Mathématique: Chapter 56
Rush ached for a piano in a way that he hadn’t ached for anything in his eight weeks of existence.
Revised Author’s Notes: This is a piece of fan fiction. It’s a trope-twisting, epic-length, crossover AU that spans all three series of Stargate. There’s a lot of science. A lot of plot. A lot of emotions. Timelines have been slightly altered so that season 4 of Stargate Atlantis (without Carter in command) occurs contemporaneously to season 10 of SG-1, which occurs in the year prior to season 1 of SGU.
Disclaimer: I’m not making money from this; please don’t repost to other sites.
Warnings: Stressors of all kinds.
Rush, sitting on the cooling hood of Eli’s Subaru Outback, contemplated the sunrise from the driveway of the Wallace household. The leaves were beginning to change. All down the street, the maples and oaks were turning red and gold.
The street was very quiet.
Somewhere across town, Marian Wallace was finishing her work on the night shift, preparing to head home from Mass General. Rush had yet to cross her path, but he’d seen her photo. He’d seen her medicine cabinet. He understood what she’d sacrificed for her profession. For her son.
Rush sighed, hooked one hand over his shoulder, and tried to work out the knots in his neck. The wind whispered through the trees above him, liberating leaves to swirl in small eddies.
Eli was a problem. A problem steadily increasing in magnitude.
The lad was fair fucking resourceful, dead brilliant, and, while he lacked a conventional work ethic, he’d taken on Rush’s existential mystery with the kind of tenacity that he was certain wouldn’t be out of place in a competitive graduate program.
Eli’d helped him. No doubt. Immeasurably. And in return?
Eli and, by proxy, his mother might land in a fair bit of hot water on account of Nicholas Rush, vanished cryptographer. More than hot water. The Air Force was one thing. What they’d discovered last night—was something else. It pointed to something vast. Possibly even otherworldly.
And Eli? Well, the lad was already connected to the problem. He had been before Rush had shown up on the fringes of his existence.
Rush watched at the slowly lightening sky, thinking of the Astria Porta Expansion Pack that contained sets of cyphers. Coded in Ancient. Like the things on his head.
Was there any chance, any at all, that he was here because of Eli? For Eli? To—entice him into something that he’d otherwise be well clear of? To, unknowingly, recruit him, perhaps?
Carefully, Rush traced the edges of the devices at his temples, running their Ancient code on crystal chips. They were related to game. Incontrovertibly, they were. The game that Eli played—possibly better than anyone on the planet.
And yet—supposing Eli was central to what was happening to Rush—what a fair fucking bizarre way to go about things. The lad would jump at the chance to to join any Astria Porta related organization. It was hardly necessary to strip a cryptographer of personal memories to get the job done. One might just as well ask him nicely.
No, he didn’t think he could possibly be here for Eli, though the coincidence of their meeting had a strength that troubled him. The idea of recruitment didn’t carry quite the right feel.
And then there were the things on his head. For weeks after his awakening at the Charles River he’d viewed them as aggressors against his mind. Slowly, they’d transitioned into a mystery he’d needed to solve. But now—
In the hours following young Dr. Geiszler’s revelations, Rush was struck by just how much care had gone into the things on his head. The delicate electrodes. The casing. The molding. The tiny circuits powering themselves from his movements. The gorgeous code that ran on those circuits—traditional piezoelectrics melding with Ancient crystal. The calibration must have been a job. It must have been done serially, with real-time neurocognitive testing. He must have participated in it, for god’s sake, for the modulating field to be undetectable to his conscious mind.
It was an astounding feat of engineering.
Aside from the electrical tape. Bit of an outlier, that.
He pulled out J Shep’s small sketch, looking at it again.
In his dreams, this handwriting was his.
In his dreams, the hands with this handwriting were connected to someone who went on long runs beneath glorious windows, who laid on metal deck plating that cooled for him in the sun, that warmed for him in the damp, someone who used tools that glowed at his touch.
