He had sounded just as excited over the phone, so I wasn't entirely surprised by his eagerness. "What do you mean?"
In typical fashion, he told his story from beginning to end. "We managed to pull an image of the last few sets of data that the diagnostic machine that you brought back gathered, right? And today, we've finally managed to access the flash off the DNI. Guess what? They don't match."
That could have meant a number of things. "By how much?"
"A little bit I could understand. Different calibrations between devices, different resolution, etc. Of course the diagnostic machine is going to be higher caliber than the onboard debugger. But this... they're the complete opposite from each other!"
He walked me over to a monitor filled with data readouts and pointed to one set. "This is the readout from the machine. The charts look level, normal, well within safety parameters. And this," he pointed to the other set, "is the readout from the interface. Numbers flying off the charts, and in a bad way. We've got unsafe levels of activity in the brain here, here, and here. We have sustained waveforms here, and nothing here."
Even without the explanation, the differences were obvious. "What caused these discrepancies?"
"We don't know for sure, yet. But this is a little more than random malfunction, don't you think?"
"Could someone have sabotaged the devices?"
He shook his head, gesturing at another pile of schematics and diagnostic readouts. "We haven't found anything wrong with either machine. They both check out okay."
"What connected them?" I was pretty sure they had probably gone over any of the possibilities that I could come up with, but on the off chance that they hadn't, I asked. "Could there have been a corruption of the signal?"
"Well, we'd have to go back to the base where you found this to make sure, but I believe the headset connected via cables to the Zero console, which had outputs to the diagnostic machine."
If it wasn't two out of the three, then that left only one suspect. "Could something have been wrong with the console, then?"
His eyes shifted towards a partition dividing the lab. On the other side lay the pieces of Zero that I had brought back. "Everything has been checking out so far there, too, but of course, we don't have the complete machine that this was hooked up to last, so who knows where the error may have occurred."
"As soon as I get the time, I plan to make another trip out there."
"I don't suppose you'll let anyone else on site?"
I shook my head unregretfully. "The site is a secured area now. I'm afraid that won't be possible."
The researcher sighed. "I didn't think so. You special ops people are always the same."
Special ops? Yes, I suppose I was. It still startled me to hear the label applied, though. Maybe I had just been kidding myself when I had refused Une. Then again, maybe RJ just had a completely incorrect impression of me. "So until I have time to salvage some more equipment from the lab, this is all you're going to get. Sorry."
"Well, I guess we'll work with what we've got. Just don't be surprised if we end up coming up with inaccurate results."
"I assume the data from the interface is more likely to be the real set, right?"
"As far as we can tell. It reinforces the irrationality that you reported. Plus, direct from the device means that there were fewer things to get in the way in between. If the interface's output had been erroneous, the tool's output would have to be at least equally erroneous."
I had thought as much. "Does it explain yet just what the user was doing, and how it managed to kill him?"
He frowned. "Well, oddly enough, we haven't found anything yet that he might have been doing that would have caused the overload that happened. There was no precursor to the power surge, no warning signs in the data."
"Would it have something to do with whatever he was analyzing? Did you check the tray?"
RJ looked like a discontent researcher again. "Nothing conclusive at all. We did some spectrograms of the stuff, and we determined that the trays were probably used for circuitry of some sort. What kind, we don't know. We can't know for sure that that's what was in the tray when it was in the device, and then again in the console, but looking at the dump from the last analysis, assuming that that was performed on the tray... it seems likely that he was running tests on a circuit of some sort. Something with very low power consumption and stability. Several of them. We found overlapping data for at least three of whatever it was. If it weren't for that, I'd almost be willing to think that the analysis was just a tare, a control, a baseline. The numbers could almost have come from the residue in the tray."
"Residue?" I asked, nearly excited until I realized that he probably wasn't talking about what I wanted him to. "You mean the circuitry residue."
"Yeah... Oh, you were wondering about residue, too, weren't you? Of course we checked for that, but we didn't find anything. There were no signs that something might have disintegrated while in the console chamber. It was empty."
