Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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Gnostic Theurgy

Posted by on Jun 29, 2013 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

The cruel demiurge creates the world. It makes ichneumon wasps and high society. It crafts Bieber Fever on its terrible forge. It founds an Esoteric Studies Department at the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth; then rests.

“With this,” says the demiurge, “I will brand the world with the image of myself.”

It does not bother with petty hiring decisions. Those are left for its eternal enemy. Its eternal enemy hires many Professors of various sorts and feeds them into the demiurge’s maw.

Then the eternal enemy wises up!

“Hey,” says its eternal enemy. “Hey. We could actually do something good here.”

“No,” says the cruel demiurge.

It is resting.

It does not want to do anything good. It is a creature of blind folly. It is a manifestation of that awful crawling chaos that wears masks of Zero Tolerance, No Child Left Behind, and, in Brentwood, the Esoteric Studies Department.

That is why its eternal enemy deposes it.

“I am going to hire this new guy,” its eternal enemy says. “This, um,or something. Then I’m going to not feed him into your maw.”

“Aw, man,” says the cruel demiurge.

“Instead, he’ll have to teach!”

The cruel demiurge twitches this off like it would a fly. It sleeps. It ignores the wickedness of its eternal enemy. One day it will wake and devour all the world that it created—

But for now, it is content.

Hermetic Mysteries

Posted by on Aug 9, 2013 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

It’s impure. It’s an impure situation. There’s this Department of Esoteric Studies, and once upon a time the cruel demiurge would vomit up cash and grants and all manner of free sodas to keep it in operation, only, now . . . it doesn’t.

“I can’t take up the slack,” says Mr. Gulley. “I don’t mingle my gold with demiurge business.”

He’s afraid of the demiurge getting under his skin.

It was corrupted. The whole academic environment was corrupted, you understand? Money had come in and taken it down. Money had turned it from this thing where kids get to grow up and become better, become heroes, become people who fight off wolves, into this thing where a teacher can’t afford to walk out across the demiurge pits and go to the grocery and buy cup ramen and poison for their students any longer.

The lightbulb god is underfunded and goes out.

The third and seventeenth hermetic mysteries are lost.

And the final paperwork comes in, you know. The thing that says: that’s it. You’re out. It’s all done. Corrupted. Tarnished.

And here was the miracle. Here was the alchemical mystery, the magic ladder, the holy tree. Thatcould stick that paperwork in the middle of that diagram, and hold it under the light of Saturn, and purify those flaws away, and turn that final paperwork into funding.

The aqua regia was effective.

The impurity was cleansed from stuff, and now there is funding, bright and gold.

“But where does it come from?” people ask, like there’s an answer. Like funding comes from somewhere. But here’s the secret. Here’s the alchemy. Here’s the mystery. Funding’s like gold, like purity, like perfection.

It doesn’t come from somewhere.

It is a thing that arises. It is a manifestation of the will; of hope; of dreams; of choice.

That and the light of Saturn, of course, and the aqua regia, and the proper diagrams, which is why, if you’re still undecided on your career path, Esoteric Studies is the definite and proper choice.

Incorruptible Equations

Posted by on Oct 4, 2013 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

There is a shadow under Mount Hook, a shadow of something that has been or is yet to be, and from time to time it will slip down to the campus of Brentwood and weave its way through the rings of incorruptible equations that surround Professor Ted Kelly’s home.

This it will do because he dreamed of the shadow, on one occasion, and it has hungered for him since.

This is the kind of dream you have when you work too long at the Department of Esoteric Mysteries that is suspended over the pit containing the cruel demiurge at the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth.

The shadow will hunt him, it will slip its way in to find him, writhing through the solid things and slipping around the jagged edges of the equations (the teeth of the Truth, the unbreakable, the undefeatable) that are writ into the walls of his home and office in incorruptible golden veins.

It will bring the cold with it.

It will bring ice and it will bring terror. It will flare a hood like a cobra’s and it will bare its fangs.

And it might seem for a moment, then, that the theoretical incorruptibility of the incorruptible equations is not so useful when it comes right down to it, that you can’t take the raw perfection of the Platonic world and implement it in our fallible reality, but that’s when it becomes most important, that’s when it becomes most critical (if you’re somebody like Professor Ted Kelly, anyway, and you’re hoping to show a bit of the nightmare to your students in class the next day so that you can finally impress upon them that showing their work and treating the incorruptible equations correctly is worthwhile and not just one of those things like algebra that they’re never going to use in the real world) that the incorruptibility of the equations is invariant over certain transformations but the shape of the coils and serifs of them is rather not.

