Mathématique: Chapter 1

“You said this ‘moving’ was a cultural rite of passage.”

Chapter Warnings: Grief. Stressors of all kinds.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 1

It was too fucking hot.

Nicholas Rush lay on his floor, eyes shut. He listened to some kind of insect fluttering against the glass of the window and tried not to move as sweat trickled down his temples and beaded back into his hair like tears or some other wet salty thing—blood, or seawater maybe—that could also be acted upon by gravity.

What a moronic train of thought.

It was interesting though, the way separated things fell away and down, tears and blood and leaves and books that were dropped and rain and he was certain that of all the fundamental forces, gravity was his favorite because it was the most mysterious and forgiving and it pulled things together. Electromagnetism was his least favorite because it was hard and ruthless and bright and it kept things from merging into the same spaces.

He was drunk. Drunk or dehydrated or tired. He wasn’t sure which, and they weren’t mutually exclusive possibilities. Maybe he had heatstroke. He was fairly certain he’d feel worse if he had heatstroke.

He heard the quiet chime of the elevator through his closed door.

“No—angle it—the other way. No—the other other way.”

“I don’t remember couches being this heavy.”

Rush had to suppress a venomous spike of hatred against couches as a concept, that unseen couch in particular, people who designed couches, people who constructed them, people who sold them for a living, as well as anyone who was the owner of a couch—a set of which he was a member, if one included previous couch ownership, which one really should, because anything else was just lying.

“Vala. Stop. You’re not helping.”

He had suspected when he first heard them that one of the unseen speakers was Dr. Daniel Jackson, archeologist to the (literal, astrophysical) stars; now he was certain.

“Vala, we are not carrying this couch while you are—lounging on it.”

He wasn’t sure who this Vala character was, but he liked her already.

Rush was suspicious of Jackson. Deeply suspicious. Jackson was too kind for a man of his supposed intelligence. That was the crux of the problem. There was something wrong with him. Perhaps he wasn’t human? Such things were, apparently, possible these days, given that “stargates” were real and alien life existed. Hypothetically, Rush could be hallucinating Dr. Jackson and all the rest of it—in some kind of gentle departure from reality—but he was fairly certain that wasn’t the case. For one thing, if he were hallucinating Dr. Jackson, he’d have hallucinated some personality flaws for the man, just to make things more realistic for himself.

“You brought me here under false pretenses.” A woman’s voice came low and indistinct through the wood of the door. “You said this ‘moving’ was a cultural rite of passage.”

Rush smiled faintly.

“This is a cultural rite of passage.”

“That’s pretty weak, Jackson.”

“In my experience, rites of passage generally involve less work and more food,” Vala replied.

“Your experience is atypical.” Jackson sounded annoyed.

“The Linguistics Department bake-sale was a ‘rite of passage,’ and it involved food,” Vala pointed out.

“How is a bake sale a ‘rite of passage’?” Jackson asked. “You need to stop taking Teal’c so seriously.” 

“The ritual preparation of food for the greater good in the company of one’s peer group when undertaken for the first time very much counts as a ‘right of passage’.” There was a prim twist to Vala’s tone.

“She’s got you there,” the other man said. “Come on, Jackson. She’s not that heavy,”

“But it’s the principle of the thing.” Jackson sounded strained, presumably because they were in the process of moving the couch.  

Rush opened his eyes and it was like getting knifed by photons—eye to brain, bilateral and remorseless and everything one imagined when one imagined a photosensitive headache. He shut his eyes again. He wondered if he could stand up. It would need to happen soon, because there was no way that Jackson was going to leave without at least knocking on his door, and there were certain standards that Rush had to maintain in order to continue sustainably.

Not killing himself via dehydration was on that list.

He wondered how long he'd been on the floor. He wondered if he had an air conditioner. One would think that he'd have turned it on by now if he did indeed have one, but one might be wrong regarding such an assumption.

Turning over was more difficult than it should have been. His muscles felt uncooperative and too loose, as if they had determined where things were headed and just abandoned him to that press of gravity that dragged him down toward the molten core of the Earth. If dead civilizations sank ever downward, buried under the detritus of the new, then maybe it could be the same with graves, which explained why he didn’t want to be cremated he just wanted to be buried, to feel this press always, to sink into the ground, to become one with the liquid core of the Earth that spun and generated a magnetic field that protected the seas from solar radiation.

He buried his head in his arms, face down on the wooden floor.

