Mathématique: Chapter 1

“You said this ‘moving’ was a cultural rite of passage.”

Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Grief. Physical injuries. Mental health challenges. Passive suicidality.

Text iteration: A hot tea on a summer morning.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 1

It was too fuckin’ hot.

Nicholas Rush lay on his floor, eyes shut. He listened to an insect flutter against the glass of the window and tried not to move as sweat trickled down his temples and beaded back into his hair like tears. Blood. Seawater, maybe. All of it subject to gravity.

Moronic train of thought, that.

It was interesting though, the way separated things fell away and down, tears and blood and leaves and books that were dropped and rain and he was certain that of all the fundamental forces, gravity was his favorite because it was the most mysterious and forgiving and it pulled things together. Electromagnetism was his least favorite because it was hard and ruthless and bright and kept things from merging into the same spaces.

He was drunk. Drunk or dehydrated or tired. He wasn’t sure which, and they weren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe he had heatstroke? He was fair certain he’d feel worse if he had heatstroke.

He heard the quiet chime of the elevator through his closed door.

“No, angle it—the other way. No—the other other way.”

“I don’t remember couches being this heavy.”

Rush suppressed a spike of venom against couches as a concept, that unseen couch in particular, people who designed couches, people who constructed them, people who sold them for a living, as well as anyone who owned one of the bloody things—a set of which he was a member, if one included previous couch ownership, which one really should because anything else was just lying.

“Vala. Stop. You’re not helping.”

He’d suspected when he first heard them that one of the unseen speakers was Dr. Daniel Jackson, archeologist to the (literal, astrophysical) stars; now he was certain.

“Vala, we’re not carrying this couch while you’re lounging on it.”

He wasn’t sure who this Vala character was, but he liked her already.

Jackson was too kind for a man of his supposed intelligence. That was the crux of the problem. There was something wrong with him. Perhaps he wasn’t human? Such things were possible these days, given “stargates” were real and alien life existed.

“You brought me here under false pretenses.” A woman’s voice came low and indistinct through the wood of the door. “You said this ‘moving’ was a cultural rite of passage.”

Rush smiled faintly.

“This is a cultural rite of passage.”

“That’s pretty weak, Jackson.”

“In my experience, rites of passage generally involve less work and more food,” Vala replied.

“Your experience is atypical.” Jackson sounded annoyed.

“The Linguistics Department Bake Sale was a ‘rite of passage,’ and it involved food,” Vala said, in a neat riposte.

“How is a bake sale a ‘rite of passage’?” Jackson asked. “Stop taking Teal’c so seriously.” 

“The ritual preparation of food for the greater good in the company of one’s peer group when undertaken for the first time very much counts as a ‘right of passage’.” There was a prim twist to Vala’s tone.

“She’s got ya there,” the other man said. “C’mon, Jackson. She’s not that heavy,”

“But it’s the principle of the thing,” Jackson grunted.

Rush opened his eyes and it was like getting knifed by photons—eye to brain, bilateral and remorseless and everything one imagined when one imagined a photosensitive headache. He shut his eyes again. He wondered if he could stand up. It’d need to happen soon, because there was zero chance Jackson would vacate the premises without knocking on his door, and there were certain standards Rush had to maintain in order to continue sustainably.

Not killing himself via dehydration was on that list.

Turning over was more difficult than it should’ve been. His muscles felt uncooperative and loose, as if they’d determined where things were headed and abandoned him to gravity. If dead civilizations sank under the detritus of the new, then it followed it’d be the same with graves. He didn’t want to be cremated; he just wanted to be buried, to feel this press always, to sink into the ground, to solidify into the stone crust over the liquid core of the Earth, spinning fast enough to generate a magnetic field that protected the seas from solar radiation.

He buried his head in his arms, face down on the wooden floor.

How long did it take to move someone into an apartment?

What would Jackson do if he found him lying on the floor, overheating in a set of rooms that likely had some kind of cooling mechanism somewhere, if he’d only bothered to look for it?

