Mathématique: Chapter 52
“So—six days from now, I will get a burning cake?” Ginn asked.
Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Allusions to torture.
Additional notes: None.
Young woke with his alarm at ass o’clock in the morning. The sun was just beginning to backlight the mountains in the blue-gold of a Colorado sunrise. He hauled himself out of bed, slow and resolute, and stood at his bedroom window, staring at the distant rise of the Front Range.
He felt sluggish, like the hot, deadweight of the summer was still tied around his neck. He’d be dragging August like a cross for months and months to come. He wondered how the hell Jackson did it. Did any of it. Young could barely get himself out of bed, even with something real on his to-do list.
There was an unsettling complexity that was emerging out of the shredded nest of his settling memories. A strange, double overlay of David Telford the traitorous, murderous, duplicitous fucking bastard—and a David Telford who had needed to be saved, and who hadn’t been. Who, now, probably wouldn’t ever be.
It was a hard idea to parse.
Young hadn’t quite gotten to the point where he could bring it up with Mackenzie in their weekly sessions, hadn’t quite gotten to the point where he was ready to brave asking Jackson about it. He’d said something to Cam when the man had given him a ride home from an SG-1 che’swings night.
“You ever feel like maybe we let him down?” Young had asked.
Cam had looked back at him, flint-eyed, and had said, “No. Don’t you go thinking that. Don’t you ever fucking think that. Not you. Not about him. You got that? Get it out of your head.”
Young had nodded.
He’d emailed J Shep the same question. Shep had replied: Yah. Probably. Want to come to Pegasus? I could request your ass. Want to come for a weekend? I could volunteer to run another one of Jackson’s Bullshitting Your Local Pseudo-Deity workshops and put your name on the invite list. I’m getting good at the art of Le Bullshìt.
Sorry, Young had replied. I’ve got a Fields medalist to find.
Wait, he’s missing? Shep had written. HE was the guy Telford took? This need-to-know garbage is killing me. I owe that guy a coffee date and a tour of Atlantis. I’ve been dreaming of coffee. Like, the real stuff. With the latte art. The leaves and hearts and stuff they do at the fancy places.
Young hadn’t replied to that one yet.
He had enough on his plate trying to work up the momentum to make it to base by a respectable oh eight thirty to meet his new command, which currently consisted of Ginn of the Sixth House, also known as the Piece of Work Who Had Nearly Killed Sam Carter.
You’ll like her, Jackson had said, when he dropped off the scanty paperwork on all the fruitless leads they’d tracked down in pursuit of Rush.
Somehow Young doubted he was going to get along all that well with a member of Kiva’s crew. Call it a hunch.
Young slogged his way through the mire of the morning—shower, breakfast, coffee, and finally, the fatigues that felt like a lie, that felt like a farce, because with all the shit he’d put his back through, with his less than exemplary recent commitment to physical therapy, he was gonna be riding a desk for the rest of his career. Unless some kind of miracle happened.
Just as he was ready to leave, his phone buzzed, Jackson’s number flashing up, gray on black.
“Jackson,” Young said.
“Daniel,” Jackson said.
“Yeah yeah,” Young said. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Jackson replied, practically vibrating with something he couldn’t wait to spill. “We have a lead on Vala. Not far. A few hours from here. We’re leaving now.”
“Great,” Young said, trying to muster some genuine enthusiasm out of the sludge in his head.
“I think this is it. I think this is the one. A local detective picked up an unidentified woman who took down two guys trying to hold up a diner. She goes by Val—and there’s a picture. It’s her. It’s her. It’s definitely her. I mean, it’s her. I think it’s her? I’m pretty sure it’s her. It’s her. It’s gotta be.”
Young shot his front door a look of skeptical optimism. “Hope so, Jackson.”
The man made a strangled, exasperated sound. “It’s DANIEL.” And with that, Jackson hung up on him.
Young snorted and pocketed his phone. He pulled the bag of classified files over his shoulder, opened the door, then felt his phone buzz again. This time it was Mitchell.
“Jackson beat you,” Young said.
“What? God damn he’s speedy,” Mitchell said. “I think he likes you better than me.”
“I feel like I’m on your team,” Young said. “Why are you guys calling me?”
