Mathématique: Chapter 6

Just hostile incursions and math.

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: Contemplation of panic attacks and mental illness with varying levels of sensitivity.

Chapter 6

Young leaned against the wall, brushing his teeth, trying to work out whether there was a polite and ideally sensitive way to ask a person if they had a mental illness. Maybe something along the lines of: “Sorry to pry, hotshot, but do you have any psychological problems I should be aware of, since you’re currently staying in my apartment? I only ask so there aren’t any misunderstandings; I’m just trying to avoid—er, well, look, long story, but apparently five or seven years back or so people used to have the problem of parasites in the brain that could cause all kinds of behavioral abnormalities? It’s still a concern, actually—shit, you don’t have the security clearance for this conversation, but the point was supposed to be that we take people’s baselines into account and it might help me to know what’s going on with you in case, in the future, there’s some kind of question about alien influence? Also it might just result in a better time for both of us, because my apartment isn’t very spacious and it’s going to be a long weekend.”

He really couldn’t picture that one going down very well.  Not on the delivery side and not on the graceful response side.

It also wasn’t very sensitive.

Sensitivity really wasn’t his strong suit.

That was more Jackson’s domain.

Young spit mint-flavored toothpaste into the sink, wincing slightly at the pull and twinge of protesting muscles in his lower back. He tried to focus on what the hell he was going to do about Rush, and not on the ever-present dull ache and slow burn that seemed to consume the left side of his body. He also did his best to avoid dwelling on the enticing idea of a long, hot shower, a beer, and slightly more than his recommended daily allowance of ibuprofen. 

Tempting. Tempting, but not happening.

He had a bad feeling about his neighbor.  The guy was trouble any way you sliced it—on a tactical level, a mental level, a personal level, a logistical level—there was something about him that set Young’s nerves on edge. He’d seen plenty of people panic in the field under various kinds of stress and sure, there had been some commonalities between what had happened to Rush in his kitchen and the-world-is-not-the-world panic he’d seen from greener members of gate teams—but it hadn’t been the same

The guy held up fine during an abduction attempt but then fell apart later because his ears were ringing?

Nope. Didn’t sit right. And then there was Jackson. Jackson was interested in the guy, but when you tried to get any useful information out of the man he turned out to be very difficult to pin down. All Young had really been able to pick up was that Rush had been working relentlessly on cracking some math problem—actually, make that a series of math problems—that had been built into the stargate. He was about forty percent of the way there.

Apparently, the Lucian Alliance was very interested in the nine-chevron address. 

Apparently, that was why Rush was number one on their list.


But there was more to it. A lot more. Had to be. Jackson wasn’t telling him everything. And what wasn’t being said was more informative than what was. There was something almost eerie about the way Jackson had hedged when Young had asked him whether or not he thought Rush was okay to keep working. Like he’d been talking for an audience of more than just Young himself.

This was what he got for mixing with SG-1.

He opened his medicine cabinet and located his prescription strength ibuprofen. He swallowed it quickly and then limped out of the bathroom and back into the living room. He paused, bracing himself against a corner. 

Every window in the room was open. He could hear his air conditioner struggling as a warm breeze whispered through the slats in the blinds.

Rush was sitting on a box, his shoulders rigid, half-lit up by the light of Vala’s recently assembled lamp. The borrowed computer was open on his lap, but he wasn’t typing. He looked like he was listening to something.

 A gust of wind lifted the blinds clear of the windowsill, fluttering the shreds of newspaper and broken styrofoam that had come out of various boxes, flaring Rush’s hair. The mathematician’s eyes weren’t tracking anything. And, with a little snap, Young made the connection. Rush looked like he was listening in the same way Jackson looked in those moments when he was addressing thin air.

What that meant, Young couldn’t say, but if he had to hang his ‘bad feeling’ on something—the connection between Rush and Jackson was as a good a peg as any. He crossed his arms, listening to the sounds of the night. Crickets. A car engine here and there. The wind in the blinds.

