Mathématique: Chapter 50

“Ah,” Jackson said. “Good to know that nearly killing you will get me apartment admittance, if not consistent first-name privileges.”

Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Allusions to torture.

Additional Notes: None.

Chapter 50

Lying on his couch, Young ran a hand through hair just long enough to tangle. Dust glittered in the lateral rays of afternoon sun streaming through half-shut blinds. The silence that surrounded him was oppressive; a barrier that would require more energy to break than he’d likely ever muster again.

Young had spent two weeks ignoring Mitchell’s calls, intermittently checking his email, eating less than Dr. Lam advised, and, in short, doing nothing other than bearing witness to his own deconditioned muscles locking down and around the pain in his spine, as if, by contracting long enough and hard enough, they might become bone themselves.

Maybe they would. He didn’t know. He wished them luck.

The light was clear and the air was cool and the season was turning. The days were becoming shorter, just as he’d told his summer-averse neighbor that they would. Young didn’t find any relief in the changing of seasons. It didn’t feel like anything other than what it was—a layer of permanence, a clear lacquer over a series of events that he would have given anything to go back and take apart. To undo.

But he wasn’t on SG-1, and so time-travel was off the table. Even Jackson couldn’t turn the clock back on this one. Young rubbed his jaw.

It wasn’t—  It hadn’t been—

It wasn’t Telford who bothered him. It wasn’t the memory of the guy who’d won Fantasy Football at the SGC for four years running, the guy who’d had his back, even half-dead, even tortured to within an inch of his life. Except. It hadn’t gone down that way. Telford had ‘had his back’ all right. He’d had Young’s back, and Young’s back had been broken.

It wasn’t Rush who bothered him. It wasn’t the guy who made a mean quiche, who’d half snapped under the pressure of an Ancient, alien city, who, when he’d lost the tenuous grip he’d had on the power of his own mind, had done nothing worse than write on some walls and hallucinate some Beethoven. It wasn’t the guy who could go toe-to-toe and tête-a-tête with Jackson, who had taught math to undergraduates, and who had probably died in agony, alone but for the people who had tortured him.

It wasn’t Vala who bothered him. It wasn’t the woman who’d dropped and rolled straight into a foreign culture, who studied Cosmo Quizzes so she could weave them into the most complicated set of psychological armor Young had ever seen on anyone. It wasn’t the way that when she’d gone she’d left Jackson with a white flower and a waiting badge in a waiting box in the closed drawer of a metal, SGC-issued desk.

It wasn’t Jackson who bothered him, not Jackson, with his restless hands full of things he either shredded or smoothed into the spaces between people. It wasn’t the guy who’d nearly killed him with those same hands because Young had needed him to do it, had needed someone to do it, and had needed someone who wouldn’t need to be asked.


None of them bothered him.

Life was full of loss and pain. It was full of the twisting of intentions, of terrible things happening to remarkable people, of terrible things happening to them all the time, and of those people living on—not in spite of or because of those terrible things—but just living, because that was what things that were alive did. They damn well lived.

There was nothing new in any of this. Not in what had been done to Telford or what Telford had done, not in the way that Rush had been sure that cracking the ninth cypher would destroy him and the way that it had, not in the fight Vala had waged to make a place and the flight that someone had forced her into anyway, not in the way Jackson had tried so hard to help him and had ended up choking him to death instead.

None of it bothered him.

What bothered him was lying here, useless, deconditioned, staring at the half-done mess that some half-crazy math professor had scrawled on his wall in three separate variants, and being utterly unable to do a thing about it.

He’d been making plans.

Young had planned to go to the store, if for no other reason than to get Mitchell off his back and out of the headspace where the guy felt pressured to show up every few days no matter what he was doing—flying to California to track down a lead on Vala, inserting himself undercover into enclaves of Ori worshippers, worrying about Carter, who had just been cleared to reenter the field, worrying about Jackson, who was worrying himself into an early grave.

Young had planned to show up to physical therapy, if for no other reason than he’d like to retain the ability to walk, especially in light of what was likely in the works for humanity. It wasn’t anything good. His species had wandered too far and too arrogantly and had chosen for their ambassador a guy who picked a fight with every god he met.

Young had planned to make himself dinner last night and lunch today, if for no other reason than it was a thing that people usually did, a thing that was generally considered necessary. He hadn’t cooked for himself in some time. He didn’t particularly care for it. He’d meant to restock on food this afternoon, but he hadn’t. 

