Force over Distance: Cultural Sensitivity (If I Had a Million Dollars)
Park strikes a pose and puts those years of high school musicals to use at the edge of the known universe.
Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.
Text iteration: Witching hour.
Audio status: Proofing.
Additional notes: I wrote so many notes here. And then I erased them all.
Cultural Sensitivity (If I Had a Million Dollars)
Alone in her quarters, Park sings made-up songs to her seeds, wrapped in damp cloth. The songs are stitched together tunes that sound good to her, blending and circling around the short melodies of Santoki and the last track on The Sunset Tree, depending on whether she’s feeling happy or sad.
Today it’s more the latter.
She checks the individual rolls of cloth in her small seed library. She wets the dry ones. Just a little. Not too much.
The room is so quiet when she’s not singing.
There are two crates at the foot of her bed. Each contains five pounds of personal items. One’s labeled: Lisa Park. The other is labeled: Ronald Greer.
They were supposed to crack them open last night, but, instead, they’d been attacked by phase-shifted aliens.
Tonight, Greer is on duty. Maybe tomorrow they’ll open them?
They hadn’t told one another what they’d requested. They’d planned to sit on the bed and pull the items out, one at a time. Park has been looking forward to this for weeks. Especially because her parents went full beast-mode and pushed the weight limit to the max. They’d even asked her for the margin of error that Stargate Command would use when weighing each person’s crate.
She knows what she’ll find when she looks inside—it’ll be the best-packed package anyone on board will get, full of everything Park had requested, and double the margin of error’s worth of surprises. “They won’t hold it back for anything under two standard deviations from the mean of all package weights,” her dad had said, with the blind certainty of Everyone’s Dad Everywhere. “They have to expect a little cheating.”
Experimentally, Park lifts her crate. Then she lifts Greer’s. Hers is a tiny bit heavier.
She runs her fingers over the latches of Greer’s crate, wondering who’d packed it for him. A friend he’s never mentioned, maybe? A volunteer at the SGC? Wray, of course, had found someone.
“You’re going to pull them back, lieutenant.” Wray stares James down, her voice hard. Then she looks at Park. “How many are coming?” she asks. “Many,” Park whispers, her eyes on the internal sensors.
Park’s heart spasms. She curls herself into a ball on the floor next to the crates and tries not to let the memory run any further. She tries not to let it take hold inside her. She tries to reframe it for herself, see only an aspect of it—the contained fire of her voice, how glorious she’d been in the near dark, how worthy of a soundtrack.
Wray had bought so much time that no one else had been tortured.
No one died in the mess.
No one died anywhere.
It’s a miracle.
Park shuts her eyes against a hot rush of tears and presses her lips together.
It’s always harder, so much harder, to love people.
Lisa sniffs and blinks her tears out of her eyes. Underneath her side of the bed she sees her iPod. She uncurls and reaches for it.
No one’s dead.
This is great.
She wipes her tears off face, slides her earphones into place, and fires up her Happy 90s Mix. It stars with Absolutely (Story of a Girl). It gets her off the floor. She slides her iPod into her pocket. She crosses to the bathroom. She brushes her teeth. She brushes her hair. She rubs her finger across the nozzle of a giant bottle of something called Sweetflower Dreamflake that her mom had bought in bulk years ago, and that Park had thrown into her suitcase because she was an overpacker.
She still is.
If she ever gets back to Earth she’ll be impossible to travel with. Four suitcases for every trip. One for essentials, two for of water purification tablets and power bars, three for of survival gear, four for weapons and maps.
Her iPod moves to the next song.
“If I had a million dollars,” Park sings. “If I had a million dollars. Well, I’d buy you a house. (I would buy you a house.) And if I had a million dollars, (if I had a million dollars!), I’d buy you furniture for your house (maybe a nice chesterfield or an ottoman?). And If I had a million dollars (if I had a million dollars), well, I’d buy you a K-Car. (A nice reliant automobile!)”
