Mathématique: Chapter 33
They sat together on the hood of Young’s car in the middle of Pike National Forest, at the same unnamed scenic overlook where Young had dressed Vala’s shoulder injury weeks before.
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.
The whir of the small craft becomes a whine as the ash in the air thickens. He can feel the motor struggle with a valiance that seems out of place for an engine trapped beneath the ostentation of the Goa’uld. The controls have become sluggish.
The forces of the Sixth House arrayed behind them begin to fire.
“Where’s your Tel’tak?” Kiva asks conversationally, as if she’s merely curious, as if nothing crucial rides upon Young’s answer.
“Nearby,” he says, the word a calming pull.
Kiva smiles, but her eyes are haunted.
Young jerked awake to the sound of someone pounding on his door. He fought his way free of the remains of a dream, but couldn’t shake the remembered flake of ash against a reddish sky. When he’d organized himself enough to make sense of the fact that he’d fallen asleep on his couch, and it was now, evidently, Saturday morning, he sat up, wincing at the sharp pull of stiff muscles in his back.
He looked at his phone.
Yes, definitely Saturday.
And yes, definitely also seven hundred goddamned hours.
Given the time of day and the vigorousness of the knocking, he put the odds of his unknown early morning visitor at sixty percent on Rush, thirty percent on Vala, and ten percent on Mitchell. Young had it on good authority that Jackson was not a morning person, so that ruled him out.
Unless the world was ending.
He limped toward the door and opened it to reveal Rush. “I thought we were doing brunch,” Young said. “It’s—“ his words and thoughts faded down abruptly into nothing.
Rush looked awful. Nope. He’d looked ‘awful’ for something like the past two weeks. This was something else. His eyes were bloodshot, he was pale, and he was wearing the same thing he’d been wearing the previous day—jeans and a white dress shirt with the sleeves opened and pushed up past his elbows. None of these things were new; the man generally looked like a walking public service announcement about the dangers of sleep debt. He wasn’t wearing any shoes. That was new.
“This is a bad time,” Rush said. “You were sleeping.”
“Why don’t you come in?” Young replied, trying to dispel the feeling of looking at a landmine in need of defusing.
“I don’t need to come in,” Rush said in a bizarrely instructional tone, “I need a piano.”
He needed a piano? Last time Young had checked, the man had been sporting an inexplicable but extremely strong hatred for music. Not just a particular kind of music, but music as like—a cultural practice. Or something.
“Come in,” Young said, not giving Rush any openings to kidnap the trajectory of their conversation and run away with it before he had gotten the guy out of the damned hallway.
Rush stepped forward.
Young shut the door behind him. “You look like hell,” he said.
“Do I?” Rush asked absently, his right hand hooked over his right shoulder as he squinted disapprovingly at Young’s couch and the TV, which was still on and nearly inaudibly promoting some kind of fitness product.
“Yes,” Young said emphatically.
“I’m fine,” Rush replied, as if he expected Young to take him seriously. “I need a piano.”
“Yeah,” Young said, “I got that much.” He tried to will himself into alertness, but it wasn’t working. He tried to think of a way he could drink coffee without giving any of it to Rush, but that wasn’t working either. “Hotshot,” Young began.
Rush flipped a hand dismissively in Young’s direction and crossed the room to close the slats of the venetian blinds. The lack of any kind of linguistic skewer-work set Young’s nerves on edge. There was something atypical in the silent press of Rush’s hand against the wall near the window.
“Why do you need a piano?” Young asked.
Rush didn’t reply.
“Why do you need a piano?” Young repeated, slower and more pointedly.
“Not for my own amusement, I assure you,” Rush replied.
Young found the faint streak of acidity in Rush’s tone somewhat reassuring. “You need it for the cypher set?” he asked.
“Yes,” Rush replied, his hand moving from his shoulder to his temple and then back again.
“Obviously that’s what I need it for. What other reason could there possibly be?”
Young crossed his arms, considering Rush, who was not looking at him, who didn’t seem to be looking at much of anything, other than what was going on in his own head. “Shouldn’t be a problem,” Young said. “You want to make me breakfast, and we’ll talk about it?”
