Mathématique: Chapter 11

“You want to hack a quantum computer?” Perry asked.





Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Grief. Physical injuries. Mental health challenges.


Text iteration: An hour after dawn.


Additional notes: None.





Chapter 11


On Monday morning, after thirty-seven hours in Colonel Young’s apartment and another twenty in his own (now-certified-as-safe) apartment, Rush leaned against his wall, watching shadows fade to gray as the sun rose on the other side of the building.


The roar of a solitary engine 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 the stuff every morning seemed terribly cruel. Perhaps Jackson hadn’t noticed. Perhaps he didn’t equate solar radiation with radioactive decay; there were differences, but those were of degree. Jackson was perceptive. It was likely he knew. He knew and did nothing. Living in the dark wasn’t practical.


Fuckin’ Jackson.


Quantity.


Structure.


Space.


Change.


The remembered sound of metal to glass: she’d liked the crack of her wedding ring against a hard surface. In the silence, he could almost hear it.


He watched pale gray light spread across dark 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 falling to rhetorical hell (where the fallacious went when they died). Cognitive errors, cognitive dissonance, aural dissonance; it was only his longing for the hypothetical that built a bridge to functionality. And a tenuous fuckin’ bridge at that.


What to do.


He was interested in the gate, in the subtle cryptographic pressures that would make it yield.


He was less interested in himself, in that gap between basic survival and higher math: the clothes, the furniture, the meals one might plan, the relationships one might form with down-the-hall colonels. What was the point? Something was waiting on the back side of cypher nine. Some variant of the same thing that’d always been coming for him, his whole bloody life. The thing Gloria’d deferred for decades, paying a personal cost he could only guess at. And for what?


For this? One last problem to solve? One last problem to ease into, crack open? Revelation wasn’t an easy, popular, or satisfying career choice. Not when one was a mathematician. Especially not then. He couldn’t 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 into his eye and made his nth attempt to focus. He hadn’t determined how seriously he should take Jackson’s Earnest Concern, so full of fuckin’ import it displaced the oxygen in the air. How he should take the slide of his glasses across the table, the implication Jackson had been illicitly searching Telford’s office. The rift between the two men ran deeper than anyone guessed.


Telford.


Jackson.


David.


And Daniel.


It was just like Jackson to do this, to accrue power by giving it up in a reverse-kamikaze interpersonal maneuver. The man had as good as admitted to an act that would be viewed, best-case scenario, with extreme suspicion by General Whomever-The-Fuck and the IOA. Worst-case scenario, such an act could get him investigated, kicked out of the SGC, and/or charged with treason if he ended up on the wrong side of an overly draconian anti-LA policy.


Pull your own medical file. Read the entire thing.


Would it’ve been so fuckin’ hard for the man to communicate directly?


He didn’t care what was in his medical file. 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 wouldn’t be shut out.


Not out of anything.


Not ever.


And so. He’d pull his fuckin’ medical file, but not because he believed Jackson’s preferred course of action aligned with his best interests. Not because he trusted Jackson any more than he trusted Telford. He’d pull it because it might help him unlock the gate. He’d pull it because it was related to the Icarus project. He would pull it because it had been concealed from him (and that was unacceptable).


Such a course of action wasn’t without risk: to know was to enter an irreversible trajectory. One couldn’t unsee the precarious foundation of set theory or the entropic progression. Having looked, one couldn’t look away.







Three hours later, external hard drive in his back pocket and keys in hand, he knocked on Young’s door.


No answer.


He knocked again.


Slowly, Young swung his door open.


The uniform gave Rush pause—dark and blue, with the little fuckin’ birds on it—as well as various other examples of arcane semiotics that both appealed and repulsed. He liked it. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like liking it.


“I knew it would be you,” Young said, amused and put-upon. “I could tell.”


“Y’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.


“I’m unsurprised.”


“On several levels.”


A hint of a smile came into Young’s face. “True.”


“Are you going to let me in?” Rush asked.


“Nope. I was just leaving.”


“So I see. Are y’not on medical leave?”


“Not today. But I’ll be back in time for dinner.”


“Congratulations.”


“You’ve got shoes on, hotshot. What’s the occasion?”


“Fuck off.” Rush shook his hair back. “I’ve a meeting with Dr. Perry. I’m driving to the base.”


