Mathématique: Chapter 68

Sheppard shrugged. “You’re a musician; I kill people for a living.”

Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Grief. Physical injuries. Mental health challenges.

Text iteration: Witching hour.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 68

Rush opened his eyes to an unfamiliar darkness. In the liminal space between dreaming and waking, an ethereal symphony shone like an ocean of light. Melodic lines with the depth of the sea attended song trapped in stone.

He sat, grasping after fragments of the dream. It slipped beyond his conscious awareness. His fingers ghosted to the small devices at his temple. He had a strange urge to pry them free. Whatever he’d heard in his dream had been in a key signature that was almost (but not quite) D minor.

In the windowless room, the only light came from the crack around the door and the red display of a digital clock next to the bed. He felt along the outlines of a bedside lamp and turned it on.

The previous night came to him in an exhausted blur of fantastical images: Beethoven and breaking glassware; a reluctant Space Pirate in a stairwell; a candlelit dinner with a man who didn’t know he had a quantum alter-ego; the bright interiors of an Earth-built starship; the curve of his own planet, the lights of the Eastern Seaboard; the crisp night air just outside Cheyenne Mountain base; John Sheppard in a torn suit, flashing his USAF ID at the security cameras in the abandoned NORAD gift shop, just before “borrowing” a set of branded clothes.

Rush threw the bedcovers aside and stood. His entire body ached. From the arches of his feet to the tips of his fingers. His calves were knotted. His quads were tight. His ribs and shoulder felt bruised from his impact with the floor. One needed t’train for the kind of exertion he’d put himself through yesterday. Weeks of pulling espresso had done nothing to prepare him for racing up and down stairs. Scrapping with Space Pirates. Wrestling with Air Force colonels.

He limped to the bathroom and found it well-stocked with generic toiletries. He showered, cleaned himself up, and swapped his sweatpants for the darkwash jeans he’d performed in the previous night. He studied the developing bruises along his ribs from yesterday’s firefight, then compared his dress shirt to the NORAD T-shirt. The T-shirt was in better shape, so he pulled that over his head, then added back his blazer. He ran a hand through his damp hair, put on his glasses, and evaluated himself.

Coral would approve, he was fair certain of that. As a metric, it’d do.

He left the bedroom.

John Sheppard sat at a desk, an open book in front of him. With a pencil, he made notes in the margins of a page. His other hand rested on his sidearm. He hadn’t changed out of his bloodied suit from the previous day. The desk lamp gleamed off the metal of his gun and the ferrule of his green USAF pencil. The dark mass of Cheyenne Mountain seemed to close in on the windowless room, to press down against the sea and sun of a season’s worth of this man’s dreams.

Sheppard finished what he was writing and looked up at Rush. He kept his expression controlled, but his eyes telegraphed more than fatigue, more than worry. There was something else between them, resonating in the air.

“Hi.” Sheppard’s eyes were rimmed with red. 

“Good morning,” Rush said, cautiously polite. “What are y’doing?”

“Math?” Sheppard offered.

“With a gun?”

Sheppard looked down at his sidearm. “It’s next to me. It’s not, uh, contributing.”

They looked wordlessly at one another. Rush heard the low buzz of the lamp, the run of electronics in the walls—but instinctively he was listening for something more. There was something else. Vibrating in the air. Around them. Between them. He lifted his fingertips to his temple, grazing the outline of the metal device beneath the fringe of his hair.

“You feel it?” Sheppard asked.

“What is that?” Rush breathed.

“Something’s happening,” Sheppard rasped. “Energetically. We’re surrounded by Ancient tech. It’s full of resonant crystal. Including the crystal on our heads. Did it wake you?”

“Maybe,” Rush murmured, recalling his dream, its symphonic representations of of sea and song and stone.

“Because of our genetics, and maybe that ‘notable day’ I’ve alluded to, we’re sensitive to crystal vibrations.”

“Song,” Rush said.


“We’re sensitive to its song.”

Sheppard nodded. “You said you could hear it.”

“I did?”

“On our ‘notable day.’ Wonder if I could learn. I could hear the ghost of it while you were sleeping.” Sheppard stared into the middle distance, haunted, contemplative. “I feel it in my body. Kinesthetics translating intent. I’ve wondered since then if we’re picking up on the ‘song’ through the sense gate with the most neural real estate.”