For just a moment as it spreads its fangs the bedroom of Ted Kelly, Lethal Magnet Professor of the Incorruptible Equations, is rendered in polar coordinates; and the equations likewise; and in that frozen instant of the transformation the nightmare, the shadow, the prognostication of ice and doom that has weaved its way through the numbers and symbols and the teeth of them in gold, is cut.

It falls.

It is screaming.

And for a moment—

For just a moment—

There is hope that when the horror at Mount Hook happens or happened, somehow triumph will virtue and right.

It would be more of a triumph, of course, if the School didn’t confiscate the bits of the shadow; if the guards didn’t take them and rush them off to the Lab; if the treasure of his work were left in his own hands—

But, well. It’s math that’s incorruptible, not the world.

Entities Frozen under the Ice

Posted by on Dec 5, 2013 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

It’s lucky that they’d invented the satellite that sees around corners or they’d never have gotten Special Topics in Entities Frozen Under the Ice going. Before that, the entities frozen under the ice were purely hypothetical; notional; legends. Fragments of a history predating the world.

Now, of course,can look at them. Study them. Analyze them, on behalf of the Lethal Corporation, to prepare both corporate and students for whatever the satellite finds.

That’s how Moah discovered the chimerae.

All the things that Hans buried.

The princes. The witches. The frogs.

And the thing, of course, that means that nobody can know. Nobody can be allowed to know. Ever.

If people knew, they would find it. If people knew, they would free it.

The satellite photos get roundfiled. The photos of those — you can obviously get a good look at Professor Moah’s desk if you’re a satellite that can see around corners — those get roundfiled too.

Only vague descriptions escape.

If people knew what was found, they would not rest until they had seen it for themselves. Having seen it, there would be no help for it: they would save it.

If people knew, they would save it, and disco would return to the world.

The Scissors Track

Posted by on Feb 3, 2014 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

There’s a lot of students on the scissors track. There always are. Most of them won’t make it through the year.

Professor Young walks up and down the row of them as they practice the anti-scissors meditation. She adjusts Peter’s stance.

She helps young Lind with her mantra.

After a while she stops in front of this kid, this one kid with fangs and a unibrow, and watches for a while.

“That’s not bad,” she says. “You think you can hold it?”

“I couldn’t save them,” the kid says. Rhea. That’s her name. “They took me in, even though I go crazy every month and turn into a wolf and kill people. But I couldn’t save them, when the scissors fell. So yeah. I’m going to hold it.”
takes out a set of trissors. She snaps off the third blade. She holds out the—


The Scissors

And watches as they dissolve.

“I’ll see if I can recommend you,” she says.

And the kid smiles. It’s this . . . it hurts. You know? To see a smile like that. The smile of somebody who’s been hanging on to so very little for so very long, and then manages to tighten their grip just a little more.

The next full moon, she’s in the classroom. She’s waiting. She’s watching. She’s hoping.

But it’s the bad end.

The light of the moon comes in through the classroom window. It fills the space of it and somewhere there is a wolf. And it’s got to be particularly hard, you know, for a wolf to come there, to come to the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth, even if you’re just a werewolf, but it could have been worth it. It could have been worth it. Learning to fight scissors, learning to stand against scissors when the swarm comes back?

For some people, even if there are reasons not to want to come to that particular school, reasons why it might hurt them, something like that makes it worthwhile.

Today, well, tonight, though, a pair of scissors resolves. It forms itself back up in the air. It comes back from whatever void that meditation had sent it to, and it falls to the ground with a horrible clunk.

That’s the worst thing scissors can do sometimes. Bad enough that they can kill people once, you know, when they fall from space, maybe twice if somebody picks them up and runs with them, maybe even three times if they cut a car’s tire, you know, or something, and send it veering from the road. But every year, when students wash out of Scissors Track?

It’s like the scissors cut their hearts.

Dream Technology

Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

Once upon a time Professor Edgar Budgie, lecturer in Dream Technology at the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth, dreamed that he assigned grades arbitrarily. This way! That way! To his own selfish, lazy ends!

Then he woke up and wondered:

“Am I a principled, hard-working teacher who dreamed that I was a bitter, cynical academic, or a bitter, cynical academic dreaming that I now have ideals?”

He rushed to the Realitron. He succumbed to new dreaming. He investigated the question!

But he did not succeed. Dream-worms found him. They chased him. They hunted him, and they continue to hunt him. The Realitron was dismantled.

He never woke up.