She looks at herself in the mirror. Almost ready.
She strips down to her underwear, headphones still in place, maneuvering all kinds of fun shirt topologies. She puts on her PJs. They’re white, with little tiny fire icons that are so small they almost look like polkadots. They have have pink trim, which clashes with the red and orange flames. She puts her socks on.
She takes her headphones out of her ears, but she knows the song so well that she can keep it running in her mind.
That’s probably why she decides to hit the door controls and slide into the hall like she’s Tom Cruise in Risky Business.
No one’s gonna be in the hallway at this hour.
No one but Eli, Volker, Chloe, Telford, and a little chunk of Telford’s Research Team.
Park freezes. Like a deer in headlights.
Like a star.
They’re all staring at her anyway.
Park strikes a pose and puts those years of high school musicals to use at the edge of the known universe. “If I had a million dollars,” she belts out, big smile, open hands, shoulders relaxed, diaphragm tight, like she’s on stage, under lights. “If I had a million dollars. We wouldn’t have to walk to the store!”
“What.” Telford says.
“If I had a million dollars, we’d take a limousine cause it coooosssssts more!” Park dances her way up to Eli, the loose materials of her PJs swirling around her. “If I had a million dollars we wouldn’t have to eat Kraft Dinner.”
“But we would eat Kraft Dinner,” Volker says, mildly.
“Course we would,” Park winks at him. “We’d just eat more.” She twirls away, her hair really needing the space where Telford’s face is, unfortunately.
“And buy really expensive ketchups with it,” Eli whispers, his eyes red-rimmed.
“That’s right,” Park says, dancing away again. “All the fanciest—Dijon ketchup.” She laughs.
“Mmm,” Volker says, handing his laptop to Eli. “Hold my beer.” He steps forward, grabs Park’s hands, and pulls her into—holy god, Dale can dance?
“If I had a million dollars,” Volker sings, spinning her out, like he’s got a background in swing, because he definitely does! She can feel it in his hands, see it in his stance. How is it possible they didn’t know this about one another!?
Lisa spins out, pulls a hand free, strikes a pose, and echoes, “If I had a million dollars!”
“Well, I’d buy you a green dress,” Volker sings.
“What?” Lisa says, quick and sharp, her smile glittering.
“But not a real green dress, that’s crewel,” Volker sings, yanking her back into a tight spin.
“And If I had a million dollars,” Park takes over the main line again.
“If I had a million dollars,” Volker echoes.
“Well I’d buy you some art.” Park lifts a leg as Volker dips her, her loose PJ’s sliding down her ankle.
“A Picasso or a Garfunkel?” Volker draws her back up.
“If I had a million dollars,” Park sings.
“If I had a million dollars,” Volker echoes, really warming into it like he has a musical theatre background, and he must.
“Well, I’d buy you a monkey.” Lisa grins at him.
“Haven’t you always wanted a monkey?” Volker grins back.
“If I had a million dollars, I’d buy your love,” Volker sings, a bittersweet expression on his face. “If I had a million dollars.”
“If I had a million dollars,” Park sings, her voice high and clear as they circle one another.
“If I had a million dollars,” they sing together.
“If I had a million dollars,” Eli joins in, with a small smile, his arms wrapped around the laptops he holds.
“If I had a million dollars,” Chloe throws an arm over Eli’s shoulders, singing right in his ear.
“I’d be rich!” They all finish together. Park and Volker freeze, holding a wide open pose.
Chloe, elated, applauds enthusiastically. “Encore,” she shouts, over the sound of her own clapping.
“Thank you, Chloe, you are, as always, our favorite!” Volker says, taking a bow without letting go of Park’s hand.
“We really need a karaoke night,” Eli says, a small smile on his face.
“I love karaoke.” Bill Lee edges his way to the front, clapping almost as enthusiastically as Chloe. “Lisa!! Wow! You can sing!”
