Mathématique: Chapter 28
The tail end of any bell curve was a precarious place to live.
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.
One week post-Altera, Rush sat next to his window, watching the distant condensation of water vapor in the upper atmosphere. Tesla had come here, with his voltage differentials and his dreams of the complete annihilation of distance, and his obsessive tendencies. He had come to Colorado Springs post-fire, pre-pigeon, and, here, he had measured the resonant frequency of the planet.
The sun was bright, the air was bright, it was a Thursday, and he was having a difficult time.
Demonstrably true, a corollary, probably true, and certainly true.
Was it a Thursday?
Rush sighed, leaning his head back against the wall, surveying the impersonal expanse of his mostly empty rooms and trying to decide whether it was possible that he’d hallucinated a trip to an alien world. The contrast between the hissing wind of Altera and the silence of his apartment could not have been sharper. The nature of reality was not something he’d devoted much mental energy toward examining, apart from the requisite philosophical interest of every civilized mind, but it bothered him now because certain elements of his existence appeared—improbable. In the extreme.
The tail end of any bell curve was a precarious place to live. Fortunately, as he had recently instituted a policy of not anthropomorphizing graphical systems used to represent data, he didn’t have to concern himself with such things.
He contemplated his ceiling without seeing it.
The rest of the cyphers were difficult, each in their own way. He had spent roughly a week parsing out the final four that were explicitly keyed to their chevrons. One looked like a variant of elliptic curve point multiplication, with the caveat that it wasn’t necessarily an elliptic curve. The second looked less like a cypher and more like prompt for a solution set to a Navier-Stokes variant describing predicted turbulence in the formation of an event horizon, the third seemed to be a cryptographic hash function, the fourth—
Yes the fourth.
Or rather, the ninth.
The ninth was tonal.
It certainly was.
If only he’d known.
If only he could have worked on that one before.
Before leaving California.
Before coming here.
They could have done it together. It might not have been so difficult, it might not have been so terrible. But now—he would need to get a sense of their musical structure, what kind of scale they had used, whether their preference was for relatively conjunct or relatively disjunct musical forms. The answer to the latter question knew already because he had heard it on Altera.
Conjunct. Their interval structure was conjunct.
But he wasn’t thinking about that now, that would be a mistake. He was making a strategy for the other three. The curve and the hash function fell squarely within his area of expertise, but the fluid dynamics problem—he’d farm that one out to someone else, Carter, perhaps, or Perry—she wasn’t exactly a specialist in applications of chaos theory but she must have at least some background in the mechanics of plasma flow, given that she worked on hyperdrives and plasma behaved mostly like a fluid, at least, he thought it did—he wasn’t a physicist, even though sometimes he felt like one, especially now when so many of his problems seemed to involve traversing interstellar distances and welding leads to quantum computers.
Yes well, the point was that Perry had the physics background to give it a reasonable go once he’d rendered it for her in a way that she recognized.
So. He would do that so she might get started, and then he would take on one of the others, or maybe both simultaneously, and determined which seemed most amenable to solving. Probably it would be the hash.
He wanted to leave.
He wanted to get out of his apartment with its floor to fucking ceiling windows and its scattered essentials all on the floor. He wanted to live in a place where the sun wasn’t so apparent day after day after day, or at least where it rained—not in the middle of a desert. What had he been thinking—he wasn’t meant to live here, confined to a nameless set of rooms by someone else’s fear. What did they want him for, this Lucian Alliance—what did they want, what was their ethos, what had they wanted with Volker, that ridiculous astrophysicist whom they couldn’t have wanted for his mind or for his math—but only for his genes.
What did it mean to be wanted for one’s genetics?
What was happening to Dale Volker?
He was certain he didn’t want to know.
Rush stood, pressing his hand against the glass of the window, locked inside a clean white room, consumed by a cryptographic spread, waiting for abduction and torture. He looked out over a wide expanse of asphalt roads and parking lots to the distant edges of the Rocky Mountains.
The cyphers would consume him. But they were his. They were his and he was theirs. They belonged to one another, like Colonel Sheppard and his lost city.
He’d dreamed of Atlantis, the last time he’d slept. A silver pier. He’d been hitting golf balls into the sunset.
Someone knocked on his door. It was almost certainly Young.
“I don’t—” he began, flinging the door wide, one hand on the frame, already geared up for a verbal altercation. But. He stopped short.
Because it wasn’t Young. It was Vala.
She stood on his doorstep with an imprudently large bag slung over one shoulder, wearing sunglasses, jeans, and T-shirt that read: "SG-1 Does It with a Lexicon."
“Hello gorgeous,” she said.
“Hello,” he replied cautiously.
They stood there, regarding one another.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” she asked.
“I hadn’t planned on it, no,” Rush replied.
“Well,” Vala said, opening her bag, “I suppose we can do this in the hallway.”
“Do what in the hallway?”