He’d planned to do a lot of things. He hadn’t done any of them.

Young knew too much.

This was his problem.

He knew too much and could do too little.

He saw no successful solution to the confrontation with the Ori, but when he pictured it, when he pictured how it would come, how it would happen, the thing he pictured wasn't making a stand somewhere, maybe with SG-1, maybe on a ship or on a planet, as he manned the shrinking borders of his species’ defenses and coordinated a contracting sphere of allies—no. No, that wasn't what he pictured. Not anymore.

He knew how it would happen.

It would be Jackson who would tell him. Jackson would tell him as a courtesy. It might be a call. It might be a text message before deployment offworld. Something short. ‘Another supergate,’ or maybe just, ‘Something’s up, shipping out. Keep an eye on the news.’ And then Young would hear nothing.


Until, on an otherwise unremarkable morning, someone would call him and tell him to turn on his television. It might be Emily. It might be one of his brothers. He’d watch absolute hell unfold from his apartment, torn between reporting for duty that wasn’t his to shoulder anymore and driving across town to Emily’s place, dragging her to the car and driving, driving, driving for hours, away from Cheyenne Mountain, away from any urban center, hungry, resourceless, looking to either start or join whatever grass-roots resistance might survive the coming Ori plague, or to die beneath the spread of pines in the Pacific Northwest, from disease, from starvation, from a hundred preventable causes, miserable and in agony.

He could already picture Emily with windswept hair, weeping under trees.

Young shut his eyes against the clear, autumnal light coming through his windows.

He didn’t think that the way he would die would be any worse than the way Rush had died, or, if the man was unlucky, was currently dying. That was thing that haunted him most—not Rush’s death in hours, not his death in days, but what had and would happen to him if Kiva hadn’t killed him, if she, by some miracle or statistical mischance, had left him his cortical suppressors.

Young could barely stand the thought that they might have spent weeks torturing him, or doing to him whatever they'd done to David. 

He’d heard that coercive persuasion ruined LA scientists. Ruined them all. He’d heard it drove them insane.

Occasionally, when he’d felt the dark edge of humor that came at the absolute nadir of hope, Young pictured them together—Rush and Telford—in matching, darkened leather. Perhaps Telford had some larger plan. Perhaps he’d let Rush in on it, and Rush had defected. Perhaps they’d be part of the handful of survivors that escaped whatever cultural implosion the Ori were bent on bringing to their galaxy in the name of yet another false god. Perhaps they’d be out there, opening doors and burning shit down. Literally.

It was as close to cheerful as his thoughts came, these days.

A knock on his door, short and sharp, pulled him back to the present.

Young pressed his hands over his face. God but he hoped it wasn’t Mitchell. Unfortunately, he was pretty sure it was. He contemplated whether it would be worth it to lie on his couch, pretending he wasn’t home.

Tempting though he found such a prospect, he was pretty sure that Mitchell might take that as an invitation to break down his door.

He eased his bad leg off the couch first, dropping his foot to the floor and sitting awkwardly at the same time. As he flexed his left hip, his nerves struck up a chorus of blended variations on a single agonizing theme. He tried to spend as little time sitting as possible before getting his feet underneath him and standing.

Another knock sounded, rapid and hollow.

“Yeah yeah,” he growled, pulling the crutch he had fished out of the back of his closet away from the wall and limping toward the door.

He flung it open to reveal Jackson, not Mitchell, standing there in street clothes, the strap of a messenger bag slung across his chest. His eyes were red rimmed, but he had coffee in one hand, and a six-pack in the other.

“Wow,” Jackson said.

“Jackson,” Young said.

“You look awful.” Jackson took a sip of his coffee.

“While you, on the other hand, look just great,” Young said dryly. He shifted and motioned the man inside.

“I knew if I brought beer you’d let me through the door.” Jackson scanned the apartment, taking in the mess, the blankets on his couch, the writing on the walls.

“Jackson, I’d let you through my door any day,” Young said. “You don’t have to bring beer. Mitchell is a different story.”

“Ah,” Jackson replied. “Good to know that nearly killing you will get me apartment admittance, if not consistent first-name privileges.”

“You just seem like a ‘Jackson’ to me, Jackson. What can I say?”

