Mathématique: Chapter 7
What did they want from him anyway, this fraternitas sanitas that razed civilizations to the ground with a wink and a smile and obligatorily cheeky commentary?
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: Panic attacks.
It occurred to Rush that, sometime in the last ten hours, circa the point at which he’d had a panic attack masquerading as a violin concerto in E Minor, Young had decided he was not mentally stable. Annoying as this was, it was certainly less concerning in the light of day than whatever conclusions Dr. Daniel Jackson, triple PhD, had come to last night.
Rush wasn’t certain how seriously to take Jackson.
The man had been institutionalized in the past, which Rush only knew because he frequently disclosed it as a talking point in conversations that seemed to be designed to demonstrate the depths of his pancultural, hands-on understanding regarding the fundamental ins and outs of the human condition, where ‘human’ was actually a stand-in term to indicate any species with sentience.
Especially fuck it, because it had been a mistake. Jackson’s so-called brush with psychosis. A mistake made by some poorly acclimated and overly self-assured individual in the SGC psych department. Jackson hadn’t been unstable—not then, not ever. The man was a metric for sanity and such a fucking rock of well-adjusted sensitivity that he could sit in a god-forsaken coffee shop and tell you that he could conceptualize how you felt because it reminded him of that time that he’d destroyed a civilization, watched his wife abducted and physically and cognitively enslaved, watched her murdered in front of him, hallucinated about it for three days, nearly destroyed another civilization, saved a third civilization and then been blamed for destroying it as he was dying a horrible, horrifying, protracted death that took the form of a high-velocity skid along the unyielding asphalt of the electromagnetic spectrum; where flesh met ionizing radiation in an bloody, disintegrating smear.
Daniel Jackson, triple PhD.
Putting things into perspective.
Thank you, Dr. Jackson.
He tried to see the crepe that he was staring at.
What did they want from him anyway, this fucking fraternitas sanitas that razed civilizations to the ground with a wink and a smile and obligatorily cheeky commentary?
Young hadn’t said anything for approximately forty-five seconds.
That was a long interval in Colonel Young Time; he estimated it would be something like eight to twelve minutes in Nicholas Rush Time, depending on the day.
He should say something.
He had a headache.
He wished he were not making crepes.
Neither of these things seemed like particularly good topics of conversation.
“Does it bother you,” he began, watching the matrix of the batter begin to solidify, “that your organization has obliterated the indigenous cultures of people on countless worlds?”
“Um,” Young said, with the air of a man who is acutely uncomfortable, “maybe that’s something you can discuss with Jackson.”
“Why,” Rush snapped. “I want to know what you think about it.” He realized he had two fingers rather aggressively pointed at Young. He pulled them back as he returned to contemplating his forming crepe. “I can infer what Dr. Jackson’s thoughts are likely to be on this particular topic.”
“I think it’s a complicated question,” Young said.
“Yes well.” Again with the hand—a broad sweep pulled back. He was doing his best. His best.
“I think people have put a fair amount of thought into it,” Young continued. “Not so much in the early days, when it was a bit dicey whether the Earth would avoid getting blasted back into the Bronze Age by the goa’uld, but lately people have been thinking a lot about it. The IOA has an entire division on like—I don’t know. Culture Destruction. I don’t think they call it that though. It’s not really my area.”
“Surely you jest,” Rush said.
Crepe to plate, batter to pan. He hated mornings.
The light was irradiating and merciless like it must have been near to the source, the white-hot, radioactive, uncaring source. And what would it have been like to touch it? He couldn’t bear the thought of Jackson, of Dr. Daniel Jackson, throwing away all that he was or, maybe, all that he had been in that moment. It must have been a kind of death, it must have been—they all must have been kinds of deaths. Some people had one and, apparently, some had many; variegated and splitting with the quantum foam or linear temporal unravelings and reravelings, back and forth along the same line through time. But in that moment, that fatal moment, when Jackson had reached out to touch the thing that would kill him, he wouldn’t have known that there would be anything but the high energy, high frequency waves that would tear through him, that already had, that already were—
It was his least favorite.
