Mathématique: Chapter 3

One could not disappoint the dead.

Chapter Warnings: Grief. Stressors of all kinds.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 3

Rush pressed the edge of his thumbnail into drying paint. 

The cruelty of a limit was the same as its kindness—the paradox of the untouchable boundary, infinitely close, infinitely hard, but never reachable. Never crossable. It rested always at the throat.

He’d stopped drinking coffee.

He listened to the monotony of his air conditioner as he tested the integrity of his latest attempt at restoring his room to its clean, white, undefaced state. He tried to decide whether he could bear the thought of listening to anything else. Probably not. That would be a mistake.

He’d stopped drinking coffee and he’d stopped smoking and he wished that he could consider those things victories, but the truth of it was that, out of everything, he’d held onto his vices longest. They’d been the last things he’d let go.  

She wouldn’t have wanted this for him, this coffee-less, furniture-less, algorithmic haze of break and repaint. Break and repaint. But that was really his only regret—the idea that this would have, theoretically, made her unhappy.

He shut his eyes and walled the thought away from himself. God but his mind was excruciatingly difficult to control when he was rested and hydrated and normoglycemic. He’d forgotten. He was going to have to consistently shoot for one out of three or two out of three because zero out of three hadn’t been workable for different reasons than three out of three was also unworkable.

One could not disappoint the dead. That was true. That was axiom.

So. Right then.

He needed to buy food. To do that, he needed his wallet and his keys. He had no organizational system other than having a room in which all the boxes were, and then the rest of the place. His keys were on the floor. So was his wallet. He picked them up and he went out.

The street was quiet and the light was pale and already he could tell it was going to be another hot, cloudless day.

Instead of going to buy food, he drove to Cheyenne Mountain, because of course he did, of course he would, navigating the twisting roads that led up to the isolated base with open windows and more speed than was necessary. A warm wind tore through his hair the entire way, keeping it out of his eyes until the point at which he had to stop and flash his ID in order to gain access to the base.

He signed in and took the elevator down beneath the press of rock and earth before stepping out into the concrete honeycomb of tunnels that surrounded the stargate. As above, so below.

He had seen the gate only once.

He didn’t need to see it, that elegant door without hinges, the rim of a vortex that could tear through time and space. He knew its internal symmetries better than any of them, better than Carter and Jackson who, together, had opened it. 

For years they had crossed its threshold without ever seeing the lock.

Rush had seen the lock.

As soon as he’d laid eyes on the systems that governed the dialing of the thing he’d known what it was, at its heart, beneath the decorative workarounds with which Carter had wreathed it. To use all nine chevrons, the gate had to be not just dialed but opened.

And locked things opened to him.

In the elevator, he hit a floor that should put him in the middle of the laboratory block. Once the doors opened, it didn’t take him long to be intercepted by an optimistic-looking woman, holding a clipboard.


“Hello,” Rush said.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes,” he said, forcing his voice into the most polite cadence available to him. “I’m looking for Colonel Carter.”

“Oh,” she said, wincing theatrically, “she’s offworld today.”

“Fine,.” Rush maintained his civil demeanor with an incremental increase in effort. “I need to take readings of current passing through DHD control crystals in their native configurations while I record the results for computational modeling. Whom would I speak to about that?”

“Um, who did you say you were?” She looked skeptical. Skeptical and anxious.

He subtly rotated his wrists, trying to bury his irritation. “My name is Dr. Nicholas Rush.”

Oh,” she said, stepping forward. “Oh wow. Hi. Hi. I’m Lisa. Dr. Lisa Park.”

“Right,” he said, stepping back. “Fantastic. But would you mind—”

“I’ve been working with Dr. Volker?”

Clearly this was supposed to mean something to him.

“We’ve been mapping the naquadria deposits using scans of the Icarus planet?”

Ah. So that was marginally more than marginally interesting. He stopped edging backward. “Really. How’s it coming along?”

“It’s good,” she said, smiling at him in a conspiratorially charming manner. “It’s really good. In fact, it’s looking so promising that they’re flying in a gate and some personnel on the Daedalus to start setting up a preliminary base.”

“Seems premature. The address isn’t going to work. It requires—”

“I know,” she said, eyes shining, “but I heard you’ve already unlocked three of the chevrons.”

“Four,” he corrected her.