The other man exhaled, short and sharp and amused. “And yet I try so hard to cultivate my Danielness. Danielity? Danielism. You know a third of last year’s recruits are calling me ‘Jackson? I blame you for this.”

“I don’t even know any of the new recruits,” Young said, limping after him in the direction of the kitchen table. 

“Oh yes you do,” Jackson replied. “Does the name Ronald Greer ring a bell?”

“I worked with the kid for a day.”

“Well, you’re the source of this surname contamination, and Greer was the carrier.”

“You’re a nerd,” Young replied. “Like, really a nerd.”

“There are worse things to be,” Jackson sank into a chair and shoved an empty pizza box out of the way with a politely neutral expression.

“Don’t I know it,” Young replied.

“There are worse things I’ve been.” Jackson set the beer on the center of the table.

“I really shouldn’t give you these kinds of openings." Young winced as he lowered himself into a chair.

“Probably not, no,” the other man replied.

“You doing okay?” Young asked.

“Yeah,” Jackson said, fidgeting.

Young shifted, trying to ignore the grinding ache in his back, and raised his eyebrows at the other man.

“Some day this war’s gonna end,” Jackson said, sliding into unmistakable and deprecating quotation.

“Y'know,” Young replied, leaning forward, reaching across the table with an unpleasant tearing sensation down his side as he grabbed a beer, “quoting Apocalypse Now isn’t doing a whole lot to reassure me about your okayness.”

“You would rather I quoted what?” Jackson asked, “Shakespeare? Saint Augustine, maybe? I’m trying to play to my audience here. I’ve been reading The City of God lately, for obvious reasons. I don’t think I’ve ever been more depressed by any reading material in my life. And that’s a lie. A ‘damned lie’ even. Saint Augustine is fine, I guess. I’m trying to read him with compassion. He was writing during the fall of Rome. That’s a tough spot to be in. He’s just a little shrill when it comes to the pagans. And the theatre. I like pagans. And theatre. But how are you?”

“Oh I’m great,” Young replied. “Be a stand up guy and find me a bottle-opener, will you?”

“Yup,” Jackson said. He vanished in the direction of Young’s kitchen.

Young inspected the bottle he’d pulled out of the pretentiously unassuming cardboard packaging. It had a label that was a mess of interlocking pastel shapes that looked like they took themselves and the blue glass bottle they decorated very seriously. He sighed.

“I see you judging my beer,” Jackson said, reemerging from the kitchen.

“It seems very impressed with itself,” Young said.

“It’s a wheat beer,” Jackson replied, sliding back into the seat across from him and holding out a hand.

“Ah.” Young passed him the bottle.

Jackson levered the cap off the thing and handed it back to him with just enough of an eyebrow lift to imply that he was wise to the subtext behind Young’s single syllable. Then he opened a bottle for himself.

“You’re double-fisting coffee and beer?” Young asked. “You must have had a bad week.”

“Well,” Jackson said, swapping his beer for his coffee, “you’re right, but only because all the weeks are bad these days, haven’t you heard? As for the one-to-one coffee-to-beer ratio—it’s the only way to live.”

Young snorted.

“So yes, bad week, but a promising half-day.”

“Oh yeah?” Young replied.

“Very much so,” Jackson said, dragging his bag from the floor near his feet to the top of Young’s table.

At first glance, he’d assumed the bag was some kind of hipster accessory. But it wasn’t. It was an SGC-issued bag, used for transporting sensitive documents that existed only in hard copy.

“Jackson,” Young growled, “don’t even think about opening that bag. I don’t have clearance, and you’re on thin enough institutional ice as it is.” Jackson paused in the midst of unlocking the black cache of files, identical to the one Young had used to transport the documents of Unnamed Committee #4, not so long ago. “Didn’t you know?” His hands were still. “I won. I was right. I was right about all of it. The committee is disbanded pending reacquisition of Dr. Rush. Following your testimony—I,” he looked away, his eyes fixing on the wall behind Young. “My tactical position, my ‘bureaucratic clout,’ as it were, is on the rise.”

“Because you were right about Telford,” Young said.

“Yes,” Jackson confirmed. “And I’ve just used that capital to hire an expert consultant on the Lucian Alliance, in the hopes that it will facilitate locating our lost Fields medalist and missing astrophysicist.”

“Hire?” Young asked skeptically.