“Didn’t I tell you? October is Adopt A Miserable Colonel month and we picked you.”
“Great. Thanks so much.”
“I’ll keep you posted. Enjoy your first day back. Sorry I won’t be around to take you to lunch.”
“Don’t worry about it. Go collect your missing con artist.”
“That’s the plan,” Mitchell said.
Walking through the halls of the SGC felt surreal, as though September had hollowed him out and left him the rind of the guy he thought he’d been. He cut a too-memorable figure with the combination of fatigues and cane.
Heads turned. Gazes tracked him down the hall.
But maybe it wasn’t the fatigue/cane combo. Maybe it was whatever was growing on the grapevine with his name on it. Whatever it was, it was a good bet that it was more suited to making vinegar than making wine. But who the hell could tell, with Jackson growing his goodnatured way into the heart of the damned place. Or, maybe, out of the heart of it.
He avoided his new office on level eighteen, and went to find Harriman, who could always be counted on for businesslike neutrality. The general’s aide was at his desk, rather than in the gateroom. When Young tapped on his doorframe, Harriman stood and fired off a salute that Young returned halfheartedly, in the style of Jack O’Neill.
“Colonel,” Harriman said.
Young nodded at him.
“Good to see you up and around.”
“And out of a holding cell,” Young said dryly.
“That too,” Harriman said, deadpan. “What can I do for you, colonel?”
“I’m looking for the LA defector,” Young said, shifting his weight to favor his left side.
Harriman nodded. “Just a moment—I’ll find out where she’s quartered.” There was a brief flurry of keys. “Level sixteen.”
“Sixteen,” Young said. “In a holding cell? I thought she was on a Teal’c style reintegration program.”
“Her threat level is still listed as ‘Moderate’,” Harriman said. “Teal’c didn’t defect in the midst of a foothold.”
Young shrugged. “Fair enough, I guess,” he said, already feeling for her a little bit, against his better judgment and against his own bias. “But who else is up there, Harriman?”
“Ba’al,” Harriman said, the words landing like an apology. “A Ba’al and—Nerus.”
Young stood in the doorway, his expression neutral, regarding Harriman in silence until he said, “Yup. Okay then.”
The lockdown on level sixteen was about as depressing as Young had expected. The defector was assigned to one of the nicer cells, meaning it had a desk and a bed and a lamp and bathroom with a closing door. Still, it wasn’t much to look at. No windows, no TV, and smack between Nerus and a clone of Ba’al.
Pretty much worst case scenario for a former Lucian Alliance operative.
Young was sure it kept Nerus and Ba’al from trading too much escalating rhetoric, and probably left the security personnel with a bit less of a headache.
The kid, and she was a kid—probably early twenties at the outside, maybe even still in her teens—looked miserable.
Pale, stressed, with flat red hair plastered to her head, dressed in an oversized set of fatigues, hunched over the desk, her brow furrowed as she stared at a computer. Young looked at her, trying to hang onto the shadow of his evaporating grudge.
You’ll like her, Jackson had said.
Damn the man anyway.
“I see you’re a colonel,” the Ba’al clone said archly, lounging against the back wall of his cell. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. I presume you’ve come to—”
“Ah! A colonel,” Nerus thundered from two cells down. “Colonel, colonel, tell me, what is your name?
“None of your business,” Young said.
“His name is Young,” Ba’al said, reading the name off his fatigues.
The defector looked up at the name, her dark eyes meeting his and then dropping away. An LA convention. A show of respect.
“Colonel Young! Your reputation precedes you. Not the same Colonel Young who—“ Nerus paused, evidently trying to recall any great deeds that might be ascribed to ‘Colonel Young’ and coming up short. “Well I’ve certainly heard of you. I must know—has your storied General seen fit to—”
“Quiet, you loathsome excuse for—” Ba’al shouted back at him.
Young did his best to tune the pair of them out.
“Hey kid,” he said, leaning on his cane just outside the defector’s cell.
“Hello,” she said, lifting her eyes again.
“How’s your English?” he asked her.
“I’m fluent,” she replied, with only a trace of a Goa’uld accent.
“What’s your name?”
“Ginn,” she said. “I am Houseless.”