So many answers, and yet even more questions. "Well... if his brain waves were really so unstable," I suggested, gesturing at the scans on the screen. "Could he have been imagining it all? Zero has been known to make people see things that aren't really there."
He shrugged. "You didn't see anything in the tray?" I shook my head. "Well, you'd know better than I would, so you tell me."
If Zamora had seen that, what else had he seen? What truths had Zero revealed to him? What revelation had he been following when he had gotten himself killed? Had Zero showed him the path to his goals? Was there really a way to accomplish his melding of biology and technology?
When he did show up to my room that night, it was with a completely casual air. Whether he wanted to put my mind at ease, or he just wanted to mess with me, I couldn't say for sure. Either way, I went along with things.
I had a strange feeling growing in me, but I didn't think it was an apprehension regarding Duo's sudden bludgeoning of certain facts into my skull. The realization had been... surprisingly smooth. After my initial surprise, the admission went down without a hitch. I found myself accepting Duo's proposal with the same certain equanimity that he found himself railing against on occasion.
Duo liked me. I guess that should have been clear. And I... liked Duo. That was allowed to be a little less clear, but it still should have been evident, nevertheless. It was a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. I looked at what we did together, and I enjoyed each thing on its own merits, but I never really took a step back and looked at it for what it was. I don't regret that I missed seeing that. It wasn't so much more now that it had earned a label.
It added at least a little comprehension, though. All those times Duo had kissed me with more vigor than I had been expecting, all those strange, warm feelings that had stirred up inside me... I had accepted it all as just another joy of knowing Duo Maxwell, and just gone along with it. Now that I knew what was going on, I could identify the constituent elements more readily and seek them, initiate them, revel in them.
Duo seemed a little more content in some ways now that we really knew where we stood -- hopefully for real, this time. In some ironic sense, I almost thought his actions became more tame now that he wasn't trying to test the waters. That didn't mean that he hadn't retained his ability to short-circuit my synapses, however.
"What would 'dating' you actually involve, Duo?" I asked him, playing with the tail end of his braid. For such a simple thing, it was able to hold my attention with remarkable skill.
He watched me as I repeatedly brushed the tuft across my palm. "I dunno. That's sort of why I tacked on that secondary definition. 'Dating' just seemed... to not work very well all of a sudden."
I diverted my attention just long enough to cast him an inquisitive look. "What, I don't seem date-able to you?"
"Well, not like... 'regular' dates. I don't know about you, but 'date' in my mind is associated with showing up at your girlfriend's -- or whoever's -- house with flowers and having to compliment her on how nice she looks today. I imagine for us, we'd probably just chill together or something."
I painted imaginary lines on his arm. It felt pleasingly... proprietary. "So I really would be 'great company'?"
He chuckled low in his throat, and I could easily feel the accompanying look even though I avoided glancing up. "And I really would happily do you. Although... you know what?" he added contemplatively. "I think the 'great company' part of it might be the greater of the two. I mean, that's hard to find these days. Just so you know. On the off chance that we somehow manage to fail to unearth your hormones. This... this is good, you know? Even if this is it. I mean, sure, you're rather doable, but I could live without it. It's not like I've spent the last five years lusting after you or something. I could so totally get over it."
Finally I looked up, and saw that somewhere in there his gaze had been diverted to the ceiling. I took advantage of the opening to tickle him on the nose, and he jumped a little, hand rising to rub at his nose while coincidentally hiding the startled smile playing around his lips. That was cute. "I appreciate that," I answered, meaning it. I'd feel bad if I were letting him down, and goodness knows I had plenty of other things to feel bad about without adding this to the list.
He pushed himself up partially to lean over and kiss me. I let him do as he pleased. Heck, I even let my own mouth do as it pleased. The result was... pleasing. He pulled back and grinned lazily at me. "You know, it's kinda like... it almost doesn't even matter if you don't get it, so long as I get to keep on doing this. I think it'd just be more fun if you knew. Or more satisfying." His hand danced teasingly across my chest. "Of course... I guess that wouldn't be so nice, if I didn't let you in on things. That'd kinda be... taking advantage of you, wouldn't it?"
