Mathématique: Chapter 17
"I'm not really dressed for a carjacking. I could use a new shirt."
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.
The day had long since faded down into the lonely dark of midnight in the Rocky Mountains. Pine-covered slopes stretched above and around the winding road—their grades sometimes steep, sometimes shallow, intermittently obscuring the pale cast that starlight and moonlight lent the asphalt.
Young’s fingertips lingered over grooves in the door of Jackson’s car where the glass of the window would fit, if it weren’t rolled down within its metal recess. He tried to focus on the feel of the air, the sound of the car—on anything besides the weight of the dense, hot, alien thing that seemed to have worked itself into his left side and set up residence there, entwining in and around the steel pins that bolted his bones into a workable frame.
They had been driving for hours.
It had been a questionable call to skirt Denver and continue north and west—to push so far so fast with Vala injured and with his own back seizing up the point that he was effectively useless; but given that the LA had infiltrated the SGC to such an extent that they could access the computational networks of the base—given that they had allied themselves with the Trust—given they succeeded in their foothold attempt long enough to gain access to the full informational resources of Cheyenne Mountain—
Well. If his imagined worst case scenario were indeed a reality, then to stop too soon, to make their location anywhere easily accessible, would be to ruin any chance that Rush had of making it out of this.
Young glanced over at the mathematician. The man was illuminated by the spectral green glow coming from the dashboard. The light reflected off the white of his shirt and glinted irregularly from the frames of his glasses. As Young watched, he shifted one hand away from the steering wheel to dig his fingers into his shoulder.
“Headache?” Young asked.
“Craig,” Rush said.
“Head injury?” Young asked, with a calculated laziness, not attempting to follow whatever it was that Rush thought should be self-evident about his pronouncement. “My name is Everett, by the way.”
Rush sighed. “You’re from Craig.”
“If you are referring to the Elk-hunting capital of the world,” Young replied, keeping his voice low, to avoid waking Vala, whom he suspected was asleep in the backseat, “then I regretfully inform you that not only are you wrong, but also that Craig is in northwest Colorado. Not Wyoming.”
Young snorted. “Plus, I know you got that one from a road sign not ten miles back, so—no points for style.”
“There are points for style now?” Rush asked, his words a dry, exhausted blur in the dark of the car. “How can there be any kind of assessment of style when it comes to guessing? Guessing inherently lacks style.”
“You have a thing against guessing?” Young asked, his gaze flicking away from the road, caught by the pale twin gleam of animal eyes in the dark. “How is that—even possible?”
“The only thing it has going for it is the fact that it’s a methodological approach geared at arriving at a correct outcome and therefore falls under the rubric of rational as opposed to irrational thought.”
Young smiled faintly and closed his eyes, trying to banish the creeping dread he couldn’t seem to shake. “It must be hard to be you,” Young said, following the dark outlines of the pines that stood beyond the reach of their headlights. “On so many levels.”
“Yes well,” Rush shrugged. Young waited a moment for him to follow the words up with some kind of dryly-delivered indirect insult, but—nothing was forthcoming.
For a moment they were quiet, listening to the dull roar of the engine and of the sound of tires over dry asphalt.
“So,” Young said, battling back against his own exhaustion, “what’s your story, hotshot?”
“Do you expect some kind of pat answer?”
“Why math?” Young tried.
“Why not math?” Rush countered.
Young looked out at the massing black of steep hillsides that surrounded the turning road.
“Because,” Young said carefully, “it seems like you’re the kind of guy who had options. Who has options. And the math seems to be driving you a little bit crazy. No offense.”
Rush said nothing.
“You’re not bad in a tight spot,” Young said.
Rush said nothing.
“And you’re good with—the tech stuff. Computers. You really could go to Atlantis,” Young said. “I wasn’t sure before. But you could handle it. You could turn on their devices for them—figure out what they do. Find all kinds of locks that no one knew to look for. Make your way onto a gate team, eventually. Co-chair a Mensa club on Saturdays with Sheppard or something.”