How long did it take to move someone into an apartment?

What would Jackson do if he found him lying on the floor, overheating in a set of rooms that likely had some kind of cooling mechanism somewhere, if he’d only bothered to look for it? Fuck Jackson anyway. He was too fucking nice to too many people who clearly didn’t appreciate it. Or deserve it.

Was that a character flaw? 

He would have to think about that.

Probably it wasn’t.

He forced himself to his elbows and then to his knees, and, yes, there did seem to be something wrong with him, as the room looked somewhat askew, which was unusual and clearly a perceptive problem. He got to his feet, his hand on the warm paint of the wall. He walked unsteadily to the bathroom and turned on the shower, half sitting, half-collapsing under the cool water.

Objectively, this was not one of the finer moments in the life of Dr. Nicholas Rush.

He wished, belatedly, that he’d taken his clothes off, because that was the usual order of things when one took a shower, but, from a teleological standpoint, whether the clothes came off before, after, or during the showering wasn’t important, because this whole sequence of events that he was undertaking was more about the perception he’d done something other then lie on a hardwood floor and attack his cypher set in long-hand, short-hand, Ancient, and code for the three days since he’d last seen Jackson.

He felt more alert now that his brain wasn’t being autoclaved in his skull.

Three days and nights of maths. That would do it. He hadn’t been on a mathematical bender in years. Not since—

He cut off that train of thought before it could start.

Had he made any material progress on the decryption? Hopefully he hadn’t wasted his time on matrices in this kind of heat—delirium and linear algebra did not mix well. There was a fifty percent chance that when he went back out there he was going to find that he’d fucking reproduced a piano sonata on his wall or torn into an unopened box labeled with her name, looking for—


The only thing more pathetic than taking a shower in one’s clothes was crying while one took a shower in one’s clothes. Speaking hypothetically. Of course. He just wasn’t breathing very well. Other than that, everything was fine. Everything was fixable. He had a can of paint. If there was something on his wall that wasn’t math then he would just paint over it. It was as simple as that. Fine.

He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off. The rest of the undressing came by rote, or would have done if his clothes hadn’t been weighed down by water. No matter. He used soap. He shaved. He found clothes that were clean and put them on in the room where he kept all the boxes. He should have burned everything, thrown it out, put it in storage, and he would have, he just didn’t want to go fucking shopping for fucking clothes.  

That and—the idea of destroying anything that had been hers was—

The room seemed suddenly too warm and too small and too foreign. Too many of the boxes were covered with dust and unopened and he couldn’t breathe. His heart was beating hard and merciless, as if it were warring against his lungs, as if it were trying to escape, and he flung himself out of the room, slamming the door behind him, unsteady but back, finally, in the central room with the ceiling-length windows and Jackson, Jackson was outside and he was talking to whomever it was that he knew and it was the most reassuring thing Rush had heard in days. In days. He sank back to his knees and tried to breathe and it was fine; he knew objectively that he was breathing even though it didn’t feel like there was any oxygen in the air.

“No, you cannot use my credit card. You’re getting paid now. You can get your own credit card.”

“But Daniel. Darling,” Vala said. “I can’t get a credit card, because I haven’t yet decided what my birthday is going to be. This is a very important aspect of being a member of your society, and I don’t want to choose incorrectly.”

“There’s no wrong choice.” Jackson sounded perplexed.

“For instance, do you think I have an ability to let go of past situations in preparation for future needs? Would you say I am reserved, loyal, and secretive?”

“Secretive? No. Or, hmm. Maybe? Actually, yes. I’m gonna go with yes. What does this have to do with anything?”

“She’s trying to figure out her sign,” the Man Who Wasn’t Daniel said.    

“Your astrological sign?”

“Obviously.” There was a prim twist to Vala’s tone.

Their voices began to fade as they walked down the hallway.  

“First of all—no. Just no. Astrology isn’t real. Even if it were—you aren’t from this planet. So the rotational position of Earth relative to arbitrary stellar patterns in the night sky would be meaningless, or at least uninterpretable, from wherever you were born—”

Rush needed to drink water. Anyone would feel panicky in this level of heat. He needed to drink water and find the air conditioner. He was certain it existed.

He stood again, fighting the way his vision dimmed around its edges. He wondered how long he’d been lying on that floor. Too long. He got himself a glass of water and drank the entire thing. He refilled the glass and sat on the floor of his kitchen, sipping it and trying not to throw up. It occurred to him that he might be dangerously dehydrated. He didn’t seem to have the ability to stand for very long. He tried to determine when he’d last had water.

