Mathématique: The Graveyard: Part 3

How far is he from darkness? How far has he ever been?

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

Text iteration: Witching hour.

Additional notes: None.

The Graveyard: Part 3

Alone in Jack’s kitchen, Daniel watches dawn filter through the pines. His chilled fingers are warmed by a mug of coffee. Jack’s never bought anything but instant, and this is years old, by the taste of it. It’d smelled long-dead when he’d scooped it from its tin. Dead within time. Not dead in the absence of time.

He didn’t sleep, though he could have, descended as he is.

Fabrice had built a fire and kept him company, playing chess with Sam Carter’s hands and mind, not speaking much as Daniel struggled in the cold river of returning memory: his arrogance the first time he’d faced Anubis: defended only by Abydonian robes and American self-righteousness as he dictated terms to an evil older than his civilization.

Fabrice’s walking into town again. It’ll be alive this morning: cars moving, dogs barking, the diner warm and full of locals, safe behind frosted windows. Even this late in the year there’ll be a tourist or two, looking for fishing supplies.

Kipp’ll be happy.

Daniel opens the screen door and steps onto the cracked cement of Jack’s patio. The cold nips at his face and hands. His coffee mug steams in the chill air. Across the lake, he hears a living forest. Small animals. A birdcall. Wind in the trees, connected to a planet-spanning atmosphere.

And yet, he’s still in the Folia Sepulcri. Everett had confirmed as much last night. 

He walks the length of the frosted dock. In moving branes they’d moved deeper into autumn: the cattails are dying back, and there’s a thin patina of ice at the shore of the lake, where the water turns shallow. At the edge of the dock, he looks down and smiles at the fish drifting beneath the surface of the water.

“Glad to see you guys,” he whispers.

He listens to the low hum of his own crystal in descent, noting its fatigue, the infinitesimally small coils of himself that sing off key. That don’t sing at all. 

The pines murmur, full of damage and generational wisdom.

His yellow star is a forest and an atmosphere and a void of space away, but he hears the echo of her song in his own body. She made him. She fed him. Everything he ate in life, the meal he ate last night, is locked up energy she’s sent to the Earth. As her light begins to fall on him in earnest, he lifts to energy and retunes himself. The edges of his white sweater steal the aesthetics of fire: flicker and slow flame. He’s more than he was. He has the energy of squash and rice and pear-spiced wine that came off a page of a cosmic book he’ll never read again.

It turns tough to hold a cup of coffee. The energetics of heat are no problem but the mass—

He falls back into descent before his grip fails.

He steadies himself. Steadies the cup.

His fatigue is gone.

In his place, as a guest in the Folia Sepulcri, would Oma have eaten a meal?

He’s sure the answer is no.

He recalls Oma, teaching him to hear his own energetics. You have an ear for languages, Daniel, you can develop an ear for this. Stop grasping. Adapt what you already possess.

His throat aches at the memory.

How much wiser he would be, if only he could remember where his feelings come from.

He’s taken the energy of a dead brane into himself. He’s left the brane. Kept the energy. The song of his crystal is infinitesimally louder. Infinitesimally stronger now.

What is “anathema,” really?

How far is he from darkness? How far has he ever been?

“You can find it in other cultures too,” Daniel rasps, his voice gone to dust in the basement of the University of Chicago Archives. “It’s everywhere. The parallels between Tezcatlipoca and Fenrir, the cyclical nature of time in both stories—and in Ragnarök there’s also a flood. Flooding begins it. When Jörmungandr releases his tail—” he stops, spent, realizing from the ache in his throat and the feel of his body that he’s been going for hours. A lifetime of travel and study and theory has just ripped itself free. And Dr. Jordan has done nothing but sit in the basement and listen to all of it. Not interrupting. No thoughts. No asides. No challenges. No questions. And Daniel’s been spinning a stream-of-consciousness web that spans the planet. All of recorded history. Oh god.

“Daniel,” his thesis advisor says gently, “I think you should take some time off.” 

Behind him, Jack’s screen door bangs against its frame. He turns to watch Everett cross the frost-crisped lawn. In the dawn, the worn black of his uniform with its unfamiliar patches looks alien.

“The line between good and evil runs through every human heart,” Daniel says.

Everett snorts. “Yeah, okay. Thanks for the tip.”

“You know the quote?”

“Sounds like an Earth Guy.” Everett’s boots tread hollowly over the dock. “Earth Girl.”