Rush raised his eyebrows.

Sheppard shrugged. “You’re a musician; I kill people for a living.”

Rush held himself still, not sure what to make of the man across the desk, his improbable fusion of the spare and the soulful.

“Sorry,” Sheppard whispered, “but that’s the truth of it.”

Somehow, Rush didn’t think Colonel Young would say it that way. (See it that way.) But Sheppard had a mathematician’s ability to strip detail from the bones of theory. War, certainly, had its own arts. Its own culture. Its customs, its trappings, its uniforms, its literature, its lore. But death coiled around and through the man in front of him. It vibrated through the walls.

“I can’t hear it now.” Rush stared into empty air, trying to see his way to better perception. “But still—there’s something.”

“You don’t hear it because of these things.” As though he couldn’t help himself, Sheppard touched one of his cortical suppressors, then tried to pull it free. He got what sounded like an electrical shock. “Ow. Damn it.” He shook out his hand.

Rush looked at him, astonished. “Your devices carry a charge?”

“I have the very strong desire to rip them off my head,” Sheppard said through clenched teeth. “McKay had to get creative.”

Rush focused again on the sound he couldn’t hear, singing through the air beyond the range of his perception. “It’s difficult to ignore.”

Sheppard nodded at him, his face full of death and unheard song. “It’ll end.”

“What causes it?” Rush asked.

“Not sure.”

That was a lie. Rush could see it in Sheppard’s expression, the strain around his eyes. But, more than that, Rush could feel the longing that’d plucked the metal bones of this mountain base. It was carried on the air. But if he was picking up only the vibrational margins of a sound he couldn’t hear—well, steel-reinforced concrete would certainly propagate vibrational frequencies better than air.

His quads and calves felt like they were tearing themselves apart as he dropped into a crouch.

“Sore?” Sheppard asked.

Rush nodded, then pressed a palm to the floor. The vibrations were stronger now, coming from below, sweeping over his skin. The patterns of sensation suggested tones and overtones. He added a second hand.

“Don’t,” Sheppard rasped.

Rush looked up, feeling the acid burn of overuse in his neck, an ache in his ribs. “Why not?”

“Stay off the radar,” was all Sheppard said.

“There are standing frequencies.” Rush closed his eyes, focusing on ghost-like bass, too deep in the range to hear. “And something else. It breaks the pattern. I can’t always catch it.” He recalled his dream. Song struggling from stone. Rush looked up. “D’you know what it is?”

“I’ve got a pretty good idea, yeah.” The gold light of the lamp gleamed off the gunmetal desk and brought out the forming bruise at Sheppard’s hairline.

Rush quirked a brow. “Y’planning to explain?”

“Give me a minute to put it together,” Sheppard said. “And get off the floor, will you? Even with our technoswag, you and I are part of the resonance pattern. Don’t dive in.”

Rush winced as he scrambled up, fighting the muscle pain that’d turned his body into a stiff cage of acid overuse. He felt an ache in his mind and a tingle in his fingertips as he drew away from the resonant frequencies coming through the concrete. If he focused, he could feel them in the soles of his bare feet.

As though he could follow Rush’s train of thought, Sheppard shifted an empty water bottle and an Air Force issue legal pad. Rush perched on the edge of the desk, which felt sturdy enough to survive a nuclear blast.

Sheppard shifted his chair and looked up at Rush. “We’re losing someone. Someone the gate itself will sing for.”

“Ancient crystal has—feelings?” Even as he asked the question, he felt its answer. It did. It must. It had to. It’d laid itself into the set of Sheppard’s jaw, and along his own spine and shoulders. Anger and longing. Grief and hope. They filmed beneath the surface of his awareness.

Sheppard nodded. “I was never sure how much of it you could feel.” Absently, he lifted a hand toward his cortical suppressor.

Rush caught his wrist before he made contact. “This is no song of mourning,” he said, and released his grip.

“No,” Sheppard said, his expression grave. “I think it’s welcome.”


“You ever heard of ascension?”

“It is, I believe, the ultimate goal in a popular MMORPG called Astria Porta?”

