Mathématique: Chapter 59

“Of course he’ll be able to go into the field, once we get his tech up and running,” McKay snapped. “What do we look like to you? Broken-down, burnt-out, worn-out shells of human beings who’ve spent half a decade battling soul-sucking monsters?”

Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Injury.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 59

“Y’know, this would almost be hilarious if it weren’t such a hot mess,” Mitchell said, favoring Young with a wry, lateral glance.

“Tell me about it,” Young growled.

They stood together, shoulder-to-shoulder, at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, waiting for the gate to activate. Young’s back ached, his hip ached, he was leaning on his cane but, somehow, the pain felt far away, pushed to the edges of his awareness by the intense, overwhelming drive to finally, finally


His goddamned neighbor.


He’d spent months believing the man to be in the hands of the Lucian Alliance. Brainwashed, tortured, dead. When in actuality he’d been—

“Vala spends eight weeks waitressing? Rush spends nine weeks as a barista? I just—” Mitchell broke off. “I’m a little offended.”

“Offended?” Young echoed.

“Yeah. I mean, you and Jackson nearly killed yourselves. Actually, scratch that. Jackson nearly killed both of you. Himself with work, and you with—y’know. His hands. By request. All with the idea of getting them back. And the whole time? Both of them? Both of them are, like, doing a memory-free stint in the service industry?” Mitchell shook his head.

Young shifted his weight, trying help the strained muscles in his back. “Oh yeah,” he said dryly. “Sure seems like Vala had a great time.”

“Take it easy,” Mitchell said, eyeing him. “Just trying to lever up some of the stress in the air before it crushes us to death.”

Mitchell had a point. With every hour that passed, the tension in Young’s body seemed to ratchet higher. Presuming Rush really was in Boston, his position was intolerably vulnerable. No memories. No resources. Devices strapped to his temple keeping his cognition intact but also broadcasting a trackable signal. It was a damned miracle the LA hadn’t found him already. That kind of luck wasn’t gonna hold.

“You don’t seem as relieved about finding him as I pictured you being,” Mitchell said quietly.

“I’ll be relieved when he’s back in my kitchen, lighting pans on fire in pursuit of increasing culinary perfection, and not before,” Young shot back. 

“Yeah, okay. A lot can happen between now and then. I get it.” Mitchell paused. “But, while we have a minute—you wanna talk about Jackson?”

“No,” Young said, in a way that meant, ‘Yes, I absolutely want to talk about Jackson.’ He looked over, catching Mitchell’s eye. The other man nodded at him, subtly. “Remember the chel’mek?” Young asked. 

“Remember the chel’mek? The chel’mek scarred me for life,” Mitchell said quietly, half a smile on his face. “I’m gonna remember the freaking chel’mek until the day I die. Doritos. Come on. Who’d have seen that coming?”

“Exactly,” Young said, staring resolutely at the closed iris at the top of the gate ramp. “Doritos. Out of nowhere. Never would have expected it. Couldn’t tell they were even in there. And the thing about Doritos is that they come in a lot of varieties. Good Doritos, Bad Doritos, Wild Card Doritos.”

Mitchell, too, stared at the closed iris. “You’re serious,” he said, finally. “You think you and I are important enough for this? You think we really need to—”

“Us? Who knows. Probably not. Just a few Air Force colonels getting dragged into god knows what by scientists who can’t help themselves. But we’ve got that mutual friend. The one who worked at Doritos for a while? I’m convinced he’s important. He thinks Doritos, as a corporation, keeps tabs on him. Constantly.”

Mitchell shot Young a guarded look, then said, “I get that. Not sure about ‘constantly.’ Let’s keep in mind that he has some serious PTSD from the time he fell into a vat of chips. For sure. To the point that sometimes I think he takes the paranoia a little far.”

“Maybe,” Young said. “Maybe not.”

“I’m guessing you’re comin’ down on the ‘maybe not’ side,” Mitchell replied dryly.

“True,” Young admitted. “But keep in mind—you were blindsided by the chel’mek because there was a lot about it that no one told you. You didn’t live through the creation of the chel’mek, so you didn’t have the context you needed to understand it for what it was.”

Mitchell nodded.

“And our friend knows a lot of proprietary recipes from his time at Doritos,” Young continued. “But I’m guessing that the stuff you’d most want to know? Is the exact stuff he’s least likely to tell you.”

“Yeah.” Mitchell tightened his jaw. “And, I admit, our friend is a planner. He plans a lot of plans. I wouldn’t put it past him to have a—specific Doritos-related agenda.”

“He really doesn’t want my neighbor to work at Doritos,” Young said. “Probably because my neighbor is amazing in the kitchen.”

Mitchell snorted. “I forget how much undercover work you did. This is some damn fine groundwork you’re laying. Gold star. Keep going.”

Young paused, shooting Mitchell a serious look. “Cam. What I’m trying to tell you is that our friend thinks that someone needs to go work at Doritos to find the proprietary information that would bring the company down.”

Mitchell’s expression went from open and amused to serious and hard. “Shit,” he said.

“Yeah,” Young whispered. “Exactly. Shit. Because when you go work at Doritos? There’s no guarantee you come back.”

“Chel’mek changes you,” Mitchell said quietly, staring at the gate. “You really think you’re right about this?”

“I know for a fact I’m right about this,” Young said. “I’ve known our friend wanted to go back to Doritos for a while, even if only to save my neighbor from it. But he said something yesterday that made me think his plans might be a little more more well-formulated that I’d been envisioning. Something about how a Doritos employee, or candidate employee, might become—a weapon?”

“If he said something about a weapon,” Mitchell said through gritted teeth, “that would be very very classified.”

“He didn’t specify anything,” Young said. “Other to imply that the weapon in question would be a person.”

“Wait,” Mitchell hissed. “A person? That’s news to me. Where that ‘person’ is, presumably, not just anyone, but a former or potential Doritos employee?”

“Yup,” Young said.

“So what are we gonna do about this?” Mitchell whispered.

“No idea,” Young growled. “Hopefully something other than watch.”

“No one’s goin’ back to Doritos if I can help it,” Mitchell said, grimly.

The gate activated, bursting behind the iris, the blue of the event horizon lighting up the back wall of the room.

“Well, I’m with you there,” Young said, as the iris opened.

“Okay, so, step one: retrieve Fields Medalist. Step two: boycott Doritos, open a farm-to-table restaurant,” Mitchell said, with a small smile, as the Atlantis team stepped through the gate.

John Sheppard and Rodney McKay paused in front of the rippling blue of the event horizon. Both of them had duffel bags slung over their shoulders. From the top of the ramp, they scanned the room.

“Huh,” McKay said, frowning. “I thought maybe Colonel Carter would be here.”

“It’s probably best for you that she’s not,” Mitchell replied.