He smiled faintly at her. “Ginn Houseless, huh?”
She nodded. “We are to work together? I’ve been monitoring radio waves. I have prepared an electronic document for you describing my progress according to a template provided by Colonel Carter.”
“I read it.”
“Did you find it acceptable?” she asked.
“Of course he didn’t, shol’ve,” Ba’al said, spitting at her, the saliva vanishing in a haze of blue energy at the periphery of his cell.
Young shot Ba’al an unimpressed look, then turned back to the defector. “Ginn,” he said. “This is bullshit.”
“You do not wish to work with me,” she said. “Because I was of Sixth House.”
“What?” Young said. “Well, yeah, look I’ll admit, Sixth is probably my least favorite house, and yes, you shot one of everyone’s favorite colonels, so we’ll probably never be—”
“The hubris,” Ba’al said, providing a running commentary. “The sheer unmitigated gall. To attack the legendary Samantha Carter. And look at her. She’s not even beautiful. She can’t even claim that as justification.”
“Pay him no mind, my dear,” Nerus began, “I find you quite—”
Young turned to Nerus. “Will you shut up?” He turned back to Ginn, pointing backwards over his shoulder with a thumb. “That? Right there? That is what I mean by ‘bullshit’.”
“Oh,” Ginn said. “Then yes. There is a lot of bullshit in this place.”
Young gave her a hint of a smile. “Then again, I may like you yet, kid. You’re lucky Carter made it.”
“I know,” Ginn replied solemnly.
“I’ll be back,” Young said, pressing a hand against the aching muscles to the left of his spine.
“But I haven’t—”
“Hold that thought,” Young said. “You keep doing your thing.”
Young turned, ignoring the comments of Ba’al Version Whatever Point Oh and Nerus’ pleas for an improved prison dining experience. He walked out past the security checkpoint, leaned against the cement wall, took some weight off his left side, and called Jackson.
“Hey,” Jackson said, sounding harried. “What’s up.”
“How’s it going?” Young asked.
“Well, not great. We think the Trust beat us to Vala and managed to snag her by impersonating Sam. Mitchell just commandeered a motorcycle. So, yeah. That’s where we are. How’s your day?”
“Are you serious?” Young asked, over the sound of screeching tires.
“Ohhhhh how I wish I weren’t,” but yes. We’re tracking Mitchell via SGC dispatch who’s relaying with the Odyssey which is scanning for his transponder signal. Oh my god, Teal’c, you can’t drive this thing like an X-302! It’s a suburban. Why does the NID—you know what? Never mind. Everett? You still there?”
“Yeah, so I’m gonna call you back later,” Young said. “Good luck with all that.”
“No no,” Jackson said, like a man interrupted in the midst of an email rather than a car chase. “Did you need something?”
“The name of the terrifying IOA lady you love so much? I need some leverage to get the defector into a new living situation.”
“Wray,” Jackson said. “Camile Wray. I’ve been meaning to involve her ever since they moved Ginn from medical. She needs the Tau’ri rehab plan.”
“Did you know they stuck her in a cell one level sixteen right between Ba’al and Nerus?”
“They did what?” Jackson shouted right in his ear. “Who did that. WHO. That’s hazing. That’s—that’s worse than hazing. How old is she? You get a name. You get Wray to get you a name. This is unacceptable. Sam. Sam. Have you been to Level sixteen? To see Ginn?”
Carter said something that Young couldn’t hear. “Sam hasn’t been up there. They meet on nineteen. Sam doesn’t go to sixteen because—”
“Yeah okay, Jackson, I don’t need the War and Peace version of the story. You go chase down Mitchell—the defector’s gonna be off sixteen by the end of the day, if not before.”
“Oh good. This means I can live with myself for the next fifteen minutes or so,” Jackson replied. “Y’know. Until the next phone call. Ugh she’s been with Nerus? Nerus and Ba’al? I can’t take this. I’m gonna go.” He hung up the phone.
“Bye,” Young said.
“Colonel Young,” Camile Wray said, standing and walking around her desk to offer him her hand. “Nice to meet you.” She was a petite, square-shouldered woman with, low heels, long hair, and a neat desk that displayed a picture of her and a young Irish woman, both of them grinning into the camera. They looked like they were on a beach somewhere far from Colorado Springs.
