The Rule of Threes and Fours

In Y3. The Final Form Lucille pulls the chain three more times, swelling the Galaxy Zephyr to twice the size of the observable universe, and making it all scary and stuff. Now that they’ve collected all the data they need to reconstruct Earth’s exploded population, there’s nothing to hold them back.

There are some numbers which keep coming up in fiction. The obvious number is three: there are three little pigs, three billy goats gruff, and Goldilocks eats three bears (right?). We’ll come back to three, but let’s talk about some other nice numbers.

I’ve heard that the number twelve comes up a lot in screenwriting for a very interesting reason: in English, it’s the highest number which is one syllable. This makes it attractive for anyone making a tight script. It’s also an appropriately biblical number: there are twelve apostles, for example.

Forty is another biblical number. Noah and Jesus both undertake trials for forty days and forty nights. Akayama DanJay has a few forties, like Anihilato’s forty limbs, or Akayama’s 3*40 = 120 years of age at the beginning, and her 140 years of age at the end. I like the number forty, because (to me) it feels nicer to say than twelve even if it’s an extra syllable. Same with twenty.

This list from Listverse explains why these numbers are important: they represent completion, or wholeness. Certainly 39 doesn’t feel as full as 40.

Different religions have different favorite numbers: Buddhism has lots of fives, representing the five senses, capped off with the sixth sense, consciousness. Check out this story about a man fighting a sticky monster. He smites the monster with five weapons, but each weapon gets stuck. He bashes the monster with his four limbs, then his head, and each limb and his head get stuck. Then something interesting happens: the man accepts his death, but warns the monster that inside his belly is a sharp object which will kill the monster if he’s eaten. There was a secret sixth.

I enjoy that approach to numbers. If the number five feels full, then the number six represents transcendence. The Galaxy Zephyr has five important pilots, plus a transcendent sixth: Lucille, Charlie, Daisuke, Eisu, and Feito, plus Akayama in the heart. There are ten thousand more pilots, but they’re mostly window-dressing, though 10,000 is a nice number as well.

Back to the number three. If you’re telling a joke, you might repeat the setup twice to establish a pattern, then put the punchline in the third repetition. In a fairy-tale, two characters can fail a task in opposite directions, and the third character can take the middle road to victory. It shouldn’t surprise us that threes pop up a lot.

Akayama DanJay has its share of threes, and I try to cap them with transcendent fourths. There are three islands of Sheridan, each larger than the last, but none as large as the Mountain in the next eternity. Beatrice, Faith, and Dan make a trio, joined by Jay. Dan visits the afterlife twice, once because he smoked centipede, then because he dies; Jay visits the afterlife a third time by smoking centipede, then a fourth time by dying to confront Anihilato. Anihilato appears once to Danonce to Faith, and once to Jay. In this section Anihilato appears a fourth time, as a skeleton.

Lucille pulls the chain four times. The first time, Beatrice joins the Galaxy Zephyr. Then Faith, then DanJay, then Anihilato.

I think these threes and fours just contribute closure. I could pretend I intentionally constructed everything to feel poignant and profound, but I’d be lying. I just wanted to write something about giant robots, and when I needed numbers, it felt best to use numbers everyone enjoys, like three, four, five, twenty, forty, and ten thousand. Those are some nice numbers.

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