“All right,” Rush said, sounding defeated. He ran a hand through his hair and pushed away from the wall. “I’m in no particular hurry.”
Young stared after him as he walked toward the kitchen. “Seriously?” was all he was able to come up with on short notice. “You’re not in a hurry?” He limped after Rush one hand pressed to the pain in his back and hip as he crossed his mostly shadowed apartment to hover in the doorway to the kitchen. “Since when are you not in a hurry? You get annoyed waiting at red lights.”
Rush pulled opened the fridge.
“You get annoyed waiting for elevators.”
Rush shut the fridge.
“You get annoyed waiting for things to bake.”
Rush opened a cabinet.
“You get annoyed when people talk too slowly, which seems to be everyone, all the time.”
Rush shut the cabinet.
Young stopped talking.
Rush said nothing. He braced both of his hands against Young’s counter and leaned forward.
“Damn it, Rush,” Young said quietly.
“Eight,” Rush said.
Young said nothing.
“I have eight of them.”
“Eight what?” Young whispered, but the words were only a hedge against what he already knew. “You said not to disclose,” Rush said, “and so I haven’t. Not yet. Not until now. I’m disclosing now. I got one last week. One this week. One, Perry cracked after I rendered it appropriately for her. That’s eight.That’s eight, and I’m disclosing because I’m not certain about the ninth and you should have the eight. You should have them in a form that will be useful to you because I’ve separated the first eight from the last two. The ninth and the tenth.”
“Okay,” Young said.
“It would be irresponsible not to disclose at this juncture,” Rush said, “and so I’m disclosing.”
“Yup,” Young said, “I get it.”
For a moment they stood in silence and Rush drummed his fingers over Young’s countertop with an unsettling deliberation. “I’ll give them to Carter,” Rush said.
Young nodded. “What makes the ninth different?”
“Many factors,” Rush replied, his eyes fixed on Young’s counter, or, maybe, on his own hands. “Many different factors.” He pushed back and snapped himself out of his fascination with whatever it was he was fascinated with via a roll of his shoulders, but made no effort to start breakfast.
“Uh huh.” Young looked away from him and from the kitchen, out into the room, past the slow slide of sunlight over hardwood floors and pale walls, past the parking lot and toward the mountains, visible in the distance from the one window that Rush had left unblinded.
He wished he were like Jackson. He wished he were always clear of sight and mind. He wished he could see things the way Jackson did; he wished he could identify what was necessary and do it, smoothing the hard edges of the swath he cut with the right choice of words, with books, and tea, and knowledge, and coffee, and sympathy, and so much understanding that even the Ancients, who would not interfere to save a galaxy from a fate of mindless, worshipful stagnation, could not bear to let him die.
He wished he were like Jackson, because then maybe he’d know what to do with his neighbor, who clearly, clearly did not like or belong in Colorado, who couldn’t handle confinement to his apartment and to a subterranean base, who couldn’t stop himself from pursuing a problem that tormented him, who couldn’t control his status as an intellectual resource, and who could have no idea of the expectations and pressures pinned upon him by Unnamed Committee Number Four.
Young looked back at Rush, who was staring into the air, as if he could read something there.
“How long has it been since you were out of this god damned building?” Young asked, crossing his arms over his chest. “How long since you’ve been anywhere but the base?”
“I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” Rush said.
“I think you need a vacation day,” Young said. That, or a tranquilizer, but he really couldn’t picture such a suggestion going over very well, so he didn’t make it.
“Is this ostensible concern for my sanity just a front for an abduction attempt?” Rush asked dryly, looking at him with a pained half smile.
“I’m liking the paranoia, hotshot,” Young said, “but no. You need to get the hell out of your apartment. Make me a god damned impressive omelet or something while I shower and cut through some red tape, yeah?”
Rush nodded and turned to open the fridge.
Young pushed away from the doorframe and limped through the apartment in search of his phone, which had found its way mostly beneath his couch. He dropped gingerly to his left knee to retrieve it, and managed to make it back to upright again without breaking too much of a sweat.
