Mathématique: Chapter 36
“Seriously?” Young said. “Beethoven?”
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.
Telford leans against the chamber’s inner door, his skin pale and streaked with blood. His hand, trembling, is pressed against his face. He doesn’t speak. Maybe he can’t.
“I came to get you out,” Young whispers, too loud in the stillness of the room.
“I know,” Telford says, his voice a ragged smear across the thick and turbid air between them. Reddish light throws dark, defaced engravings on the wall into chiaroscured relief. “I’ll never be able to thank you. To repay you.”
“Things aren’t like that between us,” Young says. “This falls outside the bounds of debt. Outside repay.”
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” Telford says, his eyes dark, his expression agonized.
“Did they give you the drug?” Young asks.
“I don’t think they did,” Telford says, “but then, how would I know?”
He woke with the August sun, before his phone alarm sounded. Something was nagging at the borders of his barely-awake thoughts, resisting his efforts to banish it along with dreams that he did not care to recall. As he looked out across the illuminated floor of his living room, whatever it was fled his conscious perception as his gaze fixed on the opposite wall.
He frowned, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. On the white paint next to the window, in an elegant sweep of permanent marker, was a perfect circle, blocked off into nine equal arc lengths by tics of black marker with corresponding annotations. Next to the circle was a matrix containing either some form of math so advanced that Young didn’t even recognize the symbols or—
He was pretty sure that was Ancient.
“God damn it,” he muttered, pressing both hands to his face before swiping them back through his hair, in a physical effort to forget or fix the memories of the previous day. It wasn’t working. He looked at the math on the wall, trying to decide whether it made him feel better or worse about Rush’s current state of mind. On the plus side, it looked pretty damn organized and like it very well could be some kind of progress on the road to cracking the tonal cypher. On the minus side, Rush hadn’t ever written on his wall before—the guy seemed with it enough to know that kind of thing was considered, well, a little off, at best.
"Rush," he growled under his breath. Where the hell was the man? He had better be in the god damned apartment. Young sat, the movement an outlet for a rising sense of alarm. The ache of the muscles in his lower back morphed into something hard edged. He got to his feet, one hand clamped to his spine, and limped forward, passing from his living room through the dining room and toward the kitchen.
On the back wall of the dining area, there was another, identical circle, also annotated.
He limped into the kitchen to find Rush, thank god, standing in silent dishevelment, holding a bag of coffee beans, and looking at it with inappropriate intensity. Young stepped forward and snapped the coffee out of his hands. “I don’t think so, hotshot. You—“
Rush startled so violently that he lost his balance. He steadied himself against the counter, one hand pressed against his chest, his hair a disordered fringe that brushed the frames of his glasses.
“Sorry,” Young said, taken aback and less ‘sorry’ than ‘concerned’, “but what the hell?”
Rush looked away and didn’t answer, breathing too hard for an otherwise unremarkable Thursday morning.
“Rush,” Young said, hearing the strain in his own voice and not bothering to conceal it. “What the hell is going on with you?”
“I’m trying. To solve. A problem,” Rush said, closing his eyes in a protracted blink.
Young hadn’t meant to fall asleep the previous night, hadn’t meant to let Rush practically talk him into it, but he had been exhausted, and, in the middle of the night, Rush had seemed curiously and transiently solid for a man so clearly and so completely at sea. But—whatever it was that had been looming over Rush for weeks had come to a head in O’Malley’s, at a shit piano, which Rush had stared down for a good hour before he’d played anything and when he had, when he had, it had been terrifying and bizarre combinations of notes that, even to Young’s untrained ear, sounded wrong together, though they had been played with the uncanny fluidity of unmistakable skill.
It had sounded awful. But it had looked virtuosic. Maybe it had been. He certainly wouldn’t know.
“Yeah, okay,” Young said. “What I’m getting from that answer is that you don’t have a fucking clue what’s wrong with you, because something definitely is. Wrong with you. Trust me on that one.”
Rush wasn’t looking at him. He was staring into space, like he was listening to someone else.
“That piano did a number on you,” Young said.
“What?” Rush murmured absently.
