a smile that will start to make you nervous
- grey eye glances
The door slid into place behind him, dampening the noises from the corridor outside, and in the ensuing quiet he experienced something approaching relief—but only for a moment, before he prepared himself for what he had to do next.
If he had judged the situation accurately, his absence on the bridge would go unnoticed, at least for now. While Rubedo and the others stood in a cluster around the Elsa's main viewing screen, staring at the transfigured silhouette of the Ark and debating their next move, Canaan had slipped through the doors unseen and headed across the passage to the elevator. Only the droids had observed him, with programmed indifference, as he made his way among the lower decks of the ship.
He had already queried the necessary records in his database as he approached the terminal. A scan of his memory returned the UMN address she had given him the last time they had spoken; it seemed ages ago, although it must have been only a few days. At the time, he had hoped he would never have to use it, and had no intention of ever speaking to her again if he had any choice in the matter. Now he punched the address into the keypad and stared at the idle screen with anticipation and a dull stab of dread, the strongest reaction his emotional-suppression programming would allow.
After a few seconds that felt centuries too long, the screen flickered and her hologram resolved behind a haze of blue-green static. When she recognized her caller a look of astonishment flashed on her face for an instant, then vanished into the cold shell of a smile. "Well, you finally called me back," she said, with more than a hint of derision. "Not exactly a gentleman, are you?"
"I've been busy," he said, ignoring her mockery. The last time they had spoken, she had given him Scientia's file on Program Canaan.
"Have you really?" Doctus inclined her head, and Canaan felt her eyes locked on him like targeting scopes behind her glasses. "I take it you enjoyed the reading material I sent you. Learn anything interesting?"
"As a matter of fact, I did. I've been doing some of my own research, and I've had ... information from other sources to back it up." Canaan hesitated, hoping she wouldn't inquire further; he didn't care to tell her about the memories that had come crashing back into his mind lately, sprung from behind a partition so ingeniously concealed he hadn't even known it was there. It was like discovering he had another self, a hidden identity, an entire lifetime buried in his memory banks. "You'll recall that in our last conversation, you asked me who I was."
"Good memory. But I guess that's no surprise; it's what you're designed for. Officially, that is." She inflected the word officially with such contempt it sounded obscene. "I suppose you're going to tell me you've found the real answer to that question?"
"It's possible." He stared back at her, tracing her gaze past the luminous false eyespots in her glasses, trying to guess where she was looking, although he knew he had little chance of catching her off guard. "But that's not what I was going to say. I think it's your turn to tell me who you are."
She suppressed a laugh, a flutter behind closed lips. "I think you already know that, Lactis. Among many other things you should be remembering right about now. I'm sorry, this must be quite a lot for you to handle. I hope it's not putting too much of a strain on your system."
He tensed, feeling the blunted edge of anger through his inhibition program. Had she always treated him this way, with an attitude of condescending indifference bordering on cruelty? He didn't think so, not if he could trust his memories of her. "Never mind. It's obvious that neither one of us is the same as we used to be. And I didn't call you to reminisce about the past."
"Oh? Then what did you call for?"
Canaan shook his head in disbelief. "Do you have any idea what's going on out there?"
"You mean besides that thing that's been collapsing half the star cluster and unleashing all hell on the other half? Pardon me for saying so, but it's a little hard to overlook." For the first time since she had picked up the call, her voice registered an emotion besides mocking amusement—a note of annoyance or impatience or apprehension, nothing he could pin down with any certainty. "Don't tell me you've come begging to me for help."
"I just thought I'd ask if you had any ideas about how to stop it," he said. "Considering we all have a stake in what happens to this universe. Including you, Melisse."
The flash of indignation lasted only an instant, and then her smile returned, sharper and crueler than before. "I suppose I can do you a favor," she said. "You'll owe me, though. And I meant what I said before. Just because you know about your true purpose doesn't let you off the hook. As long as you continue to exist, you're putting them in danger. I hope you know that. Your very existence is a threat to the success of their mission—that URTV's mission, and his." She didn't have to mention either of their names.
Canaan nodded. "I'm aware of that. I don't intend to do anything to threaten them." But the words came out sounding hollow; he knew it didn't matter what he intended. The secret observational program implanted in his mind would continue to run regardless of whether he gave it his consent, and although he had spent days agonizing over it, he hadn't yet decided what he would do if it ever came to that—if somehow he should become an immediate threat to Rubedo or the captain.
What she said next startled him out of his thoughts. "You've been traveling with him. How much do you think he knows?"
Again there was no need to specify a name. "You mean, how much does he remember?" Canaan shook his head a second time. "I don't know. More than I do—well, more than I did until recently. He doesn't talk about it. I don't think he recognizes me." Canaan hadn't recognized the captain, either, until the memories began to surface, and then it had been almost as much of a shock as discovering his own identity. They had seen each other in passing for over a year now, when their paths happened to cross between assignments for the Kukai Foundation and the government; on rare occasions they had exchanged words in the manner of strangers, and neither one of them had suspected ....
"Just as I thought." She nodded, but without any apparent satisfaction. "I'm sure you're also aware that Erich is working for the enemy. He's being controlled by whoever is behind all this. I trust you know what that means?"
The memory flooded out like a rush of cold air from behind the invisible wall, and Canaan tensed involuntarily. "I know."
"What are you going to do?"
He was silent, staring down along the edge of the terminal unit. For a moment he had the irrational suspicion that she could read his thoughts, because lately he had been asking himself the same question. What could he do besides fulfilling the conditions of his existence, abhorrent as he found them? The act of betrayal was written into his source code, ingrained at the root of his operating system; it wasn't a choice he could make or an action he could resist. Something—a part of his mind that wasn't his, the part that stood aside and observed from a place he couldn't see or reach—pushed him from within, urging him forward along a course he couldn't change.
When he looked back at the screen, he could feel the sharpness and heat of her gaze through her glasses again, as if the lenses were transparent. She was waiting for an answer, but he didn't have one.
She made a disapproving noise in her throat and looked away, releasing him from her sight. A moment later the air above the desktop wavered and shimmered into iridescence, and a disk about the size of his hand materialized beside the keypad. "Here's the assistance you asked for," she said without looking back at him. "Compliments of Scientia R&D. Someone upstairs will know what to do with it."
He reached for the disk. "I guess I should thank you."
"For what? This is just a way in. Your friends up there will have to do the rest, and you'd better hope they don't screw up. Especially with a traitor in their midst." Beneath the armor of irony and condescension her voice had taken on a different tone, but as before, he couldn't quite make out what it was. "I'll see you on the bridge, Lactis." And the transmission flickered out.