Mathématique: Chapter 21

The gate shut off behind them with a sound like the rending of field lines.

Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Grief. Physical injuries.

Text iteration: Witchingest hour.

Audio status: Theoretical.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 21

Rematerialization was something like being slapped.

In the face.



Shocked, perhaps, by a current of medium voltage?

He was cold.

Rush shook his head, trying to snap his mind into a functional state, trying to force a reconciliation between his experience of the gate room and the sudden presentation of a variegated gray and green backdrop for air thick with the smell of rain. It took him a moment to parse the colors into what they were—sky and land.

“Sucks the first time, I know, but it gets better. I think your brain learns to forget the reintegration process after a few trips, kind of like how, in an ideal world, you don’t remember a head injury? I probably should have mentioned that. My bad.”

“What?” Rush asked, looking at Sheppard, who was standing in profile against a clouded sky.

“Atienza. Reaves. Fan out and do a sweep of the trees but keep line-of-site on the gate.” Sheppard paused, scanning their surroundings, before looking at Rush. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Rush replied, bringing one hand to his temple.

“You sure?” Sheppard asked, still looking at him.

“Yes,” Rush said.

The gate shut off behind them with a sound like the rending of field lines.

The sky was a uniformity of clouds the color of ash that hung claustrophobically low over the tangled green vegetation. The gate was set in a clearing that gave way to a snarl of bracken that yielded with bad grace to a forest where the trees grew with a closeness Rush found unsettling.

“Come on,” Sheppard said. “Standing on platforms against a sky like this is a great way to get shot.”

Rush followed him down steps of dry, flecked stone, inlaid with Goa’uld inscriptions that he couldn’t translate.

“I thought this planet was classified as ‘friendly’,” Rush said.

“So is west Baltimore,” Sheppard said, “but that doesn’t mean I’m about to stand on a corner and wave my phone around.”

“You from Baltimore, sir?” Greer asked, his eyes flicking back to Sheppard from the position he’d taken up between McKay and the tree line. 

“Nah,” Sheppard said, unclipping his radio. “California.”

“He’s been watching The Wire,” McKay said, with a withering look in Sheppard’s direction that seemed to slide right past the man. “Are we going to be doing actual science here, or just talking about all the Earth TV that we’ve missed?” 

“Usually both of those things happen,” Sheppard said mildly, as he twisted to watch Reaves and Atienza pass through the bracken with deliberate, thorough arcs.

Rush stepped laterally, moving into the blustery wind to approach the DHD with its concentric rings of depressible panels and its central red button. The dull, cloud-filtered light leant the device an unexpectedly dark solidity. A few feet away from it he stopped, one hand coming to hook over his left shoulder.

“Did they give you the standard briefing?” McKay asked, coming to stand beside Rush. “They must have—it’s the only thing they ever think to give the consultants before going in. Going out. You know what I mean. I find it extremely odd that ‘dialing the gate’ seems to be the one, standardized thing they expect of the science staff. As if there’s anything even remotely difficult about it. A trained monkey could do it. You know that’s the entire reason they brought Dr. Jackson along on the first gate trip? Literally so he could push the buttons for them on the other side. Turned out, it wasn’t actually that trivial, but that’s another story, to be told another time. A time when you have more security clearance. Or, possibly, never. You should also consider losing the glasses and getting contacts.  You’ll find that helps a lot when it comes to being taken seriously by pretty much anyone with a gun, whether that party be friendly, or not so friendly. We all do it. Except for Zelenka. Radek Zelenka? He’s something of an admirer of yours. You might have heard of him—he did some minor work on applications of Savitch’s Theorem, kind of a side project, you know, but he got a nice paper out of it, so, like I said, you might be familiar? Anyway, he hasn’t lost the glasses and he rarely goes offworld. I’m pretty convinced this is more than correlative. So. Contacts or surgery, either way, lose the glasses. That’s a tip. But to get back to my original point, despite the idiocy inherent in the scientist-dials-the-gate mentality, there is something to be said for being able to dial quickly.  Personally? I like to portion out the DHD like a unit circle and then pair each symbol with a degree in radians. Like, chevron one, three-pi halves. Chevron two, pi over six. See? Makes it easy. That’s another tip.”