“You, I remember,” McKay said, ignoring Mitchell, looking at Young. “Storm guy. Storm Colonel. Colonel Young. Nick’s neighbor.”

“Hey,” Young said shortly.

“But you,” McKay said, leveling puzzled look at Mitchell that struck Young as a little too theatrical to be believable. “Do I know you? You’re not ringing a bell. What’s your name? Richards? Satchell? Who are you? No one important?”

“Mitchell,” Mitchell said. “Cam Mitchell.”

“He knows your name,” Sheppard said, rolling his eyes. “Hey guys.”

Young nodded at the man. Sheppard gave him a low-energy wave, and started down the ramp.

“And for your information,” McKay continued, looking at Mitchell, “Sam Carter and I have a science bromance the likes of which humanity has never seen. And will never see again. Nothing will ever come between us. Nothing could. We built a bridge between galaxies.”

“Yeah. Okay,” Mitchell said. “Tell her that, maybe.”

“I do. Constantly. She’s as excited about it as I am, frankly.”

Sheppard walked up to Young, dropped his bag unceremoniously on the ramp, and pulled him into a tight hug. Young wrapped his free arm around the other man, clapping him once on the shoulder.

“Hi,” Sheppard murmured, too quiet for anyone else to hear. “You look great.”

“Haven’t heard that in a while,” Young whispered, as McKay and Mitchell bantered behind them.

“That’s because it’s not true,” Sheppard said, pulling back with a gentle shoulder clip and a grin to take the sting out the words. “I was just trying to mix it up for you a little bit.”

“You okay?” Young asked, giving Sheppard a critical look.

“Not really,” the replied. “But is anyone? Has anyone ever been okay?”

“Don’t get philosophical,” McKay snapped, interrupting his back-and-forth with Mitchell to look sharply at Sheppard. “I thought we agreed that no one was going to get philosophical on this trip. This trip was and is about practical expedience. We get Nick back and then we fix both of you. Simultaneously. Someone write that down. Pencil it into whatever ridiculous agenda you Milky Way People have already cooked up.”

Young glanced at Mitchell only to find Cam already looking at him. They both looked at Sheppard.

McKay sighed. “It’s like, sometimes, I wonder if I’m speaking English. I am speaking English, right?”

“I’m never sure, Rodney,” Sheppard said, dryly.

Behind Sheppard, the gate shut down.

As the event horizon dematerialized, Sheppard staggered, one hand coming to his head. He dropped to one knee at the base of the gate ramp.

Young knelt next to him, paying for it with a wrench in his back. He got there in time to help control Sheppard’s fall out of his crouch. Just when his back was really beginning to protest, McKay was across from him, kneeling, taking Sheppard’s weight, helping him turn, pressing him flat against the floor at the base of the ramp.

“Can we get medical down here?” Mitchell shouted in the direction of the control room. 

“John,” Young said urgently, shaking the man. “John.”

“Damn it,” McKay hissed, his hand still over the center of Sheppard’s chest. “I told you. I told you. Did I not tell you? An entire roomful of people witnessed me telling you that leaving Atlantis—”

“Rodney,” Sheppard said, his eyes shut tight, one hand cemented to his temple. “I’m fine. I just need a minute. And maybe, like, some tweaking.” He cracked an eye, and looked directly at Young. “Sorry guys. This is a thing that happens sometimes, these days.”

“‘Tweaking’ is a Samantha Carter term and does not belong in this space,” McKay muttered, pulling a handheld device out of his pocket.

“Samantha Carter terms belong nowhere if not this space,” Mitchell said, dropping down next to McKay. “What’s happening?”

“His cortical suppressants aren’t being very nice to his cortex right now,” McKay said, searching his pockets. “Don’t worry. I’ll make them behave.”

Young shifted into a less demanding position, straightening to align his knee, hip, and spine, and the pressure on his back eased. “You think this happens to Rush?” he asked, unable to help himself.

“Not sure,” Sheppard replied, his brow furrowed, a thin sheen of sweat visible on his forehead. “I’m guessing no, because he’s not coming into and out of close proximity with a boatload of Ancient tech.”

“Yeah, your local cryptographic prima donna is probably fine,” McKay said absently, staring at a handheld device he’d produced from one of his pockets. “Whereas this guy, on the other hand, needs a neocortical adjustment every time he tries to lead a mission. It’s very inconvenient for the Lantean Flasgship Team. Okay.” He glanced at Sheppard, then back at the device in his hand. “What’s three hundred and forty-eight times fourteen?”

“Um?” Sheppard said. 

“That’s what I thought,” McKay said, frowning at his device. “Hang on. Better?”

“Maybe? Give me another one.”

“What’s seven factorial?”

“Five thousand forty, but I didn’t calculate it. I know that one by heart. C’mon Rodney. You know I love combinatorics.”

“Ugh, you’re ridiculous. Who made you a Colonel? What’s five hundred and eighty-seven times seventeen?

“Ten thousandish.”

“That’s—yeah that’s right. Plus, this is looking better. Can you stand?”

“I think we wait for medical,” Young said. He didn’t like the way Sheppard was holding himself. Very tense. Very still. 

“And I think I said something earlier about the utility of JOINT BRIEFINGS,” McKay blazed, glaring at Young. “We’ve been doing this for weeks. It’s not new. I’m recalibrating interlocking wave equations that allow him to function after that little jaunt he took with our missing Fields Medalist to the Capital City of the Ancient Afterlife. Something happened on that planet and we need to deal with it. In an intergalactic fashion. By which I mean that Sam Carter and I need to work on it together.” McKay looked back at Sheppard, his tone softening. “Can you walk?”

“Nope,” Sheppard replied, his fingertips still at his temple.

Young looked at Mitchell, to, again, find Mitchell already looking back at him. “Nope?” they repeated in tandem.

“Sorry guys,” Sheppard said, cracking his eyes again to squint at them. “Almost there, probably.”

“Okay.” McKay frowned at his device, applying gentle pressure with fingertips against the touchscreen. “I think I see the problem. It’s with waveform two, coming on a little strong. Once this briefing happens we’ll sit in a dark room and really take our time with this, since we’re going to be in the Milky Way for a few days. What do you say?”

“Can we get pizza?” Sheppard asked in a pained whisper.

“Um, obviously we’re going to get pizza. What’s the point of even being here if we don’t get pizza for literally every meal?”

“Are you going to be able to go into the field?” Young asked, giving Sheppard a dubious look.

“Of course he’ll be able to go into the field, once we get his tech up and running,” McKay snapped. “What do we look like to you? Broken-down, burnt-out, worn-out shells of human beings who’ve spent half a decade battling soul-sucking monsters?” 

Overshooting, Rodney,” Sheppard said through clenched teeth, both hands plastered to his temples, his brow furrowing in response to what looked like one hell of a headache.

“Sorry, sorry. Very sorry. Better?” McKay asked, glaring at the device in his hand, then looking up at Sheppard hopefully.