He had no idea.

Drinking water wasn’t the kind of thing of which he generally took note. He would need to correct this ridiculous situation in relatively short order, but he didn’t see an obvious way to do that and he just could not breathe.

It was too fucking hot.

He finished the rest of his water and did not feel better. He stood up and opened the refrigerator. He shut it again immediately. That had certainly been overly optimistic on his part. He refilled his glass, opened one of his cupboards, and dumped about ten grams worth of sugar into the water before sitting down again. As solutions went, it was sub par.

It seemed he’d had a significant decline in function over the past several days.

That was fine.

When it was cooler outside, when the rotation of the Earth had turned him away from the sun, he would get out of here and find some food. Until then, he’d sit in his kitchen and drink sugar water. In a little while, when his breathing had normalized and he wasn’t thinking of unpacked boxes, he’d search out his thermostat in a calm, rational, and systematic manner.

He shut his eyes, and he drank his revolting water. Maybe he should just eat the sugar?

He was not going to eat sugar.  

That was ridiculous.

He tried to breathe steadily and not think of people or things or music but he was terrible at sustaining mental emptiness because it only revealed the abyss-like nature of his own anxiety.

Du gleichst dem Geist den du begreifst.

He disliked infinite things but liked comparative infinities because, really, it was the lack of overlap that differentiated systems. But there was no more isolated place than the peripheral sliver of the Venn diagram—that lonely margin that did not merge with its paired set.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow, he would work on the cryptography problem. Today, he would try not to cry about set theory or anthropomorphize graphical systems used to represent data.

He leaned his forehead against his knees and tried to swallow more sugar water, but it was difficult. It would get better. Everyone said it would get better, and so it would. Too bad that was a logical fucking fallacy—argumentum ad populum.

He was going to find his air conditioner. Any minute now, he was going to get off his floor and he was going to find it. He could tell by the cast of the light that it was late afternoon.

Someone knocked on his door.

There was a one hundred percent chance it was Jackson.

He stood, slowly, and walked out of his kitchen, one hand trailing over the warm wall until he reached his door. The key thing was to be as brusque and unfriendly as possible. That shouldn’t be difficult. Not for him.

He opened the door.

“Hey,” Jackson said, hot and tired and flustered. “Oh my god.”

“What?” Rush snapped.

“It’s like a greenhouse in here. Isn’t your air conditioning working? Why didn’t you pull your shades down?”

Rush didn’t have a good answer to either of those questions, so instead he said, “If you have a point, Daniel, do let me know. I’m quite busy.”

“Mmm hmm,” Jackson said, giving Rush a look that was admonishing and concerned and irritatingly uncertain. Perhaps Jackson was just as suspicious of him as he was of Jackson. “You should call about your air conditioning.”

“I’ll consider it.  Did you—” speaking seemed suddenly difficult, “want anything in particular?”

“Yeah, I wanted to let you know—are you okay?”

“Yes, yes. I’m fine.” Rush was reaching the upper limit of his ability to stand, actually, but he knew from experience that if he shut the door in Jackson’s face, the man would only become more determined.

“Okay, well, I thought maybe you’d want to meet your new neighbor. We were—”

Jackson broke off right around the same point Rush realized that loss of consciousness was inevitable. He gave in. Gravity was already pulling him down.

He woke up on a couch.

He did not own a couch.

It was also significantly cooler than he remembered it being when he had passed out. This was, certainly, due in part to the fact that he had a fucking hand towel on his forehead.

He opened his eyes to find someone staring at him. The man had a direct and curious gaze, close-cropped dark har, and was sitting on a box. No doubt this was the lucky recipient of Jackson’s latest humanitarian impulse.

“Ah fuck,” Rush said.

“Yeahhhh,” the other man replied, with a truly startling degree of sympathy. “Hi.”

“Hello.” Rush made an effort to stop the beating of his heart through sheer force of will.

“How do you feel?”

Like an overwrought, wretched, wasted, barren, toxic, wasteland of a human being, who was currently somewhat unclear as to why his shirt was half unbuttoned and his sleeves were rolled up. 

“Sorry,” Rush said, in a tone he was certain did not sound “sorry” at all, “but who are you, exactly?”

“Colonel Everett Young.”