She ducked her head and pulled off her sunglasses, letting her hair fall into her face as she fished around inside her bag and pulled out a pad of paper with a watermark that read CONFIDENTIAL in block capitals.
“I don’t think ‘confidential’ means what you lot seem to think it means,” he said, taking the proffered pad.
“Oh hush,” Vala said. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a pad of paper at that base that doesn’t have the word ‘confidential’ stamped on it?”
“No harder than finding a bookstore,” Rush said. “Which I know lies within your skillset.”
“Why would I pay for paper when I live inside a bureaucratic empire built of the stuff?” she asked him.
“They still use paper?” Rush asked, examining the pad, which seemed to be primarily covered with equations. “How primitive.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Vala said, with only a shadow of her usual verve.
He glanced up at her. Her eyes were red-rimmed, the whites shot through with a laced network of vessels.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yes, of course,” Vala replied. “I have terrible allergies to grass pollen. Just terrible. It’s permeating the atmosphere at extremely high levels today according to my adorable little phone. I’m not accustomed to your ‘Earth plants’.”
He regarded her skeptically.
“Are you going to look at that,” Vala asked him, indicating the pad with her eyes, “or just stand in your doorway like an artistically disheveled ambassador of men’s dress shirts?”
That threw him, as it was no doubt intended to, and he couldn’t help reflexively glancing down at his shirt. It seemed unobjectionable as far as he could tell. He looked back at Vala. There was something about her demeanor that was not quite in place; it lacked the effortless quality that characterized her typical flow of voice and actions.
She had the look of a person lacquered together with her own will.
He looked down at the pad he held, flipping through page after page of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, and sighed. “Would you like to come in?” he asked her, like the admission of defeat it was.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I would.”
He stepped back, swinging the door with him. She entered his apartment and he shut the door behind her, watching and listening and feeling for the click as the catch depressed and the door became part of the planar surface that defined the wall so that he wouldn't have to look at her as she looked at his disastrous set of rooms.
“Minimalist,” Vala said, surveying the atypically empty expanse of his visible floorspace.
He looked at her, adjusting his glasses. “Yes."
“I like it,” Vala said. “I approve.”
“You approve?” he echoed, looking at the furnitureless space, the laptop and lamp and assortment of pens and notebooks spread over the floor.
“It’s terribly practical,” Vala said. “Personal items tie you down. It’s best to have as few as possible. Unless of course, you’re trying to fit into a materialistic society like a native. Then you can buy all the torrid romance novels and body lotion you’d like.”
He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Not that I’d know anything about that,” Vala said, walking toward the window and looking out toward the mountains.
“No,” Rush said. “Of course not.” He looked back down at the legal pad, tracing the miniscule writing that descended in three columns over the front and back of each page, as if paper were something precious.
Maybe, to her, it was.
He watched the progression from algebra and number lines and the basics of factoring to coordinate systems, properties of angles, the axioms of Euclidean geometry, trigonometric functions, angle transformations, the laws of sines and cosines, and the basics of formal proofs.
He looked up at her.
“What do you think?” she murmured.
“I think you may not have been entirely forthright when you said you’d had no formal mathematical instruction,” he said dryly.
“Thank you, gorgeous,” Vala said, sliding down the wall next to the window to sit on the bare floor. “Very flattering, I’m sure.”
He looked at her over the tops of his glasses before flipping the legal pad back to the beginning and studying not her solutions but her mistakes and her methods. “I also think,” he said, slowly closing the distance between them, his steps measured and quiet on the wood of the floor, “that you have an inherent talent for spatial relationships. You began with a terrible instinct for negative and irrational numbers,” he said, frowning at one of her notes to herself, “but you seem to have gotten over that particular hang up fairly quickly. You have a tendency to rely on graphical methods to solve problems, which is not necessarily a drawback at this point, but will hold you back as you progress.”
Vala leaned forward, watching him continue to scan the yellow pages.
He dropped down into a seated position on the floor directly opposite her.
“I find it astonishing that you completed all of this in less than a month,” he said. “You must have been familiar with some of it, at least indirectly.”
“I come from a culture that believes numbers are sacred.“ Vala paused. “I was instructed in their use by someone who had a love for the beautiful and the arcane.” Her statement carried a profound quality that was beyond the current scope of his insight. Or, maybe, just beyond the current scope of his security clearance.
“Fascinating,” Rush murmured, dropping his eyes back to the classified algebra. “That would explain your difficulty with irrationals.”
“Even now,” Vala said, “I find it hard to think about them. I feel the need to ward something off.”
“You’re hardly alone there,” Rush replied. “Upon their discovery, the cult of Pythagoras murdered one of their members for the demonstration of the irrational nature of the square root of two.”
“I wonder if Pythagoras was a Goa’uld,” Vala said.
“Perhaps. That story is likely apocryphal. Don’t let it stand in the way of enjoying his theorem.”
“I would never,” Vala said, smiling faintly. “I understand where he’s coming from. Irrational numbers—“ she broke off, shuddering. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the instinctive horror and the instinctive reverence.”