“Sheppard,” Rush repeated, his fingers drumming over the steering wheel. “What did you say his first name was?”
“John,” Young said, rolling his eyes slightly at the non sequitur.
“Mmm,” Rush said, his expression oddly intent.
“So what is it?” Young asked. “Why stay here, hunted by the Lucian Alliance, just to solve some problem? Some—series of problems? Why not just let go? Hang out on Atlantis, come back in a few years when some of this has died down?”
“No,” Rush said shortly.
“Yeah, consider me stonewalled. I get it’s a no. What I want to know is why.”
“Even if I don’t get all the way to a solution,” Rush said, “I’ll cut a decade off the solving time. Maybe more.”
“Not an answer.”
“It’s one of the final, unexplored—“
“I don’t need the funding pitch, Rush, I get that it’s an important problem.”
“You must know what it’s like,” Rush said quietly, “to look at a thing and to know that it will bring you nothing but misery. To know and to be unable, unwilling to turn away.”
The light was red and diffuse as he sped over the rust-colored rock in his borrowed craft. Ahead of him, spreading out over the horizon in a dark glitter, was the First City of the First World of the Sixth House, tumbling over the landscape in an irregular, dense mass.
“You must recognize that choice is often nominal because there are things, classes of things, that one—cannot live with.”
The air was hot, already carrying the tang of ash. The wind tore through his hair and whistled past the leather edges of his unfamiliar uniform. Fine grains of sand fell with a hiss on the transparent guard that offered limited protection from debris.
“Yeah,” Young said, his fingers tightening on the metal of the window frame. “But in life, Rush. In life. These cyphers—the gate—whatever lies beyond it—” Young trailed off, trying to frame his idea with words that weren’t cooperating. “You said it yourself. Until you open it—it’s an academic exercise. The math itself can’t make you face the kinds of choices you’re talking about. It can’t hold you here.”
“And what do you imagine that you know about it?” Rush asked with a restive, reflexive movement; a quick flick of hand-to-mouth that suggested the specter of a cigarette before the closing of his fist swallowed the gesture.
“Just—walk away. I don’t understand why you can’t walk away from this.”
“One does not walk away from mathematics,” Rush whispered. The road twisted, throwing them into the shadow of an overhanging rock wall that blocked the little moonlight that illuminated the interior of the car. “It’s a vocation.”
Young looked out into the dark. “I think you should go to Atlantis,” he said finally.
They completed the turn and the road spread out ahead of them, the moon giving the asphalt a faint silver glow outside the reach of their headlights.
Rush said nothing.
It was just past oh two hundred hours when Young decided they’d put enough distance between themselves and the base. It was time to make a call to the SGC. They pulled into a nearly deserted rest stop off the freeway, which sported a gas station and a service plaza.
“Why now?” Rush asked, pulling the keys out of the ignition and squinting into the fluorescent light that spilled out of the nearly empty buildings and onto the dark pavement. “Why here?”
“Because,” Young said grimly, “if things have gone south, we’ll need to steal a car.”
“What?” Rush asked, exhausted.
“Yup,” Young said, keeping the word as matter-of-fact as he could make it. He turned as far as he was able in his seat, and raised his voice. “Vala, wake up.”
“I wasn’t sleeping, I’ll have you know,” she replied, her tone low and her diction clearly sleep-blurred.
“Good,” Young replied, his eyes scanning the sidewalk in front of the gas station. “I’m going to find a payphone. Stay in the car and out of trouble. Both of you.”
“Oh come now, handsome,” Vala said, shifting with a pained sound. “We’re the most responsible combination of individuals that one could possiby imagine.”
“Why do I not find that reassuring?” Young growled. “Do me a favor and come up with a car-jacking plan? We might need one.”
“Oh with pleasure,” she whispered, her voice dropping and slowing with a faux note of seduction. “But I’m not really dressed for a car-jacking. I could use a new shirt.”
Young rolled his eyes and opened the door.
