Eli: I can guarantee you that Earth will be my station.
Chloe: But you’re joining Stargate Command?
Eli: Like they’re gonna ask me!
T.J: They’ll ask you, Eli. You’ll be right out there with the other SGC brainiacs, like Doctor Jackson and Colonel Carter, and um… (looks to James) what was that guy’s name who kept staring at your, uh…
James: Ugh. McKay.
T.J: Yeah – McKay. They’ll ask you, right when we get back.
Stargate Universe 2x12: Twin Destinies.
Almost a week rattling around an Ancient ship on his own, and all he’s doing to celebrate is leaning too far over the observation deck and pressing his hands like starfish against the freezing cold glass. Might as well make the most of there being no one around to tell me off. He’s already worked his way through the remainder of the yoga CDs that Chloe bought on board, fiddled his way through the ruins of the hydroponics lab and downed whatever alcoholic substance had survived the supernova blast. He’s even considering doing the washing up.
He’s settled himself into something of a rhythm these past few days: up at 8, breakfast, morning jog, and then the requisite 45 minutes staring open-mouthed on the observation deck at the vast expanse of nothingness stretching out ahead of the ship. He’ll never get over it.
“Not as long as I live,” he says, awestruck, to no one. He’s not surprised that his voice echoes around the empty room, bouncing back to him in waves. He laughs at the crazy situation. “Not that I’ll live long anyway.”
Mid-morning he takes a walk through the long corridors lined with stasis pods, peering in at the sleeping bodies of his friends, secretly hoping that one of them might wake up. Or that one day they’ll all jump out at him: surprise! He memorizes the order in which they appear, and drags his hands across the thick fogged glass of the chambers, checking vital signs. He sits at Chloe’s feet and plays his iPod: Metric; she’d be proud of him. He’s started writing in the ship’s log book, a task that Rush was usually neurotic about doing himself. Every day he writes the date, the amount of energy left in Destiny’s reserves, and then leaves a few lines of blank space. Nothing else happened today. Eli Wallace out.
He watched them freeze in statis-sleep one by one on a Wednesday, and by Saturday Daniel Jackson appears on board. Eli finds him in the Gateroom making rubbings of the ninth chevron.
“Oh crap,” says Eli, feeling his head for fever. As far as hallucinatory experiences go, Eli knows they aren’t a good sign.
“Hey,” says Dr. Jackson, waving at him, “you got a light, or something? A flashlight? It’s real dark in here.”
“Yeah, I know,” says Eli, still confused, “I’m minimalizing power output. Lights take power, and I need that power to pump air.”
“Oh,” says Dr. Jackson, “of course.”
Eli takes the steps two at a time and moves to stand beside Dr. Jackson. He’s a little in awe, but mostly incredibly confused. “Dr. Jackson? What are you doing here?”
Daniel rolls his eyes. “Isn’t it obvious? I need to document these chevrons, and it’s not like there’s anyone on board to do it for me. Where is everyone?”
“Oh,” Daniel shrugs. He is wearing a mottled white shirt and a loose tie, with his Air Force jacket tied around his waist. Eli rests a hand on his shoulder experimentally, and is shocked to find that Dr. Jackson is solid, real, flesh and bones and all.
“Dr. Jackson? Are you real?”
Daniel looks up from his drawings, and adjusts his glasses. “Eli, what do you think?”
Eli remembers seeing Jackson’s recording on his very first day at SGC, the eager way in which he leaned over the video recorder, moving his hands in excitement as he explained how the Gate worked. Eli had been dumbstruck, to say the least. It was revelatory to realise that not only was space-time travel possible, but that there was someone geekier than him out there.
“I dunno,” Eli concludes, “you’re probably a figment of my imagination. T.J said I was bound to get symptoms of isolation: talking to myself, spontaneous crying, haphazard lack of energy and general apathy. Something like that.”
“Right then,” Dr. Jackson doesn’t look up from his work, “we’re settled on that. Now, are you going to keep getting in my way, or actually help me?”
Eli falls asleep around midnight, sitting beside Dr. Jackson on the metal beams that hold the Gate upright, and by the time he wakes up he is alone again.
“I could’ve sworn he was real,” Eli says to Rush’s impassive face though the glass of the sleep chamber. “Man, I never thought I’d say this, but I wish you were awake right now. You’d probably tell me I was crazy or something.” He stands in silence, waiting for Rush’s reply. Nothing. On closer inspection, Eli realizes that Rush fell unconscious with a slight smirk on his face. Eli laughs, and goes to take a shower.
Sundays are always quiet on board the Destiny, more so now that Eli is the only conscious member of the crew. No one was exactly religious, but they all had a calm sort of respect for the day regardless. It was Camille who first declared that they ought to take Sundays off, and spend the time talking and eating, as opposed to crazily jumping headfirst through Gates. Eli had supported her on this, not least because Gate travel still freaked him out, never mind how cool it was. His mom was religious, and he missed the steady rituals of worship.