Rush stared at the dark metal of the cast iron skillet against the white of the perfectly maintained stove and wondered what, exactly, had possessed him to make crepes. But as there was, indeed, a crepe in front of him, he flipped it.
“You okay?” Young asked guardedly.
He tried to imagine what he must look like to Young. He suspected it was an approximation of an emotionally labile, barely functional, unpleasant, culinary savant of some kind.
Young thinks I’m mentally unstable, but Jackson thinks—Jackson thinks what? He wondered.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Rush asked, mildly. There was really no way for Young to answer such a question in a noninflammatory manner, but Rush was interested to see what the man would come up with.
“You stopped eating crepes about five minutes ago.”
Simple, direct, to the point, and emphasizing a surrogate rather than a primary endpoint with a sharp sort of spectrographic tact like the bottom of the atomic orbital hierarchy. It was a good answer. It didn’t give him a rational out. That was fine, he’d take an irrational out. “I despise crepes.”
“Okay,” Young replied carefully.
He must look fairly unbalanced if Young was going to let that one slide. He found this discouraging.
“I mean, I guess I could see it,” Young continued. “They’re a little bit girly.”
Rush braced his hands on the warm corners of the stove and half turned, angling his head down slightly as he fixed Young with an unblinking, steady look.
Young shifted uncomfortably. “Except for the part where they require tons of technical skill.”
Rush didn’t move.
“Which is not to say that girls—or women, are not technically skilled, or rather, actually, it’s not like technical skill makes something masculine. Colonel Carter is—“ Young trailed off.
Rush continued to stare him down.
“Look, both crepes and technical skill are gender neutral,” Young said. “Crepes are kind of artistic? And you seem like a guy who appreciates practicality. Maybe.”
Rush raised his eyebrows.
“Crepes are artsy, technical skill is not gender affiliated, and I appreciate breakfast.”
Rush untethered his left hand from the stove and snatched Young’s plate in order to flip another crepe onto it with a hint of a smile.
“Let’s just pretend the last thirty seconds never happened,” Young said.
“I’m amenable to that.” He poured the last of the batter into the cast iron pan and wondered how long he was going to have to stay, scrutinized, in this apartment.
“So what’s the plan?”
He wasn’t entirely sure what Young was referring to, but it really didn’t matter, there was a final common pathway to his answer. “I have no plan. What’s your plan?”
“Well, that depends,” Young said.
He shut his eyes and tried to pretend that the glacial speed of Young’s sentences didn’t irritate him.
“On what?” he asked, with as much pleasantness as he could manufacture on short notice.
“Well, I don’t want to bother you while you’re making your ZKP. Or whatever it is that’s going on out there.” Young tipped his head toward the kitchen doorway, indicating Vala’s laptop, which was, Rush assumed, still open on the table, automatically building a spreadsheet of the quantum state data that he’d recorded in Dr. Perry’s lab.
“It’s just data compilation,” Rush murmured, his eyes flicking toward the open doorway. “Should be done by now.”
“Is it going to bother you if I keep unpacking?”
“No,” Rush said. “It’s your apartment.”
“Are you planning to sleep?” Young asked. “Ever?”
“Possibly,” Rush said. “If so, would that need to be incorporated into ‘the plan’?”
Young sighed and then shifted his weight to gingerly slide forward off the counter. “I was just curious.
Rush began washing dishes.
“You’re not from Earth,” Young said. “Are you.” It clearly wasn’t a question.
Rush looked over at him. “Pardon?”
Young handed him the mixing bowl and Rush was too astonished to do anything but take it. “Jackson sort of hinted at it,” he said. “But don’t worry. My security clearance is pretty much as high as it gets.”
“Jackson—“ he broke off, shaking his head. “Jackson said what?”
“Well, he’s pretty cagey actually. He just implied. Combined with—“ Young waved a hand, “everything? It makes sense.”
“Everything? What ‘everything’.”