“Maybe one of those adorable blue ones that say ‘I heart Colorado’ on it? Except it’s a literal heart shape instead of the word heart? Well, I suppose it’s not the shape of a literal heart, but you know what I mean. I’m using your symbolic conventions here. Anyway, that would be fabulous. I’d take pink if they don’t have blue, and I’d take white if they don’t have pink.”
“Right,” Young said, beginning to ease himself out of his seat.
“Size small,” Vala added, devious and hopeful.
Young levered himself up and out of the door with the strength of his arms, trying not to put any weight on his left side before he was fully stable. He stood, feeling stiff muscles adjusting painfully to a new configuration.
“Need a hand?” Vala asked quietly from the open window.
“Need a leg is what I need,” Young replied. “I’m good.”
He supported himself along the warm hood of the car as he tried to coax cramped muscles into loosening, into allowing him to move forward with any kind of efficiency. By the time he reached the bank of pay phones, a cold sweat had broken out on his forehead. He leaned against the scuffed and clouded plastic of the booth before fishing in his pocket for the appropriate change. It was lucky they’d been able to find a payphone. Not too many of these things around anymore. He deposited the coins with the subtle clinking of metal on metal. For less than a second he hesitated, phone suspended in midair. Then he began to dial a number from memory.
He took a deep breath as he listened to the sound of ringing. There was the click of an opening connection and then—
“Mitchell.” The word had a bite. Unmistakably angry, and unmistakably Cam.
“Hey,” Young said, guarded.
“Everett?” Mitchell asked.
Young cleared his throat. “What’s the situation?”
“It’s ah—“ Mitchell replied, the sentence trailing off raggedly before it had a chance to get started. “It could be worse. The foothold’s resolved, but—“
Young shut his eyes. “Who.”
“Two new guys from SG-19. Lieutenant Thomas. And—“ Mitchell broke off.
“Who,” Young said again.
“Sam,” Mitchell said, hoarse and short, as if Young had ripped it out of him. “She’s not—“ Young could hear him inhale over the line. “She’s still hanging on, but it looks bad.”
“How bad?” Young asked.
“Real bad,” Mitchell said shortly. “Real real bad. One to the chest. Point blank.”
Young gripped the side of the phone booth and looked up at the plane of the galaxy.
“Cam,” he said.
“We shouldn’t talk on this line,” Mitchell whispered.
“I know,” Young said.
“Do you have her?” Mitchell asked. “Do you have them both? Please just fucking tell me you have her with you, Everett, because otherwise I swear to god I don’t know what I’m going to tell Jackson if—”
“Yes,” Young broke in. “Yes. She’s with us.”
“Good,” Mitchell whispered.
“We’re all okay,” Young said.
“We shouldn’t talk on this line,” Mitchell said again, dully.
“I know,” Young replied.
“Stay off the grid for another twenty-four hours,” Mitchell whispered. “As soon as you call in your code to dispatch, they’ll have to log it, and then we have to worry about who knows what. Better for you guys to lie low.”
“I know,” Young said. “You’ll let Landry know?”
“Yeah,” Mitchell said, the word clipped.
“This isn’t on you, Cam.”
“It isn’t on you.”
Mitchell said nothing.
“I know. Look, I’ve gotta go.”
The line went dead.
For a moment Young stood, holding the phone pressed to his ear, looking up at the sky, trying to determine how many of those stars were worlds where the Lucian Alliance held sway.
He wondered what had happened to Carolyn Lam. Or to that astrophysicist. Young couldn’t recall the man’s name.
Were they still here, on this world, or were they halfway-across the galaxy, prisoners of the Alliance?
A dial tone sounded in his ear, and he was suddenly cognizant of the warm plastic of the phone, still in his hand.
He limped back to the car, fighting the familiar fight against the agony in his back and side. As he approached Jackson’s Dart, he could hear the strains of Vala’s voice, low and indistinct beneath the sound of wind and insects.
“—and when you run,” Young heard her say as he approached, “you determine your path based on who’s chasing you. If they want you alive, if they won't risk shooting at you, then run straight. If they want to kill you, vary your trajectory. This will slow you down, gorgeous, but predictability leaves you as good as dead on the other side of any weapon meant for accuracy over long ranges—“ She broke off as Young opened his car door.