Rush said nothing.

The DHD looked like a violation of Ancient design aesthetic—a crystalline array locked into a primitive outer casement that was not simple, like the gate, but offensively simplistic instead, its symmetries distorted and destroyed by its oblique angle and its solid, directional base that dictated an avenue of approach to a device that was circular in shape and therefore suggested accessibility from all angles.  Worst of all was the central depressible element—it was large, red, and utterly graceless. And yet—

“I know what you’re thinking,” McKay said.

There was something about the device that seemed to torque his mind unpleasantly.

“It looks wrong,” Rush said.

McKay stared at him in silence, the wind toying with the edges of his hair.

Odyssey, this is Colonel John Sheppard,” he heard from behind him. “How’s it going up there?”

“What do you mean ‘wrong’?” McKay asked. “Have you ever seen a real DHD? Before now?”

“Colonel Sheppard, this is Colonel Emerson.” the radio crackled. “You’re a long ways from home, John.”

“No,” Rush admitted.

“Eh, it’s all relative,” Sheppard said into the radio.

Rush and McKay simultaneously glanced at Sheppard, back at each other, and then abruptly away.

“Seriously,” McKay said. “How can it be wrong? It’s a device that performs a function. By definition, if it’s functioning as it should, it can’t be wrong.”

Rush ignored the other man, stepping forward to draw his fingertips delicately over the concentric rings of panels, right hand above, left hand below, in a brief, antiparallel sweep.

“Mmm hmm,” McKay said with a strange, proprietary approval. “The most sophisticated chordophonic instrument in the universe.”

Rush snapped his fingers back and leveled a glare at McKay.

The other man stared back at him, uncowed.

“Everything’s quiet up here.” Emerson voice hissed into static at the edges of his words as he responded to Sheppard. “There’s a storm front moving up on your position from the southeast, but you should have a six hour window before the rain hits and maybe another two hours after that before it gets ugly.”

“Thanks for the heads up,” Sheppard said.  “We’ll be in touch.”

Rush paced around the DHD, drawing away from McKay as Sheppard turned back to the pair of them.

“Wrong?” McKay said pointedly in Rush’s direction.

“Wrong?”  Sheppard echoed, less pointedly, in McKay’s direction.

“He thinks it looks ‘wrong’,” McKay said, exchanging a glance with Sheppard.

“What looks wrong?”

“The DHD,” McKay clarified.

“Incomplete,” Rush corrected, hooking his left hand over his shoulder.  “And somehow—obfuscated.”

“Okay,” McKay said slowly. “Obfuscated. That’s great. I’ll just be over here, quantum entangling your SGC-issue laptop with the control panel.” The other man turned and began to carefully uncrate the equipment.

Sheppard came to stand next to Rush, saying nothing, his attention fixed on the DHD. After a few seconds, one hand came up to swipe through his dark hair and then returned to rest on his weapon, his fingers drumming over the strap. “Like a picture,” he said, too quietly for McKay to hear, “hung at a slant.  The DHDs in Pegasus—they’re not like this.”

“Interesting,” Rush replied, then stepped forward to help McKay.

Three hours later, Rush was lying on his back, losing thermal energy to the ground as he stared up into the crystalline lattice on the underside of the DHD. They’d removed the exterior paneling that encircled half the base and he was now positioned, flashlight between teeth, buried up to his wrists in a hanging tangle of wires. The DHD itself had no wiring. The slowly building curtain of silver threads was emerging as Rush soldered Perry’s leads to control crystals using a low-melt alien alloy.

