Four officers in blue overshirts stood outside the wall of his cell like children staring at a tiger in a zoo. Starfleet didn't know who John was, but they knew what he was, and the conclusions of their assumptions were the same; being a person of historical significance would only have loaned the prestige of name recognition. John took the little computer carefully and studied the rambling lines and matrices of variables. After a minute or so -- he had to read it through several times to be sure it was what he thought it was -- he said, "Yes.
"It's nonsense," he added. "But I see what the intent is."
"What do you see?" a man asked.
They were testing him. He didn't much like that, but at this point it was in his best interest to be as agreeable as he could manage. "It's a Lorentzian manifold. Or... something like one. That's certainly the Alcubierre metric."
That got him nothing but slightly skeptical looks, as though he were making words up. "I suppose they're called something else now," he said.
"Can you explain what you mean?" the same man asked. There were three men that he hadn't seen before, and a woman they had attempted to introduce him to previously. He glanced them over quickly; the men all appeared human.
"It's a formula for creating an artificial four-vector tensor," he said, "that would enable faster than light speed." Exponentially faster, in fact, which should have been an impossibility on top of an impossibility, but the outstanding evidence led him to withhold judgment.
"Humans call it the Cochrane equation," the alien woman T'Pon said. "It's the cornerstone of all modern civilizations."
John frowned. "But how do you overcome time dilation? How could any cohesive civilization be linked together with this? You should all be wildly off sync."
T'Pon said, "The relativity of simultaneity is not a relevant factor in regard to warp streams."
That sounded completely meaningless, but he read the numbers through again. "I don't... see that here," he said.
"There's no proof within the equation. There doesn't need to be."
John looked up at her sidelong. "Einstein's been proven wrong?"
"No," T'Pon said. "That's the problem."
"None of you specialized in physics?" Marcus asked. "Or astrophysics? Or... even medicine, or engineering?"
John couldn't really say off the top of his head, but based on his own experiences he tended to doubt it. He shook his head.
Marcus sighed. "A generation of the most extraordinary minds humanity has ever created, and they were only useful at war. Today you all would have been scientists."
"Many of us are quite well versed in sciences," John said.
"That was my hope when we decided to revive you. It must have been an interest of yours if you choose a deep-space sleeper ship over biting cyanide."
John found that an incredibly offensive way to frame it, but he kept his expression steady. They were all good at maths; they were all good at anything they felt like trying. And it was true that Khan was something of an engineer when the situation called for it. Khan had always been especially extraordinary.
Marcus folded his arms. "T'Pon says you made short work of the Cochrane equation."
"I was able to parse it," John said. "I don't see how it could be put to practical use."
"It obviously has been."
"...I didn't say that it hadn't. Only that I don't see how."
Marcus frowned at him through the force field. "Tell me why not."
"In my time, there was no known power source that could have provided the energy for a single trip at the speed of light, much less regular travel at speeds that exceed it. The theory that would make warping space itself possible required the existance of negative mass, which wouldn't follow normal laws of matter. But there never was such a thing. It was just... mathmatics as parlor games."
"In your time." Marcus started pacing by John's cell. "We've found that power source. Energy's not an issue. The mechanics are the issue. Focus on the numbers."
John hardly needed to focus on the numbers, but he was terribly curious about an engine that could make such numbers possible. "Are your people incapable of numeric touch-typing?"
Marcus shot him a sidelong glare that gave John a small mean stab of satisfaction. "You seem to have very clever computers," John continued. "And very clever officers to operate them. I find it difficult to believe that you're taking your chances with me just so I can be your graphing calculator."
Marcus sighed. "Computers are programmed by people. And people are taught by people. We've been developing warp theory for over a hundred years. I need a fresh set of eyes." He glanced over at him again. "You won't convince me you aren't interested. A mind like yours? You're dying to see the existing schematics. You must want to see a starship for yourself."
John stepped up to the edge of the cell until he felt static electricity hum against his face. "But why," he asked, his voice pitched low, "specifically, Khan Noonien Singh?"
Marcus stopped pacing. "I need more than a talent with numbers."
John narrowed his eyes. Marcus turned to face him every bit as aggressively as John was standing; if the force field hadn't been between them, he could have felt his breath. "Our current weapons can't exceed light speed and are not operational at speeds above it. Modern engines can create warp streams that will carry a ship faster than the human mind can comprehend. Those warp streams can't intersect or interact with one another. Those are the problems that you will address."
"You want to be able to attack an opponent that's in retreat?"
"I want to destroy anyone that's proven themselves enemies of the Federation regardless of any offensive, defensive, or evasive action taken." He stared at John and asked, "Do you have a problem with that, Khan Noonien Singh?"
John remained still. "No."
"Well, congratulations," Marcus said. "You're the only living man capable of what humanity needs who doesn't."
John did his best to clear his face of hostility and asked one of the men if he could see copies of any ship blueprints or engine designs they had access to on the base. To his surprise, the officer pulled out the little hand computer, tapped its surface rapidly for a moment, and passed it through the field again. "The search function's at the upper left there," he said, and he left John alone with it.