In his dreams, he was surrounded by scientists. The anxious Canadian one. The exasperated Czech one. They spent their days in windowed labs, full of light. Was that, possibly, where Nicholas Rush had belonged, before he’d found himself, somehow, amnestic and alone on the banks of the Charles River? With them?
They seemed kind. They seemed to care for one another. They seemed to be doing interesting things in a beautiful place, full of sea and air and sky. Maybe Rush had spent two months on a memory-less sabbatical, pouring lattes and reading the books the customers left behind at Rational Grounds. Maybe that was something they all did, from time to time.
It seemed unlikely. But then, so did most things about his life.
“Right then, J Shep,” Rush muttered, looking at the scrap of paper he held in his hand. “You win, I suppose. Whomever y’are.”
The wind left off harassing his hair, his clothes, and the paper he was holding. He looked up into the pale sky and wondered if he’d ever get his memories back.
He sighed, tucking the drawing back into his wallet.
He thought of Mozart, dead for hundreds of years.
Sonata eleven had come to him, and it had dragged twelve and sixteen with it. But were there more, possibly?
“Mozart piano sonata number one,” he whispered to himself.
“Piano sonata number two,” he whispered. “Piano sonata number three. Number four. Number five. Number six. Number seven. Number eight. Ah. In A minor?”
Yes. A minor.
Number eight. Number eight he knew. It seemed to be buried deeper down than the other three, for some reason. He whistled the first few bars of the second movement between his teeth, watching a few loose leaves descend in the wind that had turned mild. He pressed his fingertips, currently wrapped around his biceps, into the rhythms of the piece, doing a fair job reproducing the notes in his mind as he did so.
He ached for a piano.
He ached for a piano in a way that he hadn’t ached for anything in his eight weeks of existence. It hurt deep in his chest, down the bones of his arms, in his wrists, in his fingers. The yearning quality of the feeling was enough to take his breath away. He pressed a hand flat against his breastbone.
This seemed too much pain for a piano.
Too much pain for only a piano.
And suddenly, he was not alone on the hood of the car.
A man was sitting next to him, arrived from nowhere, out of nothing. He was dressed in faded black military fatigues. The cuffs of his jacket were frayed. His hair was wild dark curls. He looked directly at Rush, as though he could feel the bone deep ache of musical longing.
“Try Beethoven, next time,” he offered, his voice like well worn river stones.
"What?" Rush breathed.
The door to Eli’s house slammed open.
Rush flinched, and the man vanished.
Rush stared at the spot he had been, breathing hard, his thoughts scrambling for purchase.
Eli emerged from the side of the house. “Sorry,” he called. “Sorry, I always forget the screen door weighs negative ten pounds.”
Rush looked up, still shaken, to see Eli had a fully stocked backpack slung over one shoulder.
“Um, hey,” Eli said, giving him a concerned look as he secured the door. “You okay? Because you kinda look like you just saw the Ghost of Christmas Perpetual Amnesia.”
Rush glared at him, his heart beating wild and fast in his chest. He glanced back to spot on the hood of the car where the man had been sitting. There was nothing there. Obviously there was nothing there.
Uncertainly, his fingers brushed the edges of the devices at his temples. A gust of wind stirred up a small swirl of dried leaves against the concrete edge of the porch.
“Cheer up, man. The Bank of Wallace is open for the day,” Eli announced, skirting the miniature vortex and heading for the driver’s side door. “Let’s go get breakfast and buy you a computer. In that order.”
“No time like the present, then,” Rush agreed, sliding uneasily off the hood of the car.
They returned to the diner where they’d had their first strategy session, and, over pancakes, eggs, and coffee, they began discussing the work ahead. Rush tried his best not to let the meal feel like a goodbye, even though he suspected it was likely the last time they’d be doing this, at least in this venue, with its gleaming surfaces and its laminated overly-long menus and its cheap food he’d come to genuinely enjoy.
After they’d gotten most of the way through their breakfast, he pulled out J Shep’s drawing, and propped it against the small caddy holding an assortment of individually wrapped packets of jam.
