Mathématique: Chapter 11
Chapter Warnings: Grief. Stressors of all kinds.
Additional notes: None.
On Monday morning, after thirty-seven hours spent in the confines of Colonel Young’s apartment and another twenty spent in his own now-certified-as-safe apartment, Rush leaned against his wall, watching shadows fade to gray as the sun rose on the opposite side of the building. The sound of a solitary engine coming to life broke the stillness of the dawn.
He didn’t know how to proceed.
His windows faced west. West-facing windows were an empirical disaster post-noon, but he preferred that to being knifed in the optic nerve every morning in a welcome-to-the-day-with-a-supraorbital-scalpel-of-solar-radiation phenomenon.
Jackson’s windows faced east and, like many things about Jackson, that bothered him. If one had been killed by electromagnetic radiation, waking up to a shower of it every morning seemed terribly cruel. Perhaps Jackson hadn’t noticed. Perhaps he didn’t equate solar radiation with radioactive decay; certainly there were differences, but those were of degree. The final common pathway was the same. Jackson was very perceptive. It was likely that he knew. He knew, and did nothing. Living in the dark wasn’t practical, after all.
The remembered sound of metal to glass.
She had always liked it, the snap of her wedding ring against a hard surface. In the silence, he could very nearly hear it. As though she were in the kitchen, waiting for him.
He watched gray light spread across darker gray asphalt and tried to decide what to do.
Theory or practice, abstraction or empiricism, to be in the world or to be of it—false dichotomies forever falling to fucking hell, where the fallacious went when they died. Cognitive errors, cognitive dissonance, aural dissonance; it was only the longing for the hypothetical that composed his tenuous bridge to functionality, serving as a workaround for the places in his mind that were best left in that abyss between physical survival and the exquisite architecture of the purely theoretical.
What to do.
He was interested in the gate, in the subtle cryptographic pressures that would make it yield everything to him.
He was less interested in himself, specifically what lay in that region between basic survival and higher math—the part of him that was pathetically packed away along with the rest of his previous life to await whatever was coming for him at the unlocking of chevron nine. Something was coming, the same thing that had always been coming for him—the thing that she had deferred for him even right up until the end—paying a personal cost that he could only guess at but never truly know.
And for what? For this? One last problem to solve? One last problem to shatter? Revealing that which was underneath? Revelation was not an easy, popular, or satisfying career choice, generally speaking. Not when one was a mathematician. Especially not then. He could not think of a single one for whom it had ended well.
He should have been a physicist. They did all right.
He drove the heel of one hand against his left eye and made his nth attempt to focus. He hadn’t determined how seriously he should take Jackson’s earnest concern, so full of fucking import it seemed to displace the oxygen in the air. How he should take the slide of his glasses across the table, the implication that Jackson had been illicitly searching Telford’s office, the further implication that the rift between the two men was deeper than anyone guessed. Profound enough that Jackson would risk what had almost certainly been an unauthorized breach of security to look for something that Telford had been trying to conceal.
It was just like Jackson to do this—to accrue power by giving it up in some kind of bizarre reverse-kamikaze interpersonal maneuver. The man had as good as admitted to an act that would be viewed, in a best-case scenario, with extreme suspicion by General Whomever-The-Fuck and the IOA. In a worst-case scenario, such an act could get him investigated, kicked out of the program, and/or charged with treason if he ended up on the wrong side of an overly draconian anti-LA policy. The man had put an alarming amount of implied knowledge straight into Rush’s own ledger and left it to him to declare himself in the pro-Jackson or anti-Jackson camp.
Pull your own medical file. Read the entire thing.
Would it have been so fucking hard for the man to just communicate whatever it was that he’d wanted to say?
Nick, you’re not human. Even as a thought construct the man sounded sensitive and polite. That one seemed unlikely, but if it turned out to be the case, he wouldn’t be particularly perturbed.
Nick, the SGC gave you the memories of a grieving cryptographer as part of a social experiment. He should be so lucky.
There was something unsettling in the suggestion that he look at his medical file. That argued for the revelation of personal, potentially disturbing information, which perhaps was not best addressed via post-it note. At least—that would be the conventional wisdom. Empirically, Jackson just couldn’t seem to comprehend that Rush simply did not give a fuck. About anything. With one exception.
He was going to deflower that delicate, gloriously constructed, nearly impenetrable web of cyphers that wove in and around the circuitry of the gate. He was going to dismantle it—force it to open to him, to rip through it, stepwise and incremental, for no other reason than it had crossed paths with him and his mathematical vendetta against the arcane, against the abstruse, the false, and most of all, against anything with the audacity to shut him out.
He would not be shut out.
Not out of anything, and most certainly not ever, ever out of a mathematical or computational lock.
Not him. Not ever.
He would pull his own medical file, but not because he believed that Jackson’s preferred course of action aligned with his best interests. Not because he trusted Jackson any more than he trusted Telford. He would pull it because it might help him unlock the gate. He would pull it because it was related to the Icarus project. He would pull it because it had been locked away from him, and that was unacceptable.
Such a course of action was not without risk—to know was to enter an irreversible trajectory. One could not unsee the precarious foundation of set theory or the entropic progression. Having looked, one could not look away.
Three hours later, external hard drive in his back pocket and keys in hand, he knocked on Young’s door.
There was no answer.
He knocked again.
After a protracted interval Young opened his door with a slow, cautious swing.
The uniform gave Rush pause—dark and blue with the little fucking birds on it—as well as various other examples of arcane semiotics that both appealed and repulsed. He didn’t like it.
“I knew it would be you,” Young said, already sounding aggrieved. “I could just tell.”
