Mathématique: Chapter 29

The Dodge Charger was a man’s car.

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.

Chapter 29

The early morning sun promised another day of relentless heat and light. 

Young adjusted his sunglasses as he drove over empty roads toward Cheyenne Mountain, enjoying the graded curves of the inclined ascent.

The Dodge Charger was a man’s car. He liked the look of it, he liked the feel of it, he liked its aesthetic and its lines and the deep black of its paint and its acceleration into and out of turns, the kick of it’s V8 350 horsepower engine, the friction of its tires over asphalt.

The only person who Young could think of who had a better car than he did was Sheppard. And maybe Carter, who so secretive about her car and the upgrades she put into it that Young suspected it wasn’t street legal. And maybe McKay, though prototypes should be disqualified as comparison material.

Mitchell liked to claim the Camaro was more badass and, on paper, sure, it could pull zero to sixty faster than the Charger, but the point was that Mitchell’s Camaro most definitely could not outgun Young’s Charger, not that they had tested this in the middle of the salt flats, because probably that required a permit of some kind and they were responsible professionals. The point was that these things had to be considered on a case-by-case basis, and his Charger could wipe the floor with Mitchell’s Camaro any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

He was pretty sure that Rush hadn’t even really noticed his car, despite the fact that he’d ridden in it about ten times at this point. Young was in no way offended.

Well. Maybe a little bit.

But then, ‘not noticing normal things’ seemed to be an intrinsic part of Rush’s personality—just who the guy was. Young wasn’t sure that the man ever noticed anything that didn’t have math on or around it. That was the impression he seemed to be determined to give to the world, at least. Maybe it wasn’t quite as true as it seemed. The guy could cook a mean three-course meal. And then there was the question of the Prius.

Young was incredibly curious as to how Rush had ended up with a white Prius. On some levels it made sense. Rush was probably pretty environmentally conscious. The man had spent a good chunk of time at Berkeley, so it stood to reason that some of the liberal mentality had probably rubbed off. Or been required. Or something. But if Rush was going to have a Prius, it should at least be a red Prius. Maybe blue. Blue could work. The thing was, Rush just seemed like the kind of guy that should have a convertible. Though, if he did have a convertible, Young was pretty sure that in that case it wouldn’t be red.

Maybe silver. Maybe black. As for make and model, well, that was trickier. He had the feeling that Rush would have a philosophic objection to a luxury car.

He’d spent too much time thinking about this.

One thing was clear.

Young was going to have to ask him about his car.

Ideally in such a way that didn’t imply he thought a Prius was a bad choice.

Because it wasn’t.

It just wasn’t an inspired choice. For Rush.

He sighed.

Watermelon bisque and witty repartee aside, the guy hadn’t looked great when Young had stopped by his apartment the previous day. He’d looked sick—pale, sweating, and breathing a little too fast for someone who was supposedly sitting in his apartment doing math. Young hadn’t seen him look that bad since the first time he’d met the man and at that point Rush had been unconscious.

It didn’t take a genius level IQ to figure that you couldn’t transition a guy who was essentially under house arrest to a lethal, psychologically-disturbing alien planet for a day and then put him back in his apartment alone with almost no contact with the outside world and expect him to cope all that well.

God, how many times had they ‘died’ on that planet? Sheppard had lost count.

Rush should be talking to someone. Normally, he would have been required to do so. The current situation was, unfortunately, not normal.

Young navigated the final, winding approach to the base, flashed his ID, and was waved through by the guard at the gate. He parked his car as near to the entrance as he could and stepped out into the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain.

Mitchell was nearby, pulling a messenger bag out of his own car and settling it over his shoulder

“Hey,” the other man said. “You’re looking particularly badass today.”

“Oh yeah,” Young replied, pulling his cane out of his back seat, his back sending a bolt of pain straight down his leg for his trouble. “Real badass.” He waved the cane disgustedly.

“Eh,” Mitchell said, unimpressed with Young’s self-deprecating cane-brandishment, “did I ever tell you about the time I stopped a purse snatcher with a well-placed crutch? You could do a number on someone with that thing.”

“Thanks?” Young replied.

“So what brings the ‘light duty restricted’ to the base at oh seven hundred?” Mitchell asked as they approached the doors.

“A meeting,” Young said.

“Oh boy,” Mitchell said, the words a dark, discordant pull. He held the door while Young walked through. After they flashed their badges for the guards inside the doors, Young shot him a questioning look.

“Jackson has an early morning meeting,” Mitchell said quietly. “Same one?”

Young shrugged. “Can’t say.”

Mitchell said nothing.

Young said nothing.

They boarded the elevator and descended into the base in silence.

At level twenty-one the elevator slid open. Mitchell stepped off and turned, placing a booted foot against the recessed doors. “Good luck,” he said quietly. “Play it cool. Don’t let Jackson heat things up.”

“Yup,” Young said, unsettled.

Mitchell withdrew his foot and the elevator closed again, bringing Young down to level twenty-eight. He walked toward the briefing room, leaning heavily on his cane. He arrived precisely on time, but when he rounded the doorframe the only people in the room were Walter Harriman and General O’Neill, who was seated at the head of the table, folding a piece of torn notebook paper into a compact triangle.