He wrapped his fingers around warm metal and half-fell back into his seat, managing to swallow a reflexive groan at the tearing sensation that accompanied the abrupt movement.
“Are you all right?” Rush asked.
“I’m good,” Young replied.
“I take it from the lack of T-shirt that a car-jacking is not required?” Vala asked, unable to completely hide the unease in her voice.
“No,” Young said. “We’re okay. Foothold situation is resolved, but we’re not gonna check in until tomorrow, just to be on the safe side.”
“Good,” Vala said, the strain clear in her voice. “Good. Because I would hate to resume my life of crime and give the members of a certain flagship team the satisfaction of—“
“Vala,” Young said, and her name cut off the flow of words so abruptly and completely that he knew she had been waiting for it.
Rush looked over at him, his expression raw in the harsh glow of the fluorescent lights.
“Sam Carter was shot,” Young said, twisting his body toward the back seat to the point that he felt too-tense muscles threaten to snap under duress. His eyes were fixed on the darkness behind the driver’s seat that was the limit of his sight.
“That can mean a lot of things,” Vala replied, her voice steady. “It can—“
“She took a round to the chest,” Young continued. “It doesn’t look good.”
In his peripheral vision, he caught a blur of motion as Rush leaned forward, bracing his right hand against the steering wheel and driving the base of his palm into his eye socket.
“What about the rest of the team?” Vala asked. “What about—“ she broke off.
“They’re okay. It was Cam I talked to.” Young shifted, releasing the painful, limited twist of his spine to look out the passenger-side window toward the highway that lay silent and untrafficked, hidden behind a wall of pine trees. The prospect of finding a place to stay seemed unreasonably daunting in the small, unfriendly hours of the morning.
He watched Rush reposition his hand, digging it into the back of his neck. “Headache?” Young asked.
Rush shifted his hand again to drag his finger through the air in a fluid approximation of a checkmark.
“We’ll find somewhere to stay,” Young said, “check in with dispatch in the morning.”
“Right,” Rush said, raw and nearly soundless.
Out of sight, the steady hiss of tires against asphalt rose and faded away.
“Well,” Vala said, the word starting small, but gaining momentum as she pulled it out. “Now that we don’t have to live out our lives as fugitives, avoiding any kind of paper trail—I’m certain that Daniel would want us to use his credit card to buy coffee,” Vala said, slapping her good hand against her leg with a desperately cheerful emphasis.
“Yeah?” Young said, letting her wring half a smile out of him. He locked eyes briefly with Rush.
“Yes, handsome. Daniel has very strong feelings about coffee and its availability to all persons. Coffee and Tylenol. Coffee and Tylenol and Scotch. Coffee and Tylenol and Scotch and T-shirts. And also snacks.”
“How do you have his credit card?” Young asked. “I thought it was just his keys.”
“Well. It’s a fascinating story, actually,“ Vala said. “I’ve been watching The X-files lately—it has some inherent interest for me, you know, being as I am what would be considered an ‘extra-terrestrial’ to you earthlings, and let me tell you that this show is filled with a lot of practical lessons for the resident alien who wants to blend in, though I must say it mainly showcases examples of what not to do. Anyway, as I was saying, when I find myself in a situation that—“
“I’ll buy the coffee,” Young said.
“A soldier and a gentleman,” Vala replied.
Despite the pessimistic slant of Young’s thoughts, it took them less than an hour to procure all of the items on Vala’s list, plus an unusually unappetizing assortment of processed food, minus an “I heart Colorado” t-shirt, and with the disappointing but prudent substitution of iced tea for Scotch. They retraced their path back to the nearest motel, where they paid in cash for an anonymous room with a pair of double beds.
Vala wasted no time in seating herself on the bed furthest from the door and cracking open an iced tea, the bottle braced between her knees.
Rush went straight for the Tylenol.
Young took a seat on the bed, picked up a package of chips, and tried to remember how his day had begun.