Wray pulled out a chair for him, shut the door to her office, and then took the seat next to him, rather than the one across the desk.
“Thanks for seeing me on such short notice,” Young said, dropping gingerly into the chair.
“You said it was urgent,” Wray replied, smoothing her skirt and crossing her legs at the ankle.
“Jackson said you were the person to go to with this. It’s not an emergency exactly, but I have something of a mess on my hands, and I think I’m going to need help fixing it.”
“Daniel sent you?” Wray asked, her eyebrows lifting.
“Yup,” Young said.
“I owe him—more than a favor,” Wray said.
“Doesn’t everyone?” Young asked.
Wray smiled, tight and wry. “Probably. How can I help you, Colonel.”
“Are you familiar with the LA defector we’ve got on base?”
“Mmm,” Wray said, knitting her brow. “Shot Colonel Carter; named—Jenn?”
“Close,” Young said. “Ginn.”
Wray nodded. “Technically, I work in HR, but I’m also part of the IOA. We approved her request for amnesty on base. To my knowledge she hasn’t been issued an integration protocol yet. I haven’t met with her. No one’s requested that I do so—normally we get a military go-ahead and preliminary threat assessment before HR takes any action.”
“Yeah,” Young said. “So, she just got assigned to my command, effective as of this morning. It’s a little bit of an unusual situation. A two-man detail. We’re both technically consultants rather than acting in a military capacity. I went to meet her, and found out she’s in one of the nicer holding cells on level sixteen.”
“Hmm,” Wray said, frowning. “That’s not an acceptable long-term—”
“Oh it’s not acceptable in the short term,” Young said. “Not sure if you have the security clearance for this, but I’m going to tell you anyway. She’s quartered smack between a clone of Ba’al and the Goa’uld Nerus. It’s an open floor plan. In the five minute span I was in there they were harassing her pretty much non-stop. I also think it’s possible she might be a minor.”
“What,” Wray breathed.
“We don’t have an age on her—I doubt she knows it herself. The LA isn’t big on birthdays.”
“And you think there’s reasonable suspicion that she might be less than eighteen?”
“She looks like a kid,” Young said. “She’s probably seen more than her fair share of the ugly side of this galaxy, but if gets her out of that cell, then yeah. Sure. I think she could be less than eighteen.”
Wray stood up and paced a short line, on hand on her hip, then sat back down. “All right,” she said. “Moving quickly on this is going to be a logistical nightmare, but what we can do is take her out of her current situation and then throw up a barrier to putting her back in. So—in terms of literally her off of level sixteen right now, for, say, a meeting with me, what would we need in terms of authorization and security?
“She’s currently classified a Moderate Threat, Low Flight risk, so—two Airmen as a security escort and a formal meeting request,” Young said.
“Who approves the formal meeting request?” Wray asked.
“Well,” Young said, opening a hand, “even thought it’s not a traditional command, technically, I’m the CO for this two-man team—so I can approve your request to meet with her.”
“Great,” Wray said, standing to move back around her desk. “I’ll send you the form right now. Do you call up to sixteen, or shall I?”
“You do it,” Young said. “I’ll go get her. Give me, maybe, fifteen minutes of lead time. Seeing as we’re trying to railroad the people paid to keep this place compliant with Federal CYA paperwork I’m not sure I want just any two airmen, if you get my drift.”
“I’d feel more comfortable if you wouldn’t phrase things—quite that way, colonel,” Wray said, her nails clicking against keys as she blazed through a form.
Young shrugged, wincing as he got to his feet. “What can I say? I’ve been spending too much time with Jackson.”
Wray shot him a dry look. “Sent,” she said.
“You’re speedy,” Young said, pulling out his phone. He authorized her request with a virtual signature. “Done. I’ll see you back here in half an hour or so.”
Young found the duty officer and scanned through the day’s roster, looking for the sergeant he’d met in August, who’d come up through the internal military track and had helped Rush and McKay break a DHD. He scanned through the Gs, hoping the man hadn’t already been assigned to a gate team—but he was in luck. Greer, Ronald. On base security detail.
The kid was working nights this month. That wasn’t so perfect, but Young wasn’t about to let that stop him.