“You realize that you can’t separate your ability to characterize people by their knocking styles from your contextual awareness of the relative probabilities of different individuals showing up at your door.”
Young stared at him.
“I’m unimpressed,” Rush clarified.
“Well that makes me unsurprised.”
“On several levels, apparently.”
“Are you going to let me in?” Rush asked.
“Actually, I was just leaving,” Young replied.
“So I see. I was under the impression that you were on medical leave.”
“I was just coming to inform you,” Rush said, “that I’m driving to the base. I have a meeting with Dr. Perry.”
Young shot him a look that transitioned directly from amused irritation to irritated irritation. “To the base? No one would schedule you for a meeting one business day after you nearly got abducted. And why are you telling me? Call dispatch and they’ll send someone for you.”
Yes of course.
Call dispatch. What was he, a fucking ten year old with a deficiency in problem solving?
Oh, hang on a tick.
That wasn’t him.
That was Young.
“I don’t get ‘scheduled’, colonel, I schedule myself. Furthermore, I called dispatch approximately five minutes ago and they informed me that my functional status is currently ‘undecided’. Therefore, they cannot authorize or deny any kind of official transport as of the present moment and would prefer that I stay in my current location until such a time as they advise me otherwise.”
Young looked at his watch and then stepped back. “Get in here,” he said. “And never discuss anything of importance in any hallway. Ever. Always inside.”
Rush shot him a pointed look over the rims of his glasses as Young shut the door behind him.
“You have no common sense,” Young said, managing to look significantly more intimidating in uniform than he did in jeans and a T-shirt.
“I don’t think that avoidance of hallway conversations falls into the ‘common sense’ category,” Rush replied, trying to regain his equilibrium.
Young sighed. “Can’t it wait? Whatever it is that you think you have to do?”
“Until what point, exactly? The time when I’m no longer an abduction target?”
“Rush. You have to stay here.”
“No, I do not.” He could hear an edge creeping into his tone that seemed to match the edge creeping into his thoughts. He paced over toward the window, trying to fight his way free of any sense of entrapment. He placed his hand on the glass. It wasn’t helping.
“Rush, you’re a half-step away from being put in protective custody. The only reason you’re not already there is that from an information security standpoint, the SGC is about as penetrable as a sieve right now. Don’t give them a reason to—”
Young’s words faded down as Rush whirled to face him.
“To what,” he hissed.
Young didn’t answer.
“To force you into anything you don’t want,” Young said carefully. “I get the impression that there’s more at stake here than just you personally, hotshot.”
“What do you know?” Rush snapped.
“Nothing,” Young said, locking eyes with him. “Other than the fact that there are a lot of parties who are very—interested in you, maybe for more than just your cypher cracking hobby. Do you know why that might be?”
Briefly, he contemplated telling Young about Jackson’s note. “No,” he snapped instead, the persistent ache in his shoulders nearly unbearable. “I don’t know.”
Young’s jaw tightened, and he dropped his eyes. “All right,” the other man said, pulling out his phone. “I’ll give you a ride. I have to call it in, though.”
“What’s to call in?” You still have Mitchell’s now superfluous portable scramblers don’t you? Just give me one. I’ll fucking hold it. Problem solved.”
“Rush, I can’t just—“
“This only becomes a problem if you make it a problem because y’have a closet desire to fill out a form in triplicate and wait three days to do exactly what I’m proposing.”
Young looked at him with a pained, uncertain expression.
Rush bent down to sweep the nearest scrambling device off the floor. The metal casing was warm beneath his fingers. A single light pulsed with a faint blue glow.
“Rush,” Young said, bracing one hand on the wall. “Holding that glorified router is not a solution. The only thing it protects against is a remote beam-out, which that extra thing in your arm should be protecting against anyway.”
“Well then you should realize that—”
“Yes,” Rush snapped. “Whatever you’re about to say? I’ve realized it.”
Young stared at him. “If they can’t beam you out, they’ll come for you by force. I can’t protect you from that.”
“I doubt anyone can,” Rush said. “Just tell dispatch we’re carpooling so that no one annexes me to some underground bunker somewhere because they’re under the mistaken impression I’m irresponsible.”
“You are irresponsible.”
“Not—“ he had to look away from Young in order to regain his fraying control. “Not that irresponsible.”
David would have understood.
David understood it all.
That was the problem with David.
That had been the problem with David.
“No,” Young said in that careful, low tone that he was coming to despise. “No, you’re not.”
Rush looked back at him sharply. “Well then,” he said, “what are you waiting for? An instruction manual?”
Young rolled his eyes but pulled out his phone.
Rush turned away, pacing edgily a bit further into Young’s now familiar and ninety percent unpacked apartment. Only odds and ends remained to be sorted. Or trashed.
“Yeah, hi, this is Colonel Everett Young. Can you pass me through to ah—who’s coordinating right now? Harriman?”
He could tell by the echo of Young’s voice that the other man was facing him. Watching him. Was he so interesting, so notable, so unstable, so clearly—so clearly whatever it was that he clearly was? It had not been this bad in a long time. And there were reasons for that, best left unexamined. It was all right. Everything was fine and stable and sustainable. He tipped his head back, pressing his fingers against the rigid tension that seemed to comprise the back of his neck. He looked at the clean expanse of wall that Young would never write on. That no one would ever write on. He dropped his shoulders back and down and tried to snap into a lower energy state. Self-examination was neither required nor advisable.
“Hey Walter—look, do you know about the whole situation with Dr. Rush?”
Oh. Dr. Rush, was it? That was nice. Well then.
“Yeah. Yeah, the consultant.” Young paused. “The famous one.”
Rush raised his eyebrows.