“Not sleeping, not knowing about air conditioning, being the top of the LA list, being pissed about the SGC destroying cultures, making our best math guys look like idiots, hating music, liking Vala’s cocktail. That thing smelled terrible, by the way. No one from this planet would be able to drink that thing with a straight face.”
Rush stared at Young, the water from the sink running cool and laminar over his hands.
Young smirked at him.
“Shut up,” Rush said.
“I had you,” Young replied.
“No you didn’t.”
“Oh I absolutely did.”
“In no way.”
“I don’t think so,” Rush replied.
“It was really obvious, in case you were wondering.”
“I very much doubt that.”
Young picked up a kitchen towel and began running it over clean dishes. In relatively short order, they were finished erasing the evidence of the needlessly elaborate breakfast that Rush had unadvisedly constructed while his dataset built itself. Once the kitchen was back to its baseline state, Young vanished in the direction of the bathroom, presumably to catch up on his deferred shower.
Rush sat down in front of Vala’s computer. His VBA program was minutes away from completion.
He drummed his fingers on the table in an irritated staccato and logged into his secure email client. In addition to the typical flurry of institutional rubbish, there was an email from Dr. Perry.
Dear Dr. Rush,
It took approximately four hours for my technicians to realign the crystal array you reconfigured and another hour to figure out what you had done to our detection equipment as, apparently, your time is too valuable to waste on delineating the rationale behind your destructive experimental setup. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that we’ve recalibrated the array and that there have been no lasting setbacks to our analysis of Ancient control crystals. Next time you feel the need to dismantle someone’s array, don’t pick mine. I also advise asking for permission from the section chief prior to any use of xenotech. All this being said…I have to ask you—were you intentionally collecting quantum superposition data? If so, we should talk.
Rush sighed and squinted up at the ceiling. He hit reply.
Dr. Perry—Apologies for any inconvenience. I was in a bit of a hurry. With regards to superposition data—I was intentionally collecting it. Why do you ask?
He hit send. Again, he drummed his fingers on the table. He checked the progress of his VBA program. He got up, grabbed a pair of scissors and sliced open one of Young’s unopened boxes labeled: “Dining Room.” He raised his eyebrows at the solid wall of tablecloth that greeted him, then shrugged and laid it out stepwise over the kitchen table. He’d just pulled out a serving platter of dubious aesthetic quality and even more dubious functionality when he heard the quiet chime of his email client.
Dr. Perry was evidently an early riser. He set the platter down next to Vala’s laptop and slid into his seat, opening the message.
I ask because it was hard to ignore the 2n output you were getting for your n input. Do you realize you essentially rebuilt a marginally functional hyperdrive control element? Is that what you were trying to do?
He hit reply.
No. I was trying to approximate a DHD and, unsurprisingly, I ended up with a poor man’s version of a quantum computer.
He watched his email client, his fingers tapping a complicated pattern on the metal platter. He didn’t have to wait long.
Ah. For a DHD the internal geometry is REQUISITE and our array lacks the appropriate symmetry. Look, if you have a few minutes we can chat about this live on the SGC’s secure server.
There was a link in the email. He clicked it, and then impatiently entered the necessary information and passwords.
NicholasRush: Hello. Internal geometry is requisite?
NicholasRush: Are you typing anything? This seems to be taking a long time.
MandyPerry: Think about it. All DHDs are fundamentally similar in design—they have to be. They must store and permute not only their own location information but also the location information of the six other DHDs they communicate with via subspace. They also don’t have—god you’re impatient.
NicholasRush: They don’t have what?
NicholasRush: I’m not impatient.
NicholasRush: Any time now.
MandyPerry: They don’t have an unlimited buffer and they don’t have the same constellation panels either. This means that one has the problem of essentially taking an identical and limited set of crystals in an identical configuration and imbuing each one with location information that shifts in real time. The only way to efficiently store and use that kind of data is by changing the quantum state of Ancient crystals in a manner that’s location based.
MandyPerry: Now who’s being slow?
NicholasRush: By “constellation panels,” you mean the depressible parts on the surface of the DHD? How many are there?