She shifted her weight forward. “That’s amazing. Did you know there’s an entire team of mathematicians that—”

“I’m aware.”

“You really got number four? Dale is going to freak out.”

“Ah,” he said noncommittally, finding himself uninterested in who “Dale” might be. “Fascinating as I find that information—”

“Right. Of course.” She toned down her exuberance as she led him along the hall.

“So—are you going to go?”

“Go where?”

“To the planet. They’ll probably move operations over to the Icarus base once it’s constructed.”

“I’ve no idea,” Rush said. “Probably not.”

“Do you want to? Personally, I’d love to go. I’ve always wanted to be on a gate team, but—I don’t know. I’d have to do some work to pass the physical requirements. I’m making an effort though—going to the gym, that kind of thing.” She paused, in evident expectation.

He said nothing.

“So?” she asked.

He tried to remember what her question had been.

“Would you want to go?” she asked again. “To the planet? Through the gate?”

It wasn’t something he generally wasted thought on—the location behind the lock that he’d set himself against. Why would he? It was inaccessible to him unless he broke through the webbed cyphers of the gate and circumvented a limit that no human had been meant to circumvent. But he thought of it now, for a moment, with the gate so close and the planet so real and he knew that if there were any part of him left when he’d finished this that the only possible ending for him would be to warp time and space to the point that the warp was indistinguishable from a tear as all the violence of cracking, cyphered systems blended into the fission and the fusion of a planet in the exothermic inevitability of an unlocking.

“What do you think?” he snapped. “I have, however, absolutely no doubt that I will be tethered here by bureaucracy or prudence or stupidity or a psychological evaluation or some other pointless, needless thing until I rot, Dr. Park. As will you, most likely. Fortunately for both of us, after devoting the majority of our mental energies to the goal of gating to this ninth chevron address for god knows how long, the question as to whether we will go through the stargate is not likely to even arise, as solving this entire thing may be impossible, a potential outcome that I’ve always been quite candid about, a quality which has, if nothing else, revealed either the scope of the abyss that constitutes the SGCs budgetary planning or the hubristic zeitgeist of this organization as a whole—a trait that many of its members share, yourself included. Apparently.”

The rhythm of her steps faltered and she looked at him in surprise before her expression closed off.  

He pressed two fingers to his forehead and looked away.

“So that’s a ‘yes,’ then?” Park said quietly. “You’d like to go?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

They walked in silence until she turned off the main corridor and into one of the smaller labs, far from Carter’s epicenter of brilliance in the middle of the floor.

The setup was a promising dog’s breakfast of Ancient and terrestrial technologies. There were crystalline arrays already connected to power sources that looked like they ought to be fairly straightforward to modify, which was fucking fantastic if you were only interested in the crystals from a materials science perspective but, as he wasn’t a materials scientist, he wanted them in their native configuration. Like this—it would be like studying the steel of a torsion wrench when really what you needed was to use it to hold a pin in place.

“This is probably closest thing we have, in terms the setup that you’re looking for,” Park said. “This is a satellite of Dr. Perry’s main lab space. Most of her work is on hyperdrives, but apparently the control matrix for the—”

“I don’t care,” Rush said, bracing his fingers against his forehead. “Look. Dr. Park. I need a DHD with its crystals natively configured.”

“Well, I’m not positive? But I don’t think we have one.”

“How can you not have one.”

“Well, Colonel Carter made a dialing program for our gate and—”

“I’m aware.”

“I think Area 51 might have one?”

“Go,” he snapped.

“I can’t just leave you here, you’re not trained on any of this equipment.”

He turned away from her because he had to because if he lost his tenuous grip on his own control he really wasn’t certain what would happen but there was a nonzero possibility that he would end up in some kind of environment where he just would not do very well because he still was not clear on what had occurred three days ago and he didn’t necessarily mind destroying himself for this but—

“Fine,” he said. “Fine. I understand. Perfectly reasonable.”

She stepped back.  

“Why don’t you just sit tight for a minute,” Park said. “I was in the middle of an experiment when we met, but I’ll send someone by to help you out. One of our engineers.”

“Yes.” Rush took a measured breath. “Thank you. That would be perfectly adequate.”

She gave him a dubious look and turned to leave the room. 

He figured there was a fifty percent chance she was going to find an “engineer” and a fifty percent chance she was going to find security. 