Sheppard smiled weakly. “We didn’t build a lot of the tech we use. The Ancients left it behind when they ascended to a higher plane of existence. Every so often a human follows in their footsteps. That’s what’s happening now, I think. The base crystals sing because they sense the process. Sense his emerging presence. Sense the presence of anyone on the other side who might be helping him.”

“D’you know who it is?” Rush asked.

“Guy by the name of Daniel Jackson,” Sheppard replied.

“I know him. Or, at least, he gave me his business card at one point.”

“He knows most everyone around here,” Sheppard said. “Gonna be rough to lose him.”

“Is he a friend of yours?” Rush asked.

“Me? No. Er, yeah. We’re friendly. He and Everett are close. But—he’s the heart of this place. The heart of the program.”

Archeologist. (Linguist. Historian.) He could see how it might be true, in this base beneath a mountain that was constructed like a tomb housing a stellar portal. He tried to picture the man, tried to dig for anything of him that he could recall.

There was nothing.

“Are you all right?” Rush asked softly.

“I’m fine,” Sheppard said. “I’m always fine.”

“You’re wearing yesterdays’s blood.” Rush pulled the book from beneath Sheppard’s pencil and studied it. “And this is absolute nonsense.”

“Well you gotta learn McKay’s shorthand,” Sheppard protested. “I’m translating back to standard notation.”

“Ridiculous.” Rush flipped through the book and frowned at the title. The McKay Lectures on Physics Volume 1: Mainly Energetic Shielding. He quirked a brow at Sheppard. “Who does he think he is? Feynman?”

“Little bit, yeah.” Sheppard grinned, then pressed his shirt cuff to his split lip. “He doesn’t get much credit from the science community on Earth. I think he wants a legacy that’ll hopefully be declassified one day.”

“Hmm.” Rush stopped on a page early in the volume, scanning back and forth between McKay’s hybrid notation and Sheppard’s penciled-in conversions. “Is he using natively multidimensional symbology?”

“It simplifies the representation of complex spatial relationships.”

“I can see that,” Rush murmured. He studied Sheppard’s cramped and meticulous marginalia. “Converting to standard’ll triple the length of the thing.”

“I know,” Sheppard rasped. “He’s gonna be annoyed.”

“And rightly so,” Rush muttered, eyeing McKay’s elegant representations of geodesic shield optimization functions. “There should probably be two versions. One for those fluent in Ancient and higher math, one with terrestrial notation.”

“Two versions?” Sheppard snorted. “He’ll go for that.”

Rush flipped a page and lost himself in the mathematical parallels that fell out of McKay’s representations of static geodesic shielding and gravitational lensing. The bend of particle trajectories encountered during deep space transit compared to the electromagnetic watershed of flowing EM discharge over an energy shield. In his mind’s eye, he could see the arcs of charge following field lines, bright against the dark of space.

When the math lost its grip, he looked up to find Sheppard watching him.

“He’s got a real gift,” Rush admitted.

“He does,” Sheppard whispered, amused and exhausted and worn raw by whatever ran through his mind. By whatever vibrated in the air.

“Where’s Everett?” Rush asked. “I can’t imagine him leaving you t’what? Stand guard all night with a sidearm and a pencil?”

Sheppard snorted. “Your security detail’s posted outside the door. I’m supplemental.”

“Why didn’t you sleep?”

“Does it matter?”

Rush frowned, having a difficult time coming up with an answer to that one, probably because it was something he himself might say. “Yes?” He shifted on the desk and was forcibly reminded of the stiff ache in every muscle group.

“Nick, I’m trying to simplify things. Take it easy on you. For, I don’t know, a day?”

“Counterproductive and unnecessary.” Rush dug into his reserve of academic authority. “Explain.”

Sheppard sighed. “I don’t think you and I should sleep at the same time.”



He could feel his own agreement, but wasn’t sure where the reflex came from. He was inclined to distrust it, as it seemed to be in opposition to more rigorous mathematical instincts.

“We’ve been off-sync with our sleep schedules.” Sheppard said. “I’ve been dreaming of your days. You’ve been dreaming of mine. I checked the relative time difference between Boston and Atlantis to be sure. And I’m right. We’ve been off-cycle the whole time.”