“Hey,” Young said. “Hotshot.”

No response.

He focused on the faint ringing in his own ears, trying to amplify it, trying to imagine what it would be like if it were all-consuming.

“I said hey,” Young repeated, slightly louder.

Rush looked over at him, managing to convey disdain with no more than a fractional lift of his eyebrows.

“What are you doing?” Young asked, slow and casual.

“Thinking,” Rush replied, evidently taking a page from Young’s Civility Book and filing the edge off his usual verbal blade. “A concept that is, evidently, so alien to you that you fail to recognize it when you see it.”

“You didn’t look like you were thinking, hotshot,” Young said, not accepting Rush’s tacit invitation to attend an insult-free-for-all. Not now, with the open windows, the ache in his back, and the tissue paper civility that stretched, barely, to cover everything that had happened.

Rush looked down at his computer.  “How long do you think it will take them to clear my apartment?His fingers hovered over his keyboard.

Young pushed away from the wall and limped over towards the couch. “At least a day,” he said.  “And seeing as it’s the weekend—“

“That’s relevant?”

“For a non-emergent situation, yeah, the fact that it’s the weekend will slow things down,” Young said, sitting down on the couch with as much care and with as controlled an expression as he could manage.

“I can’t stay here for days.”

“Think of it as hours. Come on. It’s not that bad. I’m about a thousand times less conversational work than Jackson.” Slowly, trying not to exacerbate his overworked back, he pulled his feet off the floor and stretched out on the couch.

“What are you doing?” Rush asked.

“What does it look like I’m doing?

“Please go somewhere else.”

“This is my apartment.”

“I need to work.”

“So work.  I’m not stopping you.”

Rush sighed. “If you’re going to sleep here then do you mind if I—“

“I’m not going to sleep here,” Young said.  “I’m keeping you company.”



Rush ran his fingers over the edge of Vala’s laptop, as if he were contemplating slamming it shut.

“Let me put it to you this way,” Young said carefully. “I think you put the eccentric in Genius Eccentric at baseline and right now you’re a little bit stressed after a night that even I’d rate as maybe a seven out of ten when it comes to things that are Exciting In A Bad Way. You’re handling it pretty well, and everyone thinks that you’re fine to be here, doing whatever math it is that you do, in my apartment.  But I’m not—one hundred percent sure about that. I mean, you passed out in my kitchen.”

“You understand ratios as fractions of one hundred,” Rush said coolly. “What a pleasant surprise for me.”

“So we can try this out,” Young said, ignoring the dig, “and yu can stay here and do your math, or you can go hang out with Dr. Lam until you’re evaluated and cleared by the medical people. Because normally that would be what would happen. The SGC has a whole counseling subsection to facilitate civilians who have unfortunate run-ins with the more violent side of human/xenobiological relations.  And you’d be going down that road if you were a little lower down on the LA’s top ten list.”

Young could see the sudden shift, the abrupt tensing of Rush’s entire frame, the readjustment of his hands to the top corners of the laptop screen, and the incremental press downward. But the guy contained his impulse to bolt with what was obviously a tremendous effort.

Young reflected that he probably should have kept his damn mouth shut and just let the insult war ride.

“Come on,” he said, backtracking. “It’s not that bad. I could be Jackson. Jackson is clearly the worst case scenario here. Getting in your head, buying you a dog, probably. Decorating your apartment for you. Who the hell knows. The guy is an unstoppable force of poorly adjusted kindness. The medical people are the middle of the road. I’m definitely your best option.”

“True,” Rush replied, not relaxing even a fraction.

Young could see his breathing becoming shallow, damn it. He didn’t have long to redirect Rush into something less upsetting. This was his own fault anyway. Mostly. “So,” he said, giving the word all the drag he could scrape together. “You’re decoding chevrons, or something, Jackson said?”