Rush stepped over to the crystal matrix, which was mounted as a grid and soldered in place. It looked ridiculous, very much like it wouldn’t work at all, but he sat down anyway and took a look at the desktop of the computer that had been inventively interfaced with the thing. He wondered if this was going to be suitable to his purposes. He was going to have to think about detection and recording of output because the simultaneous problem and appeal of quantum cryptography was that phenomena on the quantum level were altered when you smashed photons into systems to observe their states. If measuring the data disturbed the data, and he saw no reason why this would not be the case, then he was fairly certain that what was going to be called for was somehow marrying a zero knowledge protocol to breaking the key permutation in a manner that would allow him to get the key without disturbing the system that had created the key or destroying the key itself. He suspected it was going to be nontrivial to—


What,” he snapped, pulling his fingers away from the space between his eyebrows. “Who are you?”

“Um, Adam Brody. Is my name. I heard that you needed some help down here?” The man looked extremely nervous.

“Help? No. Monitoring? Yes, apparently. This is unfortunate for you, Dr. Brody, as I suspect that you have better things to be doing with your time. Tell me, doesn’t this base have some sort of security staff to perform this kind of menial task, or are you just not very important?”

“I think it’s probably the latter,” Brody replied. “And it’s Mr. Brody. Not Dr. Brody.”

He looked up to find the other man looking at him from underneath his eyebrows, his shoulders hunched. “Really,” Rush said. “I was under the impression that one had to have an advanced degree of some kind to so much as look at this base, let alone work here.”

“Nope,” Brody said.

“Obviously not,” Rush replied, softening slightly.

“So do you want help or do you just want me to watch you? Because if so, I’m—gonna get a chair.”

They eyed one another, coming to a wordless understanding.

“You should probably get a chair in either case,” Rush said mildly.  “Because I plan to be here for quite some time.”

Rush spent seven hours recording fluctuations in the quantum states of the crystals—individually, in series, and in parallel—altering the resistance and conductance and the amperage of current. 

Brody had turned out to be acceptably competent, so that was an unexpected plus.

The drive back from the base to his building was entirely too sun filled for his taste and he was fighting a headache by the time he made his way back to his apartment with his solid state drive full of data. He was aching to hear the click and slide of a USB cable meeting its port.

If he had to invent a new branch of mathematics or something equally time-consuming to solve this next cypher he was going to be extremely irritated. If it looked like things were heading in that direction he resolved to talk to someone first. It would be wise to ensure he wasn’t missing the Ancient equivalent of an entire field before he reinvented the fucking thing.

He’d already taught himself a damn language.

He was halfway through the process of scanning though the data and trying to decide if he was going to have to write his own code for analysis or if he could crib most of it from one of Carter’s programs available on the secure server when it occurred to him that the original reason he’d left his apartment was to buy food. Which he had not done.

He sighed.

If he were going to buy food, he should really do it now, before he got caught up in coding or in analyzing or in the construction of a zero knowledge protocol. He got up and he went to the kitchen and summarily threw out everything in his refrigerator that wasn’t edible, which was most of it. He took stock of his current resources, consisting of: sugar, tea of dubious quality, one frozen dinner that he’d overlooked because it was partially adherent to the underside of the ice machine, and a mostly full bottle of Scotch of questionable quality.

As he filled a glass of water from his faucet, it occurred to him that he should just buy some kind of protein mix and be done with it. He downed the water and then he went back out into the merciless blaze of the sun, this time with sunglasses in hand.

There was a man sitting in a car outside his building with the windows rolled down, smoking a cigarette. Menacing. Inappropriate. Uncivilized. Who could smoke when it was this fucking hot? These military types were ridiculous. 

Shopping didn’t take long, even though he proceeded through it in a manner that couldn’t really be called efficient. He wasn’t certain what his problem was, though he was positive that if he really applied himself to the question he would come up with multiple highly plausible answers, all of which would be upsetting and decrease his overall functionality even as they improved his insight, so he tried to think of nothing other than the comparative advantages of various food items, which was, in fact, the purpose of his trip.

When he got back to his apartment, the same person was still sitting there in his car with the windows rolled down. Unbelievable. Rush narrowed his eyes and glared at the man. The man looked amused. Rush found this vaguely unsettling, but he had enough problems without adding paranoia to the list.