“So,” Eli whispered reverently, “given what Newt showed us last night—are we now taking this representation as literal?”
Rush took a sip of his coffee.
There was a long silence.
“I think we are,” he said, finally.
Eli closed his eyes and drew in a shuddery breath. “Just so you know, this is the coolest moment of my life,” he whispered.
Rush shot him an unimpressed look over the rims of his glasses, but couldn’t quite hold it. He looked away before he cracked a smile.
“Ha,” Eli said, shoveling a forkful of pancakes into his mouth, “it’s also the coolest moment of your life. Just pointing that out.”
“Well, I’m sure that’s only because I don’t remember most of it,” Rush replied airily, sipping his coffee.
“So—you believe the Portae are real?” Eli asked in a barely contained whisper. “They dial the stars?”
“I don’t know that I’d go that far,” Rush said evasively, squinting as the morning sun managed to lance him straight in the retinas. He shifted his chair slightly to avoid the slowly increasing glare. “Not definitively. They may be representational. But I can tell you that this collection of symbols here,” he paused, pointing at the paper, “is very clearly some kind of stylized STMP header to be appended to a message.”
“Right, but, in Promethean,” Eli pointed out. “Er, Ancient, I mean. That’s not going to navigate the terrestrial internet all that well.”
“I’m not concerned about that part.” Rush said.
“Oh, good for you,” Eli said dryly. “But where and how are we going to direct this thing? Like yeah, you’ve got a header, great. Congratulations. And I mean, sure, presumably this is a terrestrial server stack, he’s drawn here, but there’s no IP address, there’s no nothing to indicate where it might physically be. Presumably, once we get this thing onto the right network, a network that can execute on Ancient code, it will do what J Shep wants it to do—but—” Eli frowned, trailing off.
“I present to you,” Rush said, pulling out his wallet, “my only theory regarding the location of these servers.”
He pried three business cards out of the leather folds, and set them on the table before Eli:
Col. David Telford
Dr. Daniel Jackson
Vala Mal Doran
“Notice anything?” Rush asked.
“Um,” Eli said, his brow furrowed. Two of the three are in Colorado Springs—the third doesn’t have an address, but, hang on, the area code for Vala Mal Doran matches the area codes of the other two, so she—” Eli stopped, and stared at Rush, wide eyed. “I’ve watched enough movies to know that Colorado Springs—that’s Cheyenne Mountain.”
“We’re trying get our message onto Cheyenne Mountain servers?” Eli asked, his pitch rising.
“Shh,” Rush said, eyeing the limited clientele in the diner. It looked like no one had been close enough to hear Eli’s increasingly high volume whisper.
“No offense?” Eli said, dropping his voice again, “but you’re, like, an academic cryptographer. And we’re talking about hacking into a military installation?”
“Hacking? I doubt it will come to anything so gauche.” Rush tapped the one non-Ancient symbol in J Shep’s message. “I think this portion? Is likely his email.”
“Ugh you think that’s an ‘at’ symbol?” Eli squinted. “You can barely tell. But, sure. I guess. Translating the surrounding stuff though, that would be—not his name. Not anything like his name. A random alphanumeric? Good for security I guess? So we, like, literally email him, with a custom header containing Ancient code, at what is, presumably, his top secret military address, and that custom header contains the directions to the stars? Like, if the Portae are real, this will open one and send it?”
“That’s the idea.”
“This is too short,” Eli said, shaking his head. “The header is too short to, like, do much of anything, man.”
“Unless it is, essentially, a passcode that would trigger a preexisting program, located on Cheyenne Mountain servers,” Rush countered.
“Dave. Nick. Davenick.” Eli paused, spearing a forkful of pancakes. “I feel like—there’s a piece of this you haven’t told me. This whole time, you’ve been like, ‘video games are worthless, wayward children, go to college and do real math’.”
“As impressions go, that was terrible,” Rush said archly, finishing the last of his pancakes. “Far more Welsh than Scottish.”