“Reverence?” Rush asked. “Nevermind. I’m sure the Goa’uld had a mystical appreciation of pi.”
“Pi yes, but don’t get me started on phi.”
Rush smirked at her. “Phi? How ostentatious.”
“Well, that’s the Goa’uld for you, gorgeous. Very excited about pi and phi, very hush-hush about e, vilifying the rest. It never occurred to me that there would be so many of them.”
“Irrational numbers? Just wait until you get to set theory.”
“What’s ‘set theory’?” Vala asked.
“An entire branch of mathematics dedicated to describing groups of things.”
“Sounds—well, I’m not going to lie to you gorgeous, it sounds a bit boring.”
“Incorrect,” Rush replied.
“You’re terribly sure of yourself over there,” Vala said, closing her bloodshot eyes.
“Yes,” Rush said. “Well. This is my profession.”
Vala smiled, her eyes still shut. “Have you really done this,” she whispered, “for your whole life?”
“What?” Rush asked, quietly. “Mathematics?”
“For most of it,” Rush replied.
“And you chose it?” Vala asked.
“Yes,” Rush replied.
“I have a daughter,” she said.
“Ah.” Rush realized he didn’t understand the nature of their conversational trajectory—where it had come from and what it might be progressing towards.
“Her name is Adria,” Vala said.
“That’s—a nice name.”
“It is, isn’t it? She’s trying to destroy this galaxy.”
Rush said nothing.
Vala said nothing.
Rush said nothing.
Vala said nothing.
“Ah,” Rush said.
Vala laughed, high and torn. “I know,” she said.
“How old does one have to be to destroy a galaxy?” Rush asked.
“She’s—not really aging in the conventional sense,” Vala said. “I’m sure that you don’t have the security clearance for this, gorgeous, I shouldn’t have mentioned it, don’t tell your neighbor. I just—she’s terribly bright, and I can see echoes of what she would have been if she hadn’t been twisted by what happened to her, if she hadn’t been corrupted by her upbringing and her nature and I never wanted a child, why would I bring some other consciousness into a galaxy like this one? This planet is the only place I’ve ever been that allows some kind of self-determination about one’s own future, and even here it’s not universal, you have those who are destitute, who spend most of their mental resources finding a way to secure their next meal, those who are discriminated against, those who are trapped by the unenlightened parts of your hierarchical social order, but still.” Her voice had faded to nothing. “Still. There are mathematicians.” Vala turned away, her face hidden by her hand.
Rush wondered why she was telling him this. Telling it to him and not to Jackson. Jackson seemed like the right person to tell these kinds of things to.
“What happened?” Rush asked. “Something must have happened.”
“This week?” Vala whispered. “One hundred thousand Jaffa were killed. Their nation was fractured. My daughter destroyed an Ancient temple of unparalleled religious and scientific import that contained a weapon that might have been used against her. She nearly murdered Daniel while I watched.”
“Ah,” Rush said, subjectively and objectively out of his depth and his security clearance.
“I’m sorry,” Vala said, looking out the window, into the light of the afternoon sun. “I didn’t come here for this.”
“What did you come here for?” he asked.
“I came here for approval to progress to calculus.”
“You certainly need no such thing,” he said dryly.
“I’m glad to hear that, gorgeous, because I already purchased a book.”
“I’m unsurprised,” Rush said. “Do you have it with you?”
Vala reached into her bag and pulled out a weighty textbook. She handed it over.
Rush took it, eyeing the cover art with narrowed eyes. Across the cover of a book was an integral symbol styled as an f-hole of a stringed instrument.
“What?” Vala asked.
“Nothing,” he said, opening it. He flipped to the index, scanning the list of covered topics. “After this,” he said, “it gets interesting.”
“It’s already interesting,” Vala replied.
“Good,” he said, handing the book back to her, cover down.
“How are you, gorgeous?” Vala asked. “Your little offworld adventure is all the rage at the water coolers these days.”
“Is it?” Rush asked.
“Well, it would be if the SGC had water coolers instead of a state-of-the-art water filtration system available only on floors where there aren’t any labs. But you know what I mean. I’ve heard it wasn’t successful,” she said.
“Yes well,” Rush said. “Real world applications of quantum phenomena are few and far between. I suspect there will be a bit of a learning curve.”
“I’ve also heard that you and Dr. Perry haven’t met in a week,” she said, idly fingering the ends of her hair. “I’ve heard that neither of you have made any follow-up attempts to solve whatever problem it was that you ran into.”
Ah. That had, potentially, been an oversight.
“We’re regrouping,” Rush said, trying for casual, but falling straight to defensive instead.
Vala fixed him with a sharp look. “Then I’d suggest making it look like you’re regrouping, hmm?”
“Why so interested?” Rush countered, recovering his equilibrium.
“That’s the spirit,” Vala said, “and carry that mace.”
“I refuse to carry mace.”