The first call he placed was to SGC dispatch.
If he’d been lucky enough to get Harriman, Young might have been able to give himself clearance to pull Rush from his apartment for the day without any further difficulty. Unfortunately, he was not that lucky. He got someone he didn’t know, who shut him down without ceremony. He couldn’t really blame dispatch. A day trip for someone who was an abduction risk was likely to be frowned upon by any junior officer with common sense.
There was really only one person with the clout to make a difference and the heart to give a shit. Young flipped on his shower, shut the bathroom door behind him, and from the relative aural privacy granted by rushing water, called Jackson.
“What?” Jackson said, after the sixth ring. Or, at least that’s what Young thought the word might have been. It was either ‘what’ or something in another language that sounded marginally like ‘what’. He was still trying to decide when Jackson said indistinctly, “I said I’m not running a marathon with you, now go away.”
“Jackson?” Young said, doing a quick visual inspection of his cell phone to be certain that he had, indeed, called the right person.
“Ugh,” Jackson replied. “Why?”
“Daniel,” Young snapped, “you okay?”
“No,” Jackson slurred indistinctly. “Coffee.”
“Daniel,” Young said again, mostly reassured that Jackson was not in the middle of being abducted.
“What time is it?” Jackson said, his words sounding like words this time. “What’s happening? Has the planet been invaded?”
“Um, no,” Young said. “Not that I know of.”
“Is there a plague of some kind?” Jackson slurred.
“Nope,” Young said.
“Are space, time, and space-time all behaving normally?”
“As far as I can tell,” Young said.
“Well then why would you call me at seven AM?”
You’re—really not a morning person, are you,” Young said. “Mitchell was not lying.”
Mitchell had a habit of bitching good-naturedly about Jackson’s eternal struggle to make it vertical and sentient by nine hundred hours.
“No. I have never made a secret out of this,” Jackson said. “Everett?”
“Yeah,” Young said. “Don’t you have caller ID?”
“Some excitable Fields medalist shattered the faceplate of my phone. Makes it hard to read in the absence of glasses. And coffee. I can’t read without coffee.”
“Right,” Young said.
“I thought you were Vala.”
“Not Vala,” Young said.
“Yeah,” Jackson replied.
“Daniel,” Young said, “I need a favor.”
“And you definitely need it right now?” Jackson said indistinctly.
“Yeah,” Young said. “I need to get my neighbor out of this god damned building for the day.”
“Why?” Jackson asked.
“Because he’s going a little stir crazy.”
“He looks bad?” Jackson asked, sharpening up.
“He looks very bad,” Young confirmed.
“Who’s on dispatch today?” Jackson asked.
“Not Harriman,” Young said.
“Okay,” Jackson said, “let me call Jack, have him call it in.”
“Thanks,” Young said.
“No problem,” Jackson said.
“Sorry I woke you,” Young said.
“No,” Jackson said, yawning, “don’t be. Sleep is for the boring.”
“If dispatch hasn’t called in an hour, call me back.”
“Yup,” Young said.
“Let me know how it goes,” Jackson said.
“Yup,” Young said, “talk to you soon.”
Young stripped off his pajamas and stepped into the shower, his eyes avoiding his mirror. As he ran shampoo through his hair, he tried to think through a workable game plan. He was under no illusions that getting Rush out of his apartment for the day was going to solve anything in the long term. The guy was in a shitty position and stuck that way for the foreseeable future, unless the LA managed to gate themselves to the nine chevron address with that missing astrophysicist and get everything they wanted, which seemed unlikely, as their main strategy seemed to be stealing the expertise that they needed.
Getting Rush out of his apartment for the day might solve the short-term problem of preventing whatever was currently bothering the man from stepping up its game. That seemed the best he was going to be able to do, for now.
He finished his shower, found himself a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and returned to his kitchen, which smelled torturously of Jackson’s fancy coffee.
Rush was chopping green stems with a graceful precision that did not match his haunted expression.