Volker steps back, gestures grandly toward Lisa, and joins in the clapping. Pretty much everyone is clapping, except for Colonel Telford, who gives her a speculative, amused look.
Park takes a deep bow, brings both hands to her mouth, and starts blowing kisses as she walks forward. The Science Team parts for her, drawing the research team with them. She passes through them and turns, doing a graceful backwards walk, sending air kisses as she goes, until the corridor takes her out of sight.
Park turns, grinning, feeling about a million times more like herself than she has over the past twenty-four hours. She moves through the halls, her flame pajamas swishing. She whistles to herself, just a little bit. Atienza salutes her as she passes.
It’s late, and, as she walks, it hits 2200.
She knows, because the lights dim down on the automatic time that Dr. Rush had set, years ago.
She hits the door controls for the infirmary and walks in. Barnes is asleep on one of the beds. TJ stands next to her, adjusting an IV.
“Everything okay?” TJ whispers.
Park nods. When she speaks, she keeps her voice low. “Can I visit Camile?”
TJ nods and points toward the back room.
The doorway, lit from within, glows an ethereal blue.
Park wishes she had something in her hands. Something to offer, other than just herself. She threads her way between dark gurneys, crosses the floor, and peers around the frame.
Wray is in bed, lying on her side. She has her hands folded beneath her chin. Her legs are drawn up under the covers. She looks at Rush, her face full of sadness and her eyes stained with blood. Like a woodcutter, standing beneath the boughs of a dark forest, looking at an otherworldly creature caught in a trap.
Wray doesn’t see Park, perfectly silent, in her stockinged feet.
Park looks at the doc, lying in a pool of blue light.
“And you would think,” Greer had whispered to her just that morning, struggling with his breakfast, struggling with the story, “that it wouldn’t take three guys, each of whom outweighed the man by a good forty pounds to hold him down. But it did. Gateroom doors grinding. Telford kneeling on his back. Eli kneeling on his shoulders—tryin’ to talk to ‘im. I’m trying to get the plastic ties on him without hurting him. And all the time. All the time they’re coming through.”
“It’s good he has someone watching over him,” Park says softly.
“Sorry,” Park whispers.
“Lisa,” Wray rasps. “What are you—are those new PJs?”
“Nope,” Park says. “I’ve always had these. I just don’t wear them around the halls much.”
Wray smiles faintly. “What are you doing here?”
“Sleepover?” Park offers. “Ron’s on shift. And I remember Chloe talking about how hard it was to sleep, after—after everything that happened.”
Wray’s expression lightens, then cracks beneath the pressure of everything she can’t shove down. She brings a hand to her face, nods, and shifts sideways on the bed.
Park crosses the room peels back the blanket, and slides in beside her. Wray reaches for her silently, already crying, and Lisa gathers her in, wrapping the other woman in her arms, pressing her lips to the crown of Wray’s head. Long, horrible sobs wrack Wray’s whole frame.
When people are kind, and especially when it’s a surprise, it’s impossible not to cry.
Sympathetic tears form in the corners of Park’s eyes and trail back into her hair.
She blinks hard at the dark ceiling.
“He fought for every inch.” Greer whispers in her memory. “Back arching, hands clenching. Like some kinda wild thing. No one can tear themselves apart like that unless they’re really outta their mind. And he was. Nothing getting through. Not in the hallway. Not in the CI room. Never seen anyone panic themselves to death. But I thought. He was screaming. In Ancient. Nothing I said got through.
“It’s so hard,” Lisa whispers, rubbing Wray’s back as she cries.
Lisa Park has wondered, many times, if they’re all already dead, sung through the universe by a supernatural engine, propelled ever outward, creating the bounds of reality as they go. Can they really be alive, riding a singing matter wave, speaking to their loved ones through the possession of other people’s bodies?
She thinks of her germinating seeds wrapped in damp cloth. They grow up toward fire. Down toward water. Through earth. Through air. She thinks of the two gray crates in her quarters, pitched through a spacetime veil.
