Mathématique: Chapter 64

“The ring should be taken to Mordor,” Teal’c said, solemnly. 

Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds.

Additional notes: Sorry about the slower updates, kids. Turns out someone needs to rewatch all of Stargate Atlantis to write the upcoming arc.

Chapter 64

“You okay?” Sheppard asked, as the door to the observation deck swished shut behind them. “You’re hiding it pretty well, but—you look a little rattled.”

Young swallowed, stopping in the hallway, leaning against his cane, not quite ready to head to the briefing. He felt compelled to stay within Rush’s vicinity. “I am rattled,” he confessed, looking at Shep. “More than a little. I—didn’t do a great job down there in that alley.”

“Well, he’s here, isn’t he?” Sheppard asked gently.

“Yeah.” The word was weighed down with all the galactic-scale problems trying to crush the height out of Young’s spine. “More credit goes to him than me on that one. I managed to pull myself together once I actually got him on the ship—but god damn is he tough to take like this.”

“Yeah,” Sheppard said quietly, “he’s a little different without his memories.”

“A little?” The words burst out before Young could stop them, raw and challenging.

Sheppard nodded. “You’re not the only one having a tough time. He’s spinning McKay out. Hard. Gonna have to do some damage control there, later.” He glanced over his shoulder at the closed door behind them.

“Not you, though.” Young studied Sheppard, his eyebrows raised, realizing the truth of his words as he said them. “He’s not spinning you out. I don’t understand. He’s so different.”

“You know him better,” Sheppard said, contemplative and exhausted under the harsh fluorescent lighting. “But—ah. Everett. He and I—we died. On Altera. Like, a bunch of times. It was horrible. It was really really long. And, as that whole experience went on—I don’t know.” Sheppard broke off, staring at one of the corridor walls without seeing it. “I coached him through a fight to the death against his own conception of himself. A lotta walls came down. On both our parts. They had to. That guy in there—” Sheppard gestured casually over one shoulder with his thumb. “He doesn’t seem like a stranger to me. He just doesn’t.”

“I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse.” Young’s voice was raw.

“I hear that,” Sheppard said.

“And I feel like I need to be about six places at once,” Young confessed, thinking of the briefing, of Rush, of Ginn, of Greer and James, of Mitchell, of Jackson.

“Sounds right.”

They looked at one another in the too-bright light of the corridor.

“How much do you trust McKay?” Young asked.

“With my life,” Sheppard replied, his expression serious. “With other people’s lives. With the universe. With everything.”

“Wow,” Young said, mildly. “Okay then.”

“Oh come on.” Sheppard rolled his eyes. “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Life, the universe and everything?”


“I forgot Cheyenne Mountain isn’t full of nerds.”

“You been there lately?” Young asked dryly.

“Okay, but not real nerds though,” Sheppard whispered, patting Young on the shoulder with mock sympathy.

Young didn’t say anything. Sheppard’s expression turned serious. 

“Someone went down,” Young said. “Heard it happen over the open channel, but couldn’t tell who.”

“It was Vala.” The words were matter-of-fact, landing like the most straight-forward, compassionate punch Shep could throw.

“Damn it,” Young hissed, looking down the long stretch of empty corridor, trying not to think of Vala, of everything she’d just made it through, trying not to think of Jackson, because, god, this was the last thing the guy needed. How much could one person take? And why did it have to keep coming? “Tell me she’s alive.”

“She’s alive,” Sheppard said, short and sharp, waiting for Young’s next question.

“How bad?”

“Bad,” Shep admitted, with a grimace that reopened his split lip. “She took a round to the thigh, but Cam called it in immediately and they got her straight to surgery. The round knicked her artery, but Van Densen and a full trauma team were standing by, and they pulled Brightman in to assist. She’s got a good chance.”

Young nodded, then motioned at Sheppard’s lip. “That thing’s never gonna heal.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Sheppard muttered, pressing the sleeve of his dress shirt to his face. 

“Anyone tell Jackson yet?” Young could hear the dread in his own voice.

Sheppard pulled his sleeve away from his mouth, studying the small spot of blood on the cuff of his white dress shirt. “Not that I know of. Jackson’s not in great shape. Lam has him in isolation. I think Cam wants to see which way Vala’s situation turns before they either, uh, tell him or break it to him.”

“Not sure Teal’c and Carter are gonna go for that,” Young said.

“We’ll see. C’mon. We should start walking.”

“I hate leaving him here,” Young said, starting forward in the direction of the main conference room, a level below the bridge. “I really hate it.”

“I know. But I was serious about McKay,” Sheppard said, quietly. “He’s capable. He’s brilliant. And he’s carrying an ungodly array of signal-scrambling tech.”

Young nodded. 

“So, before Rush was abducted—what was going on with him?”

“Um,” Young said, “a whole lot of shit, Shep. You’re gonna have to be more specific.”

