Mathématique: Chapter 43
It was fire season.
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. Injury.
Young leaned against his car. Heat radiated from the dark swath of asphalt beneath his feet, from the black paint of his Charger, from the buildings, from the city of Colorado Springs, but the night breeze was dry and strong, and carried with it the faint smell of a distant wildfire. It was fire season.
Maybe—maybe the smell of smoke was nothing more than a memory.
His back hurt.
As did his hip.
Yards away, Jackson stood in khaki pants and a brown blazer, intermittently illuminated by the headlights of passing cars as he gave a description of Vala. Young couldn’t hear him clearly, but he recognized the leveling of Jackson’s hand near his eyes, the familiar sweep of repeated gesticulation. The man had described her something like five times in as many hours.
Young tried to decide if the guy in the suit opposite Jackson was FBI or NID. The maze of what could be disclosed to whom in a multi-agency operation like this was a bureaucratic labyrinth—one that seemed to result in a few accidental inductions into the program every time a local cop or an enterprising FBI officer saw something that they shouldn’t see. Heard something they shouldn’t hear.
He checked his watch. Four hundred hours. They were coming up on the eight-hour mark since Jackson had caught a glimpse of Vala’s dark hair and blue shirt vanishing behind the closing door of a non-descript white van.
On a world with a stargate, on a world with Low Orbital Defenses that were a work in progress, on a world with a patchy tropospheric sensor network, on a world infiltrated by the Lucian Alliance and the Goa’uld—eight hours—
Well, it was enough. Enough to be halfway across the galaxy. Enough to be in all kinds of trouble.
The night was warm and the darkness was thick beyond the glare of lights ornamental and utilitarian that illuminated the minimalist exterior of Il Fiore Bianco. Young’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out, checked the caller ID, and answered.
“Cam,” he said, pressing a hand against the relentless ache in his back.
“Hey,” Mitchell said, his tone hard.
Young knew how he felt.
“You guys have anything?”
“Maybe,” Mitchell said, the steel in his voice tempering toward something more like exhaustion. “We found the van. Abandoned. Choked with surveillance equipment. A fifty-fifty blend of our stuff and Goa’uld tech.”
“And?” Young prompted. “What else.”
“And nothing,” Mitchell said. “Oh, we started a sweep—on foot, by car, by chopper—from the van’s location, but it’s pretty likely, pretty damn likely that that they ditched the thing and hightailed it via a beam out. Carter’s running it over as we speak, looking for any residual EM signatures but—” he trailed off.
“Yeah,” Young said.
“How the hell did this happen,” Mitchell said. “She was with Jackson. She was with him.”
“I know,” Young replied, watching the anxious sweep of the archeologist’s hands as he spoke a few yards away. “This is bullshit.”
“We don’t even know who it was,” Mitchell said. “I mean, these kind of tactics tend to suggest either the LA or the Trust but—ah,” he said, the pace and pitch of his words changing. “Jackson told me that it was only five minutes that she was out of his sight. Less maybe. That implies either a level of continuous surveillance that we otherwise weren’t aware of, or—”
“Don’t say it,” Young said.
“I’m not saying it,” Mitchell snapped, too fast. Too fast. “She’s on my team,” the other man continued, after a corrective pause. “She’s on my team—and I’m not. I’m not ever. Gonna be the one who says it.”
Young looked up at the light-polluted darkness and breathed in, trying to determine whether the scent of smoke carried on the wind was the smell of burning brush and desiccated trees, or whether it smelled of sulfur. And of ash. Still, he couldn’t tell.
“But people are going to.” Mitchell stopped, regrouped, restarted. “People are going to say—”
Young gave him a moment before he said, “It was purposeful.”
“Yep,” Mitchell said.
“They’ll say that she planned it. That she’s never really been one of us,” Young said, looking at Jackson. The other man had one hand pressed against the front pocket of his blazer, as if to prevent something from escaping.
“There’s a briefing,” Mitchell said, “scheduled for six hundred hours. If I don’t get the chance,” he continued, “you think you could—um.”
“What,” Young said. “Name it.”
“I mean—look. It’s going to come up. The issue of defection, of insurgency is—well, it’s going to come up. And Jackson,” Mitchell stopped. “Jackson’s not—”
“Yeah he’s not gonna take it all that well,” Young said.