Oh a colonel. Wonderful. Hopefully this one wasn’t in charge of personnel. Or payroll. Did they put colonels in charge of payroll? It seemed like the kind of stupid, needless idea the Air Force would have.

“And how did I get here?”

“Jackson carried you in.”

“Ah,” Rush said. “Well, thank you for that piece of information and the use of your couch. Nice to meet you. I apologize for the inconvenience. I’ll just be going.” He forced himself into a sitting position, but, unfortunately for him and for his laconic neighbor, sitting wasn’t sustainable. He fell back, shutting his eyes against the dynamic instability of the room or his mind or both.

“You’re a mess there, hotshot.”

Young sounded closer.

Opening his eyes was more difficult than the historic norm would indicate it should be, but, when he got it done, Young was staring at him.

First of all, the use of the moniker “hotshot” was clearly ironic and he resented that. Second of all—

“You want some water?” Young asked.

“Yes, thank you.”

“Coming right up.”

Young got to his feet slowly, favoring one leg or, perhaps, one entire side of his body. It was difficult to tell what was wrong with him, but something clearly was. Wrong with him. Which, Rush supposed, explained why Jackson might be helping the man move into his apartment.

Fucking Jackson—making some injured colonel get him drinking water. Which begged the question—where was Jackson anyway? Hopefully he wasn’t in Rush’s apartment.

Young returned with a glass of water. 

“Jackson went to get you Gatorade,” Young said, as if he could read minds. “And Mitchell went to get you a doctor, I guess.”

“Mitchell?” Rush asked, trying not to choke on the water.

“Colonel Mitchell? Are you not with the program?”

“Are you speaking literally or metaphorically?”

There was a prolonged pause. “Um, literally.”

“I’m a consultant.”

“Explains why I haven’t seen you around, I guess.”

“Mmm,” Rush said noncommittally, managing to set his glass of water on the floor without spilling it. Young’s earlier statement about “Mitchell” going to get a “doctor” finally made its way into his consciousness and stuck there. “I don’t need a doctor.”

“Pretty sure you might,” Young said.

Rush couldn’t argue that statement from any position of strength, so, instead, he made a disdainful circular hand gesture and shut his eyes again.   

He thought of his apartment, hot and clean and barren, occupied for months, but never really occupied at all. It had never been this hot in San Francisco or Oxford or Glasgow. He wasn’t acclimated to this. There were too few clouds in this merciless place—farther from the sea than he had ever been in his life.


Hopefully Jackson hadn’t gone inside. Hopefully he hadn’t seen the state of things. Probably he hadn’t. Probably he’d been too busy carrying Rush down the hall.

Vaguely, the fall came to him—losing his grip on the wooden doorframe along with everything else as he’d crossed an asymptote of some kind.

It had been days since he’d reliably slept. Days since he’d reliably eaten. The math though—the math he’d been doing the entire time, each chevron keyed to a different cryprographic method in a sweeping test of intellectual capacity set by a people long dead. In a haze of insight, he recalled that he’d gotten number four sometime—sometime yesterday or today, maybe that morning, early—it had been dark outside when he’d switched his block cypher to a stream cypher and his symmetric key algorithm had practically written itself, opening to him, as it should, because nothing could withstand his mind, not even himself, and he’d collapsed there on his floor and, when he’d woken, things had seemed much less clear than they did here in the cool, air-conditioned disarray of Colonel Young’s apartment.  


“What,” he said absently, half-remembering, half-reinventing his stream cypher. It had been a long while since he’d given much thought to symmetric key cryptography.

“Rush. Whoever you are. Stay awake.”

“I’m awake,” Rush replied, half-heartedly.

From somewhere behind him came the sound of knuckles rapping against wood.

“Come,” Young called.

“How is he?” Jackson asked.

“In and out,” Young said shortly.

“Not true.” Rush didn’t open his eyes. “Entirely in.”

“I don’t think ‘entirely’ means what you think it means,” Jackson replied dryly.

Someone sat down on the couch. Rush opened his eyes to see a woman with long, dark hair perched precariously next to him. “Hello, gorgeous.” She gave him a smile and a wink as she twisted the top off a bottle of green Gatorade. “I hear this stuff cures nearly every terrestrial illness.”  

It wasn’t often he had no idea what to say.

“Vala. Vala Mal Doran,” she said, offering her hand.

“Nicholas Rush,” he replied, taking it. 

Her handshake was more vigorous than seemed standard, but maybe that was just a perceptive problem on his part. She swapped her hand out for the open bottle of Gatorade.  