When he got back to his apartment and had deposited his protein mix and other associated items in his kitchen where they belonged, he dropped back to the floor with a garnet colored bottle of Gatorade and resumed evaluating the data he had collected.

Garnet Gatorade was not half bad, it turned out. After only a few minutes, his email client chimed softly.    

Dear Dr. Rush,

My name is Dr. Amanda Perry. I understand you were running some tests on the Ancient crystals located in my lab (room 18D) on level 21 earlier today. Could you please explain to me why you not only disrupted my array but also altered the detector in such a way so as to reduce its sensitivity to an almost meaningless level?  

Much appreciated,

Amanda Perry

He narrowed his eyes, hit reply, and fired a short message back.  

Dear Dr. Perry,

No I don’t believe I can explain it to you. It won’t happen again. 


Nicholas Rush

He rested his chin on his closed fist, trying to decide if a zero-knowledge protocol was what the Ancients had in mind when it came to a quantum cypher, or if it was just a particularly brilliant idea of his own that would end up going precisely nowhere. Yes well. ZKP or no ZKP, what he really needed was to create a code that would allow for a theoretical demonstration of the capacity to unlock while still preserving—

Someone knocked on his door.

—while still preserving the quantum state of the crystalline array rather than ruining it with something so gauche as observation. This would not only demonstrate the capacity to unlock, but also an understanding of the nature of quantum phenomenology, which—

“Rush,” Young called.

—which had a great deal of intellectual appeal. On the other hand, it was possible that his grasp of quantum mechanics was not as sophisticated as the Ancient grasp of quantum mechanics was. Scratch that. Such a thing was a virtual certainty. Nevertheless, he was going to try the zero knowledge protocol because combing through the collection of Ancient texts available in Dr. Jackson’s database for anything on quantum mechanics that he might not know sounded like a an exercise in pure, crystalline excoriation.

“Rush. Open the damn door,” Young said, knocking more determinedly.

He got to his feet, crossed the room and flung open the door.

“What.” He broke off the word so viciously that Young actually flinched in surprise.

“Hi,” Young said, holding up both hands.

Rush glared at him.

“Look,” Young said.  “I said I was going to drop by and—”

“And I said I hated it when people dropped by.  Or weren’t you listening?”

“I was,” Young replied, “but I said I was going to do it anyway. Apparently, at that point you were not listening.”

“Well, I disregard as much stupidity as I can.”

“I think you got a flaw or two in that strategy there, hotshot.”

Rush started to close the door in Young’s face, but the other man stepped forward, inserting a booted foot against the wood and preventing Rush from closing it unless he was willing to shove him backwards out into the hall, which, clearly, Rush was not going to do because he didn’t unbalance injured people, no matter how irritating he found them.

“Mmm, thinking critically, are we?” Rush asked, staring at Young’s boot. “What’s the occasion?”

“You are such an asshole,” Young said, but he wasn’t entirely able to hide a smile.

It was catching. Rush had to make an effort to keep a straight face. “Consider removing yourself from my doorway.”

“Want to make me dinner?” Young asked.

“No,” Rush said, “but I’ll give you a can of Ensure if it will get you out of here.”

“Tempting,” Young said, his voice like the dry grind of stones, “but no thanks.”

“I find myself lacking any incentive to make you dinner.”

“I have beer,” Young said.

“I find myself uninterested in shit American beer.”

“If you make me dinner,” Young said, “I’ll tell you why General Landry called me today.”

“I’m reassured to see that you view your security clearance with the degree of seriousness that it merits,” Rush replied, “but I’m otherwise engaged.”

“It was about you,” Young said.

That was mildly interesting.  His hesitation must have shown on his face because Young leaned forward slightly.

“Come on.  You need to eat dinner anyway.”

Drinking a glass of protein mix was going to take significantly less time than cooking dinner for some damned colonel and then, probably, eating it with him. Also, Rush was not particularly inclined to set any sort of precedent regarding dinner and neighbors.

“Or can you only make omelettes?” Young asked. “Because, you know, after all that talk about technical skill I had the idea that you were some kind of—”

“You can fuck right off, Colonel Young,” Rush said, stepping out into the hallway and shutting his door behind him. “Do not call me hotshot.”

“Not really a nickname kind of guy, are you?” Young asked, looking distinctly amused, no doubt over his perceived interpersonal victory and his incipient dinner.

Well. Fair. Rush slowed slightly to accommodate the colonel’s limping gait.