“General,” Young said as he entered. “Harriman.”

“Colonel,” Harriman said, nodding at him.

“Everett,” O’Neill said, waving away the burst of salutes that threatened to break out between the three of them. “Last time I saw you, you didn’t have a cane.”

“Small setback,” Young said, “nothing to worry about.”

“That’s the spirit,” O’Neill said. “Coffee’s on your right if you want it.”

“Thanks,” Young said, moving to pour himself a cup. “Where is everyone?”

“Daniel runs on a schedule that’s at least five minutes out of sync with the rest of the world,” O’Neill said. “And Landry—well, he’s coming with Lam this morning.”

“I didn’t realize she was back from medical leave,” Young said, stirring sugar that he didn’t really want into his coffee.

“Day one post—well, everything,” O’Neill said, grimacing. “I think.” He glanced at Harriman.

“That’s correct, sir,” Harriman confirmed. 

Young eyed the table, trying to decide where to place himself to maximize the chances of sitting across from Jackson rather than next to the man. He left two seats between himself and O’Neill, picking the opposite side of the table from the one Harriman had chosen.

“Telford’s seat,” O’Neill said mildly. “How’d you know?”

“Lucky guess,” Young said.

O’Neill used his pen to flick his carefully folded paper at a trashcan near the table with the coffee. It sailed in a flawless parabolic arc, hitting the metal with a satisfying clang.

“Nice shot, sir,” Harriman said.

“Thank you, Walter,” O’Neill replied with mock-arrogance.

Young did his best to not fall into the casual mindset invited by O’Neill’s calculated irreverence. He took a sip of his coffee. It was awful.

Movement in his peripheral vision caught his eye and he looked up to see Landry and Lam come through the open doorway. Lam looked diminished somehow, pale and thin and fragile without her high-heeled shoes, without the sweeping lines of her white coat, and without her stethoscope hanging like a primitive charm about her neck.

Young stood abruptly, instinctively, at the sight of her. O’Neill and Harriman did the same. O’Neill took a step forward but stopped at a brief shake of the head from Landry. Never had it hit Young so hard that Lam and Landry were related.

“Gentlemen,” Lam said. Her tone held the same low, brusque quality it had always possessed. She swept the room with her eyes, leaning on her father’s arm.

“Dr. Lam,” O’Neill replied. “Glad to see you on your feet.”

Landry helped her to the chair next to Young.

Young pulled it out and slid it carefully beneath her as she sat.

“Thank you,” she murmured, glancing up at him.

“No problem.”

“I heard you reinjured your back,” Lam said, quirking a disapproving eyebrow at him.

“Just a little,” Young replied, finding defense in understatement. “Can I get you some coffee?”

Lam looked wistfully at the cup in his hand but shook her head.

“Where’s Jackson,” Landry asked the room.

“Right here,” Jackson announced, sweeping through the door with two cups of some kind of beverage and a stack of files that seemed to be coming apart. He deposited everything in a pile next to Harriman and then leaned forward to slide one of the paper cups across the table toward Lam.

“I can’t,” Lam said.

“It’s herbal tea,” Jackson said softly. “Chamomile. I know you can’t drink much of it, but it’s freezing in here with the AC cranked up. How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Lam said, reaching forward to wrap both hands around the cup as she drew it toward her, revealing a bandage over her left wrist. She looked up at Jackson with a faint smile. “Thank you. How’s Colonel Carter?”

“Spending her sick days reinventing physics,” Jackson said. “She’s doing great.”

Lam nodded and smelled her tea.

Jackson looked over and locked eyes with Young.

Young gave him a subtle nod.

“Where’s my fancy beverage?” O’Neill asked.

“I only have two hands,” Jackson replied, “and I like Dr. Lam better than you.”

“Sounds fair,” O’Neill said. “I think I like her better than me too.”

“Let’s get started,” Landry said.

Harriman stood and slid a typewritten agenda to each of them.

“Walter,” O’Neill said, “you want to run though the policy for Colonel Young? Daniel, will you stow that stuff before we get started?”

“No documents pertaining to matters discussed within this closed door meeting are to leave this room, under penalty of court martial. Nothing discussed today may be further discussed outside the confines of this room, under penalty of court martial,” Walter began.

It took all of Young’s willpower not to look at Jackson.

“All electronic devices are to be collected at the beginning of each meeting and placed outside the room for the duration of the meeting. The room will then be swept for microprocessors of any kind,” Harriman continued.

Around the conference table, people began pulling out their phones. Young followed suit.

“No computers are permitted,” Harriman said, as he rounded the room, collecting their phones and radios. “Note taking is permitted, but any notes created become part of the file and may not leave this room.”

Young watched Harriman pause at the spectacularly cracked faceplate on Jackson’s phone before putting it in the bag he held, along with the archeologist’s assortment of messily stacked files.

“Typewritten transcripts of these meetings exist as a single copy which require the permission of General Landry or General O’Neill to access, even for review,” Harriman finished.

“Got it,” Young said. He looked down at his agenda. There was a small, handwritten number in the upper right corner, likely denoting copy number. Young felt a cold thrill of dread as he looked at the short list.