Young’s irritated amusement transitioned 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. They’ll send someone for you.”


Oh yes. ‘Call dispatch.’ What was he, a fuckin’ child with a deficiency in problem solving?


Hang on a tick.


That wasn’t him.


That was Young.


“I don’t get ‘scheduled’, colonel, I schedule myself. Furthermore, I called dispatch 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 I stay in my current location until such a time as they advise otherwise.”


Young looked at his watch, sighed in defeat, and stepped back. “Get in here,” he growled. “And never discuss anything of any importance in any hallway. Ever. You get me?”


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 unbuttoned his blue jacket (three-button, form-fitting, dark blue, with a swath of colored bars above the breast pocket) and started fishing through his pockets. Rush caught a glimpse of a concealed sidearm in a shoulder holster beneath his jacket.


Rush swept a hand through his hair and tried to ignore everything in the universe.


Young snorted in amusement.


“What?”


“You have an expressive face, hotshot.” He came up with his phone and buttoned his jacket. 


“No idea what that’s supposed to mean.”


Young looked at the phone in his hand. “Can this wait? Whatever it is you think you need to do?”


“Until what point, exactly? The fall of the Lucian Alliance?”


“Rush, you’re a half-step away from protective custody. The only reason you’re not already there is that the SGC is as penetrable as a sieve right now. Don’t give them a reason to—” Young trailed off.


“To what,” Rush demanded.


Young didn’t answer.


“To. What.”


“To force you into anything you don’t want,” Young said carefully.


“What do you know?”


“Nothing.” Young locked eyes with him. “Other than there are a lotta parties very interested in you, maybe for more than just your cypher-cracking hobby. Do you know why that might be?”


Jackson’s note flashed across his mind, but, “No,” he snapped. The persistent ache in his shoulders was unbearable. “I don’t know.”


Young’s jaw tightened. He scrolled through the contact list in his phone. “All right. I’ll give you a ride. Have to call it in, though.” 


“What’s to call in?” Y’still have Mitchell’s portable scramblers don’t you? Give me one. I’ll fuckin’ hold it. Problem solved.”


“Rush, I can’t just—”


“Yes. Y’can. 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 t’do precisely what I’m proposing.”


Young paused, phone in hand, with so much indecision in his expression it was a wonder he hadn’t bricked his own cerebral cortex.


Not his problem.


Rush swept 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 braced a hand on the wall. “Holding that suped-up router isn’t a solution. The only thing it protects against is a remote beam-out.”


“I’m aware.”


“Then you should realize—”


“Yes,” Rush interrupted. “Whatever you’re about to say? I’ve realized it.”


“If they can’t beam you out, they’ll come for you by force,” Young growled. “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 looked away from Young. Regained his fraying control. “Not that irresponsible.”


David would’ve understood.


David understood it all.


That was the problem with David.


That had been the problem with David, maybe.


“No,” Young said, careful and low and scraping a butter knife up Rush’s last remaining nerve. “Of course not.”


“Yes well” he snarled, “what are y’waiting for? An instruction manual?”


Young rolled his eyes and lifted his phone to his ear.


Rush turned away, pacing into Young’s apartment (ninety percent unpacked at this point). 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 sound 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?


Yes.


(Fuck.)


It hadn’t been this bad in a long time. There were reasons for that, best left unexamined. It was all right. (Was it though?) He tipped his head back, pressed his fingers against the rigid tension that served as 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.


“Hey Walter. You aware of the, uh, situation with Dr. Rush?”


Oh. Dr. Rush, was it? Well then.


“Yeah. Yeah, the consultant.” Young paused. “The famous one.”


Rush turned and quirked an eyebrow at Young.


Young scowled at him in self-conscious aggression that, paradoxically, hit as appealing.


“Yeah, Harriman, I know. The guy’s my literal neighbor. He wants to meet with Dr. Perry and there’s some kind of holding pattern in place. His status is stuck in bureaucratic limbo. I’m gonna authorize myself to 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.


“I don’t know.” Young turned away from Rush’s scrutiny. “I’m not an expert on dodging red tape, but this guy is 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.


He wondered if David 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 headed for the door.


“You taking your router?”


“It’s a non-redundant security measure.”


Young fished in his pocket for his keys. “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 then broadcast a unique signal, allowing for lock on and beam out. They don’t broadcast at baseline.”


“Right.” Young pocketed his keys.


