Mathématique: Boundary Conditions

Relief is not a sentiment that Amanda Perry typically encounters. Generally, she creates logistical nightmares with her presence that are often, but not always, worth the insight she offers.

Revised Author’s Notes: This is a piece of fan fiction. It’s a trope-twisting, epic-length, crossover AU that spans all three series of Stargate. There’s a lot of science. A lot of plot. A lot of emotions. Timelines have been slightly altered so that season 4 of Stargate Atlantis (without Carter in command) occurs contemporaneously to season 10 of SG-1, which occurs in the year prior to season 1 of SGU.

Disclaimer: I’m not making money from this; please don’t repost to other sites. 

Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Injuries.

Boundary Conditions

Amanda Perry gives her aide the afternoon off. She sits in her office in perfect, uncomfortable stillness. Her eyes are closed. She’s collecting herself before she will navigate the quotidian chaos of the corridors and the unpredictable, changing maze of equipment and people and the odd minor disaster that may bar her way. She doesn’t particularly care to articulate her exact concerns regarding what she’s about to do. The important thing is that she can do it. 

It’s not a problem. It’s not a problem at all. 

She just needs a moment. A moment before she begins.  A moment in which to create an isolation that hasn’t been imposed upon her, but that she imposes upon herself.

That moment passes, and she’s ready. She cannot be otherwise.

Perry opens her eyes and begins the sequence of angles and accelerations that take her from her office and into the elevator, and then to the infirmary, proceeding unobstructed down hallways as people make a path for her. She doesn’t mind the ones that look away. She doesn’t mind the ones that look too long. But she wishes that there was no need for the anticipated skirting of her trajectory. 

She wishes that they would not make such an effort not to touch her.

But she understands the respect behind their swerving, and, usually, it doesn’t bother her. It’s been a notable few weeks though, and there are times when she finds the prison of physicality more difficult to bear than others.

She’s entirely ready to see him when she passes through the doorframe of the infirmary. She’s girded against the way he will look, because she’s seen him here before, unconscious, post-Altera, so she’s ready for the gown and the IV and the—

God damn it. She’s not ready. Or, rather, she was ready for the wrong thing.

She almost doesn’t realize that it’s him at first, because he’s sitting up in bed, wearing his clothes, wearing his glasses, the cortical suppressors nearly concealed by the fringed edges of his hair, revealing their presence only by their faint and futuristic glow. And, if that weren’t enough, when he looks at her, she sees nothing but profound relief.

Relief is not a sentiment that Amanda Perry typically encounters. Generally, she creates logistical nightmares with her presence that are often, but not always, worth the insight she offers.

“Dr. Perry,” Rush says.

Her throat betrays her and she cannot say anything, but she doesn’t have to, because he’s not finished.

“Thank fuck.” He touches his head absently, as if he hadn’t quite meant to say that last part, and she can feel her smile burst out, even and untamed.

“You look better than the last time I saw you,” she says, taking it easy on him, already wondering about his baseline beneath the cognitive yoke of cortical suppression.

“You’ll have to remind me,” he says, his fingers again coming to his temples.

The last time she saw him he’d been drugged straight out of awareness and so sedated by the uncalibrated electromagnetic power of the device attached to his head that he’d responded to nothing, not even pain, for hours. “Let’s just say I prefer my men conscious,” she says dryly. “And clothed. Nice jeans.”

The nonplussed look he gives her is entirely worth the longing tightness that constricts her vocal cords.

“Thank you,” he says, with uncertain aridity.

“Where’s your colonel?” she asks.

“Young?” he asks, just a fraction too slow, not quite certain he’s catching everything he knows she buries in what she says.

“Yeah,” she replies, her voice too gentle for either of them to tolerate. They look away from one another.

“Conspiring,” Rush says. “Enquiring regarding the firing of tiring wiring. For fuck’s sake. He’s with Jackson.”