“Yeah,” Sheppard breathed, lifting his hands away from his head. “Yeah, I think I’m good.”

“You think you’re good?” Young growled. The man looked about as far from ‘good’ as Young himself did at the moment.

“John,” Mitchell said, from where he was hovering above McKay’s shoulder. “And I say this in the nicest way, but what the hell, man?”

“Yeah,” Sheppard drawled, levering himself up on one elbow. “I hear that.” He looked at Young. “Everett knows what I’m talking about.”

“Maybe.” Young offered Sheppard his hand.

“No,” Mitchell reached in, slapping their hands apart. “Let the guy without the shattered spine help you up?”

“Still got all your grandma’s common sense I see,” Sheppard said ruefully, taking Mitchell’s hand and getting hauled to his feet. He reached down to offer Young a hand in turn. “Come to Atlantis,” he said, looking at Young. “We’ll form a Disabled Colonels Support Group.”

Young took his hand, got hauled to his feet, and the three of them stood there, on the gate ramp, standing very close, looking at one another.

Young felt the absence of David Telford like a kick in the gut.

They all did.

No one spoke.

No one spoke, except McKay.

“Okay this is all very touching and whatnot, I can feel the Colonel-ness in the air. But my priorities? Are to have this briefing, get the Fields Medalist, secure the McKay-Carter Intergalactic Gate Bridge, and then figure out what the hell is going on with the Lantean Dream Team because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time restoring this guy’s ability to y’know, multiply and walk over the past several weeks, which he’s pretty good natured about, but which I find just excruciatingly stressful, so whatever machismo bonding thing is happening between you three right now can wait.”

“Lantean Dream Team?” Mitchell repeated.

Young looked away, hiding a smile.

“Sheppard and Rush,” McKay snapped. “Colonel Young gets it. Keep up.”

“He made a sarcastic name for us because he’s jealous,” Sheppard said pointedly. “Also, we kinda share dreams it turns out.”

“Anything useful turn up recently?” Young asked.

“Last night I dreamed of piano. Nonstop. All night. It twenty percent nice, eighty percent exhausting. I think he might have moved on from the barista life.”

“He’s moonlighting as a pianist?” McKay asked. “Can you tell where?”

“A restaurant. No details on it. Presumably fancy enough to have a nice piano. I don’t think he looked up from the keyboard for hours.”

“That’s it? Think harder.”

“Give it a rest, McKay,” Sheppard said, real fatigue in his voice. “I’ll tell you guys anything useful I get as soon as I get it. Dreams are hard to remember.”

“Yeah, I know,” McKay replied, quietly. “You walk. I’ll ‘tweak’.”

“If you’re dreaming about his life,” Young asked, watching Mitchell climb the gate ramp to pick up Sheppard’s duffel, “you think he’s dreaming about yours?”

“Probably,” Sheppard replied. “Stands to reason. Fortunately I don’t think I’ve done anything particularly horrifying in the past two months.”

They made their way slowly down the ramp. They’d just reached its base when Lam and Johansen burst through the gateroom doors. TJ had a med bag strapped across her shoulders. Lam was in her white coat, those low heels of hers clicking on the cement floor.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, crossing the floor, her eyes already scanning the four of them and settling on Sheppard.

“Hi,” Sheppard said.

“Hi Carolyn,” Cam said.

“Are you Doctor Lam?” McKay asked. “Our doctor, Dr. Keller? You may have heard of her? She’s extremely famous. Operating on people’s brains in hostile territory and whatnot? She said to tell you she’s a huge fan. But, y’know, personally, I would add that she really tends to sort of minimize her own accomplishments. So—”

Lam was looking straight at Young, probably because she’d tagged him as the person least likely to bullshit her. “We were paged for a medical emergency?”

Young gave her a short nod of acknowledgement. “I think we may have overreacted. Colonel Sheppard’s wearing cortical suppressants. When the gate connection to Atlantis cut off, he needed some readjustment. McKay just took care of it.”

Lam nodded at him, glanced at Mitchell, gave him a small nod, then turned to Sheppard and McKay, giving Sheppard a critical look. “Took care of it?” She asked, and Young could hear the skeptical air quotes.

“Well, mostly,” Sheppard admitted.

We have some experience with fine-tuning adjustment settings,” Lam offered. “Dr. Perry, in particular, has a protocol that may be of help here.”

“Amanda Perry?” McKay asked, interested. 

“Yes. She was the one who finalized the adjustments for Dr. Rush.”

“And I bet he was an exacting asshole about it,” McKay muttered.

“His standards were high,” Dr. Lam confirmed, her tone dry, her eyes flicking to Young.

“Perry leaves at four,” Young said. “If we want her to take a look before the end of the day, we’re gonna need to give her a heads up.”

After a short argument between Sheppard and Lam, which Sheppard only won because Lam seemed in a hurry to get back to the infirmary, they headed to the conference room overlooking the gate. They were the first to arrive.

Sheppard collapsed into a seat at the table, looking utterly exhausted. 

McKay went straight for the coffee.

“You all right?” Young dropped into the seat next to him, leaning his cane on the edge of the table.

“Yeah.” Sheppard absently rubbed the edge of one of his cortical suppressants and got what looked like a mild shock for his efforts. “Ow.” He shook out his fingers and glared at McKay.

“Don’t touch,” McKay said in a sing-song from across the room. 

Young gave Sheppard a sympathetic look. 

“So,” Sheppard said. “Is this gonna be one of those brief-and-go things? Or are we gonna have any lag time? Because I could really go for pizza. Real pizza. They don’t have that in Pegasus.”

“We’ll get you a pizza,” Young said. “Plus, I’m guessing you’ll have to be cleared by Dr. Lam for this mission before we go anywhere.”

“Nice,” Sheppard said, leaning back against his chair. He eyed Young though half-lidded eyes. “So,” he said quietly. “Any intel on David?”

“Not a thing,” Young said, his voice even.

“He just—liked the science so much,” Sheppard whispered, letting his eyes fall closed. “And the LA—they poison free inquiry. I don’t get it.”

“Me neither,” Young said quietly. “Sometimes I think maybe—maybe he has some larger plan.”

“David Telford with a master plan?” Sheppard smiled faintly, exhausted and sad. “Sure sounds like him, doesn’t it?”

McKay approached, set a coffee cup down in front of Sheppard and tapped him gently on the shoulder. Sheppard looked at McKay, who pointed to the coffee cup, then took a seat.

“Thanks Rodney,” Sheppard said.

“You don’t look so good,” Mitchell said, eyeing Sheppard and echoing Young’s thoughts.

“Yeah,” Sheppard said. “I’m okay, I’m just really feeling my accessories right now. Rodney and I can do a full recalibration before we go to Boston. We thought this might happen when I left Atlantis.”

