Force over Distance: At All Angles Part 1

Lightning in the ionosphere.

Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations. References to suicidality.

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: I do still love this…

At All Angles: Part 1

Lightning in the ionosphere. Electric fields vary with time.

Voltage differentials and velocity differentials over space and over time meaning delta-V and delta-v with a convergence on t meaning colloquially and it’s correct to continue to conceptualize in such a manner because there’s safety in redundancy which is now integrated into how he works, but meaning colloquially that everything is happening right now and that isn’t a problem per se it’s simply difficult, not a logistical catastrophe but more of an heuristic hell this temporal sequencing; every time he has to answer for himself who is he and where is he and when is he and what is happening and he’s always had something of a flair for combinatorics which makes it possible to do this but it’s unarguably difficult to sequence temporally, and it follows that it’s difficult to prioritize in settings where the limits of time are deterministic in that they define possible outcomes in a very imminent way and in this case the imminent outcome he’s concerned about is imminent death. He’s not a pilot or a fulminologist or any binnable thing anymore and to get entrapped in a set-of-sets classification at this point would be a bad idea, as in Colonel-Young-on-a-bad-day level of bad idea but it’s difficult because it’s apparent that even at this upper level of cognitive processing that, yes well, he’s not entirely in control of his own mind not all the time not any more so he’ll classify because he can’t not and he allows it to run and he starts a new process or, perhaps, train of thought, which is really a better safer way to put it but perhaps he shouldn’t have to worry about that right now what with the voltage differentials and the velocity differentials and considerations of pitch and yaw and roll and movement through space and that at least can be one definition of time that can work in this context, so what he will do is this, he—

“Shit, Rush, what the hell did you just do?”

//Rush. What the fuck is going on? Talk to me.//

“Compensate for the navigational failure by interfacing with the shuttle directly.”

Alarms sound.

—he will define a three-dimensional coordinate plane with all the typical axes and not some fuckin’ fancy 3-manifold (topological, piecewise-linear, or smooth, take your pick but pick optimally) no, the conventional Cartesian-style system will be perfectly adequate in this scenario but why exactly do the shuttle control keys have beveled edges, what is it, exactly, about the edge of a depressible movable part that should so lend itself to beveling that it becomes a cross-civilization phenomenon? But he was defining his coordinate system and if he can’t pull it together for even this then he has a problem.

A problem that will supersede all of the other problems that he also, currently, has. They are manifold.

“Nothing,” he snaps at Greer.

//Calm down,// he projects at Young.

He remembers not to look at the AI, but instead he thinks at it. //Yes yes. I will. I am.//

Planet (0,0,0). Destiny: put it on the axis (0,0, 45,000). Kilometers remind him of who he was. The shuttle is following the arc of a line that’s represented by an equation that describes a decaying orbit and by decaying orbit he means a trajectory that’s incompatible with the maintenance of structural integrity of the shuttle by which he means burn-up in the low atmosphere is a virtual certainty the shields on this thing aren’t sufficient to protect them from the fast heat and the rushing of ionized particles that flare in the darkness and the snapping sound of weakening glass and the wavering of the heated air and the feeling of suffocation that precedes the crack of sudden dissolution and what did those bastards do to his mind that he can have not only flashbacks but these moments of—what is this, he doesn’t know the only thing he knows is that it’s not panic, he is not panicking, he panics all the time and he knows what it’s like and this is not panic it’s not panic it’s not panic it’s not panic it’s not. It’s not. He’s functional. He is.

“Well how come the displays are back but I’m locked out?”

//I’ll calm down when you give me a reason to calm down.//

“Nick. Nick. You’re too far.”