Young shot him a look that ended up being an odd blend of self-conscious aggression.
Rush opened his hands and rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, Harriman, I know. The guy is literally my neighbor. He wants to come in to meet with Dr. Perry and there’s some kind of holding pattern in place. His status is like—stuck in bureaucratic limbo or something. I’m going to authorize myself to just bring him in. Can I do that?”
Rush gave Young a look that was designed to convey as much disdain as he could pack into an over-the-glasses stare.
“Well I don’t know,” Young said, turning away from Rush’s scrutiny. “I’m not an expert on dodging red tape—but this guy is basically living in a Kafka novel.”
Rush pushed his glasses up and toned his disdain down, but it was a wasted effort because Young wasn’t looking at him.
“Just stick a note in there so it looks legit. So it is legit. I’m making it legit.”
Absently, Rush ran his fingers over the transponder implanted under the skin of his left forearm searching out its contours with his thumbnail before switching to trace the nearly imperceptible, still sensitive place where his encryption key was buried.
He wondered if Telford was still alive.
“Yeah,” Young said. “I’ll see you soon.” He ended the call and looked over at Rush. “All right, hotshot. Try not to get abducted this afternoon. Otherwise I’m gonna look real bad.”
“Perish the thought,” Rush said dryly, heading for the door.
“You taking your router?” Young asked, eyeing the flat metal scrambler that Rush was still holding.
“It’s a non-redundant security measure.” Rush shrugged.
Young fished in his pocket for his keys, and looked up at him. “I thought the chip in your arm was supposed to scramble your signal.”
“The chip,” Rush said, watching Young lock his door, “is a gatekeeper. All subcutaneous transponders used by the SGC receive a query code and then broadcast a unique signal, allowing for lock on and beam out. They don’t just broadcast at baseline.”
“Right,” Young said, pocketing his keys.
“The chip encrypts my broadcast signal, preventing a lock unless the transporting party also has the correct key, stopping any unauthorized party from initiating a beam out. The scrambler, on the other hand,” Rush waved the device subtly in Young’s direction, “literally distorts the energy signature of the transporter, preventing any kind of lock, including a local transport sweep of a limited area.”
“The scoop,” Young said grimly.
“That’s what Carter calls it,” Young replied, as they walked down the dim hallway shoulder to shoulder. “Or at least that’s what Mitchell says Carter calls it. If you have a fairly precise location for what you want to beam out, but you don’t have a signal, you can ‘scoop up’ everything in the area.
“I suppose,” Rush replied.
“Oh come on. That’s exactly what it is.”
“I prefer ‘local transport sweep’.”
“No one’s going to remember that one. Besides. The ‘scoop’ is the polite alternative to Jackson’s name for it. Dollars to donuts it’s Jackson’s name that sticks.”
“Isn’t it always.” Rush looked over at him, expectantly.
“The slice.” Young said, in response to Rush’s inquiring gaze. “Because of the injuries it causes.“
“Ugh,” Rush said, looking away, unable to completely control his facial expression.
“Precision—would be difficult to achieve, I suppose.”
“That’s why we never do it. Very stressful to leave half of someone’s body behind. Lot of paperwork.” Young reached out and punched the button for the elevator.
Rush tried not to think of anything. Failing that, he tried to think of the complex plane. Of the direction of travel around a closed curve.
A short, silent elevator ride gave way to the menace of bright light beyond a clear glass doorway. Rush paused briefly to swap his glasses for shades, peripherally noting as Young did the same.
“Looks brutal out there,” Young observed mildly.
Electromagnetism. His least favorite.
Rush pressed the glass of the door forward and forced himself out into the wall of heat. The air was dry and shimmering, but it was the light that was worse. The light was always worse.
“This is terrible,” Young said.
Was Colorado a desert? The only thing he could see were distant mountains and expanses of asphalt. Whatever its biome, Colorado Springs was hideous.
“Rush. My car is this way.”
“I’m driving,” Rush informed him.
“Nope. Nope, I think we were pretty clear on the me giving you a ride and not the other way around.”
Rush stopped, unable to face the idea of giving in to Young in this unremitting rain of photons.
“Rush. We’re not arguing about this.”
“True,” Rush said. He tossed the signal scrambler he was still holding at Young in a high parabolic arc, pulled out his keys, and started toward his car.
Young stepped sideways to catch the device in a motion that looked like pure instinct. “Rush. Rush. What the hell are you doing?” Young growled, very nearly dropping the flat metal casing that still glowed faintly blue before his fingers closed around it solidly.
“Catch,” Rush said, dry and belated, heading towards his car.
“Rush, you are the one who should be holding this thing,” Young growled.
“It has a six meter radius,” Rush replied, turning toward his car. “I therefore recommend you come this way.” He smirked, unlocking his white Prius.
“You drive a Prius?” Young asked.
“It’s open,” Rush said, sliding into the driver’s seat.
The heat in the car was merciless. He could feel his hair beginning to cling to the back of his neck.
Young didn’t get in the car until Rush had already started it, whether out of some kind of need to make a stand, pure irritation, or indecision—who could say. When he finally did slide in, with a pained, stiff movement, he slammed the door behind him with unnecessary force.
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re a lot of work?”
“Not in those precise words,” Rush said, turning on the air conditioning.
“Well you are.”
“Am I supposed to be insulted by this?” Rush asked.
“You drive a Prius?” Young said. “Seriously, a Prius?”
“Well, what the fuck do you drive then?”
“Not a Prius. That’s just so—”
“So what,” Rush snapped, throwing the car into reverse and backing out of his parking spot with rapid precision.
“God, be careful. This parking lot is really tight.“ Young’s warning faded down on the last word as Rush straightened the wheel and accelerated toward the exit.
