Mathématique: Chapter 19
“It’s not a fan club,” McKay said indignantly, his eyes flashing toward Rush and then away. “It’s a journal club.”
Revised Author’s Notes: This is a piece of fan fiction. It’s a trope-twisting, epic-length, crossover AU that spans all three series of Stargate. There’s a lot of science. A lot of plot. A lot of emotions. Timelines have been slightly altered so that season 4 of Stargate Atlantis (without Carter in command) occurs contemporaneously to season 10 of SG-1, which occurs in the year prior to season 1 of SGU.
Disclaimer: I’m not making money from this; please don’t repost to other sites.
Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Injuries.
It had been a week since Rush had escaped from Cheyenne Mountain—out of the mist and the directed electrical discharges, along the winding wilderness of Route 24 and back again.
During the days that followed—consisting of an interminable haze of poorly organized debriefings that had required nearly all of the mental disciple he could bring to bear to endure—it had tormented him.
The genetic requirement.
Even when fully engaged in the thick of his work—sessions with Dr. Perry, developing a method for entangling a laptop with an Ancient control crystal—he couldn’t let it go.
A genetic requirement.
The more he considered it, the more it disquieted him.
He didn’t like it. He could feel, in the concept, something antithetical to his own world view. Something he’d set himself against. Even now, he pushed the idea away, this bounding of intellectual potential by and into a four-letter code, a digital yes or no sealed in an arrangement of nucleotides that ultimately would grant or withhold access in a chemical predestination worthy of John fuckin’ Knox.
And this genetic requirement was designed to determine what, then, exactly?
Not whom he was, certainly. It could be no indicator of what he’d achieved or accomplished. Ancient technology, keyed to a genetic allotment over which he had no control? A product of nothing but chance and natural selection?
He shut his eyes, and tried not to think of genetics.
If he could re-create himself, he would do it.
“—and really the main thing is to always be aware of your surroundings,” Young was saying.
Rush sighed, tipping his head back against the seat back.
“Don’t sigh dramatically, hotshot, everything follows from situational awareness. You’re a quick thinker, which is helpful in terms of making spur of the moment decisions—like, do I wait or do I run, that kind of thing, though, the answer to that one is almost always run, just so you know.”
Young was driving.
Young was driving and monologueing.
Young was driving and monologueing and Rush was doing his best not to have a migraine on the eve of his first trip through the gate.
“That being said, there are some things that you’re going to want to get in the habit of thinking about. Like the configuration of symbols that you need to dial home, for example. Not literally the address itself, which, obviously, is important as well; that goes without saying. I’m talking about the spatial arrangement of panels, in case you have to dial it quickly. If you’re under fire, you really should dial the alpha site, especially now. Post-foothold situations they always tighten down the security protocols at homeworld command—“
Over the past few days it seemed that Young had been trying to condense the entire substance of a hypothetical—or maybe it was actual, Rush had no idea—military curriculum and deliver it to him in free-form, poorly organized, stream-of-consciousness lectures disguised as conversations.
“—you’re not a soldier, and you also seem to have some kind of baseline mistrust for the chain of command for whatever reason, but you have to understand that in these kinds of situations, civilian or not, you’re expected to follow orders. You’re going to have to just suck it up and do it, Rush, even if you can’t—“
He wasn’t certain what the impetus was behind these information-poor, imperative-heavy, gesticulation-punctuated diatribes that Young seemed determined to subject him to.
“—necessarily rationalize to yourself why it might be important. You have to accept the fact that you’re not trained for this kind of thing and you need to defer to the people who are, and trust that by virtue of their experience—“
Uh huh. He wasn’t particularly keen on trust.
“—they have the insight necessary to make the right call.”
As if there were any such thing as ‘the right call.’ Even if there were, how would one ever verify it?
“So when you’re told to run, you run. You’re told to dial the gate? You dial the gate.”
Even behind his sunglasses, even behind the closed lids of his eyes, the sun was searing.
“Are you even listening to me?”
“No,” Rush replied. “I’m trying to decide whether—in the unlikely event you found yourself in some kind of bizarre mathematics competition where death was a potential outcome—whether or not my advice to you in that scenario would be better organized than yours to me, in this one.”
Young was silent.
“The answer I think is yes,” Rush replied. “Unsurprisingly.”
“I recommended you to go into the field.” Young growled. “I can always unrecommend you.”
“Undermining your own judgment in the eyes of command?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Rush cracked his eyes open as he felt the familiar sequence of accelerations and decelerations that accompanied the turns that comprised the final approach to the base. “Meaning?” he asked.