Fuck Jackson anyway. He was too fuckin’ nice to too many people who clearly didn’t appreciate it. Or deserve it.

Was excessive kindness a character flaw? 

He’d have to think about that.

Probably it wasn’t.

He forced himself to his elbows, then to his knees, and, yes, there did seem to be something wrong with him (the room looked askew). Perceptual problem. It’d work itself out. Wouldn’t it? He got to his feet, his hand on the warm paint of the wall. He walked to the bathroom, turned on the shower, then sat, leaning against the tile.

Right, so this was not one of the finer moments in the life of Dr. Nicholas Rush.

He wished he’d taken his clothes off before he’d come in here.

Didn’t matter.

This whole sequence was more about the perception he’d done something.


Anything other than lie on a hardwood floor and attack his cypher set in long-hand, short-hand, Ancient, and code for the three days since he’d last seen Jackson.

He was turning more alert now that his brain wasn’t being autoclaved in his skull.

Three days and nights of maths. That’d do it. He hadn’t been on a mathematical bender in years. Not since—

He sliced through the thought before it completed.

Had he made any material progress on the decryption? Hopefully he hadn’t wasted his time on matrices in this kind of heat—delirium and linear algebra did not mix well. There was a fifty percent chance that when he went back out there he’d find a fuckin’ piano sonata on his wall or a torn-open box labeled with her name—


The only thing more pathetic than taking a shower in one’s clothes was crying while one took a shower in one’s clothes.

He wasn’t doing it.

He was having a breathing problem (very different).

Everything was fine. Everything was fixable. He had a can of paint. If there was something on his wall that wasn’t math, he’d paint. Over. It. Simple as that.

He undressed, his clothes weighed down by water. He used soap. He shaved. He found clothes that were clean and put them on in the room where he kept all the boxes. He should’ve burned everything, thrown it out, put it in storage, and he would have, he just didn’t have time to go fuckin' shopping for fuckin' clothes?

That and—the idea of destroying anything that’d been hers was—

The room seemed suddenly too warm and too small and too foreign. Too many of the boxes were covered with dust and unopened and he couldn’t breathe. His heart beat hard, at war with his lungs.

He flung himself out of the room, slammed the door behind him, unsteady as fuck, but back in the central room with the ceiling-length windows and Jackson, Jackson was outside talking and it was the most reassuring thing Rush had heard in days. In days. He sank to his knees and tried to breathe and it was fine; he knew he was breathing, even though it didn’t feel like there was oxygen in the air.

“No, you can’t use my credit card. You get paid. You can get your own credit card.”

“But Daniel. Darling,” Vala said. “I can’t get a credit card, because I haven’t chosen my birthday. This is a crucial aspect of joining your society. Don’t rush me.”

“There’s no wrong choice.” Jackson sounded perplexed.

“For instance, do you think I have an ability to let go of past situations in preparation for future needs? Would you say I’m reserved, loyal, and secretive?”

“Secretive? No. Or, hmm. Maybe? Wait, what am I thinking? Yes. I’m gonna go with yes. What does this have to do with anything?”

“She’s tryin’ to figure out her sign,” the Man Who Wasn’t Daniel said. 

“Your astrological sign?”

Their voices faded as they walked down the hallway.

“Vala, astrology isn’t real, but, even if it were, you aren’t from this planet. The rotational position of Earth relative to stellar patterns in the night sky would be meaningless, or at least uninterpretable, from wherever you were born—”

Rush needed to drink water. Anyone would feel panicky in this level of heat. He needed to drink water and find his air conditioner. He was certain it existed.

He stood again, fighting the way his vision dimmed around its edges. He wondered how long he’d been lying on that floor.

Too long.

He got himself a glass of water and drank it down. He refilled the glass and sat on the floor of his kitchen, sipping it. He didn’t seem t’be able to stand for very long? He tried to recall when he’d last had water.

He had no idea.

He’d need to correct this ridiculous situation in short order, but he didn’t see an obvious way to do that and he just could not breathe.