“Are you planning on being like this the entire time?” Rush enquired politely.
“Terribly fucking annoying. What’s wrong with driving a Prius?” He pulled out of the parking lot and into the wide flat expanse of road that meandered through the obligate suburban sprawl before it narrowed in its ascent up to the base.
“Nothing’s wrong with it, it’s just that—you are definitely breaking the speed limit.“ Young glanced over at the dashboard. “Did you know that?”
“Aren’t you in the Air Force? Do you not fly planes at—” he wasn’t entirely sure how to elegantly escape the phrase he had just poorly put together, so he just went with the mathematical conclusion he’d been conceptualizing in the first place. “Mach undefined?”
“Mach undefined? I don’t know what that means. I figured you would at least drive stick.”
“I do drive stick,” Rush said, “just not in this car. Mach is a dimensionless number which measures the—“
“I know what ‘mach,’ means, hotshot. I am a pilot.”
“Do you? Astound me.” Rush smirked faintly and accelerated to make the upcoming light that hung out over the road, its color nearly invisible against the glare of the sun.
“A ratio of velocity to the speed of sound. You are an asshole, and you are not the only person in the world who knows anything about math—and you really should not change lanes in an intersection.” Young sounded like he was speaking through clenched teeth.
Rush glanced over at him. There was a tightness around his eyes that suggested perhaps rapid acceleration and deceleration were not so much conceptually objectionable as empirically painful. He did not decrease his velocity, but he decided at the next light he would decrease its rate of change. Out of courtesy.
“Correct, except for the fact it’s the ratio of velocity to the local speed of sound. And there’s no law regarding lane changes in intersections. I specifically looked into this.”
“Number one—is that supposed to tell me what the hell ‘Mach undefined’ means? You’re a terrible explainer. Also, I don’t know about wherever you were before you were here, but there is, most certainly, a law about lane changes in intersections in Colorado.”
Rush suppressed a sudden flash of irritation. “Well how am I supposed to keep track of all of these ridiculous state-to-state differences? ‘Undefined,’ amongst other things, refers to the conceptual difficulties in dividing a number by zero, which really doesn’t make any fucking sense. You can’t partition anything into no subsets. It causes all sorts of problems.”
f(x)=1/x. That was a nice one.
“Where is the speed of sound zero? Is that what you’re getting at?”
“Where indeed?” Rush replied, accelerating smoothly to meet the rise of the incline that separated the ugly parade of strip malls from the ascent to the base.
Young was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “Space?”
“Technically, it’s less that the speed of sound in a vacuum is zero and more that compression waves literally cannot propagate without a medium so—” Rush shrugged. He took a switchback at an utterly sedate speed. The sun was fucking pitiless. Perhaps he should have let Young drive. Then he could have shut his eyes.
“So, to sum up, we just had a five minute conversation that boils down to you not understanding why I’m so put off by you ignoring speed limits given that I fly vehicles in space and therefore should just be fine with the fact that you drive like a maniac?”
“That’s an adequate summary of my position, yes,” Rush said, accelerating slowly out of another switchback. “Well done.”
“You can die just as easily in a car as you can in space,” Young growled.
That had the ring of some kind of universal truth.
“I’m an excellent driver,” Rush said.
“Hotshot,” Young replied, “that’s kind of like telling people you’re a lady.”
“I fail to follow what I assume is going to be some kind of chauvinist failure in reasoning but, by all means, explain yourself.”
“Okay, bad example maybe. It’s like telling people that you’re ethical. If you have to say it, then you probably aren’t.”
“That’s an unreasoned assertion,” Rush said.
“I’m, like, three seconds away from a logical fallacy,” Young said dryly. “Aren’t I?”
“I suspect that to be your usual state.”
“Shut up, Rush.”
“Rush: two, Young three,” he said, smirking.
Young sighed. “I’m still winning.”
He accelerated out of another switchback and into the limited shade of the mountain, his speed smooth and controlled, and, yes, perhaps the rate of change of his velocity was faster than the average but that did not mean that there was any inherent qualitative or quantitative defect in his handling of narrow turns or his judgment of distance, position, acceleration, or timing.
The intersection lane change—well. Fine. Apparently Colorado gave a fuck about such things.
When they had made the final approach to the base, flashed their badges and parked, Young looked over at him and passed him the signal scrambler. “Never doing that again.”
“Oh yes? Well how are you going to get home, then?” Rush asked dryly. “Limp?”
“I’m driving back,” Young growled, his expression closed.
“I don’t think so.” Rush didn’t put much heart into the argument. By the time he was done here, his headache would likely have passed straight through its known landscapes and into the lesser explored territory of Total Excruciation.
Rush opened the car door into the thick heat of the troposphere and stepped out, caught between the deluge of sun and the heat that rose off the pale, cracking asphalt of the parking lot. He shut the door, pocketed his keys, and pushed his hair out of his eyes.
He and Young crossed the parking lot together.
The cool air and comparatively dim lighting just past the security station were a relief, but, unfortunately, he suspected it was too late to reverse the headache trajectory that had been set in motion the moment his retinas had begun to take the full brunt of the sun.
Young hit the button for the elevator. His entire frame seemed more rigid than usual. As if he didn’t want even the security cameras to know that he was injured.
The elevator opened with a low chime and they stepped inside.
Young reached out and hit the buttons for floors nineteen and twenty-seven simultaneously and then looked over at Rush. “Seriously, hotshot, do not leave without me.”
Rush stared at the metal wall of the elevator directly in front of him.
“And stay on level nineteen,” Young added.
“Naturally,” he replied.
“Why do I get the feeling that you’re just going to do whatever the hell you please?”