“What I don’t get,” Young said, trying to build a levy out of casualness, ”is why there’s a code at all.  No other addresses need to be ‘unlocked’.”

Rush shot him an irked glance, said nothing, looked down at his computer, and started typing. 

Young breathed out in one long, slow exhale, and wondered if he’d averted some kind of crisis, delayed it, or whether he’d been reading the guy all wrong in the first place. He was hard to get a handle on. That was for damn sure.

“I mean,” Young continued, trying to gauge his neighbor’s second-to-second mental state and likely continuing to do a piss-poor job of it, “the stargate specifies points in space—right?  Kind of like GPS, but with gates instead of satellites?”

“Your language is so vague, that I really have no idea whether you have any kind of conceptual understanding as for how the gate network functions or not,” Rush said, not looking up from his computer.

So this was actually going pretty well.

“It’s like the thing—with the lines,” Young said, gesturing loosely with one hand, “defined by communicating DHDs that intersect at a destination point in space, and then you specify a point of origin and then there’s some calculation that takes place regarding space-time warping between origin and destination.” 

“The thing with the lines. Yes. Well done. Fantastic work. You say you’re a colonel? It’s a good thing you specified; otherwise I might have mistaken you for an astrophysicist.” Rush actually seemed amused.

“Well, I keep a low profile,” Young said. “I’m not really into ruining people’s self-esteem as,” he gestured subtly in Rush’s direction, “you know.  A personal hobby.”

Rush smiled faintly.

“Come on,” Young said, “give me some details.  Is this address you’re unlocking—does it specify a point in space?”

Rush looked up at him, slowly this time, his gaze so intense that Young had a tough time maintaining eye contact. “And what else would it represent?”

“Um—“ Young said, a bit taken aback. “No idea.”

Rush eased up on the fiery gaze and looked back down at his computer. “No one does,” he said

“What do you think?”

“I don’t really care one way or another,” Rush said, his voice affectedly casual.  “I try not to think about it.”

Bullshit, Young decided. He gave Rush a skeptical look. “Seriously?”

“Why should I care?” Rush murmured. “Wherever it is, I’m not going.”

Probably not, no, Young internally agreed. “So you think it’s a place.”

“If it’s not a place, then no one is going.”

“Fair enough, I guess  Unless it was a time.”

Rush rolled his eyes. “You’re going to incorporeally travel to a pure temporal dimension? Good luck.”

Young watched Rush’s eyes scan back and forth rapidly between two items on the screen in front of him. “Um, your point, I guess, is that even if it were a different time, there would still need to be a—place component?”

“Spacetime,” Rush said. “Not just space. Not just time. Both. At least for people such as ourselves.”

“Okay, well, if it is a place and someone goes,” Young began, “don’t you—care what they discover?”

“Of course I do,” Rush said absently, not paying much attention to him.

“You must care,” Young said. “You must care a lot actually. Otherwise, why would you be doing this?”

“Why do people climb Mount Everest?”

“Because they have no respect for nature?”

That got a ghost of a smile. Rush glanced up at him. “You know why.”

“So you’re killing yourself unlock this cypher set just because you’re some hot shit mathematical mountaineer and it’s there?”

“That’s correct,” Rush murmured.

“That seems like a bad plan.”

“Keep talking to me. I’m genuinely enjoying this.”

“People lose their limbs when they climb Mount Everest.”

“Logical fallacy,” Rush replied absently.

Young snorted. “How so?”

“You constructed a false analogy,” Rush said. “Would you mind terribly just shutting up?”

“A false analogy?  Are you kidding me? You were the one who originally compared some math problem to Mount Everest.”

“I was speaking metaphorically, not actually making an argument about the advisability of certain courses of action, which is what you extended my metaphor to become. Inappropriately, I might add.”

“You know what?  I give up. Whatever your point is, I’ll let you have it, but just paraphrase it for me so that I even know what it was.”

“Stay out of my affairs.”