“No,” Mitchell said. “No, not really. I can’t see him—well. You know him. You know what he’s like.”
“Yeah,” Young said.
“Yeah,” Mitchell replied.
“Are they—” Young said. “Jackson. And Vala. Do you know if—shit. Are they— Were they—“
“Together?” Mitchell asked, and over the open line, Young could hear the wince in his expression.
“I don’t know,” Mitchell said. “I don’t ask. I mean, I should ask. I should know. I know that I should know, but it’s different. It’s different with SG-1. I mean, you try being Daniel motherfucking Jackson’s CO.
“No thanks,” Young said. “I’m good.”
“And, even if they were—even if they are—it wouldn’t matter. Either way he’s going to take it badly. He always takes it badly.”
“Yeah,” Young said. “It’s part of the guy’s charm.”
“Try to—” Mitchell didn’t finish.
“Yeah,” Young said. “I’ll try.”
“Yeah. Okay. Thanks. Sam is flaggin’ me down,” Mitchell said. “Gotta go.”
“Keep in touch.”
“Will do,” Mitchell said, before ending the call.
Young pocketed his phone and looked over at Jackson, who was standing, hands in pockets, eyes following the retreating back of the man he had just briefed. Young waved the other man over.
Jackson approached slowly, one hand sliding through his hair.
"You okay?" Young asked him.
Jackson shot him a look of eloquent misery.
"Yeah," Young said, feeling somewhat at a loss, "I hear that. NID? Or FBI?" He indicated the retreating suit with his gaze.
Jackson half-turned, reflexively. "NID. Though I think I've briefed personnel from about five federal agencies at this point. But—" he paused, arcing his gaze away from Young and across the front of the restaurant, his hand going to the pocket of his blazer. "It's been—what—eight hours now, without a sign of her? That's—that's a lot of time when you take," he paused again to scan the personnel in their immediate vicinity, "when you take everything into consideration.”
"I know," Young said.
"There are people," Jackson whispered, nearly inaudible, his eyes on those that surrounded them in a moving cloud of personnel with unknown security clearance, “a lot of people from her past who might—”
"Yeah," Young said, cutting Jackson off before he enumerated things that should not, yet or here, be enumerated. “Or she might be next door.”
"One of those possibilities is more likely than the other," Jackson said, his voice a hopeless lilt as he shut his eyes. "It was literally—literally no more than five minutes. She got up to go to the ladies room, and I—I got up to look for her.”
"Why?" Young asked, pressing his fingers into the aching muscles in his lower back. "You see something? Did something tip you?"
"No," Jackson said. "I didn't see anything. I just—I just knew.”
“But how did you know.”
“I knew,” Jackson repeated, shoving his hands deep into his pockets, looking out into the dark.
Young was gonna leave that one where it lay. "Come on. I think you've briefed everyone who's going to be working this from a civilian angle," he said. "Let's head back.”
"The NID is examining my car," Jackson said absently. “I think it’s now classified as ‘evidence’.”
"Time for a new car,” Young replied. “In fact, for you? It’s been time for a new car for something like fifteen years.”
Jackson said nothing.
“Daniel,” Young said, shifting his weight and opening the driver’s side door with a pained grimace. “Get in. I’ll give you a lift.”
Jackson nodded, opened the opposite door, and slid into the passenger’s seat.
Young eased himself into the driver’s seat, mindful of his back, aggravated by a night on his feet in the radiated heat of a slowly cooling city. He started the car and they left the glare of headlights and floodlights behind them as they pulled away from the restaurant.
"They found the van," Young said, once they had put sufficient space between themselves and the mess that spanned the road behind them.
"Did they." Jackson didn't look at him. He pulled at the cuff of one sleeve, as if looking for an end that might give in to an attempt at unraveling.
"It was abandoned. Full of surveillance equipment.”
"Terrestrial surveillance equipment?" Jackson asked.
"A mix. Mitchell will have a report by the briefing at oh six hundred," Young said.
Jackson nodded. “The LA, then, most likely.”
"Jackson," Young said. “Daniel."
Jackson shot him a look, incisive and oblique.
Young decided that there was no point in trying to dress an ugly reality in any kind of fancy verbal outfit. "There's going to be a faction at this briefing, maybe a big faction, that's going to suggest she’s running.”
Jackson smiled, brief and wry. "I know," he said.