“Solzhenitsyn. I thought of him after I saw myself go mad with power. After I saw an alternate version of myself sacrifice other realities to save my own.”

Everett sighs. “Dan, if you’ve got a tragic flaw it’s never cutting yourself a break.”

“Sounds like you know me.” Everett draws level with him and Daniel looks back at the pond. “Do you though?”


Daniel lets that one lie, like a shard of slow-to-melt ice on the deck of an ingevroren schip. “Fabrice’s in town. Getting breakfast.”

Everett nods.

Daniel looks over at him. “You want something. It’s a big ask. Just make it.”

“Small ask,” Everett says, “big stakes.”


“Thought you were the one who understands the importance of all the nicety bullshit before negotiation,” Everett says.

Daniel sighs and looks into the dawn suffused forest. “Where are the Ori?”

Everett looks up at the pale sky. “On their way. Passing the outer reaches of the solar system.”

“How do you know?” Daniel asks.

“I’ve got a sensitive detector.” Young evades the question.

“So this brane is doomed,” Daniel says with a pang, listening to a bird he can’t see.


Into his mind come the icebound ships of the Age of Discovery. How their crews had seen sheeted ice creep close, freeze solid, trap and crush their only way home.

“Am I from a doomed brane?” There’s no filter between the thought and his mouth. His best ideas burst out this way.

“Short answer: hopefully not.”

“What’s the long answer?”

“The long answer is that branes are organized into arrays. Arrays, like a book, tell a story. There are infinite small variations from brane to brane, but in each array there are big themes.”

Daniel pictures endless books, their pages writ with stars. “Arrays, too would be infinite, I’m guessing?”

“Yeah, though, at the moment, we’ve got a few Problem Arrays. We name them after classical composers. Helps keep ‘em straight.”

Daniel smiles, sure he’s heard correctly but wanting to pin and hold the moment before it goes by. “Uh, you—what?”

“You’re from the Beethoven array.”

“Beethoven. Okay. Sounds like a good one, I guess. What array are you from?”


“And this brane—”

“Happens to be in a Berlioz array.”

“What went wrong here?” Daniel asks, looking to the sky, listening for the War Song of Origen.

“Oh, only about a thousand things,” Everett says. “But it’s anathema that’ll land you in the Graveyard.”

“Not the Ori?” Daniel watches the curl and dissipation of the steam from his coffee in the morning air.

“The Ori are a problem for the entire cosmos. Living and dead.”

Daniel pauses before his next question. He turns it over in his mind before he asks it. “Is everyone who walks the Graveyard anathemic by definition? Are you? Am I?”

“No,” Everett says, the words coming slow and mostly against his will. “We could leave.”

“Can Fabrice leave?” Daniel asks.

“No,” Everett admits.

Everett doesn’t want him to ask about Nick. Daniel can feel the resistance singing in the air between them. He lets the silence lengthen. It gains weight. Momentum.

Sam hates it when he does this.

Everett doesn’t break to Daniel’s non-verbal pressure. To the question he hasn’t asked, the question he doesn’t need to.

“Why do you stay?” Daniel asks instead, full of kindness.

“You’re a real dick, Jackson.”

Daniel cracks a smile, directs it into his mug of coffee. “Told you it never sticks.”

“Damn it. Dan. I meant Dan.” Everett smiles at the lake water in spite of himself. “You’re a dick.”

“For Fabrice?” Daniel says. “It can’t be for her alone.”

“Fabrice’s not big into the gender binary,” Everett says. “The Quantum Hammer broke them into male and female aspects over space and time.”

Daniel nods and sips cheap coffee. It’s a correction, not an answer. He’s grateful for it and tries not to look as overwhelmed as he feels.

Fabrice, at least, he understands from current context and from the returning river of his own memory. Fabrice: the Ancient who built the Quantum Pylons that split the multiverse. Fabrice: the Ancient who built an anathemic ship, capable of thought and ascension. Fabrice: the Ancient who’d been shattered into fragments and landed up and down the ordered timeline, across all cosmic branes. Fabrice: guardian of the Quantum Graveyard.

Small wonder that Orlin had fallen so far and so hard for Samantha Carter.

Daniel studies the dark surface of his coffee. “You’re trying to gain my sympathies before you tell me who you are and what you want.”

“Yup. How we doin’?”