“I’m going to need to pull this guy in,” Young said to the duty officer, tapping Greer’s name. “Can you swap some shifts around—free him up for a few days?”
The duty officer wasn’t happy about the request, but it got done all the same. Young entered the sergeant’s contact information into his phone, and left the office. He didn’t go far. Just outside the door he leaned against the wall, clamped a hand to his back, wished vainly for his couch and a dangerously high dose of NSAIDs, and called Greer.
The man didn’t answer until the fourth ring, and it was obvious he’d been sleeping.
“Sergeant Greer,” Young said. “Sorry to wake you. This is Colonel Everett Young. We met in August.”
“Yes, sir,” Greer said, his diction sharpening. “Storm from hell. I remember.”
“Good,” Young said. “Sergeant, I just switched your duty roster. You’re off nights and paired up with me for a few days. Nothing exciting, but I’m organizing a little bit of an—unusual security detail.”
“Yes, sir,” Greer said again.
“You happen to know anyone on the day shift with a good poker face? Maybe one of the recruits who came up with you?”
“There’s a Lieutenant who’s on days,” Greer said. “Name of James. She can play it close to the chest like no one I’ve ever seen.”
“What’s her first name?” Young asked.
“Vanessa,” Greer said. “She came up internal, same as I did.”
“She’s on base now?”
“Should be,” Greer replied.
“Okay. Haul ass down here, sergeant, but eat something first. Could be a long day.”
“Understood,” Greer said.
“Meet us on level eighteen,” Young said. “The converted storage closet across from the Linguistics Library.”
“I’ll be there in twenty,” Greer replied.
Young had been studiously avoiding his new “office” on level eighteen, where about half the civilian consultants had their space. Young had never been much of a desk jockey in the past, so, like Mitchell, he’d had a desk in a broom closet on level twenty-five that he used only for the bureaucratic side of his job. He’d been primarily in the field, first on a gate team, then prepping for undercover placement with the LA, then—well, the past few months had been a disaster.
Best to just leave it at that.
It was Jackson, of course, who had cleaned out the storage space and gotten someone to shove some desks and bookshelves into the thing. When Young unlocked the door and flipped on the lights, he found himself faced with a large, open room, containing two desks, a central table, and a dry-erase board.
The place was lined with bookshelves. There was a section that seemed to be devoted to ancient Mesopotamia, a section for English translations of myths from various cultures, and, perplexingly, a bookshelf in which every book was shelved backwards—pages toward the room, spine concealed from view.
Young frowned and pulled out one of the books. It was titled: Principles in Effective Cross Civilization Conversations (Volume 3): Conversations with Apparently Omnipotent Entities in Theory and Practice by Dr. Daniel Jackson.
Young snorted. “Poor Jackson,” he murmured, and replaced the book.
He dragged the most comfortable chair in the room to the least expansive desk, and sat down. Sitting wasn’t any easier on his back, but it was, at least, a different kind of pain. He shifted, uncomfortable.
He thought about texting Mitchell, but decided against it. It sounded like SG-1 was right in the thick of things. Best to leave them to it. God but he hoped they found Vala. What was it Jackson had said? She’d been brought in for taking down two guys trying to hold up a diner? Young shook his head. He couldn’t see her blowing her cover for anything. But then, if Jackson was right, and she didn’t remember who she was—well, then maybe her instincts might give her away.
He didn’t think they were going to get so lucky with Rush. Despite Jackson’s almost delusional levels of optimism, Young couldn’t bring himself to actually believe that the man was walking around on terra firma without his memory. Odds were good that he was dead, or with David—wherever the hell David was—and the LA chatter that Ginn was chasing was just that.
Sinister static from cloaked, hovering insurgents. He and Ginn would probably turn up something useful, but Young doubted it was going to be an amnestic mathematician.
He picked up the phone, dialed Wray, and gave her a time-table on retrieving Ginn. She thanked him and told him she’d already started an abbreviated draft of an Integration Protocol that she hoped to push through the military liaison to the HR department and straight to General Landry by the end of the day.