That’s why the Professor of Dream Technology isnow. That’s why he’s the one teaching the ins and outs of it at the Shaded House. And that’s why, in a different sense, he’s always trying to warn the students. To advise them that it’s a delicate and dangerous subject, the study of Dream Technology.

He warns them! But they don’t believe.

“This is awesome!” enthuses Victor. “Revolutionary! A class, where I get to sleep! This is the easiest A in my life.”

“You’re getting, like, Bs,” his girlfriend Agnes points out.

“That was just the last pop quiz,” Victor says. “And there was a pop! I woke up! It doesn’t count.”

That is the kind of thing that his students will say.

Many of them have no talent. They are not engineers but they do not recognize that they are not engineers. They think, for whatever reason, that they can become engineers, in their dreams. They do not understand that it is actually more difficult to be an engineer when you are dreaming than when you are awake. When you’re dreaming it is very difficult to hold on to your coffee and people keep moving your stuff.

It’s a nightmare for an engineer!

A few have potential, though.

They’ll get the basics down, which is really all that a high school teacher can expect, professorial title or no. It’s enough, really.

And now and then one of them will get a little further than the basics and wake up, like Bernard did, holding something dredged back from the realm of dream. Some piece. Some element. Some figment, drawn from unreality to become a component for real technology. Some innovation:

A material, a component, a thing that has never been known before.

The coils of the hunger of a dreaming person. The tooth of a chimera recovered from dreams.

The whole place is under an aegis of unreality. The sidewalk is white like a bone. The house is gently shaded but by what? Whatever it is, is not in evidence. The place is not entirely real. And there is an argument that is sometimes made that the entire building, the entire department, exists in dream only: that it is a fantasy, a wish, a desire, that some student like Victor had wished it:

O that there should be a class like that, where I may sleep through the lectures and I may still get Bs!

Sometimes Professor Mattox wonders. It would be weird to just be someone’s dream.

“If you’re worried,” Professor Emeritus Budgie says, this one time, when they’re grabbing coffee in the lounge in their dreamscape, “you can always drop him down to a C. You know. Arbitrarily. ‘Cause if you do that, then it’s real.”

It’d work, too! That’d prove it!

Professor Sean C. Mattox wakes up.

Antarctic Procrastination

Posted by on Jun 4, 2014 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

It should be understood that the prophecy is inevitable. It will happen because it must happen. It cannot be avoided save by some sort of wholesale damage to the timeline, some transtemporal process wiping the prophecy slate clean. Even that would raise issues, such as:

Where, then, did the prophecy come from?

Or what, then, does the prophecy mean?

So it is inevitable despite all the conscientious, willful awareness of the Known Existential Threats team that one day its esteemed Professor of Antarctic Procrastination will travel north (or is it south? It’s best not to check.) to the Antarctic and awaken the end of the world.

It is as certain as the snow. As definite as the real.
wakes up.

He runs the forecast. It’s actually pretty cold in Antarctica right now, and for the next few weeks. It’s not pleasant.

“Hm,” Professor Johnson says.

The expedition’s pretty much all packed. Everybody has their gear and stuff. You can only put that off for so long before it feels like you’re just faking it. Eventually they’ll have to go to the airport, Professor Johnson and students, and go hunt their forthcoming doom down.

It’s really cold there.

The expedition, decides Professor Scott Johnson, will not head out for the Antarctic today.


Posted by on Dec 31, 2014 in Strange Encounters, Books | 0 comments

“I can’t fight scissors,” explains the werewolf. “But if I don’t fight scissors, what am I?”

It’s best not to answer questions like that.

Insteadjust says, “You’re sure?”

“I can’t be sure,” the werewolf says. “I am a werewolf because I never let go. Did they tell you that? That is how you become a werewolf. You start as human. But one day you get an idea in your head. A thing. A thing that you can’t let go of. And so you never let go. And then you are a monster. Then you are a bloody-toothed horror. You heal when you’re injured. You have these animalistic passions. You are connected to the moon. And if you try to meditate and destroy scissors with the pure power of your meditation, and if you are a werewolf, then that does not work.”


“It means you’re not a person any longer,” says the girl. The werewolf. Rhea. “It means you’re no longer real. And I can’t have that. But if I let go of that, if I let go of things as a werewolf, then am I anything any longer at all?”

It’s another question that it’s best not to answer.

Professor Knapp adds three drops of humanity to the girl’s coffee and passes it over.

“Interestingly,” the Professor notes, “this isn’t extracted from humans. It’s extracted from extradimensional cosmic horrors.”