“I don’t understand your resistance to this, gorgeous,” Vala sighed.
He couldn’t explain it to her, could barely explain it to himself. He didn’t want to think of it or discuss it, whatever it was that lived under the veneer of civilization which was, as Vala had stated, a veneer of choice, of peer-to-peer implicit trust settings, of rising above one’s genetics and one’s nature. He would not be dragged back into a world where survival was contingent upon the vicious determination to persist, where hierarchy derived from strength and chance rather than from merit.
“No,” he said. “You don’t.”
Vala regarded him silently. He wondered how much she understood of his unvocalized sentiment.
“All right,” she said finally. “No mace. But have you considered aikido?”
He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Just a thought,” Vala said. “Teal’c has taken it up.”
“You are incorrigible,” Rush said.
“Well, I hear you’re ‘a lot of work’,” Vala replied. “Personally, I don’t see it.”
He slips in blood that never seems to dry. He’s next to Sheppard. That’s where he falls.
“You think she would have ever wanted this?” it asks. “Because you know she loved you, just not why.”
It wasn’t like this for Sheppard. He knows because he saw. Is there a moment when they both are dead before the system grants them their reset? He likes to think there is. Already he can feel the blade against his throat.
“If you’re caught in endless torment here, it will be nothing less than you deserve.”
“Why?” he asks against the blade, its edge an asymptote of death.
It does not halt its press of blade but when it speaks, it’s kind. “This is what you believe.”He cannot speak past slide of knife, it cuts into his throat, and—
Alone. Running. Through corridors of light. His hands are not his hands, his clothes are not his clothes. He keeps a measured pace. The floor is silver metal and rings quietly with his steps. The walls are made of glass. Above him is the open sky. Light glitters off the water. He can’t hear the waves he can see.
Rush snapped awake, muscles contracting instinctively, his hands coming to his throat fast and bilateral. Gasping. Disoriented. Surrounded by light and soaked in sweat.
It took him an uncounted but significant interval to understand that he had imprudently fallen asleep on the floor of his apartment, post meeting with Vala. It took him another substantial interval to understand that someone was knocking on his door. Insistently.
He pushed himself up to knees and then to his feet, barely able to see past the pain of a photosensitive headache and the fading of his surroundings into the gray static of hypotension. How long had he been lying there? Could it have been an entire day? Was it still Thursday? He was sleep deprived enough that missing a day was possible, though not necessarily likely. He should make more of an effort to keep track of the days at baseline but he didn’t even have the cyclical order imposed by the structure of the workweek of the western world to orient him.
Maybe he could fucking carve notches on his fucking wall, seeing that his apartment had become a kind of prison.
He crossed the room and flung open his door. “What?” he snarled.
To no one’s surprise, least of all his, it was Young, standing there in his usual state, which seemed to be stoic silence trending toward disapproval. “You look terrible,” the man said, by way of greeting.
Yes well, that was probably true, considering that he felt terrible. He wished he could say something equally disparaging about Young’s current appearance, but, unfortunately Young looked unfairly presentable in his uniformed, well-groomed, orderly, cane-wielding way. So Rush said nothing.
“If you pass out in this hallway, again,” Young said, “you’re spending a night in the base infirmary.”
“I’m hardly going to pass out.”
“You say that like you’ve never done it before.”
“Did you want something?” Rush asked.
That answered his question regarding the time.
“Is it Thursday,” Rush asked, “or Friday?”
“It’s Tuesday,” Young said slowly.
Maybe it had always been Tuesday.
“Ah,” Rush said.
“I bought you tacos.”
“I’m certain you did no such thing,” Rush replied.
“Well, I thought about buying you tacos, and then I thought about throwing them away while you made something infinitely better and decided not to waste resources. So, I skipped the part where I actually bought them.”
There was no question about it; Young’s conversational skills were improving.
“Fucking call fucking Jackson or some other maladjusted personality to keep you company. I’m otherwise engaged.”
“Jackson is extremely normal,” Young said. “Kind of. Mostly. Sometimes. Barely. He can fake it like a champ. Are you annoyed I ditched you for dinner yesterday? I told you I had a meeting.”
He now had enough contextual information to decide it was indeed still Thursday, by which he meant Tuesday, likely somewhere between five and seven PM, and he was fairly certain he’d slept for somewhere between three and five hours rather than something like twenty-seven or twenty-nine hours, but he wasn’t entirely certain because his deductive efficiency was being impeded by his headache, disorientation, and disbelief at the idea that Young would think he would be annoyed at being left to his own devices for a day, but—what had he done yesterday? Today? This morning?
Parsing remaining cyphers.
That was what he’d been doing.
“Rush,” Young said, unnecessarily slowly, “are you all right?”
“Yes,” Rush said. “I’m fine.”
“Dinner?” Young said again.
“Good choice,” Young said. “Grab your stuff.”
Rush raised his eyebrows.
“Phone?” Young growled. “Signal scrambler? Laptop?”