“No.” Rush snapped. “Not particularly.”

“Blame Jackson,” Young said.

“I do. Habitually, and for as much as I can.”

Young shot him an amused glance. “Point being,” he said, “that Jackson was the one who used the term hotshot. But I have to admit, it got me wondering—what’s involved in being a math hotshot anyway? I mean, scientists—well, I can see the need for that kind of thing.”

“Can you? Astounding.”

“Shut up. You know what I’m talking about. Like, you go to a planet and you need to figure out why the sun is dying. Or you show up and the DHD is broken. Or, y’know, you go through a stargate and there’s a black hole on the other side and then you have problems with spacetime. That kind of thing.”

Rush looked at him with what he hoped was as much disdain as he was feeling while Young dug his keys out of his pocket.

“What? It’s happened.”

Rush shut his eyes and then opened them again as Young unlocked his door.

“And it’s not like we have many pure theoreticians around. Everything is very practical. Very applied,” Young continued. “Except for you.”

“You understand that in order to have such a thing as ‘applied’ mathematics it needs to first have theoretical underpinnings, do you not?” Rush asked.

Yes.” Young replied. “Are you purposefully misunderstanding me? I’m asking what the hell it is that you actually do, because apparently it’s pretty damn high profile.”

“I decrypt things that have been encrypted,” Rush said, as he stepped into Young’s apartment. The place was in a state of disarray. Boxes were half empty; items strewn over surfaces connoting an industriousness that he could not ever imagine applying to unpacking.

That would explain why ninety percent of his previous life was still compartmentalized.

“That sounds pretty applied to me,” Young said, as if he thought he had won some kind of rhetorical point. “Also, more useful than I’d really been expecting.”

“It’s only applied when one is successful. Until such a time it remains an academic exercise,” Rush replied, threading his way to Young’s kitchen, which had not been organized. That was fine. Organization was not required.  

He opened Young’s refrigerator and cocked his head, inventorying the contents. He was, in no way, inclined to make anything labor intensive. Also, presumably he was going to be eating this and since he had not been doing a very consistent job in eating solid food lately, he also determined that making himself sick, while unpleasant, was also unacceptable from a productivity standpoint.

“So what are you decrypting, then?” Young asked.

“I believe I was quite clear on that point,” Rush replied.

“Not clear enough,” Young said.

“Things that are encrypted,” Rush said shortly.

“Imagine that,” Young said, leaning against the counter in such a way that suggested he was trying to favor his left leg.

Rush started assembling items and ingredients on the counter in a manner that was more desultory than was typical for him, but a) this was not his kitchen, b) this kitchen was not well organized nor even fully unpacked c) he found himself understandably distracted by inane questions, and d) he was still not entirely clear on what he was going to make.  

Pasta primavera seemed like a good choice, presuming Young had pasta.  

Ah ha. And he did.

Rush pulled a cutting board out of a box and started chopping asparagus.   

“Willamette,” he said suddenly, looking up at Young.

“That’s a river, hotshot, and it’s not in Wyoming.”

Well, geography was not his strong point. And he would be damned if he were going to waste any more time thinking about the geography of Wyoming than he already had. He didn’t fucking need an encyclopedic knowledge of the topography of the American West, nor, in fact, did he really need to be making dinner for anyone. He glared at Young.

“That’s some pretty aggressive knife-work there,” Young said mildly.

Rush made an effort chop more sedately. “So?” he asked.

Young made an expansive hand gesture. “Chop as aggressively as you want, if it makes you feel better.”

“I am not chopping aggressively,” Rush reaplied. “I am chopping with exactly the requisite force but even if I had been chopping ‘aggressively’, it would, in no way, make me feel ‘better’. Furthermore, my interrogative was not an invitation for you demonstrate your lack of insight into my psychological state. You said General Landry called you and furthermore you implied that this was somehow relevant to me. So. Specify.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re hard to talk to?”

“No,” Rush said. “You’re the very first.”

“I think I sense some sarcasm there,” Young said dryly. “Though it’s difficult to tell. You being such a subtle guy and all.”

Rush raised his eyebrows and shook his head fractionally, feeling the lift and angle, the slide and slice of the knife as a familiar rhythm. He should have been an empiricist with this talent of his for repetitive, mindless things—as if his motor pathways were just a bit more mechanized than what was typical, providing a platform for the layering in or the taking away of something that left him always unbalanced. At least that was how it had seemed, back when he’d allowed himself the rhythms of cooking. Of cleaning. Of playing an instrument.