Item 1—SG-3 medical reports and NID debriefing

Item 2—current movements of Lucian Alliance

“Start us off, Dr. Lam,” O’Neill said. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Lam set her tea down on the table and then opened the file folder that Landry slid over toward her. “I’ve prepared a document,” Lam said, “which I’ll reference in a few minutes.” She removed a type-written report and passed a copy to Young before sliding the remaining pages toward General Landry, who distributed them in a quiet, fanning slide.

“It’s my understanding that the official medical reports and the NID debriefing transcripts will be made available to all members of this committee as of tomorrow?” Lam looked at Landry, who nodded.

“I’ll confine my comments to the areas that do not appear in those official reports. To briefly summarize the current situation, two members of SG-3 and Colonel Telford were sent back to us through the gate during a foothold situation. The two remaining members of SG-3 died in the attack on their Tel’tak. The organic debris collected by the Odyssey confirm this.”

Young looked down, quenching the impulse to wince.

“Telford, Reynolds, and Ramirez report being separated from one another and tortured for information with electrical devices of goa’uld manufacture. Their physical exams show burns consistent with this. Electrolyte abnormalities indicated mild to moderate dehydration upon their return. At their initial debriefing, they reported that they were not administered any drugs during the time they were held. They also deny any attempts at coercive persuasion during the time they were prisoners.”

“What did their scans indicate?” Jackson asked.

Young looked over at him.

The archeologist’s gaze flicked toward him and then immediately away.

“Before I share that information,” Lam said, holding her tea in both hands but not drinking it, “I’d like to remind everyone here that while we have made significant improvements to the tok’ra zartek detector as a means of detecting evidence of coercive persuasion, it remains a poorly tested and incompletely understood device prone to substantial errors in interpretation, especially in emotionally intense situations. In cases such as this one, it’s my personal opinion that it is so unreliable as to be nearly useless.”

“What did their scans indicate?” Jackson asked again.

“Reynolds and Ramirez show indications of cognitive tampering by zartek scan,” Lam said. “Telford was clear.”

“What are we supposed to take from that?” O”Neill asked.

“Nothing,” Lam said.

“Nothing?” Landry echoed.

“Nothing in isolation,” Lam continued. “As I said, I consider it an unreliable metric. However, I have been directing all my available time and attention to developing a more robust chemical test. I’ve been working with samples from Teal’c, Agent Barrett, and the few others we know to have undergone coercive persuasion.”

“Do you have something?” Landry asked, leaning forward. “Tell me you have something.”

“We have something. It is not definitive. It doesn’t tell us whether or not coercive persuasion has been successful, or whether or not a person is free of influence, it only tells us about exposure to the agent used to induce the mental state in which coercive persuasion is initiated,” Lam said cautiously.

“That’s phenomenal,” Jackson said.

“It is in no way phenomenal,” Lam said flatly. “It’s only an indication of exposure; it doesn’t provide any meaningful data about the clinical question that interests us. Furthermore, the sample size of known positives is not high enough to determine, even at the roughest approximations, the sensitivity and specificity of this test.”

Young pulled his reading glasses out of his pocket and glanced over the text of the page in front of him, taking in acronyms and bullet points about standard curves but not much actual data.

“You’re going to bottom line this for us, right?” O’Neill asked.

“Yes,” Lam said. “I’ll walk you through it. The agent used for coercive persuasion causes a modification of a surface glycan on circulating red blood cells. We can detect the modified red cells directly. So can the body. Both Teal’c and Agent Barrett mounted an immune response against the modified red cells and so they have antibodies in their blood. The modified red cells don’t persist, because the life span of a red cells is about four months. But the antibody does persist.” Lam looked around the table.

“Could you, maybe, bottom out that bottom line a little more?” O’Neill asked.

“We have a way to detect acute exposure to the agent, and a way to detect exposure that happened a long time ago,” Lam said. “Teal’c, for example, would have the antibody but not the modified red cells. Same thing for Agent Barrett. If I got kidnapped by the LA tomorrow and the agent was used on me, I’d have modified red cells, but I wouldn’t have the antibody yet.”

“So you can determine the yes/no of exposure and get a rough sense of timing,” Jackson said.

“Yes,” Lam confirmed. “Ostensibly. We haven’t had enough occasions to use the test to determine how good of a test it is.”

“But,” Jackson said, one hand raised, his eyes fixed on the paper in front of him. The entire room waited for him to finish his thought.

Lam took a small sip of her tea.

“The drug—“ Jackson said slowly. “The drug that the goa’uld developed and the Lucian Alliance stole—the drug that’s responsible for the brainwashing of our people—it modifies red blood cells? How does that make sense? Shouldn’t it be modifying the brain?”

“We don’t yet know how it works,” Lam said. “We need a sample of the drug. But you’re correct—modification of red blood cells wouldn’t explain its cognitive effect. We’re detecting an effect that’s likely ancillary. The antibodies people develop may be detecting the means of clearing the drug from the body in an expeditious manner.  Alternatively, the binding to red blood cells might be critical to its function or to its distribution within the body. To determine answers to these and other questions, we need the drug.”

“Who’s positive?” Young asked. “Out of SG-3, who was exposed?”