“And then,” Eli said imperiously, ignoring his commentary, “the Nemesis shows us Ancient code running on your technoswag and all of a sudden you’re, like, on board with J’Shep being a real live alien? And like, the Portae being real, and sending emails over astral roads and junk? I mean, I’ve been batting for this team the whole time. But you? What gives?”
Rush hesitated, looking around the overly sunny diner, noting the positions of the waitstaff, the locations and attention of the other diners, and then, confessed quietly, “I’ve been dreaming, in detail, of an alien cityscape with a design aesthetic roughly matching that of your game.”
“You what?” Eli snapped.
Rush, sedately, ate forkful of egg.
“Okay,” Eli said. “Just playing devil’s advocate here—but wouldn’t you being involved with game design be more likely than interstellar wormhole travel?”
“These aren’t dreams of the game,” Rush said quietly. “They’re dreams of a silver city. Floating on the sea. And, in the dreams, this is my handwriting.” He pointed at the drawing, still propped against the jam sampler.
“Wow,” Eli breathed. “Um, kinda hate to ask this one, but do you think there’s any chance that, somehow, you are J’Shep?”
“Some chance,” Rush admitted. “The dreams could be memories. But—I’m so devoid of personal memory, Eli.” He sighed. “It’s a complete blank. It just seems unlikely that anything is returning, even in a dream state. And these dreams—they’re far more like random slices of life than they are significant memories—as though I’m tuning in on another consciousness, like a radio, in my sleep.”
“Huh,” Eli said, speculatively. “Okay, let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re picking up J’Shep’s broadcast channel. Can you tell anything about the guy? Have you ever gotten a look at him?”
“Not a clear one,” Rush admitted. “Brief reflections off surfaces.”
“But enough to know he’s not, like, a tentacle monster or something? He’s a humanoid?”
“Oh I’m fair certain he’s human. He works with humans.”
“Humanoids. You never know, okay? Let’s not be speciesist.” Eli finished the last of his pancakes and pushed his plate to the side.
Rush rolled his eyes. “Very well. I can tell you he works with one ‘humanoid’ who wears a Canadian flag on his uniform.”
“Huh. Okay, that’s a little disappointing, I’m not gonna lie. If J’Shep is just a Canadian I’m going to feel very let down.”
“It’s a multinational team, I believe,” Rush said, taking another sip of coffee. “There are several other flags in the mix.”
“Why are you just telling me this now?” Eli hissed, aggravated.
“Because they’re dreams, Eli. Dreams are not exactly the intellectual coin of the rational.”
“Hate to break it to you, Dave, but you’ve got one foot solidly planted outside the circle of rationality, and you have since the day I met you. I mean, you’ve got crystals taped to your head and you were trying to survive on the math homework of teenagers. Be honest about who you are, man, which is like, definitely more magical than rational.”
“Eli,” Rush snapped. “I will only tolerate so many aspersions cast on my character within a 24 hour period. I’m a mathematician.”
“Yes,” Eli said pointedly. “Exactly. Any mathematician worth his or her salt is tuned into weird frequencies of the cosmos, man, and you’re saltier than most.”
Rush sighed, watching as a family of five was seated near them, two tables over.
“So to sum up,” Eli said, dropping his voice and leaning in toward Rush, “One—Astria Porta is definitely real. Two—the language in the game is being used to run code on crystals taped to your head, maybe to protect you. Two point five—but alas, your crystal shielding gives off a trackable signal. Three—in the process of figuring this out we’ve probably left so many clues in Boston that you’re gonna have to get the hell out of town, but not before Four—saying hi to your alien buddy, J’Shep.”
“I don’t think all of your premises are watertight, lad. Furthermore, I’m still not certain why I should do it from Boston,” Rush said, pushing his empty plate away from him and re-pocketing J Shep’s drawing.