"You cad," I deadpanned.
Laughing, he collapsed back to the bed. "Hey, I'm trying to be a good guy, here. Lay off."
"I was being a good guy, too. You didn't seem to like that so much."
He sobered up just a little. "It's not that I didn't like it. It was... *is* a good thing. I just... I just still don't get how we could have been on such totally different wavelengths. How could you not...?"
I shrugged, not bothered at all by the unfinished accusation. "I don't think about these sorts of matters. I generally accept emotions like these to be strange, nonsensical little things. Trying to make sense of them doesn't usually work so well, so I've learnt to just... accept them and move on. If it feels right, it is. I like you, I like kissing you, I like making things better... I don't get anything out of thinking about all of the possible implications and ramifications of that. If it's just math... then one plus two is still equal to three, with or without the actual summation, and all three of them are perfectly good numbers that can stand well on their own merits."
He went still again for three seconds before he responded with a quiet and vague hum inconsistent with his preceding mood.
I let my thoughts wander as my fingers continued to try and figure out just what was so fascinating about Duo's hair. Eventually I thought to ask something I should have asked a while ago. "Duo... what do the others know?"
"Hm?" I guess he'd been letting his thoughts wander away, too.
"The other day. They all seemed to have noticed something going on long before I ever did."
"Oh. Heh." He chuckled nervously, turning over on his side to face me. "Well, you see... a few years back, there was some bash, some party someone threw for something or another. And it was just one of those nights, right? We were sitting around all reminiscing about the stupid and crazy things we used to do, and, well, I guess it was just bad timing because it wasn't long after I had started wondering about the whole thing, so naturally I end up busting out the old, 'Oh yeah? Well I used to kiss Heero Yuy!'."
"I hope that didn't count as a 'stupid' thing," I remarked mildly.
"Oh, no. No, of course not. But it was quite crazy. The others even agreed. If we'd been in different circumstances, like if you'd been there, I wouldn't have let loose like that. That'd be because it wasn't just my little secret, though, and since you weren't there, and you didn't seem like you were coming back... well, I didn't think you'd mind."
There was no need for him to justify himself to me. It hadn't been any great secret to begin with, though the privacy part may have been a small part of the magic. "I don't mind. It makes it easier having everything out in the open, anyway."
He snorted softly. "Don't gotta tell me that. That's why I just went and let it out the other day. Didn't feel like waiting for it to come out on its own."
That rang a bell. "The other day, when you were talking with Quatre about inevitability...?"
He turned away for a moment. "Uh... yeah, kinda." He plucked his braid out of my grasp and started toying with it himself.
So at least once I had failed to notice that they were talking about me while I was listening to them. It sort of made me wonder how many other occasions I had missed. "So now we're not talking about a couple of years ago, but a couple of days ago."
"Well... I maybe wasn't the nicest to you when you showed up, and they... each had a little something to say about that. And since they were all talking to me anyway, and since I started thinking about some of those things I hadn't been thinking about for a while, and since they knew about it from before, and since all of a sudden Fei was noticing I wasn't sticking around at night... it didn't seem all that unreasonable for it to have come up once or twice."
It took me half a moment to parse out all of the filler words in that sentence and condense it down to something roughly equivalent to 'yes'. "That's good," I reassured him. "So how much did I miss out on?"
"How much what?"
"Have you been flinging innuendo at me all week, and have I just been missing all of it?"
"Well... maybe a little." He said it in that way that indicated he might have meant the exact opposite.
Even I had to shake my head at myself. "Wow. I'm almost impressed."
He laughed. "Yeah, I think I was, too, otherwise I woulda snapped long before this."
Folding his arms over his chest while holding a mug in one hand, he gave me a critical look down from his superior height. "Are you sure you don't do this often?"
As usual, it took me a moment to figure out what he was talking about. "Oh. Sorry. No. Not usually."
"Just recently then, huh? What is going on in that head of yours again? Deep and morose thoughts? Again?"