“This is a pain in the ass,” McKay shouted at him, tied to Rush’s laptop as he mapped inputs to outputs and manually configured the entangling Hamiltonian while Rush linked up crystals in real time.

“Yes, well,” Rush snarled, inarticulate around the small flashlight in between his teeth.

“You’ve got a cold joint at crystal six,” McKay said.

“Fuck,” Rush said.

“What was that?”

“I said fuck,” Rush clarified.

“Ah,” McKay said. “Hang on.”

Rush couldn’t see anything from his position beneath and half-inside the DHD, but he heard McKay raise his voice to call to whomever was within shouting distance at the moment. “Hey. New guy. Nope. Other new guy. Can we stop patrolling the abandoned planet long enough to actually get some work done before we’re rained out? We need someone to hold a flashlight.”

“Take it up with the colonel.” It was Greer’s voice.

“Which is ‘crystal six’?” Rush asked McKay around the penlight in his teeth.

“Look,” McKay replied, “I’m flattered—but, you're not really my type. If I went for unkempt guys with accents, well, I'd already be taken.”

Rush clenched his jaw, glared at the wiring above him, transferred his soldering iron to his left hand, and pulled the flashlight out of his mouth.

“Which crystal,” he said with as much vitriol as it was possible to pack into his tone, “is. Crystal. Six.

“Ah—should be the one at four pi thirds,” McKay replied.

Rush replaced the flashlight in his mouth with a dark look at the circuitry above him.

“McKay, do not harass the civilian consultants,” he heard Sheppard say.

“Right. That’s your job. Look. I cannot be held responsible for the communication difficulties that occur as a result of short-staffing this mission. We need another pair of hands.”

“All right, all right,” Sheppard said.

Greer dropped down next to Rush. After examining the situation, the other man laid down on his back, pulled out his flashlight, and flipped it on.

Rush turned his head and spit out his own flashlight, keeping his eyes on the wire he was trying to affix to a crystal.

“You’re soldering?”  Greer asked.

“Yes,” Rush said dryly.

“Overhead?” Greer asked.

“It’s an atypical alloy.  Low melting point.”

“Doesn’t do much for you if it gets in your eye,” Greer replied, pulling out his sunglasses with one hand and slipping them on.

“Feel free to propose an equally efficient alternative,” Rush said, fixing the interface between his wire and crystal six.

Greer said nothing.

“Yes,” Rush said.  “Quite.”

“What’s the point of this?” Greer asked.

“You have one job,” Rush said. “Please do only that job.”

“That’s great,” Greer muttered.

“Okay, we’re up and configured,” McKay called. “Go for the center and then we can start the spontaneous parametric down conversion.”

Rush grabbed the last remaining wire and affixed it to the central crystal, melting the alien alloy in a solid joint. He had nearly finished when the entire array above him flared to life with a pleasant humming sound as crystals lit up in a rapid radial pattern.

Instinctively, he pulled his hands back. Greer flinched in surprise, then held the light steady.

“What did you do?” McKay shouted over the wind, sounding annoyed and alarmed in equal parts.

“McKaayy,” Sheppard said, pulling out the other man’s name into something vaguely threatening.

“It’s okay,” McKay said. “I think it’s okay. This is probably what’s supposed to happen. Probably. Actually, maybe you guys want to get out from under there, just in case.”

“Greer,” Sheppard snapped. “Out.” In the same moment, Rush felt someone grab his ankles and drag him from under the DHD. Sheppard reached forward, snagged the front of Rush’s jacket, and pulled him up and back in one smooth motion.

“This is a novel subroutine,” McKay said. “A novel novel subroutine. When we set up our connection—it activated—well I’m not entirely sure what it activated, but the control crystal is communicating with something. Something that’s not us.”

“What kind of something?”  Sheppard asked.

“Well If I knew, then I wouldn’t have said ‘something’, would I?”


“We’re not broadcasting indiscriminately, if that’s what you’re concerned about. This is targeted. I think. Ask the Odyssey to point their sensors at us and sweep the spectrum.”