Young watched him with an acute spike of sympathy.
Rush looked over at him at raised his eyebrows with only a fraction of his usual hauteur.
“I have chives?” Young asked, indicating the green stems with his eyes.
“You can identify chives?” Rush replied. “I’m astonished.”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t buy those.”
“Vala bought them,” Rush replied.
“Do you guys coordinate this shopping thing? Because I definitely don’t recall requesting chives.”
“We do not ‘coordinate’,” Rush said, with a crisp slide of the knife. “Vala enjoys shopping and has admirable and evolving tastes.”
“I’m really not sure how I ended up being a guy who just has chives hanging around,” Young said, limping past Rush to boost himself onto his counter.
“You really can take no credit for that at all,” Rush agreed, dumping the chives into a bowl full of beaten eggs before giving it a halfhearted stir.
“How does Vala even know about chives?” Young asked.
“The same way she knows about internal combustion engines, ‘halter tops’, mathematical notation, romance novels, the rules of chess, and the Gobi desert,” Rush said, turning on the stove.
“Cosmo,” Young said.
“Yes, I hear they just ran a feature on internal combustion,” Rush said.
“There’s no way that’s true, hotshot. Unless—wait. Was that an off-color remark?” Young asked, wishing he’d had the foresight to obtain coffee before his ascent to the countertop.
“I’m sure I have no idea what you mean,” Rush replied, flicking the pan with water and sipping his coffee as he stared at the drop, skittering on the heated surface.
“I’m onto you,” Young said, trying not to look longingly at Rush’s coffee. “I just want you to know that.”
“Yes yes,” Rush said, glancing at him. The other man put his coffee cup down grabbed a second mug, filled it with coffee, and passed it to Young.
Young pulled it carefully out of his grip. “Thanks,” he said.
Rush poured half the egg mixture into the heated pan, shook it a few times, then added grated cheese and mushroom, before shaking it some more and then flipping the entire thing onto a plate after something like forty-five seconds.
“Nice technique,” Young said, as Rush handed him a flawlessly constructed omelette.
“As if you have any idea,” Rush replied, turning back to the other half of the egg mixture.
“Hey,” Young said defensively. “I’ve been watching the Food Network.”
“Why?” Rush asked him.
“Context,” Young said.
“Context,” Rush repeated.
“That and curiosity,” Young said. “And insomnia,” he added. “Anyway, you’re pretty good. You could probably get a show. Cooking with an Arrogant Asshole.”
Rush raised his eyebrows, shooting Young a disdainful look as he flipped his own omelette onto a plate and snapped off the stove.
“What?” Young said. “I’d watch it.” He opened a drawer next to his position on the counter, pulled out a fork, and handed it to Rush.
Rush began eating his omelette with less than his characteristic voraciousness. “Is anything bothering you, hotshot?” Young asked, taking a bite of his eggs, which were, as usual, spectacular. “Anything in particular?”
“No,” Rush said, looking away, toward the sunlight that edged its way along the floor in the next room.
“You want to tell me about this piano thing?”
“I need one,” Rush said. “That’s all.”
“Pianos don’t really seem to go with cyphers,” Young said, finally figuring out a way to skirt Rush’s self-proclaimed loathing of music.
“It’s tonal,” Rush said, putting down his fork. “It’s a tonal cypher.”
Young took another bite of eggs. A tonal cypher would go a long way toward explaining why Rush looked like he’d been hit by a truck. “Got it,” he said. “When are you going to want access to this piano?”
“Soon,” Rush said, still not looking at him. “Soon.”
“And once you have the piano, how long do you think it might take?” Young asked carefully.
“I have no idea. I might solve it in a day,” Rush said. “I might never solve it.”
Young watched Rush watch his eggs.
He finished his omelette.
“Pretty sure you’re gonna solve it, hotshot,” Young said.
“Yes well, I’m certain it appears that way to you,” Rush replied, still looking at his half-consumed omelette. “And don’t call me ‘hotshot’.”
“What’s wrong with ‘hotshot’?” Young asked.
“It’s clearly ironic,” Rush said, taking a bite of his eggs.