“Yup, okay,” Young replied. “Come on, hotshot.” He grabbed Rush’s elbow and pulled him out of the kitchen, directing him toward the table. He pulled out a chair, and, with minimal prompting, Rush dropped into it, his elbows braced on the table, his face in his hands.
“Don’t get up,” Young said quietly. “Just stay there.” He limped back toward the couch, retrieved his phone, and immediately called Lam.
She answered on the first ring. “This is Carolyn Lam,” her voice was surprisingly on point and alert for six hundred hours.
“Hi,” Young said, eyeing Rush uneasily from across the bright space of the room. “This is Colonel Young. Sorry to call so early. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.”
“Not at all,” Lam said. “How’s your neighbor?”
“Not good,” Young replied, low and emphatic. “He definitely did not sleep last night, and he’s looking worse this morning. I’m not sure after hours today is going to work. I think he might need to be seen sooner. He looks—”
“How does he look?” Lam prompted.
He considered Rush, the light of early morning glaring off the broken white planes of his dress shirt, his head bowed and braced against the bridging of his hands. “Not right,” Young said. “Distracted. Miserable. And maybe—“ he watched the subtle rise and fall of Rush’s chest. “Maybe sick.”
“Bring him in now,” Lam said. “I don’t technically go on shift until nine hundred hours, but I’m here.”
“Thanks,” Young said, “see you in thirty minutes.”
He dressed in an inattentive blur of aching spine, not sure what it was about Rush’s demeanor that was riling up his nerves. Maybe it was the sense of something progressive—something that should be halted sooner rather than later. Maybe it was the lack of the sharp edge that Young associated so strongly with the man.
Maybe it wasn’t either of those things.
When he finished dressing he returned to the living room, to see Rush, seated at the table, the heel of one hand pressed against his eye, his expression pained. “Come on,” Young said quietly.
Rush didn’t respond.
Young put a hand on his shoulder bracing him against the inevitable startle response.
“For fuck’s sake,” Rush hissed his hands falling from face to table, “don’t do that.”
“Come on,” Young said again.
When they arrived in the infirmary, Lam was seated on the edge of a gurney, her white coat beside her, one sleeve unbuttoned and rolled up. A doubled line of of tubing snaked between her arm and a box-like machine next to her. At her side stood TJ, the fluorescent lights putting yellow glints into the elaborate twist of her hair.
Young and TJ locked eyes for a moment before TJ dropped her gaze down and away. Young tried not to wince, but he wasn’t sure he was successful.
Lam glanced back and forth a single time between Young and TJ before turning to Rush. “Hi. You look terrible,” she said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes yes,” Rush replied. “So I’ve been told. Your appearance isn’t exactly confidence inspiring.”
Lam glanced at the machine to which she was connected. “I’m tougher than I look,” she replied, catching Young’s eye and looking pointedly at the gurney adjacent to the one on which she was sitting.
Young helped Rush sit.
“I can tell you right now that he’s going to be a level two,” Lam murmured to TJ. “At least. Put him straight on the monitors, don’t bother with manual vitals. Start a line.”
“You got it,” TJ replied.
“This is not necessary,” Rush said, with more snap that Young had heard him display in days.
“Do not be a pain in the ass about this, hotshot,” Young said, as TJ swept a curtain around herself and Rush, her expression perfectly neutral. Young stared for a moment at the drawn white curtain.
Lam wrapped her fingers around a handle on the machine she was connected to and dragged it across the room, angling her head at Young to indicate that he should follow. She stopped at the far wall and pressed a panel. A keyboard dropped out of the cement wall, revealing a screen.
“Tell me again,” she said quietly, opening Rush’s electronic chart. “The whole thing.”
As Young gave a short narration of the events of the previous day and that morning Lam began typing, occasionally asking for clarification on particular points. “Are you going to call psych?” Young asked, when he had finished and when the click of Lam’s fingers over the keys had stopped.
She stood for a moment, not looking at him, her eyes fixed on the monitor in front of her. “Maybe,” she said, finally. “But not yet. That’s a few branch points away on my current decision tree.”