But if she’s dead, if they’re all dead, it’s a wonderful kind of dead, growing plants and dancing to Barenaked Ladies in flame PJs with Dale Volker.
The stormy spirit in Wray’s tears begins to settle.
“If I had a million dollars, I’d build a tree fort in our yard,” Park whisper-sings into Wray’s hair. “You could help, it wouldn’t be that hard. If I had a million dollars—”
Wray mixes a small laugh into the trailing end of her tears.
“Maybe we can put like a little tiny fridge in there somewhere.” Park whispers.
“Thanks,” Wray says in a cracked whisper.
“There is a criminal lack of cuddling on this ship.” Park starts finger-combing their hair together, trying to lose track of what’s hers and what’s Wray’s. “I blame leadership.”
“Oh god,” Wray sounds like she’s grinning against Park’s shoulder. “Can you imagine?”
“Yes I can,” Park whispers solemnly. “We need a new campaign. Plures amplexus pro ducibus. More hugs for leadership.”
“Are you really sleeping here?” Wray asks, her voice small.
“Yes ma’am,” Park says, putting a gloss of Master Sergeant Greer on her words. “Ron’s on shift. Tomorrow, when we’re both free, we’re gonna open our Gray Crates.”
“Mmm,” Wray whispers. “Very good.”
“You want me to bring yours in here?” Park asks.
“No,” Wray murmurs. “I’ll save it. I want to wait until I’m feeling a little better.”
Park nods. “Got anything good in there?”
“Photos,” Wray whispers. “Art supplies. A book. What about you?”
“I’m most excited about my new bra,” Lisa whispers. “It’s a cute one…according to my mom.” She laughs. “Ron wouldn’t tell me anything he requested. Don’t suppose you’d have an inside line on that one?”
Park feels Wray smile against her shoulder. “I’ll be keeping his secrets, I think,” she says, her voice full of warmth.
“I was wondering,” Park says tentatively, “who packed his box?”
“He didn’t give me the name of anyone to contact,” Wray says. “A lot of people were in that boat. There were SGC volunteers who packed boxes for those who didn’t ask family to do it.”
“Ah,” Park says. “Got it.”
“But,” Wray whispers, “Sharon packed his box.”
Park gives Wray a quick squeeze. “Does he know?”
“No,” Wray murmurs. “Don’t tell him.”
“I’m telling him,” Park says.
“He’s very proud,” Wray whispers.
“That’s true,” Park admits, “but, unfortunately, I take an ethical stance against secret good deeds. All good deeds need a circle of flowers planted around them. That’s my religion. Don’t disrespect my religion. I’d have to report you to…you.”
“Don’t do it in front of me,” Wray says. “He and I still aren’t that far from the days when we were at one another’s throats.”
Park nods. She looks at the dark ceiling and imagines Destiny’s shields, singing in the dark.
“How’d it go today?” Wray asks.
“We made a lot of progress” Park says. “The Science Team mapped out the extent of the damage caused by the virus within our systems. The shields are safe. FTL is untouched. Life support. Internal communications. All of them—all of them have these beautiful firewalls surrounding them.”
“How can a firewall be beautiful?” Wray whispers.
“Oh, a well-constructed firewall is always beautiful.” Park smooths a hand over their blended hair. “It’s made of logic and energy. It protects you from what you don’t know is coming.”
“What a lovely way to put it.” Wray changes the angle of her head so she can see Dr. Rush, lying still and quiet beneath the lights of the monitors.
There’s a soft rap of knuckles against the doorframe. Park looks up. Greer stands in the doorway. She smiles at him, but doesn’t sit. Wray lifts her head, sees who it is, and shifts to give Park room, like she thinks Park’s going to leave.
Park doesn’t leave. “Hi,” she says, pulling Wray back down. “I thought you were on duty.”
“I was,” Greer admits. “I had a minor disagreement with Colonel Telford, which resulted in a small adjustment to the duty roster.”