Perry pushes her eyebrows together, trying to decide what had just happened there as she returns with, “Inspiring rhyming, demonstrating flaw free timing.”

“Yes well,” he replies, still not looking at her.

“So, I’m guessing that your little foray into beat poetry there wasn’t intentional?”

“No,” he admits. “I blame this on Carter.”

“She’s a great programmer,” Perry says, “but her area is astrophysics, if you can believe it.”

He looks at her, and she smiles at him. As smiles go, it feels like a good one.

“Nick,” she says, and her throat closes. She swallows before continuing. “We’ll just clean up the code a bit, fine tune the control.  No problem. You’ll be back to embarrassingly intuitive mathematical insights and devastating sarcasm in no time.”

“Embarrassingly intuitive?” he repeats.

Highly embarrassing,” she says emphatically, as she navigates to position herself behind the open laptop and scans the screen for the indication that Carter had left her customizable voice activation software open and waiting for Perry’s particular pitch. “Open terminal window,” she says clearly to the computer.

It complies. Perfect.

Rush is watching her with evident interest and she feels abruptly self-conscious, even though he’s the one who is not quite himself. Ostensibly.

It occurs to her that that he’ll be listening to her edit his subjective perception of his cognitive experience, morphing it with mathematics into something that feels familiar and correct for him.

This may be the most intimate thing she has ever done or will ever do with another person.

But, for god’s sake, this is not a thought she needs right now. Her mind is exacting vengeance on the uninspiring mass of her too-still flesh. As usual.

She swallows. “Run ah—“ she breaks off, swallowing again. “Run program neuromancer,” she says.

Rush rolls his eyes, but makes no comment.

“I didn’t name it,” Perry says. “It was probably McKay. Or Zelenka.”

“Oh I’m certain it was Colonel Sheppard,” Rush says, with a cavalier dismissiveness she is sure must be a front for deep unease.

“Huh,” Perry says, her eyes scanning over the code unfolding in front of her. “Sheppard?”

He waves a hand, a silent flip, an aborted sweep.

“Scroll down,” she says to the computer, looking for the equations of the wave functions that interfere with whatever electrophysiological tragedy has been triggered in his cortex. “Scroll down,” she says again, then, “stop.” She keeps her eyes fixed to the green-on-black blaze of the code in front of her. “All right. Let’s do some calibrating.  id Carter give you the packet I designed? Page one, problem one.”

Rush reaches to the table next to him and looks at the set of papers, unenthusiastic.

“This is humiliating,” he says.

“Humiliating would be not calibrating,” Perry says, her words so dry that she hopes it masks subterranean rivers of sympathy and whatever else lurks down there at the bottom of her thought canyons, unexamined but not unguessed at.

“I suppose you’ve point there,” Rush says, a hint of a sigh beneath the words before he looks down at the arrays of derivatives, integrals, and identities that should be as basic to him as they are to her.

“I think we can skip phase one,” he says.

“Run through it anyway,” she says. “For the sake of completeness. This is your brain we’re talking about, Mr. Fields Medalist.”

He pulls out a pen and blazes through the mathematical prompts with a bored, rapid scrawl that she finds both reassuring and devastating in its unconscious appeal. So she likes smart, sarcastic, scintillating men who are good with a fountain pen. So sue her. “Page two,” is all she says when he has finished.

She’s designed this mathematical ascent for him, a sweeping survey that begins with calculus and climbs the quantitative hierarchy through linear algebra and differential equations and set theory and number theory and then cycles back around to the more philosophical origins of mathematics before switching over into computational complexity theory and basic quantum mechanics, branching into every academic area that they share a proficiency in.

He slows down at page seven. He stops at page eight. The problem of a particle in a three-dimensional box. The simplest three-dimensional quantum-mechanical system. Normally, this would be within the scope of his abilities, though it is, admittedly, outside his area of expertise.

“Nick,” she says, when he hasn’t written anything for five minutes.