“You don’t have the security clearance for that one,” Young replied.
“Ah,” Rush replied delicately.
“Just—“ Young said, “don’t do anything stupid.”
“A statistical improbability.”
“Don’t break the DHD.”
“And don’t get abducted,” Young said.
Rush looked out into the merciless blaze of late morning sun. “I’ll consider it.”
Silence fell between them as Young pulled through the security checkpoint. They flashed their IDs in simultaneous, ipsilateral pressings of plastic to glass.
“This isn’t the way things are usually done,” Young said, as the guards waved them through.
“Oh no?” Rush asked, pitching his voice somewhere in between a true interrogative and something purely rhetorical. He looked up at the unrelenting blue of the sky as Young pulled into a parking spot. Did it never rain here?
“No,” Young said, killing the engine. He made no move to exit the car.
Rush looked over at him.
“This is such bullshit,” Young whispered.
Rush raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
“Sending you offworld with no training to speak of because to train you would be to create a record that could then be leaked? So instead they’re letting a guy through the gate without clearance, with nothing on the books—nothing above board? It just doesn’t feel right. There’s shit you’re supposed to do before you get cleared to go through the gate. Physical evaluations. Mental evaluations.”
“I can’t say I’m sorry to have missed the mandatory orientation,” Rush replied, his hand, on the car door handle.
“Those forms, those checkboxes, that you skipped straight over? They exist for a reason, Rush.”
“I’m sure.” A quick flex of his wrist swung the car door out into a wall of heat. He turned to watch Young drag himself out, one hand wrapped around the top of the car, where the sun-absorbing black paint must have been uncomfortably hot.
Young stared him down behind sunglasses. “You’re a lot of work.”
Rush wasn’t entirely sure what the other man meant by that. He slammed his car door shut.
They didn’t speak as they entered the base, nor as they rode the elevator down to level twenty-one, nor as Young led the way to the empty locker rooms. Young opened a locker that was clearly his own and pulled out a set of green fatigues.
“Get changed,” Young said. “You can leave your stuff in there,” he indicated the locker with a tilt of his head, his expression tight and fixed. “Then report to the gate room.”
Rush felt the mental crack of a shattering assumption but did his best to betray nothing. He began unbuttoning his shirt. “You’re not coming,” he said.
“No.” Young didn’t look at him.
“This was—” he paused. The idea of Young accompanying him had been nothing more the implied during the past week.
“I’m on light duty,” Young said.
“Right,” Rush said. “Of course.”
“This mission’s been compartmentalized,” Young said, still looking away as Rush pulled the standard issue black t-shirt down over his head. “People pulled from different places and told the bare minimum. They’re scrambling a special team for this. Finding the people with the least LA contact and the best skills—and putting them together into a group that’s hopefully going to stay out of your way and not abduct you.”
Rush sighed, sending his shoes into the bottom of Young’s locker with a hollow clang.
“So who’s nominally in charge of this thing?”
“Nominally?” Young echoed, with a faint note of disbelief in his voice.
Young looked up at the ceiling. “I have no idea. All personnel decisions were General Landry’s call, and have been kept classified. I’ve got a ten minute window to brief whomever it is that starts—“ he looked at his watch, “about three minutes from now, so—“
“Right,” Rush said, finishing with the pants and starting with the standard issue boots. “See you later, then.”
Young looked over at him. “Keep it together, hotshot.”
Rush shot him a dark look. “Don’t fucking undermine my credibility to whomever you brief.”
The corner of Young’s mouth quirked slightly. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Don’t break your other leg.”
“Shut up, Rush.”
Rush did not look up from tying his boots, but he did pause to hold up three fingers.
“Remember what I told you about being aware of your surroundings. Whatever happens, make sure you don’t lose track of your position relative to the gate. Always know how to dial home. Don’t forget to send your GDO code, and for god’s sake, don’t lose your GDO.”
Rush wondered if he had done anything specific to indicate profound incompetence to Young. The answer to that was probably yes. He suspected that no matter how many times he pulled Young out of an anoxic gas he was never going to live down the fact that he’d developed heat exhaustion in his own apartment. “Yes yes.” He finished tying his boots and pulled on the jacket, which seemed to come with pre-equipped pockets. It felt heavy as he settled it across his shoulders.
“Gate room,” Young said. “Assembly time is in ten.”
Young turned and left the locker room.