When T'Pon came by the cell two hours later, John was jabbing at the glass with his thumb. "This is a remarkable records interface," he said without looking up, "but it's a lousy calculator."
"That device wasn't designed as calculating hardware," she said, "but it should function as such adequately."
"It doesn't." He set it down carefully on the bunk beside him after the display spilled over with another error; he constantly felt the thin little thing would break apart in his hands. "It's not accepting Bessel functions."
They were both quiet. John counted the beats as she considered her options. "You require a better processor," she said.
"Do you have a better one?" he asked.
"May I ask for what purpose?"
"Admiral Marcus has requested that I try my hand at improving your warp equation. Equations," he amended. "It gets complicated rather quickly."
She hesitated briefly. He felt it more than he saw it. "Indeed," she said. "Return the device you have. I'll find a replacement."
He passed the little tablet computer through the small opening in the field and watched as she retreated to the same hallway from which she always approached. He doubted the living quarters were that way; they'd want windows.
The last computer he'd had to use at length had had some new version of Windows installed on it, which had rendered it nearly unusable. The operating system for these tablets was similary obfuscated; he'd not yet found any way to look at how they were programmed. He didn't know if that was his lack of familiarity with the interface or a deliberate feature of the interface. He had never been much of a programmer, but in his experience, neither was very nearly anyone else. He wouldn't have concerned himself with it, but he was willing to bet there were restrictions placed on what files he could access from a prison cell. As it was, he couldn't tell.
The tablet they'd given him had contained generic starbase layouts, but nothing for this one specifically. From what he'd seen, it differed significantly from the standard blueprint. He needed to know exactly where he was. When would be useful as well; he wanted to secure some unbiased historical records. But he would need time and multiple sources to assemble their context at leisure. It was not, at present, a priority. Too many factors. Too easy to get lost. He had to focus.
There were two core theories that he was supposed to examine, though so far no one had mentioned the second, far more profound one to him directly. Faster than light travel -- warp equations -- were indeed a stunning breakthrough for humanity as a whole, and he was still trying to wrap his mind around the ramifications of it. But fast on its heels was a technology still in its infancy but apparently, alarmingly, widely used: teleportation. They called it transport, but in his mind "transport" meant trains and lorries. This was something else. This was something terrifying. This was, he was coming to suspect, their best chance of escape. He wouldn't be able to steal a ship or get everyone onto a stolen ship or do anything useful with a stolen ship to begin with, but he might just be able to hijack a cargo transporter. He just needed to know where they were and where they would go. And how the transporter itself was operated, but he'd had free access to that information. Warp drives and transporters were tools Marcus wanted to use in tandem. Well, God help him with that. John had doodled with the numbers some while waiting for someone to come by, and while he could see possible applications, they weren't anything a sanely run war effort should adopt.
He couldn't help but think on it harder while he waited for T'Pon to return. It had to involve quantum entanglement somehow, but the equations didn't seem to support that. The machine could literally reduce an object to atoms, encode it as pure data, and then reassemble the same atoms -- not entangled molecules -- in a different location. The machines didn't have a particularly broad range, so that suggested that time would break down the signal containing the data. All the same, it appeared that people used them to transport themselves regularly and confidently. The concept struck true fear in him, and he was going to go through with it with all seventy-three of them the second he had a chance to. Between terror for one's life and utter hopelessness lay recklessness.
T'Pon returned carrying two tablets that looked more or less the same; she passed him one without looking up from the other. "That pad has access to the starbase's main computer," she said. "Its processing power should prove more than sufficient."
He held his breath for a a moment and typed a quick search for the base's layout. "Thank you," he said. "This will be much faster." The tablet obediently blinked a series of maps onto the screen instantly; he looked over them once each and then closed his eyes for a moment.
"If you risk overloading the server, your access will be cut off," T'Pon said. "Be careful with your equation formats."
"Of course," he said. He paused. "I'm sorry, could you help me with something?"
She raised an eyebrow. "I'm just... I'm having a terrible time with this operating system," John said.
T'Pon glanced over her shoulder, and the two guards came to her side to disable the force field and enter the cell with her. "I don't think I opened this particular program," he said, "but it keeps returning errors."
"Let me see," she said. She reached out her left hand, so she was likely left-handed. John smashed the tablet against the wall and slashed open the left side of the her throat.
Both guards came at him together as she fell; he dropped the tablet and swiftly broke the arm of the man who was able to drawn his gun first, and he fired it at him and then his companion in short order. No alarm had been raised, so he'd have at least a few minutes--
T'Pon kicked his hand hard enough to send the gun clattering across the room. She drove her shoulder into his solar plexus to slam him into the wall, leaving him momentarily stunned on several levels. She stood over him panting; that cut should have severed her carotid artery, but while she was indeed bleeding heavily -- bleeding green, stinking of copper -- it was hardly an arterial spray. Right, aliens. He was going to have to do this the old fashioned way.
