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Laurence Raphael Brothers lives in the Boston area and has worked in R&D at firms such as Bell Communications Research and Google. Follow him on twitter @lbrothers. The S.E.5a on his twitter profile page is in honor of his first novel, a WWI-era fantasy currently seeking representation.

The sorcerer stands in the center of a magic circle, a conservative gray business suit showing under his white ritual mantle, the traditional rod of blasting in his hand. I'm off to the side, in the triangle of summoning.
"Come not in that form! I adjure thee. In the holy name of--"
Okay, so maybe the roiling nest of cobras was a bit over the top. But I hate this slow, grainy material world. These sorcerers think we've got nothing better to do than wait on them.
"Hold on," I say. "How's this?" Now I'm a rotating polyhedron, Kepler's stella octangula. I didn't mind it when Johannes summoned me. At least he knew his geometry and orbital mechanics.
"Not in that form, either," says the sorcerer.
I'd roll my eyes if I had them. Maybe if they'd tell me up front what form they wanted, I wouldn't have to go through this every time. I try again.
"Oh my god, that's disgusting! Come not in that form lest I scourge and blast thee!"
Blah blah blah. Too many eyes, I suppose. I run out an old standard.
"Now that's more like it," says the sorcerer.
I'm wearing thigh-high leather boots and a corset. Red skin grading to orange. D cups. A snaky barbed tail. Kepler liked me this way too, but we both knew it was a joke.
"Okay," I lie, "I am bound by your power, master. What is your desire?" Ha. As if.
"I adjure thee," he says, gesturing with the rod, "oh great Duke Gremory: give me command of thy legions of spirits!"
Typical ignorant sorcerer, doesn't know what he's dealing with. Or who, apparently.
"Gremory?" I ask. "I'm not Gremory. Why did you think I was?"
"This is your sigil!"
He picks up a tablet with a complicated engraving and flourishes it in my face. An unfamiliar sigil, not mine. But if he used the wrong sigil and summoned me anyway then....
"That's not it," I say. "You must have gotten me by accident. Which square did you use?"
"The square of Gremory, of course." He flips the tablet over. For pity's sake. It's not even a magic square. One of the cells is duplicated. There are two 8s. How could anyone get that wrong?
I shake my head. "You know how all this works, right? The numbers in combination with the sigil?"
Obviously not. Another idiot working by rote from a grimoire. I gesture casually, to get close to the boundary of the triangle of summoning he's drawn around me. No effect. Naturally: it's meant to confine this Gremory person, not me. I could leave right now, but as long as I'm here anyway....
"Command me to explain it to you," I say.
"This is dangerous stuff you're playing with and you're clueless. So come on, I'm volunteering to instruct you. Isn't that what you want?"
I even mean it! If he's smart enough to learn, anyway.
"Oh," he says, "I, uh, I command you to instruct me in the principles of the goetia."
"Right, now I'm bound by your adjuration."
And the fool steps out of his circle to erase my triangle. If I really was a demon he'd be in little pieces by now. I materialize a slate and some chalk.
"Do you know field theory? No? Okay. Linear algebra: surely you know linear algebra, right?"
Half an hour passes. We haven't even gotten to the determinant of a 2-by-2 matrix when he yawns.
"Enough," he says. "This is ridiculous. I'm not interested in math. I want power. What can you do for me besides teach me useless stuff like this?"
I quite agree: enough is enough.
"Okay," I say. "Here's the deal. Your ritual is bogus. Whoever wrote your grimoire hid the truth in a bunch of magical nonsense. I'm not a demon or a spirit or whatever it is you think you've summoned."
He boggles. "But--"
"I normally exist in the symplectic manifold, a continuum outside of your funny little universe. I'm not a gross material creature like you. You might call me a being of pure mathematics. But if you use the right combination of sigil topology and eigenvectors from the magic square, you can summon and bind people like me to your disgusting quantized spacetime. And we really hate that. I can feel myself getting stupider every second I'm here."
He blinks. I'm pretty sure he doesn't understand one word in five.
"But why--"
"Why did I waste all this time trying to teach you something you're too unintelligent to value? Because sometimes one of you wretched little atomic flesh worms somehow manifests enough intelligence to make conversation with you worth being summoned. Pythagoras. Hypatia. Kepler. Cantor. All of them smart and interesting; fun to talk to, even. Not you, though. You might have summoned me by a lucky accident, but you sure didn't bind me."
He steps back, raises his rod.
"By Tetragrammaton! By Anaphexeton and Primeumaton--"
I told him the ritual was bogus. But if that's what he wants.... Now I'm three meters tall, male, with a goat's head and long curly horns. My body is just a visual illusion, so it takes some pretty fancy computation to come up with a set of force vectors to make it feel like I'm grabbing him and immobilizing his arms in a tight embrace. Extra effort to simulate hot breath in his face.
"Agh!" His eyes roll up in his head and he collapses in a dead faint as I relax my imaginary grip on him. I'm already on my way back to a world that makes sense. When the sorcerer wakes up he'll find his rod of blasting broken and all the magic squares in his grimoire replaced with sudoku puzzles.
Harsh? Perhaps. But I hate wrong numbers.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Author Comments

Medieval grimoires often use geometric sigils and magic squares in their demon-summoning rituals. But by most accounts demons aren't very mathematically inclined. So what kind of entities would you wind up summoning if math really was the basis for goetic magic? This story flowed effortlessly from the original premise; I wish they all came so easily....

- Laurence Raphael Brothers
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