It was too fuckin' hot.

He finished off his water and felt no better. He stood and opened the refrigerator. He shut it again immediately, before the smell could work its way to his cerebral cortex.

He refilled his glass of water, opened one of his cupboards, and dumped about ten grams worth of sugar into the water before sitting down again.

As solutions went, it was sub par.

When it was cooler outside, when the rotation of the Earth had turned him away from the sun, he’d get out of here and find some food. Until then, he’d sit in his kitchen and drink sugar water. In a little while, when his breathing had normalized and he wasn’t thinking of unpacked boxes, he’d search out his thermostat in a calm, rational, and systematic manner.

He shut his eyes and drank his revolting water.

Maybe he should just eat the sugar?

He’d not be eating sugar.

He tried to breathe steadily and not think of people or things or music but he was terrible at sustaining mental emptiness because it revealed the abyss-like nature of his own anxiety.

Du gleichst dem Geist den du begreifst.

He disliked infinite things.

He could deal with comparative infinities because lack of overlap differentiated systems. But there was no more isolated place than the peripheral sliver of the Venn diagram—that lonely margin that didn’t merge with its paired set.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow, he would work the cypher.

Today, he would try not to cry about set theory or anthropomorphize graphical systems used to represent data.

He leaned his forehead against his knees and tried to swallow more sugar water. It would get better. Everyone said it would get better, and so it would. Too bad that was a logical fuckin' fallacy—argumentum ad populum.

He would find his air conditioner. Any minute now, he’d get off his floor and find it. He could tell by the cast of the light that it was late afternoon.

There was a knock on his door. Peaceful, yet explorative.

There was a one hundred percent chance it was Jackson.

He left the kitchet, one hand trailing over the warm wall until he reached his door. The key thing was to be as brusque and unfriendly as possible.

Shouldn’t be difficult.

He opened the door.

“Hey,” Jackson said, sweat-damp and apologetic. Apology morphed to concern. “Oh my god.”

“What?” The word didn’t carry half the edge Rush’d meant to give it.

“Nick, it’s like a greenhouse in here. Isn’t your air conditioning working? Why didn’t you pull your shades down?”

Rush didn’t have a good answer to either of those questions, so instead he said, “If y’have a point, Daniel, do let me know. I’m quite busy.”

Jackson looked at him. (Except it wasn’t a bloody “look,” was it?) Jackson stood in the hallway and stared directly into his soul, perceptive and keen and intensely irritating. “You should call about your air conditioning.”

“I’ll consider it, thanks. Did you—” speaking seemed suddenly difficult, “—want anything in particular?”

“Yeah, I—Nick, are you okay?”

“Yes, yes. I’m fine.” Rush was reaching the upper limit of his ability to stand, unfortunately, but he knew from experience that if he shut the door in Jackson’s face, the man would only become more determined.

“Okay, well, um, I thought maybe you’d want to meet your new neighbor? We—”

Jackson broke off right around the time Rush realized that loss of consciousness was inevitable.

“Sorry,” he breathed, but gravity was already pulling him down.

He woke up on a couch.

He did not own a couch.

The air was cool. Or—fuck. He had a fuckin' hand towel on his forehead.

He opened his eyes to find someone studying him. The man had a direct and curious gaze, close-cropped dark hair, and was sitting on a box. No doubt this was the lucky recipient of Jackson’s latest humanitarian impulse.

“Ah fuck,” Rush said.

“Yeahhhh,” the other man replied, with a startling degree of sympathy. “Hi.”

“Hello.” Rush willed his heart t’just give it the fuck up.

“How do you feel?”

Like an overwrought, wretched, wasted, barren, toxic wasteland of a human being, who was currently somewhat unclear as to why his shirt was half unbuttoned and his sleeves were rolled up?

“Sorry,” Rush said, in a tone he was certain didn’t sound “sorry” at all, “but who are you, exactly?”

“Colonel Everett Young.”