Young braced his hand on the cement wall next to the computer. “Fair enough, but I really think he should be talking to someone about how fucked up his life is. Sorry. How screwed up his life is,” Young whispered.
“Well,” Lam said, looking up at him with a dry cast to her expression, “the same could be said of all of us. But medicine, like everything else around here, is a turf war, and I’d like to keep him on my turf for as long as possible.”
Young raised his eyebrows. “You’re not a fan of Mackenzie?”
“I didn’t say that,” Lam said, quiet and emphatic. “Please don’t mistake my comments as implying anything pejorative about Dr. Mackenzie or his unit. I very much value the work that the Psychiatry Department does, but given Dr. Rush’s unique genetic status and his recent offworld travel, I’d rather not assume anything about his current physical or mental condition no matter how suggestive his personal circumstances are of a purely psychiatric etiology behind the behavior you described to me. Patients are medically cleared first, before they’re psychiatrically evaluated.”
“I get that,” Young said, “but this confining-him-to-his-apartment bullshit has got to stop. And regardless of what you find, he needs to talk to Psych about what happened on that planet. They made Sheppard talk to psych about it, and Sheppard—well, he’s either a rock or secretly completely insane, I have no idea—my point is that you don’t just shove an untrained civilian back into what’s essentially house-arrest after that kind of thing just because you don’t want to create a paper trail about any kind of regularly scheduled activities he might have.”
“The less he’s exposed,” Lam whispered, “the safer he is—but I agree with you. In fact, I already raised a similar point with Committee Number Four some time ago. Prior to the incident on the planet.”
“What did they say,” Young asked, equally quietly.
“Dr. Jackson shut me down.”
“Jackson?” Young hissed. “Seriously? Jackson shut you down?”
“His reasons for doing so were and are complicated,” Lam whispered. “Dr. Jackson—well, there was an error made by the psychiatry department seven years ago, which—negatively impacted Dr. Jackson. If you’d like more details, you’d have to ask him directly. But Dr. Jackson has a very strong bias against SGC Psychiatry, and against Dr. MacKenzie in particular. But I believe that there was more than bias behind his immediate and strenuous objections about Dr. Rush being referred to their department.”
“Such as?” Young whispered.
“I’m not sure. We’ve never discussed it openly, but I believe that if the SGC Psych determined that Dr. Rush needed any kind of long term therapy, that might be an impetus for putting him in protective custody, which Dr. Jackson and Colonel Telford have tried extremely hard to avoid.”
“They agree on that point, do they?” Young asked.
“I think it’s apparent to everyone who knows him that Dr. Rush would not do well within the highly structured and extremely confining environment of the SGC’s version of protective custody,” Lam said carefully.
“Yeah,” Young agreed, “no kidding. This is a nightmare.”
Lam rested a hand atop her dialysis machine and shot him a wry look. “That’s what happens when individuals collide with bureaucracy.”
“Kafka fan, are you?” Young asked.
Lam smiled and then turned as the hissing sound of moving curtains revealed Rush and TJ. The scientist was now sporting a hospital gown and was connected to several monitors. Lam crossed the room again, studying the readouts clustered on one side of the bed.
“You look miserable,” Young said as he limped over to stand next to Rush.
“Fuck off,” Rush replied, without any real ire, one hand pressed to his head.
“He’s tachycardic, diaphoretic, and his pressure’s on the high side,” TJ said, looking at Lam. “His responsiveness to questions varies. I don’t like how he looks.”
“Me neither,” Lam said, retrieving her stethoscope from the opposite gurney. “Dr. Rush,” she said, raising her voice. “How are you feeling?”
Rush said nothing, his hand still pressed to his head.
Lam turned to TJ. “Start him on a maintenance fluids and then let’s do an EEG,” she said.
“You got it,” she replied.
“Dr. Rush,” Lam said, raising her voice slightly. “Do you have a headache?”
Rush didn’t respond, but he pressed the heel of his hand against his eye, his head slightly cocked.
“He’s been doing this off and on since yesterday afternoon,” Young said, “since he played that piano. I think he might be listening to something. Something that isn’t us.”