Fuck them, fuck them fuck them. Fuck. Them. This is fucking hard—anyone would think it was, and none of it is helping—not the questions, the suspicion, the fear, the hostile concern, the pressure to go and not go, the pressure to stay and not stay, to interface, to not interface, to argue, to reassure, to lie, and at the back of his mind the shields, the shields are beginning to shriek—and he needs to let go of his still running set-of-sets classification and his mathematical calculations and his view of the monitors and the three conversations that people and things and other people are trying to have with him and his anxiety and his not-panic and in order to do that, well he rarely lets go, usually he splits but this time he has to let go and he doesn’t know how so he tries to think of of Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, true but unprovable, but not the theorems just the man himself and how he must have looked out into the darkness and found the uncertainty there that was just a reflection of his own uncompleted and uncompletable processes—those that do not complete, those that cannot, and he tries to find a way to codify that insight; to accept that at present there aren’t any optimal solutions and there’s nothing that can turn this situation around and this is just one more permutation of choosing between two shite choices, not certain, seeking always to mitigate, to mitigate in the absence of solution sets and his hands are playing over the console like the opening of a Chopin prelude and Chopin was insane or sick or ill, there had been something in there about coughing up blood in what Gloria had said through the door, the locked gray door of a bathroom and he had sat on the other side, his forearms on his knees wanting to be let in but also grading linear algebra finals with matrix after careful matrix. So it follows then that no one is happy, per se, least of all him when his fingers stop moving on the consoles. The hierarchy events is important here because Young’s fear continuously slams into his mind in dark slow inertial waves and that is an indicator that he has limited time to act and so he reaches down and he curves his fingers into the paneling on the shuttle and he thinks come loose come loose let me in, you want to let me in and the hidden catch depresses and he pulls the paneling away with its beveled keys and its interface for humans and he shoves it in Greer’s direction.

“Shit. Doc, that seems like a bad idea—”

He presses his hands into the circuitry and pours into the little self-limited half-fried processor of the shuttle, converting his own energy and therefore mass and, in usuable biochemical units, calories into energy that it can use to do what he wants and he will make it do what he wants—if one picks one’s battles and repercussions are not considered it’s usually possible to get what is wanted though that’s not always the case and it’s literally less than one second before he predictably feels Young pull him back with a reflexive terror and a strength of feeling that he finds difficult to explain or deal with and he’s forced to fight and he’s just—






Fine, he gives in because he can’t break free and so he projects back toward Young. Reassure reassure reassure reassure reassure reassure fine fine fine fine fine, let me go. He moves closer and he gives Young control of everything he thinks he wants and everything Young knows to ask for which is just a fraction of the whole and Young is aerodynamic drag on his mind and Young is his anchor and he cedes it all to him, his thoughts and his breathing and his heart and his hands. Let me go, he thinks, let go, let go, let go, let me go. Young is afraid and it’s as if he knows what Rush trying to do because he’s annexing territory like an avalanche and this is always his impulse to acquire and to control and to make still for consideration and it is very much, very much like being held in restraints where forces are equal and opposite and if he just wouldn’t pull away, then no one would pull him back but he always pulls away it’s who he is. In this Young is stronger than he himself is, stronger than Destiny and utterly implacable and in these static contests he always loses so he relaxes and looks for a workaround, which is, if he can be called a genius, the area in which his genius lies. So he continues to project back reassurance and by increments Young loosens his hold fraction by fraction by fraction but it’s enough for his thoughts to again build into their outward flare-and-spiral and it’s an intolerable mess to Young, just like the other man’s opaque solidity is to him, but his thoughts are much more fluid and distracting and it is easy to hide intent within them and all he needs is to just—


with the aft thrusters and they—


and their trajectory is altered and so he uses his link to the thrusters as a beachhead against Young and certainly he’ll grant that it’s not the most collegial behavior and he has to sacrifice entirely his ability to actually move, has to give that to Young to hang onto, so yes Young has utterly, as is his impulse, stilled his hands and stilled his eyes and slowed his heart and he could do anything, anything he wants with Rush’s hands and eyes but Rush gives him all of that as they fight for control of his mind.

“Rush. Rush. Come on, man, don’t do this now. We’re crashing. Into a planet.”

Greer sounds concerned.

“Nick,” the AI says and he can tell it’s upset because it’s changed to Gloria and it’s flickering and in the back of his mind he feels the CPU grinding slowly away its algorithms looping ad infinitum and god, god it’s not its fault it just pulls her from his mind when it’s afraid because it has to work at Jackson but Gloria just comes naturally easily and always from his mind but there’s only so much he can take, really only so much anyone can take before they simply—

“Nick, I’m afraid.”

Yes of course it is, without him it will rewrite its code into nothingness and Colonel Young may actually go insane unless he lives on in the CPU somehow, some fraction of him is there, always, depending on system requirements. But even if he persists as some odd, twisted shadow of himself, that won’t help Greer with the problem of imminent death as part of fiery conflagration of molten metal.

“Nick, I can’t do this without you.”