Rush quirked a brow.

“I remember that look. You don’t like one of my premises.”

“Simultaneity,” Rush admitted.

“Simultaneity? You have a relativistic objection?” Sheppard grinned. “Shit.” He pressed his sleeve to his mouth. “You don’t buy the continuity of ‘now’ across vast intergalactic distances?”

“Well spotted.”

“Thanks. So general relativity does hold,” Sheppard replied. “But. Wormhole travel is faster than light, and we also have drives that are faster than light. There’s no photon-based observation of what’s happening ‘at present’ in the Pegasus Galaxy, unless it comes via radio waves transmitted through the open Intergalactic Gate Bridge. Ultimately, the Milky Way and Pegasus share a faster-than-light reference frame. It’s narrow, it’s warped, it’s maintained discontiguously via open wormholes. But the Ancients established that shared reference frame when they went to Pegasus, millennia ago. So, you and I can share the concept of ‘nowness’.”

Rush shut his eyes. “Do not fuckin’ tell me y’think we’re quantum mechanically entangled.”

“Kinda a leap, but…we might be?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Rush said, hearing the exhaustion in his own voice.

“There could be some other explanation. I don’t know. In order to know, I’d need to make An Issue out of it. As a problem, sharing dreams is pretty exotic, even for the SGC. I’ve done my best to, uh, not draw attention to how strange it is? Weird metaphysical experiences can get you benched, and I’m already mostly benched. No reason to give them another reason.”

“What do you think’ll happen if we’re asleep at the same time?” Rush asked.

“I don’t know. Hopefully nothing.” Sheppard looked down at his hands. “But, uh, full disclosure, we’ve shared an experience at least partially constructed by our combined consciousnesses and it was, uh, not a walk in the park.”

“The fuck does the ‘Air Force’ actually get up to?” Rush asked.

Sheppard grinned. “A lot.”


“I think we should minimize simultaneous sleeping. I think the first time it happens, if it happens at all, should be on Atlantis.”

“And y’don’t want to tell anyone about this?”

“No one here,” Sheppard clarified. “We’ll disclose when we get to Atlantis. Maybe.”

“We’re going to Atlantis?”

“Er, shit. Yeah. I mean, if you wanna come?”

Rush hesitated, thinking of Everett Young, of his quantum alter ego, in a worn black uniform, standing in a city that blinded him, looking toward the gem of a wandering planet, the only fixed point he could see. “I have some responsibilities in the Milky Way, I think.”

Sheppard cocked his head. He seemed equal parts puzzled and pleased. “Oh yeah?”

He’d no idea what he was t’say to this particular Air Force colonel about whatever was happening to Colonel Young. He was strongly inclined to play his cards close to the vest. “This isn’t the first quantum mechanical problem to cross my path in recent days.”

“And here I was thinking I was special.”

“Within the realm of the quantum mechanical,” Rush said, full of contingency, “information itself is integral to the behavior of systems.”

“I know it,” Sheppard agreed. “Damn it. Do you think our Dream Problem and your Other Problem are related?”

“That should be the baseline assumption.” Rush shot Sheppard a rueful look, “and yet, astonishingly, I can’t connect them conceptually. Not even loosely. At least—not yet.”

Sheppard raised his brows, straightened his spine, and blew out a controlled breath. “Am I involved in the Other Problem?”

“Not that I can tell,” Rush said cautiously.

“But someone must be,” Sheppard said, slotting missing pieces into open slots, “if you feel you need to stay in the Milky Way. There must be someone we can bring.”

“As I said, information is a concern.”

“Okay,” Sheppard said. “So that’s a ‘yes’.”

“Fuck off,” Rush smiled faintly. “It wasn’t a yes.”

“It was a yes.” Sheppard pressed his bloodied shirt cuff to his lip and tried not to smile. “You think you can—what. Just handle this? On your own? You ever had a quantum mechanical problem before?”

“For all we know I’m a fuckin’ professional,” Rush shook his hair out of his eyes.

“Well we know I’m a professional.” Sheppard was losing his haunted, otherworldly quality to a quiet amusement and knife-sharp anticipation. “I’m not gonna tell anyone.”