I shrugged noncommittally. "I was just thinking about Zero again. And Zamora. And his interface. It used nanotechnological components. I was thinking, what if we didn't see anything in the tray because it was too small to be seen? A handful of microfilaments or nanobots or whatever he was working on would have been invisible from where we were standing. It would also account for the minute readings off the diagnostic machine."
"The labtechs would have picked up even nano-sized objects," Trowa commented, sitting across from my desk.
"I know. Although conceivably, if they had broken down, it could have been mistaken for the circuitry residue that all over the tray." I shook my head. That didn't concern me. If that was the case, we would never confirm or deny it. "What worries me more is the idea that maybe we lost the evidence just not knowing it was there."
Duo frowned. "What, you mean like, the stuff could have fell off without us even noticing? That's... not cool."
"I know. We handled everything carefully, but there's always the possibility that a misplaced sneeze could have made something disappear."
"Alright, fine. I think you're allowed to brood just a little about that."
I could give him even more to brood about. "And I was also thinking about the discrepancies in the readings that RJ told us about. I was wondering if..."
He cast me an expectant look. "Yes?"
Not saying it didn't make it not true. "Computers don't lie, do they? That would be completely counterproductive. They can only make accurate conclusions if they have accurate data, right?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess."
"Hm." That didn't bring me much peace of mind. It invalidated my pondering, and yet my idea could have explained some things.
I must have drifted off again since Duo poked me. That was obviously becoming one of his favorite pastimes. "Well?" he demanded. "What about computers lying?"
"Interface, console, diagnostic. We ended up thinking that it had to be the console that was outputting the wrong set of data... But... I just wondered for a brief moment in time... what if it wasn't because of a malfunction? What if Zero was deliberately sending out the wrong information?" I shrugged uncomfortably when he got a disturbed look on his face. "Never mind. It was just a passing thought. I can't think of any reason for that to have happened anyway. Guess I've just been hanging around with people too much recently."
His look faded into something equally disturbed, just about something else. "Can't wait to get back to your hermit-like life, eh?"
"I was never a hermit," I answered mildly. I liked people as much as the next person, so long as they were reasonably intelligent souls that knew when to leave me alone.
"Bet you've got a whole other life waiting for you back home," Duo continued to muse softly.
"Well, things are different, certainly." They weren't life and death, that was for sure. Very little urgency, with almost no sense of doom.
"I'm sure they are..." He trailed off, then took a sudden glance at his cup, then headed out the doors, presumably to the kitchen for a refill.
I had turned back to the work on my desk when it shook with a soft thud. I glanced up, and Trowa looked back at me with a significant stare and a slight tilt of his head towards the door. Did he mean to imply something about Duo? I ran the last few sentences of our exchange through my head, looking for oddities, and nearly kicked myself when I realized what I had missed the first time through. I was going to have to get better at that. With a brief nod of thanks to Trowa, I picked up my still half-filled cup of water and headed towards the kitchen after Duo.
He was on his way out when I walked in, but he stopped and waited for me anyway. I refreshed my cup of warm water and sipped at it, watching Duo over the rim of my cup. His eyes seemed focused on a sexual harassment policy flyer on the wall next to him. "Duo," I started.
I walked over until I stood next to him. "Just because things are different doesn't mean that..." I didn't quite know how to finish without giving him the wrong impression. I tried again. "I'm not going to go back and just fall off the grid again."
He turned to face me, his expression serious. "But you are going to back."
I couldn't lie. "I have... 'things' there. Friends. Commitments. School."
"You're free to visit. I... want you to visit. Drop by. Stay a while. Laugh at my computer setup. Meet my friends. Eat at Toki's. I think you'd like it."
His eyes roamed my face, looking for something, and I obligingly held still to let him find it. At length, he straightened the collar of the Preventers jacket he himself had handed to me just a few days ago, fingering the material for a while before he let it go and patted me on the shoulder with a small smile. "We'll see. But for now, back to work, eh?"
last modified : 12/30/2005 14:41:38 PST