“Ramirez and Reynolds are positive. Telford is clear.”

“Telford is clear,” Jackson repeated.

“Yes,” Lam said. “He is. He had neither the antibody, indicating past exposure, nor the red blood cell modification, indicating recent exposure.”

The room was silent for a moment. Jackson glanced at Young.

“Well,” Landry said, “that’s something.”

“Good,” O’Neill said. “Surprising, but good.”

“It doesn’t make any sense that he would be clear if the other two aren’t,” Jackson said.

Young shot Jackson a sharp look.  He wasn’t the only one. The fluid motion of Harriman’s pen paused.

“He should be tested again,” Jackson said. “He should be reassigned for at least the next sixty days pending—“

“Jackson,” Landry snapped. “He’s clear by every method we have.”

“Pending the results of his final testing,” Jackson said, continuing undaunted. “He should be denied access to all classified projects and he should be relocated away from Cheyenne Mountain for the—“

“Daniel,” O’Neill said.

“—for the duration of that time. His network access should be revoked. He should undergo the same recertification procedures as Barrett is undergoing. As Reynolds and Ramirez will be required to undergo, should they wish to come back.”

“Jackson, the IOA is not going to let you railroad him off this project, no matter how much it might suit you. The man has the senatorial backing of Alan Armstrong amongst others—“  Landry said, his voice rising.

“Excuse me,” Jackson said with more icy self-possession than Young had ever seen him bring to bear, “but did you just accuse me of acting to consolidate my position in Colonel Telford’s absence? I have been and remain opposed to the entire ethos behind this unnamed committee but do not mistake my recommendations for anything other than the professional opinion of the stargate program’s most senior civilian consultant.”

“Hey,” O’Neill snapped, lifting both hands and shooting Jackson a significant look. “Everyone just cool it. Daniel, we will take your opinion into consideration, as always, but this is a military decision with political overtones and is going to be handled as such. And no one is accusing anybody of anything.”

“We have a leak,” Jackson said. “It could be him.”

“Yeah, well, it could also be you,” O’Neill said. “It could be Everett.” He gestured toward Young. “It could be a lot of people. We’ve avoided turning this into a witch-hunt so far, let’s keep it that way.”

Jackson sat back, sipped his coffee, and said nothing.

“Put Telford on medical leave,” Young suggested. “Don’t make him recertify, don’t reassign him, don’t revoke his passwords—just—put him on mandatory medical leave. Sixty days. Test him again at the end.”

“No,” Jackson said. “He should be required to recertify. His access should be revoked.”

“I think enforced medical leave is a prudent compromise,” Lam said. “I’ll make it an institutional directive. It’s based on our best guess about the upper limit of when he might be reasonably expected to turn positive for the antibody. You can then send the IOA and Senator Armstrong to me.”

“I can live with that,” Landry said.

“Always nice when the red tape works in our favor,” O’Neill said.

Jackson, with a doggedly neutral expression, toyed with the plastic lid on his coffee cup like a guy spoiling for a fight. Young tried to keep his eyes off the man, but it was hard.

“Dr. Lam,” Landry said, “do you think the test that you’ve been developing could be rolled out to all the base personnel?”

“No,” Lam said. “Not yet. We’ll need access to a large number of known negative samples to determine the rate of false positives before using this test to make any kind of determination about how trustworthy someone may or may not be in the absence of any other clinical—excuse me—in the absence of any other contributing factors. It’s certainly not been vetted nearly enough to use as a screening tool.”

“How long before you have the data you need?”

“Two months,” Lam said. “Maybe more, if there’s some kind of emergency that requires the mobilization of medical personnel and resources.”

“This should be one of your top priorities,” Landry said.

“Understood,” Lam replied.

“Let’s move on,” Landry said. “I have new tactical information regarding the current status of Anubis’ second offworld base, located on P3X-124.”

Young’s eyes remained fixed on Landry, but in his peripheral vision he could see Jackson go utterly still, the plastic lid of his coffee cup rested on its edge, held steady between unmoving hands.

“SG-14 has been split up and embedded undercover with the Sixth House of the Lucian Alliance for four months now,” Landry said, “following the successful extraction of Colonel Telford after his cover was blown.”

Everyone in the room looked at Young. He shifted, sending a jolt of pain that ran from his back down his leg.

“They report that, as of fifteen hundred hours yesterday, Lucian Alliance ground forces overwhelmed the local Jaffa garrison and the supplemental personnel we had stationed on P3X-124 in an overt attempt to take and hold Anubis’ lab.”

Landry’s pronouncement fell on the room like a bucket of water. No one spoke.

After a moment, Landry continued. “Attempts to communicate with our personnel on the planet have been unsuccessful. The Jaffa council has dispatched ships to investigate what happened to their garrison and we should be receiving reports sometime in the next twenty-four hours, but I think it’s likely, very likely, that we’ve lost control of that lab.”

“Well,” O’Neill said into the silence, “that’s not good.”

“No,” Landry growled. “It isn’t.”

“If the Lucian Alliance is in control of that lab,” Jackson said urgently, “and they have Dale Volker—“

“Which house,” Young said, speaking over the archaeologist, “was responsible for taking Volker? Which house was responsible for the foothold here?”