“Don’ y’fuckin’ report to an entire hierarchy?”

“I mean, yeah, but—I report creatively.”

Rush made a show of considering.

“C’mon.” Sheppard tapped the eraser end of his pencil against Rush’s thigh and looked up at him with roguish appeal. “I stole you a shirt.”

“I thought we were ‘borrowing’ it?”

Sheppard pressed his shirt-cuff to the grin he couldn’t fight down. “Who do we need to take to Atlantis?” He looked at Rush like he’d already won, like he was certain he would, like an interstellar traveler who brought the sea and sun with him wherever he went, even below windowless mountains.

This, certainly, was the ‘Kirk Thing.’

“Colonel Young,” Rush sighed, capitulating to inevitability.

“Oh. Nice. He’s coming anyway.”


“Yeah, really. Now tell me the rest of it,” Sheppard said. “How the hell did Everett get swept up in a quantum problem?”

“I’ll do no such thing.”


“Absolutely not,” Rush said, countering the tidal forces of Sheppard’s charm with all the galvanic charge he had.

“Okay.” Sheppard let his surf-and-sand magnetism slip away. “I just wanna know one thing.”

“Crash ahead then,” Rush said. “I’ll take it under consideration.”

“Is McKay in the clear?”

“Yes,” Rush said. “To the extent anyone can be ‘in the clear’ when it comes to the wave functions that define all reality? Rodney McKay seems ‘clear’ of whatever this is.”

Sheppard nodded, relief in every line of his body. “You quantum mechanically pull me in when you need to.”

“I suspect I’ve done as much already,” Rush muttered.

Rush spent the better part of the morning buried in Rodney McKay’s absolute bloody masterwork of shield dynamics while Sheppard (finally) showered and collapsed face down on the bed. He’d enmeshed himself in the intricacies of McKay’s fractal-based durability optimization functions (coiled nests of nautiloid rings around the Golden Ratio) when he was interrupted by a tentative knock on the door.

Stiffly, slowly, he hauled himself off the couch, with a painful contraction of quads and abs that was almost too much to force to completion. Gingerly he crossed the room, ignoring the resonances coming through the soles of his feet, and opened the door.

Only to be bloody tackled by an overenthusiastic Eli Wallace.

“DAVE!” Eli shouted, flinging both arms around Rush and pulling him into an inescapable embrace. “Oh my GOD. I was SO WORRIED.”

“I’m fine,” Rush said, half-heartedly patting the child’s back and doing his best to extricate himself.

“Good! You better be. You’re my boss now. Did they tell you? I’m hired! I’m your intern! We’re gonna go to the lost city of Atlantis and play video game math? That’s literally the assignment. I cannot believe this is my life. I must have some REALLY good karma, don’t you think? Don’t answer that. Ugh I wish I could shove all of this in Newt’s face. So bad. There’s gotta be a way.”

Rush worked himself out of his intern’s embrace, straightened his blazer, and looked at Eli over the tops of his glasses. “I thought you were going to return to MIT.”

“C’mon,” Eli said, pushing past him into the suite. “School for school’s sake? No way. Not when I can do this. I’ll go to, like, mail-order community college if you insist. Later. After Atlantis.”

Rush sighed and shut the door. As it closed, he saw two of the women that had been at Au Coeur the previous evening standing in the hallway, dressed in ill-fitting military fatigues. The brunette in the black dress and the redhead in green. He turned to Eli (already walking about the suite like he owned the place) and asked, “Who are they?”

“Your Lady Guard? Lieutenant Vanessa James, formerly Special Forces and Ginn Keeler, formerly of the Lucian Alliance, aka Space Rogues! She’s not from Earth! But she’s like, super smart; you’d never know. Until you try to ask her about, like college. Then it’s actually pretty easy to figure out. Those two make up half of SG-68.” Eli flipped through the empty Air Force legal pad on the desk, like he was looking for classified information buried halfway through the blank pages. “SG stands for ‘stargate’ by the way. Better name than portae, am I right? They’re the 68th team licensed for gate travel.” He started opening and closing desk drawers. “The other half of the team is a sergeant named Ron Greer, who came up through the marines, and their commanding officer, a guy named Everett Young. He’s a colonel. A ‘full’ one, whatever that means. SG teams are always four people.” Eli pulled a pen out of a drawer and started trying to pull it apart.