“No idea.” Rush glanced laterally at Young, lifting a brow. The elevator doors chimed softly and then opened on level nineteen.
“Keep that scrambler with you,” Young said. “And don’t leave the level. And don’t talk to anyone you don’t know.”
Rush gave him a look he hoped conveyed something along the lines of: kindly-shut-the-fuck-up-won’t-you? Judging by the termination of Young’s ridiculous string of orders and the subsequent eye roll, he concluded that he had been at least moderately successful.
He walked down the main hallway.
Predictably, he was stopped after about thirty feet by a civilian scientist with sandy hair.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Dr. Amanda Perry’s office,” Rush said.
“Oh. Yeah. Okay. Great. And, um, who would you be?”
His would-be guide seemed to require a one-to-one ratio of useless words to words with informational content.
“Nicholas Rush,” he replied.
The man dropped his pen. When he bent to retrieve it, his iPhone ended up on the floor as well. “Oh hey,” the other man said, having retrieved both his phone and his pen. “Dr. Volker. Dale Volker. Astrophysics.” He held out his hand.
Rush shook it. “Ah yes,” he said. “I believe Dr. Park mentioned you.”
“She did? That’s awesome. All right. Nice to meet you, seriously. Everyone is pretty excited about all the stuff you’ve been doing. Decoding the address. Unlocking the locks. Cool. Coolness. Really really great.”
“Mmm,” Rush said noncommittally.
“I heard you got number four?”
“Lisa said that Sam said that Daniel said that you said it was a stream cypher. Is that true?”
No wonder this place had a problem with security.
“I’d rather not discuss it,” he replied.
“Oh.” Volker said, switching from admiring to conspiring. “Right. Stressful times. Security leaks. I get it.”
“No,” Rush snapped. “No, I think that you, in no way, ‘get it’.”
“Please don’t talk to me.” He pressed the heel of his hand against his left eye, and tried not to think about his headache.
“Okay,” Volker said, sounding offended and disappointed and heartbroken and pathetic.
Rush wondered if Volker was, in any way, related to Jackson. Their hair color and build were perhaps similar. As was their puppy-like enthusiasm and emotional vulnerability. Perhaps this place was full of clonal variants of Jackson. Perhaps Volker was a result of a xenobiological misadventure. Rush immediately found him slightly more relatable.
They walked in silence for the span of about forty-five seconds before Volker passed through an open door and led him past a well-equipped lab, benches covered with crystalline arrays connected to corresponding computers.
He wondered if Dr. Perry overclocked her processors to handle the interface with Ancient control systems.
Volker stopped in front of an open door that directly adjoined the lab and knocked tentatively on the frame.
“Come in,” Dr. Perry said.
“Hey,” Volker said, preceding him. “Hey Mandy, is now an okay time for you? There’s someone here who wanted to talk to you.”
Rush shut his eyes, trying to prevent irritation-induced cell death in his brain. It didn’t feel like it was working.
“Now is fine,” Dr. Perry replied.
“Go ahead,” Volker said, awkwardly gesturing Rush forward.
Rush rolled his eyes and edged past Volker and around the doorframe. Dr. Perry was sitting at her desk, eyes flicking rapidly over the large monitors in front of her. There was a pathologic stillness in the way that she sat that registered viscerally a split second before he took in the highly mechanized wheelchair. Well, that probably explained why she was so damned slow when it came to typing. He tried not to feel like a complete ass. She should have told him. Why the fuck should she have told him, actually? No real reason.
He was fairly certain that if he had no physical outlet for his anxiety he would fucking expire and he wondered how she did it. Maybe she wasn’t a fucking mess of neurotic obsession about the unknown, but if that were the case that would make her a fairly singular quantum physicist. Quantum was unsettling. Everyone agreed.
She looked up at him. “Hi,” she breathed. “You must be Dr. Rush.”
He raised his eyebrows briefly and leaned against the doorframe, crossing his arms, trying to settle his thoughts. “You sound so certain.”
“You look like you know your way around the inside of a math textbook,” she said, projecting a bit louder.
He narrowed his eyes and looked down at his outfit. Jeans, a white button-down shirt, nondescript shoes. He failed to see how anything about his clothing choice suggested anything mathematical.
“Plus, that’s a nice—” she paused for a split second and flashed him a smile, “portable signal scrambler you’ve got there, so—that was also a clue.”
He placed the flat box on the edge of her desk and then dropped into the only chair in the room, putting the desk between them. “Yes yes,” he said, waving a hand dismissively before refocusing. “Look. Dr. Perry. I have a problem.”
“I hear you have several. Five, actually. And it’s Mandy.”
“Fine. But I think it’s six.”
She gave him a pointed look.
“Nice to meet you. In person. Why six?”
“One for each chevron and then—“ he made a sweeping hand gesture. “The last.”
“The last?” she repeated. He found her amused tone to be somewhat unsettling. “Since when?”
“They used base ten math; it makes sense.”
“So you have zero evidence for your it’s-not-nine-it’s-ten hypothesis.”
“That’s what, currently, makes it a hypothesis, I suppose,” he said.
“Touché.” She paused to take a breath. “So. How can I help?”
“I’d like to take a look at the source code, the RTTI, and the output of whatever program you used to solve Shor’s algorithm with your crystalline drive control elements.”
“Absolutely,” she replied, her eyes intent and animated. “I can’t put it on the network for you—but we can rustle you up an encryptable portable drive, I’m sure.”
He pulled his SGC-spproved external hard drive out of his back pocket and held it up.
“Great,” she said. “I know you’re going to need a significant chunk of time to look it over and start to work with it, but there are a few comments I can make now that will likely speed up your interpretation of the data.”