Oh a colonel. Wonderful. Hopefully this one wasn’t in charge of personnel. Or payroll. Would they put a colonel in charge of payroll? It seemed like the kind of stupid, needless idea the Air Force would have.

“How did I get here?”

“Jackson carried you in.”

“Ah,” Rush said. “Well, thanks. Thank you. Thank him, if y’see him; nice t’meet you. Apologies for the inconvenience, I’ll just be going.” He sat.

Unfortunately for him and for his laconic neighbor, sitting wasn’t sustainable. He fell back, shutting his eyes against the dynamic instability of the room or his mind or both.

“You’re a mess there, hotshot.”

Young sounded closer.

The use of the moniker “hotshot” was clearly ironic and he resented that.

He opened his eyes.

“You want some water?” Young asked.

“If you’ve nothing better to do.” He’d been banking on native sarcasm to carry the day, but it was nowhere to be found and he just sounded fuckin’ polite. Oh god.

His neighbor looked troublingly sympathetic. “Coming right up.”

Young got to his feet, favoring one leg or perhaps one side of his body. It was difficult to tell what was wrong with him, but something clearly was. (Wrong with him.)

Likely why Jackson had taken an interest.

Ugh. Jackson. Leaving some injured colonel t’get him drinking water.

Fuck, but where was Jackson? Hopefully not in Rush’s apartment, hopefully not looking at the walls

Young returned with a glass of water. 

“Jackson went to get you Gatorade,” Young said, as if he could read minds. “And Mitchell went to get you a doctor, I guess.”

“Mitchell?” Rush tried not to choke on the water.

“Colonel Mitchell? Are you not with the program?”

“Are you speaking literally or metaphorically?”

There was a prolonged pause. “Um, literally.”

“I’m a consultant.”

“Explains why I haven’t seen you around, I guess.”

“Mmm.” Rush set his glass of water on the floor without spilling any of it. Young’s earlier statement about “Mitchell” going to get a “doctor” finally made its way into his consciousness and stuck there. “I don’t need a doctor.”

“Pretty sure you might,” Young said.

Rush couldn’t argue that statement from any position of strength, so, instead, he opened a hand, looked to the ceiling, and shut his eyes.

He thought of his apartment, hot and clean and barren. It’d never been this hot in San Francisco or Oxford or Glasgow. He wasn’t acclimated to this. There were too few clouds in this mountain desert. He was farther from the sea than he’d ever been in his life.


Hopefully Jackson hadn’t gone inside. Hopefully he hadn’t seen the state of things. Probably he hadn’t. (Probably he’d been too busy carrying Rush down the hall.)

Vaguely, the fall came to him—losing his grip on the wood of the doorframe along with everything else as he’d crossed an asymptote of awareness.

It’d been days since he’d slept. Days since he’d eaten. The math though—the math he’d been doing the entire time, each chevron keyed to a different cryprographic method in a sweeping test of intellectual capacity set by a people long dead. In a haze of insight, he recalled he’d gotten number four (he’d fuckin’ sheared it apart) yesterday or today, maybe that morning, early—it’d been dark outside when he’d switched his block cypher to a stream cypher and his symmetric key algorithm had written itself.


“What,” he said, half-remembering and half-reinventing his stream cypher. He’d thought he was drunk? Math-drunk, maybe.

“Rush. Whoever you are. Stay awake.”

“I’m awake,” Rush murmured.

From somewhere behind him came the sound of knuckles rapping against wood.

“Come,” Young called.

“How is he?” Jackson asked.

“In and out,” Young said.

“Not true.” Rush didn’t open his eyes. “Entirely in.”

“I don’t think ‘entirely’ means what you think it means,” Jackson replied.

Someone sat on the couch. Rush opened his eyes to a woman with long dark hair. She perched precariously next to him. “Hello, gorgeous.” With a smile and a wink she twisted the top off a bottle of green Gatorade. “I hear this stuff cures every terrestrial illness.”

It wasn’t often he had no idea what to say.