“You know?” Young echoed.
“Of course I know. What do you take me for,” Jackson shot back, with an unexpected edge.
“A nice guy with a tendency to verbally knife people in the metaphorical kidneys who also,” Young paused to look at him and then back at the road, “happens to have a personal stake about a mile wide in what’s about to go down over the next twenty-four hours,” he finished mildly.
“The kidneys?” Jackson said, without smiling. “That’s a new one. Seems a little harsh. Look. Colonel. I appreciate your concern, but I certainly don't need anyone to tell me that Vala Mal Doran is likely to be accused of defection by the oligarchic upper echelons of Homeworld Command. Point of fact, you're naive if you think it's going to stop there.”
"Meaning that there will be a huge incentive to pin the problem we have with information leakage on someone, and Vala is now an extremely convenient place to put all of that suspicion. All of that blame. All of that anger. At least until the next undeniable evidence of a leak rears its head.”
"Hopefully it won't go that far," Young said.
"We'll see," Jackson replied, his voice flat, his eyes shadowed as he looked out into the darkness. "We'll see.”
“Jackson,” Young said.
“What.” The word was blunt and without energy.
Young had no follow through, but he was saved from having to formulate some kind of answer to Jackson’s void of a question by the vibration of his phone in his pocket. With a pained torque of the hips, he shifted, slipping it out, and handed it to Jackson. "Grab that, will you? It’s probably Cam.”
"It’s not Cam," Jackson said, cautiously. “It’s Rush.”
Young said nothing. He glanced at Jackson and then back at the dark swath of the road.
Jackson answered the call. "Nick? It’s Daniel.”
Young glanced again at Jackson.
The other man was looking back at him. “Nick?” he said again. “Hello?”
Young pressed down subtly on the gas pedal. Subtly.
“He’s not answering,” Jackson whispered, his thumb pressed against the receiver.
"Don't hang up," Young said, "do not hang up.”
"Right," Jackson said, his voice tight as he pulled out his own cellphone.
"You calling dispatch?" Young asked.
"Have someone locate Rush," Young said. "He should be on base. He’s supposed to be on base. He had better be on base.”
“I know,” Jackson said, quiet and intent, Young’s phone still pressed to his ear, his thumb still shielding the receiver.
“See if they can't track that call," Young added.
“Telford was on base today,” Jackson said.
Young said nothing.
"Maybe—“ Jackson said. “Maybe go faster.” He lifted his own phone to his opposite ear. ”Yes, hello, dispatch? This is Daniel Jackson. I need someone to locate Dr. Nicholas Rush. Immediately. He should be on base. In the infirmary. Check with Dr. Lam. If she's not on, page the physician on call.”
"Ask them about tracking," Young said, stopping short at a red light. His seatbelt dug painfully into his shoulder and across his hips. “Tracking the call.”
"If you can't find Rush," Jackson continued, "in the next five minutes? Then I want a code five called. On him. Five minutes. On my authorization. I also need you to put me through to communications. I need a call traced. A call happening in real time. Yeah. I’ll hold.”
"You hear anything on my phone?" Young asked, low and urgent.
"No," Jackson said, his thumbs pressed down over both receivers. "Just the sound of an open line. No talking. No distortion. Just silence. How fast can you get us back?”
"Ten minutes," Young said, "if I really push it.”
"Maybe push it,” Jackson whispered.
"Yup," Young said, pressing his foot to the floor as the light turned from red to green. They accelerated in silence.
"This must be—it must be a coincidence," Jackson said. "It must be unrelated. This call. Her disappearance. This won’t be what it looks like.”
“What do you think it looks like?” Young asked.
“I don’t know,” Jackson replied.
“You’d rather not say, you mean,” Young growled. He powered through the last light and began the winding ascent to the base.
“We’re in the middle of something,” Jackson said. “Something that’s unfolding. Something with borders undefined. It’s best not to assume. Best to first—to try to see. So you don’t make mistakes.”
"Do you know,” Young said, the words cut off by the close and release of his vocal cords. “How many times he's called me?”
"No," Jackson said.
"Never," Young replied. “Not one time.”
"She would not do this," Jackson said, breaking off each word with low emphasis. "Even if she—even if for some reason she decided to leave, or if she found a better arrangement, or she orchestrated her own—I just know, I know she wouldn't—not Rush. She wouldn't. She wouldn’t involve herself with this. She stopped running. She made that decision. She didn’t fall into it; she made it. She told me she made it. She told me. It was very important to her. I could see that.”