“You’re the one who keeps passing out and needing to stay in my apartment.”

“I thought you were going to cede my point.”

“Well I was, but then it was stupid.”

Rush said nothing, but there was no mistaking it this time; the man was distinctly amused.

Young tried to suppress a yawn. Lying down on his couch had been a bad idea. “So what are you doing right now?” he asked, trying to sound more energetic than he felt.

“Writing a program,” Rush murmured.

“For what?”

“A zero knowledge protocol.”

“I have no idea what that is.”

“The fact that it means I to you leaves me totally unsurprised.”

“Was that a pun?”

“At best, it was a weak mathematical witticism. I find puns to be a sine of intellectual immaturity.

Young narrowed his eyes.  “Right.”

The blinds tapped irregularly against the windowsill as another warm breeze gusted through the room. He listened to the burst and fade of Rush’s fingers against the keys of Vala’s computer. He needed to stay awake.

“Just out of curiosity, do you have something against sleeping?” He asked, somewhat sluggishly.

“Very much so.”


“Why not?”

Young sighed.  “What’s a zero knowledge protocol?”

“I’m sure you would find it uninteresting.”

“Try me.”

Young shifted his left hip on purpose, the sudden shock of pain serving to keep him awake.  He grimaced, shutting his eyes, clenching his jaw until the worst of it passed. 

When he opened his eyes again, Rush was watching him. “A zero knowledge protocol,” the man said, his tone unusually smooth, “is a method by which one system can test the ability of a second system to break a code without knowing the mechanism by which the second system has broken the code.”

“Hmm,” Young said. “That sounds very interesting, actually. Tell me more.”

Rush raised his eyebrows in such a manner that suggested he was both skeptical of Young’s professed interest and at least somewhat wise to the underlying distraction game. “Consider the following scenario. You and I are standing at the entrance to a cave that takes the shape of a loop.  There is a rock wall in front of us, and passage to our left and to our right.  If we were to take the right-hand passage, which we’ll call route A, we would walk the perimeter of a circle until we emerged again at our starting point.”

“’Route A’? Are you serious? This seems awfully complicated for after midnight on a Friday.”

“This is not even remotely complicated.”

“All right. Fine. I got you. Kind of like walking around the rim of a bicycle tire, if the inside of the tire was a cave.”

“Yes yes. The right hand passage is Route A, and the left hand passage is Route B. If you start down Route A and you don’t turn around, you return to the entrance via Route B, and vice versa. If, however, you were to enter the loop via Route A and turn around, retracing your steps, you would then return to the entrance via Route A.”

“I get it,” Young said, folding his arms over his chest and looking at Rush through half-lidded eyes.

“Good, because that was four times as much exposition as I usually give. Consider yourself lucky.”

Young raised his eyebrows lazily.  “Oh I do.”

“Now,” Rush said, leaning forward, “we introduce a locked door halfway through the passage. So if you enter by Route A, you cannot leave by Route B unless you know how to unlock the door. If you can’t unlock the door, you must turn around and return by Route A.”

“Why is there a locked door?”

“Because it’s a fucking cryptography problem, Young. For fuck’s sake.”

“Okay okay, fair enough,” Young said raising both hands.

“So let us assume,” Rush said, recovering his equilibrium, “that I claim to have an elegantly constructed algorithm that will open the locked door.”

“Oh it’s elegantly constructed, is it?  Nice work,” Young said, stifling another yawn.

“Let us also assume that you are possessed of some critical faculties. You would like to pay me for use of my algorithm, but you are disinclined to do so unless you know that it works. I, however, am certainly not going to tell you how it works. So you need a method of verification to ensure that I’m not cheating you.”

“I would not trust you at all, by the way,” Young said.

“How prudent of you,” Rush replied dryly.

“So I just tell you to make the loop, right?” Young asked. “If you can open the door, you go in Route A and come out Route B, and then I pay you.”

“No,” Rush said.