“He was unlocking the nine-chevron address, right? And he’s almost there? That’s the cliffs notes version of why the LA wants the guy?”

“Pretty much.” 

“But what is this nine-chevron addressed supposed to do? Where is it supposed to go? Do you know? And does the SGC consider this a front-burner problem or a back-burner problem?”

“Why?” Young asked, unable to keep the dread out of his tone.

An amnestic, personable Nick Rush with two fingers on the pulse of the quantum multiverse was gonna hit Stargate Command like a cosmic dare. Young could practically hear Harriman penciling Unnamed Committee #4 into Landry’s schedule right now.

“Your face looks like you know something about it,” Shep said dryly. “Which is good, because this classified briefing we’re about to step into, believe it or not, is about whether we immediately turn Rush loose on cypher nine.”

“No,” Young said, stopping in the middle of a deserted corridor, pulling Shep to a stop as well. “No. Working on that thing got him in so deep so fast that the post-Altera effects of whatever you guys went through were bad enough to almost kill him. No way. And there are other problems. Worse problems—” Young stopped himself. 

“Worse problems?” Sheppard echoed.

“Yeah.” Young rubbed his jaw. “A lot worse.”

“At one point, Jackson wanted him on Atlantis,” Sheppard said quietly. “Wrote me to ask me to request him. Back in May.”

Did you request him?” Young asked.

“Yeah. Of course. I love combinatorics and he’s a cryptographer. Atlantis has all kinds of locked doors. Thought the guy might come in handy.”

“What happened?”

“Telford denied the request.”

“Telford isn’t here anymore.” Young shot Shep a meaningful look.

“You think I should try again? The case is stronger now. Mostly because both Rush and I have an almost identical Ancient tech-induced problem.” He tapped the cortical suppressant at his temple with two fingers.

“It might work,” Young said. “It might not. But I think it’s worth a try. I think we gotta get him out of Cheyenne Mountain. I doubt he’s going to do well with the low-key house arrest that the SGC was forcing on him. Plus, there are ethical problems with dialing the nine-chevron address, and I’d like him as far away from those as possible.”

“Ethical problems?” Sheppard asked. “What kind of ethical problems?”

“I can’t say—but I think I can make the case that without ethics committee oversight, Rush shouldn’t be asked to work on the cypher set. I can probably threaten to drag the IOA into things. Especially given that he has no personal memory and can’t effectively advocate for himself.”

“When’d you get so political?” Sheppard asked. 

“Right around the time Daniel Jackson helped me move into my apartment,” Young said dryly. “But there’s a good reason to send him to Atlantis. Especially given that before he can be asked to do anything else, we really should make a good-faith effort to get the cortical suppressants off his head so that we can give the guy his memories back.”

“So I’m gonna request him?” Sheppard asked, his voice dropping. “Human civilization isn’t going to fall to the Ori if I do? Because that was the earful I got from Telford in May. He actually called via the Gate Bridge to tell me I was endangering the Milky Way by listening to Jackson.”

“If an eleventh-hour save needs to happen,” Young said, “I am worried that my neighbor’s on the short list of people that might be asked to pull it off. But I’m hoping we’ve got more time before midnight than that.”

“Me too,” Sheppard said, as they reached the closed door to the briefing room.

They paused, looking at one another. Neither of them hit the door controls.

“Anything else I should know?” Sheppard asked quietly, looking Young in the eyes.

“Only about a thousand things,” Young said, his voice, for some reason, hoarse.

“Pegasus is full of wraith.” The words were neutral, just a statement of fact, but there was a pain behind John Sheppard’s eyes that made them hit like a confession. As though he, somehow, was personally responsible for the state of the Pegasus Galaxy. Maybe he thought he was. Hell, maybe he actually was. 

But then, Young had more than a little bit of a soft spot for people who opened doors they should’ve left shut.

“We’ve all got problems,” he said.

Sheppard smiled ruefully. “Is your counter-insurgency team really dedicated to counter-insurgency?” he asked, refocusing. “Or is it a fancy name for the Nick Rush Security Detail?”

“Pretty sure it’s the latter.” Young gave him a wry tilt of the head. “At least so far.”

“You guys want to come along?”

“To Atlantis?” Young lifted his eyebrows. “I don’t think I’m cleared for anything but light duty.”

“Lots of desks on Atlantis.” Sheppard smiled faintly. “Just sayin’.” He reached out and hit the door controls.

They were the last to arrive. Mitchell, Carter, Teal’c, and Landry were all seated at the table. SG-1 looked as roughed-up as Sheppard did. Carter had a zat-blast burn along her neck, only partially hidden by her royal blue collar. She must have taken a hit at close range. Mitchell had a black eye. Teal’c’s suit was torn, and a bandage was wrapped around his left bicep, a lacy, irregular bloodstain appearing where he’d bled through gauze.

“Well?” Landry asked, looking straight at Sheppard.