MandyPerry: You don’t get out much do you?
MandyPerry: Yes…how is that significant?
NicholasRush: I don’t know that it is, necessarily, but there’s something teleologically appealing about it, considering the intersecting three lines composed of six points used to define the destination target.
MandyPerry: Do you look for patterns in the digits of pi?
Rush rolled his eyes.
NicholasRush: I fail to see what you are insinuating.
MandyPerry: Oh I think you do. I get the significance of “plus six,” but what’s so special about 2^5? Do you think it’s connected to the cyphers within the circuitry of the gate?
NicholasRush: Possibly. It makes me wonder if the central control crystal of a DHD could actually function as a 32-qubit quantum computer, if properly interrogated. That would be excellent for my purposes. There are seven crystals within the DHD, correct?
NicholasRush: You had better be typing something substantive.
MandyPerry: Correct. As for your supposition about the quantum computational capacities of the DHD central control crystal—this is not a new theory, but no one has been able to interface with it and demonstrate that it has that capacity. The main reason for this is that we don’t use a functional DHD here (Earth), and if you try to turn the control crystal on an offworld gate into your own personal quantum computer, the concern is that you may screw it up to the point that you can’t gate back from wherever you are. About six months ago I demonstrated that local drive control elements of Ancient hyperdrives could, when isolated from the mechanics of the drives themselves, be forced to function as a quantum computer by using a large crystalline array to solve Shor’s algorithm.
NicholasRush: Excuse me but you did WHAT.
MandyPerry: I had the feeling that might be relevant to your current interests.
NicholasRush: That’s spectacular.
MandyPerry: I know. You should come by my lab. I’m going in this afternoon. Want to meet up around lunchtime?
NicholasRush: You’ll have to give me a rain check I’m afraid.
MandyPerry: Shor’s Algorithm with a crystal quantum computer…how can you say no?!?!?
NicholasRush: Apparently, the Lucian Alliance is trying to abduct me today.
MandyPerry: I see. That sounds like enough to ruin your weekend.
NicholasRush: Yes it is.
NicholasRush: Thank you for noticing.
MandyPerry: How does Monday look for you?
NicholasRush: More favorable than today.
MandyPerry: Where’s your office?
NicholasRush: I work offsite.
MandyPerry: Sorry. Offsite? How do you run experiments?
NicholasRush: As a general rule, I inconsiderately make use of someone else’s lab.
MandyPerry: Get right out of town.
NicholasRush: You said geometry was requisite, but I see no reason why circular geometry would be requisite.
MandyPerry: I never said circularity was required. In fact, we know it’s not. Atlantis DHDs use a triangular array. Geometric regularity is required to assign location-based data. At least, that’s the theory. Do you think the geometry of the array is significant in some way?
NicholasRush: I’m not certain. It occurs to me that it may be an aesthetic conceit.
MandyPerry: You’re such a math guy.
NicholasRush: What is that supposed to mean?
NicholasRush: I SAID what is that supposed to mean.
MandyPerry: A chemist wakes up to find his bed on fire. He goes and gets a bucket of water to put it out.
NicholasRush: You are an odd person.
MandyPerry: A physicist wakes up to find his bed on fire. He calculates exactly how much water is required to put out the fire, given the rate of fire spread and the transit time between bed and faucet, and then he puts out the fire.
NicholasRush: I see where this is going and I don’t like it, I’ll have you know.
MandyPerry: A mathematician wakes up to find his bed on fire. He goes to the faucet, turns it on, sticks his finger under the water and says ‘a solution exists.’ Then he goes back to sleep. In his bed. His bed that is still on fire.
MandyPerry: I do my best.
“I said Rush.”
Rush half turned to find Young standing in the doorframe, his arms crossed and his hair wet.
“What?” he snapped.
“I have a tablecloth?”
Rush looked at the tablecloth-covered table.
“Yes. That does seem to be the case.”
“Were you unpacking for me?” Young sounded a bit incredulous but also a bit—touched.
“I unpacked exactly two items,” Rush replied.