“Because the initial exchange of your PGP keys is going to be the most vulnerable time. I mean, theoretically. But also practically, because, since we don’t know what the Portae really are, we don’t know what the consequences of you sending a message through one might be. But also—well, just lots of reasons pertaining to, like, movies I’ve seen and hunches I have about the game.”
“I believe that key exchange should be adequately secure. I’ve been contemplating the issues involved for some time. I’ll buy the computer and download and modify the requisite software today, and dial tomorrow.”
Eli shook his head. “No. Dave. Dammit. Nick. NickDave. Why did I ever start calling you Dave? This is terrible. Shit’s gonna get real, and who knows who “David Telford” really is? I digress. Look, I don’t think tomorrow’s gonna cut it. The sky is clearing, man. It’s clear. It’s going to be nice today. Your technoswag is going to be easier to track. And there are definitely, definitely, people chasing you. In the local area.”
“The pair you saw at the Physics Building? That may or may not—”
“I’ve seen a lot of movies, okay?” Eli said, lowering his brows and giving Rush a look of earnest warning. “And those guys were definitely looking for you.”
“Yes well,” Rush sighed. “You’re probably right.”
“How long is it going to take you to configure that computer?”
“Hours,” Rush said.
“And we, like idiots, stayed up all night,” Eli said. He flagged down a passing waitress, who offered them both a refill on their coffee.
Rush gave Eli a half shrug and took a cautious sip from his rewarmed mug.
“Ugh, it’s fine,” Eli continued, “I’m fast getting wired out of my mind. So let’s go get your hardware, find a public library, and see how far we can get before we need to sleep.” Eli motioned for the check.
“Not a bad idea.” Rush said. “Now. Explain your case for dialing J’Shep from Boston, but do it without cinematic references, please?”
“HA. You just called him J’Shep! Finally.”
Rush rolled his eyes. “An oversight I assure you. J. Shep.”
The waitress brought them their check, and Eli handed her his credit card. “Okay, well, realistically, I’m not going to tell you even a scrap of information security that you don’t already know. I accept that. I believe in your computational Kung Fu. Like, if it were a church, I’d—”
“Eli,” Rush said. “Get to it, please.”
“You’re skilled enough for everything terrestrial-based, is my point. Just—if the Portae are real, and this program actually dials one—that’s gonna be a noticeable thing. That’s the part I’m not sure about. You’re trying to get J’Shep your PGP key through an open wormhole. Maybe. And like—how would that process interface with existing global cryptosystems? I don’t think we can know. So I think every time you email him, you might open yourself up to giving up your location—not because of terrestrial networks, but because of what we don’t know about terrestrial networks interfaced with, uh, extraterrestrial networks.”
Rush was silent.
“I think it’s a risk worth taking,” Eli said quietly. “I think J’Shep is your friend, and I think he’d help you if he could. I mean, look at that little drawing he made you. It’s cute. It’s not the drawing of a guy who’s gonna come drag you to military prison. I think it’s one hundred percent worth trying to contact him. But we have to really face the consequences of that. That we’ll be interfacing with a system we only partially understand. And that all the network protections in the world might not shield us if there’s a quantum aspect to what we’re doing. So that’s my real rationale for sending it from Boston. Send it from here, then we get out of town. Take the train to New York. Bigger city. More EM interference. You’ll be harder to track. I mean, hopefully.”
“We?” Rush asked, a dry veneer over a deep unease.
“Duh. Obviously I’m a million percent in on this. I just pooled my finances with yours to get a decent laptop.”
Rush tipped his head back, closing his eyes. What had he expected? Of course Eli wanted to come. The full weight of his exhaustion hit him, and he hooked a hand over his shoulder, trying to massage away the tension in his neck. “You have responsibilities here,” Rush said. “I’ll keep you informed of my progress.”
“No. No way. Dave. Wait. No. I’m calling you Nick. Nick, come on. You’d probably have died of exposure without me. You need me on this.”