“We got him,” Shep said, clapping Young on the shoulder, as soon as they entered the room. “Took Everett—” Shep glanced at his phone, “ninety minutes to talk the guy down. But we achieved our primary and secondary mission directives, meaning he’s here, and by his own choice.”

“Thank god,” Carter said, leaning both elbows against the table.

Teal’c nodded.

“Excellent work, colonel.” Landry gave Young a small, sharp nod.

“Ninety minutes?” Mitchell eyed Young. “What’d you have to do, buy him dinner?”

“More or less.” Young stepped forward, leaning heavily on his cane. “But yeah. He’s on board. McKay’s taking him to get checked out by Lam.”

“Well done,” Landry said. “All of you.”

Sheppard dropped exhaustedly into the empty chair next to Cam. Young lowered himself carefully into the adjacent seat, next to Teal’c. “Any updates on Jackson and Vala?” Young asked, catching Landry’s eye.

“Last I heard Vala was still in surgery,” Landry said. “Jackson—” there was a note of hesitation in his voice. 

Carter’s attention snapped to Landry so hard it was like the man had landed a fishhook in her cheek. Beside Young, Teal’c tensed.

“What about Jackson?” Mitchell asked, his voice stone-cold neutral.

“Dr. Lam has moved Dr. Jackson to one of the isolation suites. She’s now less certain that the virus he’s been infected with is of terrestrial origin.”

Young felt a sinking sensation in his chest. Sheppard glanced laterally at him, looking to Young’s face for cues and not liking whatever he saw there.

“Oh no,” Carter breathed.

“What!?” Mitchell was half out of his chair. “How is that possible? He’s been on world for weeks now. There shouldn’t—”

“He hasn’t been himself since Vagonbrei.” Carter’s voice was a whisper, but it cut through Mitchell’s volume like a knife. “So tired.”

“Vagonbrei?” Young demanded.

“Sam, that was months ago. We’ve all been tired.” Mitchell turned to Young. “Vagonbrei was a planet where we were looking for a weapon to defeat the Ori but instead we found a shitty plague that almost killed us all.”

“Oh I hear that,” Sheppard said quietly.

“Do we have any idea what kind of virus it is, if it’s not terrestrial?” Mitchell demanded, looking at Landry. “Has Dr. Lam run any kind of genetic analysis on it? That parsimony stuff that can determine evolutionary relationships? Is it Ori? Is it—something else?” Mitchell’s eyes flicked to Young and then back to Landry.

Landry raised his eyebrows at Mitchell, but all he said was, “She’s working on exactly that, colonel. She hopes to have results by tomorrow.”

Young propped his elbow against the arm of his chair, and let his forehead drop into his hand.

Jackson, he thought, his mind full of dread, what the hell did you do? We need you, god damn it.

But it was possible, very possible, that all along, it had been Jackson who had needed them. All of them. In ways he couldn’t speak. For things he couldn’t name. Young’s throat ached with it.

“Teal’c,” he whispered, beneath the ongoing commentary from Carter and Mitchell.

Teal’c looked over at him. In the Jaffa’s expression, Young saw the same agonized suspicion that he, himself felt. The other man nodded at him. One time. The movement slow. Young looked back at him, trying to put every question he had on his face.

“We will speak later,” Teal’c said quietly.

Young nodded.

“We’ll address Dr. Jackson’s situation as soon as additional data becomes available,” Landry said. “At the moment, we need to make some immediate decisions regarding the nine chevron address. Colonel Carter, would you mind giving the group a summary of the progress so far?”

Carter nodded shortly, her eyes red-rimmed. “Dr. Rush has personally cracked seven of the nine cyphers. The eighth he rendered for Dr. Perry, and she cracked it. The cyphers exist within the gate network, so, as he solved them, he turned them over to me. Sometimes individually, sometimes in small batches. I coded an algorithm that allowed his solutions to run through our dialing program. Using that algorithm, we can get individual chevrons to lock. There are still several obstacles to dialing. Problem one—he hasn’t solved the ninth. Neither has anyone else. Problem two—once we get all nine to individually lock, there’s the matter of figuring out in what sequence they should be queried. Based on the speed of my dialing program, we can brute force permutations over a matter of hours to weeks, depending on how lucky we get, but that brute-forcing will need to be done from a planet with an adequate power source, since the only way we’ll know we’ve hit on the right sequence is via the creation of a wormhole. Problem three—the crystal Rush brought back from Altera is likely some kind of second factor, and no one knows how that might be incorporated into the dialing sequence. And then, finally, problem four—powering wormhole creation is going to require a huge amount of energy, specifically it’s going to require dialing from a planet with massive naquadria deposits.”

“Question,” Sheppard said, leaning back in his chair. “About that crystal—why do you think it’s a second factor?”