Rush stepped forward, watching the interface that Dr. Perry had designed for monitoring the activity of a crystalline array. He dropped into a crouch next to McKay to get a better look at the readout.

Sheppard pulled out his radio. “Odyssey, this is Sheppard, come in please.”

“We read you, Sheppard.  What do you need?”

“We’re requesting that you point your sensors at us and sweep the entire EM band. McKay suspects we’re sending a signal of some kind.”

“Commencing scan,” Emerson responded.

“Do you have any idea what this is likely to be?” Rush asked McKay, his eyes never leaving the stream of data on the screen.

“No,” McKay said, sparing a quick glance at Rush before looking back at the periodic rise and fall of activity within the array. “Do you?”

“What made you choose the word ‘communicating’?” Rush asked.

“There’s a well defined protocol in place that allows DHDs to talk with one another in order to perform the correlative updates that correct for stellar drift,” McKay said. “We’re seeing activation in some of those protocols. Not all—we didn’t actually trigger a correlative update by interfacing this way, but we triggered something that’s using a portion of the inherent communication hardware.”

“Well, what are we saying?” Sheppard asked.

“Are you running the entanglement protocol?” Rush asked.

“I don’t know, and no, not yet. Look,” McKay said, breaking off the word viciously, one hand cutting through the air. “We are communicating via an unknown means with an unknown device that is external to the DHD. This is possibly, though not necessarily, bad.  So let me think about this before something really awful happens and we—”

“It’s the gate,” Rush said.

Sheppard and McKay both turned to look at him.

“It’s very likely the gate,” Rush repeated. “Run the entanglement protocol.”

“Okay, so, Mr. No-Evidence-Required isn’t worried,” McKay said. “I on the other hand—”

Sheppard’s radio crackled, cutting off McKay. “Colonel, we’re not picking up any EM signals in your immediate vicinity other than those inherent to your MALP and other earth-based electronics. If you’re broadcasting anything, it’s not getting far,” Emerson said.

“Understood,” Sheppard replied.

The three of them looked at one another. Unsurprisingly, it was McKay who spoke first.

“Fine. So it’s likely the gate that we’re communicating with, based on what we actually set out to do and what the Odyssey is reporting, but I’m still not discounting the possibility that there’s something else going on here. This absolutely has the feel of the initiation of some kind of Ancient algorithm that inevitably ends up with someone not having a good time. That person is usually me and—”

“The only way to gain any additional information is to run the entanglement protocol,” Rush snapped.

“Hey. New guy. Here’s another tip. Sometimes, when you do the wrong thing, Ancient devices will kill you.”

Rush looked at Sheppard.

“It’s true,” Sheppard confirmed with a faint grimace and a swipe of his hand through his hair.

Rush looked up at the gray sky, uniformity giving way to variations in texture and color that suggested accompanying tropospheric turbulence away to the southeast.

The urge to be alone with this problem was overwhelming.

“Yes well, what would you suggest?” Rush asked, turning back to McKay with extreme effort.

“It’s your call,” Sheppard said to McKay. “But we probably won’t get another crack at this, so—” Sheppard trailed off.

McKay sighed. “All right. Fine. But if I get forced into ascension, or poisoned, or transported back in time, or shifted out of phase, or infected with some weird alien virus that wipes my memory, or exchange consciousness with someone in another galaxy, or—”

“Yeah, we get it,” Sheppard said.

“I’m going to be extremely unhappy.”

“Why don’t I run the protocol?” Rush asked dryly.

“No.” Sheppard and McKay responded, perfectly synchronous.

Rush raised his eyebrows and then looked at McKay, making a sweeping gesture toward the computer.

McKay grimaced, but turned back to the screen. He queued up the program that Rush and Perry had designed and sat there, his finger hovering over the keyboard uncertainly.

“You want me to do it?” Sheppard asked.

With an overly dramatic wince, and a quiet click, McKay initiated the program.

