About a year ago I posted some some stuff about palindromes. I consider that one of my good posts. To follow it up, here is a short story about palindromes. It’s very, very good.
I am sprawled on the bed, in the midst of an inexplicable dream involving ex-president Reagan, a volume of Proust lying open near my head, when the telephone rings.
“Sorry, I can’t do that.”
“Oh, hello, boss. What’s up?”
“Get over here right away. There’s been an edicide in Silopolis.”
“A what in what?”
“Just get over here. I’ll explain.”
Great. Just my luck. Not only do I solve mysteries for a living, I have a boss who enjoys making a mystery out of the mysteries. Then again, what would you expect from a guy named Gödel? Silently, I make up my mind that I’m finally going to think up a wisecrack based on the fact that his name is pronounced “girdle”, and I head over to the office.
As soon as I walk in he starts talking. Kinda like that dame in Albuquerque who…oh, never mind.
“So, here’s the scoop. There’s been a murder, there’s a weird cult involved, and there are no clues.”
“So what else is new?” I ask. “Didn’t you just give a particularly concise rendering of my job description?”
“Yeah, whatever. You’re not cibohphobic, are you?”
“What? What’s with the new lingo, anyway?” I queried.
“O.K. Just checking. I guess you’ve never heard of the Setites, then?”
“Can’t say I have. Do tell.”
“Well, it’s like this. There’s this weird cult in the city called the Setites. For some bizarre reason, they have this massive hang-up on palindromes. You know, words that –”
“Yes, yes. I’m not a complete idiot. ‘Able was I ere I saw, et cetera’, right?”
“Right. They have their own little enclave – actually several – in the city. The main one is Silopolis, but there are several smaller ones on the outskirts (they call them the sbrurbs) of the city, with names like Elliville, Gruburg, and Oroboro. They even have their own language, called Tolglot, and I bet you’ve figured out by now that in Tolglot every word is a…”
“Hmmm, yes.” I am impressed, in a way. Actually, in more than a way. But, back to the business at hand. “So, what’s happened?”
“Well, apparently the Setites are a pretty zealous lot. They have their own peculiar religion, Yrtalatry, and from what I gather the Setites are a pretty devout lot. But once in a while a “non-believer” (that’s right, a cinic) comes on the scene and causes some trouble. In this case, a lot of trouble.”
“I see. Weird cult, interesting new language, a bit of religion, a murder. Ya know, boss, this really is right up my alley…”
“Yup. Now get out of here and go catch me an ebohphobe. Or whatever ehe is.”
“Sure, boss. If I can find a bookstore, I’ll bring you back a Tolglot Shakespeare, too.” The way he peppered his conversation with a few Tolglot words tells me he’ll appreciate this. I start to beat feet without waiting for a response.
It’s a few weeks later. As usual, I’ve found that the best way to get to the bottom of something is to immerse myself in the situation. When in Silopolis, odo as the Setites odo, or something like that. So almost from the moment I walked out of my boss’ office, I’ve been living in a grubby little elicile situated at 131 (that’s ene-tet-ene) 242nd street in Silopolis.
Given my aptitude for languages, it hasn’t taken me long to pick up a working knowledge of Tolglot. This was especially easy thanks to another bizarre property of the language – most of the words have their roots in common Earth languages (especially the Romance ones, luckily for me), and so not only are they all palindromes, but their meaning is usually obvious! I’ll bet that without even telling you, you could guess that a sititis is a disease, a tarcrat is one of their rulers, and ruasaur is the Tolglot word for those prehistoric beasts who died out (with the possible exception of one – my boss) millions of years ago.
I feel stupid (in Tolglot, enane) for not having realized right away an obvious, but peculiar, feature of the language: different forms of the same word can be quite different. Since the endings of different word forms are different, the beginnings must be, too! Ailihphilia (perhaps the quintessential Tolglot word) is the love of palindromes, but one who has ailihphilia is an elihphile, and two such people are selihphiles!
The obsession with palindromy is even deeper than I suspected. Not only are most of the Setites devout practitioners of Yrtalatry, but they also pride themselves on being serovores – you guessed it, eating only palindromic foods. I don’t know about you (I say silently, to no one in particular), but about now I’m getting real tired of hot dogs, bagels (extra points for more than one axis of symmetry!) and banana splits (not vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream – Dod forbid! – but allilla, chocohc, and allilla…in that order, of course).
The main focus of my investigation has been their religion, since the edicide, it turns out, happened during one of their religious gatherings, or slavivals. The Tolglot word, in this case, seems particularly appropriate – as in most religions, the followers appear to me to be little more than slaves.