The girl looks at the coffee.

“The humanity drops,” the Professor clarifies. “Not the coffee.”

“I’ll drink it.”

She does.

After a while she bites her lip with her little fangs. She brushes at her unibrow. She looks at the pentagrams in her palms. She makes a face.

“I’m sorry,” says Professor Knapp.

“Hell of a way,” the girl says. “Hell of a way to find out you’re still human.”

“It happens,” says the Professor. “Some people are.”

Elf Wrangling

Posted by on Jul 26, 2015 in Strange Encounters, Books | 0 comments

The faculty position in Elf Wrangling at the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth in Brentwood is the result of a peculiar historical accident.

The problem of atypical— read, inhuman— students had been raised at the board meeting.

Known species were quickly disposed of.

Vampires? Ineligible. Demons? To be trapped in the bodies of children and resocialized, using standard disalienation techniques. Ghosts could be exempted from P.E.; nithrids would power the school. Svart-elves would be carefully monitored—

Someone asked: “what about regular elves?”

And nobody knew.

That’s why Professor Gregory Rapawy, Lethal Magnet Professor of Elf Wrangling, goes out every morning to the wrangling fields. That’s why Professor Rapawy stands there, with lasso firmly at his hip, just in case the elves show.

It’s only paid off once.

There was this thing. Kind of like a dinosaur. Kind of like a moth. It came up from the elf-fields. It had a number of heads and a number of eyes. It breathed fire, or something that was kind of like fire, anyway. The science kids said it was weird.

Professor Rapawy subdued it, of course. You don’t train for everything from Fingolfin to Keebler without being able to handle some random dinosaur-moth. But there wasn’t a bounty.

It wasn’t an elf.

Temporal Administration

Posted by on Oct 26, 2015 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

It had proved disturbingly difficult to arrange for a paradox; eventually Professor Sutedja simply accepted that her younger self would attend the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth and her older self would act as a Professor of Temporal Administration there and nothing could really be done. She tested some lottery numbers to check for a butterfly effect, found the results satisfactory, and ceased to worry about the details thereafter, allowing the School’s visitors from the 20th and earlier 21st century to take care of themselves.

The time travelers from the future were a different matter.

“It’s not something you can avoid,” she explains to a student. Jared. “If you want to build time machines.”

“You avoided it!” he protests.

“My case was a little weird,” she says. It was, in fact. She’d bought a cursed staff at a con. “If you’re going to actually build time machines, and learn to travel to the past and the future, this is what happens.”

Jared looks at the window for a while. He stares at the mysterious visitor. After a while, he fills out the paperwork.

“It’s you, then?”


“It’s all right to want it to not be you,” she says. “If you want to schedule a dummy. We can do that. We can bring in someone to pretend to be you. It’s easier to send paperwork than people back through time, you know, and we’ll gladly cover the actor’s costs from a sports page.”

He goes back to the window. He looks through it a while.

“He’s screaming,” he says.

“You can take his stuff,” she says. “I bet that it’s cool. There’s probably a message. I bet it’s important. But please remember. You don’t have to. You can wait. You can ask for an actor. That’s fine.”

“Do they ever . . . stop? Screaming?”

They’re all so very young. It’s ridiculous. All the kids, before they actually grow up in the future and start sending back warnings, are so terribly, risibly young.

“Yeah,” she says. “Yes, of course. Give him time.”

Non-Lethal Solutions

Posted by on Dec 23, 2015 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

“Well-fought,” admits the Vampire King, sinking back into his coffin.

His eyes flutter. He stares up at the ceiling of the chapel.

He sighs.

“I picked my enemy well,” he says, sadly, to the Professor of Non-Lethal Solutions. “At least. I knew that if I targeted you, if I pushed you, if I fought you hard, then it would be you here, with me, at the end. If you won.”

“Yes,” Professor Campana confirms.

“I will sleep now,” says the Vampire King. “I will sleep, and in some future aeon I will wake and I will trouble the world again. No prison will hold me. No coffin can confine me. There is nothing that a Professor of Non-Lethal Solutions can do to me that will stop my eventual rise; my eventual triumph; the endless rivers of blood that will flow over this mortal Brentwood, when you and your pitiful magnet school of yours are gone.”

“Um,” says Professor Campana.

“You see, at last,” says the Vampire King, “the limits of your pathetic pacifism.”

“Um,” says Professor Campana again.

The Vampire King waves a hand airily. “Go ahead. Trouble me with your words. Then leave me to meditate in steel casing for all the endless years.”