“Tell me you weren’t confined to quarters,” Park says.
“Would I be here if I’d been confined to quarters?” Greer asks innocently.
Wray grins against Park’s shoulder.
“HR Lady gets it,” Greer says. He snags a chair, drags it next to Rush’s gurney, drops into it, and brandishes—
“Is that a book, sergeant?” Wray asks.
“No,” Greer says. “This is a bullshit manual.” He angles the cover so they can see it.
“Cultural Sensitivity: Humanity’s Best Hope for Minimizing Violent Intergalactic Conflict,” Park reads, squinting. “By Dr. Daniel Jackson?”
Wray snorts. “Daniel Jackson doesn’t spend his time writing books.”
“Colonel Telford ordered me to memorize every checklist in this thing. Do you know how many checklists there are in here?”
“Eight?” Park guesses.
“More like eighty,” Wray says dryly.
“HR Lady, have you read this thing?” Greer asks.
Wray shrugs. “Bits and pieces.”
“There are seventy-four checklists in here,” Greer says to Park. “I went through and counted.”
“Are you really going to memorize seventy-four checklists?” Park asks. “Doesn’t sound like you.”
“I’m considering it,” Greer replies.
“Why?” Park asks.
“Spite, mostly. Colonel Telford has a bone or two to pick with this Jackson character, right?”
“That he does,” Wray says softly.
“So,” Greer said, “the ability to quote Dr. J to Colonel Telford in choice moments—it’s got some appeal. Besides. I figured the doc could use some entertainment.”
“I think we could all use some entertainment, sergeant,” Wray whispers.
“There’s that too,” Greer says. “Okay ladies. Doc. Let’s see what we got goin’ on in here.” He flips to the table of contents. “1—Lived Diplomacy: You, Too, Can Stop Thinking with Your Gun. I’m skeptical but ok. 2—Earth Envoys: Everything You Do Matters. Or not. 3—Peaceful Explorations and Graceful Exits: Recommended Cultural Boundaries. Sounds important. 4—Intergalactic Friendship: The Ally You Needed Was In Front of You This Whole Time.” Greer snorts. “If Jackson didn’t write this who the hell did write it?”
Lisa feels Wray smile against her shoulder. “He may have penned a chapter title. Here or there. Out of pique.
“5—Redefining the Terms of Accord: When Allies Become Enemies and Enemies Become Allies. You gotta have allies before this one’s relevant. 6—Unequal Power Dynamics in Cross-Species Relations: So They Want You To Work in a Mine.” Greer snorts. “Chapter 7—Cultural Norms and Autonomy Violations: These are Always Bad…Right? 8—Uncommon Common Ground: When What You Think You Know Isn’t What You Think Or Know And Also It’s Wrong.” Greer grins. “9—Escaping through Empathy: Peaceful Solutions to Hostage Scenarios. 10—“But We Didn’t Mean To Release The Destroyer of Worlds” And Other Cautionary Tales.”
“Oooh, let’s hear Chapter Ten, please,” Lisa requests.
“She always reads books out of order,” Greer whispers, looking at Wray. “Drives me nuts.”
“I like the sound of Chapter Eight,” Wray murmurs.
“Ladies, please,” Greer says. “We’re starting at the beginning. I have no idea how to think without my gun. Besides. The doc is very particular about sequencing.”
“If you’re starting at the beginning,” Wray whispers, “read the foreword.”
“You got it,” Greer opens the book. “Foreword to the Second Edition. Here we go.”
Wray cuddles a little closer to Park.
“They published this book after I died.” Greer’s voice fades to nothing. His eyes scan the page. Then he starts again.
Foreword to the Second Edition. They published this book after I died. They took my mission reports, video of me testifying before congress, security footage from the scores of times the base was compromised, and clips from all kinds of cameras on all kinds of worlds. The SGC created a posthumous archive of everything I’d said. Everything I’d done. Something to carry forward.