“Are you going to stare at that, or eat it, handsome?”
“Neither,” he said, tossing it aside. “You want me to take another look at your shoulder?”
“No,” Vala said, closing her eyes in a protracted blink. “It’s—enjoying its alone time right now.”
Rush vanished into the bathroom, shutting the door with perhaps more force than was necessary. Almost immediately, Young heard the sound of a faucet, turned on to its maximum extent.
“Great,” Young said, looking at the white-on-white where cheap paint of door met cheap paint of wall. He dug a hand into the knotted muscles of his back above his left hip. He was about to step forward, unwilling to let Rush work himself up behind closed doors, when Vala’s hand closed over his forearm.
He looked down at her.
She shook her head.
“I don’t think you realize—“ Young began.
“I do,” she said, cutting him off with a faint smile. “Of course I do.” She pulled delicately on his arm, her intent unmistakable, the weight of it adding to the press of gravity.
Something about her smile turned inward, a more personal curl. As if she could feel it on her face, she let her hair fall forward in a dark obscuring curtain.
“What?” he asked, half-smiling himself.
“Nothing, handsome. Nothing—you’re just—very like Daniel in some ways.”
“Like Jackson?” Young asked, not entirely certain whether to be offended or complimented.
“You look so scandalized,” she whispered conspiratorially, the light shining off her hair as she flicked it over her shoulder. She handed him an iced tea.
“Well, no offense,” Young said, “but I think you’re pretty off base on that one.”
“So certain of yourself,” Vala said, her eyebrows lifting subtly.
Young twisted the top off a bottle of iced tea. “You’re talking about what—“ he asked, taking a sip and grimacing at the taste of aspartame, “—my objecting to your stealing Jackson’s credit card? Or the fact that I’m not particularly inclined to leave an untrained civilian who just saw people killed, maybe for the first time, ever, to have a solo meltdown in the bathroom of a shitty motel?” His voice had dropped to a vehement whisper. “Because that kind of thing doesn’t really seem that complicated, and I don’t think you have to be anything like Jackson to feel that way.”
Her smile evened out, and took on a practiced cast as her eyes flicked down toward her hands and back up.
He had hurt her, somehow. “Vala—“
She shook her head sharply. “He deserves five minutes, don’t you think?” she asked. “He seems to be made of sterner stuff than most of you lot give him credit for.”
“Maybe,” Young said.
“And as far as the credit card goes, handsome, you’ll have to forgive my less than absolute faith in the long-term viability and solvency of your organization, which, given the events of this afternoon, seems more precarious than ever. I prefer the security of a backup plan.” The words were self-possessed and remote. She held herself stiffly, her injured arm clasped to her chest, her lips compressed.
“You put on a good show,” he said. “Really damn good.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” she whispered, her face and body held in total stillness.
“Yeah, you do,” he murmured. “The whole buy-me-a-t-shirt thing. The whole let-me-tell-you-about-the-time-I-defrauded-a-guy-out-of-a-starship thing. The credit cards and the shitty cocktails and the—“
“Sorry. Crappy cocktails.”
“Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, handsome.” Her tone was light, but her eyes were restive. Wary. She tucked her legs beneath her, subtly pulling away from him.
“You like being underestimated. You prefer things that way.”
Vala said nothing.
“I get it,” Young said. “I do. Big tactical advantage, being underestimated.”
Vala continued to watch him, unnaturally still.
“But it’s not a mistake I’m gonna make,” Young said carefully.
“Oh that’s what they all say, handsome,” Vala said, fingering the ends of her hair. “Each in their own way.”
“I don’t trust you,” Young said.
“I approve,” Vala said. “Trust no one.”
“Enough with The X-files, already,” he said, giving her a faint smile. “I don’t distrust you either.”
“That opinion puts you in firm alignment with the entire bureaucracy of the SGC,” she said. “Hence the probationary status.” She gave the edge of her blackened jacket a rueful flick where an insignia patch would be.
He felt a pang of sympathy for her. “I want to ask you something.”