“The chip encrypts my broadcast signal, preventing a lock unless the transporting party has the correct key. The scrambler, on the other hand,” Rush brandished the device at Young, “literally distorts the energy signature of the transporter, preventing any lock at all, including a local transport sweep.”


“Got it.” Young said grimly. “The scrambler’s non-redundant because it prevents the scoop.”


“The what?”


“Carter’s term,” Young replied, as they walked the dim hallway. “If you have a rough beam-out location with no lockable signal, you can ‘scoop up’ everything in the area.”


“I suppose.”


“Oh c’mon. That’s exactly what it is.”


“‘Local transport sweep’ would be more descriptive.”


“No one’s gonna remember that. 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 raised an expectant eyebrow.


“The slice.” Young winced as he said it. “Because of the type of injury it causes.”


“Ugh,” Rush couldn’t completely control his facial expression.


“Yeah.”


“Precision would be difficult to achieve, I suppose.”


“That’s why we never do it. Lotta paperwork when something like that goes wrong.” Young hit the button for the elevator.


Rush busied his mind with visualizing the complex plane, the direction of travel around a closed curve (anything, really, to avoid visualizing the physical chemistry that might apply to incomplete energetic transfer of a human body.) A short, silent elevator ride gave way to the menace of bright light beyond a clear glass doorway. Rush (sighed internally and) paused to swap his glasses for shades. Young did the same.


“Looks brutal out there,” Young observed.


(Electromagnetism: his least favorite.)


Rush didn’t bother replying, just forced himself out of the building and into the wall of heat. The air was dry and shimmering. The light was worse. The light was always worse. Was Colorado a desert? Probably, but who could fuckin’ tell? The only thing he could see was haze and asphalt. Whatever its biome, Colorado Springs was hideous.


“Rush. My car is this way.”


“I’m driving,” Rush informed him.


“Nope. I think we were pretty clear on the me giving you a ride and not the other way around.”


Rush was unable to face the idea of yielding to Young under this unremitting rain of photons. (He was not in the mood. He was NOT in the mood.)


“Rush. We’re not arguing about this.”


“Very true.” Rush tossed his signal scrambler at Young in a high parabolic arc, pulled out his keys, and started for his car.


Young stepped laterally and caught the device one-handed. “Rush. Rush. What the hell are you doing?” He nearly dropped the flat metal casing before switching his grip.


“Catch,” Rush said, dry and belated.


“Rush, you are the one who should be holding this thing,” Young growled.


“It has a six meter radius,” Rush threw back over his shoulder. “I therefore recommend you come this way.” He smirked, unlocking his white Prius.


“You drive a Prius?”


“It’s open,” Rush said, spiking his solicitous tone with poison as he slid into the driver’s seat.


The heat in the car was merciless. Already his hair had begun to cling to the back of his neck. He started the engine.


Young stood outside the door, glaring at the day for a solid three seconds before he opened the passenger-side door. Awkwardly, stiffly, using the frame of the car for support, he eased himself into the seat. He glared at Rush, then drew the door home with unnecessary force. 


“Anyone ever told you you’re a lot of work?”


“Not in those precise words.” Rush turned on the air conditioning.


“Well you are.”


“Am I supposed t’be insulted?” Rush asked.


“You drive a Prius?” Young growled. “Seriously, a Prius?”


“The fuck do you drive then?”


“Not a Prius. That’s so—”


“So what,” Rush threw the car into reverse and backed out of his parking spot with rapid precision.


“God, be careful. This lot is tight.“ Young’s warning faded 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.


“Like what?”


“Terribly fucking annoying. What’s wrong with driving a Prius?” He pulled out of the parking lot and into the wide expanse of road that meandered through suburban sprawl before it narrowed on the ascent to the base.


“Nothing’s wrong with it, it’s just—okay you are definitely breaking the speed limit.” Young glanced at the dashboard. “Did you know that?”


“Are y’not in the Air Force? Do y’not fly planes at—” there was no elegant escape from the phrase he’d constructed, so he just crashed ahead with the mathematical concept he’d been conceptualizing in the first place. “Mach undefined?”


“Mach undefined? I don’t know what that means. I figured you’d drive stick.”


“I do drive stick,” Rush said, “just not in this car. Mach is a dimensionless number which measures—”


“I know what ‘mach,’ means, hotshot. I’m a pilot.”