“Dr. Rush,” Lam said again, stepping in to lay a hand on Rush’s shoulder. He looked up at her, startled. “Dr. Rush,” Lam said slowly, “do you have a headache?”
“No,” Rush replied, his fingers shifting to his temple.
“You look like you have a headache,” Lam said, reaching into her pocket for a penlight and flashing it into each of his eyes in turn.
Rush flinched. “Yes. Fine. I have a headache. This is not atypical for me.”
“I know,” Lam said gently, one hand coming to his chin. “Follow,” she murmured, as she moved her finger in changing linear paths through the air. “You want Colonel Young to stick around, or you want me to throw him out?”
“I’m sure I don’t care,” Rush replied, looking away.
Young shot him a half smile and raised eyebrows.
“Okay,” Lam said. “You let me know if you change your mind. Now, what’s been going on with you?”
“Nothing,” Rush said. “I haven’t been sleeping.”
“Why not?” Lam asked.
“This happens to me when I’ve been working.”
“Okay,” Lam said. “Sit forward.” She listened to his lungs before pushing him back against the gurney. “So this is normal for you?”
“No,” Rush said. “Not exactly. It’s atypically intense, but so is the work.”
Lam listened to his heart and then looped her stethoscope over her neck as TJ dragged what could only be a portable EEG over to the side of the bed.
“Hold off a minute,” Lam said quietly, looking at TJ.
TJ nodded, her eyes skittering away from Young when he looked up at her.
Rush pressed a hand to his forehead, his eyes shut.
“Hotshot,” Young said, but stopped when Lam extended a hand in his direction.
Her eyes flicked back and forth between Rush and the monitors. As the silence lengthened, Young and TJ looked at one another, then away.
Rush flinched, his eyes still shut, his heart rate spiking briefly on the monitors into a fast wave before returning to its previous rhythm.
“I think that was a startle response,” Lam said quietly, “in the absence of any stimuli that we could detect.”
“He’s hearing things,” Young said, equally quietly. “I’m telling you, he’s hearing things.”
“Dr. Rush?” Lam said quietly.
“Dr. Rush,” she said again, louder, her hand coming to his shoulder.
He flinched, the monitor breaking into another fast wave.
“Hook it up,” Lam said quietly to TJ before glancing back at Rush. “Dr. Rush, we’re going to do an EEG, but it would help us if you would tell us exactly what you’re experiencing right now.”
“It’s nothing,” Rush replied. “I’m tired. I’m sure it will pass.”
“Are you hearing or seeing anything that I’m not hearing or seeing?” Lam asked.
“Why would you ask me that?” Rush asked, with transparent indifference.
“Rush,” Young began, but Lam silenced him with an outstretched hand.
“I ask because your attentional focus is wavering, and stimuli that I can’t see might potentially account for that.”
Rush looked obliquely at Lam as TJ finished connecting the set of electrodes to his head.
“I’m trying to help you,” Lam said quietly, meeting his gaze directly.
“Yes yes,” Rush said, “I’m aware.”
Lam waited, but he didn’t add anything further.
TJ flipped on the monitors. She and Lam examined the set of waveforms on the screen in a moment of frozen silence. “Please check the temporal leads,” she said.
“Already on it,” Johansen said, her fingers tracing through Rush’s hair.
“What?” Young asked. “It doesn’t look normal?”
“No,” Lam said, her voice reassuringly brusque, but her expression strained, “it does not look normal.
“Temporal leads are all correctly positioned and fully attached,” TJ said.
“Tamara,” Lam said, “pull in a tech, get a copy of his baseline EEG from several months ago, get neurology on the phone, and upgrade him to a one on the roster.” She glanced at Young. “You said he’s been working through this?” she asked quietly.
“Yeah. He was definitely doing math,” Young said. “Pretty sophisticated math. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know yet,” Lam said. She turned to Rush. “Dr. Rush,” she said, dropping down onto the edge of the bed and leaning forward her hands braced against the sheets, red tubing trailing its way from her hand, through the air, and to portable dialysis machine. “You’re displaying extremely abnormal, epileptiform brain activity,” she said slowly. “Are you hearing or seeing anything that I’m not hearing or seeing?”