“It was a really nice, really forbidden dinner,” Daniel whispers, “but until I know how you and Nick got here, and what you want, I don’t think there’ll be much progress.”

Everett rubs his jaw. “Hate to do this, Dan. I do. But—we gotta talk about Wittgenstein.”

Daniel laughs.

Everett doesn’t.

“You’re serious. Okay. Ludwig Wittgenstein?”

“Yup. You know the guy?”

Daniel huffs and presses his coffee mug to his chest, letting its fading warmth seep through his sweater. “Not as well as you might think. I’m less interested in the high theory of language than I am in the particulars.” He looks down at his coffee. “All the Abydonian verbs for the pouring of water. The similarities between Linear A and Anatolian languages. I’m more interested in epigraphy than epistemics.”

Everett sighs. “Dan, this isn’t my area. I was hoping you could help me out.”

“With Wittgenstein?” Daniel says.

“Yeah. I mean, you’re a linguist, right? My Jackson’s a linguist.”

“I read Philosophical Investigations when I was, I don’t know, eighteen?”

“Good enough. So you remember how Wittgenstein talks about ‘language games’?”

Daniel, still incredulous that Colonel Everett Young of all people has put Wittgenstein into play in on Jack O’Neill’s dock, makes an effort to dig up what he can recall. “Yeah: webs of associative semantic meaning. Words are embedded in a huge, dynamic map that shifts with time and usage. ‘Chair’ links to its literal physical designation, but also to tables, to kitchen, to all kinds of locations, to department chairs, chairs of committees. Meaning is an evolving emergent property of that map.”

“Damn, Dan. Not bad. Language games are rule-governed. Practice-based. That remind you of anything?”

“Uh, yes?” Daniel squints at the forest, where the rising sun shines through trees in oncoming rays. “Everything, a little bit? When you look at the bones of the idea, you can argue it’s how most higher-order structures function. You can analogize to the human nervous system. To bureaucracies. To religious dogma.”

“To computational systems,” Everett suggests.

Daniel shakes his head. “Wouldn’t take it that far. Computation is too rule-based and static to capture Wittgensteinian meaning.”

“You sound pretty sure about that for a guy running a biological computer in his skull,” Everett says.

Daniel lifts a hand, lets it flicker into light and song. “I admit that, but.” He makes a fist, catching the wave of melody, collapsing it back to matter. “The brain is more than that. Otherwise, ascension wouldn’t be possible.”

“Maybe.” Everett gives him a lateral glance. “You ever talked to a bonafide AI?”

“Yes,” Daniel says. “Several, actually. None of them had the quality of mind capable of ascension.”

“None?” The word comes sharp. Full of disapproval. Which is—weird.

Daniel takes note and holds his silence.

“What’s ‘mind’?” Everett asks. “How do you define it?”

Again, Daniel smiles into his coffee mug. “If anyone was gonna jump me with philosophical dualism at six in the morning, the smart money would’ve been on Nick.”

Everett shoves his hands in his pockets and tries not to smile. “You hang around with those two for a functional eternity—” he looks back at the house, “and they’ll shoulder-lock you into a working knowledge of the Western Canon.”

“I’ve read the Western Canon,” Daniel whispers, “and I can’t stay for a functional eternity.”

“We know,” Everett says. “C’mon. This is part of your ticket outta here. Define mind.”

“Mind is participatory. It’s physical. It’s metaphysical. It represents the world for itself, making sense of reality in the process. It conceives of the form of the world and the form of the self and relates the two.”

“So you’re not a dualist?”

“Not sure if you’ve heard, but it’s very unpopular to be a dualist these days.” Daniel sips his stale coffee, looking at Everett over the rim of the cup.

Everett snorts. “So, when you ascend, what happens to your ‘mind’ in the absence of a biological ‘brain’? Where does it go? How do you retain the continuity of your experience?”

Daniel shrugs. “Biological patterns become energetic ones. What was moving salt and neurotransmitters becomes patterns hosted by the waveform energy of ascended crystal.”

“Right. And wouldn’t you say that what’s preserved in the transition from biologic brain to energetic mind is the kinda thing Wittgenstein envisioned? An associative web, holding patterns of meaning?”

Daniel squints at Everett, trying to piece together the fragments of what the man’s really trying to say.

Young frowns at him. “I’m not trying to sell you a used car.”

“Nooooo,” Daniel agrees, “but I can feel you closing your rhetorical trap.”

“No traps,” Everett says.