“Vala. Vala Mal Doran,” she said, offering her hand.

“Nicholas Rush,” he replied, taking it. 

Her handshake was more vigorous than seemed standard, but he was having an off day. She swapped her hand for the open bottle of Gatorade.

He took a sip of the green liquid and hoped to god he wouldn’t be sick.

“So,” Jackson said. “Air conditioning. Ever heard of it?”

Rush said nothing. 

“As if you haven’t done things just as ridiculous.” Vala flicked her hair over her shoulder. “Colonel Carter was telling me—”

Was everyone a colonel these days?

“All right, fine,” Jackson said.

There was a light rap on the frame of the open door.

“Oh great,” Jackson said, relieved. “Dr. Lam. Hi.”

Rush brought a hand to his face.

“Can you guys go do something else while I talk with him?” The woman’s voice was low, almost brusque, and, though she’d framed her words as a question, they were clearly a command.

“Sure thing,” Mitchell said, and they filed into adjacent rooms or, at least, it sounded like they did.

His hand was still over his face.

“Hi.” Lam sat on Young’s box. “I’m Carolyn Lam. How are you feeling?”

“Fine.” Rush lifted his hand. The woman wore a striped tank top and shorts that made her look about two decades younger than he hoped she was.

“What happened?” Her expression was serious.

“Nothing.” He waved a hand. “My apartment’s quite hot.”

“I’m gonna need more to go on than that.”

He sighed. “I was talking to Daniel, I woke up here.”

“Has anything like this happened to you before?”



“Have you been drinking enough water?”

“Probably not.”

“How much water have you had in the past day?”

“No idea.”


“Twenty-four ounces?” He didn’t add that those twenty-four ounces had all been consumed within the past thirty minutes.

“When was the last time you ate?”

“Yesterday.” That was an optimistic estimate.

“You realize it’s nearly five o’clock, right?” Lam asked.

“I do now.”

He just wanted to get rid of this woman.

She raised an eyebrow and pulled a stethoscope out of her purse.

He raised an eyebrow right back.

She made short work of taking his pulse and listening to his heart before making him sit up and doing the entire thing again. “Well my friend,” she said, “you’re orthostatic, meaning you’re raising your heart rate and dropping your pressure when you sit. I’m not gonna have you stand because I don’t think that would end well.”

“Probably not,” Rush agreed.

“You can stay here in the air conditioning and drink Gatorade for a few hours to rehydrate, or Dr. Jackson and I can take you in and I’ll do it the efficient way, with IV fluids.”

“No thank you,” Rush said. “Gatorade will be fine.”

“Is there anyone I can call?” Lam asked. “Your spouse maybe?” She indicated his wedding ring with her eyes.

He decided he’d lie back down.

“No, you can’t call her,” he said.

“Why not?”

“She’s not here.”

“Where is she?”

“York. The U.K.”

While it was relatively normal behavior to wear a wedding ring after the death of a partner, it was less normal to imply that one’s deceased wife was still alive and in York when that was where she’d been buried. He was tempted to just fuckin’ go with it—except. Lam knew Jackson, and Jackson, in turn, knew—fuck. Fuck.

“And she’s dead,” he added.

There was a long silence.

“That would make it difficult to call,” Lam said gently.

Rush nodded.

“Do you want to talk about it?”



Thank god.

“So,” she continued, “you’ll stay here and drink Gatorade until you feel better. You should also eat. If you haven’t recovered in four hours, someone’ll need to drive you in and we’ll hook you up to an IV. Got it?”

Rush nodded.

Lam stood and walked into the adjacent room, where the other four were talking quietly.

Rush sipped his Gatorade, stared at the wall, and turned all of his (considerable) cognitive power into pretending none of this was happening.