Young said nothing.
“She wouldn’t,” Jackson whispered again. “She liked him. She likes him.”
“She likes a lot of people,” Young said quietly, but not before Jackson’s attention flipped away from him to center on someone on the end of one of the phones he held.
"Hi," Jackson said. "Hello, yes, this is Dr. Daniel Jackson and I need a call traced. Immediately.”
Young extended a hand, and, with no further prompting, Jackson passed his own phone back to him. He pressed it to his ear and heard nothing but the nonhomogeneous silence of an open line.
"What's your number?" Jackson asked Young.
His thumb pressed over the receiver of his own phone, Young gave it to him. At the edges of events he could feel the emerging contours of a pattern unguesssed at, something that had the ominous feel of a bait and switch.
The code five that had been called on Vala—
It had diverted a lot of resources.
Young shifted his grip on his phone. “Rush,” he said quietly, “if you’re on the other end of this line—you’ve got to let us know.”
He heard nothing. Nothing but soft irregularities of ambiance that differentiated a silent line from a dead one.
"They're understaffed," Jackson whispered, impatient, looking out at the rushing dark of the forest on either side of them. "Because of the ongoing code five. This is taking too long.”
Young pulled his phone away from his ear and glanced at it. The call from Rush had come six minutes ago.
“I’m on hold,” Jackson said. “Again. I’ll listen. You drive.”
Young handed his phone to the other man and looked back at the road, at the dark turn ahead of them.
"We're almost there," he said, feeling the painful press that accompanied a change in velocity deep in his spine.
“At this pace?” Jackson replied quietly. “Yeah. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s going to—”
Young pulled out of a switchback to see a car. It was stopped and askew across both lanes, its lights on, its interior illuminated, its driver's side door swung wide. Young slammed on his brakes and spun the wheel, a fast and excruciating wrench toward the rising slope on his right, rather than the dark drop-off on his left.
“Shit,” he ground out through gritted teeth, inaudible over the high pitched shriek of skidding tires.
In his peripheral vision he saw Jackson's hands come up, silently, the light of illuminated touchscreens shining through his fingers.
They grazed the empty car with enough force to send a jolt of pain from Young’s left knee to the center of his back, to snap his jaw together, and to deploy the airbags as they spun out into a shallow ditch before the cleared border of the road gave way to an ascent of rock and pine.
“What—“ Jackson began, shaking, fixing his glasses, combating the airbag with his hands, spreading his fingers laterally over the expanse of the dashboard, reaching for the phones that he’d dropped at the impact. “Are you all right?”
Young killed the engine, for once his mind recovering before his body, trying to move, to speak through the fiery dissent of agonized nerves. In his spine. In his hip. Down his leg. “That’s David’s car,” he ground out, unbuckling his seatbelt with fingers that felt numb when stacked against the agony in his back.
“Telford?” Jackson said, shaken, urgent. His fingers closed around Young’s phone. “Telford’s car?”
“Yes,” Young said.
With the click of an opening catch and a wall of warm night air, Jackson was out the passenger-side door, and scrambling up the dark bank.
Young forced his door open, grabbed the roof, and dragged himself out in time to watch the other man clear a shallow ditch in a few steps and cut out an opaque relief against the headlights of David Telford’s abandoned car. He stood, unmoving on the surface of the road, Young’s phone still pressed to his ear.
“Jackson,” Young snapped, reflexively anxious at the obvious profile the man made in the light, certain that he was about to see the man taken down by a sniper, waiting out there in the unsecured dark.
Jackson didn’t go down. He stood there, untouched, backlit by headlights.
Young limped up the bank, his back a mire of confused, contracted muscle, his thoughts held in the kind of stillness that had, for him, always preceded revelations of strategy. As he stepped onto the road, he drew his sidearm. He moved forward until he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Jackson. They looked silently at Telford’s car, rotated by the impact that had sent Young’s Charger into the shallow ditch of a shoulder and then up against the rising slope beyond. The high-beams of the Acura were now pointed down the mountain, parallel to the direction of the road. The interior was alight and empty, the driver’s side door twisted by the recent impact, the passenger’s side door ajar.