“Two of them, actually,” Jackson said. “One is the defector who shot Sam in the chest.”

“Um,” Young said, “if you want an outside opinion, that sounds like a terrible plan. Also, what the hell are you doing telling me this, Jackson? It’s got to be classified.”

“Her name is Ginn,” Jackson said, with a small smile. “You’re going to like her.”

“I’m going to what?”

Jackson opened his black shoulder bag. “The other consultant is you. Desk work only, until such time as you’re restored to active duty.” He pulled out a piece of paper and slid it across the table toward Young. “Sign on the dotted line.”

Young stared at him. “What?”

“I’m sorry,” Jackson said, bizarrely apologetic.

“You’re what?” Young asked.

“I just—the Icarus Project is falling apart right now. Sam and our best math guys have been looking at photos of what Rush had put together on cypher number nine for a month now, but they haven’t managed to make sense out of—” Jackson broke off to gesture at the wall behind Young, “wherever he was going with this.”

Young raised his eyebrows. He’d known the SGC had been in his apartment, known that photos of his mathematical wall art had been part of their investigation, but he hadn’t spent much time thinking about the cypher, and what would happen to it now that Rush was—

Not here.

“Does Carter have the previous eight?” Young asked. “He told me he’d gotten eight of them.”

“She does.” Jackson nodded. “At the moment, Icarus is an on-site job. The base is going up; they’re working on the cyphers both here and on the planet that Volker ID’d before he was abducted, but with the constant threat of the Lucian Alliance and everything that you—well, with all your—look, getting your command back would have been an uphill fight. The future of the project is seriously in doubt, we’re not sure we’re going to get cypher nine at all. It’s in the MMORPG, Perry’s working on it, Sam’s working on it here and there, McKay’s taken a look, but no one’s gotten anywhere in weeks. The whole project is just a nightmare right now—financially, logistically, personnel-wise, and I don’t think I could have—”

“Jackson,” Young said. “Are you kidding me? I expected to be reading the personal statements of new recruits for the rest of my life. Hand me a pen, damn it.”

The other man dug around in his bag, pulled out a pen, and slid it across the table to Young. He leafed through the consulting contract, signing and initialing where appropriate, while Jackson alternated between drinking his coffee and his limited edition microbrew.

When Young was done, he slid the papers back to Jackson.

“You ready for this?” Jackson asked, grinning.

“Hit me,” Young said, shifting forward, feeling the sharp pull of muscles under tension as he moved.

“Two days ago we got a break. Our orbital communications platforms picked up a flurry of transmissions, all of which happened within a four-hour window, in the parts of the spectrum that we know the Trust has been using for their communications. The EM traffic started around eleven o’clock Eastern Standard Time on the first of October. Because we’ve increased our monitoring for this kind of thing in the wake of all that’s happened, we were able to localize and act on this in real time.”

“And?” Young said, trying not to demonstrate his overt impatience, but nearly unable to sit there and sip his beer in the face of Jackson’s barely contained enthusiasm.

“And we forced down a cloaked tel’tak operated by the Trust,” Jackson said. “We captured one of their operatives alive.”


“We got a lead on Vala. And on Rush. There’s reason to believe they’re both still on planet.” Jackson grinned, wild edged and elated.

“Both of them? How is that possible?” Young asked.

“The Trust teamed up with the on-world Lucian Alliance personnel in order to facilitate a combined abduction of Vala and Rush. Vala was turned over to the Trust, but we know now that the pair of them were together on the tel’tak. We know that they both received a rare Lucian Alliance drug. And we know that Vala was surrendered to the Trust for a renegotiated price, because she caused some kind of problem. Speculation amongst the Trust is that she might have let Rush go.” Jackson stared at him, eyes alight.

Young stared at the other man, his beer paused halfway to his mouth. “No,” he said. “Not a chance in hell, Jackson.”

“Why not?” Jackson whispered, leaning forward, his fingertips pressed against the table. “She could have done it. I’m sure she could have. She knows her way around a tel’tak.”

“If she let him go—if she somehow ringed him down, we would’ve detected that. We monitor for ring transport, and—”

“Not if the tel’tak was also equipped with stolen Asgard beaming tech—which it was!

“Transport logs?” Young snapped.

“Erased!” Jackson was unable to contain his enthusiasm. “By someone who knew what they were doing! By her maybe. She could have done it. For sure that’s in her skillset.”