“More like we knew this would happen, for sure, when he left Atlantis,” McKay muttered into his coffee cup. “I hope Nick appreciates this. Oh, who am I kidding. He definitely won’t.”

Over the next few minutes, the rest of SG-1 minus Jackson filed into the room, along with Greer, James, and Ginn. Vala slid into the seat next to Young, giving him a bright smile that was all solid effort but didn't touch her eyes.

Finally, Landry walked in, shutting the door behind him. Before the man even sat down, the questions started.

“Where’s Daniel?” Carter demanded, echoing Young’s thoughts. “We need to wait for him. He—”

“Dr. Jackson won’t be joining us,” Landry said, plowing over her.

Young felt a sickening sensation, as though the floor had just dropped out from beneath him. Immediately he pulled out his phone, checking for any missed messages from the archeologist. There was nothing. Radio silence.

“Why not?” Vala demanded, leaning forward in her seat.

“This briefing will be solely focused on the extraction of Dr. Nicholas Rush—”

Young noticed Teal’c, too, had surreptitiously pulled out his phone. Young caught his eye, trying to communicate his wordless question. Teal’c shook his head.

“No,” McKay said. “No no no no no. This was supposed to be an information exchange. We need Jackson.”

“And you’ll get that exchange, Dr. McKay—”

“Sir,” Young said, adding his voice to the growing chorus, “with respect, we need Jackson on this.”

Landry dropped into his chair, and stared them all down. 

The room fell silent.

::Where are you?:: Young texted the archeologist.

“Dr. Jackson,” Landry said, more gravel in his voice than Young had ever heard, “has been placed on mandatory medical leave by Dr. Lam. As of about,” he looked at his watch, “half an hour ago.”

“What?” Vala was already half out of her seat.

Young reached over, without looking, and managed to close his hand on her forearm, beneath the table. He pulled against her, trying to communicate that she should sit the hell down. Slowly, with resistance, she edged back into her seat.

“He was in the middle of a meeting with the IOA, trying to coordinate this very effort, when he collapsed from exhaustion. This was compounded, probably, by some kind of viral illness. Dr. Lam is confident it’s going to be terrestrial in origin, as SG-1 hasn’t been offworld for several weeks. She’s working on identifying it now.”

The room was silent.

Young felt a sinking feeling in his chest. “We may need to wait for Jackson on this one,” he said reluctantly, into the ensuing quiet. “Rush is going to be tough to extract.”

“He’s a college professor,” Landry said sharply. “I’m sure this room of people, collectively, can manage it without Jackson.”

“A college professor,” Carter repeated, neutrally.

“Oh very nice,” McKay snapped. “In case you didn’t notice, he made pretty spectacular work of the one field mission he was sent on. So spectacular, in fact, that within the course of a single offworld trip he discovered something new about DHDs, located Altera, the Ancient home world, cracked a cypher in the nine-chevron address, and left Atlantis with a problem we haven’t been able to solve for months now, not that anyone in the Milky Way cares, apparently.”

Young felt his phone buzz, surreptitiously checking it to find a text from Jackson. 

::Hey, sorry I’m missing this. Fill you in later. I’ll tell you what my plan was going to be though, hang on::

“It’s not complicated,” Landry growled. “Put Rush under military arrest if you have to. He’s one civilian. On his own. Working in a coffee shop.”

“That,” Sheppard said bluntly, “is a bad plan.”

Landry raised is eyebrows at Sheppard, seeming to gather himself. He took a deep breath. But before he could address the man’s semi-insubordinate comment, Mitchell broke in.

“Okay,” Mitchell said, sliding right in beneath Landry’s threatening tirade. “Say for argument’s sake we do that—tackle him in the middle of Boston and drag him away in handcuffs. What’s the plan afterwards? We going to keep him under military arrest? Because Carolyn says we can’t use any kind of tech on him when he’s wearing cortical suppressants.”

Young’s phone buzzed again.

“Carolyn?” Landry repeated mildly, looking at Mitchell, eyebrows raised.

::Listen to Vala. That was going to be my suggestion. She and Rush are “terrestrial BFFs.” They have a lot in common and she probably knows him better than anyone in that room, other than you. And? She was in his shoes only days ago::

::I got you, Jackson:: Young texted back. ::Get some rest::

Mitchell cleared his throat. “Dr. Lam, I mean. I meant. I meant to say Dr. Lam. Sir.”

“You corner that man and he’s going to fight,” Sheppard said. “Tooth and nail. Trust me on this.”

“He can fight?” McKay asked.

“He can handle himself,” Sheppard said. “He won’t be easy to take down.”

“No one’s taking anyone ‘down’,” Carter said.

“What I’m saying is, if you go in with this half-assed plan? You’re gonna have to,” Sheppard said sharply, looking at Carter.

Young cleared his throat.

“The last thing Dr. Jackson did before he collapsed was to get Nicholas Rush classified as a Planetary Asset,” Landry growled. “And if we need to ‘take him down’ to bring him in? We will.”

Young got to his feet.

The room got quiet. 

“I think,” he said mildly, supporting his weight subtly on the edge of the conference table, “that we should hear the take of the one person who’s been in his shoes.”

He turned to Vala. She looked up at him inquisitively, then scanned the room, as though she weren’t sure who he might be referring to. Young gave her a significant look, a short nod, and then he sat down.

“Oh,” Vala said, eyes wide, expression uncertain. “You mean—” she trailed off, pointing at herself, cocking her head.

“Yup,” Young said quietly.

The room stayed quiet. Vala straightened in her seat, brought her hair forward over one shoulder, then just as quickly brushed it back. She placed both hands flat on the table and cleared her throat.

“Well,” she said, pouring herself into her poise. “Thank you, Colonel Young. And, actually, yes. I do have some thoughts. First of all, I think it highly unlikely that our Planetary Asset shows for the arranged meeting at Rational Grounds.”

“Why do you say that?” Landry asked.

“We know he had his wallet,” Vala replied, “because he contacted Atlantis.” She glanced at Sheppard and McKay. “So he knows who he is. Furthermore, he had my business card. He could have called me any time.”

“You have business cards?” Mitchell asked.

“Later,” Carter elbowed him.

“He had the means to contact the Air Force, but he didn’t,” Vala continued. “Which means he was concerned about the implications of his employment. He chose to contact Atlantis instead. Most likely because of the way Colonel Sheppard's drawing appeared. Handcrafted. Written in Ancient, which he must have found interesting. More intriguing than threatening. I’m guessing, depending on how desperate he is to understand his past, that he may make arrangements to observe what happens, but not actually show up. It’s what I’d do. In which case, I think it’s important we don’t go in with a show of force. We need to be watching Rational Grounds, but we also need to be watching the people watching Rational Grounds.”

Landry nodded at her, inviting her to continue.