“Sixth,” Landry said. “We know now that it was Sixth that took him.”

“They could have already tried it on him,” Jackson said. “They could have already—“

“Yes,” Landry said. “That seems likely.”

No one spoke.

“The recommendation of this committee,” Landry said carefully, “will carry a great deal of weight in the decision of whether to devote resources to retaking the planet.”

“Such an act might be considered a declaration of war against the Lucian Alliance,” Jackson said carefully.

“Yes,” O’Neill said quietly.

“They already consider themselves to be at war,” Young said, “if they’re moving openly against us like you described.”

“We cannot survive a war with two fronts,” Jackson said. “We won’t.”

“We’re in a war with two fronts,” Young said. “Based on everything I read in the files you gave me—we’re already there in everything but name.”

“The possibility of a diplomatic solution exists with them,” Jackson snapped. “It does not exist with the Ori.”

“If we leave the LA in control of this device,” Landry said, “then they are the ones who will be able to fully access the potential of the ninth chevron address.”

“They’ll also have more incentive to take our people,” Lam said.

“We don’t need that planet. We don’t need that device. We’ll find Merlin’s weapon,” Jackson said. “We’ll find a way. A way that doesn’t require using something built by Anubis.”

“Daniel,” O’Neill said.

“We don’t know this address will help us,” Jackson said, “and to get there we have to use something evil. We have to do something that’s wrong. We choose these roads only when we know their value and only when we know that there is no other choice.”

“What other choices do you see?” Landry asked. “Because I’m looking. I’m looking damned hard and I’m seeing none. The Ori are tearing through this galaxy. It’s only a matter of time before they reach Earth. The Jaffa are our allies—they’re already paying a heavy price for what we brought here. We lost Dakara, the weapon there was destroyed—the wolf is at the door, Jackson, and we need more options.”

“I will find,” Jackson said, his voice ragged, “Merlin’s weapon. I will find it.”

The room was silent. Lam smoothed the papers in front of her, her hands subtly trembling.

“If we devote resources to taking back P3X-124,” Young said into the silence, “I think it should be done with the intent of using the device. We’re spread too thin to hold it against a determined assault by the Lucian Alliance. And we know they want it. They want it badly.”  He didn’t look at Jackson, but he could feel the heat of the other man’s fixed gaze.

“Agreed,” O’Neill said.

“That being said,” Young continued, with the slow deliberation of spreading cards over an unassuming table, “I agree with Jackson. I don’t think we should use this device, so I don’t think we should mount an assault on P3X-124. At least, not yet. There’s no point in subjecting someone to the thing it if we haven’t even unlocked the address that we’re supposed to be gating to.”

“Your neighbor’s gotten five chevrons out of nine in, what, the eight weeks he’s been in Colorado Springs?” O’Neill asked. “This is starting to look like a sure thing.”

“Well,” Young said, “it also seems like a crap idea to experiment on the guy who’s unlocking the door for you.”

“Well put,” Jackson said, shooting Landry an icy look.

“I concur,” Lam said. “Given the physical risks and the ethical problems inherent to even asking for volunteers for an assignment such as this, I think that all discussion of using the device on anyone should be tabled until such a point that dialing the gate is a practical possibility.”

“Colonel Telford would disagree,” Landry said.

“Colonel Telford isn’t here,” Jackson said, the evenness of his tone doing nothing to remove its air of subtle victory.

“That doesn’t render his position invalid,” Landry said. “Leaving that base in the hands of the Lucian Alliance not only grants them a valuable means to furthering their own objective, it also increases the likelihood that they will make more attempts to access to our intelligence and personnel. Their insurgency tactics have been honed for millennia beneath the Goa’uld and we have never encountered anything so damned effective. Leaving the base under their power makes Nicholas Rush an outstandingly valuable target. Because by gaining access to him, they can achieve both the unlocking itself and the best known chance in the entire galaxy of gaining access to what lies beyond that gate.”

Young tried to ignore the feeling of dread that Landry’s statement produced.

“Agree. And that is exactly why he should be sent to Atlantis,” Jackson said. “It’s the only safe place for him.”

“We’ll talk about it,” Landry growled, “after he unlocks the chevrons. He can’t do it from Atlantis. He told me so himself.”

For several long seconds, no one spoke.

“I come down with Colonel Young,” O’Neill said into the silence. “We don’t move on P3X-124 until we’re ready to use the device, and, right now, we’re not ready.”

“Then it looks like you’ve got something to take up the chain,” Landry said, his voice flat.

“Looks like it,” O’Neill replied.

“Unless there are any other pressing issues,” Landry said, “I say we adjourn with that. In the interim, all of you should review the incident reports from the Jaffa garrison on P3X-124 and the material from the SG-3 debriefings conducted by the NID.”

“I’d like to talk to Telford, Reynolds, and Ramirez,” Young said.

“You can talk to Telford,” Lam said. “He’s on base. He’s due to be released from secure confinement following final clearance by medical. He has a low-grade viral infection. Ramirez and Reynolds are being transferred to Area 51 at the request of the NID for further questioning.”

“Low grade viral infection?” Young asked.