“Yes,” Rush admitted.
“Describe it to me,” Lam said.
“I’m hearing a warped version of Beethoven’s ninth symphony transposed from D-minor into an Ancient equivalent, on loop, in my head, with occasional commentary provided by my dead wife.”
“What,” Young said.
“Okay,” Lam said, her expression and voice unchanging, “is this getting more intrusive or less intrusive with time?”
“More intrusive,” Rush said.
“How intrusive is it now?” Lam asked.
“Very,” Rush said, his eyes shut.
“How long have you been hearing it?” Lam asked.
“Less than twenty four hours,” Rush said.
“Has anything like this ever happened to you before?” Lam asked.
“No,” Rush said.
“Yes,” Young said.
Rush and Lam looked over at him.
“Maybe a month ago, in my kitchen, he was hearing a continuous tone and then hyperventilated to the point of passing out,” Young said.
Rush sighed, then nodded. “That time it was Mendelssohn.”
“And you said he’s been trending toward less responsive?” Lam asked, glancing at Young.
“Yes,” Young said, trying to betray no anxiety. “Definitely.”
“Well,” Lam said, “then you can keep him responsive while we figure out what’s going on.”
“Neuro is on line two,” TJ called across the room.
Lam dragged her dialysis machine toward a nearby cabinet, pulled out a chess set and shoved it in Young’s direction before crossing the room to answer the phone.
“Tamara,” Lam said, shaking the tubing connected to her arm, “unhook me from this thing, will you? It’s mostly done anyway.”
“You got it,” TJ replied.
“And then let’s start recording his EEG for thirty second intervals every five minutes and sending the files down it down to the electophysiology lab,” Lam said. “I’ll tell them it’s coming.”
“Sure thing,” TJ murmured, passing Lam the phone.
Young looked at Rush.
Rush looked back at him.
“Seriously?” Young said. “Beethoven?”
“Oh shut it, will you?”
“I fully plan on kicking your ass, hotshot,” Young murmured, subtly shaking the box of chess pieces.
“Go ahead,” Rush said, one hand pressed to his forehead. “Astonish me.”
By eleven hundred hours, Rush had been seen by Neurology, by Psych, and by Dr. van Densen, who had been recalled from the Odyssey, for a neurosurgical evaluation. Rush didn’t seem terribly concerned by any of this. But then, the guy was profoundly distracted.
Young was concerned.
“No way is that going to work, hotshot,” Young murmured, eyeing Rush’s position on the board as the other man listlessly relocated his only remaining bishop. “Your strategy is going to shit.”
“I demand a rematch in which you’re viciously distracted,” Rush replied, one hand fixed to his temple.
“Eh, I can’t say I’m in favor,” Young said, ignoring Rush’s vulnerable knight and going after an errant pawn instead. “How about we just throw out today’s stats?”
“Don’t let me win,” Rush said, looking at him obliquely before directing his eyes back to the board. “I can’t imagine anything more depressing.”
“Than me letting you win?” Young asked, trying not to feel offended. “I play chess, you know.”
Rush shut his eyes, looking distinctly unimpressed, one hand pressed to his forehead. “Do you not have things to do?” he asked. “Things elsewhere? I confess I’ve been confused as to what your so-called job actually entails.”
“Yup,” Young said. “I’ve got plenty of things to do.”
“You’re terrible,” Rush replied, looking past Young’s shoulder with atypically intent interest. “You’re almost as bad as Daniel fucking Jackson.”
“No good of himself does a listener hear,” Jackson said, from behind Young, “speak of the devil and he shall appear.”
Young jumped. “God damn, Jackson,” he growled.
“It’s the air vents in here,” Jackson said. “You can’t hear a thing near the walls when they’re on. I think the medical staff keep them going full blast for that reason alone.” He handed Young one of the two cups of coffee that he was holding. “How’s is going, Nick? You look awful.”
“Thanks,” Young murmured, as he accepted the cup.
“Where the fuck is my coffee,” Rush said, his fingers pressed to his temple.