MandyPerry: I don’t mean to give you a hard time.
MandyPerry: Seriously. I’m sorry about that. Math is great.
MandyPerry: I love math.
NicholasRush: Sorry. I was distracted. Look, I take your point about the intellectual laziness of pattern recognition, but it has its place.
MandyPerry: Absolutely. Especially in cryptography, I would think.
NicholasRush: Now you’re obviously trying to placate me.
MandyPerry: Is it working?
NicholasRush: No. Look, my data has long since finished assembling itself into a spreadsheet. I should go.
MandyPerry: You’d get better data from a real DHD.
NicholasRush: I’m aware.
MandyPerry: Talk to Sam Carter. There might be a planet relatively close by with real DHD you can break.
NicholasRush: I sincerely doubt that I would break it.
MandyPerry: Well, if it were me, I’d want a ship with hyperdrive capability standing by just in case.
NicholasRush: Yes yes. I’ll email you if, at some point in the future, I’m cleared to leave my apartment.
MandyPerry: Keep me posted. It was nice “meeting” you.
He signed out of the secure server and scanned over his newly compiled spreadsheet to make sure it was complete and appropriately organized. He rested one elbow on the table and curled a fist underneath his chin, visualizing the computational model he was going to build—its parameters, its initial conditions—while he listened absently to the sound of a blade running through tape, and the methodical, slow unpacking that proceeded with the pained scrape of asymmetrical steps over a dusty floor.
Around the time that he had finished building his invariant data into his source code, Young’s phone rang, piercing in the quiet apartment. Rush flinched. He took a deep breath and shut his eyes, trying to detune his nerves into something a bit easier to live with.
“Hey,” Young said, answering quickly. “Hey Emily.” Young slurred a three syllable name into something more like two and a half, his tone oddly tentative.
His ex-wife then.
“Yeah, no, I’m sorry. I—“
Rush raised an eyebrow at his source code, saved the nascent model, and shut Vala’s laptop. He walked down the hall to the bathroom, deciding that it was a particularly propitious moment to take a shower.
“I didn’t forget. If you’ll just let me—“
Yes. It was an inarguably opportune time for a shower.
He shut the bathroom door and turned on the water. He looked at himself in the mirror and found that his hair was in a notable state of post-coding disarray. He kept forgetting to cut it.
Shoes, socks, pants, boxes, and two shirts hit the white tile of the floor in a cairn of efficient divesting. He stepped into the shower, steadying himself, one hand on the opposite wall, trying to think of nothing but what he was doing, the only thoughts allowed to intrude were those of code, of differential equations, of qubits and superposition. Exhaustion was his best, most efficient weapon in the fight against his own mind.
Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach, in meiner Brust,
Die eine will sich von der andern trennen.
His fingers passed through his hair in a raking, irregular weave before he tipped his head back and washed away surfactant that smelled vaguely of pine or some other poorly defined, commercially masculine option.
He would have to achieve entanglement between his query program and the DHD. There was no question about that. It would probably be necessary every time, as there was probably not a single key—rather each key was likely uniquely generated and then transmitted via entanglement every time one needed to dial.
So. One—achieve entanglement with the DHD. Two—run his ZKP to demonstrate entanglement to the DHD. Three—obtain the key and unlock the chevron. But how to achieve quantum entanglement?
He absently rubbed the nearly new bar of soap over his chest.
How did one write code that would run on a crystal? Dr. Perry would know. Likely it wasn’t substantially different from writing classical code. At least, not conceptually.
He shut off the shower and pulled a clean towel off the wall-mounted shelf.
As for obtaining the key itself—if it wasn’t simply granted to him—several rounds of weak-measurement attack might work. Man-in-the-middle appealed to him more but it was, by its nature, more deceptive. He had the feeling that the gate wouldn’t appreciate that very much.
He pulled on his boxers and his jeans and then vigorously toweled off his hair.
Maybe Dr. Perry had a point. He was supposed to be cryptography expert, not a fucking numerologist. It wasn’t like the gate had feelings, and it wasn’t like he couldn’t attempt both approaches. Any approach. Presumably. If he ever obtained clearance to go offworld and intensively interface with a DHD.
