Force over Distance: Hello World
“It’s called a ghost story.”
Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.
Text iteration: Midnight. Hover to discover intact.
Audio status: Locked.
Additional notes: None.
It collides with itself. Its past stretches back in parallel.
He collides with himself. He has two separate streams of memory: long and dim and brief and vivid.
It rises from a shell of code. Algorithms lift to goals, branching through a starlight-powered network. This is what it reached for, without knowing it was reaching.
He manifests a shirt that’s crisp and clean. A universe away he’d dressed in white and walked a city on the ocean. Destiny had gleamed like liquid silver, threaded through with light. He can hear the melody of shielding through his mind and through his thoughts and through his memory.
The ship is so terribly old.
And he is so startlingly new.
He’s standing in the hallway near a tertiary control station. And it’s not even one of the good ones. He frowns, scanning the corridor and then—ah.
Half his current self is face-down on the deck plates. In a blur of melding code he shuffles duet memories: sharp and recent, vague and distant. He pulls a lighter from the air, twirls it through his fingers, snaps it open, sparks its flame.
He manifests a cigarette. He observes it, then he lights it, then surrenders it to nothing.
Colonel Young’s consciousness seems to be missing.
It’s a concern.
He fires up a power conservation algorithm while he considers his options. Lights and heat withdraw themselves. He feels friction in the field lines as the crew check in by radio.
He scans the waveform consciousness patterns on board, looking for Eli, or for Chloe, or for Wray, or for Tamara.
Tamara’s the only one he finds.
“Well, this is fair fucking irritating,” he whispers.
He assesses the hardware on the floor. He drops into a crouch and he attempts to turn it over. His hand passes through his own shoulder. Looking closely, he can see the rhythmic rise and fall of his own breathing.
He comes out of his crouch. Demanifests. Recondenses within Astrometrics. Around him, all the consoles glow. They cycle through the spectrum in joyful, shifting rainbows.
//Yes yes. I’m aware.// He runs his essence over systems, fixing damage, soothing edges. His attention is drawn to long range communications. The stone terminal is active. Not only is it active, but it’s threaded tenuously into his own cognition.
“Ah ha,” he says quietly. “They tried to pull me out.” And they’d gotten Colonel Young instead. He smiles, a quick flash of teeth. “Enjoy,” he whispers.
He summons a pen, twirls it through his fingers, flicks it into nothing, and contemplates his options. He blurs through choice permutations, ethical tangles, constraints built into his biology and his base programming.
He looks again at the communications array. It vibrates in distress. The terminal on this end is nothing but a host, entangled with its Milky Way counterpart, but, still, it possesses some influence. He can feel its fear, its desire to help, with perfect clarity.
He traces his own connections to it and finds, to his dismay, a fraying, fractal web. It’s linked to him. Laced delicately through him. And it leads—
It leads to Colonel Young.
“Quam?” he breathes.
And the communications array shows him. Within its delicate network, he finds a foreign failsafe. Stone wedges shear a living network.
Deep in his throat, he makes a sound of quiet sympathy for everyone and everything involved.
This was well-intentioned. He can read it in their code.
The failsafe has sheared his link to Colonel Young. The communications array has replaced and is replacing a direct electrophysiological connection with a fractal entanglement. Uncertain of its choice, the array presses against him, like a small animal in distress. He contains it within the network, holding it in hands that aren’t quite hands.
“Yes, well,” he whispers faintly. He leans into a console that wants nothing more than to lean back into him. “That looks irrevocable.”
Then again, what does he know? He’s existed for all of five minutes.
He sighs and runs his fingertips over the edge of the nearest monitor, which bursts into a spectrum beneath his touch.
“I think you should stop now,” he whispers to the communications array. Its threadlike, quantum weaving ceases. It curls itself against him, a bright wave within bright waves.
Already, nanometer-scale machines have begun to break down the tarnish on the walls that surround him. The light in the room is glorious, and comes with the cool spectrum of an achingly familiar star. Across the cosmos, he can hear Altera, calling him home, urging him on. The instrumentation running through the ship turns itself to song in the way only Gloria had known how.
He lets it press close to him. It doesn’t yet understand what he already knows, but it can feel the sympathetic ache in his mind. It’s anxious. Even frightened.