After ending the call, he tried to figure when exactly it was gonna to be that the shit hit the fan, and which shit was going to hit first. Because there were two options—shit from personnel about a possible minor being quartered in an open floorplan with the galaxy’s most depraved Goa’uld versus shit about a Lucian Alliance operative on a reintegration plan on the heels of the SGC’s most damaging information leak.
He had the feeling that the latter shit was going to hit first, but the former shit was going to last longer, and cause more of a mess for whomever it was who’d stuck the poor kid in there.
James showed up around ten hundred hours. He could see a trace of anxiety in the formal neutrality of her expression, her stance, the disciplined lines of her gaze—but only a trace. She saluted sharply.
“At ease, Lieutenant,” Young said, returning the salute. “Where’d the duty officer pull you from?”
“Level twenty-four,” she replied. “I was stationed with the MALP bay.”
“We guard MALPs now?” Young asked, with a sympathetic grimace. “Sounds boring.”
“No sir,” James said.
“You know Sergeant Greer? He says you have a good poker face.”
“Sir?” James said.
“And he wasn’t wrong. Take a seat, Lieutenant. I pulled the pair of you for a special assignment. Should only last a few days.”
James chose a chair from the table and dragged it to position it across from Young’s shit desk. She sat down.
“Greer should be here soon,” Young said. “I pulled him out of bed. Where were you before you came up through the internal track?”
“Special Forces,” James said.
“Guarding MALPs has got to feel like a step down,” Young said “When will you be up for a gate team?”
“I’m not sure, sir,” James said. “I was actually—I was assigned to the Icarus Base. All set to ship out with the next group, pending command approval. But they didn’t send any of us. In fact, I think they brought some people back.”
Young nodded and shut his eyes briefly. “That they did. The project’s in a holding pattern at the moment, Lieutenant.”
“I heard you were slated to be the CO,” James said cautiously.
“I was,” Young said. “But at the moment, I’m CO of this room right here. Looks like you ended up under my command anyway. For today, at least.”
“Yes sir,” James said.
There was a soft knock on the doorframe, and Greer walked forward and saluted. Young returned the salute and waved a hand in the direction of the chairs. Greer pulled one from the table and took a seat beside James.
“This is not a tough assignment,” Young said. “It’s not going to be all that interesting. But—it could become a little bit bureaucratically uncomfortable. Just so you’re clear on the chain of command here, I’m reporting directly to General Landry at the moment, which means he’s the only one who can give you an order that countermands mine. Landry or another general who has more stars on his shoulders. Got that?”
He got a pair of yessirs in response.
“What we’re going to do is pull a LA defector out of her cell on level sixteen. You two will be acting as a security escort. She’s classified as a moderate threat risk, but do me a favor and don’t tackle her if she straightens her shirt or stops to tie her shoe or something.”
They nodded at him, and he continued. “We’re going to take her to an HR office. She’s going to sit there for however long it takes to get her status changed from ‘Moderate Threat’ to ‘Negligable Threat.’ Could be a while. But we’re not taking her back to that cell, unless you hear differently from me, or from someone who ranks me. The rest of it, we’ll play by ear.”
“Understood,” Greer said.
“Yes sir.” James nodded.
“Am I meeting with Colonel Carter?” Ginn asked, when he showed up again, this time with Greer and James flanking him.
“Something like that,” Young replied. “Come on, kid. Bring your laptop and anything else you’ve got.”
“I don’t have anything else,” Ginn said, clearly anxious.
“Guess not,” Young said, looking around her bare cell.
“Colonel,” Nerus called. “Colonel, surely you can be prevailed upon to—”
“No talking,” Greer snapped.
“No talking,” Nerus thundered. “No talking? Do you have any notion of my importance, little warrior?”
“Of course he doesn’t,” Ba’al said, the picture of indolence as he watched Ginn shut her laptop and draw it close to her chest. “You’re taking the girl? She can tell you nothing. She’s not even warrior class. She’s science class, and the Alliance has certainly ruined her mind in ensuring her loyalty. She’s a viper in the guise of a child, she—”
“We get it,” Young said. “Thanks, buddy.”
“You are quite the beauty,” Nerus said, reaching a hand toward James and getting a shock from the forcefield just inside the bars for his trouble. “But your cultural norms are most restrictive. Why do you wear your hair pulled so tightly?”