Telford would likely be of some help in that regard.
It would be better to ask Telford.
Or, maybe, it would be better to ask Jackson?
It was going to irritate Jackson if he went to Telford.
It would also likely irritate Telford if he went to Jackson.
Fortunately, this was an easily escaped dichotomy.
He pulled his undershirt over his head, picked up his rumpled dress shirt, and pulled it back on as he paced out along the dimly lit hallway and into Young’s too-bright living room.
The man was lying on the couch, one hand over his eyes, no longer on the phone, misery evident in the curve of his fingers into his temples.
Rush hesitated for a moment and then walked forward. “I need to go offworld,” he announced.
Young pulled his hand away from his eyes. “Right now?” he asked dryly.
“No,” Rush said, walking forward, beginning to button his shirt. “But soon. Sometime this week.”
“Good luck with that,” Young said, shutting his eyes.
“I’m not cleared,” Rush said.
“Really? You? Not cleared?”
Rush’s hands paused briefly in their serial loop and slide but he regrouped and proceeded, both with the buttoning and with everything else. “Given your history of sub par analytical skills,” he said, “you’ll have to forgive me if I fail to give a fuck about your preconceptions. I need to go offworld.”
Inexplicably, Young opened his eyes and gave him a faint smile.
“Are you going to help me or not?” Rush asked.
“Why do you want to go offworld?” Young countered.
“Because I need access to a DHD.”
“Going to the alpha site for a few hours might be workable,” Young said, his eyebrows rising fractionally.
“I may destroy the DHD I need access to.”
“Okay, well, that would make the alpha site less of a good choice,” Young said evenly, “and unfortunately, it’s going to make it harder to get approval to go out, because you’re going to need ship-based support, and you’d be gating to a location that can be secured in only a very limited way.
“Plus, not only are you an intellectual resource,” Young continued, “you’re also an extremely high profile target for abduction. I’d imagine that the more chevrons you can unlock, the more they’re going to want you. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that less than twenty-four hours after the base found out that you’d cracked the fourth cypher there was an abduction attempt.”
“So don’t pick a Lucian Alliance planet to gate to,” Rush snapped. “Any natively configured DHD will work.”
“It’s not that simple, and you know it.”
“Jackson is number two on the list, and I notice that he’s not locked in his apartment.”
“Jackson can take care of himself.”
“Oh yes. That’s why he’s died so many times.”
Young sighed, probably because he couldn’t think of an effective counter-argument. “Why ask me?”
Rush hesitated. “You don’t exactly look busy.”
“Nice try, hotshot. What’s the real reason?”
“Jackson and Telford are currently—disagreeing rather strongly about something, making it inconvenient for me to approach either of them.”
“You think they’re disagreeing about you?” Young asked, his tone casual, his hand coming away from his forehead, twisting, and ending up behind his head in a movement so relaxed that Rush suspected it concealed sudden, intent interest.
“I didn’t say that,” Rush replied, “but I think whatever they’re at odds about may peripherally involve me in some way.”
They looked at one another.
“I’ll call Landry on Monday,” Young said. “See if we can’t work something out.”
Rush nodded at him. “Thank you.”
Rush crossed his arms over his chest and surveyed the disarray of Young’s corner apartment. Partially empty boxes mostly obscured the floor space, as if half emptying boxes was some kind of deliberate strategy that Young had employed. As if he didn’t want to finish and discard even a single box.
Rush could identify with that, he supposed. “Get up,” he said.
“Fucking go to sleep why don’t you?” Young countered. “I’m taking the rest of the morning off.”
“We’re finishing this right now,” Rush said. “This is the most inefficient unpacking I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Your kitchen has been unpacked for days. Because I unpacked it.”
“Two days. Not even.”
Rush looked down at the nearest half-empty box, ascertained it was full of books, dragged it over to the empty bookshelf, and began sliding them onto the shelf.
“Are you alphabetizing?” Young asked, from the couch.