Rush spent a moment inventorying his pockets, which contained a device he assumed was a GDO, two silver-wrapped power bars, a compass, a set of small field binoculars, a knife, a pen, three plastic bags labeled with a red and black biohazard symbol, and an extremely slim volume entitled, Managing the Emerging Crisis: A Linguistic Approach, edited by Dr. Daniel Jackson.
He opened the book, squinted at the miniscule type, then pulled out his glasses. At the top of each page was an English phrase and below it were corresponding phrases in different languages with a phonetic guide to pronunciation:
Kree tol! (Goa’uld)
Non sagittent! (Ancient)
Ikke skyt! (Asgardian)
Rin nok! (Goa’uld, Tok’ra variant)
Ne pafas! (Noxian)
Ch’kan. [with falling intonation on last syllable] (Later Unas, P3X-888 regional variant)
Saehara avet! (Tollan)
Ahash? [hissed with rising intonation] (Wraith)
Fucking Jackson. The man was inescapable. Rush shut the book, pocketed it, and proceeded to the gate room.
He’d seen the gate only once, after he’d pulled apart its internal schematics on paper, in code, and in his mind. He’d needed to see it. He’d needed to know that it truly existed. That it was a material as well as a mental construct. That the lock was real. That it had a physical correlate.
He’d never seen it active.
When he arrived in the embarkation room, the gate dominated the space just as he remembered it—sitting perfectly centered at the base of a long vertical shaft that stretched above it, through the heart of Cheyenne Mountain. There was a robotic probe at the base of the ramp, being fussed over by two technicians. Near a crate of equipment, looking it over with a familiar stillness, was Amanda Perry.
“Please tell me they’ve concocted some way for you to come along,” Rush said, coming up beside her.
The flicker of her eyelids and the fractional tilt of her head suggested he’d surprised her. He moved around to stand directly in her line of sight.
“I wish,” she replied, her smile carrying none of the regret he could hear in her voice. “But I’ll only be a radio wave away.”
He nodded and sat down on a sturdy-looking plastic bin that was positioned next to Perry’s delicate equipment. From between the padded slats of the crate, he could see the styrofoam kit containing custom designed, classical-to-quantum, USB-to-crystal interface.
“Nervous?” Perry asked.
“No,” Rush said, looking over at the gate.
“Liar,” Perry shot back, the amused quirk of her mouth robbing the word of any kind of bite.
Rush gave her a one-shouldered shrug.
“Well, we’re as prepped as it’s possible to be. You realize that if this works, you’re advancing the field of quantum hacking well beyond the current field of quantum computing, which is not how these things are supposed to go.”
“I do not ‘hack’,” Rush replied archly.
“Let’s call it 'Q-hack',” Perry replied. “We could start a weekly interest group.”
Rush raised his eyebrows at her.
“What?” Perry said. “The Historical Unit has a book club.”
“I am not starting an—interest group.”
“I think you might want to reconsider,” Perry said. “Because word on the science grapevine is that in order for funding to the Icarus Project to continue, we’re going to need to comply with a special request.”
Rush narrowed his eyes. “We?”
“Well, if you’re looking for accuracy, it’s really only you.”
“Meaning that there’s been a suggestion slash order that you render the computational cyphers within the gate in such a way that they could be placed into a highly anticipated MMORPG.”
“A what?” Rush asked her, trying to place the acronym.
“A computer game,” Perry supplied. “For the masses.”
He stared at her, not so much at a loss for words as at a loss for thoughts. Incontrovertible stupidity occasionally had that effect on him, especially when it came as a surprise.
“Could you—repeat that, possibly? I don’t think I can have understood you correctly.”
She gave him a sympathetic lift of the eyebrows. “A game,” she repeated. “A massively multiplayer online role-playing game. This comes straight from Felger,” she said, “and he’s usually not wrong. At least, not about departmental gossip.”
He stared at her.
“Like—that teenagers play?” She continued, when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to say anything. She watched him uncertainly, as if she was trying to work out whether he was professionally traumatized or being purposefully obtuse.
Rush braced his hands against the crate that he was sitting on.
“When they’re supposed to be doing other things? Say, math homework, as a hypothetical example?” she clarified.
“What could the purpose of such a request possibly be?”
“Harnessing the untapped genius of the proletariat? Crowd-sourcing the gamers? Obviating the entire field of academic cryptography? Irritating you to the point of psychological insolvency?” Perry listed.
Rush stared up into the black shaft above them.