He raised his eyebrows at her.
“First,” she said, “your operations are going to be unitary matrices.”
“Obviously,” he said dryly, “The question is—”
“Which can you apply?” she finished, cutting him off. “Hold your horses, will you? The available set is determined by the character of the crystalline lattice on a quantum scale. We were able to experimentally define a set that was sufficient for rendering Shor’s algorithm. Hopefully you’ll be able to code using the selection that we’ve empirically defined, but if you can’t, we may be able to expand it based on your needs. Currently that’s not a priority for my lab—but it could easily become a sub-focus if you felt like it was necessary. Do you know—l” she paused to take a breath, “what it is that you’d like to achieve?”
“I’d like to try to achieve quantum entanglement between my terrestrial laptop and the control crystal of the DHD,” he said.
“You want to hack a quantum computer?” Perry asked, her voice rising in pitch.
He gave her a half smile and pushed his hair back. “Hack is such a—vulgar term.”
She flashed him a brilliant grin before speaking. “All right. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it works. Even if you achieve entanglement, every time you crack the cypher you’ll likely collapse the wave function and reset the key permutation.”
“Maybe,” he said, “but I’m not sure “I’m not going to need to crack it,” he said slowly, leaning forward. “I thought I might try a zero knowledge protocol to demonstrate successful entanglement and then see what happens.”
He watched her consider what he’d said.
“I think—I think that could work,” she said, flashing him another even, brilliant smile. “You demonstrate entanglement and you also demonstrate an understanding of the fundamentals of quantum computing, which—they’re really going to like. The Ancients, I mean. It’s going to appeal to them. They might just—give you the key.”
“That’s the hope,” he said.
“God,” Perry said. “Yeah. That’s really satisfying. If it doesn’t work—it should.”
“Does your ZKP exist yet? Can I take a look at it?”
“It exists, but in a classical computational form.”
“Send it to me when you start transposing it into the key of quantum.”
“I’ll drop you a note,” he said.
“I don’t mean to harp on this or anything, but I would really love it if you would pitch it to me, if you get a chance.”
“I’ll keep you apprised of any advances, major or minor.”
“I appreciate that, especially as intrapersonal communication is not really a forte of yours, apparently.”
“I resent your tone, I’ll have you know,” he replied, smirking at her.
“Sorry,” she said, again with a brilliant uncontrolled flash of teeth. “That was perhaps a bit of an off-key remark.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’m aware that I can strike as sharp at times.”
“All right,” she said, “I suspect we could do this all day. We need to scale back.”
He gave her a faint smile. “You said comments. In the plural.”
“Yes,” she replied. “You distracted me with your zero knowledge protocol. The second comment is that you’re going to need a method for verifying entanglement before you run your ZKP.”
“I’m aware,” he pushed his hair back.
“Do you have one?”
“No,” he admitted.
“I may be able to help you there. We’ll measure Shannon’s entropy in the DHD control crystal—that much is relatively straightforward to do, even in the field. Getting a simultaneous and accurate entropy measurement of your laptop—that’s going to be a bit trickier. We may have to crack the thing open while it’s running to keep it isothermic with the control crystal of the DHD.”
This was about an order of magnitude more practical than was generally necessary for him. “That sounds—difficult,” Rush said, absently considering the line where the opposite wall met the ceiling.
To be more precise, it sounded labor intensive, expensive, and logistically challenging. If, by some miraculous and heretofore unguessed at interpersonal genius on the part of Colonel Young, General Landry was convinced to allow Rush offworld, he was somewhat concerned about the prospect of negotiating for a team of science personnel and what would likely be at least several thousand dollars worth of equipment that might not even exist for something that would very likely not work at all, and could have the unfortunate side effect of stranding the entire party on whatever world they gated to.
“I think it will be,” Perry said. “Difficult. But—I don’t think you can get around it. If your ZKP doesn’t work, you’re going to need to know if it’s because entanglement failed.”
“True,” he looked back at her.
“As I see it, there are three major barriers,” she said. “One—the success of your attempt at entaglement. Two—verifying success. Three—getting the cypher key via your ZKP.“
“I don’t think the last one is going to be a problem.” He shook his hair back.
“You’re very sure of yourself,” she said.
“In this, perhaps.”
She looked at him for a moment, her expression losing its amused cast. “Okay then,” she said finally. “Swing that chair around so you can see my fantastically expensive state of the art monitors, and we’ll go through the quantum coding.”
Rush spent two and a half hours with Dr. Perry before her aide kicked him out for reasons unspecified.
He was somewhat surprised Young had not yet tracked him down, but—that suited his purposes just fine.
Threading his way through the sparsely populated corridors, he drew curious stares from more than a few passers-by. No one stopped him as he made his way back to the elevator and swiped his ID to open the door. Once inside, he hit the button for level 21, hoping his pathetic security clearance was sufficient to get him to the infirmary.
The grey homogeneity of the walls and floor were disorienting, but he made his way with little difficulty to the main entrance of the medical unit. He rounded the door and was faced with an empty room, lined with examination tables. Curtains hung drawn back against the walls in intervals of white, attached to rollers on the ceiling, waiting to be drawn.
He stopped, ran his hand through his hair, and backed up a half-step.
It was Dr. Lam. She was standing in six meters away, inexplicably facing an empty gurney, a stack of folders held against her chest. She had half-turned to face him. This time she was wearing heels and a white coat and looked considerably more—medical than the last time he’d seen her.
“Are you all right?”
Already, this was not going well—the gleam of fluorescent lights off tile, the way that it was never truly dark in a place like this. Only the click of the keys felt like home. Darling, she’d said. Talk to me, won’t you?