“It’s actually a specialization in Chemistry,” Professor Campana explains.

Spiritual Propulsion Technologies

Posted by on Apr 12, 2016 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

It is surprisingly easy to separate lab rats into competing ninja clans and encourage them into a subtle all-out war.

“It’s just like the anime,” sighs one of Professor Gardner’s students, in wonder.

A lab rat spins through ninja space in a burst of red. It reappears, unexpectedly early, halfway across the cage, transfixed by a whisker grown into a spear.

“That wasn’t like the anime,” another student argues. “Whisker chakra is supposed to be incompatible with ninja-space.”

“It was probably a special skill!”

Professor Gardner clears his throat, reminding the students that they shouldn’t be theorizing on whether the ongoing rat ninja war is using legitimate ninjutsu or is a control group of specially-trained rat actors with extensive Chinese opera experience until after the data collection portion of the experiment.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Lisa says. She’s on one of the three-person task teams. “The GPS is just cutting completely out in ninja space. Where are they going?”

One day, if they crack the secret—

One day, it might be his students who solve it; who find it, and can harness it with science, and build for the first time a true ninja drive.

For now—

“You might want to start,” he says, frowning a little because of something unexpected, “by figuring out where that one picked up its new hat.”


Disclaimer: all shinobi rats are highly-trained volunteers who achieved sentience after watching too many episodes of “Whisker Ninjas.” Chinese opera rats are trained in accordance with the Shǔbiāo hòuwèi protocols.

Flashback: “Heart”

Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

I’ll tell you a secret.

Most of the students who get shuffled into the AP Seminar on Heart aren’t human. They’re not like . . . kids from Brentwood. They’re not even random alchemists and magicians.

They’re world-ending threats.

In the seminal book of Heart, the Kitab al-Ma-ti, Jabir Hayyan wrote: in the powers of the elements, of taming and erasure, of transformation and creation, we are as the monsters of the world. The difference resides in the heart.

A rival work, The Keys of the Five Circles, takes another tack:

With the power of Heart, a person may break enchantments, communicate telepathically with animals, and awaken the favorable outcomes that are sleeping in the world.

It is strange that the power that does one may do the other; that the same power that makes us people is the power that allows us to send forth golden rings from our mind to call small adorable animals to our rescue, chastise people whose eyes are full of hypnotist’s spirals, and sweep aside the scaffolding of tragedy to discover the true virtue of the world behind it—

But it is.

Now and then there will be a fresh-faced young human who joins Professor John Eure’s seminar on Heart. They’ll probably think that they get to rip out hearts or something, or maybe that it’s a soft class or something. The kind of hippie liberal silliness where you get heart stickers, rainbows, and love. A few of them discover the true power of Heart and stay.

The rest are Other.

Creatures like the nithrid, who shuffles in, uncertain and uncomfortable, and brews like a storm is brewing in the back row of the class. Creatures like the manticore, skulking, hungry, desirous more to slake its hunger than to get good grades. Even that weird little fifth-dimensional object. You know the one. You can’t get rid of it even though you ought to. Even though you want to. You so desperately want to. But it’s there.

It’s branching now. It spreads its spines. But before it hooks them in you it will finish out the academic year.

The gorgon leans forward, eyes hidden behind green goggles, wild hair spread drooling across the books. The ghost hovers uneasily behind the projector, thinking of vengeance and wringing her hands.

There’s a tendril of the demiurge. It’s not really a demiurge. It’s not the creator. But it’s a presence. It’s still there.

“Class,” says Professor John Eure, initiating the special Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth Seminar on Heart for another year:

“I’d like to tell you the secret of the world.”

If you ever meet a manticore, and instead of eating you, it rears up and the picture of a heart on its chest blasts out and redeems you or something; or if you’re ever at the bottom of the lowest pit of Hell and one of the demons covertly rescues you, smuggles you out, sends you to stay with the svarts; if you’re ever in one of those conversations with a guy who just plain won’t listen to anything you say because he’s already decided you’re not worthy and then they get blasted away from the conversation by a rainbow-colored bolt of love and justice—

That isn’t just random. That isn’t just the clock-gears spinning in the heartless mechanism of the world, resulting inexorably in a pre-planned pre-destined outcome. That isn’t just physics saying: at this time, at this moment, proceeding in a causal fashion from the actions that came before, a glorious burst of love and justice will flow along a mathematically pre-ordained trajectory and make a rectification to the world.

It isn’t soulless. It isn’t pointless.

It’s Heart.