“Jackson, if he’s been on planet, then why—”

“Maybe he’s hurt,” Jackson said, beginning to worry the paper edge of the label on his beer with one restless thumbnail. “Maybe she transported him to Russia with no identification and he can’t get back. Maybe he doesn’t know who he is. We’ve never gotten our hands on half the substances the LA has synthesized or engineered or otherwise cooked up over the years. If he got enough of that cocktail—” Jackson shrugged. “There’s been a lot of LA activity on planet in the past few weeks. They hit a data center in Washington for god’s sake—at least, we think it was them. That might be because the LA doesn’t have him. Maybe they’re looking for him, just like we are.”

Young rubbed his jaw, unwilling to feel even marginally relieved at the speculation Jackson had laid out for him. “What about Vala? You said you thought they were both here?”

“Yes, it was the Trust that wanted her, not the LA, and they’re based on Earth. According to the source that we picked up, she escaped their custody weeks ago.”

Young sighed and took another sip of his beer. “It’s a nice story, Jackson, but do you really think it’s anything other than that? Anything other than some desperate lower-ranking Goa’uld, stuck on this rock, feeding you whatever it is he thinks you want to hear so that you won’t kill him, or turn him over to Baal, or the decimated remains of the system lords?”

“I think Vala could have done it,” Jackson said stubbornly, “if that’s what you’re asking. I think she’s every bit as resourceful as Sam or Teal’c or Mitchell. I think she could have rescued him, yes. Even half-drugged herself, I believe she could have done it.”

“Maybe,” Young said. “I hope so.”

“There’s enough here for you to get started,” Jackson said, indicating the shoulder bag with his eyes. “You’re going to be reporting directly to Landry on this one.”

“Me and the defector?”

“Yes,” Jackson said. “Ginn.”

“Sure,” Young replied.

“Give her a shot,” Jackson said. “She strikes me as trustworthy, astute, and glad to be rid of the Lucian Alliance.”

“Points for style,” Young replied.

“You’d better get reading. Unnamed Committee #6 is scheduled to meet in five days to go over the current state of insurgency and counter-insurgency with regards to the Lucian Alliance.”

“We’re at six now?” Young asked. “What happened to five?”

“I don’t know,” Jackson said dryly. “I’m not on Unnamed Committee #5. I think it might actually be about me.”

“Don’t get cocky, Jackson.”

“I would never,” the man replied, taking another sip of his beer. “Look, there’s one other thing I came here for.”

“Yeah?” Young asked, pulling the files across the table with a profound relief he hoped didn’t show on his face.

“Sam asked me if I’d take another look at Rush’s apartment. See if I could turn anything up that the internal investigation missed. Something that might be specifically relevant to the cypher cracking.”

“You’ve got his laptop,” Young said, “and you’ve got pictures of the stuff on my walls,” he gestured vaguely behind him. “What else are you looking to find?”

“Oh you never know,” Jackson said. “I’ve been useful, here and there, over the years, when it comes to finding things. You want to tag along?”

Young took another sip of his beer, feeling his expression twist faintly. “I’ll grab his key.”

The walk down the hallway was long. The cast of the fluorescent lighting overhead seemed to bring out the red in the rims of Jackson’s eyes. Young leaned on his cane, gritting his teeth against the tearing sensation in his back that matched the rhythm of his steps. The key he held was cool against his fingers.

They stopped in front of Rush’s door.

The only sign that anything had changed in the past several weeks was the addition of a secondary lock, bolted to the exterior of the door in the interest of modestly increased security. The thing wouldn’t keep out anyone determined to get in, but it wasn’t meant to. The interior hallways of this building were constantly under surveillance by the unlucky junior officers in the basement, and the place was guarded by signal scramblers. In the absence of a coordinated operation by the LA, Rush’s apartment was as secure as it was going to get, extra lock or no. Young suspected that the superfluous bolting mechanism had been put there purely to dissuade him from entering. Him, and anyone else to whom Rush might have given a key. The guy hadn’t exactly been handing the things out. But, Vala might have had one.

Jackson pulled out his SGC issued key and unlocked the ad hoc bolt-job, then waved Young forward.

“You know,” Young said quietly, sliding the metal home with the quick and layered repositioning of reluctant tumblers, “I’ve never seen the inside of his place.”