“Well why the hell not?” Young asked.

“You can’t see what route I pick when I enter.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’ve got your back to the entrance.”

“No I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”


“Suffice it to say that in an actual system where you’re the authenticating party, you have no control over the manner in which I reach the ‘door’. In a real system, from your point of view—I’m simply there.”

Young shut his eyes. “Okay. Whatever, you say, hotshot. So you’re at the door. Then what?”

“Then you turn around and you call out the name of whichever route you would prefer me to appear by. Since I’m choosing my entry path into the cave at random, roughly fifty percent of the time I will be required to open the door to appear by the route that you specify. If I consistently appear, then you know I can open the door, but you don’t know how I did it.

“So I give you some cash for your fancy algorithm,” Young murmured.

“Yes.  That would be ideal.”

“Huh,” Young said, listening to the quiet tap of the venetian blinds against the windowsill.  “So—“ he began, lazily trying to think of something to keep himself awake.

“The advantage, of course, to applying a zero knowledge protocol to a cypher that’s running on a crystal quantum computer,” Rush said, saving Young the trouble of doing any further conversational work, “is that one gets around the problem of observing the system state, and thereby destroying the key it contains.  Rather than obtaining an actual key, such a protocol would invite the gate itself to query the very algorithm that is trying to unlock it.”

Any second now he was going to shift his weight and really wake himself up again. He was just so damn tired. “It’s not going to work,” Young murmured.

“Really,” Rush said dryly. “Do you have a degree in quantum mechanics that you’ve thus far failed to disclose?”

“No,” Young said, “I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to get me to fall asleep by talking about cyphers and it’s not going to work.”

“Personally, I find nothing more conducive to unrelenting insomnia than a discussion of cyphers. And why would I want you to fall asleep? You’re so fucking helpful.”

“What time is it?” Young asked.

“Half past one in the morning,” Rush said quietly.

He needed to stay awake. Awake.

“So how do you make your zero knowledge thing?” He was fairly certain the words were mostly unintelligible.

“Writing the source code is probably going to take a few days,” Rush said. “Part of the invitation to interrogate can come from the failsafe Colonel Carter constructed that couples the closure of the iris to the detected stability of the nascent event horizon, but the rest of it—the rest of it will have to be fashioned from the ground up, as it were.”

The air felt raw and warm over his skin. He realized his eyes had been closed for several minutes.

“If this doesn’t work,” Rush continued, “I may have to reconsider my assumptions regarding the crystalline matrix in the DHD.”

His bones felt as if they were made of lead.

“The thing is,” Rush continued into the quiet of the room, “I may not have to get the quantum key.  I think any attempt to do so might reset the key itself.  I think it may be given to me once I demonstrate that I understand I can’t get it.”

Rush sounded fine. Nothing was going to happen if he took a twenty-minute power nap.

“I think it wants me to have it,” Rush whispered.

He let sleep drag him down.

Young awoke to the sound of a blender.

Sunlight was streaming into the room through the half-open slats in the venetian blinds, lighting up the dust in the air. By the look of the light, he had the feeling it was going to be another scorcher of a day, but he couldn’t tell for certain because, at some point during the night, Rush had liberated his air conditioner from the burden of cooling an apartment open to the summer night.

The windows were closed. That was a good sign, probably.

He could smell coffee. That was an even better sign.

He carefully eased into a sitting position, trying to avoid a sharp twinge of pain from either his back or his leg, but inevitably getting both for his efforts. He was going to have to pay for last night’s excitement, that much was clear. He reached around to carefully touch his lower back, finding a hard block of confused, contracted muscle.

Now was not the time to think of metal screwed into bone.

He forced himself to stand slowly, easing his weight onto his injured side. It was worse in the morning. It always was.

It would get better. 

He limped slowly toward the kitchen, pausing briefly to eye Vala’s computer, now sitting on his table.  The laptop was open and running some kind of program, apparently all by itself. 