“I don’t require computational assistance to make you dinner.”
“Yeah, but you’re going to want it.”
“You literally always want your laptop if you have two seconds to rub together.”
Previous experience would seem to bear Young out.
Rush rolled his eyes. “One moment.”
He shut the door in the middle of Young’s exasperated pull of his name and located his phone, signal scrambler and laptop in short order. When he reopened the door, he found Young leaning against the wall.
“Is there a reason you won’t let me into your apartment?” Young asked.
“Do I need one?” Rush shot back, pulling his door closed, thousands of dollars of technology pinned between his right arm and right hip.
“No, I’m just pretty sure you have one.”
“I don’t let anyone in,” Rush replied.
Except, apparently, Vala, but Young didn’t need to know that.
“Not a bad instinct given your current situation,” Young said, leaning heavily on his cane as they progressed down the hallway, “though I’d be surprised if that was your real motive for keeping people out.”
Rush shrugged, and Young opened the door to his apartment. The place was painfully awash in the light of early evening. He nearly tripped over a box of books positioned near the door, but stepped laterally at the last minute.
“Watch out,” Young said belatedly.
“Thank you,” Rush replied, with all the aridity he could muster while simultaneously shielding his eyes.
He set his collection of electronic devices on Young’s coffee table and then collected himself enough to shut the nearest set of blinds.
“You sure you’re okay, hotshot?” Young asked, shutting the door.
His head felt like someone was prying it open with a tool manufactured by primitive man.
This was not an unusual state for him.
“I need coffee,” he said.
“Are you sure? Because I think maybe you need a ten day nap and some soup.” Young closed the second set of blinds.
“Coffee,” Rush repeated.
“Come on then,” Young said, limping toward the kitchen, shutting blinds as he went.
Rush followed him, one hand pressed to the side of his head.
“So,” Young said, his voice an overtone to the reassuring, mechanized sound of the coffee maker. “Jackson tells me that you’re legit famous.”
“Does he?” Rush asked, unwilling to commit to so much as looking in Young’s cabinets for culinary inspiration before he had some demonstrable evidence that the portion of his headache made up from caffeine-withdrawal was going to come to an end sometime in the near future.
“Yup, at least as famous as some other math guy I’ve never heard of,” Young said.
Andrew Wiles, most likely.
“Oh good,” Rush replied, squinting at him.
“He says people don’t yet fully understand the implications of your work, but that it’s already turning information security on its head, and it’s probably going to increase the efficiency of computational rendering of—stuff.”
“Yes,” Rush said dryly, “I’m sure it will.”
I’m not gonna lie to you hotshot, I’m not entirely sure what kind of stuff and I don’t think Jackson was either, though he talks a good game.” Young handed him a cup of coffee.
Rush held the cup for a moment, feeling profoundly relieved and profoundly overheated.
“Basically what I want to know,” Young said, “is how jealous the academic math community is that the most hotshot of all math hotshots is making me dinner.”
“That depends on whether or not they’re personally acquainted with me,” Rush said, trying to drink his coffee and succeeding only in burning his mouth. “Envy is going to be inversely proportional to degree of acquaintance.”
Young looked at him for a moment, working though his statement before he said, “but do any of them know about the culinary skill set you’ve got on you?”
“No,” Rush said, as he pulled open Young’s refrigerator.
The combination of cold air and hot coffee was both dissonant and welcome.
“So, I’m just gonna go with the idea that I am the envy of mathematicians everywhere.”
“An unimpressively small subset of academia that is by no means universally prone to envy,” Rush replied.
“I’d say you’d net a greater proportion and absolute number of envious computer scientists.”
“I can live with that,” Young said. “What are you going to make?”
“Watermelon bisque,” Rush decided, “paired with whatever fish it is that Vala bought you.”
“How do you know it was Vala?” Young asked, sounding offended. “I could have bought that fish. You don’t know.”
“I know,” Rush said. “The only things you buy are alcohol and frozen pizza of deplorable quality. Plus, the woman has a bizarre love for supermarkets and other examples of capitalism at work. Jackson should fucking take her to New York.”
“Yeah, but the man’s about as sharp as a wooden spoon when it comes to those kinds of things, I think,” Young said.
“That, or acutely aware and acutely terrified,” Rush said, pulling out a cutting board before turning his attention to making demonstrable process on his coffee.
“Huh. Maybe,” Young said.
“Speaking of things that are dull,” Rush began, giving Young a pointed look.
“Hey,” Young said. “You watch yourself there, hotshot.”
“Your knives,” Rush continued, “are unacceptable. I require you to purchase a high quality set of cutlery and accompanying knife block if you ever,” he said, putting his back into bisecting the fruit in front of him, “want watermelon bisque again.”
“Oh yeah?” Young said, opening the refrigerator and retrieving a beer which he then levered open. “I’ll take that under advisement. Depends on how outstanding this damn ‘bisque’ actually is. Beer?” he asked.