“Yes yes,” he replies. “I’m nearly there.”

She’s near enough to see his angled paper.

“You could sit here and reinvent quantum mechanics,” she says quietly, “but that’s not really what this is supposed to be about.”

“I’m aware,” he says, without looking at her.

“I’ll be gentle,” she says, and though she means to give the words the wry twist of buried innuendo, it doesn’t come out that way, not in the face of his obvious anxiety, the weight of responsibility she feels. She tamps down the amplitude of one of the six interacting wave functions that form the adaptive interference pattern being projected through his skull. There’s no way to know, at this fine level of detail, what the cognitive effects are likely to be.

So, she’s experimenting. She’s experimenting on the brain of an unbelievably brilliant Fields Medalist. Whom she happens to like. A lot. Maybe a little too much. Definitely a little too much. So. No pressure.

“Ah,” he says, his hands going immediately to his temples, “maybe not that one.”

Hastily, she verbally directs the computer to revert to the saved version of the program, listening to the rhythm of his heart decelerate in the quiet of the infirmary.

Lam appears from around a corner. “Everything okay?” she asks, her gaze intent, fixing first on Perry, then on Rush.

“Um—“ Perry begins, high and frightened.

“Yes yes,” Rush says. “Everything’s fine.”

Lam frowns and does not reenter the dark corridor from which she emerged.

“Are you okay?” Perry asks when Rush has pulled his hands away from his head.

“Yes,” he says, sounding strangled. “I’m fine.”

“Nick.”  She sounds no better.

“Try again,” he says. “Try something else.”

Lam begins to haunt the periphery of the infirmary floor space, her face pale, her heels clicking quietly.

Perry finds another waveform to shift with delicate, computational precision. This time Rush looks at her, abrupt and incisive. “Better,” he says.

She raises her eyebrows.

He picks up his pen and he’s writing again and she can see that it has occurred to him to use the boundary conditions of psi and the method of separation of variables to solve the problem that she has set for him. They continue through the spread of math. She eases him into and through the stroke and sculpt of the waveforms that artificially bound him, that circumscribe the unnatural spread of his thoughts, until he has worked his way, stepwise and parsimonious through the range of tasks that she’s designed for him, until he’s responding to her with a relaxed and understated snap, and until something amorphous and sophisticated unifies his choice of word and gesture.

“How do you feel now?” she asks.

Her packet of math stirs the air as he tosses onto the table next to his bedside.

“Possessed of a mind un-fucked with,” he replies, setting his pen atop the papers with a quiet click.  “Relatively.”

“You realize that your mind,” she says, raising an eyebrow, “is actually being continuously—“ she breaks off to swallow and smile. “Modified.”

He looks back at her, amused and pale and drawn. Like something unreal, with the faint blue gloss of lights at his temples forming an exotic, technological halation. “Thank you,” he says.

They both look away.

“You’re welcome,” she replies, trying not to wish that she could touch him, trying to confine her wishes to something more bounded, trying to wish instead that she could pick up the packet of paper, covered with his distinct script, all angled boldness and fluid arcs, and look at it, turn the pages, study it by herself, without anyone holding it for her. That’s a better thing, by far, to wish for.

“Does this,” he asks, “fit into any rubric you’ve encountered?”

Her eyes snap back to him, and he taps one fingernail against the metal affixed to his temple.

“Well,” she says, relieved and regretful to move back into a dialogue that is nothing more personal than an informational exchange. “General O’Neill’s brain once got remodeled by a Lantean device, and his ability to speak English was replaced with Ancient. He gained sufficient knowledge to alter the dialing program for the gate—and transport himself to a place that could repair his mind—but I really wouldn’t call that instance analogous to this one in any respect other than Ancient technology coopting someone’s brain.”

“Last time I checked, my spoken Ancient was still rubbish,” Rush replies, hooking a hand over one shoulder.