“You think you could recognize subtlety, do you?” Rush asked.

It was a gift, that’s what she had said but she had only ever seen what he’d shown her—the cooking and the piano and the driving and the mechanical aptitude for everything he’d ever done and touched but he had always wondered if it had pulled something away from him. He paid a price for it certainly and she must have known this too because otherwise, why would she have made him promise to keep working as if she had known it was the only thing that could—

“Oh right.  And you’re—“ Young trailed off abruptly.

Rush realized he was no longer chopping the vegetables. He started again.

“Are you okay?” Young asked.

“I can’t help but note that you are not—discussing the—”

“Hey,” Young said, giving him an odd look and speaking with an odd cadence, and holding his hands up in front of him and pushing away from the counter and fuck. Fuck, he must look upset.  

“Fuck off,” he snapped, but even to him it sounded broken which was inconceivable because he still did not understand how anything could be broken that was already crushed into so much dust. He turned around to look for a god damned pot.  

“Um,” Young said, clearly trying to figure out what had just happened.  “I didn’t—“

“I said fuck off,” Rush repeated, shaking his hair out of his eyes. “What did Landry want?”

“He asked me to keep an eye on you.”


He slammed the pot down on the counter with more than the requisite force.

“See, this is why I didn’t want to tell you this until after dinner.”

Rush stared at him and then started for the door.

“Hey,” Young said, managing to catch and hold the back of Rush’s shirt as he edged past him. “It’s not what you think. Probably.”

“And what is it that you think I think?” he hissed, aching with the need to tear out of Young’s grip but—hesitating.

“Turns out that you are,” Young said, ignoring his question, “the number one Earth-based target on the Lucian Alliance abduct-and-interrogate list.”

Rush relaxed slightly.

Young loosened his hold.

Rush yanked himself out of Young’s grip.

“’Abduct-and-interrogate?’ They literally call it that?”

“Yeah, they do.”

“Pathetic,” he said, shaking his hair back.

“Do you even know who they are?” Young asked, clearly incredulous.

“Some unimpressive band of humans that sells psychotropic corn?” Rush said dryly. “I believe I was briefed about them at one time. I don’t remember anything being particularly noteworthy.”

Young stared at him.

“Shouldn’t Jackson be number one? Or Carter?” Rush asked, deciding that, since his mental health was not, after all, being disparaged, he would continue making dinner.  

“Apparently it’s you,” Young said.

“They can’t be overly concerned if they’re assigning my neighbor, who is clearly far from peak physical condition, to be my security.”

Young snorted. “I’m not your security, hotshot. I actually have my own job, believe it or not. Your security is down in the basement of this building monitoring the hallway, the elevators, and the entrances and exits to the building twenty-four seven.”

“You would think they would tell me these things,” Rush said.

“They did tell you. You weren’t interested. You are supposed to call for a security escort when you go anywhere other than the base and you dropped off the SGC’s grid for about forty-five minutes today.”

“I went shopping.” Rush dumped a box of pasta into boiling water and scraped vegetables into a cast iron skillet.

“Well, good choice in the life-skills department but you’re supposed to let people know about this kind of thing.”

“This is ridiculous. Why did Landry call you?”

Young shrugged. “Because Jackson is offworld and apparently Landry didn’t make any kind of impression when he told you this the first time around.”

“He certainly didn’t imply the existence of any kind of ranked list,” Rush said, absently opening drawers. “I’m certain I would have remembered such a thing.”

Young reached down with evident difficulty and pulled a spatula out of a box near his feet. He handed it over.

Rush took the implement and used it to push his flawlessly chopped vegetables around the pan a few times before he went looking for herbs in Young’s cabinets. He found salt, but that was it.

“Nick,” Young said.

Rush shot him a skeptical look.

“Rush,” Young amended. “This is a legitimate threat. You need to call for an escort if you’re going to leave the building. You need to—”

“Yes yes. You need to buy some fucking basil, at a minimum.”

Young crossed his arms. “Why don’t I think you’re taking this seriously?”

“I’m wasting my time cooking you dinner for the express purpose of hearing about it—what more do you want?” Rush asked.

“You’re pretty damn difficult,” Young said.