The particular lavival in question involved the inexplicably popular fundamentalist sub-cult of Yrtalatry called the Srecnamancers. The name comes from their practice (which I have now witnessed many times, in my role as infiltrator and observer of slavivals) of Ycnamancy, in which the rezilizer on stage attempts to divine the physical and mental ailments in his audience – and then calls the sad, afflicted, desperate sufferers to come forward and be derevered from their afflictions. Needless to say, this whole business is nothing more than the usual snake oil and baloney. It’s a little strange being in my business and having a scientific mind, but it sure comes in handy to able to have (unlike, seemingly, most people both inside and outside Silopolis) a grasp of the scientific method. Every time the rezilizer gets up and starts to go into his act – “calling out” cases of amoma, amedema, severe aipopia, acute sitilitis, aisahphasia, and other more or less common illnesses, I find myself starting to get a little queasy. Or greatly amused, depending on my mood.
Tonight I’m going to solve the case. How do I know? The usual combination of hard evidence – the result of my last few days ferreting – and gut instinct. I’m at a lavival starring (and that is the best word for it) the Rever Petep Poppop, one of the slimiest rezilizers around. The murder I’m investigating happened right after one Poppop’s meetings, and I’m sure there’s a connection, though I don’t know exactly what yet. The main thing I still don’t know is whose “side” the victim was on. Apparently, many years ago he had been an ardent Retalater, but then had begun to use his brain and therefore had become a hard-core Cinic. It’s not clear, though – he had recently started to do that middle-aged searching-for-something thing. Who knows, maybe he had become a “believer” again.
I’m so busy thinking that I don’t even notice that Poppop has gone into his act. The crowd is pretty into it, and there’s a pretty loud noision in the place. Poppop is invoking the name of Dod every few sentences, which reminds me of Yrtalatry’s interesting angle: Since dod is also the Tolglot word for “two”, their theology is permeated with twos, as exemplified by the supposed pronouncement of Dod at creation that “from henceforth, all things shall go by twos”.
Suddenly I have an idea (in Tolglot, a noition), so I slip out of my seat and walk out. From the front lobby, there’s a side corridor that looks like it might lead to somewhere close to the stage. Looks interesting, so I head off in that direction, with my practiced walk that looks like I know exactly where I’m going and I belong there. Sure enough, I find myself in a backstage area from which I can see right onto the stage! Poppop is still in full frenzy, but is handing off the proceedings to one of his “lieutenants”. I watch, still fascinated, the “herd” of Setites reminding me of a bunch of saniminas at the zooz.
I turn around and see the solution to my mystery. It is Poppop himself, and he’s brandishing the very rare Nilopolin weapon called a gug – a palindromic firearm that simultaneously fires a bullet at the victim and delivers a mortal wound to the assailant. There’s a crazed look in his eye.
“Another servant of Satas come to destroy my work!” he hisses, not as a question but as a statement. Well, as a matter of fact, he’s right, but I’m not going to admit that with a nasty weapon aimed at me.
“So, it was you, was it? Is this how you stamp out a cinic?”
“He wasn’t just any cinic. He figured out how I do it – the pre-lavival spies, the miniature receiver in my ear, the whole bit. He had to be eliminated, and now that you know, too, well…”
Suddenly, he’s even more agitated, almost as if in a seizure. His voice drops about half an octave, and he grips the gug tighter.
“From henceforth, ALL THINGS SHALL GO BY TWOS! Neeteen, Nayan, Otto, Heh, Ses, Qiniq, Dud, Tet…”
I’m not about try to guess whether he’ll fire on “two” or on “one”, but I certainly get his drift that I’m about to become the second in his pair (dayad) of victims. So I use method #11 of my forty-two methods for disarming amateurs, suitably altered to handle the symmetries of the gug. Being in Silopolis, I guess it’s only fitting that my strategy is palindromic, and I manage to keep either of us from being hurt. I watch as he’s escorted out of the building, still “speaking in palindromes”, by two(!) men in blue.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I’m on the train heading out of Silopolis. On the whole, I think to myself, a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. My brain is so mixed up from speaking Tolglot for a month that that thought immediately sends me off pondering the fact that the reversal of “live” is “evil”. Sigh.
Suddenly, I remember the promise I made to my boss, and pull the Tolglot Shakespeare out of my well-worn briefcase. Opening up to a famous section of the tragedy “Hammah, Prinirp o Kramark”, I begin to read:
Exe, o non exe? Ebe a quereuq…
I think it’ll be a good project to make up some Tolgot, huh?