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The room immersed them in rainbow noise, as if the static of an old television set had leapt out to consume the place. The fuzziness obscured the furniture and the faces of the people around her. 


The static was loud too, as if a dozen different conversations happened right near her ear but she could not understand a one of them. She did so wish one of the conversations would sit still. It was quite lonely not be a part of the chatter. 

“Tip Nick,” she reached out to find him, and grabbed his shirt. He was a mere foot in front of her but she could barely see him. 


“Can we leave? I hate this room.”

Tip Nick drew closer, “What? Why? Oh, sorry of course, I never taught you how to latch on to a single wave pattern.”


He moved his hand through the air. “It’s like an equation, but one where the parts of it get bored and like to chat, so they tend to move about. If we move over here, you should be able to get to a clear energy path if you move only two bits of static.”

GOAL: Move only two lines to get the equation below to be correct. Solution is at bottom of page. 

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She moved her hand in the air, and found to her surprise the static moved with it. As she cupped her hand a pool of static nested there. 


If she looked out of the corner of her eye and a little cross-eyed, yes, there was an equation hanging in the air! She pinched a piece of static and moved it around.

It squiggled and groaned, “Impertinent! I was in the middle of telling Rose why it has thorns!” 


“Oh! I am quite sorry, but perhaps you might also enjoy being here…” 

When she let it go in a different area, it began to talk about the merits of using microphones over microwaves to heat one’s food. 

“Drat,” That did not look at all right. “Quite sorry…” she picked up the static again. 


The static screamed, “Unhand me large giant!”


“Yes, well, I will, just have to figure out where to do the unhanding…”

She dropped the static into a different place where it was invited to share its opinions on whether pie or pi made for a more efficient way to count the time. 


As the static dropped into its new position, it was as if a curtain parted slightly and she slipped into a room that was bathed in blue light. There were another two creatures there. One, a man that looked as if he had descended from brightly colored moths, clothed in mottled purples and yellows, spoke half to the ceiling. 

“I spent my whole first life working on the Certainty Exchange for a Probability Indexer. Got quite rich. My hatching mate sold silk trimmers. I pitied him. I never told him this to his face of course. No, I got him lots of presents I knew he couldn’t afford. But when it was time for me to Transition, I had to pay some molt-headed student I didn’t know to look after me. Stuck me under his bed for half a year. You’re still aware in there, you know, even as your body turns to goo.” 

The static eclipsed the scene again. She saw no two bits she could move to make the equation work out right. 

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Brow furrowed, she turned her head this way and that as if the equation could clatter into place like an ancient coin counting machine. 

She found when she relaxed a bit her brain could gently follow a certain conversation path. 

“My hatching mate on the other hand had a whole family by then. When he made his Transition, they kept him in the living room. They were all there when he came out for his second life. As I was sitting there as a pile of goo, I realized how all this time I felt so sure there was only one ladder to climb. But perhaps, life could be lots of ladders.” 


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The blue bits of static built themselves into ladders in the air. She looked around at the others. They saw the ladders too. 


“But it demands a flip in your perspective. Until I was in the most vulnerable place of my life, I couldn’t see that. So now I’m just wandering, trying to hold onto that part of me that’s still goo, looking for new ladders.”

They watched in silence as the ladders faded back into noise to make room for new patterns. 


Tip Nick started, his voice soft, “I was born in a world filled with matter printers so the trajectory of your life is largely free. After your education is done, you’re let loose into the world before you know what to make of yourself. My friends seemed to find their way. Some of them took Journeys, others found the way on their own. But I had the curse of being slightly good at things.”

As he spoke, new lines of static formed around him, tinged the air purple-blue. 


“I made a passable Baraket player my first time playing, won my first Quasar Sailing match without a lick of practice. But as time went on, I saw my friend who was bad at the Baraket join a band, and he’s not a professional, but he played for a few Joinings. My friend on the Quasar Sailing team played in his zone finals.” 

“A part of me said, “If I had practiced, I’d be ten times as good as them! They wouldn’t stand a chance!”

“But the thing is, I never did. I just kept coasting. There was nothing I was bad enough at that I had to fight to get good. Then I started running away, to the moons of Epsimione, to the rings off Lakstrada, to a hundred places where I could still look interesting simply because I was novel. I ran again each time people got a close enough look to see there wasn’t anything interesting there after all.” 

She felt this immense love for her friend surge inside her, for she did not see him at all this way. But sometimes people use odd mirrors to see themselves. 


In the purple-blue light his face was fuzzy and changed constantly, so she could see a dozen different life paths written on the angles of his face. 

The static stilled, waited. 

She felt so close, and so inexplicably safe with the people here in this room. Yet the fear to speak about this part of her was still there. 


She breathed in “I…” but the rest came out a ball of knotted noise. 


“Just let the words wander,” came a gentle whisper. 

“I guess I have the opposite problem. I have always tried at everything. But each time I try something new, and show it to someone, they might smile and nod and say good job, but they don’t actually get it. So I try again a different way, to get them to see this thing I can barely see myself.”

The air hugged her close and nestled her neck, as if to say, it was safe to go on to say the things she had never even said to herself. 

“Each time I wonder if I’m seeing something that was never there to begin with. Sometimes I've wondered if I'm crazy and that scares me. More and more I think maybe I should just blend in with everyone else. Maybe then there won't be this gulf between me and everyone and I'll feel less lonely."

As she spoke the static turned from ladders into mountains on which were built grand castles. The castles connected to each other by intricate bridges that blossomed in the air. 

She looked around and felt they saw it too, this delusion in her head. But delusions by definition only exist for one. A delusion shared by two, or three, or four is simply reality. 

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Part 4 of 11
Straight as the arrow, you're flying through this!
Solution: 19-11 = 8
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