“I think, if we set up a dialogue with him, and work on convincing him to come with us, without the use of threats or force, we’ll be successful. The pull to discover who you are when you have no memory of yourself is very strong. And even if we can’t guarantee we’ll be successful, we can at least extend the offer of genuine help.”

“What about the LA?” Young asked. “They’ll be looking for him too. Specifically? David Telford is almost certinaly looking for him. Any sustained SG presence in Boston is probably going to alert the Lucian Alliance that there’s something interesting going on.”

Vala nodded. “The more progress we can make toward earning his trust, the less traumatic the forcible extraction, should it come to that.”

Landry crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back in his chair.

“I like it,” Sheppard said.

“Ooh, and I like you, flyboy,” Vala whispered, winking at him.

Sheppard gave her a small smile.

McKay rolled his eyes.

“So we’d be talking about embedding ourselves locally, providing security until such a time that we can convince him to come with us?” Mitchell asked. “How long is that going to take?”

“Probably too long for SG-1 to be assigned for the duration,” Landry said. “But we can give you maybe two days. If you haven’t convinced him by then, our specialized LA counter-insurgency team can take over.”

“Specialized counter insurgency team?” Young echoed.

Landry looked at him, his lips quirking before smoothing out into a neutral expression. “Congratulations, Colonel. Your command now has a title, and consists of Ronald Greer, Vanessa James, and Ginn Keeler.” He smiled at the three of them, who were sitting at the far end of the table, looking stunned.

“Am I—cleared to go into the field?” Young asked.

“I think we need him,” Mitchell said. “I think we'd need him anyway, but if we don’t have Jackson, we definitely need him. He’s got more deep cover experience than any of us, and he has a way with Rush.”

“Fortunately, per Dr. Lam, staking out a Boston Coffee shop looking for a runaway math professor officially qualifies as light duty,” Landry said. “Just don’t get yourself in a damn firefight, please?”

Young nodded, trying to think positive thoughts in the direction of his bolted-together bones.

“With respect,” Carter said, “I’m in favor of Colonel Young joining us in the field. I think he’ll be a big asset, especially if we have to go without Daniel. But I think we’re setting the wrong expectations here with all this ‘math professor’ shorthand. Dr. Rush is highly capable. He’s evaded terrestrial surveillance and the LA for nine weeks. I’m concerned he’s being underestimated here.”

McKay leaned toward her. “It’s the glasses,” he whispered. “I told him he needed to lose the glasses if he wants anyone to take him seriously.”

Carter shot McKay a dubious look.

“I’m with Carter,” Sheppard said.

“Of course you are. We all are,” McKay replied. “Everyone with a brain is literally always with Carter.”

“Glasses or not,” Sheppard said, a grimness in his voice that Young had only ever heard a few times, “everyone in this room needs to respect his capabilities in the field.”

“You want to elaborate on that?” Mitchell asked.

“Yeah. He’s your classic Nightmare Bar Fight,” Sheppard said. “Mostly untrained, but not afraid to get hurt. At all. Can take a hit surprisingly well. Keeps coming even after taking a lot of damage. He’s the guy that’s smashing bottles on the edge of the bar or pulling your sidearm when you’re trying to restrain him. And that was before he had three hours of close quarters combat training with me. He got better over the course of those three hours. A lot better.”

Young raised his eyebrows, locking eyes with Mitchell.

“Rush,” Mitchell repeated. “The guy who developed heat exhaustion in his own apartment. That Rush.”

“Hey,” Sheppard said, voice dark and smooth. “I get that’s the party line around here. He told me as much. But I was in the field with this guy and—” Sheppard pressed two fingers down against the surface of the table, “in my professional opinion? We don’t want to end up getting physical with him. He’s not easy to handle. He doesn’t stop. The odds guns get pulled are high. The odds that a gun deters him are low. If he manages to pull a gun on a member of this team I think the odds that he also pulls the trigger are at least twenty percent. At least.”

“Okay,” Mitchell said. “Great. So we talk to him.”

“And if he won’t come,” Sheppard said, “we let him go. We let him go and we keep tabs on him.”

“If he even shows,” Vala added. 

Mitchell sighed. “This is going to be a long briefing, isn’t it?”

“Yup,” Carter said, crunching on a chocolate espresso bean she’d pulled from somewhere. “Real long.”

The following day, they beamed down without Jackson. It seemed like a bad omen.

The morning was cold. Young shivered in his blazer. 

The back alley where his little counter-insurgency team had been placed was deserted and confirmed free of cameras by a quick sweep from the Odyssey. Young’s two junior officers and one civilian consultant stood huddled together, near a dumpster, looking to him for orders.

And god damn, but out of fatigues they looked like kids. Especially Ginn. Who, maybe, was a kid.

Their phones all buzzed simultaneously. Young pulled his from his pocket to see Sheppard’s text on the group thread

::Nidus in place:: 

“Okay,” Young said, glancing up at his team. “James, you’re first. Plant yourself near the front entrance.”

She nodded, then turned to go, the outline of her flak jacket almost invisible under her blue sweatshirt. Her hair was pulled up into a ponytail that sat high on her head, and she had a backpack slung over one shoulder containing tear gas, flash grendades, a zat, zip ties, and two copies of Cosmo, leant to her by Vala. Her jeans concealed the small sidearm she wore in an ankle holster.

Greer gave her a bit of a lead, then followed. He was dressed in jeans, a sweater, and a blazer, with a sidearm in a concealed holster under one arm. He had a knife strapped to one ankle, and he carried a laptop case containing both a zat and an actual laptop.

Given Ginn’s minimal orientation and lack of familiarity with local customs, Young had wanted to keep her with him. This had made for a—well, a slightly uncomfortable cover story.

Young was dressed like an academic—jeans and a dress shirt with a blazer overtop, concealing a sidearm. Between the hair and the cane, he damn well looked the part, he supposed. Ginn was dressed like a high school student, her look complete with a lavender hoodie and a pale green backpack, loaded up with the same equipment James was packing. Someone had curled her hair.

“Who did the—” Young trailed off, motioning at his own head.

“Vanessa. She said it would make me look younger and less serious,” Ginn said solemnly.

Young gave her a half smile. “Happy birthday, kid,” he said.

“Thanks,” Ginn replied. “When does the burning cake happen?”

“Tonight,” Young said.

Ginn nodded. “If we survive.”

“Yeah,” Young said, smiling faintly. “Though, I’ll tell ya—I have high hopes for surviving this one.”

Ginn adjusted her backpack, tightening one of the straps, then looked up at him. “And yet—you seem concerned.”

“Mostly, I’m worried about our target.”

Ginn gave him a short nod. “I won’t let anything happen to him.”

“We,” Young said, smiling faintly. “You’re part of a real team, now, kiddo. We won’t let anything happen to him.”

“Will we be a team for a long time?” Ginn asked.

“Not sure,” Young said truthfully.