“Yes,” Lam said. “It’s in my report. It’s an alien strain of EBV that we’ve seen in the past, including in those with no Lucian Alliance connections. I believe it’s unrelated to the period he spent with the LA, as he certainly contracted it before he was captured.”

Young nodded.

“Any further issues?” Landry asked.

No one said anything.

O’Neill and Landry stood in tandem.

“Please return all your paperwork to me,” Harriman said, putting down his pen. “No one is permitted to leave until all typewritten pages have been accounted for.”

Young leaned forward to slide his papers and Lam’s across the table to Jackson, who passed them to Harriman in a disorganized stack.

“Sooooo I heard that they’re resurrecting Dr. Levant for the Wormhole Extreme movie,” O’Neill said, looking at Jackson. “Congrats.”

“Do not even start,” Jackson said, in a mock-threatening singsong as he determinedly contemplated his empty coffee cup.

O’Neill looked fondly unimpressed. “You’re more bossy than I remember,” he said. “That’s because Mitchell lets you walk all over him, isn’t it?”

“Not true,” Jackson said.

“Maybe a little bit true,” Young said, as he stood, collecting his coffee cup and Lam’s mostly full cup of cold tea.

“Meh,” O’Neill replied, watching Landry help Lam out of her chair. “Not a criticism. You walked all over me most of the time.”

“You both pick your battles,” Jackson said.

“Is that right?” O’Neill said, his tone turning abruptly serious, his eyes fixing on Jackson. “Maybe you should learn to do the same.”

Young watched the pair of them, his expression neutral.

Jackson flashed a smile at O’Neill and Young was reminded powerfully of Rush. “Never,” he said. 

O’Neill sighed and looked away.

Several hours later, Young sat next to Lam in front of the thick, one-way glass of the secured medical isolation room, looking in at David Telford. Mitchell hovered behind them, edgily pacing the back of the room.

Telford looked strung out and pale and displaced in a pair of dark blue medical scrubs that seemed to emphasize the circles beneath his eyes. He had lost weight. On the floor near the door was his untouched breakfast, perfectly intact on his tray. He was sitting curled on his bed, halfway through a book of monstrous proportions.

“He looks terrible,” Young said.

“Everyone looks terrible these days,” Mitchell said, coming forward to lean against the glass, glancing at both of them. “Haven’t you noticed?”

Lam smiled faintly at Mitchell and then turned her attention to Young. “The NID debriefings are—stressful. In the extreme. They’re meant to elicit doubt. They can create a sense of guilt even when none is there.”

“I’d like to talk to him alone,” Young said. “It’s bad enough that he’s stuck in here like a lab rat. He doesn’t need to be grilled by another panel, even if it is a friendly one.”

Lam nodded.

“Let me give you a ride home,” Mitchell said, helping Lam up. “I’ve gotta go buy Teal’c and Vala some ice cream on my lunch break anyway.”

“You have a unique leadership style,” Young said. “You know that, right?”

“Can it,” Mitchell said. “Jackson and I lost a game of two-on-two basketball yesterday, and—“

“You and Jackson lost to Vala and Teal’c?” Young asked, amused.

“Jackson is not good at sports,” Mitchell said, “and Vala’s pretty speedy.”

“Okay,” Young said. “I take it back. I could see it.”

“So, anyway,” Mitchell said, chivalrously extending his elbow toward Lam. “Ride home?”

“Sure,” Lam said taking his arm as she stood. “Thanks.”

Young watched them go and then turned back to Telford. He hit the controls for the one-way glass and transformed it into something wholly transparent.

Telford snapped his book shut and looked up, his eyes locking on Young. He stood, approaching the glass. Young flipped on the intercom as he watched Telford drag the room’s single chair into a position in front of the window.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” Telford replied with a desperate relief, his dark eyes locking onto Young. “How are you?”

“I’m good,” Young said.

“Well you look awful,” Telford replied.

“You too,” Young said.

They smiled crookedly at one another.

“What’s going on?” Telford asked finally. “Can you tell me?”

“Not all of it, no. I can tell you that they made me your second in command.”

“Icarus?” Telford asked, his tone guarded.

Young understood his implicit question.

“Across the board,” he replied.

“For the next sixty days,” Young continued, “I’m filling your shoes.”

Sixty days,” Telford echoed, trying to contain his dismay and failing. “They’re going to keep me in here for—“

“Not in here,” Young said quickly. “You’re going to be on mandatory medical leave.”

Telford released a shaky breath. “But sixty days?” he asked. “A lot can happen in that time.”

“I know,” Young said.

Telford looked away. “I’m glad it’s you.”

“What happened out there?” Young asked. “What happened to you?”

Telford shut his eyes. Their lids were dark and bruised-looking. “It wasn’t—“ he broke off, his voice closing.

“David,” Young said.

“It wasn’t as bad as the first time,” Telford said. “The time you pulled me out. They—they didn’t know who they had. Kiva wasn’t there. Her people weren’t there. They didn’t know me.”

“Good,” Young whispered. “That’s good.”

“We were just a means to an end,’ Telford said, his voice rasping. “Have you read the NID documents yet?”

“Not yet,” Young said.