“Hmm,” Perry says, uneasy for no reason she can nail down. “When was the last time you checked?”

“Pridie.” Rush answers her with a reassuringly Scottish inflection. “I’m pure dead atrocious.”

“Maybe you should get Dr. Jackson to assess you anyway,” Perry says, unconvinced in the face of a sample size of n=1 word.

“Maybe,” Rush repeats, clearly less unconvinced than she is. “I’m more interested in your thoughts on this than Dr. Jackson’s.”

She smiles again, unfairly pleased by the content of his statement and the casual truth of his delivery, trying not to let any kind of satisfaction take hold in her mind where it might germinate into something she can’t withstand.

“Flatterer,” she says dryly.

“That’s you,” he replies, and what is she doing? This is infinitely worse.

“Touché,” she says, and from there it is almost no effort to wrench her thoughts around into a trajectory useful to them both. “Well, it’s probably best to divide potential etiologies into those intrinsic to you, versus those triggered by an external, alien influence, keeping in mind that those two possibilities are not necessarily mutually exclusive.”

“Agreed,” he says.

“Things that don’t fall into the category of alien influence are more Dr. Lam’s area,” Perry says, “but really, well, if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck and sounds like a duck—it’s probably a duck.”

“Where by ‘duck,’ you, in fact, mean ‘alien influence’.” Rush raises his eyebrows at her.

“Obviously,” Perry replies. “Were you just pointing that out to showcase your capacity for disdain, or do you need another tweak of your wave functions?

Rush sighs, his fingertips tracing the edges of the small device affixed to his temple. “The former, I assure you, though I wouldn’t mind the capacity for continuous control of the program you’re editing.”

“Oh no,” Perry says, drawing out the words. “You can look, but you can’t have real-time control without oversight. If science fiction, as a genre, has taught us nothing else, it is that one should not experiment from the top down on one’s own cognition. Haven’t you read the cautionary tale known as The Terminal Man?”

“No,” Rush said. “Is that one of Dr. Jackson’s innumerable manuals?”

“Um, no,” Perry said. “It’s a popular science fiction novel written in the 1970s and a formative literary experience for at least a third of the people who make up the oversight committee for your nifty little cortical suppressant, seeing as two of them independently brought it up at our first meeting.”

“A cortical suppressant comes with an oversight committee?”

“Around here it does,” Perry replies, “especially when it’s piloted on a civilian who was in such extremis that he couldn’t even be consented before an untested piece of technology was affixed to his head.”

Rush looks at her sharply.

She takes a breath, regroups, and proceeds with a tone of voice a bit more appropriate. “Come on. You must have realized this place is bricked with reports filed in triplicate. You’ve got scientific, ethical, security, military, and administrative oversight on this, though you’re bureaucratically de-identified at your colonel’s insistence so that you’re safe from the dangers a paper trail poses these days.” 

“Fantastic,” Rush says, with a fatalistic snap of consonants against teeth. The angles at which he sets his joints strike her as profoundly unhappy.

“On the plus side,” Perry says, hearing the faint note of entreaty threading through her words, “it looks like, for the moment, you’re medically stable and in full control of your mental faculties, so—there’s that.“

“Yes,” he says, and the best he can do is to give the word and his shrug the gloss of the offhand. “Pass me the computer will you?”

Perry closes her eyes. They all have their own insensitivities, for which she pardons them, but his are unique and strange and unusually forgivable. Or, perhaps, they are not really any of those things; she merely finds them so. “I’d love to,” she says dryly.

He looks over at her.

She looks back at him.

He covers his face briefly with both hands.

She sits, locked in stillness.

“Not part of your skillset, little Miss Brilliant?” he asks, and the self-deprecating slant of the words robs them of the sting they might have carried coming from anyone else.

She can’t move, and even if she could, she’s not sure that she’d be capable of closing the distance between them. “I’m afraid not,” she says, swallowing against a painful pressure. “Mr. Brilliant.”

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