Creepy, Young decided.  

He made his way to the kitchen and leaned against the frame of the open door, raising his eyebrows. The entire space had been reorganized and completely unpacked. Rush was standing in the middle of what looked to be a somewhat elaborate work in process. 

“Hey,” Young said, crossing his arms.

“This?” Rush said, not looking at him, but holding up a metal can of instant coffee. “Unacceptable.”

“I notice you made some anyway.”

“I wasn’t happy about it.”

“I’ll just bet you weren’t.” Young crossed his arms and watched Rush make him coffee with precise, economical movements. “I see you reorganized my kitchen,” Young said.

“I don’t think the prefix ‘re’ applies, but you’re welcome in any case.”

Young shook his head. “Did you sleep at all?”

“I despise being asked that question.”

“Yeah, probably because the answer gives away how weird you are.”

“Disparaging the person making your breakfast is ill-advised,” Rush snapped, handing him a cup of instant coffee.

“I’m not—disparaging you.  I’m just commenting.  What are you making?” Young asked.

“Crepes,” Rush replied shortly.

“Nice,” Young said.

“Nice,” Young said, standing in the door frame, coffee in hand, feeling the morning-after awkwardness of a drunken one-night stand. Except, this time, there had been neither drinking nor sex. Just hostile incursions and math. Math that he hadn’t even really participated in. Really the only commonality was that someone he didn’t know very well was currently making him an elaborate breakfast. Probably  this was going to end up being a better breakfast than any post-sex breakfast he’d ever been presented with. He could live with this. It wasn’t awkward. It was strange.

“Fort Douglas,” Rush said, with the air of someone just realizing something.

It took Young a short span to puzzle that one out, but he got it. “First of all,” he said, sipping his coffee, “strangely enough, Fort Douglas is a fort, not a town.  Second of all, it’s in Utah, not Wyoming.”

“Utah?” Rush repeated, as he flicked a drop of water into the cast iron skillet with a satisfying hiss.

“I’m surprised you managed to come up with that one.”

“I’m well-read to the point that defies believability.”

“And yet—“ Young said, “not very good at geography. You’re living in Colorado, y’know. A state that shares a border with Wyoming. You really should be able to name more than one city in The Equality State.”

“I’m not, actually.”

“You’re not what?”

“Living in Colorado.”

“Hate to break it to you, hotshot, but you definitely are.”

“I’m staying here. Temporarily. I do not live here.”

“Well, where do you live?”


That was more than a little bit sad.

Young watched Rush pour a thin batter from the blender and into the skillet, before gingerly easing himself up onto the free space on the counter next to the sink. The other man gave him a brief lift of the eyebrows but said nothing.

“Colorado is nice,” Young said through clenched teeth, trying to ignore the intensification of the ache in his hip and back. “Maybe you should—“ he broke off to grimace and then reset his jaw, “switch your affiliation from ‘nowhere’ to Colorado Springs.”

“Oh certainly. Colorado is very nice if you enjoy suburban sprawl and you prefer not to be confronted by evidence of human cultural achievement.”

“Um, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by that last part there, but I’m going to just let it slide, seeing as you’re making me crepes.”

“You have genuine affection for Colorado Springs?  Rush asked, expertly flipping the crepe before abandoning the pan to open the fridge. He sorted through various jars of whatever Vala had bought until he finally settled on something that he forcefully shoved into Young’s hands. “This may taste like shit. I don’t know. I can’t be held responsible.”

Young looked down at the completely inoffensive jar of jam he was now holding. “I’m sure it’s fine.

Rush flipped the crepe onto a plate and handed it to him along with a fork.

“So,” Young said, spooning apricot jam onto his crepe, “what is it that you have against furniture?”


“You don’t like tables, you don’t like beds, you don’t like couches. What’s the story with that?”

“You’re the one sitting on the counter,” Rush pointed out.

“I’m not going to sit at the table with only your creepy, automated zero knowledge protocol for company,” Young said.