“I’d like to have a team that doesn’t change,” Ginn said wistfully.

“Not a lot of continuity where you came from?” Young asked.

“No,” Ginn said. “Friendships amongst low and mid-rank house members were discouraged.”

“I remember,” Young said quietly. “You’re gonna have a whole pile of friends before long.”

“So far I have two,” Ginn replied, shivering visibly in the cold morning air. Her sweatshirt looked pretty thin. “Camile Wray and Vanessa James." She lingered on the full name of each woman, as though she were savoring the words. "They both said yes when I asked them.”

“Good,” Young said. “I’m guessing you might collect a few more before the day is out.”

Ginn nodded, then stuck her hands into her pocket, rounded her shoulders, and resettled her backpack. 

“Ready?” Young asked.

She nodded, then dropped back to trail behind him as they left the alleyway and turned into the street. Young leaned more heavily on his cane than was strictly necessary. When he got to the door of the coffee shop he pulled it open and gave her an annoyed glare.

“Jane,” he said. “Come on. It’s cold outside.”

“Sorry Dad,” Ginn said sullenly, her hands in her pockets.

“You’d think,” Young growled, trying not to case Rational Grounds too obviously as they entered, “that you’d be able to keep up with a guy who needs a cane.”

Ginn rolled her eyes, then looked around the place with obvious interest, her gaze ranging over the walls, and then up to the menu, which she stared at. Young stayed ahead of her, skirting the table where Sheppard and McKay were sitting. They were occupying a four person table, both of them with laptops out, sitting diagonally from one another.

In front of Sheppard, near the edge of the table, was the book Rush had stipulated that he display. Physical Chemistry: A Molecular Approach. The thing was NOT subtle. It was bright red and must have weighed upwards of ten pounds.

Young glanced over the menu, walked up to the woman working the register, and ordered a Kafkaesque Cappuccino. He glanced over at Ginn, who was inspecting the pastry case with a furrowed brow.

“What do you want, kiddo?” he asked.

“One of these,” Ginn said, pointing to an elaborate looking pastry in the case that didn’t seem to have a name.

“And uh, one of those,” Young said, then fixed the woman working the register with a small smile. “Please.”

“Also a tea,” Ginn added imperiously. “The Grey Lady Tea.”

“And a Grey Lady Tea,” Young said. He glanced over his shoulder at Ginn and said, as casually as possible. “Pick a table.”

Ginn scanned the room and chose a spot near the register, directly adjacent to Sheppard and McKay’s table. It put her across the room from James and a few tables deep into the room from the spot Greer had selected. 

Not a bad choice, Young decided, watching her set her backpack down then dart up to the counter to retrieve her pastry and tea before Young had even finished paying for the things.

The kid was damn sharp. More likely, his whole team was damn sharp. Ginn was quick, but he knew that Wray and James had spent the previous night prepping her for her bored teenager role. They’d done a good job.

Much as it pained him, he gave Ginn the seat with the best view of the room. He took the one opposite her, which had a good view of the register, the back hallways to the restrooms, and not much else. 

Ginn unzipped her backpack and pulled out a copy of that day’s Boston Globe. She slid it over to him, then pulled out a textbook entitled: We the People, dumped it on the table, and opened it unceremoniously. “Did Camile lend you that?” Young asked mildly, taking a sip of his Cappuccino.

“Yup,” Ginn said, not looking at him, letting her hair fall forward.

Young sighed, oriented the newspaper toward him, and pulled out his phone.

::Inner Circle in place:: he texted. ::Report::

James: No sign of the target.

James: Kid by the counter is watching Sheppard and doing a bad job hiding it. Gray sweatshirt.

Greer: Agree with James. Sweatshirt Kid has been eyeing Shep since the book came out.

Sheppard: Any sign of the LA?

James: No.

Greer: No.

Ginn: I need to watch longer.

Sheppard: SG-1 where you at?

Mitchell: Outer Circle in place. Sam and I are across the street at Ground State, watching the front door. Vala and Teal’c have the back entrance.

Young: Any sign of Rush at Ground State?

Carter: Nope. Ground State is a science/math themed place. He won’t show here.

Mitchell: Wait, why?

Carter: He’d get recognized in two seconds.

Greer: Gray Sweatshirt Kid is texting. Lots.

James: Gray Sweatshirt Kid may be recording from his laptop.

James: Gray Sweatshirt Kid also has a suspiciously bulky pen he hasn’t touched.

Carter: Greer can you activate the network analyzer program? Maybe I can see what he’s texting.

Young shifted his chair to get a look at Gray Sweatshirt Kid. He might be older than Ginn, but not by much. He had on a red T-shirt with white block lettering reading YOU ARE HERE layered underneath his hoodie. A thin sheen of sweat covered his brow. He was, indeed, texting furiously. He was also doing a terrible job not looking at Sheppard.

Young glanced back at his paper, holding a neutral expression.

He took a sip of his Kafkaesque Cappuccino, which was distractingly good. And, damn it, maybe had a shot of Kahlua in it?

Carter: Interesting. I can’t see what he’s texting, only the frequency

Carter: His data is heavily encrypted.

Mitchell: That ups the odds that Rush is involved, yes?

McKay: I’d say so.

Carter: Maybe. I mean, he’s an academic. Not sure how practical his over-the-air crypto would be.

Sheppard: Very.

McKay: Very. I helped the guy hack a DHD so hard it literally exploded.

Young: Don’t focus too much on Gray Sweatshirt Kid (GSK) until we know he’s involved.

Ginn: I have concerns.

Ginn: Two people on north wall watching GSK.

Young subtly angled his phone to get a view of the north wall in its reflective surface. Two people, dressed like grad students, sat with their backs to the wall, sipping drinks and looking out at the room, not speaking to one another. They both had open postures, angled toward the kid in the sweatshirt.

Sheppard: Rodney and I are gonna try to get the kid over here.

McKay: We are?

Young consciously tried to relax his grip on the paper he was holding. He turned a page, then idly glanced up at the ceiling of Rational Grounds. Then he did a double take, his heart rate picking up. Running in a narrow band, around the ceiling of the room, was a ribbon of chalkboard. In block capitals, he read as much of the chalked-up quote as he could see without turning his head. 


And yeah. No question about it. That was Rush’s handwriting. The guy had been here.

Across from him, Ginn also scanned the ceiling, overdoing the bored teenager look a little bit.

“You reading that, kiddo?” Young asked her, glancing pointedly at her book.

“Yeah,” she replied, rolling her eyes and looking back down at the page in front of her.

From a few feet away, he heard Sheppard clear his throat. “Rodney,” he said, his voice at a normal volume, sounding distracted, but pitched subtly to carry. “Remind me of the crystal structure we coded in for the for DSDs?”

“Ah,” McKay replied, only slightly less practiced than Sheppard. “Nested. We nested it, remember? It’s a double layer. Obvious paneling on top, but if you demonstrate some quantum competence it opens to the Promethean Array.”