“Yes,” Rush said. “I need your help. I’m sure I’ll continue to need your help. What I don’t need is for you to be appropriated by the Air Force or parties unknown. This is dangerous, Eli. It must be.” Rush gestured at his own temples. “Even if we haven’t seen evidence of that directly, yet—it carries undefined, possibly extremely steep risks.”
“Ugh, I knew you cared. But, Dave, er Nick. Damn it. I’m gonna have to go though a period where I call you DaveNick, which kinda sounds like a rockstar name, if you think about it. Dave Nick. I’m probably just thinking of Stevie Nicks. Whatever. Come on, man. I mean—it could go both ways, right? What if you leave, and they find me? Question me? I’m one of the highest ranked Astria Porta players in the country. The Air Force, or whomever it is, might just put it together. You in Boston, me in Boston? And I don’t hide my IP address when I play.”
“Exactly,” Rush said, his throat aching. “Which is why I’d rather not dial from Boston. Because you’re in Boston. I agree with your assessment of the risks of interfacing with unknown networks with unknown behaviors and capabilities.”
“If J’Shep comes,” Eli countered, “there needs to be a trail for him to follow.”
“Eli,” Rush said. “No.”
“Okay that sounds really final, and even though I’m very capable of having a long pitched battle with you, about this, in a diner? I’m not gonna do that. Instead, I’m gonna say let’s go get your hardware, man, because the atmosphere is looking like crystal and I doubt you have infinite time. We can discuss more on the way.”
Rush nodded shortly, and they both stood, crossing the tile floor, weaving between tables, and stepping out into strong October sun.
Eli, thankfully, put a pause on the constant persuasion attempts while they bought the actual laptop, but other than that, Rush was subjected to an unending stream of arguments rational and irrational as they traversed the city, looking for a likely public library.
“Give it up,” Rush said, finally, his unboxed laptop on his knees. He used his thumbnail to pry away the protective plastic sheet covering the screen.
“Not a chance in hell,” Eli said, frowning, scanning the street. “Not even one chance. Not in any Hell dimension. Oh look. Finally. A library. I hear they’re great venues for long and bitter arguments. Plus, y’know. Electrical outlets.”
Eli parked the car in front of a small, unassuming building of red brick and white trim. Neither of them got out.
“I’ll let you help me,” Rush said quietly. “But you stay here. Keep an eye on the lab. On Rational Grounds. See if anyone shows up after we send our message, but do NOT engage. Stay with your mother. With your students. With your friends. With your academic advisor. Go back to MIT this spring. And in return, I promise you, when I figure all of this out, I’ll find a way to let you know.”
“No,” Eli said flatly. “I’m coming with you to New York.”
There was a long silence. “What about your mother, Eli?” Rush asked, quietly.
“Low blow, man.”
“Pertinent blow,” Rush countered. “I agree with you that there are likely to be serious consequences that may already be set in motion by what we’ve done over the past weeks. I suspect, that if we contact this J Shep character, even more serious sequelae may result. Consider what would happen to your mother were you to simply vanish one day. Really consider it. What if she came home amd you weren’t there? No explanation. Just gone. Or, maybe, worse, the Air Force informs her that you’ll be gone indefinitely?”
“What do you think would happen to her?” Rush pressed.
Eli shut his eyes.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, dully.
“Well you should,” Rush pressed. “Because if you come with me, the chances of such an outcome aren’t zero. What do you think would happen to her?”
“I think,“ Eli opened his eyes, staring out at the bright autumn morning. “I think she’d give up. On—on everything.”
Rush said nothing.
“We stay in communication,” the lad said, defeated. “By encrypted email. Daily.”
“Done,” Rush said. “Very sensible.”
“And you dial J’Shep today. As soon as we’re ready. You send him to meet you at Rational Grounds. I’ll be your go-between.”
“I’ll consider dialing today,” Rush said. “But you can’t be involved that materially. It’s too dangerous.”
“Someone needs to talk to J'Shep, if he comes. You can't just completely stand him up with no explanation. I'll have a brief conversation, figure out who he really is, and meanwhile you’ll be in NYC, playing piano at a swanky hotel to make ends meet. Then we can talk it out. Like we've been doing for weeks.”