“Well you’re very fucking stolid,” Rush snapped, “and your emerging kitchen organization is without any kind of conceptual underpinnings. What did you do, put things in drawers at random?”

“Do you even know who you’re supposed to call when you take a trip to buy groceries?”

“I plan on calling General Landry, given that he’s so interested.”

Young snorted. “I would actually pay money to see that.”

“How much?” Rush asked, as he speared a piece of zucchini with a fork and tasted it.

“Not enough. You leave the building, you call the SGC dispatch number. Do you know it?”

“I don’t care for your tone.” Rush eyed the vegetables critically.

“I don’t care for your tone nine times out of ten, but you don’t see me complaining about it.”

Rush shot him a pointed look.

“I’ll put it in your cell for you,” Young said.

“You’re not touching my phone, Young.”

Rush turned off the stove, picked up a plate, flipped it over the top of the pot, and drained the water away from the pasta. He shook a bit of olive oil through the pasta and aliquoted it onto two plates before dumping the vegetables on top and shoving fifty percent of it in Young’s direction.

“You know,” Young said, “I have an assembled table. I also have beer, if you want one.”

Rush looked at him, trying to decide whether he really wanted to eat dinner at a table in the typical fashion with his neighbor because the entire thing felt somehow too much like an entire subset of events that he would prefer to avoid entirely. He had mathematics to do with quantum keys that he had to pull out of systems blindly and flawlessly and he did not need to be distracted nor did he have any room in his mind for pity for some injured divorcee who was excruciatingly bored and coming to the emptiness of a quiet apartment straight from some kind of gun-filled past, nor did he think beer was a good idea—for one thing it really would not pair very well with his precisely chopped and elegantly constructed fifteen-minute dinner, for another he had been drinking Gatorade today but he was not really at the top of his game physically and he didn’t think alcohol would do him any favors—likely it would turn out catastrophically badly, no matter how appealing it sounded at the outset, because it would only make everything more difficult to control seeing as already he couldn’t eat and sleep and drink water contemporaneously. Yesterday there had been too much of all of that for which he blamed Jackson.

“Or,” Young said, again looking uncertain with his fucking plate of fucking vegetables, “we can just sit on the floor. It’s not a big deal. No pressure.”

“No pressure? Fuck off. I know you have a table because I saw it, and I will pass on the beer, thank you.”

“You’re welcome?”

Rush brushed past him, walking a few paces out into the kitchen to drop his plate on the table and throw himself into a chair. He leaned forward, elbows on the table, head in his hands, and tried to think of a way that he could eat his dinner when he could barely breathe.

Young put a fork down next to him, but said nothing.

“Thank you,” Rush said.

“No problem.”

Young ate in silence for a few minutes while Rush stared at his plate.

“So,” Young said.  “You seem—kind of stressed.”

“You seem kind of crippled.”

“You seem kind of transparent in your attempts to redirect.”

“You seem more astute than one might initially assume.”

“You seem like you’re making a conscious effort to be as much of an asshole as possible.”

“You seem like you must be desperate for company if I’m the best you can do.”

They were quiet for a minute.

“This is pretty good,” Young said.

“It requires substantially less skill than an omelette,” Rush said, pushing his dinner around his plate, trying to think about a method by which he might eat it, but failing to come up with anything workable, at least in the short term. “I’m quite certain that even you could pull it off.”

“So what’s your story, hotshot?” Young asked finally, watching him not eat.

Rush looked back at him and wondered if it was always this easy for Young—whether he just asked people what their problems were and, if that was indeed a strategy he employed, how often it worked for him. He wondered if Young had a lot of uncomplicated friends, or if he was just unusually optimistic, or if possibly there was some kind of decoupling between his knowledge of past outcomes and his ability to predict future system states. 

“Oh what,” Young asked, uncomfortable under direct, unremitting scrutiny. “Not subtle enough for you?”

“Hardly,” Rush replied, looking away.

“Well,” Young said, “I really didn’t think I was going to get anything meaningful out of you, but I have to say I thought you’d say something.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“I’m not disappointed,” Young said. “In fact, I consider it a victory that I’ve gone almost thirty seconds without getting directly insulted.”

Rush smiled faintly. “Being obliquely insulted doesn’t bother you?”