“Yes, I can imagine that would be difficult for you with this need you seem to have for constant conversation. Also, that’s not my ZKP.”

Young shrugged and bit into the crepe. “Oh my god,” he said. “This is really damn good.”

“Obviously,” Rush said dryly. “I’m sure the jam is sub par. But it can’t be helped.”

“Where did you learn to cook like this?”

“Via a constant application of both theory and empiricism.”

“Meaning you read cookbooks and then you practiced?”

“That is the typical way in which skillsets are acquired,” Rush said, shooting him an appreciatively disdainful look.

“I’m just surprised that you pulled yourself away from the math long enough to learn how to make this stuff. It doesn’t seem like your style.”

“You’ve known me for what,” Rush snapped, “two days?”

“Yeah,” Young said, “true, but I’ve worked with a lot of guys like you—“

He stopped himself before he said anything potentially offensive.

“Oh yes?” Rush asked, the question a deceptively mild invitation to continue.

“Smart, passionate about what you do, full of this—” he waved a hand as he took a sip of coffee, “science machismo regarding who can go longest without sleep—that kind of thing.” 

Rush handed him another crepe.  “Science machismo.”

“Not that it’s a bad thing,” Young said. “When the goa’uld launch asteroids at the Earth and Carter sends them to hyperspace just as they reach the atmosphere—I am fully on board with science machismo.”

Rush turned to look at him.  “Hyperspace?”

Young nodded.

“That’s fair fucking brilliant. I wonder if I would have thought of that. Probably not. I don’t tend to think about hyperspace.”

“How high is your security clearance, by the way? Forget that goa’uld asteroid thing.”

“Not high,” Rush said darkly, rolling up a crepe and taking a bite, “apparently.”

Young shrugged. “Don’t take it too hard—it’s probably because they don’t want you to be able to give up much information to the Lucian Alliance if they do succeed in kidnapping you.”

“Thank you. Infinitely reassuring, I’m sure,” Rush said, watching the batter of the next crepe solidify in the pan.

Young winced. “Yeah. Sorry. But they’re not going to kidnap you.” 

Hopefully, he added silently.

“Brilliant.” Rush grabbed his plate, flipped a crepe out of the pan, and shoved it back at him. “All I have to do is stay within a seven meter radius of a transport scrambling device for the rest of my life.

There wasn’t really much Young could say in the face of that observation. “How’s your, um, continuous tone doing?”

Rush didn’t look at him.  “It’s faded.  For the most part.” 

“Can I ask you a question?”

“I’d be interested to learn what the fuck you think you’ve been doing for the past fifteen minutes, if not asking questions.”

Young raised his eyebrows, but plowed ahead.  “Why do you think it bothered you so much?”

“The continuous tone?”


“No idea,” Rush said, stirring the batter with pathological focus.

“Bullshit,” Young suggested conversationally. 

“I detest music,” Rush said, “and a continuous tone is close enough.”

“You detest music?”


“All music?”



“There’s no ‘why’ to it. It’s simply a fact.”

“But, no one detests all music.”

“I do.”

“No you don’t.  You can’t.”

“I find it intolerable.”

“How do you live?  In the world?  The world that’s full of music.”

“I don’t wish to discuss it.”


“What did I just say?” Rush snarled at him.

“All right,” Young said, holding up both hands. “All right.” 

Rush was backed against the opposite counter, the fingers of one hand curling about a metal drawer handle, his gaze fixed on a point on the floor, his breathing too fast for a guy making crepes on a Saturday morning.

What the hell had he been thinking? He supposed he hadn’t been thinking.   

“I get it,” Young said, feeling like he actually did not get it, even a little bit. “It’s probably really distracting—with needing to focus on the math.”

“Yes,” Rush agreed breathlessly, before turning back to the crepes. “Yes, exactly.”

He didn’t say anything further, and Young didn’t push him.  

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