“No thank you. Do I seem like the kind of person who would enjoy—” Rush glanced at the bottle, “—Coors Light?”
“Not really, no, but I’m an optimist. Do you drink? At all?”
“I have wine,” Young said. “White goes with fish, right?”
“Who chose it?” Rush asked. “You or Vala?”
“Which answer is the one that will make you more likely to drink it?”
Rush paused in his chopping to consider. He made some additional progress on drinking his coffee.
“Keep in mind, it’s been heavily implied that she’s an alien,” Young said. “Though officially I’m not confirming or denying that either way. You know she likes herself a weird-ass cocktail.”
Rush raised his eyebrows.
“You remember that thing,” Young continued.
“I liked that cocktail,” Rush replied.
“Admit it,” Young said. “You only claimed to like it because you’re a contrarian.”
“I’ll admit I’m astonished you know that word,” Rush said, “and nothing else.” He resumed chopping the watermelon.
“It’s a Sauvignon Blanc,” Young said, “and I’m definitely not telling you who bought it.”
Rush still said nothing. He was undecided. A cost benefit analysis of drinking wine under these particular circumstances yielded no clear outcome. In the ‘benefits’ column, he very much approved of the fish/watermelon/Sauvignon Blanc trifecta from a culinary, cultural, and aesthetic perspective. Also in the benefits column was the strong suspicion that if he decided to drink wine than Young would likely switch from beer to wine, which would be a positive because the idea of pairing fish and watermelon bisque with Coors Light was fair fucking vexing. In the costs column—well, he didn’t particularly care to enumerate the costs column, as potential costs were poorly defined but potentially profound, depending on many variables. He still was not entirely sure how he really felt about this arrangement that he’d somehow entered into with Young. It contained many tacit assumptions.
“Well,” Young said in that extremely transparent, overly casual manner he adopted at intervals, “you let me know when you decide, hotshot.” Young reached up to open a cabinet, wincing as the motion strained his back. He pulled out a glass and filled it with water before setting it down next to Rush. “You should probably drink that,” he said. “I’m still not convinced that you’re not going to pass out in my kitchen before this bisque materializes.”
“If by ‘materializes’ you mean ‘is flawlessly, competently constructed’,” Rush said, as he continued slicing.
“Yup,” Young said. “That. You eat and drink more than once a day, right? You know that this is one of those things that humans are supposed to do?”
“So, tell me, how’s the galaxy these days?” Rush asked, changing the subject, eating a piece of watermelon with artful nonchalance.
“Going to shit. Why do you ask?” Young replied, leaning against the counter.
“No reason,” Rush said, not looking at him as he transferred the watermelon to the blender before beginning to crush and mince garlic.
“You hear something about it?” Young asked.
“I’m fucking shut in a set of rooms all day,” Rush said, “where am I going to hear anything?”
“The galaxy’s been better,” Young said. “No secret there. At least not from a guy-with-level-one-security-clearance standpoint.”
“I feel that I should, at a minimum, be level two,” Rush said.
“Well,” Young said. “You’re not the only one. McKay petitioned the SGC to up your clearance.”
“McKay?” Rush echoed.
“He wants to be able to gate-skype with you,” Young said. “Well, either he does, or Sheppard does, I’m not sure which; they’re a little bit interchangeable when it comes to circumventing red tape. They tend to front for each other. Drives Homeworld Command crazy.”
“Is that likely to happen?” Rush asked. “Level two security clearance?”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” Young said, “but you never know. Jackson’s in your corner, so I’d say there’s at least a small chance, but then, Jackson’s always been in your corner.”
“Has he?” Rush asked.
“Yeah,” Young said quietly. “Definitely.”
Rush hit the blender, and their conversation was interrupted by a bladed whir.
Young motioned at him as he pulled a vibrating phone out of his pocket.
Rush killed the blender and picked up his coffee, downing the remains of the cup in a one-er, deciding that his headache was trending away from craniotomy levels and toward something more manageable.
“Emily,” Young said. “Hey.”
Rush pulled the fish out of the fridge and wondered what the fuck he was going to do with it.
“Yeah,” Young said. “Yeah, I have them.”
Baking seemed easiest. He decided to improvise a watermelon-based salsa to go with the bisque.
“Now?” Young asked. “I kind of have dinner plans.”
“No, you don’t,” Rush said, rolling his eyes.
Young glared at him before continuing, “No, it’s um, dinner with a coworker. A scientist on the project that I—“
Rush raised his eyebrows.
“No,” Young said emphatically. “No. It’s nothing like that. Now is good. Now is fine. Come on up.” He hung up the phone.
“So,” Rush said significantly.
Young shot him a steely look.
Unperturbed, Rush began assembling the fish in a glass baking pan.
“We’re exchanging personal items,” Young said.
“I see,” Rush said. “So she gets her three copies of Sense and Sensibility, and you get—what? Tell me it’s a food processor.”