“Mostly because Rush thought it was a second factor,” Carter said, lifting her eyebrows at Sheppard. “Or—he thinks it’s a second factor. Er, he would think it was a second factor if he had his personal memories. I think.”

“Huh,” Sheppard said. “Okay.”

“You sound skeptical.” Carter looked at him invitingly.

“Welllllllll,” Sheppard said, “it makes sense to me that he’d think that. It’s very cryptographer-y of him. They love that stuff. And he might not be wrong.”

“But you think he’s wrong?” Carter said, her mouth quirking in a hint of a smile.

“I didn’t say that.” Sheppard replied, still playing it close to the chest.

“It was implied,” Carter said, her tone inviting.

“You think Rush is wrong about a math thing?” Young asked, looking over at Sheppard. “Really?”

“Spit it out, colonel,” Landry growled at Sheppard.

Sheppard shot Landry an unimpressed look, then focused on Carter. “If that thing is a second factor, and it’s necessary for dialing, then, functionally, the Ancients created a race to the finish. First person to get to Altera gets the chance to dial. Seems both risky—as anyone who can unlock the full potential of a DHD may or may not be capable of unlocking the rest of the cyphers—and restrictive, meaning that everyone, everywhere, for all time gets one shot at whatever’s beyond chevron nine? I don’t buy it. I bet you can dial without it. But I also bet it’s for something related to the address. It looks like a Lantean control crystal. A fancy one.”

“Meant to operate what, do you think?” Carter asked.

“No idea.” Sheppard shrugged. “Call it a hunch—but I’d be very surprised if you needed it to dial.”

“Well, that’s bad news,” Mitchell said. “Because it sounds like the LA are gaining some ground when it comes to decoding chevrons.”

Landry nodded at Mitchell, motioning for him to continue. 

“We captured two of their operatives tonight,” Mitchell said. “We haven’t gotten much out of them yet, but we do know that Telford’s heavily involved in unlocking the nine-chevron address on the LA side. Even their rank-and-file are aware that unlocking the cypher set is the goal.”

“All houses?” Young asked grimly. “Or just Sixth?”

“Sixth, Fourth, and Second,” Mitchell said, looking at Young. “At least. And there’s more. It seemed to be common knowledge that half the chevrons have been decoded.”

“What?” Carter snapped. “Half? How is that possible? The scientific capabilities of the LA—”

“Dale. Volker.” Mitchell’s expression was closed. “The guy they abducted during the summer foothold.”

Carter shook her head, her brow furrowed. “I just—look. No offense to Dale Volker—incredibly nice guy; very competent astrophysicist—but cryptography isn’t his area. I don’t see how he could possibly have made that much progress. On his own. No textbooks. No internet. I wasn’t even aware that the LA were capable of computationally interfacing with the gate network in a way that would allow them to query the cyphers. They’re hosted on crystalline arrays. In that situation—with those resources, I doubt even Nick Rush would be able to do it.”

Young, remembering his neighbor climbing down a New York City fire escape with John Sheppard’s sidearm in his belt and the wind in his hair, wasn’t so sure about that.

“Nick Rush dialed Atlantis from a Boston Public Library,” Sheppard said, smirking.

“Right,” Carter said, glaring pointedly at him. “Because someone drew him a diagram of how to do it.”

Sheppard grinned, raising both hands. “Yeah. That—that was my bad.”

“Volker has the gene,” Young pointed out. “At least one of them. That’s why the LA took him in the first place.”

“The gene doesn’t make you a closet cryptography genius,” Carter said, the words slowing as she looked at Sheppard, her brow furrowed slightly, as though she were reassessing her opinion on the fly.

“No,” Young agreed. He looked Landry dead in the eyes. “The gene alone probably wouldn’t do that.”

Landry sighed, looking down at his hands.

The room was silent.

Young thought of Jackson, behind glass, sick as hell with something no one could identify.

“What?” Carter asked, looking between Landry and Young. “What is it?”

“There’s a device,” Landry said, looking up at Carter. “Built by Anubis, that allows someone with Lantean genes to get a boost on the road to ascension. It may confer other abilities as well.”

Young looked at Landry, his surprise at the general's open admission written on his face. 

Landry pursed his lips, and met Young’s eyes with a rueful expression. “Telford’s almost certainly disseminated this information widely within the LA. It’s not clear to me what the utility is of keeping it off the record now.”

“A boost?” Carter asked, refocusing the room. “What does that mean? A ‘boost’.”

“We don’t know,” Landry said. “Not really. But, supposedly, only via this device can one truly unlock whatever lies beyond the nine-chevron address. Certain physiological benchmarks need to be met. This device can help someone who carries a Lantean gene meet those benchmarks.”

“Oh yeah? According to whom?” Sheppard asked.

“Colonel?” Landry shot Sheppard a sharp look. 

“According. To whom?” Sheppard’s tone was dark. “Who said this? Where did this information come from?”

“Anubis,” Landry replied.