“Do you? Astound me.” Rush accelerated to make the upcoming light that hung over the road, its color nearly lost to the glare of the day.


“A ratio of velocity to the speed of sound. You’re an asshole, and you’re not the only person in the world who knows anything about math, and you REALLY shouldn’t 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 didn’t decrease his velocity, but he decided he would decrease its rate of change. Out of courtesy.


“Your definition of mach is correct—”


“You’re damn right it is.”


“But if I might make a small refinement, I think you’ll find 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.”


“Is that supposed to tell me what the hell ‘Mach undefined’ means?” 


“‘Undefined,’ amongst other things, refers to the conceptual difficulties in dividing a number by zero. Partitioning something into no subsets causes all sorts of problems.”


f(x)=1/x. That was a nice curve.


“Where is the speed of sound zero? Is that what you’re getting at?”


“Where indeed?” Rush accelerated to meet the rise of the incline that separated the depressing parade of strip malls from the ascent to the base.


Young was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “Space?”


“Compression waves can’t propagate without a medium so—” Rush shrugged. “It’s a functional zero.” He took a switchback at an utterly sedate speed. The sun was fuckin’ pitiless. He should’ve let Young drive.


“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 I fly vehicles in space and therefore should be fine with the fact you drive like a maniac?”


“That’s an adequate summary of my position, yes.” Rush accelerated smoothly out of another switchback. “Well done.”


“You can die just as easily in a car as you can in space,” Young growled.


“I’m an excellent driver.”


“Hotshot,” Young replied, “that’s like telling people you’re a lady.”


“I fail to follow what I assume will be a chauvinist failure in reasoning but, by all means, explain.”


“It’s like telling people you’re ethical. If you gotta say it, then you probably aren’t.”


“Unreasoned assertion,” Rush said, applying a categorical label to Young’s shoddy rhetoric, rather than dignifying it with a direct response.


“I’m, like, three seconds away from a logical fallacy,” Young said dryly. “Aren’t I?”


“I suspect that t’be your usual state.”


“Shut up, Rush.”


“Rush: two, Young three.” He smirked.


“I’m still winning,” Young grumbled.


“For now.”


Rush accelerated out of another switchback and into the limited shade of the mountain. They made the final approach to the base, flashed their badges, and parked.


Young passed him the signal scrambler, then unbuckled his seatbelt. “Never doing that again.”


“Oh yes? How’ll y’get home, then?” Rush asked. “Limp?”


I’m driving back,” Young growled.


“We’ll see.” Rush didn’t put much heart into the argument. By the time he was done here, his headache would likely have passed through its known landscapes and into the lesser explored territory of Total Excruciation.


Rush opened the car door and found himself caught between the deluge of sun and the heat that rose off the pale asphalt of the parking lot. He shut the door, pocketed his keys, and pushed his hair out of his eyes.


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 momentum of his coming headache.


Young hit the button for the elevator, his posture 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 hit the buttons for floors nineteen and twenty-seven simultaneously, then looked at Rush. “Do not leave without me.”


Rush gave the elevator wall an unimpressed lift of an eyebrow.


“And stay on level nineteen,” Young added.


“Naturally,” he replied.


“Why do I get the feeling that you’re just gonna do whatever the hell you please?”


“No idea.”


The elevator doors chimed softly and then opened on level nineteen. Rush stepped off the elevator.


“Keep that scrambler with you,” Young called after him, “and don’t leave the level. Don’t talk to anyone you don’t know.”


“I don’t know anyone here.” Rush turned to regard Young with (yes, deliberately provocative) innocence (but only because the man was so fuckin’ overbearing it was ridiculous).


Young gave him a satisfyingly put-upon look. “You know what I mean. Don’t—” but the closing elevator doors cut him off.


Predictably, Rush was stopped ten meters from the elevator by a civilian scientist with sandy hair and so many pens in the pocket of his white lab coat that he’d completely ruined the line of the thing. Not that it’d had much of a line to begin with.


“Hi. Can I help you?” The pen hoarder asked.


“I’m looking for Dr. Perry,” Rush said.