“Well, that was your coffee,” Jackson said apologetically, taking a seat on the end of Rush’s gurney and indicating the cup he’d just handed Young with his eyes, “but unfortunately Dr. Lam vetoed that plan. Then I tried to argue for decaf, but she also said no to that.”
“Sorry, hotshot,” Young said, taking a sip.
“So,” Jackson pulling out the word. “What’s going on?”
Rush shook his head once, his hand over his eyes.
“Apparently he’s hearing classical music in an Ancient key signature,” Young said, “and, according to Neurology, he’s got an EEG that looks like he’s in the middle of a seizure.
Jackson said nothing, looking at Rush with a gaze that was clear and concerned. Rush did not look back.
“But,” Young said, “as you can see, he’s more or less fine.”
“Yeah, I’m going to come down on the side of ‘less’,” Jackson said. “Lam just put together a team to take a look at the problem. We’re meeting in fifteen minutes in the briefing room.”
“The ‘problem’ meaning—“ Young said.
Jackson indicated the EEG with his gaze.
“Who’s on the team?” Young asked.
“Me, Sam, Dr. Lee, Dr. van Densen, one of the guys who studies the Antarctic neural interface chair, and I think they’re going to try to get a video feed to Atlantis so Dr. McKay and Dr. Keller can weigh in.”
“That’s quite the team,” Young said uneasily, glancing at Rush, who did not look back at him. “I didn’t realize she was quite so concerned.”
“Yeah,” Jackson murmured, “I get the impression she doesn’t think this EEG pattern is sustainable, and he doesn’t seem to be snapping out of it.”
“Not really,” Young said. “No.” He rubbed his jaw. “They should take a look at Sheppard. See how his EEG looks. Something truly fucked up happened to them on that planet.”
“I’ll suggest that,” Jackson said. “Anything else you can think of?”
“Pull Dr. Perry in,” Young said. “Include her in the briefing.”
“Amanda Perry?” Jackson asked.
“She’s been working with him,” Young said, “on the cyphers. On that game. She’s got the best insight into what he’s actually been doing.”
For a moment they sat in silence, listening to the irregular click of Lam’s heels in the back of the room as she paced an irregular semi-circle around the phone on the wall. They watched Rush, who hadn’t moved for several minutes.
“Hotshot,” Young said.
“Nick,” Jackson snapped, sharp and low and urgent.
Rush opened his eyes and looked at Jackson.
“Don’t do that,” Jackson said.
“Hard to avoid,” Rush replied.
“Hang in there,” Jackson said. “We’re going to fix this.”
“Are you,” Rush murmured.
“Piece of cake,” Jackson replied with a smile that didn’t quite make it to his eyes. “I’ll see you later, Nick.” He turned, and headed back toward the hallway.
“I really hate that man,” Rush murmured, glancing at Young.
“I’m pretty sure that’s not true,” Young replied. “You just like pretending to be a misanthrope.”
“There’s something wrong with him,” Rush said.
“Well, yeah, but I think that’s common knowledge,” Young said.
They looked at each other in silence.
“Rush—“ Young said.
“Sheridan,” Rush said.
“What?” Young replied, mildly alarmed.
“Green River,” Rush said.
“Hotshot,” Young said, relaxing, “I told you. You aren’t going to get it.”
“Evanston,” Rush said.
“You definitely memorized a list of Wyoming cities in order of population density,” Young said. “Don’t deny it.”
“Riverton,” Rush said.
“I’ll tell you,” Young said, pulling out the words.
“Get to fuck,” Rush said. “Jackson.”
“If you ask me really nicely—“
“And admit,” Young continued, “that you’ve utterly failed—”
“In determining where I’m from despite a ridiculous amount of effort.”
“Lander,” Rush said.
“How long of a list did you memorize?” Young said, raising his eyebrows.
“Nope,” Young said.
“Do you give up?” Young asked.
“Never,” Rush replied.
“Your choice,” Young said, repositioning the chessboard. “Can I interest you in a rematch?”
By the time thirteen hundred hours rolled around, Young had beaten Rush at chess six times, had a brief meeting with Colonel Carter, sat in on video conference call with McKay and Sheppard, and been marginally successful at keeping Rush focused long enough to eat something.