Sheppard’s expression was incredulous. “You’re taking the word of a Goa’uld regarding Ancient tech? Because, with all due respect, that seems really stupid.”

“That’s what Jackson thought,” Young said mildly, before Landry could come down too hard on Sheppard. “And  he’s probably not wrong. The point is—a device exists. It may give someone a leg up on the road to ascension. The Lucian Alliance knows about it. And there’s a good chance they used it on Dale Volker. Hard to say what the effects of such a device might be. But, maybe, he’s got a real shot at unlocking the gate now. Even so, not sure he’s going to take that shot.”

“Meaning what?” Landry growled.

“Dale Volker played as much a role in getting us Rush as anyone here tonight,” Young said. “Maybe more. He got Rush out of the firefight and protected him while waiting for the Air Force to break through LA lines.”

“Aw crap,” Sheppard murmured. “The blond guy. That was him, wasn’t it.”

“The guy you stunned,” Young said, sympathetically. “Yeah.”

Sheppard grimaced, closing his eyes.

“Ugh that hurts,” Mitchell said, his expression grim.

“We could’ve just—grabbed him,” Sheppard said.

“Not your fault,” Carter said, her voice hollow. “We should have thought about him going into this. We could have shown the entire team his picture—”

“For what it’s worth,” Young said, “Rush tried to talk him into an escape attempt. But Volker turned him down. Didn’t seem to think getting out was a viable option.”

“The extraction of Dale Volker has become one of our highest priorities,” Landry said. “An additional two SG teams will be put on the project. Our undercover operatives have already been apprised, especially those embedded with the Second, Fourth, and Sixth Houses. But ultimately, the Lucian Alliance may beat us to the nine chevron address. Unless we ask Rush to resume his work. Immediately.”

The room was quiet.

“Don’t you guys have some Unnamed Committee specifically tasked with the ethics of dealing with Nick Rush?” Mitchell asked pointedly. “One that Jackson’s on? I think we table this until Jackson’s back on his feet.”

“This device,” Carter said slowly. “The one built by Anubis—” She broke off, looking at Landry. “There weren’t ever plans to—”

Landry’s expression was set, but he cocked his head, inviting her to continue.

“There were,” Carter said, the words a quiet revelation, searching the general’s face. “There were plans to use it. That’s what Daniel’s been so upset about? That’s why members of the general public with the Lantean genes have been recruited by Stargate Command? Has anyone used it? Has it already happened?”

“No,” Landry said. “Dr. Jackson has argued against it from day one.”

Young’s thoughts were racing, trying to decide where and when to make his move, what Jackson would say or think if he were here—trying to balance the safety and autonomy and sanity of his neighbor against the rising threat of the Ori, trying do the most good for the most people in the shortest span of time.

Sheppard glanced at Young, his expression uncertain.

“Telford wanted it used on Rush,” Young said, bluntly. “Jackson didn’t. He didn’t want it used on anyone. That was the real split between them.”

“Use it on Rush?” Sheppard echoed, with a subtle eye roll in Landry’s direction. “Don’t use it on the supergenius unlocking your chevrons for you. Call me, maybe.”

“Jackson’s point was that it shouldn’t be used on anyone,” Young growled.

“Yeah, and I agree,” Carter said vehemently. “This was something built by Anubis. Anubis! Sure he knew a lot about ascension. He was also completely evil. Profoundly twisted.”

“We don’t need to recreate the ethical debates of the past several months,” Landry growled. “No one is suggesting using this on anyone at the moment. The question is whether we ask Rush to work on chevron nine. That’s it.”

“Yeah, but the second he solves it, we’re hard up against your ethical quandary,” Mitchell pointed out.

“He solves it, and we have more options. We don’t have to use it. But if we’re in a tight spot—” Landry opened a hand, sweeping the room with a significant look.

“Is this not the argument used by Denethor, Steward of Gondor, in the cinematic epic, Lord of the Rings?” Teal’c asked, into the silence.

The entire room stared at him.

“The ring should be taken to Mordor,” Teal’c said, solemnly. 

“Uh, to be clear,” Mitchell said, clearing his throat, “by ‘taken to Mordor, you mean Anubis’s Evil Lab should be destroyed so no one can use it?”

“Yes,” Teal’c said.

“That was actually a really good metaphor,” Mitchell said, impressed.

“All my metaphors are good,” Teal’c replied, “and the works of Anubis should not be allowed to persist on this plane.”

“I’m with Teal’c on this one,” Young said.

“Well, I’ll take that under advisement,” Landry said, like a guy hanging onto his patience by his fingernails, “but the lab is currently in LA hands, and our forces are spread pretty damn thin. The question right now is do we ask Nick Rush to crack cypher nine? Even if the device is off the table, ethically, forever, it still might be nice to know where that address goes. Especially if we have an Ancient control crystal that might supersede the genetic experiments of a literal and technological parasitic false god.”