“It’s not,” Young said. It was, a little bit. “It’s definitely not,” Young continued. “I have it on good authority that you’re the most hotshot of all math hotshots.”
“Was that a sentence?” Rush asked. “It didn’t sound like one.”
“Go take a nap,” Young shot back.
“Go find a crutch,” Rush said, spearing another forkful of eggs.
Young rolled his eyes. “There’s no way to win with you, is there?” he asked.
Rush looked away, his eyes directed at the open kitchen door. “No,” he said. “I suppose there’s not.”
Young’s phone split the ensuing stillness with mechanized series of tones that made Rush visibly wince. He silenced it first, glanced at the caller ID, then answered it.
“This is Young,” he said.
“Colonel, this is Airman Dunning from weekend dispatch coverage,” came a voice from the other end of the line. Young didn’t recognize the name, but rotations through weekend dispatch were common enough for the newly recruited.
“Go ahead,” Young said.
“We just received word from General O’Neill that you’re clear to proceed with your request, pending check-in by cell phone every two hours.”
“Understood,” Young said.
“The security station in the basement of your building has already been notified of your plans.”
“Thanks,” Young said.
“You’re welcome sir,” Dunning said. “Have a nice day.”
Young ended the call.
“Go get your shoes and my shades, hotshot. We’re getting out of here.”
Rush looked down with narrowed eyes, as if he found it necessary to visually confirm his lack of footwear. “Hmm,” he said disapprovingly, though whether he’d meant to direct the disapproval in Young’s direction or his own was unclear. He finished the remains of his omelette.
“Daylight’s burning,” Young said.
“I don’t find that particularly perturbing,” Rush said, looking listless and exhausted. “I despise daylight.”
“Shoes and shades,” Young said, pointing toward the doorway.
They sat together on the hood of Young’s car in the middle of Pike National Forest, at the same unnamed scenic overlook where Young had dressed Vala’s shoulder injury weeks before. Sunlight filtered irregularly through branches, but the spot was mostly shaded from the bright morning light. Ahead of them, partially obscured by trees, a wooded valley opened. The whisper of a small river, invisible under the cover of the pines, was barely audible over the flow of the breeze through dry needles.
Rush looked miserable.
Young sipped the coke he had picked up at the service station several miles back and watched Rush studiously ignore his iced coffee. He tried to think of something to say.
Is your wife dead? That one was probably a no go.
“Well this is just perfect,” Rush said, abrupt and exasperated. “Stop spending so much time with Jackson.”
“You realize that made no sense, right?” Young asked. “Tell me you realize that.”
Rush smiled faintly and sipped his coffee. “What I realize,” he said, his eyes invisible behind his shades, “is that this is fair fucking Jacksonesque. Driving me to a mountain and then sitting in silence It’s probably straight out of the spiritual traditions of dozens of dead, space-faring civilizations.”
“Jacksonesque?” Young repeated. “He’s going to love that one so much.”
“I forbid you to tell him I said it.”
“I don’t have to. I’ll just tell Vala. She’ll iron it onto a shirt.”
“Besides. You already live in a mountainous region. I would think you’d have to change biomes or something to get a legit spiritual effect. We’d have to go to the salt flats. Or the Pacific. Maybe a prairie.”
Rush said nothing.
“But ah,” Young said finally. “Look. I didn’t bring you out here for any reason other than it seemed like you were getting some cabin fever in your apartment, which is understandable, by the way.”
“Is it,” Rush said, in a way that didn’t sound at all like a question.
“Yeah,” Young said, “it is.”
Rush hooked a hand over his shoulder, digging his fingers into the base of his neck.
A breeze rustled through the pines.
“It seems like maybe it’s been harder for you than usual,” Young said. “Lately.”
Rush shrugged and took a sip of his iced coffee. “I was able to look at the way they were encoded,” the mathematician said, “and get a sense of what they were. Of what they were likely to be.”
Young rubbed his jaw. “The different cyphers, you mean?”