People aren’t supposed to come back from the dead. But I did. And when I had my feet beneath me on this plane—I had mixed feelings about the guy preserved in the SGC archive. His most inspired moments launched themselves from a hubris he couldn’t maintain and a luck that, eventually, ran out. I’ll say this for him though: he understood the value of small moments. He kept secrets when he could. He knew the difference between integrity and reputation. He was wise enough to never write a book like this.
Before he died, he didn’t. After he died, neither did I.
I would never write this book. A thing you can open. A thing you can close. A thing that stays the same as the world changes. Something purposefully designed with the dimensions of a block of C4. Can you imagine anything more horrible? Do me a favor, and don’t use anything in here as cross-cultural leverage. Don’t memorize a single list. They’re all ridiculous.
It hurts me that this book exists. It hurts to know that, in my absence, I was blended. I was homogenized. I was taken out of context. New context was created for me. Even though I’d studied history and mythology all my life—the greatest homogenizers out there—even though I’d known it would happen after my death—it was painful to arrive again and see it. No one is meant to read the walls of their own tomb.
Even so, I can admit there’s value in some of these ideas.
Here and there, one can bridge a civilizational gap.
You can invite your worst enemy to share your tea. You can learn to meditate from him, surrounded by his candles. And, after your death, his suffering on the shores of an alien river may call you down from a higher plane in a way you neither remember nor comprehend.
He’ll promise you it happened.
And when you come back to yourself, when you fully fall to the plane you left, when someone hands you an Air Force Press copy of Cultural Sensitivity by Dr. Daniel Jackson, when the sight of it makes your heart ache, when you make a joke no one understands because it involves s Sanskrit pun and no one around you speaks Sanskrit, when you stand beneath a mountain with the book in your hands that you can feel is the precise dimensions of block of explosives, when you see the smear and dilution of your living ideals—
You’ll understand how things go wrong. You’ll see the plastic nature of the self, the hopeless, chaotic stream of idea and word and memory. You’ll wonder how you can do anything. Ever again.
But, your dear friend, the one from an alien planet, the one who taught you to meditate, the one who reveres the written word because he had to serve false gods for years before he was entrusted with the skill to read—he’ll take the book from your hands. He’ll set it aside like it means nothing. He’ll invite you to his quarters. He’ll make tea. He’ll light candles.
That’s cultural sensitivity.
“Jackson doesn’t mess around.”
They turn, looking to the doorway, where Colonel Young stands, listening in, pale and exhausted. He leans against the frame of the door, his hands clasped in front of him. There’s a tension around his mouth that suggests a suppressed smile, but Park is sure his eyes are sad.
“No sir,” Greer says softly. “You want us out?”
“No, sergeant,” the colonel says softly. His eyes scan Park and Wray, and his smile gets away from him Just a small, quick thing. “Nice PJs, Park.”
“Thank you, sir,” Park replies gravely. “I got them on sale.”
Greer snorts. “You wanna sit, sir? You look dead on your feet.” He’s halfway out of his chair as he says it.
“At ease, sergeant,” Young waves him back down. He pushes away from the doorframe and crosses over to look down at the doc. He smooths the man’s hair back, then presses the back of two fingers against his forehead, like he’s checking spun glass for fever.
“TJ’s taking good care of him,” Wray says. “James comes and helps when she’s off shift.”
“James?” Young says absently, still looking at Rush.
“She took care of Jeremy Franklin,” Wray begins.
For some reason, this triggers full-on Colonel Mode. “This is not the same situation.”
Park feels Wray tense against her. “I know,” she says. “My point is, there’s a subset of people in our crew who’ve gotten very good at caring for people who can’t care for themselves.”
Young nods. He doesn’t ask who. He doesn’t ask what Wray means. Park is pretty sure the only part of that he really heard was the part where Wray said, “I know.”
It was Barnes, James, Volker, and Riley, who helped TJ care for Dr. Franklin.
