It must begin somewhere.
Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Grief. Physical injuries.
Text iteration: Midnight.
Audio status: Locked.
Additional notes: None.
The day is crisp and clear. Visibility stretches for miles over the blue expanse of San Francisco Bay. Sunlight filters through trees that extend a laced canopy over University Drive. A few stray leaves swirl in the breeze that blows off the water.
David Telford adjusts his sunglasses. He crosses his arms over his chest. He’s content to wait here, leaning casually against this white Prius, for as long as is required.
The sedate lines of the buildings and the unhurried manner of those who pass between them soothe the cracked edges of his mind. There’s a satisfaction in being surrounded by the profligate intellectual resources of one of the preeminent institutions of higher learning created by his species. This is something that humanity has done on its own—for itself and by itself. It remains untouched by external influence.
He smiles faintly, tracing the edges of the flash drive in his pocket. The wind hisses around the frame of the car. It lifts his hair. He can smell the sea.
He’s needed this. His nerves are overtaxed after spending so long offworld, undercover. Here, he can relax—even if only for a few moments. Here, he can watch the array of students trail through and around their white towers and their beautiful landscaping.
Here, no one will try to kill him.
Even while he appreciates the civilized veneer of Berkeley’s campus, he’s also capable of recognizing that there’s an elevated element to the struggle in the dirt, in crawling, in clawing one’s way to an objective—a certain poetry to subterfuge, to the tragedy of an unavoidable betrayal.
He prefers not to think of those things here.
He prefers not to think of them now.
Ultimately, this isn’t enough for him, and it never will be—these white walls, bleached to blinding by the afternoon sun. There’s more out there, more than even the Stargate Program can pursue. Access requires something more.
Finally, Telford sees the man he’s been waiting for. Rush is unmistakable. He’s wearing a brown jacket over a white collared shirt. His sunglasses are square-framed and expensive, much like the pair Telford himself is sporting. With the longish hair and the hint of a beard, the only way he could further conform to current standards in California professorial fashion would be to acquire a pair of Birkenstocks. It’s only the contained energy of his movements that looks out of place—not only on this campus, but in the context of the state, the coast, and even, Telford thinks, the planet.
He likes the man immediately.
Rush looks miserable and harassed and energetic, and like everything about him is a lie—from the square-framed shades to the white Prius Telford is leaning against; together, the ephemera of his life form a civilized veneer over something deeply, uncomfortably Faustian.
It must begin somewhere.
“You must be the hard sell,” Rush says as he approaches. The prominence of his accent takes Telford by surprise.
“What gave it away?” Telford holds out his hand. “Colonel David Telford, but, please, call me David.
Rush ignores the proffered hand. “You can call me Dr. Rush. Get away from my car.” He slams the disorganized pile of papers and books he’s carrying atop the Prius and starts fishing through his pockets, looking for his keys.
Telford doesn’t move from his position immediately adjacent to the driver’s side door. He reaches into his jacket to pull out a carton of cigarettes. He draws one out, then offers the package to the other man. “Cigarette?”
“No, thank you. I’ve quit.”
“Admirable,” Telford says mildly.
“Not really,” Rush replies. “It won’t take.”
“You don’t mind if I—”
“No, David,” Rush says, “I don’t mind if you smoke, provided you’ll kindly get the bloody hell away from my car.”
Telford smiles around the cigarette he’s holding delicately between his teeth. He can’t help it. He loves the attitude. He really does. Rush is going to be perfect. “You haven’t found your keys yet.”
Rush gives him a measured look.
Telford pulls out his lighter, unhurried.
The major players at the SGC all have them—every single one. O’Neill has Carter, Mitchell has Jackson, Sheppard has McKay. Behind every great leader is a great scientist. And Telford, well, his plans are more ambitious than anyone guesses. He knows, however, that he can’t do it alone. He’s going to test the very bounds of human thought. He’s going to balance between interplanetary alliances. He’s going to unlock the mysteries of the fabric of existence. And Rush—Rush is going to help him do it.
The other man just doesn’t know it yet.
Rush finally produces his keys and displays them to Telford. Obligingly, Telford backs away. Rush opens his car door and unceremoniously dumps his books on the passenger seat. Then, he stands there, staring at the interior of his car, hesitating.
Telford lights his cigarette.
“You’re terrible at this, you know.” Rush half turns. “Dr. Jackson was much more effective.”
Telford smirks. “I don't think so,” he says, pulling the flash drive out of his pocket.
Rush faces him, not betraying much, just the slight lift of a brow. “I was under the impression that I had to sign some kind of confidentiality agreement in order to, ah—” He circles a hand in midair.
“This isn’t strictly legal,” Telford says. “But—I trust you.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“Of course I do,” Telford replies. “I know things about you that you don’t know yourself.”
They stare at each other through their shades. A gust of wind lifts the leaves around them in a swirl, lifts the edges of their clothes and the edges of their hair.
Telford tosses Rush the flash drive.
Rush catches it left-handed. The crack of the plastic against his wedding ring is like a spark going to ground—like a circuit closing.