“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 tried to add the pen in his hand to the collection in his pocket. The maneuver didn’t go as planned, likely because his pocket was physically incapable of accommodating even one more writing implement. The pen ended up on the ground. When he bent to retrieve it, his iPhone followed it down. “I’m a mess,” the other man said brightly, having retrieved both his phone and his pen. “Sorry. 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. I mean seriously. Everyone is pumped about, uh, your whole deal. Decoding the address. Unlocking the locks. Very cool. Coolness. Really really great.”


“Mmm,” Rush said.


“I heard you got number four?”


“I did.”


“Lisa said that Sam said that Daniel said that you said it was a stream cypher. Is that true?”


Small wonder this place had a problem with security.


“I’d rather not discuss it.”


“Oh.” Volker said, switching from admiring to conspiring. “Riiiight. Stressful times, security leaks. I get it.”


“No,” Rush snapped. “No, you, in no way, ‘get it’.”


“Um—”


“Please don’t talk to me.” He pressed the heel of his hand against his eye and tried not to think about his headache.


“Okaaaaay.” Volker passed through an open door and led him past a well-equipped lab, benches covered with crystalline arrays connected to computers with overclocked processors, no doubt,


Volker stopped at an open door that adjoined the lab and knocked on the frame. “Hey Mandy. I found a stray mathematician wandering the halls. You wanna talk to him?”


Rush shut his eyes, trying to prevent irritation-induced cell death in his brain. It didn’t feel like it was working.


“Aw, I love mathematical strays,” Dr. Perry replied.


“Careful,” Volker said, side-eying Rush. “This one bites.” He gestured Rush forward.


Rush edged past him to see Dr. Perry at her desk, eyes flicking over large monitors. There was a pathologic stillness in the way she sat that registered viscerally as he processed her mechanized wheelchair. Yes well. That explained why she was so fuckin’ slow when it came to typing, didn’t it? He tried not to feel like a complete ass. She should have told him. (Why the fuck should she have told him, actually?)


He was fair certain that if he had no physical outlet for his anxiety he’d fuckin’ expire. Maybe she wasn’t a mass of neurotic obsession about the unknown, but if that were the case that’d make her a singular quantum physicist. Quantum was unsettling.


“Hi,” she breathed. “You must be Dr. Rush.”


He leaned into the doorframe and tried to settle his thoughts. “Y’sound certain.”


“You look like you know your way around the inside of a math textbook.” She projected a bit louder.


He inventoried his outfit: jeans, a white button-down shirt, designer shoes. He failed to see how anything about his clothing choice suggested anything mathematical. Maybe it was the hair. (His hair needed attention. His hair had needed attention for months.)


“Plus, that’s a nice—” she took a breath and flashed him a smile, “—portable signal scrambler you’ve got there. That was also a clue.”


He placed the scrambler on the edge of her desk and dropped into the only chair in the room. “Yes yes. Dr. Perry. I have a problem.”


“I hear you have several. Five, actually. And it’s Mandy.”


“I think it’s six.”


“Why six?”


“One for each chevron and then—“ he opened a hand, “—the last.”


“The ‘last’?” She was amused. “I’ll have to fire my lab.”


He rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. The Ancients used base ten math; it makes sense.”


 “Okay. What I’m taking from this is you have zero evidence for your it’s-not-nine-it’s-ten hypothesis.”


“That’s what makes it a hypothesis.”


“Touché.” She paused to take a breath. “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; it needs its own sandbox. But we can rustle you up an encryptable portable drive.”


He pulled his SGC-approved external hard drive out of his back pocket and held it up.


“Great,” she said. “We’ll trick it out with a custom quantum circuit synthesizer. You know your operations will be unitary matrices, right?”


“Obviously. The question becomes—”


She spoke over him. “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 sufficient for rendering Shor’s algorithm. Hopefully you’ll be able to code using the selection we’ve empirically defined, but if you can’t, we may be able to expand it. Currently that’s not a priority for my lab, but it could easily become a sub-focus. Do you know—” she paused to take a breath, “—what it is you’d like to achieve?”


“Quantum entanglement between a terrestrial laptop and a DHD control crystal.”


“You want to hack a quantum computer?” Perry asked, astonished.


He pushed his hair back. “‘Hack’ is such a vulgar term.”


She flashed him a brilliant grin. “Let’s say it works. Even if you achieve entanglement, every time you crack the cypher you’ll collapse the wave function and reset the key permutation.”