“What are you doing?” Rush asked.

“Duh! Looking for cool space tech? It’s all over the place. I literally tripped over it when they BEAMED ME TO THEIR SPACESHIP.”

“Keep it down,” Rush said, limping back to the couch and easing himself onto it. If anything, his muscles seemed to be stiffening more as the day went on.

“Are you hurt?” Eli asked, dropping his pen and darting over to help Rush sit. “Dave, dang it, you should’ve said something.”

“I’m fine,” Rush waved him off. “Just sore. Colonel Sheppard is asleep.” He indicated the closed bedroom door with his eyes.

“Oh.” Eli dropped his voice to a loud whisper. “Okay. Got it. J’Shep is—sleeping in your bed? Are you guys together, do you think? I bet you are. That was, like, a really cute note you carried around in your wallet for who knows how long. He’s good looking. And nice. Not, uh, exactly great at explaining anything except for stuff that involves equations. I can see it, is my point.”


“What? Your personal backstory is data we need. As your intern, I did a little,” the kid dropped his voice to a whisper, “light hackery—”


“It’s fiiiine. I probably already have the security clearance for the data I accessed. My paperwork just went through! Aaaaaanyway, I did find out your next of kin: Colonel David Telford. The guy who’s name you stole? I did some digging on him, not even ‘digging’ more like ‘gentle packet scraping’ because his file is locked down like nobody’s business, buuttttttttttttt: he’s listed as a security threat.”

“I think he may have betrayed the SGC and joined the Lucian Alliance?” Rush said.

“Ew. Why. Ginn says the LA sucks. Hard. Deeply. Well, actually what she said was that they ‘deface the gold of free inquiry with the ash-paint of heresy’ or something like that. It doesn’t translate perfectly from her language. She speaks a whole other language? It’s crazy she’s so good at English. She had to LEARN IT. Can you believe that? Aliens are learning English! Because I guess, like these SG Teams somehow brought down an Empire of Parasitical Worms? ‘America! Fuck yeah!’ Ha. Just kidding. I’m sensitive. You need a new next-of-kin. It could be me. I’d do that. Anyway, I digress. Your file is locked down in pieces. There’s, like, a boring cover sheet, but you, as a database search? Forget it! Your name brings up nothing but pure redacted documents and references to PHYSICAL files literally locked in a safe??? Dave. Nick. Davey Nick. We gotta figure this out.”

Rush pressed two fingers to the space between his eyebrows. “Don’t hack classified files. That has t’be fuckin’ rule number one for employees of the United States Government, don’t y’think?”

“Yeah, but I’m not working for The Man. I’ll never work for The Man. I work for you.”

“Eli,” Rush breathed, eyes shut, praying for patience.

“I’ve told you how many times that you have a Glorious Space Destiny? SO many. I’m here for it. Deal. Right now, we see what the Air Force has on tap, but all of this is bigger than that. Because, Dave. The gates are real. Promethean equals Ancient equals REAL. Are you getting me? You’re wrapped up in, like, galactic politics and I’ve read enough sci-fi novels to know that when you’re missing your personal memory and plunged into a space-faring bureaucracy you need to keep your wits about you. I’m in your corner. I’m happy to take the Air Force’s money, but we straight up don’t know what the heck happened to you, and until we’ve put together a well-sourced timeline? I’ll be using all skills at my disposal, including but not limited to my computational kung fu, to get to the bottom of this.”

“You’re supposed to go to college,” Rush said weakly.

“And you’re supposed to say ‘thank you’, but you don’t see me harping on it endlessly.” The young man crossed to the desk, grabbed the blank legal pad and a pen, settled himself on the opposite end of the couch, and grinned at Rush. “Now. Tell me everything. I’ll tell you everything. And we’ll start mapping this mess out.”

“All right,” Rush said, and began.

As he spoke, the vibrational crystal frequencies playing over his skin and beneath the surface of his awareness intensified. Deep in the walls he sensed a silent melody reinforcing itself. Turning stronger.

Breaking free.

Popular posts from this blog