“But you’re cleared to read them.”

“Yes,” Young said.

“I destroyed the Tel’tak,” Telford said. “I triggered the autodestruct when I knew they were planning to take us. You can tell, you know? They target the drives. Then they can scan the interior. But I was too late. They beamed out the people on the bridge with the fucking slice. We ended up on their vessel with half the bridge instrumentation and half of Lieutenant fucking Yang,” Telford said, his voice cracking against the man’s name.

“God damn it,” Young said.

“I’m sure the self-destruct killed Giles,” Telford whispered. “It must have. But no one will tell me.”

“It killed her,” Young said.

Telford nodded, looking away.

“You’ll get an SGC debrief once you’re cleared by medical,” Young said the words hitting the air like the offering he’d meant them to be.

Telford nodded. “We were tortured for information,” he continued, “but without the kind of precision that—ah. That we know they’re capable of. They needed for the possibility of our return. Only to throw against the iris. Only to generate the kind of signature that a demolecularized human makes when it fails to rematerialize. Only for that. I think.”

“David,” Young said.

“That’s all,” Telford whispered.

“David,” Young said again.

“Did they get what they came for?” Telford whispered, his eyes glittering.

“They took an astrophysicist,” Young said. “Dale Volker.”

Telford brought both hands to his face for a moment and then dropped them, looking at Young with a haunted expression. “Anyone else?” he asked.

“No,” Young said.

Telford nodded.

“Did we loose anyone?” Telford asked.

“Don’t worry about that right now,” Young said.

“It’s all I think about,” Telford snarled. “If you can tell me, then tell me.”

“Two new recruits from SG-19,” Young said. “Lieutenant Thomas. Sam Carter took a chest shot, point blank with no vest, but survived. Dr. Lam injected herself with naquadah to save her, and lost both her kidneys because of the heavy metal deposition. She just had surgery to remove them. She’s on dialysis now.”

Telford stood, walking away from the window, his back to Young, his head bowed, his hands in his hair. 

Young looked at the floor. At the place where it came together with the low cement wall beneath the chemically treated glass.

Telford straightened and walked back toward Young, his expression set.

“David,” Young said quietly.

Telford just looked at him.

“It’s not—” Young began.

“I’ll carry it,” Telford said, cutting him off.

“This isn’t on you,” Young said.

“It is,” Telford said quietly, “and I’ll carry it.” He looked away, his expression cracking out of his control and then reforming.

Young said nothing.

“They told me I was clear,” Telford said, his voice very nearly attaining the brusque control that Young had always found so reassuring. “They told me that they didn’t find any sign of coercive persuasion.”

“Yup,” Young said.

“So, why am I on medical leave for sixty days? I’m going to die of cabin fever.”

“It has something to do with the test,” Young said. “There’s two parts to it. They can’t detect the marker in your blood, but anti-drug, anti-agent, anti-whatever antibodies might show up any time in the next sixty days.”

“There’s a blood test now?”

“Yup,” Young said.

“Do you think they know?” Telford asked.

“Know what?”

“The ones who are brainwashed. Do you think any part of them can tell?”

“I have no idea,” Young said.

“No one does,” Telford whispered. “That’s the horror of it. Even if it happens to you, you might never know. You have to rely on other people. On what they say. On tests that are experimental.”

“Yeah,” Young said. “But we do the best with what we have.”

“Yeah,” Telford echoed. “We do.”

“What are you reading?” Young asked, hoping it wasn’t Kafka.

Les Misérables,” Telford said.  “Jackson left it for me.”


“That man,” Telford said with grim admiration, “is a historical bottleneck wrapped in a capable package of moral absolutism, and if he fucking gives me a fucking book I’m damn well going to read it.” 

“Maybe he’s just being nice,” Young said, slightly taken aback.

Telford gave him a half smile. “Maybe. He’s that, too.”

“Hang in there,” Young said. “You’ll be out of there soon.”

“Yeah,” Telford said. “Keep an eye on your neighbor. He can get pretty wrapped up in the math.”

“You don’t say,” Young replied dryly.

When Young arrived home from work around nineteen hundred hours he didn’t even bother walking down to his apartment before he knocked on Rush’s door.

He braced himself for the inevitable invective.

The mathematician flung open his door and swept his hair out of his eyes. “What?” he demanded.

The guy looked exhausted. He’d looked exhausted for days.

“You say that like you’re surprised to see me here,” Young said, “when actually I show up at your door every day.”

Rush sighed, leaning his head against the dark wood of the doorframe. “I can’t decide if you’re an optimist or you have a learning disability.”

“Those don’t sound mutually exclusive,” Young said, leaning on his cane.

Rush smiled faintly.

“Oh, you like that?” Young asked, raising his eyebrows. “Jackson’s been giving me pointers on logical fallacies.”

Rush shook his head, trying to pretend not to be amused and doing a terrible job. “Has he?  I suppose he would know. He’s a walking fallacy of some kind. Definitely not a logical one.”

“Clever,” Young said. “You know, when you’re not around, he says complimentary things about you.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Rush replied, with an indolent shoulder roll. “I suppose I’m going to have to classify you as an optimist.”

“I think that might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,” Young replied.