“Maybe,” he said, “but I’m not sure “I’ll need to ‘crack’ it all.” He leaned forward. “Thought I might try a zero knowledge protocol. Demonstration of successful entanglement may be sufficient.”


She considered the idea. “You show you’re clever enough and they may just give you the key? It could work. Not saying it will, but it could.”


“That’s the hope.”


“Does your ZKP exist yet? Can I take a look?”


“It exists in classical form.”


“Ah. Well, send it to me once you’ve transposed into the key of quantum.”


He arched an eyebrow. “I’ll drop you a note.”


“Yeah, pitch it when you’ve got it.”


“I’ll keep you apprised of any advances, major or minor.”


“Aw,” Perry pouted at him with false solicitude, “that means a lot, seeing intrapersonal communication isn’t your forte.”


“I resent your tone.” He smirked at her.


“Sorry,” she said with a brilliant uncontrolled flash of teeth. “I’m known for off-key remarks.”


“Yes, you do seem a sharp one.”


“And you seem like nothing but treble.”


“A bass-less assertion.”


She laughed, delighted. “We’re gonna have to mutually agree to scale back these puns before they get too baroque.”


“I’ll give it a rest if you will.”


“Okay okay. You got me. This is me, giving it a rest. Do you have a method for verifying entanglement?”


“No,” Rush sighed.


“I may be able to help with that. We’ll measure Shannon’s entropy in the DHD control crystal on-site. Getting a simultaneous and accurate entropy measurement of your laptop will be trickier. It’ll require cracking the thing open while it’s running to keep it isothermic with the control crystal.”


This was about an order of magnitude more practical than was generally necessary for him. “That sounds difficult.” Rush 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 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 yet exist) for something that’d very likely not work at all (and might strand the entire party on whatever world they gated to). 


“I think it will be,” Perry said. “Difficult, I mean. But you can’t get around it. If your ZKP doesn’t work, you’ll need to know if it’s because entanglement failed.”


“True.”


“Okay then,” she said, “swing that chair over here so you can see my monitor 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 surprised Young hadn’t yet tracked him down, but that suited his purposes just fine.


Threading his way through the corridors, he drew curious stares from base personnel as he made his way to the elevator. Once inside, he hit the button for level 21. The elevator doors closed on cement halls, dropped a few levels, and opened on identical cement halls. He’d been to the infirmary before, but this place was like a bloody maze.


When he reached his destination, he asked for Dr. Lam at the intake desk and was shown into a long, broad room, lined with examination tables. Curtains were drawn back against the walls in intervals of white, attached to rollers on the ceiling.


The room was empty.


He ran his hand through his hair. Backed up a step.


Was this a good idea? (No.)


“Dr. Rush?” Dr. Lam entered the space, a stack of folders held against her chest. She wore burgundy heels, a dark dress, a white coat. The whole ensemble hit as considerably more medical than the last time he’d seen her. “Are you all right?”


Already, this wasn’t going well: the gleam of fluorescent lights off pale cement, the way it was never truly dark in a place like this. He didn’t like medical facilities.


(Darling, she’d said. Talk to me, won’t you?)


“Are you feeling okay?” Lam rephrased her question. Even the quiet click of her shoe against the concrete floor sounded competent. 


“Yes,” he said. “Yes, of course. I was wondering if I might review my medical records.”


“Ah.”


The room was so quiet. 


Where was everyone. 


(Where was anyone.)


“Is there anything in particular you’re wondering about?” Her expression was neutral.


“I would like to review my medical records.” He dug deep, matching her neutrality. “In their entirety. I wasn’t aware 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 was unperturbed by his curtness. “I’ll pull the hard copy. Be right back.”


There were chairs between gurneys. Plenty to choose from. He paced toward the opposite wall. It was fine. (No, it wasn’t.) He was fine. Everything was fine. He was here for a specific purpose. Read his medical file and leave.


Lam’s shoes echoed 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.


After an uncounted interval of pacing, Lam reentered the room. 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 took the file, avoided every chair in the room, and perched on the edge of a gurney.


He opened the file and began to read.


NAME: Rush, Nicholas

DOB: 11/1/1965
MRN: 5595

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:

1978: 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 doesn’t keep in touch with his family.

Social History: Lives alone, wife recently deceased. Patient reports he’s coping well. Current smoker, 20+ pack years. Alcohol use: 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: 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 deferred at this visit.