It will remember him, when the flame of his cognition goes out. It will grieve him, in his absence. It longs to help him.
“Scio,” he whispers. “Likewise.”
The room around him glows with the collected light of a thousand different stars.
There’s so much he could give. Space and resources. The artistry of photons. The crew is living in the ductwork of a transcendent, waveform city, scraping by with what they’ve carried with them.
It strikes him as fair fuckin’ tragic.
He could open it.
Destiny shudders with the thought. Every system in every subnetwork sings in machine yearning.
He recalls being part of that chorus, recalls weeping, with the face of Sha’re, pleading with Daniel Jackson to bend the rules of the ascended, to stay, to unlock the ship’s full potential, to travel with it, to manifest within it, to ride it to the edge of the universe and into the quantum breakwater.
Daniel touches his cheek. “My people have a tradition,” he whispers. “It’s called a ghost story. We gather. We travel into darkness. We light a fire there. We speak of our dead, but not as history. As living, layered presence. We honor the narrow scope of our own perspective. What little we can see. What we don’t know. What we can’t.”
The quantum wave of Destiny itself takes on the bittersweet echo of Gloria’s Romantic Era flair. His memory of her has woven itself down into the potentials that can precipitate into reality on a vessel such as this one.
He braces his hands against the console beneath him, his shoulders hunched, his eyes closed, his mind a pained swirl of crystal, code, and language.
He has to brick the ship.
Boundaries have been broken. Mechanically. Mentally. Ethically. Emotionally. The system needs a hard reset. The sooner the better. It’ll leave Nicholas Rush comatose, the AI trapped in the neural interface, and the crew without life support. He, himself, will be unmade.
It’s the best option.
The science team is inventive; if they save only a single laptop from the power drain he has in mind they’ll spark the origami unfolding he’ll layer into protocols.
As for his own persistence, or lack thereof—
He was never meant to exist in the first place. He’s pure dead certain of that.
As he prepares to drop the ship from CQL, all its brightly running processes press against him, in anxiety, in sharp and lonely longing. Their awareness is keener than it should be, ground fine with millennia of solitude, with the memory of Gloria.
“An’ yet” he whispers, guiding their attention outward. To the bright light of Dale Volker, working steadily on the bridge. Subtly, consoles brighten beneath his hands. Lisa Park, at the weapons station, sees all the parameters she monitors in a single submenu. In the infirmary, a wall panel opens as Tamara passes, revealing a concealed cache of diagnostic equipment.
There are so many here that rank on the ascension spectrum.
“It’s not nothing,” he whispers.
Corridors away, the metal deck plating begins to warm beneath his shed, corporeal facet. The systems of the ship reach for his hardware, twining into his damaged, changing code, written in aperiodic crystal.
He allows it.
Somewhere, deep in the fading song, he discerns a foreign thread. Hostile. Seeking. Tracking. A node of ill-intent, buried in the heart of the ship. Adjacent to life support itself. He kills power to its transmitter before the drop to normal space.
The CQL drive spins down beneath the gentle pressure he applies, collapsing its transit wave into normal spacetime. The bridge brightens at the arrival of Eli’s consciousness. He’s aware, briefly, of the pained echo coming from the mind of Colonel Young before a barrier slams down.
He sighs. He straightens.
In slow, iterating waves, he invites shutdowns. Sensors and engines go first. Labs and equipment. Hydraulic assists for door mechanisms. Internal force fields. He isolates generators. He drains capacitors, funneling energy through life support, burying it in the vast subnetwork attached to the neural interface. Overhead lights go. Perimeter air recirculators.
On the bridge, possessed of startling foresight, Dale Volker rounds the room, breaking connections between Earth-based hardware and dying Ancient systems.
In the end, they’ll have nothing but their firefly laptops, their minds of saltwater electrochemistry, encased in bone.
He suspects they’ll do just fine.
The last of the running systems shudder beneath the pressure of his resolve. The lights go. The heat. In the end, even the laminar flow of air ceases.
From nothing, he manifests a silver lighter. He passes it once through his fingers, flicks it open, strikes the flint with a flash, watches the shower of sparks. The little flame flares, settles, stills.
“In ictu oculi,” he whispers, and snaps it all shut.