“And why not?”
“Um, no reason.”
“You would prefer sorting by size, would you?” Rush tried not to watch as Young painfully got to his feet. “Color, perhaps?”
Young ignored his question. “This was not part of the plan, you know,” he growled, halfheartedly pulling a coiled desk lamp out of the nearest box and eying it distastefully.
“Did the plan include you purchasing decent coffee? Because that should also be included. In fact, it’s going to need to happen before two o’clock this afternoon.” He finished shelving his first set of books and bent down to retrieve another set.
“Why?” Young asked, looking like he didn’t know what to do with his desk lamp. “What happens at two o’clock?”
“I’ll get a caffeine withdrawal headache. And I am not drinking that atrocious example of American instant coffee ever again.”
“How did you get so dehydrated the other day if you’re such a regular coffee drinker?”
“This morning was the first time I had coffee in four weeks.”
“Falling off the wagon?”
It was more akin to getting back on the wagon, but there was no reason to tell Young that. “I was extremely disappointed to end my dry spell with instant coffee.”
“My apologies,” Young said dryly.
“Yes well,” Rush replied, snatching the deformable desk lamp out of Young’s hand and affixing it to the side of the bookcase. “I suppose that I can let that one slide.”
“Thank you. I’m so relieved.”
Rush picked up Young’s knife and sliced through the tape of the box he had emptied, flattened the cardboard and placed it on the floor next to the bookshelf.
“Don’t you need to be working on your ZKP?” Young asked.
“You’re awfully fixated on my ZKP,” Rush replied. “Would that be because you know literally nothing else about computer science?”
“You were the one who was fixated on it, but—yeah. Pretty much.”
“I’m now writing source code for a modeling program that will allow me to simulate quantum fluctuations within Ancient control crystals following the application of different voltages.”
“Oh. Great.” Young reached down into a box and pulled out something that looked like a fishbowl.
“Is that for fish?” Rush asked, the question coming out more disdainfully than he had intended.
“Some people like fish, Rush,” Young growled.
Rush gave him a fractional shrug. “Fish seem inappropriate for someone who lives alone and who might be killed on an alien planet.”
“You can get automatic feeders,” Young said defensively. “Plus—it’s not like I don’t know people who would feed them if—why are we even talking about this?”
“I have no idea. Buy all the fish you want. I certainly don’t care,” Rush replied, making short work of finding a second book-containing box and adding its contents to the bookshelf.
“I will,” Young said.
“You do that,” Rush replied.
“And when I go offworld, you can feed them.”
“I’ll probably have been abducted by the Lucian Alliance by the time you’ve recovered enough to go offworld.”
“Don’t say that,” Young snapped.
“Given that the Lucian Alliance is in possession of beaming technology and the SGC lacks sufficient information security,“ Rush murmured, “I would say it’s just a matter of time.”
“It isn’t,” Young insisted. “Of course it isn’t.”
“I’d find a different backup fish-feeder if I were you.”
“Rush,” Young said. “Stop it. I’m serious.”
“So am I,” Rush said, looking obliquely at Young and then back at the books in his hands.
“You need to be careful,” Young growled. “This isn’t something to be cavalier about. The LA wouldn’t have a foothold in the SGC if their methods of twisting cooperation out of people weren’t so effective.”
“Mmm hmm,” Rush replied. “It stands to reason.” He located Young’s knife and sliced through the second box he’d emptied. He laid it out atop the first.
“Seasoned people have fallen to them. People trained to withstand the kind of techniques they use,” Young continued.
Rush looked at the wall, and tried to imagine being tortured—tried to imagine something worse than the tangled chokehold of his own unexhausted mind and found that he couldn’t. That was certainly a failure of imagination on his part.
“Any advice?” he asked, turning to face Young, “in case they’re successful in acquiring me?”
“Do anything you can,” Young said, “anything you can to keep that from happening. And stop telling people when you crack each chevron. Let them think you’ve stalled out. Hit a block.”
Rush met his eyes and nodded.
It wasn’t a bad idea.