“Go back to MIT,” Rush said, shortly, and opened the car door. He stepped into a swirl of leaf-laced wind, shut the door behind him, and stared at the front lawn of the library.
It had been decorated for Halloween as a stylized graveyard, complete with plastic tombstones, pumpkins, and the arms of skeletons, half emerged from the ground.
“If I promise to go back to MIT,” Eli said, shutting his own car door, “you’ll keep me involved?”
Rush hissed an irritated sigh through his teeth.
“That’s what I thought. Look, we can either be a team, or I go rogue. Either way, I’m still gonna try to help you.”
“You are incorrigible,” Rush snapped over his shoulder, walking through the tombstones with cotton spider webs that lined the edges of the sidewalk leading to the library steps. “Why would you do such a thing?”
“Because this is interesting and I like you, okay? It’s actually so interesting and I like you so much that it turns out I’m willing to go to military prison or get abducted by aliens to help you out.”
Rush turned on the front steps of the library, squinting in the sunshine, his laptop under his arm, ready to give the lad a verbal excoriation he’d not soon forget, but—
“You’re smart,” Eli said, a few steps below Rush on the stairs. “Really smart, and brave, and secretly a nice guy. You went from poaching trig homework from teens to cold calling the stars in eight weeks. I’m sticking with you, man. If not for this kind of stuff—what else is life ever gonna be for?”
Rush took a deep breath. Then another. Two fingers pointed at Eli he said, with all the sharpness he could muster, “You allow Dr. Geiszler to write that letter on your behalf, and you go back to school in the spring. You mask your IP address when you play that bloody game, even if it does reduce your reaction times. You learn the basics of information security. You do not directly engage the Air Force or corporate entities or alien life forms on my behalf. You leave that, all of that, to me.”
Eli stared at him, impassively. “And then I can be your intern?”
Rush tried to hold a forbidding facial expression, but he could feel a corner of his mouth lifting, so he turned on his heel, and walked into the library.
“That wasn’t a no,” Eli whispered, following him through the doors.
“Noticed that, did you?” Rush shot back over his shoulder.
“My mom says I need more male role models,” Eli offered.
“I’m not sure she’d be impressed with an amnestic vagrant you met at a public library,” Rush said dryly.
“Stop being so hard on yourself. You had a business plan from day one.”
They found an out of the way corner in which to settle themselves, where their whispered conversations were unlikely to be heard by passing library patrons. Over the next several hours, Rush fortified his computer to the best of his considerable abilities. He called Rational Grounds and told Jennifer he’d taken ill and wouldn’t be in for a few days. He bought a train ticket to New York City, courtesy of the Bank of Wallace, and emailed several respectable hotel establishments, offering his services as a classically trained pianist.
In the meantime, Eli was dispatched to his apartment to round up his meager possessions, consisting of a few outfits and several books he’d acquired from free book exchanges around the city. The lad also took it upon himself to buy Rush several days worth of granola bars, two additional backup prepaid phones, a winter scarf, and a shoulder bag.
By mid afternoon, Rush’s bag was in Eli’s car, and his computer was as ready as it was ever going to be. Eli dragged a chair next to Rush, sitting close enough that he could see the screen.
After a prolonged debate with Eli, Rush assented, reluctantly to composing a message, in Ancient, that read:
All the other boys
Try to chase me
But here’s my PGP key
So call me maybe
Rush fired up the program, and hit send. They’d agreed to wait ten minutes for a reply before leaving the library. But, In less than five, Rush had a return message.
You took your time the with call
You gave me nothing at all
…Probably because of that transgalactic VPN you’re sporting. Tell me your address if you’re in the mood for either a coffee date or a dramatic rescue? I’m getting bored of all the physics around here. I could use some pure math. Remember that time the Riemann Hypothesis almost killed us?
Beside him, Eli laughed, delighted.