“Well I can’t say I’m crazy about it,” Young said, taking a sip of his beer, “but it was more like disdain, anyway. You sure you don’t want one of these?” He shook his beer.

“Quite sure,” Rush said.

“Don’t drink and derive, I guess,” Young replied with a shrug.

Rush stared at him.  

“Or so they say,” Young said. 

“That is the conventional wisdom, yes,” Rush replied, managing to take a bite of his pasta.

“I read it on a shirt.”

“And to whom did this shirt belong?”

“Some colonel,” Young said. “I’m sure you wouldn’t know him.”

“I know an awful lot of colonels.”

“Sheppard?” Young asked. “Spiky hair, closet nerd?”

Rush shook his head.

“He’s not around much,” Young said with downward glance and half a shrug.

Rush watched the other man shift uncomfortably in his chair, pulling his leg forward.

He decided that he would make some kind of communicative effort. He took another bite of pasta

“What?” Young asked defensively.

“What happened to you?” Rush asked, looking away abruptly.

“I got caught in the way of something more unyielding than I was,” Young said wryly.  

That was interesting. It was an unusually abstract way of describing a thing that was, by its nature, immediate. It suggested to Rush that whatever had happened to Young had been something outside the range of a typical injury in the field, if there was such a thing. It also implied that Young was not particularly keen to discuss whatever had happened.

He could sympathize.

“Sounds painful,” Rush said with a careful neutrality.

“Yup,” Young said, “but it’s getting better.”

 “I hear that’s how these things generally proceed.”

“I guess so,” Young said, looking away—out the window and straight into the red disk of the setting sun.

Rush was certain if he tried any such thing he’d have a headache for days. He methodically worked his way through his entire plate of pasta.

“Give me your phone,” Young said, after finishing the last of his beer.


“You don’t have a phone,” Young said. “Do you.”

“Of course I have a phone. It’s a requirement of the program.”

“Where is it then?” Young asked pointedly.

“In my apartment.”

“You need to keep it with you.”

“I do,” Rush said.

“All the time,” Young emphasized.

“Yes yes.”

“What if I were a Lucian Alliance operative?”

“Then I doubt you’d let me make a call. Also, I’d feel a right idiot for cooking you dinner. Twice.”

Young sighed.  “I could abduct you right now.”

“And a phone would help me how, exactly?”

“You could call the SGC.”

“While you were abducting me.”

“Well,” Young said, making a passable effort at keeping his frustration under wraps, “it depends on how good of a job I was doing. We’d at least be able to track you by your phone.”

“Just give me the dispatch number,” Rush said. “I’ll put it in.”

“Not a chance,” Young said, getting to his feet with what appeared to be significant difficulty. He looked at Rush’s mostly clean plate. “Come on. We’re finding your phone. Right now.”

“If you’re this overbearing as a neighbor,” Rush said, “I’m glad I’m not a fucking soldier.”

“Me too,” Young said, “you’d be a nightmare.”

They walked down the hall without speaking. He wasn’t terribly keen on the idea of Young seeing the inside of his apartment but he wasn’t terribly concerned either because thus far he’d managed to keep Jackson out, and Jackson was much more difficult to manage than Young.

He unlocked the door with the ever-satisfying pushback of pins and tumblers.

“Wait here,” Rush said shortly, stepping through and neatly shutting the door in Young’s face before the other man could repeat his boot maneuver.

It didn’t take him long to find his phone. When he opened the door again he found Young leaning in the frame, a put-upon expression on his face. Rush unlocked the phone and held it out to Young.

The man glared at him and proceeded to theatrically swipe the thing out of his hand in clear irritation.

Rush glared back.

He watched Young enter not one but two numbers, one of which he apparently called briefly before hanging up.  

“Now you have dispatch’s number and my number,” the other man said.

“Would you like me to call you if I’m being abducted?” Rush asked politely. “I’m certain that if I’m permitted to make one call, I’ll be able to make two.”

“Charge this thing,” Young said, shaking his phone at him, “and keep it in your pocket.”

“Fine,” Rush said.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Young said.

“I’m busy tomorrow.”

“Uh huh. Doing what?”



“And you have something against eating and doing math in the same day?”

“In principle no, but—“

“Good,” Young said, turning away. “See you tomorrow.”

Tempted though he was to continue to argue the point, he doubted that it would gain him much other than a waste of another twenty minutes, so he simply rolled his eyes and shut his door.

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