“And no one’s cracked the Revealed Array, right?” This time Sheppard’s voice was quieter.

“No one’s cracked the Revealed Array,” McKay repeated, just as quietly.

“Hmm,” Sheppard said. “A little surprising.”

“Well, maybe if you hadn’t made it so hard,” McKay said sourly. 

Young raised his eyebrows, staring at his newspaper. McKay had an unexpected aptitude for improv.

Greer: GSK showing strong interest; surprised he can hear you guys

James: Pretty sure GSK has a tech setup

James: My guess is that pen is a mic; linked to his laptop. He’s wearing earbuds.

Carter: Um, strong possibility that GSK is also looking in on OUR encrypted network traffic

Carter: When I packet analyzed him I got packet analyzed back

Ginn: Pair on north wall also now watching Sheppard and McKay

Ginn: Recommend not speaking target’s name aloud

Young: I second that

Sheppard: Noted

“It has to be hard,” Sheppard said, dropping his voice further. “Otherwise there would be too many candidates.”

“Well congratulations, John. You’ve managed to narrow the field to nothing. And lose our cypher guy.”

“I did not lose our cypher guy. He was taken.”

Young felt a gentle pressure on the toes of his boot. It was Ginn. She glanced at his phone. He picked it up.

Ginn: Strongly suspect pair on north wall are LA

Carter: Not picking up any unusual EM signals

Young: McShep stop talking

Sheppard: They were here when we got here

Sheppard: So was the kid

Mitchell: If they’re LA, SG-1 can tail them

Sheppard: I say we just take the kid. Now. He knows Rush. I’m sure of it.

Mitchell: We get too rough with the kid and we lose our line to Rush

Carter: Agree with Cam. The kid is here to make sure McShep aren’t threatening

Young: Shep, why are you sure the kid knows Rush?

Sheppard: I think I dreamed him

Mitchell: Yeah. Sure. Sounds right

Young subtly glanced up at the kid in the gray sweatshirt. He’d started packing up. His headphones were out of his ears, his laptop was closed, and his pen was back in his bag. Young fixed his eyes on the lateral edge of the newspaper he was holding, and softened his gaze, focusing on the kid without focusing on him, letting his peripheral vision take in Sheppard, who was looking absently at the back entrance to the coffee shop, McKay, typing on his laptop, and the kid, settling his backpack into place and squaring his shoulders.

Greer: SG-1 look alive

Greer: GSK on the move, not sure where yet

Greer: He’s going for Sheppard.

“Um, hi,” GSK said, from a few feet away. Young didn’t look up. He kept his gaze soft, his attention focused on his peripheral vision.

“Hi,” Sheppard replied, and from the tone of his voice, Young could tell he was smiling.

“Nice book,” the kid said.

“Thanks,” Sheppard replied. “It’s one of my favorites.”

“There’s a coffee shop across the street,” GSK said, losing his momentum. Then he cleared his throat. “It’s, uh, for the math types. Ground State. Y’know. Like for—”

“Electrons,” Sheppard said.

“Electrons,” the kid finished.

There was an awkward silence, during which Young tried very hard not to move. At all.

“We’re meeting someone here,” Sheppard said.

“And this guy, or, person. This person you’re meeting. Are they a math person?”

“Yeah,” Sheppard said, very gently. “He’s a math guy.”

“Well, um, pro tip. No math guy worth his salt is going to ask for a meeting at Cambridge’s most literary coffee shop.”

“Hmm,” Sheppard said. “Sounds right. You wanna sit?”

“Thanks, but no. I’ve gotta go, but, um, one question before I do.”

“Sure,” Sheppard said.

“Are you from Canada?”

“I’m from California,” Sheppard said. “But my friend Rodney here is from Canada.”

“From sea to sea,” McKay said.

“From sea to sea?” the kid echoed

“Canada’s motto,” McKay said. “A mari usque ad mare. Hi.”

“Hi,” the kid replied. “Nice Latin. You just whipped that right out.”

Young glanced over at Ginn, to find her head bent studiously over her book, her hair falling to obscure her eyes. He shifted in his chair, trying to subtly improve his angle without looking like that was what he was doing.

“You sure you don’t wanna sit?” Sheppard asked.

“My mom taught me never to take Latin from strangers,” GSK said.

Sheppard laughed, once, short and delighted. “I wish my mom had told me that. Might have saved me a lot of trouble. Would you do me a favor, kid?”

“Maybe,” GSK said warily. “Depends what it is.”

“Smart,” McKay said dryly. “This one’s smart. You go to school around here?”

“MIT,” GSK said.

“Ah, very nice,” Sheppard said. “Now look. I just met you. And this is crazy. But here’s the favor. This book is heavy. So take it with you maybe? I’m tired of carrying it around. Hand it off to the first guy you see who looks like he knows his way around a wave function?”

“Um, sure,” GSK said.

“Hang on,” Sheppard said, and pulled out a pen. He scrawled a quick message on the inside cover of the book.

Immediately, the kid flipped it open to read it.

Young was distracted by a pressure on the top of his foot. He looked across the table to find Ginn giving him a worried expression. She glanced at his phone.

James: Couple on the north wall just got up and left.

Ginn: Still strongly suspect they’re LA

Ginn: I want to follow

Ginn: Suspect they’re here for GSK

Young stared her dead in the eyes and shook his head.

She gave him an imploring look.

He shook his head again.

She looked over at GSK, who was taking a photo of whatever Sheppard had written in the book. “I’m gonna use this too,” the kid said. “I hope you know that.”

“You’re the one running out of here,” Sheppard said mildly. “Take a seat. Stay a while.”

“I work for a real tyrant,” GSK said. “Last question. For real this time. You’ve got some technoswag on your head, man.”

“Technoswag,” Sheppard repeated, amused. “I’m stealing that.”

“What’s it for?” GSK asked.

“It’s for a very rare medical condition,” Sheppard replied.

“What medical condition?”

“Why are you asking?” Sheppard asked.

“Does your medical condition have to do with—with memory?” the kid asked.

Young had to work hard to hold his expression, to keep his gaze trained on the paper.

“No,” Sheppard said, kindness in his voice, and damn if the man wasn’t doing a great job at nonverbally communicating that he knew exactly where the kid was going with this.

“So you like—know who you are and stuff.” 

“Yup,” Sheppard said, his tone quiet and friendly. “The technoswag doesn’t affect memory. It prevents—something else. As long as I wear it, I’m perfectly fine. It’s important for me not to take it off. You get me?”

“I get you. I really really get you. But, just to be clear, you, like, know who you are and what you’re doing and your whole past and stuff, right?”

“My name is John Sheppard. I grew up in California. I was a math major. What’s your name?”

“Ummmm, Dave. Yup. My name is Dave. Okay, well, uh, nice to meet you John, gotta go.”