The protocol began to run with lines of code blurring over the open terminal window. Perry’s crystal-to-computational adaptor lit up with a solid green light and a quiet whir.

“You still you?” Sheppard asked.

“I think so,” McKay said.

“What’s your real first name?” Sheppard drawled.

“Very funny.”

“How long—“ McKay began, but stopped as the open laptop pinged quietly. “Efficient.”

“We’re entangled?” Sheppard asked.

“We are,” McKay said. “You want to take a look at this?” he asked, inclining his head toward Rush.

Rush nodded and reached forward, not-so-subtly angling the laptop away from the other man. At a first approximation, it became apparent that data was being sent by another party to the DHD, and then, after a brief interval, was being returned. He watched it for a moment. The dynamics and timing of the transmission was a simple, repeating pattern.

Receive, process, send. Receive, process, send.


Rush initiated a second program—a modified network analyzer designed to capture, analyze and decompile communications into and out of a central control crystal.  After a few seconds, his screen was filled with scrolling Ancient text detailing the transmission of data.

“Please tell me you’re logging this,” McKay said.

“Obviously,” Rush replied.

They watched the flow of Ancient code. After only a few rounds it became apparent to Rush that the device was indeed receiving information, performing some kind of operation, and then sending data back to wherever the signal originated from.

“So,” McKay said finally. “Presuming for a moment that you’re correct and this is the gate that’s sending this data to the DHD, which, for the record, is still one hell of an assumption, your theory is that if we can intersperse ourselves between the gate and the DHD and get the gate to recognize us as a separate entity that’s sophisticated enough to achieve quantum entanglement, then it’s just going to—what? Give you your chevron if you’re not stupid enough to try and collapse the quantum state by actually reading what’s encoded?”

“Possibly,” Rush said, queuing up his zero knowledge protocol.

“And this is what, exactly?” McKay asked, eyeing the program.

“A ZKP,” Rush said. “It should hide the means by which I’m obtaining data while giving me a defined avenue by which to present it to the authenticating party.”

“Eh,” McKay said, “we’ll see.”

“You don’t think it will work?”

“It might,” McKay replied. “There’s one way to find out.”

Rush initiated the program, which, as expected, inserted itself between the native protocols of the DHD and the gate. His monitor flared with a new burst of data, followed by—nothing.

“Huh,” McKay said.

Rush stared at the screen with narrowed eyes.

“I think maybe—it’s waiting for you?” McKay murmured. “Run the last round of output through your program.”

Rush sent the data back, only to have the process repeated. The same message he’d sent out had been sent back to him.

“Well,” McKay said. “We’ve achieved manual control, so that’s something.  Always the first step in interfacing with an unknown technology, unless it’s something like, oh, I don’t know, the life support system for an underwater city, say, as a hypothetical example, where if you press the wrong button you kill everyone. There you want to be a bit more cautious. That’s another tip. Always tread carefully around life support if you’re not immediately going to die. But that doesn’t really seem to be the case here, fortunately for us. Unfortunately for us we’ve got manual control of what amounts to basically the most boring game of telephone in this part of the galaxy, so unless you want to sit here until—”

Rush narrowed his eyes, his gaze fixed on the monitor. He was on the right track. He almost had it. He could feel the nearness of the solution, its component parts revolving and aligning in his mind, beginning to drop into place. He’d interfaced with the crystals in such a way as to trigger a novel protocol within the DHD. Likely the exact protocol he’d wanted. The one that would get the fifth chevron for him. He’d interspersed himself between the DHD and the gate and he’d successfully gotten the gate to interrogate him, and he’d successfully elicited the default behavior. He’d thought that would be enough.

“Wait,” McKay said. “Wait just a second. I don’t believe this.”

The key was to look at the default behavior—which was, of course, not to yield the chevron.