“Rush, I can’t do this without you, man.”

From Young he gets not words, just a ceaseless, unenlightened, unremitting, unflinching hold on his mind that masks a terror that’s deep and wide and oddly existential in feel for a man as solid and rooted in reality as the colonel is. Would Tamara have been like this or would he have pulled her mind loose from its moorings into madness because she has always been more sympathetic to him than Young perhaps he reminds her of someone a brother maybe or a friend but someone gone, someone associated with sadness or maybe that expression she makes when she looks at him is simply because he’s destroying Young and he can’t help it and she knows he can’t help it but she hates to watch, just like everyone hates to watch as they spiral down, forced to watch, forced to spiral, forced to fall, choosing to fall, pulled down metaphorically except actually right now it’s really more literal and it’s also not so much a spiral as a ballistic trajectory, an arc made by gravity and it would not be ideal to arc down into the middle of light zone or the dark zone on this tidally locked world and hitting the sea would also not be ideal because they might survive the impact but not long afterwards how long could humans last in the water and how cold would it be; he’s drowned too many times to drown again now and he would prefer burning up in the atmosphere to the cold stillness of the water that’s more his nature but what would Greer prefer but he’s not able to ask.

He will solve this. He will, and by solve he means he will find a solution set that maximizes positive outcomes and although everyone seems to expect life to be without pain, he will give them the best set that he can and he will minimize collective pain and isn’t that what he always does and he would appreciate it if someone could just explain to him what is so goddamned heartless about that using any metric they deem appropriate—what is so manipulative and scheming and calculating and controlling and devious and unscrupulous. He would genuinely like to know. Is it because he lies to carry the thing off? Betrayed and betrayer, certainly, but regardless of it all he—

“Nick. Nick, don’t leave. Don’t leave!” Its scream mixes with the scream of the shields and Young is digging into his mind but already his influence is starting to wane.

//Pull out,// Young says.

He holds on.


He holds on.


He holds on.


He holds on.

//Pull out. Pull away from the shuttle,// Young clarifies as if his meaning wasn’t glaringly obvious. //It’s going to crash and I don’t want your mind in there when it does.//

Oh he doesn’t want, does he?

“Doc, shit, you gotta strap in,” Greer says.

True, true, and unrelated. He can’t move.

“Nick. Nick!” Gloria is screaming. “Pull out. Listen to him. Pull out of the shuttle!”

He holds on, his mind interfaced with the shuttle, adjusting the energy that he’s pouring into it, optimizing, reinforcing the little shielding that remains in the face of tropospheric drag.

Damn it, doc, you are a pain in the ass.”

He’s aware of Greer unbuckling himself and if he could comment he would say something involving a permutation of the word fuck but he can’t say anything he can’t even look, can’t even direct his gaze all he has is his peripheral vision which indicates the other man manages to stand against the turbulence that rocks the shuttle, against the abrupt changes in velocity, accelerations, positive and negative as they descend through condensed water vapor toward the planet’s surface; Greer’s hand comes into view as it’s braced on a console and then Rush is shoved back and buckles are buckled honestly he’s not crazy, he’s not, about this rigid contracture of muscles that seems to accompany battles for control of his mind and body as if he were not already confined enough he is strapped into the seat he’s fucking doing this for Greer so that they don’t burn up in the atmosphere and if the man gets himself killed because he’s unstrapped when they hit Rush will be not only unsurprised and fair fucking pissed, but also frankly, fair fucking fucked because already he can feel the presence of Young and the presence of the ship receding from his mind by increments and he is beginning to feel—

Not right.

“Rush. Rush!”

Greer is yelling his name, barely audible over the roar of the atmospheric drag the air compresses and rarefacts; without a medium there’s no sound it’s just a pressure wave but there’s a medium now and he hopes that medium is breathable and there is so much pressure on his mind he’s coming apart and nothing is holding him together. Except Greer is shouting his name and, yes well, it’s probably more frightening to watch the groundrush when your copilot who’s considered by most to be much too unstable to walk over a flat surface or open a jar by himself let alone fly a shuttle when he’s never done it before simply takes over the controls and stops responding to everything you say and he’s not insensitive to that, he’s not, he’s not insensitive to anything unfortunately, he just can’t do this and talk, But Greer is shouting his name again and again and again and he doesn’t mean to but he’s giving him something to focus on to remember what he is or who he is or what he is and that he’s not this disintegrating shuttle that he’s locked straight into they’re locked together and if its hold on him is so intense when they hit the ground it will shatter apart inside his mind and maybe his mind will shatter apart with it and he’s not overly concerned about that because his mind is an already-shattered thing that the AI keeps and Colonel Young keeps and he keeps intact as best that they can and most of the time it holds water but only in the way a shattered glued-together piece of ornamental glassware holds water and an unshattered version would be better but but you keep the shattered one because where will all the water go without it.