“Yes.” Rush tipped his head back briefly, but did not cease the grind of his fingers against the base of his neck. “And if it were you, what would you do in such a scenario?”
“I’d go for the easier ones first, I guess,” Young said.
“Yes. Of course you would. Anyone would.”
“But hotshot,” Young said. “If you’ve really got eight of nine, then—even the ones you left until the end—they couldn’t have been that much more difficult for you.”
Rush said nothing, but he smiled, a quick and humorless flash of teeth that was hard to look at. Young decided that his previous statement might have been a logical fallacy of some kind and decided to backtrack and regroup. “So you looked at them,” Young said, “got a sense of what they were, and you picked an order to tackle them in based on how easy you thought they’d be.”
“No,” Rush said. “I didn’t do it like that.”
“But you just said—”
“You assumed,” Rush replied, like he was teaching an undergrad the finer points of whatever it was he’d taught undergrads, “that I approached it as you outlined. But I didn’t. I did not first parse them and only then solve them all. It was a continuous process.”
“Okay,” Young said, not really sure how any of this related to whatever the hell was bothering Rush so much. “So this one. The ninth one—when did you realize it was going to be musical?”
“Early,” Rush said, with a skewered, skewering sort of smile that made Young feel like he’d finally begun to beat around the right bush.
“When?” Young asked.
“A few days before you met me.”
“That’s when you put it at the end of the line,” Young said.
“Correct,” Rush replied. “I queued it even behind the cyphers I hadn’t identified, that I had no idea how to solve. I put it behind the quantum cypher, which was going to require a trip offworld. I—“ he broke off, looking away into the deeper shade.
“It’s because it’s tonal,” Young said. “Isn’t it. That’s why you’re having such a shit time.”
“Yes,” Rush said.
“Give it to someone else,” Young shot back, surprised by the edge in his own voice. “Leave it. Give it to Carter. Give it to McKay. Give it to Perry. Hell, give it to J Shep. Give it to whomever.”
Rush shook his head once. “I can do it,” he said. “It should be me. I’ll be faster. And there’s one more. There’s a tenth. There must be a tenth hidden in there, somewhere. I’d like to crack the entire thing. If I can.”
Young looked away and took a sip of his coke. “Why do you hate music so much?” he asked finally.
“Because,” Rush said, “I miss it.”
“You miss it?” Young echoed carefully.
“Yes,” Rush said, his hand abruptly dropping away from his shoulders as he shook his hair back.
Young said nothing.
Rush said nothing.
Young looked away, out into the valley that opened beneath the overlook point.
“My wife,” Rush said finally, “was a violinist.”
“Ah,” Young said.
“She’s dead,” Rush said, the words as merciless as anything Young had ever heard. “She died in April.”
It was August. No time at all.
“I’m sorry,” Young said.
Rush sipped his coffee, his eyes invisible behind Young’s shades.
Young looked at Rush and then away, and then back, unsure where to direct his gaze or what to do with his hands. It wasn’t that he hadn’t expected this, because he had. He had suspected almost immediately, and he’d been certain for weeks now, that Rush’s wife was dead.
“How did it happen?” Young asked.
Telford must have known, when he’d recruited the guy. Jackson, too, had known.
Young nodded, then shifted his weight to ease the pain in his back, resting one hand on the warm black paint on the hood of the car. He had brought Rush here with the intent of getting the man out of his too-confined apartment, out of his self-constructed cage of math, out of his own head, which seemed like it was a god damn terrifying place. And he’d done that. But there was nothing else that Young could do, and nothing here that he could fix.
He knew that.
He’d probably always known it, but that didn’t make it any easier to sit here on the cooling engine of his Charger, doing nothing. It didn’t make it any easier to watch Rush work himself into the ground or out of his mind because he didn’t know how to cope with his current situation. This was just another shit day in a long line of shit days. For both of them.
“What was her name?” Young asked.
Rush didn’t speak for a pained, silent interval, his breathing irregular and audible over the quiet hiss of air through pine needles.
“Gloria,” he said finally.
“That’s a nice name,” Young said.
“I know,” Rush replied.