“Okay. You wanna take Wittgenstein’s conception of language and stretch it to consciousness itself? Sure. Say we do that. What follows?”

“Any sufficiently complex symbology web capable of ascension should be allowed the chance.”

Daniel’s been turning suspicious for minutes now, trying to fight down the memory of a machine with the face of Samantha Carter driving a spear of naquadah into his heart. “If you’re a replicator,” he says conversationally, “go ahead and kill me now. I’m not gonna jump through recursive loops to justify you to yourself.”

Everett sighs, like Daniel’s just ruined a tactical op by walking, hands raised, across all his pre-mapped lines-of-sight. “I’m no damned paperclip maximizer, Dan. C’mon.”

“You’re arguing machine intelligence should be allowed to ascend,” Daniel replies. “There are good reasons why such things are forbidden.”

Everett shuts his eyes and stares into the forest with a long-suffering expression. Like he’s getting an earful from someone Daniel can’t see. It doesn’t do a lot to dispel the idea that he’s a replicator. And Daniel would believe it, too, but for the melody of life that rolls off him. Off Fabrice. Off Nick. Finally, Everett sighs and looks at Daniel like he’s done with whatever’s happening in his head. “I’m not a damn replicator, Jackson.”

“Thought it was ‘Dan’,” Daniel says, with the wide-eyed innocence that the rainforest itself had washed him clean of.

Everett snorts and shoves his hands in his pockets.

Daniel’s coffee has cooled in the morning air. The rind of ice at the edge of the pond begins to thin under the rising sun.

“This is about Fabrice’s anathemic weapon, isn’t it?”

Everett winces. “We don’t call it that.” There’s real pain in his voice, a raw note that makes Daniel turn to look at him.

“What do you call it?” Daniel asks, more gently this time.

“Great question, Dan. Keep it in your pocket.”

“I’ve got more where that came from,” Daniel says. “You wanna hear a few?”

Everett sighs. “Sure.”

“Why are you out here, arguing for granting machines Wittgensteinian Dignity when it should be Nick? He’s the computer scientist.”

“Also a good question,” Everett rasps.

“He’s avoiding me,” Daniel says.

“He is.”

“He used the device didn’t he?” Daniel asks softly. “The one built by Anubis.”

“No,” Everett says evenly. “It was used on him.”

Finally. An answered question. Daniel scrapes a little further at the revealed surface. “Is that why he’s in the Graveyard? Because he used an Anathemic Path to arrive?”

“Wasn’t his fault. The Council’s accepted the truth of that.”

Daniel gets the sense that, already, the colonel’s revealed more than he intended. He feels his way into the moment. Tracing threads from Nick Rush to anathema to Fabrice’s derelict ship, to Wittgenstein. “You want status,” he guesses, “for the ghost ship. For the hulled-out mind that haunts it.”

This was the wrong thing to say. Deeply wrong. A huge misstep. Probably because he put his finger on the heart of the matter, but he did it crudely. Cruelly, even. Into his mind comes Sha’re. In his tent. At night. Averting her eyes. Unbuttoning her dress.

Everett doesn’t say anything.

“I’m sorry,” Daniel apologizes. “I—” he doesn’t understand why the words landed like a blow on an ascended version of Everett Young.

“You were kind to that ship,” Everett says. The words have the rasp of real emotion in them. “Farthest-flung edge of the galaxy, cloaked like only Morgan Le Fay knows how. You went there and you were kind to it. You told it it was beautiful.”

It sails into his mind on a river of memory: the white of Morgan Le Fay’s gown in the Alteran Departure Hall, the layered sonic beauty of nine opening cyphers, a dark ship, without circulating air, full of damage and sealed airlocks and shattered crystal windows, disintegrating in the void, singing the Cantascendis, haunted by a grieving spirit, powered by starlight.

His breath catches.

“Very soon now,” Daniel whispers, his fingertips tracing the curve of Sha’re’s cheek, “I’ll have to go.” 

His throat closes with the memory.

“You mean any of it, Jackson? That kindness? Is it a value you hold? Is it hardwired in? Or is it a manipulative tactic? Something a mostly-orphaned kid learned to save his own skin.”

Everett’s cutting for bone.

“It’s both,” Daniel admits.

“Why go?” Everett growls. “To that ghost ship. At the edge of the universe. Why wake it up. Call its mind outta the walls? Give it hope.”