He sprang back to his feet to strike her, but she caught his fist in one hand and clamped her other on his shoulder. A shock of pain like he'd never felt before shot down his spine and made him shout out loud, and he groped for her throat and shoved his thumb into her windpipe. Her knees buckled and they both stumbled to the floor. She released his fist to shove two more fingertips into the gap of his clavicle, and to his confused panic the pain doubled and his vision dimmed. He grabbed her neck with his freed hand and increased the pressure on her trachea. She was audibly choking, but his grip was growing slick with her blood and weakening despite his best efforts to resist whatever the hell she was doing to him.
"T'Pon!" Marcus roared somewhere beyond his buzzing hearing. "Clear!"
She couldn't breathe to answer, but she and John both knew she had the advantage. They stared at each other. "T'Pon! He isn't going down! Fucking clear!"
She let go of him and flung herself backward. He threw himself at her, enraged with pain, but he never made it. He was struck with that bolt of electricity again, and this time everything went black.
He knew by the scent of the room that he was in the medical bay again. He was handcuffed to the bed this time. He didn't open his eyes, though he heard someone to his right softly say that was he was awake. He ignored him and focused on the two familiar voices across the room.
"If you want a transfer, I'll understand," Marcus said.
There was a pause, and T'Pon said, "A temporary one, perhaps. I will need to consider it."
"Of course. But... god damn, woman, the next time I give you an order, you comply immediately. I won't put this on your record, but I don't want any heroics from you or anyone with this guy. Don't set an example. Understood?"
"Understood, sir," she said. Her voice sounded strained. "My apologies."
John heard footsteps approaching him, so he opened his eyes and looked Marcus full in the face expressionlessly. Marcus held no such definition for his bravado; he stared down at John with undisguised disgust for a moment and then punched downward into John's stomach. It wouldn't have hurt if T'Pon hadn't struck him there before, but unfortunately it drew a wince from him.
"I am this close to killing you right here. You pull one more stunt like this and I am going to drag you back to that cargo bay and make you watch me blow up some of those pods. Do you understand?"
John said nothing.
"Do you understand? The nurses around him winced.
John sighed. "Yes."
Marcus looked for a moment like he wanted to say something else, but he didn't. He spun on his heel and left the room.
John stared up at the ceiling past where Marcus's face had just been for a long time. His shoulder hurt like it had been dislocated, but he could tell that it was fine. He couldn't sit up with the restraints, but he lifted his head awkwardly to see T'Pon sitting on the edge of another bed. The cut on her throat had been sealed, but he could see where it had been. She looked back at him, face clear, and said, "I'm curious. What were you attempting to do?"
John frowned. "I beg your pardon?"
"What were your intentions in attacking us?"
"Anywhere." He let his head fall back. "...Anywhere but here."
"I see. You had no plan." He heard her stand, and soon she was leaning over him as Marcus had. "I would have expected better of you."
"I had a plan," he said. For a moment, a brief one, he was overcome with disdain for her. She was clearly greatly superior to Marcus intellectually and physically. She could have won that fight, but she stepped down because some small angry man with arbitrary power had told her to, and she had accepted it as meekly as a lamb. He considered her, and he said, "You're not angry."
"Vulcans do not affect anger."
"...None of them?"
"That doesn't answer the question."
"That is an individual matter, and it is irrelevant. I am not angry. ...But I am not yet sure if I can still work with you."
"I see." He sighed. "So why doesn't he just kill me?"
He didn't intend for that to sound nearly as maudlin as it did, and even she looked mildly surprised. "You are an investment with a great deal of risk," she said. She produced the other tablet she'd been holding before and held it in front of his face so he could see it: it was the first one, the one he'd been idly running numbers through while scheming. "But potentially also high return. Marcus had come to the brig to discuss this with you. Your numbers are sound and your ideas are workable."
He shook his head. "I wasn't even trying."
"And that is why he will not kill you. But it's also why your friends are in grave danger if you continue to resist in this fashion." She stood up straight and nodded to him. "Goodbye, Mr. Singh."
He didn't say anything; he watched in silence as she left the room. In all the commotion, he had nearly forgotten that part.
Years ago -- well, two or three years ago by his own timing, but it was long forgotten history now -- John Harrison had murdered someone very important. Khan hadn't him given permission to do so, and the others had tried to stop him, but he was coolly sure within himself that it was something that had needed to be done. And so he did it.
Khan stood in front of John afterward while the blood was still drying on his hands, raising gooseflesh on his arms. Joaquin and Deng flanked him as they always did, but neither would make eye contact. Khan said, "Look at me."
John didn't want to. But Khan asked it, so he did. Khan held his gaze with an empty expression for endless seconds, and then he slapped him hard across the face. He turned and left quickly -- so he wouldn't follow up with what he wanted to say, not because there was nothing to say. Joaquin and Deng slunk after him, never looking John in the face.
It left a bruise. He felt it for a long time after the mark faded.