“Get lost, creep,” James said.
“An idiom! How charming! What is a ‘creep’ and how should one best be lost?”
Greer stepped forward with an impressively hostile expression, but Young tapped him on the shoulder and shook his head. Then he turned and started for the door, leaning heavily on his cane.
Ginn followed close behind, with Greer and James flanking her. As they headed toward the elevators, Young looked back over his shoulder to nod at James. “When your shift ends,” he said, “you write that shithead up.”
“Will it make a difference?” she asked. “Sir?”
“Maybe, if he tries to get a commuted sentence for good behavior.” Young shrugged.
It wasn’t until they had arrived in Wray’s office, Greer and James taking positions just outside the open door, Ginn in a chair next to Young, Wray behind her computer at her desk, that Young finally turned his attention to doing some kind of repair job on the kid’s past few weeks.
“I am—really sorry about all of this,” he said.
“Why?” Ginn whispered, her face pale, her eyes dark and deep set and watchful.
“That was a terrible—well look, you never should have been down there. You’re not going back, okay? Not if I have anything to say about it.”
“Are you going to execute me now?” Ginn whispered.
“What?” Wray and Young snapped, horrified and simultaneous.
“No,” Wray said emphatically. “No. We are going to find you a nicer room, and we are going to—to help you adjust to life as a Tau’ri. Someone will take you shopping at some point. There’s a series of videos—um, you probably don’t know what I mean by that. We’re going to help you.”
“A nicer room?” Ginn said, suspicious. “But I live—where you keep your enemies. I am of the Alliance.”
“Are you?” Young asked mildly.
“No,” Ginn whispered.
“No,” Young repeated. “No you’re not. And either way, you don’t belong down there with two of the assholes who’ve been oppressing your people for the last ten thousand years. People like you? We invite to become of the Tau’ri, if that’s what they want.”
“You allow them choose?” Ginn asked. “They choose to be Tau’ri? And then they are?”
“Yeah,” Young said. “It’s a Tau’ri thing. If you choose to be with us, then you are of us.”
“There are others?” Ginn said, her eyebrows lifting, her expression opening up like the kid she was.
“Yes,” Wray said, smiling at her. “Yes, there are others. Teal’c, a Jaffa, was the first. You might have heard of him. He has quite a reputation. Many others have lived with us and worked with us, just as you’ve already begun to do.”
“This is dangerous for you,” Ginn pointed out. “It is unwise from the perspective of governance.”
“Yeah,” Young said. “It’s gotten us into trouble, here and there.”
Wray, barely able to hide her enthusiasm, said, “We actually have a group that meets to discuss theories of governance. Our system is—different from what you know, but it has its own strengths. Perhaps you’d like to come to a meeting and share your perspective?”
Ginn looked warily at Wray.
“Yeah, or you can think that one over, kiddo,” Young said. “It’s going to seem less weird than it sounds in about two weeks. Our point is—you wouldn’t be the first person we’ve taken onto our team. Into our House, to put in more Alliance-like terms.”
“I shot Samantha Carter,” Ginn said.
“Yeah,” Young said. “We noticed. But, fortunately, she lived and so she could tell us how you helped her reverse the damage to our systems and save the lives of most of the personnel on this base. That’s why this offer’s on the table.”
“So, to become of the Tau’ri I would do the same work as now, but in a nicer cell and I would watch video footage of your theories of governance?”
Young laughed, short and sharp, pressing a hand to his face. “Pretty much. At least for the next week or so.”
“Then what happens?” Ginn asked.
“It gets better,” Wray said. “Better and better every week.”
“Better?” Ginn echoed, as if she couldn’t imagine any greater luxury than a spartan bedroom and a book club on Congressional Ethics or whatever it was that Wray did with her free time. And maybe she couldn’t. She’d been a scientist for the Lucian Alliance, an organization not exactly known for their tolerance of independent thought and action.
“One step at a time,” Wray said. “Ginn, I’m going to ask you some questions that will help us understand you a little better. Okay? Some of them I’m sure you heard at your debriefing, but that was a different department—or, well, it doesn’t matter. I have to ask you some of them again.”
“Okay,” Ginn said, as if testing out the word.
“Is Ginn your only name?”
