” Julian mumbled to get his own mind off the current situation.

Tipi jumped up in excitement, but because his arms still connected to the chair, both he and the chair fell over. “The boy’s a genius!” Tipi said.

“What? Even I know three times three is nine,” Körbl said.

“You goof. Help me get up.” Vasco helped Tipi get on all six feet again while he continued his calculations. “If we turn the two threes into a nine, then we have used up all the numbers up till ten, except six.”

Vasco looked at Tipi with little understanding.

“The answer is in seconds, there are sixty seconds times sixty minutes times twenty-four hours times seven days, and in total six weeks. The big number is the same as six weeks in seconds. That’s the holy period, I assure you.”

Vasco tilted his head to the side.

“You have found your secret.”

“We have?” Körbl said.

“Oh yes, not only that, you have found the answer to the question of everything.”

Körbl let go of Julian and got even more excited. Tipi’s conclusion did not impress Vasco. “Get that boy, Körbl, he means forty-two. Six weeks is forty-two days. Even now this clown is joking. Shall we show our little Julian what we think is a good joke?”

“No, no, no,” Tipi pleaded. “It is a funny coincidence, but I was not at all kidding. What? Do you think my other me included this in the manuscript for no good reason? Do you think it spent all that time cooped up in a hole in the mountain away from civilization to write trite references to twentieth-century pop culture books in a flawed attempt at humor?”

“This is going to take a while,” Vasco said. “We’ve got this complete manuscript to go through, and we have only covered the first few paragraphs. Take the boy to his room.”

Körbl left the room with the boy.

“You know,” Tipi said. “If you untie me, I could browse through the documents and find what you want. All you want is the management summary, right? The easy three steps to controlling the world.”

Vasco leaned against the wall.

“I will untie one arm, so you can browse and find what we’re looking for.” He walked towards Tipi and with great caution and de-elasticated his right arm.

“The left arm, if you don’t mind: I’m a southpaw.”

Vasco did not respond and continued to unjumble the right arm. “Now search for the useful passages.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said Tipi, and he perused the documents. Next to acting out the feigned interest of a captive in intellectual slave labor, there was also an increasing jolt of actual interest in his own possessed writings. The language is not such that you can just read a couple of lines and know what it is about. To convey any complex idea, you first need to build up a lot of context. And that is not how you should use the language, anyway. It only has about one hundred and twenty words and lacks the grammar to connect multiple ideas into a single statement. These writings seemed to be written by someone who tried against all odds to describe very complex ideas with this limited toolset.

For what it was worth, Tipi did not see any evidence for a manual for enlightenment or world domination being buried in these texts. After Tipi had browsed through the document back and forward three times, he put it down.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t found it, I don’t buy it,” Vasco said.

“No, I think I’ve found it alright. He opened the manuscript somewhere towards the end. The instructions start here.”

Vasco looked at the page. It was only text, not a single diagram unlike most of the rest of the book. This gave it a unique credibility to Vasco. “Then we’ll wait for Körbl and you can give us the secret.”

“Then I will prepare the ritual by reading the instructions,” Tipi said.

“You do that,” Vasco said, and he sat down again, lighting up a cigarette.

After a few minutes, Körbl entered the room. “I fed the kid and put a bandage on the wound, he’ll live.”

“Good, say, Mr. Tipi here has found the instructions to the secret.”

“For real?”

“Mr. Tipi better hope so, I have lost my patience with him.”

Tipi’s heart raced, and his hands were sweaty. His stomach also disagreed. “You don’t look so good,” Körbl said. “Is he alright, Vasco?”

“He is fine.”

“I’m fine,” Tipi said. “I am just not too happy about giving away the secret to such immense power. But let us begin. First, we need to sit in clock formation. We can perform the ritual with twelve plus one people, but we will have to do with three. I sit at noon, you Vasco at four o’clock and Körbl, you put your seat at eight o’clock.”

There was a brief game of musical chairs in silence where everyone took their right position and seat. “Should we sit on chairs?”