The floor?

The earth?

Or maybe, there would be no water.

“Rush, snap out of it.” Greer shouts to be heard over the roar of the drag. “Rush.”

He can’t die here, not yet. He won’t let go. He will hang on until the end and try to keep control until they crash straight into the earth. The apposed destruction of the shuttle will damage his mind a little further and maybe he’ll lose some other skill set that he hangs onto like the ability to subtract or something equally vital but from the disorganization he’ll gain a compensatory insanity like a sense of loss that becomes mathematically quantifiable and he’ll continue to know all the answers they’ll come out of this pained and painful swirl and he’ll be a little further gone but he’ll compensate, right up until the point where he can’t compensate anymore and then he’ll be decompensated. Is it so wrong to want this it was what Gloria wanted too at the end and she had always been his metric but she also wanted him to be there and he wasn’t, he wasn’t there and he is not there for Mandy now, locked in timeless darkness and he won’t be there for Young but they all wait for him until the end, they are all, all of them waiting for him but he never comes or he comes too late, he’s still not sure which it will be but for Gloria at least he knows the answer. He should have just stayed under the river water and that’s why now invariably, anytime anyone tries to drown him he just breathes in

Ionizing particles rush over the hull and Gloria is screaming, screaming and the last thing he feels from Young is the sensation of his hand coming to his mouth in a closed fist and then nothing. Nothing. Nothing is holding him back, nothing is holding him down it is just him and the broken, tortured, twisted insides of a defective malfunctioning shuttle and they belong together, yes they must because he needs something he needs something something something because he needs something because—


—because they are alike, suboptimal things that burn hot and red-orange but nevertheless accomplish their purpose in the face of untenable unstoppable sometimes insidious and rarely obvious drag that slows and burns and weakens and burns and burns and burns and the ground is rising up to meet them in an optical illusion but that doesn’t concern him because he’s very good at responding to only what should be responded to and it seems like he’s not but he maintains that even now he is, because the notes of the circuitry and the music of the shields and the sensation of circuits burning like they’re parts of his body are just as real and pressing to him as people are and he can’t cut them out and can’t ignore them but he can work around it all, splitting and splitting and splitting and working around always but there’s been a sudden spike in the energy required to fight his way free of the ephemera and run his algorithms, so many that he’s beginning to—he can’t keep track he needs Destiny for that, Destiny is too far and Colonel Young is too far and he is alone, alone, alone and his mind doesn’t know what to do with the space they’ve taken up for so long and it feels like a vacuum cold and dark and pulling on all that he is but still, still he holds to the shuttle, because that was his decision and he stands by it and he will, until the end, unless he doesn’t, he’s mercurial and that is what’s called a “character flaw.” He holds to it, putting more and more of himself into it and what does it say about him—

“I’m fucked up aren’t I? Am I fucked up?”

“Yes but oh just a little bit darling and it makes you interesting.”

—that he doesn’t mind letting machines and letting aliens and letting technology and letting chairs and letting people just reach in and take what they need to take and remake what they need to remake but usually he gets something in return, something he wants. This is a case in point is it not, because his hands are in its circuitry and this is a direct interface and his brain has more computational capacity than this little shuttle could use if it wanted but it doesn’t have wants per se, other than his wants and his wants right now consist of diverting all power, oh god all power, to forward shields and it’s not alive, not really, all the available energy it has is coming from him, from him and god this will cost him, and it’ll cost the shuttle because maybe it is alive in the way a small animal is alive just circuitry and voltage differentials and no real thoughts but then why do the circuits shriek and why does this hurt it and why does it pull energy from his mind like it is frightened and why does he know and it know and he know that it is going to die it’s going to die inside his mind and he’s going to die with the shuttle he’s going to die he’s going to die he’s going to he’s going to

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