“I had a feeling that this might be your reaction,” Perry continued, amused. “So I figured I’d give you a heads up before the powers that be corner you and—well. Proposition you.”
“No,” he said.
“I know,” Perry replied.
“I can’t—“ he said, still staring at the ceiling but freeing up a hand to gesture vaguely at the walls.
“I know,” Perry said.
“How could anyone possibly—“
“I know,” Perry said.
“You have my pity.”
“I’d prefer your empathy, frankly.”
“You might be in luck there,” Perry said, a quick smile escaping her, “especially if you ask me nicely. But we could use more help if they succeed in pushing this on us. Hence, the interest group—it would be only an internal memo away from becoming a computational task force, if it comes to that.”
“It’s not going to come to that, because it’s fucking ludicrous.” He half turned away from her. He could feel a small muscle in his jaw beginning to twitch.
“Hey,” Perry said. “Nick.”
“It would require a computational model of the entire cypher system,” he said. “It would require an interactive theorem prover that was integrated with graphical rendering of—whatever it is that they render in computer games. It would require automated proof checking. Do I look like a specialist in automated theorem proving?”
“I could see it,” Perry said, with a dry smile.
“Do we even know whether the logical underpinnings should be monotonic?”
Perry shook her head marginally. “This is not the way to go,” she said.
Rush tipped his head to look at her over the tops of his glasses? “Oh really? Because I’m fairly fucking certain that consequence relation is fairly fucking salient. But please. Enlighten me. How would you proceed?”
Perry smirked at him. “What I mean,” she clarified, pausing to swallow, “is that this is not the way to go if you want to convince them that their request is ridiculous. Because it seems like you’re already—“
“I’m not,” Rush snapped. “I’m not. It’s out of the question. Absolutely out. I’m not coding this into some—“
“Bleeding edge, top of the line, MMORPG?” Perry supplied.
“Into some game, so that some senator can find me a misunderstood underachiever as a personal assistant that I. Do. Not. Need.”
“I get it,” Perry said, the corner of her mouth quirking again, “but I’m not the one you’re going to have to convince.”
“I didn’t mean to bring this up now,” Perry said, her eyes flicking toward the dark arch of the gate. “I know you’ve got a lot going on, but I didn’t want them to blindside you and have you get stuck with this because you were too surprised to—you know—calibrate your disdain up to levels that are lethal to this kind of bureaucratic crap.”
“Yes well—“ he shifted, tugging absently at his unfamiliar green jacket. “It really doesn’t matter, because it’s not even remotely feasible.”
Perry looked at him with a skeptical sort of sympathy that he felt did not bode well for his ability to avoid capitulating to pointless assignments from senators.
“So—“ she paused to clear her throat. “Are you ready for this?”
He shook his hair back, shoved his hands into his pockets. “Meaningless question,” he replied.
“I suppose it is,” she replied, dropping her eyes, “especially when you have a particular task you’re required to accomplish. A specific problem to solve. But, when considered in isolation, there’s something about leaving the planet that seems like it might be—liberating. No matter the circumstances.”
“Not if one is required to come back,” Rush said, giving her a twisted smile.
She returned his smile uncertainly for a few seconds before speaking again. “I’ll be here,” she said, “if you have trouble with the entanglement and you need to play the phone-a-friend card.”
“Thank you,” he said.
They both turned their heads as a collection of gun-bedecked people walked into the room. Colonel Young was amongst them, conversing quietly with another man with dark, spiked hair wearing a black uniform of a subtly different cut than those Rush had seen around the base. There was another man dressed in black who scanned the room and zeroed in on Rush and Perry straight away with an intent, interested look. Three other people in green, all of whom were equally rifle-laden, brought up the rear.
“Oh my god,” Perry squeaked.
Rush looked at her, eyebrows raised.
“They are pulling out all the stops for you, my friend,” she murmured. “That’s Rodney McKay.”
“Who’s Rodney McKay?” Rush whispered back.
“Only the guy who built an intergalactic gate bridge between two galaxies, traversing the greatest interstellar distance on record. Only the guy who’s considered the preeminent expert on Ancient technology—including stellar drives, geodesic shielding principles, and zero-point energy. Only the guy who walked through an energy-based life-form to manually throw an active naquadah generator through an open gate. Only the guy who managed to think his way out of a lethal genetic modification. That’s all.”
“Quite the resume,” Rush replied.
“They must have come through Midway for you,” Perry said absently.
He debated asking her what ‘Midway’ might refer to, but instead he just said, “Ah.”