“I sincerely doubt that Anubis’s device is needed for anything beyond the nine chevron address,” Sheppard said. “It sure as hell might be needed if you have a snake in your spine, but we’ve done just fine in Atlantis with genes alone. I guess my point is that chevron nine isn’t your biggest Rush-related problem.”

“Please,” Landry said, his dry gravel voice grinding on the word. “Enlighten us, colonel.”

“Your biggest problem is that, whether he's working on chevron nine or not, you’re going to have to effectively keep the guy under house arrest to provide him enough security to protect him from the LA. And I don’t know that he’s gonna tolerate that. We had to work extremely hard and take multiple risks to build the little credibility we currently have with him.”

“If the IOA gets involved, it could get messy,” Young added, keeping his voice mild.

Landry shot Young a knowing look.

“And what do you suggest?” Landry asked.

“Maybe he comes to Atlantis,” Sheppard said casually.

“He’s a Planetary Asset,” Landry growled.

“And I would argue Atlantis is safer for him,” Sheppard said, his delivery still casual. “He’s not gonna get abducted. He’s not gonna bolt. If he stays in the city, which he will, he’s not gonna turn into a Wraith Snack.”

Landry seemed to be seriously considering Sheppard’s proposal.

“There’s something else,” Young said. “The best chance we have of restoring his memories is getting those cortical suppressors off his head. The Atlantis team is best equipped to help with that. And, until he does get his memories back? He shouldn’t be asked to shoulder any significant risk. He doesn’t have the context to understand what we’re asking of him. In fact, I’d argue that he shouldn’t be asked to work on cracking the ninth cypher. Last time he made a serious attempt at it he ended up in the infirmary hallucinating symphonic works in the key of D-minor. He doesn’t know that. You can’t ask him to do it again in the absence of context.”

“Maybe I can’t,” Landry admitted. “But the decision of whether or not we ask him to work on the cypher may come from the very top,” Landry said. “Could he work on it from Atlantis, if that was the—request?”

“Of course he could,” Sheppard said. “Didn’t he code representations of the cyphers into a video game? Send a console with him. Pay someone within the Wormhole X-treme franchise to make a non-MMORPG port of the game so he can work through the key details offline. Rush and his intern can spend their days playing Astria Porta and indirectly attacking the problem that way. Hell, Rodney and I will play when we’re off shift. Anything we find can be sent back to Carter. Same day. Same hour, once the Gate Bridge is back up.”

Young kept his expression neutral. He’d have rather argued for keeping Rush away from the cyphers entirely, but he wasn’t sure how realistic a goal that was. Working on it via a game seemed—less risky somehow than working on it locked in his apartment, writing on walls. And once Rush was on Atlantis—well, it would be Shep and McKay who were making reports back. Neither of them would be forcing Rush into anything.

“It makes sense,” Sheppard said, pressing his point. “Plus, our CMO, Dr. Keller, has a specialization in neuroscience. She has a proficiency with Ancient tech. She’s probably the best person to tackle this problem.” He tapped the small devices at both his temples.

“It’s starting to seem crazy not to send him,” Mitchell said.

Sheppard opened his hands with a lazy theatricality, looking at Landry, eyebrows raised.

Landry sighed. “He’s going with a security detail and your personal assurance to me that he will not be sent into the field.”

“Yes sir,” Sheppard said.

“Security detail?” Young asked.

“We’ll have to change the name of your team,” Landry said, looking wryly at Young. “I’m thinking SG-68. Dedicated to—” he paused. “Mathematical exploration. Light field duty only. Try to teach the LA defector something about the chain of command, while you’re at it. You ship out when the Gate Bridge is re-secured.”

Mitchell gave a low whistle, catching Young’s eye.

Sheppard grinned, reopening his split lip.

Landry stood. “We’ll meet again tomorrow at 0900, planetside. Dr. Lam expects to have a preliminary report on Dr. Jackson’s condition by then.” The general nodded at the group of them, picked up a small stack of files, and left the room.

Sheppard, too, started to get to his feet. He was the only one. He stopped halfway up, looking around the room uncertainly. “Are we not—” he trailed off.

“Shep,” Mitchell said, almost apologetically, “maybe—maybe you go find McKay, give him a heads up on what he needs to know.”

“While you guys do what?” Shep asked, straightening, his eyebrows lifting.

“We gotta talk chel’mek,” Mitchell said. “It’s a Jaffa thing.”

Young raised his eyebrows at Mitchell, then nodded at Sheppard. “Keep an eye on Rush. I’ll meet up with you in a bit.”

Sheppard nodded subtly.

When Sheppard had left the room, Carter eyed Mitchell skeptically. “Chel’mek? Seriously? That’s the best thing you could come up with? We need to—”

“Shh.” The sound was forceful, and Mitchell raised his hands, looking at Carter.