“Are you feeling okay?” Lam asked him, her voice slowing as she stepped forward.
Even the quiet click of her shoe against the concrete floor sounded competent.
“Yes,” he said. He shook his hair back and flashed her a quick, mirthless smile. “Yes of course. I was wondering if I might review my medical records.”
The room was so quiet.
Where was everyone.
Where was anyone.
“Is there anything in particular that you’re wondering about?” Her expression was neutral, and he could read nothing from it.
“I would like to review my medical records,” he repeated, matching her impassivity. “In their entirety. I wasn’t aware that I needed to specify a reason.”
“You don’t,” she said.
They looked at each other.
“Now would be nice,” he added.
“Have a seat,” she said, unperturbed by his curtness. “I’ll pull the hard copy.” She tapped her hand once on the back of the chair that was positioned near the gurney she had been contemplating when he arrived. “I’ll be right back.”
He looked at the chair.
He looked at the gurney.
He paced away toward the opposite wall.
It was fine.
No, it wasn’t.
Yes it was.
He was here for a specific purpose.
He could hear Lam’s shoes echoing through the quiet infirmary. Position was hard to gauge. So was direction. The walls were hard and compression waves reverberated to the point of meaninglessness.
“Dr. Rush. Are you sure you’re all right?” Lam was back, after an uncounted interval of pacing.
“Quite sure,” he said, turning around. He managed a brief, uneven smile.
Lam did not smile back. She held out a file. “I can’t allow you to leave with this. You’ll have to read it here.”
It wasn’t long.
“Fine,” he said, avoiding the chair and instead perching on the edge of the gurney.
She looked at him for a moment longer, then neatly hooked the toe of one black pump around the leg of the chair and pulled it back toward the wall. Her eyes were downcast, and there was something in the slow hook and drag of the black leather of her shoe that suggested regret.
He opened the file and began to read.
NAME: Rush, Nicholas
Chief Complaint: Establish care.
History of Present Illness: 43 YOM, known ATA/LTA pos by NMDP tissue typing, in good health, presents today to establish care at SGCMU. No outstanding complaints. MRI, CT, EKG, EEG appended. All results WNL.
Past Medical Hx: None significant.
Prior hospitalizations: Patient reports none, SGC background check reveals:
1974: Southern General Hospital, Glasgow, Scotland. Near drowning. Records incomplete. Two day stay.
1986: John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford England. Records destroyed seven years post admission as per policy regarding visits pertaining to mental health.
Family History: Unknown. Patient reports he does not keep in touch with his family.
Social History: Lives alone, wife recently deceased. Patient reports he is coping well. Smoking hx: 20+ pack years. Drinking: none reported. Caffeine intake 5+ drinks per day.
Review of Systems: Positive for headaches, likely migraine/tension headache mixed picture. Further eval deferred.
Physical exam: No abnormal findings. Vital signs WNL.
Labs: See attached.
Assessment: Patient is a 43 year old ATA/LTA+ man in good health. Plan by issue:
1. Medical clearance: Patient is medically cleared for duty.
2. ATA/LTA status: Gene expression levels by qPCR ordered today. Whole exon sequencing ordered today. Flow cytometry ordered today. Await results.
3. Smoking cessation: Patient reports that on a scale of 0 to 10, his motivation to quit smoking is currently rated at 0. Brief motivational counseling therefore deferred at this visit.
He came to the end of the page and scanned back over it, wondering what the fuck ‘ATA/LTA status’ referred to. Contextually, it seemed that it was related to genetics. He flipped through several pages of material that seemed to consist of various appended tests, including an MRI (goa’uld negative), a CT scan (negative for significant intracranial abnormalities), an EKG (normal sinus rhythm), and an EEG (high amplitude, high frequency ‘in ATA band.’). He flipped through them all in short order.
He considered asking Lam what ATA/LTA meant. She was hovering in his peripheral vision, not watching him, but not not watching him. He decided against it.
The next page was densely packed with rows of letters positioned beneath small, overlaid multicolored peaks—all As, Gs, Cs, and Ts. Unquestionably, it was a genetic sequence. He looked at it intently for a moment, but the only thing he was able to decide was that the height of the peaks seemed to indicate the degree of confidence in the corresponding nucleotide. The heading at the top of the page said ‘ATA sequencing results.’ He flipped through the homogenous pages, watched the heading change from ‘ATA’ to ‘LTA,’ to ‘NRA.’
They had sequenced three genes.
At the end of the last sequence, there was a paragraph titled “Interpretation of results.” He narrowed his eyes.
Interpretation of results: Excellent quality sample obtained from the NMDP. Patient is a homozygote for the ATA gene and LTA gene. He is a hemizygote for the X-linked, newly ID’d NRA gene. Given homozygosity, ATA and LTA expression levels are predicted to be extremely high. Effect of NRA is currently unknown, but recommend further study, including whole genome sequencing and alignment to all Ancient tissue samples on file. Recommend sequencing of family members if genetic material or individuals can be located. Recommend comparison to other carriers of ATA, specifically CB (geographically suggestive) and JS (only other individual with two copies of LTA) to assess for any commonalities in ancestry. Recommend in-field testing of patient’s ability to operate Ancient tech. Recommend contacting Dr. Carson Beckett for his opinion regarding sequence, expression levels, and how best to proceed.
His family. Good luck with that. Dead, dead, and hopefully dead.
“Everything okay?” Lam asked him quietly from halfway across the room, outside his peripheral vision.
“Fine,” he responded without looking at her.
He flipped the page, scanning through another graph, this time of qPCR results. Someone had penned an exclamation point in the margin of the page and circled one of the unitless numbers.