He took a sip of the green liquid and hoped to god that he wasn’t going to be sick.

“So,” Jackson said. “Air conditioning.” 

Rush was not at all certain how he was supposed to respond to that statement. He said nothing and raised his eyebrows at Jackson.  

“Oh as if you haven’t done things just as ridiculous.” Vala flicked her hair over her shoulder. “Colonel Carter was telling me—”

Was everyone a colonel these days?

All right, fine,” Jackson said.

There was another light rap on the frame of the open door.

“Oh great,” Jackson said, looking relieved. “Dr. Lam. Hi.”

Rush brought a hand to his face.

“Can you guys go do something else while I take a look at him?” The woman’s voice was low, almost brusque, and, though she’d framed her words as a question, they were clearly more of a command.

“Sure thing,” Mitchell said, and they filed out, or, at least, it sounded like they did.

His hand was still over his face.

“Hi.” Lam assumed Vala’s previous position on the couch. “I’m Carolyn Lam. How are you feeling?”

“Fine.” Rush lifted his hand. The woman was wearing a striped tank top and shorts that were eminently appropriate for the middle of July but made her look about two decades younger than he hoped she was.

“What happened?” Her eyes were dark and her expression was serious.

“Nothing,” he said, waving one hand. “My apartment is quite hot.”

“I’m going to need more to go on than that.”

He sighed. “I was talking to Daniel. I became somewhat lightheaded. I woke up here.”

“Has anything like this happened to you before?”



“Have you been drinking enough water?”

“Probably not.”

“How much water have you had in the past day?”

“I have no idea.”


“Twenty-four ounces.” He did not add that those twenty-four ounces had all been consumed within the past thirty minutes.

“When was the last time you ate?”

“Yesterday.” That was an optimistic estimate.

“You realize it’s nearly five o’clock, right?” Lam asked.

“I do now.”

He just wanted to get rid of this woman.

She raised an eyebrow at him as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. She pulled a stethoscope out of her purse, and he raised an eyebrow in return.

She made short work of taking his pulse and listening to his heart before making him sit up and doing the entire thing again. “Well my friend,” she said, “you’re orthostatic, meaning you’re raising your heart rate and dropping your pressure when you sit. I’m not going to have you stand because I don’t think that would end well.”

“Probably not,” Rush agreed.

“So. You can stay here in the air conditioning and drink Gatorade for a few hours to rehydrate, or Dr. Jackson and I can take you in and I’ll do it the efficient way, with IV fluids.

“No thank you,” Rush said. “Gatorade will be fine.”

“Is there anyone I can call?” Lam asked. “Your wife maybe?” She indicated his wedding ring with her eyes.

Ah yes. This would be one of the many reasons why it was a good idea to remove one’s wedding ring when one was no longer technically married—there wouldn’t be moments like this that would reach out and grab one by the throat. Hypothetically.

He decided that he would lie back down.

“No, you can’t call her,” he said.

“Why not?”

“She’s not here.”

“Where is she?”

“York. The U.K.”

While it was relatively normal behavior to not remove one’s wedding ring, it was not normal behavior to imply that one’s deceased wife was still alive and in York when, actually, that was where she’d been buried. It was just this sort of pathological omission that had, historically, gotten him into trouble, but it was so much easier this way for everyone concerned. However. Lam seemed to know Jackson, and Jackson in turn knew that—fuck. Fuck.

“And she’s dead,” he added.

There was a long silence.

“That would make it difficult to call her,” Lam said, gently.

“Yes. Yes it would.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”



Thank god.

“So,” she continued, “you’re going to stay here and drink Gatorade until you feel better. You should also eat something. If you haven’t recovered fully in four hours, someone’s going to need to drive you in and we’ll hook you up to an IV. Got it?”

Rush nodded.

Lam stood and walked into the adjacent room, where the other four were talking quietly.

Rush sipped his Gatorade and stared at the wall, reviewing and consolidating the things that were beginning to become apparent to him, the first of which was that there wasn’t just one cryptographic element buried in the internal circuitry of the stargate, there were multiple interlocking, interweaving codes, and he wasn’t at all certain that any of the chevrons would sequentially lock until all of them were decoded, with ordinal locking predicated on sequence. He’d proven a computational hardness assumption, which was fair fucking helpful going forward, and he had four of the chevrons, not necessarily the first four of the sequence, all keyed to different cryptographic elements within the gate, but there were five more, at least five more, and he was certain one of them was going to be quantum in nature—probably it would be coupled to the crystalline matrix of the DHD because the flow of current through the Ancient crystals created a perfect lattice in which to distribute and permute quantum keys. Maybe that would be the next one he tackled. It didn’t sound particularly easy, but he was running out of well-studied approaches to information security. He was fairly sure that Ancients were substantially more sophisticated in their cypher-building than humans.