“I hadn’t either. Not until that day,” was all Jackson said. Young didn’t have to ask him what day he meant.

He swung the door wide and stepped into quiet, dust-scented darkness. The faint creak of metal hinges, the tread of their shoes against the floor, the dim unbroken lines of an uncluttered room all came together at once, suggesting to Young a space too empty to be normal.

The hair on the back of his neck prickled, not in fear, but in anticipatory dread of sudden revelation.

The lights were off. The shades were drawn. Young limped forward into a dark, furnitureless room and stopped, saying nothing.

I’m staying here, Rush had said, short and sharp in Young’s kitchen. Temporarily. I do not live here

And he’d been right.

Because no one lived in this room.

“Lights,” Jackson said, a quiet warning.

Young ducked his head, narrowed his eyes against the coming glare, and waited to see a thing he didn’t want to look at. He raised his head to an empty room. Around its periphery were piles of ephemera—books and notebooks stacked into academic cairns, trapping loose papers beneath them. A single desk lamp rested on the floor near the far wall. Charging devices of various kinds still plugged uselessly into the walls, their cords curling around books, or tangling with one another. A crumpled blazer he’d never seen Rush wear had been dropped against the wall, beneath the light switch. Atop it was a pile of unopened mail. A can of paint and a brush stood at the base of the opposite wall, a vague menace to the scripted black marker that covered the wall above it.

Young turned in a slow circle, his shoes scuffing the dust-covered floor, trying not to feel too blindsided by this testament to human misery. Directly opposite the door was the single bullet hole he’d put in Rush’s wall months earlier.

“Damn it, Rush,” he growled.

“Yeah,” Jackson whispered. “This hits as pretty bleak.”

At the wall near the window, the stark outlines of Rush’s angular hand stretched over a five-foot vertical span, extending from slightly above Rush’s eye-level down to something like eight inches above the floor.

Jackson sighed and stepped around Young, moving to stand directly in front of the defaced wall, driving his hands deep into his pockets.

Young left Jackson to it. He wasn’t going to figure out a damn thing by looking at the math, or the Ancient, or the Ancient math, or whatever it was that made up that final fucker of a cypher. His gaze swept the room again, looking for anything awry, anything amiss, anything out of place. This was difficult, because it was all awry, amiss, and out of place. He couldn’t reconcile this empty set of barely lived-in rooms with the guy who had pulled his books out of boxes and alphabetized them for him.

Young made his way toward the kitchen. He stopped in the doorframe and flipped on the light, eyeing the bare shelves, the dust covered counter. If Rush had any of the usual kitchen ephemera, he’d never unpacked it.

Rush’s empty kitchen, in the context of all the cooking he’d done for Young, was nearly too much to take.

Young opened the man’s fridge, the cupboards, the cabinets beneath the sink, but the only thing he found was a set of frozen dinners covered with ice crystals, a plastic container of protein mix, and a bottle of scotch.

“You are kidding me, hotshot,” he said, pulling the protein powder down from the shelf it had been sitting on. “God damn.”

No wonder the cypher set had been driving him crazy. No wonder he’d constantly looked like hell. He hadn’t been living here, in this set of impersonal unfurnished rooms, he’d been living in his own head, in whatever places he had left to him that his dead wife didn’t haunt, or Ancient cities hadn’t co-opted. “I should have made you let me in,” Young murmured, rotating the protein mix so its label faced outward. “You stubborn bastard.”

There was no one left to answer him.

He shut the cabinets he’d opened and left the kitchen. Jackson was still staring at Rush’s wall, one arm across his chest, his hand pressed to his mouth as he studied the array of math and Ancient laid down in black marker over white paint.

Young passed into the short, dark hall off the main room. He glanced at the bathroom, his gaze passing over a towel, a razor, a set of soap and shampoo—before opening the bedroom door with the subtle, high-pitched sound of an unoiled hinge. He flicked on the light.

“Where did you sleep?” Young asked, incredulous.

The room was a solid wall of boxes, stacked shoulder-high and as deep as the room itself. They were unlabeled, forming a homogenous wall. A few of them had been pulled out and cluttered the space near the door, resting at odd angles, torn open. Clothing was draped haphazardly over cardboard. Unworn outfits could be seen, folded, in the depths of unsealed boxes.

Did you sleep?” he murmured.