He flipped the page again, skipping the LTA qPCR data and turning to the final paragraph.
Interpretation of results: As predicted, ATA mRNA levels are equivalent to those of JS. It is likely that this represents a physiologic ceiling of some kind. LTA levels are also equivalent to those of JS, which is consistent with the patient’s homozygous status. Projective ability and sensitivity is predicted to be extremely high. Effect of NRA is unknown at this point, but it may explain high amplitude EEG waves in the 30-100+ Hz range not observed in JS.
He hooked one hand over the back of his shoulder. Who was “JS,” and what was the fucking function of these genes?
Had they—not recruited him for the mathematics? Had it been for this instead, some inherent genetic anomaly—not for who he was but what he was? That seemed unlikely.
And yet—Jackson had wanted him to see this.
On thing was extremely clear. He was not going to get this opportunity again. Jackson had been looking for a loophole in the chain of command and he had found one. It was clever. It was probably the only one. And it wouldn’t remain open indefinitely.
Rush glanced over at Lam, across the room, in front of an open drawer.
She was watching him. She must know what was in the file. She must know what she had given him. So—were her sympathies with Jackson? Could be. Her face gave nothing away, but her eyes were unsettled.
“Personal medical files are the property of the patient,” Lam said into the silence. “But, unfortunately, policies can change very rapidly around here.”
He nodded shortly at the warning and flipped to the next page. It contained an email from Carson Becket.
Dear Dr. Lam,
Thank you for involving me in the care of your patient, Dr. Nicholas Rush. I have reviewed the records and tissue-typing results that you sent via the Midway Station secure FTP package. I was able to confirm protein expression equivalent to the highest levels that we have on file for both the ATA and LTA proteins. As noted previously, this is suggestive of an upper limit seen in those who carry two copies of each gene. I was also able to subject cultured cells to EM radiation that corresponds to that used by Ancient technology and found that the electrophysiological responses of Dr. Rush’s cells were equivalent to JoSh cells.
The most interesting aspect of this case is the NRA gene. I have gone back over the records of all ATA carriers and homozygotes, and can find no other instances of NRA. As the gene is X-linked, I would be quite interested in obtaining samples from the patient’s mother if possible, as well as any siblings. I understand from a personal communication from General Landry that preliminary indications are that most, if not all of Dr. Rush’s relatives are deceased, but I would remind you that there may still be tissue samples available. I understand also that there is some concern regarding information security at the SGC at the moment, so I defer to your decision about the timing of gathering as complete of a family history as possible.
To date, I have isolated the NRA gene and purified the NRA protein. There are some indications that the intron spanning exons 6 and 7 may encode a microRNA that could end up being a more important target than the protein itself. As of yet, I have not determined its function and I suspect that it will be quite difficult to do so without access to—
Someone rapped quietly on the wall and Rush looked up to see Mitchell standing in the doorframe.
“Hey Doc—you busy?”
Mitchell hadn’t yet seen him.
Lam walked forward quickly, her heels echoing, clearly trying to draw his attention. “Colonel Mitchell. What can I do for you?”
It was a valiant effort, and it was almost enough, but Mitchell’s eyes were restless.
“Dr. Rush,” the man said slowly, taking in the file that was in his hands. “Hi, man. What are you doing here?”
Rush said nothing. He looked at Lam. Mitchell, too, looked at her.
“He asked to review his medical file,” Lam said neutrally, still standing between them.
“I see,” Mitchell said, his eyes flicking between the pair of them. “I didn’t think he had clearance for that.”
“If you read the information security guidelines, the contents of civilian medical records are the property of the patient and are available to be reviewed within the confines of the SGCMU,” Lam said.
Mitchell looked at them both for a moment. “I’m sure I will,” he said carefully. “Who tipped you off?” The question was directed at Rush.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Rush lied.
“Rush,” Mitchell said. “It’s important. Who was it?”
“I was curious,” Rush said. “That’s all.”
“Was it Jackson?”
“No,” Rush said, shaking his hair back. “No, of course not.”
“Funny. ’Cause this has Jackson written all over it.”
“Colonel,” Lam said, walking forward to stand at Mitchell’s shoulder. “I think it’s important for everyone to keep in mind that the only thing that has happened here is that Dr. Rush requested his medical file, which is well within his rights, and I provided it to him.”
“With all due respect, Dr. Lam,” Mitchell said, “that’s not the only thing that’s happened here, and you know it.”
“Why wasn’t I told,” Rush hissed, “about this gene. These genes—whatever they are.”
Mitchell gave him a measured look, but some of the hardness in his gaze seemed evaporate. “You weren’t told,” he said quietly, “because your risk of falling into the hands of the Lucian Alliance is so high, that anything you know—they could end up extracting from you. And we didn’t want them finding out just how much we’ve discovered about the Ancient genetic code.”
“They must know something about this,” Rush snapped, brandishing the file at Mitchell. “Otherwise, why would I be at the top of their list?”
“They know about the ATA gene,” Mitchell said, “almost everyone does. We think they also know about the LTA gene. But they don’t know about the new one—at least we don’t think they do. The one that only you have. Give me the file.”
“Don’t make this more of a mess than it already is,” Mitchell said. “You’re already looking at a three-day debriefing regarding exactly what you found out.”
Rush glanced at Lam and she inclined her head fractionally in Mitchell’s direction.
He shut the file and handed it over.
The loud shriek of an alarm rent the air.
All three of them flinched, looking up at the ceiling. Near the top of the wall, a blue light began to flash in a slow strobe. Over the sound system, someone spoke.
“Unscheduled offworld activation.”
“Aww shit,” Mitchell said.