“Even when I’m flippant, I’m brilliant,” McKay said. “It is a game of telephone, it’s exactly a game of telephone—”

It stood to reason that perhaps the gate was waiting for him. Waiting for him to do something other than simply send back the code, unmodified. Likely it was something that demonstrated that he had a conceptual understanding of the fundamental nature of quantum phenomenology. 


Quantum noise.

“Quantum error correction,” Rush murmured. “It wants—not what it sends me, but the original encoded state, obtainable by correcting decoherence-induced errors which minutely corrupt each signal.”

“Yes,” McKay said. “Obviously. QEC. You may thank me later.”

“For what?” Rush said absently.

“I—for—for what? I just—g”

“I wasn’t listening,” Rush murmured, calling up his logs to manually compare two different versions of what had been sent to him. “Did you have some kind of conceptual breakthrough?”

“Telephone.” McKay said. “The children’s game? Cumulative error’s most famous teachable moment?”

“If you say so,” Rush replied.

McKay sighed. “Unbelievable. Can you code fast enough to pull the original quantum state out before the storm hits?”

“Of course I can,” Rush replied. 

An hour later the sky had darkened and the wind had picked up, whistling around corners of equipment and whispering through trees that surrounded their small clearing. Rush sat on the ground, his computer balanced atop a plastic crate next to the DHD, one hand hooked over his shoulder, trying to ignore McKay’s superfluous science commentary.

“How we doing?” Sheppard asked, dropping into a crouch next to Rush.

“We’re about to crack this thing wide open,” McKay said, with evident satisfaction.

“Nice,” Sheppard replied. “Because we’ve got maybe another hour before we’re going to have to start to pack it in for weather reasons and either gate back or beam up.”

“Queue it up when you’re ready” McKay said, looking at Rush.

Rather than responding, Rush input his corrected version of the quantum state into the waiting program, and sent it.

“Any chance this might—“ Sheppard began.

The DHD began to emit a sound.



And Loud.

Rush staggered back a pace.

McKay was speaking, Sheppard was shouting, both of them drowned out by the noise. A few paces away, Greer whirled, his weapon coming up in a motion that looked instinctive. Rush pressed his hands to his ears, trying to block out the sound as he leaned forward, watching McKay navigate Perry’s computer system with one hand, the other clapped to the ear nearest the DHD.

“Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down,” Sheppard shouted, the words lost in in the sound.

The paneling of the DHD cracked apart, metal pieces opening and falling away into grass, depressible panels detaching and flaking away, exposing the crystal lattice within.

Sheppard grabbed Rush’s jacket and began dragging him back.

The tonal frequency shifted into a progressively higher range.

Sheppard was shouting at McKay with so much force that Rush could feel the vibration of the words.

McKay shut the laptop and threw himself down behind a heavy plastic crate, motioning to Greer, shouting uselessly into the sound, his hands cutting through the air. Fast, repetitive, and emphatic.

Rush hit the ground, Sheppard on top of him as the tone became unbearable.

The only thing in his line of sight was Reaves, running toward their position from the tree line. Rush felt Sheppard shift, felt him motion toward her. She threw herself down, hands clapped to her head, beneath tangled vegetation.

Rush turned to look for the DHD, watching the red-white light that seemed to emanate from the center of a new structure that was emerging from the interior of the device, destroying that which had obscured it. It occurred to Rush then that perhaps this had not been what he was supposed to do—it seemed more like a trap than like access—until a possible purpose of the sound suggested itself.

The tone might serve as a warning.

It might also serve and a means to an end if that end was achieving a resonant frequency of a shatterable element.

If he was right about that, if he was right, and of course he was, then he should look away.

He looked away.

He shut his eyes.

The tone seemed be both within his mind and without.

It ended with a clear, shattering sound—akin to the breaking of glass but not the same, the strength of the material giving the destruction a bell-like quality as Sheppard adjusted his position, his hands coming over Rush’s head as a hissing rain of tiny, falling shards hit them, their uniforms, and the grass around them in a quiet, hissing shower.