Park had tried, but when it comes to care, to meeting needs, she’s better with plants. The human body, stripped of mind, is too frightening for her to bear. She loves people. She loves the blend of body and mind. She loves touching. Dancing, holding, hugging. She loves seeing toes curl and backs arch at the graze of fingertips.
The colonel boosts himself onto Rush’s gurney, near the doc’s feet. “I want to talk to TJ about waking him up. Maybe tomorrow.”
Lisa frowns. It’ll be days before the virus is fully purged.
“We’re that close?” Wray asks.
“No,” Young admits. “But we gotta see what he’s like without the CPU.”
“Why?” Park breathes, before she can stop herself.
Wray says nothing.
Young says nothing.
Greer draws himself up in his chair, coiling himself like a spring.
“Ron,” Park says, sharp enough that he looks over at her.
She doesn’t know what’s on her face, but he nods at whatever it is.
“You got something to say, sergeant?” Young asks, mild and dangerous.
Greer takes a breath, his eyes flicking between the doc and Young, like he’s making a choice Park’s felt coming for weeks now. Greer loves the colonel. He respects him. No one, no one in his life, has ever believed in Greer like the colonel does. Young looks to Greer first and last. When Destiny was headed straight into a star, when they both thought it was the end, they took a walk together, through dark and warming hallways.
Greer would follow him anywhere. He’d do anything for him.
“Yes sir,” Greer says. He looks like he’s fighting down everything that wants to explode out of him. Daniel Jackson’s book is gripped tight in his hands.
Young waits him out.
Greer looks at Wray, a wordless plea for help. For her to ask the question he doesn’t feel he can ask. The question that came out of Park’s mouth, and went ignored.
“Why?” Wray asks, sitting in a sweep of dark hair, shifting to draw her legs beneath her into a cross legged position. “Why do you need to wake him?”
Park follows her up. They sit side-by-side on the gurney.
Young looks at his hands, clasped between his knees. “I have to know if it’s possible to cut him off from Destiny. I have to know if it’s possible to take him back to Earth.”
Wray nods. “And you think that waking him now, while a virus is still in play, after he was drugged, after he was interrogated by the Nakai—you think that will answer your question?”
Young says nothing.
“Why don’t we ask Sergeant Greer,” Wray says quietly. “He was with him.” And then, before Young can argue, she looks at Greer. “What do you think, sergeant?”
“I think,” Greer says, unable to keep an edge out of his voice, “that you might fuck him up for good if you wake him without Destiny.” He pauses, then tacks on a, “sir,” for good measure.
Park compresses her lips and braces herself, but all that happens is that Colonel Young smiles at his hands and says, “You talk to Telford with that mouth?”
“As often as I can,” Greer replies, his voice soft.
“I told him he was okay,” Greer struggles for words in the darkness of their quarters, looking at Lisa with a terrible expression on his face. “But he wasn’t. Not okay at all. Even Telford couldn’t watch it. The way fought the restraints. Even after he’d blown out his voice he kept going. Monologuing in Ancient, trying to leverage his way free. It was like he was trying to explain something. To me, maybe. To himself. To someone I couldn’t see. I asked him to speak English. Over and over again. And, finally, he said no.” Greer smiles faintly.
“There’s more at stake than any of you know,” Young whispers.
Greer nods, but he doesn’t look at the colonel.
Park is sure she knows what’s coming next.
“Lotta things in this world I can do,” Greer whispers. “But—ah. A man draws a line somewhere.”
Young looks at Greer like the sergeant just drove a shard of glass into his heart. “There’s not gonna be another opportunity to test this. He’s truly separated from the AI right now. Eli told me. There’s a firewall between them. This is the only way to know if he walks out of this.”
Park feels sympathetic tears spring up.
Greer compresses his lips. He nods. “I understand that, sir. Even so.”