Rush stood as they approached, and Perry directed her wheelchair back slightly.
“All right,” Young said as they fanned out around him. “Guys, this is Dr. Nicholas Rush. Rush, this is Colonel John Sheppard,” Young indicated the man to his right with a tip of his forehead.
“Hey,” Sheppard said, giving him a distinctly unmilitary wave of the hand.
“Sergeant Greer,” Young continued, going around the circle, “Major Reaves, Airman Atienza, and,” he paused, glancing over at the last remaining man, who could only be McKay, “your tech help.”
“Oh very funny,” McKay snapped, and stepped forward, his hand extended. “Dr. Rodney McKay,” he said.
Rush shook his hand.
“I pictured you taller,” McKay said, stepping back.
“I didn’t picture you at all,” Rush replied, raising his eyebrows.
“I envy you,” Young’s said to Sheppard. “I really do.”
“Thanks,” Sheppard said, the word a dry pull. “And now that we all know each other,” he turned to look up at the control window overlooking the room, “you guys want to fire this thing up?” he shouted at the window above their heads, pointing at the stargate with his thumb.
“Why Atlantis personnel?” Rush asked Young, eyeing McKay with narrowed eyes as the scientist began chatting with Perry.
“Apparently this was Landry’s plan all along. The LA doesn’t have a foothold in the Pegasus Galaxy. Greer and Atienza just came up for team assignment through the internal military track, and Reaves is coming back from six months of extended maternity leave. All of them have had no demonstrable involvement with the LA.”
“I see,” Rush said.
“McKay’s an ass, but he knows his stuff,” Young said. “And Sheppard—well, Sheppard was a genius call on Landry’s part.” He glanced at Rush and then away again. “For a lot of reasons. Just stick with him, do what he says, and you’ll be fine. You’ll like him. He’s your kind of guy.”
Rush looked over at Sheppard, who was speaking intently to the three other military personnel, directing his comments mainly toward Greer and Atienza with an occasional glance in Reaves’ direction. He tried to discern anything in the man’s demeanor that seemed particularly noteworthy, but came up with nothing.
“You look so skeptical,” Young said.
“This is not an unusual state for me.”
“I get that. Stay out of trouble, will you?” Young asked.
“I’ll do my best,” Rush replied coolly.
“All nonessential personnel, please clear the gateroom.” The words frayed with a hint of static as they echoed faintly off the cement around them.
“That’s me,” Young said, a rueful edge to his tone. “Nonessential.”
There wasn’t anything Rush could say to that, but he watched Young walk away, following Amanda Perry out of the room.
He flinched slightly as chevrons lit up with clang of metal-on-metal and the gate began its nearly silent spin, angular speed coming up and rapidly stabilizing before halting again as the first chevron engaged. It spun back the other way before the second chevron locked. Its motion resembled nothing so much as a permutation-based lock—even the spin and stop of the ring suggested it. He found it nearly impossible to believe that so many people had seen this exact motion, so many people had used the gate as a door, and yet—and yet, no one had thought to look for the lock that must be there.
Another chevron slid into place.
‘Must be there?’
He’d been reasoning inductively.
Another chevron locked.
Inductive or not, he’d been right.
Another chevron locked.
“Have you seen it in action before?” Sheppard asked, stepping into place next to him.
Another chevron locked.
“No,” Rush replied.
“It’s pretty dramatic,” Sheppard said. “Just so ya know.”
The seventh chevron locked and the nascent event horizon exploded outward in an unstable vortex tearing apart the air; chaotic, stochastic, irregular, and with a non-zero vorticity that made it look like nothing so much as a literal fluid as space warped to the point of tearing and then stabilized across an event horizon with a diameter that should have been a physical impossibility.
Rush steadied himself, then studied it for a moment.
“It’s blue,” he said.
“Yeah,” Sheppard replied. “Why wouldn’t it be blue?”
“Because it’s a one way tear in space time from which nothing should emerge, including light.”
“McKay,” Sheppard called over to the scientist, who was fiddling with something on the MALP. “Why is the event horizon blue?”
“Because that’s the color of the cosmic ocean,” McKay called back over his shoulder.
“Thanks, Carl,” Sheppard replied dryly. “Seriously McKay, why blue?”
McKay looked up briefly. “Wait, like, seriously seriously? Are you actually asking me this?”
“Yeah,” Sheppard said.