“No,” Young said dryly. “I don’t think so.”
“I concur,” Rush said. “You clearly ended up with the lesser half of a marginally adequate kitchen. Would you like me to leave? I’d be happy to oblige.”
“Are you kidding me?” Young asked. “No. Now you have to stay. It’s going to look—weird if I’m supposedly cooking an elaborate dinner in an empty apartment, especially given the fact that I don’t cook. Watermelon bisque? I mean, come on.” The man seemed anxious.
“Do you want to invite her to dinner?” Rush asked.
“No,” Young said. “No.”
“Are you trying to reestablish your relationship?”
“Oh my god. No,” Young said.
“Are you planning to eventually—”
“Can you stop talking? Where is Jackson when you need the guy?”
“You had best be grateful that I’m not Jackson,” Rush said dryly. “Jackson would certainly invite your ex-wife to dinner simply because he is, ostensibly, a human being par excellence, and would not be physically capable of sending her away without some fucking fantastic bisque.”
“Was that ostensibly a human, or ostensibly ‘par excellence’?”
“What do you think?”
“Well I don’t know, Rush,” Young said. “That’s why I asked.”
“The entire merit of the construction lies in its ambiguity. Obviously.” Rush restarted the blender, let it run for a few minutes, then killed it. “Casper,” he said.
Young looked at him, a distinctly amused cast to his features. “Nope,” he said.
“Laramie,” Rush said.
Young shook his head.
“You’re not gonna get it, hotshot.”
“I’m certain I will.”
“Did you start memorizing the names of Wyoming cities in order of population density?”
“No,” Rush snapped.
“Just declare defeat,” Young said, “and I’ll tell you.”
“Un-fucking-likely,” Rush shot back.
There was a knock on the door.
“Come on,” Young said.
“You want me to meet her?” Rush asked, surprised.
“Well, ideally this wouldn’t be happening at all, but I think it’s weirder if there’s a half-dead mathematician in my kitchen cooking me bisque behind the scenes, don’t you?”
“Half-dead?” Rush echoed.
“Look in a mirror, hotshot,” Young said over his shoulder as he limped out of the kitchen.
“I don’t understand what you have against bisque,” Rush said, following him out of the kitchen. “Bisque is not that fucking rare, you know. Admittedly, making a bisque out of watermelon is a bit of a perversion of what is classically meant by ‘bisque,’ but I’m not a culinary historian.”
“Your expectations about my expectations may be the strangest thing about you,” Young said, “but I’m not sure.”
Young opened the door to reveal a blonde woman in a pale pink blouse, wearing khaki pants and low black heels, holding a cardboard box. “Hey Em,” he said, swinging the door wide. “Come on in. Let me take that.” He set his cane against the wall.
“I think you’d better not,” Emily said, eyeing the cane and stepping past him. She looked at Rush. “Hi,” she said, as she put her box down on the end of the couch. She extended a hand.
He took it. “Nicholas Rush,” he said.
“Emily Thenardier,” she replied.
“I told you I was going to change it back,” she said, glancing at him.
“Yeah,” Young said. “I know. I know.”
Rush politely looked at the edge of the open door.
“How’s your back?” Emily asked. “And your hip?”
“Fine,” Young said. “Good. Getting better.”
“I thought you didn’t need the cane anymore,” she asked, toying with the cuff of her shirt.
“Just a setback,” Young said. “That’s all.”
“A setback,” Emily echoed, giving the word a gravitas that did not seem to suit it.
There was a prolonged, uncomfortable silence.
“Are you cooking?” Emily asked finally, looking at Young.
“No,” Young said. “Definitely not. Rush is cooking.”
“Oh,” Emily said, looking at him. “That’s very nice of you.”
“Yes,” Rush said, giving her a half smile. “I’m aware.”
Emily smiled back at him, quick and polite.
“You want to stay to dinner?” Young asked.
“No thanks,” Emily said. “I have to get going. Enjoy your—“ she paused.
“Watermelon bisque,” Young said.
Emily looked at Rush with increased interest. “Watermelon bisque?”
He nodded at her.
“Offer’s still open,” Young said.
“I can’t,” Emily said, “but thank you.” She glanced at the floor, taking in the box near the doorway. “Is this it?”
“Yeah,” Young said.
She glanced through its contents and pulled out one of the books. “This was for you,” Emily said, pulling out ‘The Girl’s Guide to Everything,’ and setting it on Young’s couch.
“Thanks,” Young said dryly.
“Take care,” she said, getting to her feet. “Nice meeting you,” she added, looking at Rush.
He nodded at her.
“I’ll call you,” Emily said, looking at Young.
“Yeah,” Young said. “Okay.” He shut the door behind her.
Rush looked at him, his eyebrows raised, arms crossed.
“Not a word,” Young said.
After dinner, after his headache had receded into a chronic, conquered smolder, after the sun had set beyond the western mountains and no longer exerted a threatening presence behind lowered shades but before they had gotten up from the table, Young asked him a question.