Possibly more sophisticated than him.


He sipped more Gatorade.

In any case, each chevron had a unique key and, furthermore, a conceptually unique method of arriving at that key. There might even be a final cypher required to unlock the entire sequence, making for ten keys and ten conceptual problems to solve, which was really more aesthetically pleasing than nine. Ancients had used base ten math, which also argued in support of the idea that there would be ten systems of authentication. Now that he thought about it, he was certain it was what they had done because it was what he would have done.

It was too perfect to resist.

Lam reentered the room, accompanied by Mitchell.

“I can walk, colonel, no need to give me a ride. It’s only about fifteen minutes on foot.”

“It’s too hot to walk anywhere,” Mitchell said. “I’m driving you.”

Lam shrugged fluidly and paused, looking down at Rush.

“Four hours,” she said.

“Yes yes.” He waved her on.

“Nice meeting you,” Mitchell said. “Feel better.”

Rush nodded.

Mercifully, they left.

He finished his bottle of Gatorade and fished another free from the collection that Vala had left on the floor. He wondered how many of these things he’d have to drink before Jackson would let him go back to his apartment and look for his thermostat in peace. More than one, probably. He still felt miserable, his muscles uncooperative and shaky and traitorously seduced by the couch he was lying on.

He despised couches.

He’d slept on a hardwood floor for six weeks and he preferred that.

He did.

He closed his eyes against his headache.

“Daniel. If I can pass these ‘psychological evaluations’ of yours, then I can assemble a bed.”

They were trying to be quiet, but, still, he could hear them.

“I’m still not sure why you’re so hung up on this. No one fails psychological evaluations. They’re just evaluations.”

“Right. And that’s why you attempted to entrap me by sending that little man to—”

“Yeah—look, I said I was sorry about that. And it was not my idea. As I explained. Also? I’m pretty sure that’s part of the frame, not the headboard.”

“I don’t think so,” Vala replied. “You clearly lack experience on the domestic front.”

“What? Vala. I’m an archeologist. I’ve read entire books on comparative bed-frame construction.”

“Well, that’s evidently not sufficient.”

Young said something, but it was too low for Rush to catch.

Ten keys. He’d already cracked a symmetric key, an asymmetric key, and an interactive proof system. One of the chevrons had yielded to brute force attack. So where did that leave him? Quantum was going to be there—he knew it was, but that was the system with which he was least familiar, namely because the hardware would be a central component of the cypher itself and he had no crystals to study. They weren’t like circuit diagrams, these decoherent quantum states. They were about as conceptually elegant as the sea of Dirac, which was to say not conceptually elegant at all.

He peripherally registered the sound of asymmetric footfalls. The quiet scape of weighed-down cardboard over a dusty floor.  

Infinite negative charge spreading out forever through the vacuum of space like a sub-perceptual fuck-you to anyone with Newtonian instincts. Particles as holes in the sea and if he just lived at the speed of light then all of this would make sense and he could encrypt and decrypt without effort, maybe even without thought, which would be ideal.

“Hey,” Young said quietly. “Hotshot. You awake?”

Rush felt someone pull the mostly empty bottle of Gatorade out of his inexplicably lax grip. He tried to open his eyes, but it was too difficult.  

Dirac. Decoupled from every kind of convention. He wished he could be that way and, if he could, he imagined everything would be less difficult, like following voltage drops stepwise-down to a superconducting sea. He contaminated everything he did with who he was, which was too much of everything and he fought that always but one day, one day, he would stop fighting it and he didn’t know what would happen then.

He couldn’t move and he couldn’t open his eyes and the couch that he hated on principle was so painless that there was no place to make a stand against what was happening to him which was that he was inexorably falling asleep in an air-conditioned apartment that was not his own.

With an effort that hovered on the edge of achievability, he cracked his eyes open.

Young was sitting on a box, one leg stretched in front of him as though it pained him. His shoulders were hunched. He was staring at the floor.  

Rush felt a quick flash of empathy, but he couldn’t hold onto it.  

He couldn’t hold onto anything.

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