“I’m a peaceful explorer,” Daniel says.

“Not good enough.”

He swallows.

Vala comes into his mind. Her bright-eyed clever thievery. How much he hates it, because he sees it in himself. Academia has dressed it up, but archeologists have spent centuries plundering the ground. His SGC office and his apartment are crammed to the gills with gifts and relics and objects of study. He can’t stop himself. Items won’t leave him. Items can’t.

Vala understands value when she sees it. Security. She’s always looking for it. For things that won’t leave because people always, always do.

He swallows.

“Dan.” Everett looks into him, his eyes the color of the forest floor. “Why’d you do it?”

Daniel looks away. Looks to the dawn. “Because I was lonely,” he admits. “Because it was lonely. Because all it was was loneliness. Can you understand that?” The banked fire of his own resentment begins to blaze, feeding on the hurt of being misunderstood, over and over for decades and decades, by his professors, by his colleagues, by the military, by Jack O’Neill, General Landry, by the SGC bureaucracy. “Because that ship had nothing. No awareness, no language, no thought. It was one long wail of machine yearning. You think I couldn’t hear it? You think that sound wouldn’t find me? It did. It was with me constantly. Sam Carter’s—Fabrice’s abandoned creation. And I know abandonment. I’ve lived it. Over and over and over again. So yes.” He pauses, breathing hard. “I went. I woke it up. And I gave it what I had.”

Daniel wipes his eyes, looks at the lake.

The sun is warm on his shirt.

He takes a sip of half-gone coffee, all its warmth gone to a cold morning.

“It did something with what you gave it,” Everett says.

Daniel pulls in another breath, steadying himself. “What?”

“You might find out,” Everett growls, “if you can grant it some of your ‘Wittgensteinian Dignity’.”

“The ship appeared to me as Sha’re,” Daniel says.

Everett nods, his eyes on the water.

Daniel shakes his head. “It didn’t understand why that was a problem. We never got far enough for me to explain. Everett—” he shakes his head. “that ship had only the most limited sense of self. It had no form of its own. It was nothing but suffering and the song of its shields. It had turned on itself. It hulled out its own consciousness. I don’t see how a mind like that can ascend.”

Everett sighs. “Jackson, I get that, but you gave it a shot. An opportunity to grow. With a sufficiently complex symbology map—”

“Everett, I don’t know how our friendship works in the Mozart Array, but—ask what you wanna ask. Stop using Wittgenstein to argue for the possibility of computational sentience.”

Everett shoves his hands in his pockets and studies his scuffed combat boots. “You gonna be a dick to a machine just because it’s a machine?”

Daniel frowns at him. “Is that seriously your question?”

“Put another way: in your mind, could a machine ever be worthy of ascension?”

Daniel considers the question. His experience has been that programmatic rules in the minds of machines limit and bind free inquiry. Even Reese with her creativity, her desire to play and have friends, had been driven to make more of herself.

But god, even that was true of humanity.

“I’ve never met one,” Daniel says cautiously, “but I’m open to the possibility.”

Everett sighs. “I’ll take it, I guess.”

“Just out of curiosity,” Daniel says. “You were gonna take your complex symbology map into the computational realm and argue machine intelligence and human intelligence aren’t as dissimilar as they first appear as long as there’s a sufficiently large network with the processing power to not only hold ideas in the form of electrical patterns but to hold held patterns and be aware of that holding, granting the property of recursivity that’s thought to be critical to ‘awareness’?”

“Maybe,” Everett tries not to smile. “Now you’ll never know.”

“I’m regretting my choices a little bit,” Daniel whispers. “I’ve been off my game for months now.”

“I know the feeling,” Everett says. “All the same, you wanna bat for the home team, we’ll be grateful to have you.”

Daniel knocks back the last of his cold coffee and looks at Everett. “You saying I’ve made the cut? Because I’ve eaten your food, I’ve granted Fabrice’s ship some provisional Wittgensteinian Dignity, and I’ve gone as far along the Anathemic Path as I’m willing to go without more information.”

There’s a long silence. Everett stares into the forest like he’s listening to something Daniel can’t hear.

“Tell me why I’m here,” Daniel says.

“You’re here because Nick and I need a formal introduction,” Everett says. “We need you to knock on the door of a Breaker and convince her to open it.”

“Whose door?”

“The door of Ganos Lal. Queen of the Winter Moon. You know her by her latter name: Morgan Le Fay.”

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