It was still running.
Young took Jackson’s arm, just above the elbow. “Out of the lights,” he said quietly.
They stepped laterally, into the darkness, approaching the car from an oblique angle.
“You’re sure,” Jackson said quietly, “that this is Telford’s car.”
“I’m sure,” Young said, his gaze sweeping the tree line, listening for anything above the invariant vibration of the engine of an Acura NSX.
They said nothing as they moved together, edgewise over dark asphalt, stopping close enough to touch the twisted driver’s side door. Young scanned the front seat, taking in the smell of coffee, the faint irregular sheen of brown liquid over the steering wheel.
His eyes returned to the tree line.
And back to the car.
Coffee ran down the driver’s side window in narrow streaks.
His eyes returned to the tree line.
And back to the car.
On the floor, near the gas pedal, was an empty paper cup—a match to the one that still sat in the driver’s side cup-holder.
His eyes returned to the tree line.
And back to the car.
“I came to get you out,” Young whispers, his voice too loud in the stillness of the small craft.
“I know,” Telford says, his voice a ragged smear across the thick and turbid air between them. They proceed with a quiet whir of engines toward the source of the darkness that spreads over the city.
He could feel, around the edges of his thoughts, the unpredictable flutter of falling cards. He had to trace the call. He had to find Rush. He had to call this in. He had to get Jackson out of the lights, off this road, keep Jackson from—
Silent, heedless of Young’s tightening grip on his arm, Jackson pulled himself free as he lunged at the back door of the NSX. Uncoordinated. Young’s phone still pressed to one ear.
“Jackson,” Young growled, his now free hand coming to press down on the exquisite knot of muscles in his back, as if it had its own awareness. As if it knew that it was already too late to prevent the other man from touching the car. “Jackson. Damn it—don’t mess with anything. We have to call this in. We have to—”
The other man pulled something out of the back seat. A bag. One that could be settled over the shoulder. Black, non-descript, and unmistakable. It should have been a surprise, but it didn’t feel like one. Jackson ripped the thing open, not speaking as he revealed an assortment of papers, a hard drive, a laptop. He shut it again. “This is his,” Jackson said, his voice flat.
“It is,” Young confirmed.
“The scope of our failure—” Jackson trailed off, staring at the bag.
Young took it from him and replaced it in the back seat, exactly as it had been before Jackson lifted it out. Even that felt like an admission of defeat.
“The scope of our failure’s a work in progress, Jackson,” he growled. “Go call this in, get a team out here. Get the results of that trace, and call code fives on Rush and Telford. Stay off the road and out of the lights until we get some back-up and clear the area.”
“Yup,” Jackson said, returning Young’s phone before stepping out of the lights and toward the shallow ditch. Young looked at the phone, then pressed it to his ear. “Nick,” he said. There was no answer.
Protocol dictated a lot of things.
He pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it. He ended the call and redialed, then began to walk down the road, lit up like a target by the lights at his back, forcing a symmetry into his asymmetrical stride despite the pain in his spine, casting a long shadow in the light of the high-beams, holding his phone with its open line, his eyes scanning the darkness on either side of the asphalt.
The position of the doors.
The position of the car—as if abandoned in the middle of a directional reversal.
Taken in concert, those things suggested—
He didn’t want to think about what they suggested.
“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.
He could smell smoke.
Or, he thought he could.
It was fire season.
Behind him, he could hear Jackson speaking in the dark, low and urgent.
When he’d nearly hit the border of the illumination afforded by the high-beams, he saw it, a dim glow in the dark underbrush eight feet or so from the edge of the asphalt.
Seeing it, he heard it, vibrating quietly in the dark.
Ringing in silence on the side of the road.
Young ended the call and, after a few seconds, the light went out.
He looked up at the sky and then down at the surface of the road.
The details had yet to reveal themselves.
A reflected glint beneath the lateral beams of the headlights caught his eye.
With difficulty, he knelt, his bad knee pressing against warm asphalt.
“I came to get you out,” Young whispers, he last word cracking with accusation, with betrayal as he strains against repurposed bonds of Goa’uld manufacture.
“I know,” Telford says, his voice a ragged smear, as if any amount of guilt could atone for what he holds in his hands.
Young picked up the ring, and studied it beneath the glare of the lateral, streaming light.
“Damn it,” he whispered.