“Fire away, handsome,” she said.
“You were a host. To a Goa’uld.”
“Yes,” Vala replied quietly.
“You’ve built empires. You’ve participated in the rise and fall of civilizations.”
“Yes,” she said, the word ragged.
“So what do you think?” Young asked. “Of us? Of this? Of all of this? What are our chances—with the Ori against us and the Lucian Alliance trying to beat us to unlocking the nine-chevron address?”
Vala looked down at the bedspread, strewn with brightly colored, unopened packages of food.
“What does this look like from your perspective?” he asked her.
“Did you know,” she whispered, smiling at an unopened bag of pretzels, “that no one’s ever asked me that? Not in all the time I’ve been here?”
“Not even Jackson?”
“Especially not ‘Jackson’.” She looked up at him. “I think you’re overextended,” she whispered, “and besieged on all sides. But I think that you’ve always been this way, so that isn’t a condemnation. Your rise to the status of a galactic power has been meteoric, and your fall could follow the same pattern. You risk much without unanimity of purpose and without global accord. As individuals, you’re maybe too in love with justice, but when you temper this with humor, it’s very forgivable.”
“Do you think we’ll survive this?” Young asked.
“As you are?” Vala asked, a little wistfully. “No.”
“I think Origin will come for your planet, and will conquer here.”
“Great.” He gave her a crooked smile.
“Sorry, handsome,” Vala whispered, “But—you did ask.”
“I did,” Young replied, one hand coming open in a half-helpless gesture. “So why stay here, trying like hell to join SG-1, if that’s what you really think?”
“Well, you never know,” Vala said, abruptly grabbing the bag of pretzels she’d been contemplating and ripping it open with her teeth, purposefully doing her best to tear though the ominous air in the room at the same time.“You’re a resourceful people. Plus—the intergalactic panache of SG-1 is quite notable. I figure there’s got to be a way to capitalize on that, even if your civilization does fail. Maybe some kind of planetary protection fee that I can charge for my—“
Young snorted, letting her lighten the mood.
“Nothing, Don Corleone.”
“I take issue with that comparison,” Vala said primly. “I’m much too charming and attractive for it to work.”
“How are you so good with Earth trivia?” Young asked. “Mitchell says that Teal’c still mixes his metaphors. He’s been here for a decade.”
“Well,” Vala said, “it’s all about attitude and interest sets. Speaking of which, where did you come from, handsome?” she asked, crunching on a pretzel. “Hmm? What’s with the whole—“ she made a vague sweeping motion in his direction, clearly meant to take in his nebulous injuries. “Don’t get me wrong, the whole ‘wounded soldier’ thing has an appealing mystique, but I get the feeling there’s a good story wrapped up inside that stoic packaging.”
“I am too tired and too sober to get into that,” Young said, pressing the heel of his hand into his lower back.
“Let’s be drinking buddies,” Vala said, gingerly leaning back against the pillows. “Tonight, alas, we find ourselves at the mercy of Colorado liquor laws which prohibit the sale of spirits between the hours of midnight and seven A.M.—but this won’t always be true.”
“No way,” Young said. “You’ll just break my heart.”
“Probably,” Vala replied, “but that’s pretty typical for me, I find.”
“What I mean,” Young clarified, eyeing the bathroom door, “is that you’re just going to abandon me as a drinking partner once this whole SG-1 thing becomes official.”
“Oh come now,” Vala said smiling faintly. “I’m known for my loyalty.”
The water shut off in the bathroom. The door opened and Rush paced into the room, with the edgy energy that seemed to resist a day and night of grueling, draining physical activity.
“And then,” Vala said, drawing out the word dramatically, “the man just dismissed me. As if the idea of an attractive, independent, sexy female alien was just preposterous. Can you believe this?”
“Um, no?” Young said, trying not to appear too nonplussed by her clear attempt to distract Rush with whatever conversation she thought would be most suitable to such a purpose.
Rush eyed them both.