Silence, loud with the aftertones of vanished sound.

Sheppard shifted and pulled away from him, the quiet scrape of cloth-on-cloth strange and unnaturally normal in both quality and decibel range.

Rush tried to feel the pain of embedded glass, the stinging of exposed skin, but nothing came.

“Hey,” Sheppard said, low and quiet. “Rush.”

He looked up.

The grass glittered irregularly with tiny fragments of reddish glass. He pulled a small piece from his hair and examined it. Its fracture planes had been blunted. It was the approximate size of a head of a pin.

He glanced at Sheppard, and then released a shaky breath.

“You were not kidding about breaking a DHD,” Sheppard murmured, his gaze directed over towards the device. Louder, he called, “Everyone okay?”

He received a smattering of “Yes sirs,” and, “You mean other than the five years of my life I just sacrificed to pure panic?” from McKay.

Rush moved forward, approaching the device in step with Sheppard. The DHD was only vaguely recognizable—its dark paneling surrounded it on the ground like a discarded husk. The internal support structure stood with a lacy metal elegance wrapped around a glowing crystal matrix. Where two concentric circles of depressible panels had been, the blue glow of glyphs themselves remained—clear, illuminated, and connected to the metal ring that housed the crystals by graceful silver stems.

“Eat your heart out, Samantha Carter,” McKay whispered into the quiet air.

Sheppard snorted.

“I’m guessing that this looks ‘right’ to you?” McKay said, turning in Rush’s direction.

“Yes,” Rush said absently, still studying the altered DHD. “But this is not—what I expected.”

“When is it ever?” McKay said, pacing around the other side of the DHD in a radial pattern as he examined it. “But, on the plus side, Carter is going to be unspeakably, unspeakably envious when I tell her about this.”

Rush reached forward to place a finger delicately against one of the glowing glyphs that corresponded to the first chevron he’d unlocked. The lights flared subtly, but there was no other change in the state of the device.

“Yeah,” McKay said. “Definitely touch it. That’s a great idea.”

Rush pulled his hand back as McKay reopened the laptop.

The wind whistled through and over the crystalline array.

“You want a chevron, out of this thing, right?” Sheppard asked, coming to stand next to him.

“Right,” Rush replied, reaching forward to trace the edge of a glyph. There was another flare of blue-white light.

“Sometimes,” Sheppard said, “Ancient tech will give you what you want if you just, sort of—“ he reached out, his fingers also brushing the edge of the metal, generating a radial sweep of lights. “Think about it.  Not in words, but—conceptually.”

“Hey,” McKay snapped. “Lantean dream team. What are you doing?”

Rush thought of the chevrons that he had unlocked, thought of cyphers, thought of keys, thought of the concept of unlocking with a savage mental spike of determination and—

His vision was subsumed by white as the DHD lit up with a blinding flare.

The sky was high and pale and cloudless above a flat landscape of silver-green grass, which bent in sinuous patterns that extended as far as he could see—until the horizon put and end to the liquid sweep of wind-tormented stalks. The day was cold.  The sunlight fell like the radiation it was, bleaching the upper surfaces of the long grass and transitioning dramatically to shadow in the places it could not touch.

The air felt thin, and oxygen-poor.

Sheppard stood beside him under the wide expanse of washed-out sky. They were positioned at the center of an open-air metal structure, which stood no taller than waist height. It was built like a radially symmetric maze into which the DHD fit like the centerpiece it had revealed itself to be. The metal glinted irregularly through the long grass with reflected light.

There was no sign of McKay or the others.

There was also no sign of a stargate.

“Well,” Sheppard said, philosophic and resigned, “this is bad.”

Ahead of them, a transparent projection flickered to life. It was the image of a woman, projected faintly from the DHD against the shifting stems of grass and the pale uniformity of sky. Her hair was dark and her eyes were dark and she was dressed in white.

“Welcome home,” she said.

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