She stopped, surprised evident on her face.

“We need to talk about chel’mek,” Mitchell repeated. “Everett has some observations about chel’mek that I think you two need to hear. Especially now.”

Teal’c and Carter turned toward Young, their expressions serious. Teal’c raised an eyebrow.

God damn but did the stakes feel high.

Young cleared his throat. “I was explaining to Mitchell,” Young said, trying like hell to force a casual note into this tone, “about how you’d never suspect chel’mek included Doritos. Because you can’t see them. But they’re there. All the time. And they could be any kind of Doritos. Good Doritos. Bad Doritos. Neutral Doritos. You just don’t think about them when you’re eating it.”

Carter and Teal’c stared at him.

“And we have a friend,” Mitchell said, overplaying things a little bit. “A really good friend? Who used to work for Doritos? But then he got fired?”

“Fired by Doritos,” Carter repeated, not getting it.

“Yes,” Teal’c said, looking meaningfully at Carter. “Our friend, who has a history of pitting himself against most hierarchies he encounters.”

“Ah,” Carter said quietly, pieces clicking into place almost audibly. “That friend. Yup. Okay. I—remember.”

“I’ve been talking to him lately,” Young said casually. “And, turns out, his run at Doritos bothers him a lot more than he lets on. Especially to those closest to him,” he nodded subtly at Carter and Teal’c. “I think he may have a bit of an axe to grind when it comes to Doritos. I also think he might have a plan that he hasn’t shared with anyone.”

The room was quiet. 

Carter had visibly paled.

“I believe that to be quite likely,” Teal’c said, into the silence.

“Any idea on what this plan might be?” Carter whispered.

“No details. But I’m guessing, based on what we learned tonight, that the guy is either putting it into practice, or attracted enough attention that he’s been—set back by the company.”

No one said anything. Carter and Teal’c looked grave. No question they understood what he was saying. Young struggled to find a way to bring a bit more detail to bear. It had been a long day.

“So—you’re saying he could have eaten too many Doritos and made himself sick,” Mitchell began, “as some sort of elaborate plot to gain a moral or technical or legal advantage over the company, versus—” he trailed off, looking at Young.

“Versus,” Young said, picking up the thread, “a faction from Doritos might be trying to poison him. Hard to tell which, without asking him directly, which he’s not gonna like.”

Carter shut her eyes, her expression pained, her hand pressing against her chest.

Teal’c cleared his throat, looking first at Young, and then at Colonel Carter. “There is more to chel’mek than Doritos,” he pointed out, gently. “And our friend is very gifted when it comes to identifying and blending ingredients. I believe that determining more about his current condition will be the best way to help him. It may narrow down likely scenarios.”

Carter nodded, opening those red-rimmed eyes. “I can help with that,” she said quietly.

“I would also say,” Young said cautiously, “that I don’t think we should ever mention Doritos to our friend. He seems to think the company is watching him. Twenty-four seven.”

“They could be watching all of us,” Carter pointed out.

“They could be,” Young agreed.

“In which case—everything seems pointless,” Carter whispered.

“Colonel Carter,” Teal’c said gently. “We must have some chance of success—if only because our friend has carried so many secrets for so long. The company we oppose is powerful, to be sure. But their influence is not endless. Is this not what our friend has always said? As long as we have known him?”

Carter nodded, her lips pressed together.

“The battle has been long,” Teal’c continued, “and, in recent months, it feels like it has begun again, anew, with mounting stakes. And yet, every morning now, the sun rises on a Chulak that is free of the yoke of the Goa’uld.”

“And that’s what I’m talkin’ about,” Mitchell said quietly.

Before heading back to the infirmary to meet up with Shep, Rush, and McKay, Young stopped by the Odyssey’s mess, and managed to talk the kitchen staff into handing over four brownies and a pack of matches.

It wasn’t perfect.

But it had been one hell of a day.

His team, fresh from an NID debrief that the senior staff had (so far) escaped, had set themselves up in one of the conference rooms on the lower deck, near the Odyssey’s F-302 bays. Like everyone else, they still had their civilian clothes on, and, from the looks of things when Young walked in, it seemed James and Greer were teaching Ginn to play—

“Texas hold ‘em?” Young asked.

James and Greer came to their feet and saluted, while Ginn followed suit not a half-beat behind them.

“At ease,” Young said, setting his box of brownies atop the table. “And you guys can cool it with the saluting. Shep tells me you three did great down there.”

“Thank you, sir,” James said, her hair still sculpted into an updo that Emily would have envied. “Did we achieve our mission objective?”

Young nodded. “Dr. Rush is on board the Odyssey.”

Ginn and Greer looked obviously relieved. "Glad to hear it," James said.

“Also,” Ginn looked at him with an intensely earnest expression, “we all survived.”

“Yeah,” Young said, smiling at the three of them. “Good work.”