He wasn’t sure what the hell was going on.
Nor was anyone else, it seemed.
The leading hypothesis was that all of this had something to do with Rush’s unusual genetic panel coupled with either his recent trip to Altera or his near complete insomnia for the past several days.
Sheppard, too, was having difficulty sleeping. Otherwise, the man was fine.
“I knew I shouldn’t have let you go through that damn gate,” Young muttered, looking at Rush, who was staring into the middle distance, ignoring the soup in front of him.
“Rush,” Young growled, reaching over to shake the mathematician’s shoulder with one hand.
“What,” Rush hissed, but the irritation in his tone struck Young as peripheral.
“Eat your soup.”
“Make yourself useful and find me some paper, will you?” Rush asked. “I think that I—“ he trailed off, one hand pressed to his head.
“You’re done working on that cypher set, hotshot,” Young said. “You hear me? Done.” Privately, he suspected that no one within the upper echelons of the SGC shared that particular viewpoint, with the possible exception of Jackson.
Rush didn’t respond.
“Hey,” Young snapped, reaching out again to shake him. “Rush. Cut it out.”
Rush didn’t respond, but something in the tone of Young’s voice pulled Lam in from the periphery of the room where she had been standing, scan and phone in hand. She approached with the measured click of her heels over the cement floor.
“He’s getting harder to reach,” Lam said, her voice low, her eyes on the EEG that continued to display its jagged, repetitive waveforms.
“Yes,” Young said, even though it hadn’t been a question.
“I don’t feel comfortable allowing this to escalate any longer without intervention,” Lam murmured. “He’s barely responsive.”
Young grimaced, looking up at her. “What kind of intervention are we talking about?” he asked.
“Well,” Lam said, sounding more unsure than Young had ever heard her, “this looks like seizure activity, even though he’s not showing any physical signs of seizing. I plan on treating it as such. I hope to cool his EEG down and buy us some time to figure this thing out.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Young murmured, watching Rush flinch at an inaudible cue. “Please tell me that stuff is going to put him out. He hasn’t slept in days.”
“It may,” Lam murmured, glancing at Young, “but we’re dealing with a biological influence of unknown character and magnitude. It’s hard to say exactly what’s going to happen.”
“Yeah,” Young replied, rubbing a hand over his jaw. “I get that.”
Lam left with the quiet clicking of heels to assemble whatever drugs and personnel she was going to need. Young looked at Rush, who was pressing his fingers against his temples. His brow was furrowed and his expression pained. He looked miserable. Like a man digging a beachhead against his own thoughts.
“Hey,” Young said, grabbing Rush’s wrist, and pulling his hand away from his head.
“What?” Rush asked, and this time it was less irritated than a question in good faith.
“Can you hear me?” Young asked, his fingers still closed around the other man’s wrist.
“Barely,” Rush whispered.
“Lam is going to give you something,” Young said, “to try and stop this.”
“We’re going to figure this out,” Young murmured. “No problem. Jackson’s on it. I don’t think Jackson’s ever failed at anything.” Well, except for preventing the Ori from gaining a foothold in the Milky Way. And saving his wife from enslavement and death at the hands of the Goa’uld. Rush shot Young a distinctly unimpressed look, indicating that he might have been thinking along the same lines. “Okay, well, his track record is pretty good,” Young modified. “As good as you’re going to find around here.”
“I prefer Colonel Carter,” Rush said.
“Have you even met Carter?” Young asked.
“I’ve seen her code,” Rush said, his expression pained, “and already I like her better than Jackson.”
“She’s working on this thing too,” Young said. “You’re at the top of everyone’s priority list today.”
“Fantastic,” Rush whispered, closing his eyes.
“No,” Young said, tightening his fingers around Rush’s wrist. “Don’t do that. Stay with it, hotshot.”
“I think that ship has fucking sailed,” Rush replied, cracking his eyelids.
“You’re a lot of work, it turns out,” Young said. “Anyone ever tell you that?”
“Only those uncomplicated optimists who feel compelled by societal expectations to torque an insult into an approximation of constructive criticism,” Rush murmured, giving Young a half-smile.