There wasn’t just one cryptographic element buried in the internal circuitry of the stargate, there were multiple interlocking, interweaving codes. He wasn’t at all certain that any chevron would sequentially lock until all of them were decoded, with ordinal locking predicated on sequence. He’d proven a computational hardness assumption and he had four of the chevrons, not necessarily the first four of the sequence, all keyed to different cryptographic elements within the gate. But. There were five more, at least five more, and he was certain one of them would be quantum in nature because the crystalline matrix of the DHD created a lattice in which to distribute and permute quantum keys. Maybe that should be the next one he tackled. It didn’t sound particularly easy, but he was burning through well-studied approaches to information security.

He sipped more Gatorade.

In any case, each chevron had a unique key and a conceptually unique method of arriving at that key. There might even be a final cypher required to unlock the entire sequence, making for ten keys and ten conceptual problems to solve, which did strike him as more aesthetically pleasing than nine, especially given Ancients had used base ten math.

An aesthetic conceit.

(Was there anything better?)

Lam reentered the room, accompanied by Mitchell. “I can walk, colonel,” she said. “It’s only about fifteen minutes on foot.”

“Over this asphalt?” Mitchell asked. “In this heat? Forget it. I’m driving you.”

Lam shrugged fluidly, then eyed Rush sternly. “Four hours.” She held up four fingers.

“Yes yes.” He waved her on.

“Nice meeting you,” Mitchell said. “Feel better.”

Rush nodded.

Mercifully, they left.

He finished his bottle of Gatorade and fished another from the collection Vala’d left on the floor. He wondered how many of these things he’d have to drink before Jackson would let him go back to his apartment and look for his thermostat in peace. More than one, probably. He felt miserable, his muscles uncooperative and shaky and seduced by the couch he was lying on.

He despised couches.

He’d slept on a hardwood floor for six weeks and he preferred that.

He did.

He closed his eyes against his headache.

“Daniel. If I can pass these ‘psychological evaluations’ of yours, I can assemble a bed.”

They were trying to be quiet, but, still, he could hear them.

“I’m not sure why you’re so hung up on this. No one fails psychological evaluations. They’re just evaluations.”

“Right. And that’s why you attempted to entrap me by sending that little man—”

“I said I was sorry about that. And it wasn’t my idea. As I explained. Also? That’s part of the frame, not the headboard.”

“I don’t think so,” Vala replied. “You lack experience on the domestic front.”

“What? Vala. I’m an archeologist. I’ve read entire books on comparative bed-frame construction.”

“Well, that’s evidently not sufficient.”

Young said something, but it was too low for Rush to catch.

Ten keys. He’d already cracked a symmetric key, an asymmetric key, and an interactive proof system. One of the chevrons had yielded to brute force attack. So where did that leave him? Quantum would be there—but he had no crystals to study. They weren’t like circuit diagrams, these decoherent quantum states. As conceptually elegant as the sea of Dirac (meaning zero percent elegant) and not exactly something he could study in his kitchen.

Distantly, he registered the sound of asymmetric footfalls. The quiet scrape of weighed-down cardboard over a dusty floor.

Infinite negative charge spread out forever through the vacuum of space like a sub-perceptual fuck-you to anyone with Newtonian instincts. Particles as holes in the sea and if he just lived at the speed of light all of this would make sense and he could encrypt and decrypt without effort, maybe even without thought, which would be ideal.

“Hey,” Young said quietly. “Hotshot. You awake?”

Rush felt the mostly empty bottle of Gatorade eased from his inexplicably lax grip. He tried to open his eyes, but it was too difficult.

Dirac. Decoupled from every kind of convention. He wished he could be that way. Everything would be less difficult, like following voltage drops stepwise-down to a superconducting sea. Nick Rush contaminated everything he did with who he was.

It was a problem.

He couldn’t move and he couldn’t open his eyes and the couch that he hated on principle was so painless that there was no place to make a stand against falling asleep in an air-conditioned apartment.

With an effort that hovered on the edge of achievability, he cracked his eyes open.

Young sat on a box, one leg stretched in front of him. His shoulders were hunched. He stared sightlessly at the floor.

Rush felt a flash of empathy, but he couldn’t hold on to it.

He couldn’t hold onto anything.

Popular posts from this blog