“So, what do you think of all of this, hotshot?”
Young had been asking him iterating questions about his mental state for days now, following his planetary adventure with Sheppard, but this particular variant was a new one.
“You’re going to have to specify,” Rush said, tracing the edge where his wine glass ended and the table began with his index finger as he leveled the full force of his attention straight at his neighbor.
Young looked mildly alarmed, but when he spoke his voice was perfectly controlled. “You’re a smart guy,” he said, “and don’t think I haven’t noticed that you’re aces at getting information out of people. Like Jackson. Like Vala. Hell, Sheppard spent less than a day with you and gave you the server codes to flag your email to Atlantis, which, while not technically prohibited given his status within the program, was not a popular move. So. I’m pretty sure that you’ve made some kind of strategic assessment about what’s going on and I’m curious as to what it is.”
Rush raised his eyebrows.
“And don’t give me that,” Young said.
Young overestimated his interest in everything except for his cypher set. But by simply posing the question, the man implied that perhaps there was something that Rush was missing.
He had assumed that he had been recruited to navigate the maze that had been woven into the intergalactic transportation system that humanity had discovered and appropriated. Recruited to define it, to parse it, to separate it, and to unlock it. Only slowly had the threat of the Lucian Alliance been introduced, though he suspected it had been there all along, simmering unmentioned as events outside the scope of his knowledge took their course. It had likely been there before he’d met Jackson. Before he’d met Telford.
Jackson and Telford.
“It’s the genetics aspect that bothers me,” Rush said quietly. “Why they wouldn’t tell me, and then—“
“Why someone tipped you?” Young asked.
“No one ‘tipped’ me,” he snapped. “As I stated. Repeatedly. In a debriefing that lasted for eight hours. I simply decided to—”
“Hotshot,” Young said, cutting him off, “I know someone tipped you. And I know who.”
Rush shot Young his most icily neutral expression.
“I’m not trying to give you a hard time,” Young said. “I just want to know why you think you were tipped.”
“Because I deserve to know,” Rush shot back. “It’s my fucking file, and they’re my fucking genes.”
“Yeah,” Young said. “This is true. But I’m not sure you realize the incredible risk that—the person who tipped you took. The risk that Lam ran in physically handing over your file. Your right to that knowledge had already been denied categorically by this institution for strategic reasons, but someone within that organization gave it to you anyway. To you, but not to anyone else. That astrophysicist—Volker? You think he knew anything about his genes? You think he knew why he lit up red in that LA fog while other people didn’t?” Young was leaning back in his chair, one arm draped casually over it’s back. He wasn’t looking at Rush. He was looking at the opposite wall.
Rush looked away, his gaze fixed on his glass as he considered Jackson.
The man had made only a halfhearted effort to recruit him, especially when compared with Telford’s single-minded persistence. He spent most of his conversational energy trying to get Rush to go to Atlantis nearly every time they interatcted. He had told Rush about his file and had given him a second reason that the Lucian Alliance might want to abduct him. A second reason that had, on the same day he’d discovered the file, been revealed to be their primary motivation because they had flooded the base with a gas that lit up their targets and they had taken Volker.
Volker, who was an astrophysicist. Who had about as much chance of working through the cryptosystems of the gate as Rush had of discovering an exoplanet.
Jackson had told him about his genetic status but, in so doing, he had, obliquely, told him why the Lucian Alliance wanted him. He had also undermined Rush’s implicit peer-to-peer trust settings within the context of the SGC and that, perhaps, had been his real goal.
Fucking Jackson with his empathy and his subtlety and his concern for everyone that was probably in no way feigned.
The cyphers and the genes.
Jackson and Telford.
“It does beg the question,” Rush said, still watching Young, “of when the SGC knew that I was positive for all three genes. Before I was identified as a recruitment target, or after?”
“Yup,” Young said. “It does make you wonder.”
“The other obvious question,” Rush said, “is what’s the utility of having all three genes?”
“Any thoughts about that?” Young asked.
Ancient technology would open to him.
It had already done so.
“Compatibility with Ancient technology is the obvious benefit, but there are, of course, darker alternatives, depending on the eugenic aspirations of the Lucian Alliance,” he said.
From the look on Young’s face, the latter possibility had not occurred to him.
It had been the first thing that had occurred to Rush.
If he had been recruited to the SGC for his genes, and if his genetics were the primary motivator behind the Lucian Alliance’s campaign to abduct him, given the astounding level of infiltration the LA had achieved, then perhaps—
Perhaps the goals of the Lucian Alliance and the goals of the SGC were aligned.
Perhaps they wanted him for the same thing.
For some defined task or purpose.
Something that Jackson feared.
Something that Jackson hated.
Something that Telford embraced.
“The interests of the Lucian Alliance and the SGC overlap,” he said, flashing Young a humorless, uneven smile. “Don’t they.”
“I think you should seriously consider visiting Atlantis,” Young said.