“We heard, sir,” Greer said, amused, but trying to hide it, “that if we survived, there was gonna be cake.” He looked pointedly at the box in front of Young.

“It’s a little last minute,” Young replied, smiling faintly. “More like brownies.”

“Close enough,” Greer said. 

“But when does it get set on fire?” Ginn asked, looking skeptically at the cardboard box the kitchen staff had set him up with.

“Not quite yet,” Young said, taking the unoccupied seat at the four person table. “You three okay? I mean, really?”

They followed his lead and sat. He got a “Yes sir,” from Greer and James, and a nod from Ginn.

“Before we do cake,” Young said, “there’s something I want to run by you. As of about thirty minutes ago, General Landry switched up our team designation and assignment.”

“Again?” James asked, brows lifting.

“Again,” Young confirmed. “These are times that call for a certain degree of—flexibility. And, to be honest, I cobbled this team together to cut through red tape.”

“A cause I can always get behind,” Greer said.

“But—will we stay together?” Ginn asked, not bothering to mask her anxiety, glancing at James and Greer.

“Sounds like that’s the plan,” Young said, hating to promise anything he didn’t truly control. “We just got redesignated SG-68.”

Greer gave a low whistle, eyeing James.

“We’re—we’re an SG team now?” James said, letting her poker face crack, just enough for some real excitement to shine through. She flashed a quick smile at Greer, then looked at Young. “We’re going through the gate?”

Young nodded.

“Is this good?” Ginn asked. “Is this better than counter-insurgency?”

Way better,” Greer said, grinning at her. “It’s like—well, Colonel Carter is on an SG team. Your job just got a whole lot more like her job.”

“Really?” Ginn breathed, like someone had just given her a pony, or a space ship, or a sun, or whatever little LA girls dreamed of. “I could do science? Not just provide information related to the Alliance?”

“It’s looking likely,” Young said. “Now, don’t get your hopes up too high. Our first assignment is going to be providing security for our local Planetary Asset. AKA Nick Rush.”

He tried not to grin at their poorly-concealed disappointment. He mostly succeeded.

“So—we’re gonna be local for a while,” James said, riding neutral hard.

“Nope,” Young said, losing the battle with his grin. “We’re gonna be shipping out to Atlantis, as soon as the Gate Bridge is back up.”

Greer gave a whoop, leaning back in his seat and punching the air. James grinned. Ginn looked at him, her eyes shining. “Atlantis?” she breathed.

Young nodded.

“Atlantis,” Greer repeated, grinning at James. “Can you believe it?? Matt Scott is going to be SO. JEALOUS.”

James laughed once, wild and delighted. She and Greer high-fived one another.

“Sorry, sir,” Greer said.

Young shrugged. “Glad you all are excited. But just so you know—we’re not gonna be squaring up against the wraith. Primarily we’re gonna be on Rush detail.”

“That guy finds trouble like you wouldn’t believe,” Greer said. “Seen it first hand. I’m not worried about getting bored.”

Young sighed. “You’re probably right, sergeant. Unfortunately. I’m guessing he’s going to be a real handful.”

“When do we go?” Ginn asked.

“We’ve got, probably, a week and some change before we leave. I’m guessing someone from the IOA will arrange for meetings with all of you in the next few days—there are a lot of regulations about what can be brought into Atlantis. Not sure how long we’re gonna be posted there, but it could be a while.”

His team nodded, still grinning. Young flipped open the box, and handed out brownies on napkins. He pulled the matches out of his pocket and stuck a few of them into the top of Ginn’s brownie.

He struck a match, thinking, for some reason, of Vala, who, he was sure, would have been carrying candles in that giant bag of hers.

Young lit the matches in Ginn’s brownie, while Ginn watched with a vaguely bemused expression, that turned even more puzzled as Young, Greer, and James spontaneously broke into song. The familiar tune started out strong, but rapidly lost momentum as the three of them realized that the matches in the brownie were burning a little faster and more robustly than expected.

“Blow them out!” Greer said, dropping out of the singing and motioning at Ginn.

It occurred to Young that they should have explained this whole thing to to her ahead of time. But, it was too late now, and, as usual, the kid caught on quick, managing to blow the matches out without lighting anything on fire. She flinched, startled as they clapped for her, but James smiled, reaching out to touch her shoulder. She nodded at Ginn. “Good job,” she said, over Greer’s aggressive applause.

“It wasn’t hard,” Ginn informed her, still perplexed.

“Actually,” Greer said, laughing, “as birthday candles go, that was about as rough as it gets.”

Young watched them, trying to absorb some of their exuberance, trying to let their optimism seep into him. Maybe things could still turn out all right. Rush was back. They were on their way to Atlantis. That had been Jackson’s goal for months now. Shep and McKay and their CMO would be running point on solving the Altera problem. 

As for Jackson and Vala—well, Young had a week to come up with a plan.

Something would come together. It had to.

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