“Here gorgeous,” Vala said, “have a pretzel.” She held out the bag in his direction. “I was just telling Colonel Young about my meeting with a very important Hollywood screen writer last week. Apparently, they’re making Wormhole X-Treme into a feature-length film? Have you seen this show? It’s terribly popular, and based on SG-1.”
“No,” Rush said shortly. Then, what she’d said seemed to catch up with him. “Furthermore, such a thing seems—imprudent.”
“It’s completely ridiculous,” Young said, “but it’s good plausible deniability for the Air Force.”
“I have a bit of a crush on Grell the robot, I must admit,” Vala said.
“You don’t,” Young said. “Everyone likes Dr. Levant. Literally everyone.”
Vala shook the pretzels at Rush as he approached to reclaim his partially consumed iced tea. “It’s all lies, gorgeous,” Vala said, “don’t believe a word he’s saying. Dr. Levant is boring and sanctimonious.”
“I’m entirely uninterested, I assure you,” Rush said dryly, accepting Vala’s pretzel offer.
“Very discerning of you,” Vala replied.
Rush sat on the edge of the bed, next to Vala, and pressed the heel of his hand into his right eye.
“I think we should all get some sleep,” Young said.
“I insist that we share a bed, gorgeous,” Vala said, with a quick catch and release of the cuff of Rush’s dress shirt. “And I insist that you tell Daniel.”
Young woke only a few hours later, lying atop the covers of his still-made bed. He jerked to alertness with a reflexive, painful tensing of muscles, fighting his way free of troubled dreams.
An obsidian floor.
A woman’s boot, crafted of black leather.
The lights were off, concealing the peeling paint and disintegrating carpet, but doing nothing for the chemical smell of bleach that wafted from the bathroom and mingled unpleasantly with the suggestion of cigarette smoke that had seeped into every porous surface in the room over years of intermittent occupancy.
Rush was awake. He was sitting at the small table positioned next to the window, using the dim light from the parking lot that filtered in through the partially opened blinds to write on a small notepad.
Young shut his eyes. Then he opened them again. He got up, fighting his way past the muscle spasm that clamped down on his freedom of movement. He dragged himself over to the table and dropped onto a hard seat, opposite Rush.
“Hey,” Young whispered, trying not to wake Vala.
“Hello.” The word was equally quiet, and Rush didn’t look up from whatever it was that he was writing.
“It’s five in the morning,” Young said.
“Did you want anything in particular?” Rush asked, still not looking up.
“It’s four in the morning,” Young repeated. “You have to be exhausted.”
The flow of the pen over the page paused briefly as Rush lifted his hand in a vaguely dismissive gesture.
Young sighed. “You wanna talk about it?”
“Why?” Rush asked. “Do you have any insights to bring to bear on joint applications of entangling Hamiltonians?”
“I didn’t mean the math. Is that even math?”
“From your perspective? Yes. Is it pure math? No.”
“You were nearly abducted,” Young pointed out. “Again.”
“I’m aware of that,” Rush replied.
“You saw people killed.”
“I’m aware of that too.”
“You found out you’re genetically—special, or whatever.”
“This is not news to me. I’m Scottish.”
Young exhaled, short and frustrated and amused. He looked down at the surface of the table, absently dragging a brochure for some nearby attraction out from the shadowed place beneath the curtains where Rush had shoved it. He watched the pale white light that entered obliquely through the window reflect off its surface as he distorted it. He could feel Rush watching him. “No one,” Young said without looking at him, “takes this kind of thing like you’re taking it. No one.”
“Evidence would indicate—“
“Unless,” Young said, cutting him off. “Unless there’s something else going on in their life or in their past that—contextualizes it. That puts it in perspective. Takes out its teeth.”
Rush said nothing.
Young watched the delicate coordination of Rush’s left thumb and ring finger as he subtly twisted his wedding band. Once. Twice. Three times.
Abruptly, Rush laid his hand flat against the wood of the table.
They locked eyes.
“Yes, well,” Rush whispered, “we all carry our own metrics by which we judge the world.”
“Yup,” Young said quietly.