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Until 1974, Lapso Chandresekhar had been a historian, but the machinations he uncovered finally directed his course towards an eventual dissolution into nonexistence, surrounded by the aromas of tea and autumn. The first of the crimes came as a complete surprise, the second as a prognostication, and while Chandresekhar almost succeeded in halting the third, he only narrowly evaded solving the fourth.
      Chandresekhar discovered the revealing documents in his doctoral study of the history of modern symbols. The first text, A History of the Early American Nation by Arthur Reeber (p. 100), referenced a violence by a cloaked man in Cambridge, Massachusetts, twenty-two years after the American Revolution. A second text, Wattman's Political Cases in Developing Nations, mentioned with greater clarity the prior, and also included a second act, committed by a young Parisian named Soupçon.
      Chandresekhar's research was concluding in 1976, when a newspaper headline from the Burkittsville Vision, documenting a case involving wasps that left seven horses and an attendant dead, caught his eye. The deceased, Stephen Miller, had planned on attending Yale University the following year, and his parents were active in the Jewish community of New Haven, Connecticut.
      Chandresekhar visited the Millers three weeks after the incident. There he met chief-of-police Polley, with whom Chandresekhar had made conversation before. "This case is not the first of its kind," Polley began to Chandresekhar, "but we haven't succeeded in locating any material evidence." Chandresekhar felt vexed by the chief's statement that such an illogical case could possibly be connected to others of a similar sort, and asked the Millers' permission to peruse the family library, there thumbing through various copies of the Old Testament in French and Italian; a copy of Shiite Philosophy; and Herzel's Zionism in Practice, from which a page was missing.
      It took Chandresekhar close to five months to procure a second copy of Herzel's Zionism in Practice. He opened the second work to page 417, only to find what seemed an illustrated snowflake of diminishing triangles repeating itself into infinitely tiny dimensions.
      An idea snapped into Chandresekhar's mind: somehow the events he remembered from his doctoral studies were connected with this crime, and they could be pictured visually inside the snowflake. He phoned the chief regarding his discovery.
      "I will determine the validity of your hunch, Mr. Polley," he said, "but it will take time."
      At 7:30 P.M., a barrister leaving for home came upon the twisted wreckage of an automated wheelchair intertwined with human remains.
      The victim was William Lomman—a man born with ALS—the last of a line of purely mathematical physicists, who, at the age of thirty-two, had calculated the probability of the existence of globular clusters outside the visible universe. Near his body, authorities found a copy of Stephen Weinburg's The First Three Minutes, a soiled notepad covered in bizarre diagrams, and a repeating design resembling a horseshoe crab, torn from a copy of Fractal Mathematics by A. N. Kolmogorov.
      Chandresekhar now began to understand the method of the evolving events. He had begun by studying The First Three Minutes, found at the scene of the second crime. He had followed that by researching the works of Friedmann. At each stage, Chandresekhar had a flash of insight—using a ruler and protractor, he would draw a straight line across a page and then draw bifurcations to represent human choices in time. Once he reached the end of the page, however, the bifurcations never renormalized. Three times an insight regarding this observation had forced itself into his mind, and three times the possibility was dismissed.
      A third and fourth crime occurred in quick succession. An eyewitness confirmed that a graying, stocky man in Indianapolis, who "walked like someone whose life was nearing its end," had approached a young woman near Fourth Avenue to show her a book. The man then left, walking down Fourth Avenue until coming to an alleyway, whereupon he met a second man, and the two began conversing quietly. The first showed the second his book. The discussion ended when the first man seized the second and cut his throat with an indiscernible object. Cries of help ensued, whereupon Chandresekhar suddenly appeared from a nearby vehicle. The first man fled, in the process leaving behind his book, Basic Perception Theory, by Avellaneda de Summa. Chandresekhar gave chase but the first man outdistanced him before hurtling himself into the front of a bus. Chandresekhar concluded that human choices were an integral part of this mystery, since the least probable choice of his own had led him down the alleyway and into contact with the struggling men.