“You’ve been going through the gate for four and a half years, and it just now occurred to you to wonder why it’s blue?” McKay stepped back from the MALP as it ascended the ramp and turned to look at them. “Oh,” he said looking at Rush. “Right. New guy. The blue light is emitted from a unique force field that demolecularizes matter and queues it up for transmission. The fluctuations you see are a product of the ‘real’ event horizon influencing the field. You really should know this—aren’t you the guy who looked at the internal schematics and managed to turn them into the mother of all MENSA challenges?”
“At no point was ‘blue’ specified,” Rush replied.
“Well, here’s a tip. Active force fields tend to emit, and this one is always active when the gate is on.”
“Yes,” Rush said. “I can see that.”
“You’ve got to integrate this stuff on the fly,” McKay said, snapping his fingers in Rush’s general direction. “That’s another tip. Theoretical to practical. Like that.” He snapped his fingers a final time, looking not at Rush, but tracking the MALP as it vanished through the gate, then peering over a sergeant’s shoulder at hand-held video interface.
Rush could feel a muscle in his jaw begin to subtly twitch.
“He’s kind of—“ Sheppard began, shifting his weight slightly. “An acquired taste.”
“Surely you jest,” Rush replied.
“He and this other guy, Zelenka—they run a journal club on Atlantis, devoted to computational complexity theory,” Sheppard said, keeping his voice low.
Rush turned to look at him.
“Once a month,” Sheppard said. “For about a year now. Nice paper, by the way.”
“Read it, have you?”
“Yeah,” Sheppard said, drumming the flingers of his left hand over the strap of his rifle in a slow pattern. “But don’t out me.”
“Are you talking about me?” McKay asked, shouldering one of the packs on the gateroom floor and coming toward them. “You have that look like you’re—“
“Nope,” Sheppard said lazily. “I was just telling Dr. Rush about his fan club on Atlantis.”
“It’s not a fan club,” McKay said indignantly, his eyes flashing toward Rush and then away. “It’s a journal club.”
“Potato, potahto,” Sheppard said.
“And it’s not devoted to Rush. It’s devoted to computational complexity theory.”
“And in the fourteen meetings you guys have had, how many—“
“Look, he’s very influential within the field,” McKay snapped, interrupting Sheppard before the man managed to get his question out.
Rush stepped away from the pair of them, leaving them to the friendly flow of their cut and riposte. He moved laterally, away from the crated crystals and electronics, to stand at the base of the ramp directly opposite the open gate. He hadn’t wasted much time picturing either the immensities of the distances that the gate network warped to nothing or the physical sensations of being warped himself. Such things had been and remained immaterial to his purposes. But because he had not spent any time anticipating this moment, he found himself taken aback at the physical appearance of the active gate, and the feeling that it elicited.
As if, already, simply by looking at it, a pressure valve had snapped open in his mind and the closed system in which he found himself had given way to an option that had always existed, even though he hadn’t known it.
“It’s not as bad as all that.”
Rush glanced to his left to see one of the sergeants standing next to him, eyes fixed on the gate.
“I beg your pardon?” Rush asked him, letting his gaze flick to the man’s jacket, where his surname was emblazoned.
“You’re eyeing that thing up pretty good,” Greer said. “I’m just letting you know that it’s not that bad.”
“I don’t waste my time anticipating the inconsequential.”
“For a science guy?” Greer asked, with a rhetorical acidity to his tone that Rush found more reassuring than vague platitudes, “that would be a first.”
“Such a pronouncement would carry a bit more weight if you seemed at all experienced,” Rush replied dryly. “How old are you?”
“Old enough,” Greer said.
Overhead, the sound of General Landry’s voice echoed through the speakers in the wall. “MALP telemetry is clear. You have a go.”
“Reaves and Atienza, you’re on point,” Sheppard said, walking forward in step with McKay. “Greer, you’re with McKay.”
Sheppard moved to stand next to Rush as the other four positioned themselves in an economical sorting and started up the ramp. Ahead of them, the rest of the team cast dark outlines against the bright blue of the gate until one by one they vanished into emitted light.
Sheppard, who had been a half-step ahead of Rush as they ascended the ramp, stopped right on the threshold of the open gate. “It’s only your first time your first time,” he said.
Rush supposed that was true.
He extended a hand, his fingertips grazing the rippling barrier, disappearing from sight where they entered the blue of the event horizon. His nerves transmitted nothing but the sense of air that was still and isothermic relative to his skin. There was no point in either further ceremony or empirical testing.
With his eyes open, he stepped through the gate.