“Bye Dave,” Sheppard replied.

Greer: Kid’s heading for the back

Young: Vala, Teal’c?

Vala: We’re on it, handsome

Mitchell: Don’t get too close. Don’t spook the kid.

Ginn: Get close. I am concerned about the couple on the north wall.

Mitchell: That’s a negative. Hang back and tail the kid.

Again, Young felt Ginn press down on his foot. Again she gave him an imploring look. Again, Young shook his head. She grimaced subtly, her eyes tracking the kid as he walked out. She flipped a page in her book. 

Sheppard: We staying to see if Rush shows?

Vala: I’m telling you he won’t.

Mitchell: Yes, hold position.

Ginn was breathing rapidly, her eyes twitching from her phone to her book and back to her phone. Her fingers had closed around the edge of the table. Her expression was still reading bored teenager, but it was cracking.

“Jane,” Young said quietly. 

She looked up, meeting his eyes. “Later,” Ginn whispered, expression solemn and determined, “we will have a Word Fight about this.” 

And then?

She exploded out of her seat, tearing toward the back exit of Rational Grounds.

“Damn it,” Young growled, standing so fast his cane caught on his chair and set it crashing to the ground behind him. Greer and James were up as well. “Go,” Young shouted, motioning after Ginn. “Stay with her.” Even as he spoke they were already threading through tables, sprinting toward the back hall, Sheppard close on their heels.

They cleared the door.

There was total silence in the coffee shop. Everyone had their eyes trained on Young and McKay, who were standing at adjacent tables.

Young locked eyes with McKay, and the scientist sighed. 

“Ugh. Fine. You go. I’ll deal with this.” McKay turned to the silent coffee shop, addressing the stunned clientele as he packed up his laptop. “Okay people.” He smiled. “Hi. So, you’ve just witnessed the end of a piece of performance art called, uh, Caffeine Exodus. Sponsored by MIT’s School of Drama. Those of who are paid ticket-holders have received email instructions on where to go for the post-performance Q&A. If you’re not a ticket holder, apologies for interrupting your morning. If you’re interested in our work, do your best to search for us online.”

Young made his way toward the back exit, leaning on his cane, deliberately deciding not to run. He couldn’t afford to injure himself again now. He pulled out his phone, hitting Mitchell’s number. “Cover’s blown,” he said, as soon as the other man picked up. “Ginn hared off after the LA.”

“No,” Mitchell said dryly, sounding like he was running. “Really? The Lucian Alliance operative with exactly two days of orientation didn’t respect the chain of command? You’re kidding me.”

“Where are you?”

“Vala’s on the phone with Sam. Long story short, Ginn was right. The LA couple tried to jump the kid, two cross streets down. We got this. Well, we’re getting this. Don’t break your back.”

With that, Mitchell hung up.

Young exited the back of Rational Grounds and looked down the long narrow alleyway. Several cross-streets up, he could see one LA operative on the ground, being zip-tied by James. The other operative was another block down, tussling with the kid in in the gray sweatshirt. Ginn was in the mix, hauling the man back, kicking his weapon out of his hand, kicking him in the face, knocking him off the kid, dragging him back, only to take an elbow to the solar plexus. 

Greer, Vala, Sheppard, and Teal’c were coming up on them fast. Young crossed the alley, trying to get a better view. 

The LA operative, seeing which way the wind was blowing, managed to get up and start sprinting away from the main group.

Young started forward, keeping to the brick wall across from the back entrance of Rational Grounds. eyes watchful, his free hand ready to go for his sidearm. 

The kid in the sweatshirt yelled something at Ginn, pointing at the fleeing LA member. Ginn yelled something back at the kid. The kid yelled something again, pointed again, and then Ginn was off like a shot, sprinting after the LA operative for all she was worth, that curled hair flying.

Damn she was fast. Fast enough to catch the guy. Fast enough to leave SG-1 and Sheppard in the dust.

“Kid,” Young growled, under his breath.

She’d almost reached her target when he vanished in a glare of blue light. She dived at the last second, like an idiot, but fortunately, the beam was already dissipating and she crashed to the asphalt, skidding and rolling before coming to a stop.

“Jesus,” Young whispered to himself, still moving forward, sick with adrenaline he couldn’t use.

He passed James, who had her weapon out and trained on the restrained LA operative. “Good work, lieutenant,” he told her. “Get this one up to the Odyssey, quick as you can.”

“Yes sir,” she replied, shifting her sidearm to one hand and pulling out her phone.

Vala had put on an extra burst of speed at the end, and was the first to reach Ginn, helping her up, her hands running over the girl’s arms, tipping her chin to take in the road rash along the angle of her jaw. She looked okay.

Teal’c and Greer were flanking Sheppard, who’d stopped once he’d reached the kid in the gray sweatshirt. Young watched him exchange a few words, then help the kid off the ground, brushing him off, probably low-key checking for injuries.

As Young approached the little group, the kid’s voice, full of anxiety, carried well. “He got my phone. He got my phone. Whoever that guy was? He got. My phone.”

“Take it easy,” Sheppard said, his voice grim. “I get you.”

“Do you? Do you know who’s on the other end of that phone?” The kid shouted.

“Yeah,” Sheppard replied. “We do. Keep it down.”

“Like, obviously, well, I mean I hope ‘obviously,’ you guys are the good guys. Right? Are you good? Tell me you’re good. Say something good.”

“Uh,” Sheppard said, looking at Greer for inspiration.

Greer shrugged.

“Right. Okay. Good enough. That’s definitely what the good guys would say.” The kid paused, his gaze shifting, his eyes landing on Ginn with obvious admiration. “Anyway.” He looked back at Sheppard. “They have my phone. Which means all kinds of terrible terrible things for our mutual friend.”

“Nick,” Sheppard said. “To be clear.”

“Nick Rush. Yes. America’s least favorite cryptographer. That’s the one.”

Young walked up, joining their small group.

“Everett,” Sheppard said. “Hey. This is Eli Wallace. He’s Nick’s intern.”

“His ‘intern’?” Young repeated, eyeing the kid skeptically.

“Yes. That’s my official title. Well, he didn’t say no when I gave it to myself. Which, from him, is as good as a yes, as I’m sure you know. But you guys. The Air Force has my phone now.”

“The Air Force?” Young repeated.

“Yes! The evil, giant, military-industrial complex that somehow stripped your math bestie of his memories and has been low-key tracking him through Boston for weeks now! The organization that tried to silence the guy who has ruined or is ruining most global cryptosystems! Those creepers! The ones that just jumped me in an alley like we’re living a nineties movie! You guys. That’s. The Air Force. The Air Force is going to get him. We have to stop this, somehow.”

“Um, hate to break it to you, kid,” Sheppard said. “But, actually, we’re the Air Force, a little bit.”

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