The open boxes near the door seemed to be primarily full of clothes, but he could see some assorted books in the nearest one. He stared at Stevens’ Collected Poetry & Prose for a few moments before he shook his head once, and turned out the light.

He walked back out to join Jackson, who was now kneeling, his gaze fixed intently on the lower portion of the wall.

“What do you think?” Young asked, coming to stand beside him.

“This is the ninth cypher,” Jackson murmured, extending a hand above his head to trace along a horizontal line that bisected the writing. “Above this line is the seventh. Perry cracked the eighth, once he teed it up for her.”

“Yeah,” Young murmured. “He said as much.”

Jackson exhaled, slow and measured. “Sam thinks this was the beginning of the ninth,” the other man said, running his fingers over the math on the lower half of the wall. “The stuff in your apartment is a little more progressed. He was working with crystal harmonics; Perry figured that out.”

“He said it was tonal,” Young said.

“I know,” Jackson replied, his fingertips brushing over what looked like a series of musical notes, written near the floor. “He told me that as well. Weeks and weeks ago.”

“He had a rough time with it,” Young murmured, nearly choking on his own understatement.

“His wife,” Jackson murmured, “was a violinist.”

“I know,” Young said. “He told me.”

“Did he,” Jackson said, his smile forming and dying in the same instant. “Good.”

Young said nothing, watching the archeologist study the wall.

“This,” Jackson said, running his fingers again and again over a set of parallel lines, the musical notation scribbled at an odd angle. “This, I think, is the key.”

“How do you know?” Young asked.

“I don’t,” Jackson said. “I’m not a musician. But he’s evolving something here; he’s breaking away from traditional musical notation. The standard way of representing tones in the western canon is five parallel lines. He’s moving away from that, working out different ways to represent tones that aren’t rooted in human historical tradition. And the angle of this—relative to the rest of what he wrote. This came after. He’s sitting on the floor to write this low. This is where he shifts to his own notation for the crystal harmonics. If anything here is a primer, this chunk is as close as we’re going to get from him.”

“You don’t think someone’s already looked at this?” Young asked. “Come up with all this stuff?”

Jackson looked at him, his eyes red-rimmed and exhausted and good humored.

“What?” Young demanded.

“Nothing,” Jackson said, looking back at the wall, smiling faintly. “You make me feel young, Young.”

“You are young,” he growled.

“I’m not,” Jackson replied, looking back at the wall. “But I was, maybe. In other universes, maybe, I still am. I’m certain there are ones where I’m a naïve, well-intentioned archeological hack.”

“You’re a drama queen, a little bit,” Young said. “You know that?”

Jackson laughed and pulled out his cracked phone. He aimed the thing at the wall and took a picture that was nearly uninterpretable through the shattered screen.

“You’re not as bad as Rush,” Young said, cocking his head. “But still.”

Jackson glanced up at him.

Young offered Jackson his hand.

Jackson shot him a wry look, shifted his gaze pointedly to Young’s cane, and then pushed himself to his feet under his own power. “I’m sure there’s someone, somewhere, studying cross-cultural musical notation that I can call up to get some general principles regarding whatever he was driving toward,” Jackson said, looking toward the wall.

They stood together for a moment, looking at the abandoned spread of math. “I didn’t really picture it this way,” Young murmured.

“You mean ah—” Jackson waved a hand, a gesture that managed to take in the entirety of the empty room.

“He unpacked my apartment for me,” Young said.

“Really?” Jackson said, in quiet surprise, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. “Somehow I can’t picture it, even though I suggested it to him.”

“You did not,” Young said, certain that he had.

“I’d love to take credit for the altruistic impulses of your neighbor,” Jackson replied, “but even my mythic hubris has its limits. If he was gonna do it, he was gonna do it. I doubt I made a difference either way.”

“You got what you need?” Young asked, not inclined to stay any longer in Rush’s empty apartment.

“Maybe,” Jackson said, kneeling to pull a piece of paper from beneath a red-bound book entitled Physical Chemistry: a Molecular Approach. “Anything strike you?”

Too many things had struck him too deeply. He could almost see the way the window, weeks ago and open to the summer air, had banished loose papers to the edges of the room, where Rush had weighed them down with whatever was at hand. He could picture the man making a mix of protein powder in the midst of driving himself half mad with math or memories or whatever miscellany haunted him.

“No,” Young said. “Nothing strikes me. Let’s get out of here.”

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