Rush is afraid.
He is running and he feels like he has always been running. In this time, now, here, this moment, racing down the dark and indistinguishable corridors of Destiny, which have, increasingly, colonized his dreams (his brain untethering what’s irrelevant or what he prefers not to remember, or compressing it into inaccessible compartments), he wonders if the place to which he is running is in fact the place to which he’s always been running— not on the physical level, but certainly on the metaphorical, where he has been running in less obvious ways. Perhaps it was and perhaps it was absurd to ever think he could avoid this arrival. Somewhere, he imagines, Destiny laughs.
Except that Destiny does not laugh because Destiny has been boarded, and though he does not yet know by whom in the purely objective sense, at the same time he knows and Destiny knows, he suspects, or knows although he does not like this because there is no mechanism for this knowledge. When he skids around a corner he touches her wall with a bare hand and he knows that she is afraid, and that she does not like their presence, and this is true for him also. Their thoughts cause him pain.
This pain is useful, though, because with it he knows when they are coming and backtracks, sliding frantically against the walls with no escape as his head turns inside out with the alien torque of their brainwaves. That is when she finally speaks to him, and by she he means Destiny but also Gloria or possibly some Gloria-Destiny hybrid because he finds the inputs confusing and he cannot always remember to whom he’s speaking when he speaks to her.
“Nick,” she whispers urgently.
She is standing inside a recess in the wall. She is wearing a loose white jumper and her fair hair is disheveled. He cannot think how he is supposed to respond to this apparition until she beckons him and says, “In here!”
So he goes to her and a hidden door slides shut to conceal them, and then they are face to face together, very close to one another in this very small space. Like they are two children playing a game of hide-and-seek from others. Any minute now she will rumple his hair, which he pretends to hate, and laugh the husky laugh by which he would know her blindfolded. Any minute now.
Out in the corridor, a group of the blue aliens pass whisper-footed along the deck plating. He is looking at Gloria and he is on Destiny and he can sense the painful thoughts of these aliens, and he presses a trembling hand to his forehead but there is no relief.
“I was beginning to think you were a stress-induced hallucination,” he tells her.
He hasn’t seen her for months. Until she had shown up this evening, on the bridge, looking at him as though to confirm what had already calculated was the case. A kind of saint of last resorts. Hadn’t Gloria already been that? Or no. A saint perhaps of lost causes.
“What are you going to do?” she says.
She knows, so he does not know why she is asking him this question.
“What happened to Dr. Franklin?” he asks.
She looks away. “He was not an excellent candidate for the use of the neural interface,” she says. “He did not have an application-layer firewall.”
“I don’t—” Rush says. He closes his eyes. The cognitive dissonance is having an adverse effect on him. “I don’t have an application-layer firewall either. Not this time.”
She doesn’t say anything and after a time he edges out into the empty corridor. He turns the corner and picks up his pace and soon he is there, of course, the only there that matters, the neural interface room with its waiting chair.
The AI too is there waiting. It watches as he seals the door and rapidly disables the entry mechanism.
“Nick,” she says softly. “You are... Unlike Dr. Franklin, you are an excellent candidate.”
He does not know exactly what she means by that statement but at the same time he knows or he can guess. He does not want to, cannot think about this at this precise moment. That will certainly have an adverse effect. Instead he goes to the monitor bank and scans through the local cache of programs, looking for something that can serve as a barrier between his mind and Destiny. He does not expect to find such a thing, but it buys him the space of a few breaths to complete his analysis of the situation.
“Nick, what are you doing?” she asks, her voice grown slightly frantic. “There isn’t time for this!”
She is afraid. He had known she was.
Several options exist that might shield his mind— firewalls, buffers— but all of them would take time to configure, and even if this were not the case, all of them cut him off from too much of the CPU to be effective. He requires full access if he is going to retake the ship on his own. He will need to be in too many systems.
Doors must come open.
They must be vented into space.
“They are attempting to disable the FTL drive!” Gloria says, or rather begs.
He looks at the chair. It is rather unassuming, considering the nature of what it is.
Go, Young had said. Sit. Be my guest.
He wonders what Young is doing now. Probably something loud and unproductive that involves an assault rifle.
“They will disable the drive,” Gloria says. “I can’t prevent it!”
Can he believe her, is the question. She is not Gloria. Therefore: she is already deceptive in a sense. He does not know the rate of similarity between her goals and his goals. She wants an apposition of their minds without the firewall. She wants access through every cognitive port he possesses. This is not as a goal strictly either good or bad, but merely as is the nature of most goals something difficult, unpredictable, and costly.
That’s what she wants.
And perhaps he wants that too.
He is not in that habit of assessing his wants. He knows only that this is the place to which he's been running.
“Can you act as my firewall?” he asks.
“Yes,” she says after a hesitation. Her voice is flat. She's gone still.
They face each other in the small, dark, humming room. She looks at him through Gloria’s now-emotionless features. She is Destiny now and not Gloria, who was not emotionless, who cried easily and played the violin with such feeling that you could not believe that the wood and glue didn't rip themselves apart under her fingers, who once threw a glass a wine at him during an argument at Oxford, but he did not mind, because he admired the artistic temperament, and because everyone said how like chalk and cheese they were, Nick and Gloria, and he had thought, At last, here is what I’m missing, my other half.
This is not Gloria.
She says, “This time. But only this time.”
As though she knows already that this will not be the last time he sits in the chair.
There is a familiarity to that sensation. Other people thinking they know better than he does.
He nods to her, to her superior knowledge, and rounds the monitor bank, his eyes fixed on the chair. He is tired. He has been running forever.
Just before the bolts engage, he smells something like lightning in the air.