by John Wyatt
“We call it the Praw.” Androgian instructed his new class. “The common name is “NoPass’, but that’s just the physical manifestation of the Praw. The Praw itself is an abstract concept that comes into being at the place we call NoPass. However, there is nothing that prevents the Praw from manifesting anywhere.”
“But what is it, really?” The young acolytes were always amazed when initiated into the mysteries of Moanastic life.
“That’s the point – it isn’t!” Androgian had risen far in the Order and was now a Teacher, a job that thoroughly suited him. He had been profoundly changed by his experience at the NoPass Obstacle, and was fascinated by the abstract concepts of impassibility.
Every Initiate had learned to trace the route around NoPass, mapping the ragged, roughly circular path around the obstacle itself. However, the most profound fact was not the existence of this patch of non-existence, but the fact that existence itself was warped at the obstacle.
“Where you land depends on how you approach the Praw. But mere description is inadequate. Luckily for you younger ones, Master Cartes has created a new way of representing abstract mathematical concepts. His graphing method involves making marks at increasing distances on two axes. The Right axis represents an increasing independent variable, which is a statement of what is. We call that the noun. The Spinward axis represents the increasing dependant variable, or the resulting action. An action is termed a verb. In this way, the results of a mathematical formula can be laid out using our noun-verb symbology such that anyone can roll over it and gain a ‘feel’ for the abstract symmetry of the formula. Using this technique, we have been able to gain new insight into the hyperbolic lines created by the Beacons, which also made it possible to record the Beacon patterns in ways that have made learning them much easier.”
There were murmurs of assent – many of the Chips had been forced to endure long stories about how ‘in the old days, we had to walk the entire number line in our mind, learning the Beacon patterns by memory!’ Feeling a pre-made noun-verb map was much easier!
Androgian continued, “What makes the Praw-verbs so unique is that they depend on several independent variables, giving rise to a matrix of results, depending on the speed and angle of approach.” There were groans; many of them had heard horror stories of matrix math!
“Does it explain why movement is harder at some times than at others?” Rackit was the trouble-maker in the class. He always had to present a seemingly unsolvable problem and challenge the instructor to explain it. Androgian was more tolerant of questions than most other instructors, who frequently admonished their students not to raise questions that challenged understanding – or ‘raising a Rackit’ as it had come to be known.
“I understand your concerns,” Androgian admonished his wayward student, “but your question is off the topic. I assume, of course, that you are not merely referring to the differences between high-warmth and low-warmth, but to the reports of seemingly random hindrances?” His voice dripped with sarcasm over the rumors of random obstacles to movement. Few took the reports seriously; but those who did, took them quite seriously indeed.
Androgian continued: “Perhaps this is a good time to recite our basic observations!”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” The entire class glared at Rackit, vowing to give him a good wailing afterwards.
“Now class, repeat after me … A rolling stone gathers no …”
“IP packets.” They recited listlessly.
“That’s right, and why is that?”
“Because … when moving, our poles are rotating at a changing angle to the Conversation. I’m sure you all remember that.”
Poles bobbed weakly in assent.
“And the next one – A wise stone has a hidden heart, but a fool is …”
“Naught but surface throughout.” Everyone hated doing recitations.
“Correct! And next … A fool’s voice is an Icorruption, but a wise voice … “
“creates clear conversation.” The class was losing what little energy it had, so Androgian decided to suspend the recitals and switch to the local announcements. Since students were permitted only a proxy IP address (even if they had their own IP address), the instructors always conveyed the public announcements to their class.
“There will be a public Chanting at 123A counts past the second quarter. All Clanbits are urged to attend. Also, don’t forget that 14B1 counts past the quarter is the deadline to apply for graduation – that applies to those of you with 1F credits or less to complete. Oh, and will whomever left smudge trails all over Beacon route C7 please report for cleanup duty! We can’t have people tracking smudge all over the World! It attracts Chips, who distract the Beacons from their duty! Oh, and finally, Router NetBuoy is taking applications for Router School, for those who can pass the 32-bit counting and multi-tasking exams.”
Androgian paused for what he hoped was a dramatic effect before continuing. “As you know, we here at the Moanastery can administer both of those examinations. So, if you are interested in a career as a Router, please see Master Cramus to make an appointment for an exam.”
Just then, the announcements were interrupted by a ruckus in the courtyard. Androgian continued reciting the announcements, but the student’s were focused elsewhere.
“She’s gone! She just up and disappeared!”
“Impossible! She must just be out of range. A whole person can’t just disappear!”
“Quarkus did, periods ago.”
“No he didn’t; he just discovered traveling.”
“But they thought he disappeared!”
“Those two girls disappeared at the Dance of Sin!”
“That was different. That was Divine punishment.”
“How do you know?”
“What else could it have been?”
“PLEASE QUIET DOWN AND SPEAK IN TURN!” Master Meson shouted into the courtyard from his vantage point at the public forum. “Now, please tell me what happened, and just the facts.”
“We were traveling around NoPass, studying the Praw-Verbs.” Mallichi spoke. He was a young Chip, recently inducted into the Order.
“Against orders, I suppose?” The Order had strict orders that no one travel around NoPass without close supervision. There had simply been too many accidents, like the one that had dropped Androgian into their midst many periods ago.
“Um … yes. Sorry.” Mallichi cooled in embarrassment.
“Well, I was there with Frisia, my … my girl friend,” there were titters throughout the listeners; the Order frowned on putting physical attraction over Divine matters. “Well, anyway, Frisia wanted to see how high a verb she could make by rolling head on. You know, the path of most resistance. Well, she rolled as fast as she could, and her speed decreased just as the graphs said they would, until she reached C4 ticks into the Praw.”
The titters became gasps! No one had ever gone that far into the Praw before! While it was true that the formulas said that increasing distance required increasing force at an exponential rate, no one had ever actually gone that far before!
“That’s when she just … disappeared!” Mallichi broke down crying, spewing his free electrons everywhere. The others rolled away, not wanted to pick up his static charge.
“Then, is she dead?” someone asked.
“She has entered the Praw itself, which is nothing.” Master Meson droned. “From nothing were we made by the Creator, and into nothing she has returned. There will be a short ceremony in 7 counts, to mourn her passing.”
Master Meson recited the words he had composed, just as if he were reciting a mathematical law. “Frisia was a good Clanbit. She was a young Chip, full of energy and vitality, and an inspiration to all who knew her. She will be missed by us all.”
The audience listened in total silence. All other Conversation had stopped to carry the eulogy of only the third Clanbit known to have died. There were some who thought that this was a sign that the End was near – just as Frisbit said. Others felt that the girl must simply have gotten lost somewhere. The idea of anyone actually dying was just too painful to bear. Still others believed that she must have been punished by the Creator for the sin of moving. They thought: ‘Surely this proves that movement is sinful!’
Of all those that listened to the eulogy, only one Clanbit was happy! In fact, this person was positively elated!
“I had no idea you liked me so much!” Frisia cooed as she gyrated into the midst of her own funeral! “What an adventure! You can hear everything from up there! You’ve just got to try it!”
An observer might have noticed one small pebble as it tried to roll up the side of a tall, rock mound, fighting against the gravity that held it down. Finally, in one focused push, the pebble rolled up the tall rock mound and settled into the depression at the top of the mound. At this height, well above the rim of the blast crater, the pebble could clearly receive radio signals from long distances, including the chatter of two other Clanbits who lay stuck miles away in an outcropping of copper ore – which provided a perfect antenna. While the conversation was short, it would change the world-view of these small stones, who would never again accept any boundary without challenge.
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