“Don’t let it go to your head,” Rush said, hooking his fingers over the back of his neck.

“Come on, hotshot,” Young said. “I don’t have all day. I’ve got reports to read.”

“I’m not at your fucking beck and call,” Rush snapped. “I’m otherwise engaged.”


Young could tell from the shift of Rush’s weight and the crack of the man’s diction that he was one unnecessarily slow sentence away from getting the door shut in his face. “I know,” he said. “So bring your math.” He shrugged. “I’ll cook you dinner. I owe you twenty-four meals at this point.”

Rush shut the door in his face.

Young sighed. He figured there was a fifty percent chance that the man would emerge with his laptop but without his signal scrambler and phone, and a fifty percent probability that he wouldn’t emerge at all.

It took over a minute, but Rush finally showed up, his laptop under one arm.

“Phone?” Young said dryly.  “Signal scrambler?”

“My phone is in my pocket and the building has scramblers,” Rush said, pushing his disdain right out to the bleeding edge.

“Yeah because those have never gone down before.”

Rush turned around in fluid defeat without putting up any further argument.

Young felt vaguely guilty, though he wasn’t sure what exactly he felt guilty about.

Rush reappeared with all his necessary equipment and stepped into the hall, pulling his door closed behind him. As soon as the door clicked shut, Rush shut his eyes and leaned back against it, his expression one of suppressed vexation.

Young studied him.

Rush didn’t move.

“You just locked yourself out, didn’t you,” Young said, caught between amusement and empathy.

“Yes,” Rush replied, sounding demoralized.

“Cheer up, hotshot,” Young said. “It’s not the first time and I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna be the last.”

Rush sighed.

“Come on,” Young said, starting down the hall. “You can call a locksmith while I make you dinner.”

“Call a locksmith?” Rush echoed.

“Yeah, I took the key to your apartment away from the superintendent after the last time this happened. The SGC threat assessments overlook the obvious sometimes.”

“Can’t the Lucian Alliance just destroy my door if it comes to that?” Rush said. “I prefer to have access to a spare key.”

“You can have convenience or security,” Young said, as he unlocked his own door, “not both.”

“Well said. But it seems like I actually have neither.”

“You’ve got the best balance we can give you,” Young said, deciding not to mention how close Rush was to being annexed into the protective custody of the NID. “I’d try not to rock the boat too much if I were you.”

“So you’ve mentioned,” Rush said darkly, following him into his apartment, squinting in the red-orange light of the setting sun.

“The days are starting to get shorter,” Young said as Rush closed the nearest set of blinds with a pained expression.

“Marginally,” Rush commented. “How do you people live like this?”

“Like what?” Young asked, shutting his door.

“Does it never rain here?” Rush asked. “Is it never fucking overcast?”

“It rains,” Young said, following Rush toward the kitchen. “It snows plenty. You’ll see. July’s over, August—well, August will be hot, but after that it will get better.”

“It snows,” Rush repeated flatly.

“Didn’t you do any kind of research before you came here?” Young asked. “I don’t understand how snow in the Rockies can be a surprise to you.”

“Yes well,” Rush said, depositing his electronic devices in a gentle slide of technology over the surface of the table as he looked away from Young. “I was otherwise engaged.”

Young glanced at him. Something about the man’s manner had changed. “What do you want for dinner?” Young asked cautiously. 

“Nothing that you’re capable of making,” Rush said, still not looking at him.

The words fell far, far short of the acidity that Young was certain Rush had intended to lace them with and the emphasis was wrong, placed too much on Young’s identity and not enough on his capability and—as if Rush knew it, as if he had run out of energy and willpower—the mathematician sat abruptly, folding into the nearest chair, his elbows propped in the table, his face in his hands.

Damn it.

Young looked at Rush and pieces that had been coming together for weeks snapped down into place.

Someone was dead. Or someone was lost. Because this was grief. It had always been grief. There was no mistaking it.

Not now, not when it had taken a form that Young could recognize. He knew the line of those shoulders, he knew that revealing impulse to turn away, the need to control the unconscious, instinctive twist of features and the closure of the throat. He knew all of those things.

Young sat down next to Rush at the table.

“Nick,” Young said.

Rush’s hands came away from his face and he lifted his head. “What?” Rush said, not looking at him, the word uncharacteristically flat beneath the weight of whatever it was that allowed such tight control of face and voice.

Young wanted to ask him what had happened to his wife. “Are you okay?” he asked instead.

“Yes,” Rush said, his hair lit up in streaks of red where oblique rays of the setting sun crept through small gaps in the closed venetian blinds. “I’m tired.”

Young shifted, feeling the spark and slow fade of agony along his spine, down his leg.

He thought of Telford, locked behind glass.

He thought of Jackson, the sharp edges of distress he smoothed by filling his hands with things he gave to other people.

He thought of Lam, whose fearless voice did not match the terror in her eyes and of Vala, whose cracked armor was maintained with constant misdirection of word and face and hands.

He thought of Carter, who could not laugh and Mitchell who tried to make her do so.

He thought of Rush, who was the focal point of hopes and fears that went unstated in the midst of a war with two fronts.

“Yeah,” Young said quietly. “Me too.”

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