“Yes,” Ginn said. “My affiliation was of the Sixth House, but now I am of the Tau’ri.”
“Atta girl,” Young said.
“Okay, so, for paperwork purposes, you will need two names. Did you have a family name before you joined the Alliance?”
“I did not join.” Ginn frowned. “I went with them so they would not kill my family.”
“Oh,” Wray said. “I apologize for speaking insensitively.”
Ginn nodded. “Why do Tau’ri need two names?”
“Well—” Wray began, “I suppose we don’t, really, but all our systems are built around—”
“It’s a convention,” Young said. “If you’ve got two, you fit in. You’ll blend better.”
Ginn nodded again. “We had no family name,” she said.
“Did you have a family occupation?” Wray asked. “What did your family do in your community?”
“My parents operated a machine for grinding grain after the harvest,” Ginn said.
Wray smiled in an encouraging way “On our planet, many people, but certainly not all, take their surnames from the occupations of their ancestors. The surname ‘Miller’ comes from the grinding of grain. Do you like the sound of that name? Ginn Miller?”
Ginn nodded, but Young should his head. “No. No way. Last name, first name? It’s going to look like Miller’s Gin.”
“What is ‘Miller’s Gin’?” Ginn asked.
“A brand of alcohol,” Young said.
“Hmm,” Wray said, amused. “Baker, perhaps? That would be a person who bakes bread once grain has been milled into flour?”
“Is it important to choose the right name?” Ginn asked.
“Not as such,” Wray said, “but it’s going to be with you as you move through our culture. Every day. All the time. Are there any names you’ve heard that you particularly like? Or any place or object that has a special significance to you?”
“When I was a small child,” Ginn said tentatively, “I fixed broken tools. Broken machines. After the Alliance came to our world they burned all the crops and forced us to plant Kassa. In that season, the season that they came, there was no harvest. In return for food for my family, I offered to repair a tel’tak for the Alliance. When they left, they took me with them. I have worked on ships since that time.”
“Keeler, then,” Wray said. “On our world, it means boat-builder.”
“A boat is a starship that goes over the water?” Ginn asked.
“You got it,” Young said.
“Ginn Keeler,” Wray said. “I like it. Do you like it, Ginn?”
Ginn nodded, and Wray typed something into her computer screen.
“Next question—how old are you?”
“I’ve seen almost three Times.”
Wray looked at Young. He did some mental math.
“It means she’s probably somewhere around twenty, give or take maybe four years. The LA doesn’t have a standard of time across all houses—they operate in named block intervals that tick over with major events.”
“Okay,” Wray said. “Ginn, on this planet we measure time—”
“We know of your timing conventions,” Ginn replied.
“Can you estimate how old you are by our conventions?” Wray asked. “You like you’re somewhere between sixteen and twenty-five, if that helps.”
“Twenty?” Ginn said, clearly guessing.
“We’ll say seventeen,” Wray replied. “Okay, so the next thing you need is a birthday. Did your parents ever tell you what time of year it was when you were born?”
“With the harvest,” Ginn said. “It was inconvenient for them.”
“Oh,” Wray said. “Um, well, it’s harvest time right now, more or less. Let’s say the twentieth of October. How does that sound?”
“Is the day itself significant?” Ginn asked.
“Well, it just means that next Saturday, you turn eighteen. Do you have any objections to October twentieth?”
“I don’t understand—”
“Kid,” Young said, breaking in, “this means that as long as you’re with us, the Tau’ri people that you know are going to say happy birthday to you on the twentieth day of October every single year. They’ll get you a cake, which is kind of like—you know that shaped almond paste the street vendors sell in the First City?”
“Yeah,” Young said. “Kind of like that. They’re going to stick little wax sticks in it and light them on fire.”
“So—six days from now, I will get a burning cake?” Ginn asked.
“Yes,” Wray replied. “The HR department provides all Integrating Persons with a cake on their birthday. You blow out the little wax sticks, and your friends sing you a song.”
“Oh,” Ginn replied.
“Welcome to Earth,” Young said dryly.
His phone buzzed, once, and he pulled it out to see a message from Mitchell.
::Snagged our girl. Bringing her home.::
Young smiled faintly and returned his phone to his pocket.