      Polley phoned Chandresekhar the following morning, requesting his testimony in court as a witness to the murder of the second man, Leonhard Greene-Kaku, a professed atheist and publisher of the works of Morihei Ueshiba in translation.
      The morgue intrigued Chandresekhar very little in comparison with Greene-Kaku's body, which seemed uninterested in its own lack of life. The police had found nothing suggesting a motive for the killing, to which Chandresekhar had replied "that the assignment of a motive at this point in time would be impossible." Polley led Chandresekhar to the exhibits, notably among them a copy of Goethe's Faust, in Cantonese, which Polley allowed Chandresekhar to thumb through, at which point an unclaimed train ticket came loose from between pages 46 and 47. Polley approached Chandresekhar from behind as the latter concealed the ticket on his person.
      "Does it have any significance in this series of crimes?" Polley asked.
      "It is exceptionally improbable."
      "On what order of improbability?"
      "If it were significant, we could possibly say that every crime ever committed by the human race was done by a single individual."
      Chandresekhar testified, returned to his residence to complete his paperwork at 2:30, and then at 5:00 boarded a train to Idaho, using the ticket he had found in the Cantonese Faust.
      Reaching seat 22, Chandresekhar looked up to see a man seated directly across from him, surrounded by a labyrinth of diagrams with the same twisting diagonals and letters that Chandresekhar recalled seeing in the notes of William Lomman.
      "I assume this pursuit is presently finished," Chandresekhar proposed with resignation.
      The second man began scribbling furiously on a sheet of paper a series of obscure lines with cryptic symbology, which gradually slowed, eking to a halt with the crack of a pencil slammed upon the table.
      "I have let you come to me. You would not have done so if you knew what this meeting meant."
      "You are under arrest, Avellaneda de Summa," Chandresekhar replied.
      The man looked at Chandresekhar as if he were viewing a distance runner from the perspective of someone ahead.
      "Even if you had the authority, I would not be concerned."
      Chandresekhar blanched.
      "You are not one to say whether or not I have the power. I represent Chief Investigator Polley. You are under arrest."
      De Summa made no reply, returning to his diagrams and nodding slightly as the train began to move.
      "Let me explain to you how it works, Lapso Chandresekhar. We have very little time."
      De Summa began, tearing out a clean sheet of paper from one of his copious pads. "Between birth and death a gradually increasing number of choices become possible through bifurcation." He drew a few lines.
      Chandresekhar nodded.
      "However, the farther away the event exists from this line representing time, the slower time goes." Drawing two lines at diagonals from point A, De Summa continued.
      "The differences decrease as they approach a certain value, meaning that the two geodesics I am drawing now represent the limit of possibility for a specific individual."
      Chandresekhar sat up, suddenly awake.
      De Summa pressed forward. "However, the geodesics cannot continue infinitely. They begin decreasing at a singular point, then vanish at point B—death. It took me years to discover which actions I was least likely to take, but I succeeded. For the subsequent 196, I have been living at the boundary of my own rhomb."
      "But how did I find you?" Chandresekhar asked, sitting back confidently. "Determinism does not exist."
      De Summa shrugged. "Our rhombs overlapped through your doctoral research. Three crimes were, in fact, connected, and that connection allowed the synthesis, which is why you almost intercepted the last two crimes, and also why you knew to search the Cantonese Faust. I'm presently computing your point B, in accordance with a delay in my approach to mine. I knew I was safe when another computation showed you couldn't accept the rhomb for what it truly was."
      Chandresekhar composed himself. "But what about the fractals?"
      "I collect them. The second, left with William Lomman, ensured that your investigation would continue."
      "And what of the two men and the woman?"
      "The rhomb has far-reaching repercussions when you have used it for as long as I have."
      De Summa reached forward and took Chandresekhar's stiff hand in a firm handshake.
      "Next time, we will be friends."
      Chandresekhar looked about, towards the window and the azure autumn sky, the rolling green, the colors saturating in layers.
      "Ten seconds."
      When De Summa looked up again, Chandresekhar had closed his eyes.


(after Jorge Luis Borges)



the boundary

john denton