“Eventually,” Greer whispers, his eyes on blurring stars outside the window of their quarters. “I took a page out of your book.” Park leans into him, an arm around his shoulders. “What page?” she whispers. “This one.” Greer brings both hands to her forearm and grips it tight. “This one right here. Pulled him off the floor. Talked enough English to him that, after a while, he started talking English back to me.”
“Everett,” Wray says softly. “There’s usually another way. Another door comes open.”
“I can’t give up on him,” Young says. “I won’t.”
This is too much for Park. “We’re not ‘giving up on him’,” she snaps. “We would never do that. The Science Team is working around the clock to fix his ship for him.” She can feel herself vibrate on behalf of Eli’s pale, drawn face. The grim lines around Volker’s eyes. Brody’s sleeplessness, the fear in Chloe’s gaze, her own terrible anxiety woven into and through her memories of the past thirty-six hours. “Why not wake him up under the best, most ideal circumstances that we can?” Park demands. “After we’ve fixed his ship? After the ship fixes his mind? That’s not giving up. That’s giving him his best chance to come out of this.”
“I like that,” Greer whispers, looking at Young. Seems like the best way.”
“I think so too,” Wray says.
Park holds Greer in the early hours of the morning, before the day-bright lights come up. “He told me he could feel the Nakai in his head. That their thoughts were painful. Then he asked me if I thought he was crazy,” Greer whispers. “What did you say?” Park asks, her cheek pressed against Greer’s shoulder. “I said nah. Of course not. I said he was just having a bad day. We all have bad days.”
Young nods at his hands.
“Plus.” Greer gently kicks Rush’s bedframe. “Can’t discount this asshole. Making everyone worry about him when he probably has a pair of aces up his sleeve.”
Young doesn’t smile. “Must have been pretty bad,” the colonel says, not looking at any of them, “in the CI room for you to take this kinda line, sergeant.”
“Yes sir,” Greer whispers.
After that, one says anything. For a long time.
Greer glances at Lisa.
She gives him an encouraging nod.
Greer flips to the first page of the book that tears up Jackson’s heart. He clears his throat. He reseats himself in his chair. “Chapter One: Lived Diplomacy. You, too, can stop thinking with your gun.”
Wray lies down. Park curls around her. She presses her front to Wray’s back, wraps an arm around her, and interlaces their fingers beneath Wray’s chin.
“Ah. This one starts with a quote. ‘If you’re a peaceful explorer, you don’t walk around with your hands on an assault rifle’. Apparently, that was said by Dr. Daniel Jackson to Colonel Robert Makepeace on P3X-254, 1999.”
“They all have quotes,” Wray whispers. “The quotes at the beginning of each chapter and the Foreword are the only real Jackson in this book.”
“So, if I wanted to piss Telford off, those would be the parts to memorize?” Greer looks at her, eyebrows raised.
“Yup,” Wray says, and Park can hear the smile in her voice.
Greer begins to read in earnest. Park holds Wray. She watches Young wrap a hand around Nick Rush’s ankle.
She tries to feel the truth of what they are. A spirit wave, singing through the dark, whispering to itself, reading to itself, holding itself, looking after its own, whether they be waveform or particulate, whether they be traveling or stationary.
“It’s okay,” she says, knowing she’ll die in fire, on a bright world, beneath blue sky. “It’s okay. Get out of here. It’s okay.” She knows he’ll go. But even as the explosive fixed to her back counts its way toward her end, Rush doesn’t leave. Quick and clever, he works the device free. He hurls it away. He puts a spin on it, driving it through the air. She turns. For the span of a heartbeat she sees it, sailing away, glittering under an alien sun. And then the fire does come. The shockwave. Her face is pressed to the dirt because he’s thrown her down, put himself between her and the blast, taken the shower of rock and dust and shrapnel.
She studies Rush, lying in a dreamless sleep beneath the blue light of Ancient monitors. It’s because of him that she’s here. It’s because of him she’s alive, still ribboning herself through their shared matter wave, where the known and the unknown blend, where pluralia ex valides evulsa esse and many things can happen.