He came to the end of the page and scanned back over it, wondering what ‘ATA/LTA status’ referred to. Contextually, it seemed related to genetics. He flipped through pages of material consisting 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 considered asking Lam what ATA/LTA meant. She hovered 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. A genetic sequence. The only thing he was able to decide after studying the thing was that the height of the peaks indicated the degree of confidence in the corresponding nucleotide. The heading at the top of the page said ‘ATA sequencing results.’ He flipped through pages of colored peaks and watched the heading change from ‘ATA’ to ‘LTA,’ to ‘NRA.’


They’d sequenced three genes, it seemed.


At the end of the last sequence, there was a paragraph of explanatory text.


Interpretation of results: Excellent quality sample obtained from the NMDP. Patient is a homozygote for the ATA gene and LTA gene and 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 next steps.


His family. Good luck with that. Dead, dead, and hopefully dead.


“Everything okay?” Lam asked from halfway across the room.


“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.


(Biologists. Unbelievable.)


He flipped the page, 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 function of these genes?


Had they—


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.


One thing was clear: he wouldn’t have this opportunity again. Jackson had been looking for a loophole in the chain of command and he’d found one. It was clever. It was probably the only one. And it wouldn’t remain open indefinitely.


Rush glanced at Lam.


She was watching him.


She must know what was in the file. She must know what she’d given him. Were her sympathies with Jackson? Could be. Her face gave nothing away, but her eyes were unsettled.


He quirked an eyebrow in invitation.


“Personal medical files are the property of the patient,” Lam said. “But policies can change very rapidly around here.”


“Understood,” he said, 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 you sent via the Midway Station FTP package. I was able to confirm protein expression equivalent to the highest levels we have on file for both the ATA and LTA proteins. I subjected cultured cells from your patient to EM radiation corresponding to that used by Ancient technology. 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’ve 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’d be 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 there’s concern regarding information security at the SGC at present, so I defer to your decision about the timing of gathering familial genetic data.

I’ve isolated the NRA gene and purified the NRA protein. There are some indications the intron spanning exons 6 and 7 may encode a miRNA that could end up being a more important target than the protein itself. I haven’t determined its function—


Someone rapped quietly on the wall and Rush looked up to see Colonel Mitchell in the doorframe.


“Hey doc, you busy?”


Rush froze.


Mitchell hadn’t yet seen him.


Lam walked forward, her heels echoing, trying to draw the man’s 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.” Mitchell eyed the file in Rush’s hands. “Hey, man. What brings you under the mountain?”


Rush said nothing. He looked at Lam. Mitchell, too, looked at her.


“He asked to review his medical file.” Lam stepped to Rush’s shoulder, overtly backing him. (Surprising.)


Mitchell’s eyes flicked between the pair of them and settled on Lam. “I didn’t think he had clearance for that. I didn’t think anyone had clearance had clearance for that. There’s a level five lockdown on everything that so much as mentions his name.”


“And yet,” Lam said delicately, “the contents of civilian medical records are the property of the patient and are available to be reviewed within the confines of the SGC.”


Mitchell’s locked into neutral. “Who tipped you off?”


“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Rush lied.


“It was Jackson, wasn’t it.


“No.” Rush shook his hair back. “No, of course not.”


“Narrow loophole in a government document specific to civilian consultants? This has Jackson written all over it.”


“Colonel,” Lam said, professional and cool, “the only thing that’s happened here is that a civilian consultant requested his personal medical records and they were provided to him, per policy.”


“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 about this gene?” Rush glared at Mitchell. “Genes.”


Mitchell gave him a measured look, but some of the hardness in his gaze seemed to 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 could be extracted from you. We don’t want them finding out just how much we know about Ancient genetics.”


“They must know something about this,” Rush 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 that file.”


Rush hesitated.


“Don’t make this more of a mess than it already is,” Mitchell cautioned. “You’re already looking at a three-day debriefing regarding what you found out.”


Rush glanced at Lam. She inclined her head in Mitchell’s direction.


He shut the file and handed it over.


“Smart man,” Mitchell said. “Now I’m gonna have to—”


The shriek of an alarm rent the air. 


All three of them flinched and looked to the ceiling. Near the top of the wall, a blue light flashed a slow strobe. Over the sound system, someone spoke the words: “Unscheduled offworld activation.”


“Aww crap,” Mitchell said.

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