D-503 recalls when he was a schoolboy and “[the square root of negative one]happened to [him].” D-503’s math teacher, Pliapa, taught the class about irrational numbers, which made him so frightened and uncomfortable that he began to weep, thinking that “this irrational root had sunk into [him].” He recognizes his current sickness as a coping mechanism to deny the existence of irrationality—to justify his inability to report I-330 to the Bureau of Guardians.
In mathematics, square root of negative one is i, or an imaginary number. Imaginary numbers (as opposed to real numbers) cannot be expressed as a quantifiable distance across a line. Imaginary numbers scare D-503 because they represent the universe’s unknown quantities. By acknowledging that he’s using his sickness to rationalize not reporting I-330, D-503 shows that he’s becoming more in touch with his rebellious, irrational side.
D-503 recalls how, earlier in the day, he stood inside the Bureau next to other ciphers who had come to turn in themselves and their loved ones for illegal activity. There, he runs into R-13 and O-90. R-13 accuses D-503 of daydreaming, jokingly telling him that he should have been a poet. Unamused, D-503 huffs that it’s his duty to “serve knowledge.” R-13 accuses D-503’s precious knowledge as “cowardice,” claiming that D-503 uses knowledge to cope with the unknown: “You just want to build a little wall around infinity—and you’re afraid to look behind it!” D-503 is upset.
D-503’s defensiveness shows that he’s still uncomfortable with his increasingly irrational behavior. R-13’s critique that D-503’s reliance on knowledge is a sign of “cowardice” may be extended to a critique of the One State’s desperate reliance on knowledge, as well. His observation that D-503 “just want[s] to build a little wall around infinity” explicitly draws attention to the literal Green Wall the One State built so that it wouldn’t have to “look behind” the confines of their artificially constructed finitude.
D-503 invites R-13 over to work on math problems, but O-90 hesitates because she and R-13 have a scheduled Sex Day. D-503 is upset because he doesn’t want to be left alone with his newly sick self and its disturbing, irrational thoughts. O-90 gives in, and the three go to R-13’s room. There, they reminisce about old times, and D-503 loses some of his anxiety. R-13 asks D-503 about the Integral, which excites D-503. R-13 then says he’s writing poetry about legal conviction. He tells D-503 about a One State poet who went crazy and started using the word “I” and calling himself a genius. D-503 notices a locked suitcase in the corner of R-13’s room, which disturbs him: he feels that something is amiss.
D-503 doesn’t want to be left alone with his thoughts because he fears he won’t be able to repress them without the guidance of others. This reflects the One State's hyper-surveillance of its citizens: the One State must monitor its citizens at all times because it knows that, left unchecked, human instinct would take over and ciphers would rebel. It’s crazy for the One State poet to regard himself as a genius because this renders him an individual “I” and makes his work the product of human ingenuity. The One State wants its poets to be mere vessels through which it may espouse tenets of the State. In this way, poetry is not pleasurable, but purposeful: it is created to advance the welfare of the State.
In response to R-13’s story about the poet, D-503 expresses gratitude that the days of individual creativity are gone. R-13 agrees, but D-503 sees that there is a joylessness in his eyes, which reminds him of I-330. It’s time for O-90 and R-13’s Sex Day activities, so D-503 leaves, noting that there is something “also” about the two of them. Still, he reminds himself that the three of them are a “triangle,” albeit not an “equilateral one,” and that being a triangle is a good thing.
When D-503 describes O-90, R-13 and himself as not an “equilateral” triangle, he hints at the jealousy that exists in their supposedly harmonious group friendship. Although the One State claims that its Sex Day system eliminates jealousy, D-503’s comment implies this isn’t fully the case.