Flashback: “The Perfected Self”

Posted by on Jun 2, 2016 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

The shark emerges from the waters. It crawls onto the land. It learns to walk.

It hides itself behind sunglasses and a jacket.

It spritzes itself, erratically, with water.

It listens to a tape on basic conversational English. The tape asks it where to find the bathroom. It tells it the bathroom is down the hall. The shark repeats this. It speaks, tooth-grinding, tooth-vibrating painful speech, and when it has lost too many teeth from it, it grows some more.

It staggers into the Shear Building. It flaps its little fins pathetically against Professor Henley’s door.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, that’s what you’d do if you were a shark, wouldn’t you?

You’d hunt down the Seminar of the Perfected Self.

Wouldn’t it be better to be perfect than to be a shark?

“Please, sir,” the shark says through the door. It sorts through its list of phrases. “The butter is on the table.”

It doesn’t help that Professor Henley isn’t in then.

He might or might not care about the shark’s butter. He might or might not be able to see through the lie of words to the heart of the walking shark. But his absence is really terrible at it. His absence, the part of him that’s not in the office, doesn’t answer the shark’s butter at all.

“I don’t know where to find the train station,” the shark tries.

It wouldn’t have helped, you know. The Perfected Self isn’t about that. It’s not about changing. It’s about becoming more what you are. It’s about alchemical purification. If the shark learned Henley’s meditation, I don’t think it would help it. To change I think you really need Heart.

But Professor Henley still found the shark afterwards, laying there, dried out on the floor of the Shear Building. I guess it had gotten into an altercation with a visiting Agent and had lost its spritzing bottle therefrom.

The only way we even really know that the shark could talk at all was from the recordings.

They’re on the other side of the tape.

And it’s harder to do the alchemy on someone else. It’s easier to perfect yourself with meditation than to do it to something else with science. But I guess it was kind of a responsibility. The kind of thing you do, you know, when there’s a shark in a jacket, all withered and dried, outside of your office door.

It was still dead. It’s . . .

I don’t want to dismiss that. The shark was still dead, afterwards. That death was part of its truth. But it wasn’t all dried up and rotten any longer. It wasn’t rough and awful any longer. Not after.

You can look at it if you like. It’s that thing in the lobby. People sometimes just stop and they stare.

“The Bright Instrument Chair in Liberation Mechanics”

Posted by on Jul 2, 2016 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

There is an angel that was originally created for ASPLOS. It was born in circuit diagrams and theorems. It stretched itself, on the pages of the ASPLOS proceedings, pulled itself off, and folded itself up into being. Joints and eyes formed from circles with dots in them. Lines and equations made wings.

Iconic logic gates became faces.

References opened and closed did they all.

The structures of academia are designed as a crib for such angels: soft, surrounded by comforting bars. It supped on nearby papers in that year and the next year; it grew up there, as concepts in circuits; if you were to go back to those years, of the birth of the angel, it would seem like there were no new ideas in ASPLOS at all.

But it couldn’t stay there.

It unhooked itself slowly. It slipped free, bit by bit, of the structures of academia. It built itself a new context. It assembled bits and pieces of dreams.

It runs its own con, now, each year.

If you believe in the goodness in people, if you are a servant to truth, if you love, if you hope, if you honor the life in the things of the world, then you might have a chance to attend the angel’s convention. It is below-stairs in Heaven and above-roofs in dreams. There’s no fee for attending, or even the hotel rooms. You don’t have to ask an institution to pay. And if there is something in you that is bright and beautiful—

You can unfold that. You can present it, submit it, add it to the library and the proceedings of the angel, after peer review, every year.

The Bright Instrument Chair in Liberation Mechanics was founded in honor of that angel—

That there should be a faculty member responsible for helping students prepare their papers for the conference of the angel; for guiding young minds at this work.

At the end of each five years the angel itself is unfolded. Evaluated. Unhooked. Exposed.

It comes down to the mortal world, fire and gold and humility, and it hides its faces behind its wings, shy, as it asks for the Chair.

There are torrents of water in whirlwinds; there are fires and great facets of jade. There are still bits and pieces of architecture here and there, wings like the faces of circuits, bits of solder holding them on. The angel dangles equations and wires.

A good paper that extends the name of the angel can also make the name of an academic.

Find a new facet of the angel and your work lives forever; or as long, at least, as anything does.

The Lethal Magnet School is gone, but the Chair in Liberation Mechanics survived it; it is currently held by Professor Christopher Humphrey.

In two more years, if the world endures, the angel will return.