“There you go,” Young said, smiling back at him. “That’s more like it.”
“Dr. Rush,” Lam said, approaching with TJ flanking her, “are you with us?”
“Yes yes,” Rush murmured, waving his free hand vaguely.
“We’re going to try an anti-epileptic medication,” Lam said, and see if that reduces either your symptoms or tamps down on the activity we’re currently seeing on the EEG. It’s probably going to make you feel tired.”
“Fine,” Rush said dismissively.
Lam glanced at TJ, and gave her a short nod. “Do a slow push,” she said quietly, “over two minutes.”
Young watched TJ’s hands, her nails with the pale pink polish, as she fitted the needle to the appropriate port on the IV and began to slowly slide the plunger of the syringe home.
“Dr. Rush?” Lam asked, her eyes flicking between Rush and the EEG monitor.
Rush didn’t respond, but the tension seemed to be leaving his hands. His eyes were closed.
“Stop the push,” Lam said to TJ. “I want him to talk to us, if he can.”
“Hey,” Young said, shaking Rush gently. “Nick. How you doing?”
Rush opened his eyes.
“Talk to us,” Young said slowly. “How do you feel?”
“Fine,” Rush said.
“His EEG is cooling down,” Lam murmured. “Are you hearing anything, Dr. Rush?” she asked.
“Key changes,” Rush slurred.
“Key changes?” Lam repeated.
“Changes of key,” Rush clarified with an earnest precision that Young found particularly difficult to take.
“Okay,” Lam said gently. “So you’re still hearing things?”
Rush nodded. His eyes drifted shut.
“Dr. Rush,” Lam said. “What are you hearing?”
Young ran a hand over Rush’s forearm. “Hey,” he said, “hotshot.” Rush looked at him. “D minor?” Young asked.
“And its variant,” Rush said.
“You’re hearing a key change between D minor and—an Ancient variant of D-minor?” Lam asked. “Is that correct?”
Rush nodded, looking up at her.
“He seems better,” Young murmured. “He’s paying more attention to us than he has in hours.”
“I agree,” Lam murmured. “How often does the key switch?” she asked, looking at the EEG readings on the adjacent monitors.
“Rush,” Young said insistently. “When does it—“
“D-minor,” Rush said.
“It’s D-minor right now?” Lam asked, still looking at the EEG.
Rush nodded, then winced. “Switch,” he said. The monitor broke into a series of jagged, high amplitude waves.
They watched it in silence.
“Switch,” Rush said again, as the waves on the EEG lengthened and flattened.
“God damn,” Young murmured.
“Mm hmm,” Lam murmured. “We’re literally seeing this play out in the EEG.”
“Switch,” Rush said, his eyes closing, one hand coming to his head.
“Start the push again.” Lam glanced at TJ. “Keep it slow.”
“Switch,” Rush said indistinctly, almost as soon as TJ started.
“Keep going,” Lam said, glancing at TJ. “His tracing is approaching his baseline. Let’s bring him all the way back down.”
“How you doing, hotshot?” Young asked. “Hearing anything?”
Rush shook his head fractionally.
“Nothing?” Lam asked. “Not even the D-minor?”
Again, Rush shook his head.
“Good,” Lam said quietly.
“It’s in,” TJ murmured, pulling the syringe from the IV port with a delicate flick of her wrist.
“Nick?” Young said, his hand closed around the other man’s forearm.
Rush cracked his eyelids briefly.
“He’s pretty sedated by this point,” Lam said.
"Well," Young said, not certain whether he was more relieved or more anxious at the evidence that Rush could be medicated out of whatever the hell was happening in his mind, "you needed a damned nap anyway, hotshot.”
Rush closed his eyes, his expression relaxing, the last of the tension leaving his frame.
Young looked at Lam. She looked back at him, but said nothing.
"You have any idea what's causing this?" Young asked.
"No," Lam admitted, glancing back to the now sedate waveforms of the EEG.
“Well, it doesn’t seem good,” Young said, looking down at Rush.
“No,” Lam said. “It doesn’t.”