“Oh yes, while enlightenment does not care whether on you are sitting on a pillow, on the floor or on a cheap office chair, this is the way. Now it would be nice if I could use both hands,” Tipi said while shaking his still bound arm. Vasco nodded a clear no.

“Then we’ll proceed as is.” Tipi read the page again to be sure. The first leg of the exercise was a simple breathing exercise.

“What have you gotten yourself into, “ Kalisa said from behind Tipi. “I can’t be here right now to kick these creeps’ asses again. But I’m with you all the way, you know that.”

Tipi nodded. “I got this.” He began a repetitive chant and instructed the two men to join him in a syncopated rhythm. Tipi stomped the floor with his feet. The floor reacted with its own reactive tiny pound. Both crows stomped their feet out of sync, but bit by bit, the banging of the floor against their legs and their chair’s legs nudged their own hammering in a pattern of integer ratio. Like three metronomes on a wobbly table each starting out of sync, their stomping sort of synchronized. But because of the clock formation and the phase delay between each stomp, a radial resonance built up. After about fifteen minutes, the three of them dropped down the floor. A vast expanse enveloped them.

“Whoa, I’m tripping,” Körbl said. “I’m the center of the universe.”

“The universe has no center. It is infinite and the big bang occurred everywhere. Everywhere and everywhen is the center of the universe.”

“I’ll help you with this part,” Kalisa whispered from behind Tipi. They dropped into a mushy organic cavelike space with several tunnels going in distinct directions. A rope dangled from a black hole in the slimy ceiling.

“Grab on to the rope with one hand,” Tipi said to the men. They did, and so did Tipi. Just before the rope zipped upwards, Tipi grabbed the rope with two hands and squeezed as tightly as he could. The three men flew up through the hole and fell on the hard and cold floor on the other side. Tipi still held the rope and used it to crawl back towards the inky hole.

In an instant, they all woke up. Vasco and Körbl looked at each other in confusion. “He’s crawling away!”

Vasco and Körbl got up and jumped after Tipi, who crawled into a hole in the floor. They walked up to the hole and looked down, scratching their heads. That had not been there before.

“Stop!” Vasco called out and jumped into the hole and onto the living room floor. Moments later, Körbl tumbled down beside him. They saw Tipi close the kitchen door behind him. “Hey!” Vasco called out again. They ran into the kitchen, but Tipi was nowhere.

“Why is there a staircase now in the kitchen?” Körbl said confused.

“Check outside,” Vasco said, but he went to check for himself. Except the door would not open, even though there was no lock on the door. He tried to look out the window, but it was pitch black outside. “It’s still morning, right?” he said to Körbl, who was still gazing up the staircase in bewilderment. They ran up the stairs and toward the flickering light in the room at the end of the hallway where they had performed their ritual. Once inside, they saw Tipi crawl down the hole in the floor again.

Tipi screamed. The sound echoed in multiple dimensions. Someone was banging on a door at the other end of the hallway. Shivers rippled across his body from bottom to top. He gasped one last time for air, still clenching his hands around a rope that had never been there. Vasco en Körbl were lying motionless next to their chairs. “At the center of the universe,” Tipi mumbled to himself. Why are people so desperate to find centers everywhere? And when they can’t find one, they assume they themselves must be it.”

Tipi got up and walked into the hallway, dragging a desk chair behind him. He then tried to unknot the elastic mess around his arm, but his free hand shook too much to make any progress.

“Julian?” he called out.

“Help!” Julian screamed from behind a door. Tipi unlocked it with the key that was still in the lock. Julian pulled the door open and ran straight into Tipi’s chest.

“Tipi?” he said and hugged Tipi tight. “Why is everyone so mean?”

“Hush, hush,” Tipi said. “You’re right, you’re right, but that does not mean we can just give up. It’s only an illusion that everything will be better when we die.”

“Where are those men?”

“Asleep, in the next room. They’re in a dream prison, but I don’t know for how long, so we have to get moving.”

They tumbled down the stairs, with Tipi banging the chair behind him against the walls. Julian ran ahead and found his way out the front door. A bright sunlight welcomed them.

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