On this particular Sunday, he is eating tinned peaches on the observation deck, playing hide and seek with shooting stars.
Chloe comes up beside him and pats his arm companionably.
“I thought you might show up,” he says disinterestedly. Hallucinating about archaeologists he’s never met is one thing, but seeing Chloe like this gives him a pang of sadness. He really wants to talk to someone real.
“Does it matter if I’m real or not? I’m still here, talking to you.”
Eli considers this for a moment, watching the stars. “But the difference is, I still have to go check your vital signs, and worry if they start dropping. Big difference.” He’s sick of being solely responsible for everyone’s wellbeing; he isn’t a doctor and he certainly doesn’t know what to do if something happens. He’s been scanning T.J’s notes, but other than that he’s no more a doctor than he is an astrophysicist. Young assured him that the stasis pods are in top condition and that nothing could possibly go wrong, but Eli didn’t feel right unless he was worrying.
“I’ve just… had enough of being ‘the guy’, you know?” He says, quietly. Chloe moves closer and puts an arm on his shoulder, giving him her ‘go on, I’m listening’ look. “I can’t navigate this ship across countless galaxies. It should never have been me. I don’t even know why I’m here, Chloe, it’s all a big misunderstanding.”
“Some accident, huh?”
“All I did was hack Rush’s stupid video game. Anyone could’ve done it. It just happened to be me, and now I’m here in charge of everything. I can’t even cook, Chloe. My mom wouldn’t even let me have the house to myself over the weekend because she was worried I’d burn it down. And now look at me.” He sighs and looks down at his shirt, his stupid red shirt he bought for $5 because he thought it was clever.
“Yeah. Now look at you.” Chloe smiles at him.
He ignores her. As a hallucination, he’s almost certain she’d say whatever he wanted her to. He turns back to staring out at the stretch of stars in front of them, surrounded by Destiny’s hyperspeed glow.
He thinks of Dr. Jackson, who knows more than Eli could ever imagine, of Colonel Carter who could beat him in a game of trivial pursuit any day, and of McKay, who he had so badly wanted to meet before all this was over. Of Rush, who infuriated him beyond belief, but who he admired more than he’d ever let on. He looks up to them in much the same way that he looks up at the stars.
“Don’t you get it?” Says Chloe, effervescent with the tell-tale flicker of hallucination. “Eli, you’re not looking up at the stars now. You’re looking out at them. You can do this Eli; Young wouldn’t have left you in charge unless he was absolutely certain. He believes in you Eli.”
He is silent for a while. She’s probably right. “Yeah.”
“Hey,” she pokes him so that he is forced to look at her, “I believe in you. And I’m a genetically-altered space genius, so I ought to know.”
For a moment she is so distinctly Chloe, the inflection of her phrase and the silly way in which she raises one eyebrow to coax a smile from him, that he forgets she isn’t real and hugs her. She disappears in his arms, and, like an ultraviolet after-image behind his eyes, he swears he can still feel her. He collapses over the handrail.
By the time he feels ok enough to return to wandering around the ship, Dr. Jackson is back. Eli finds him in the Gateroom fussing over the chevrons again.
Eli smiles. “You know, this ship is on an FTL flight straight through countless galaxies, there’s no way I can believe you’d just physically appear on board.”
“So I’m not real?”
“That’s right.” Eli stands beside him and wonders for a second whether dropping the ship out of FTL, dialling the Gate and making a home on the other side is a viable course of action. Dr. Jackson would probably disapprove, not to mention Rush.
Eli sighs. He’s been alone for over a week now, food is running low and the ship is seemingly still light years away from its destination. He is tired, to say the least. He wants to drag his feet through the endless dim-lit corridors and collapse somewhere, preferably comfy and warm but this late in the game he isn’t too bothered, and sleep. He’s so exhausted that he’s almost certain he doesn’t need a stasis chamber to go into a three-year sleep.
But wouldn’t that be counterproductive? He’d volunteered for this duty because, well, because he was almost certain there wasn’t anyone else on board capable of it. Rush was Rush, indomitable and unflappable, but even after all this time Young had still picked Eli, clapped him on the shoulder and left him in charge; a kid who played too many video games and cracked a code by pure chance. That had to mean something, right?
Daniel Jackson is shifting through his papers, huffing at Eli intermittently. “Are you going to help me, or what?”
Eli had forgotten he was there. Figuratively, of course. He laughs. Because this whole situation is entirely ridiculous; he could run out of food any day now, the air supply is trickling down to almost minimal, and yet he is sat in the Gateroom with a man who isn’t even real. At least, not this far out in space.
“Doctor Jackson?” He asks, shyly. He feels like a kid at school, afraid to ask a question only to be laughed down. Daniel looks at him, hands him an armful of his papers and raises an eyebrow, which Eli takes to mean ‘go on’.
“Is it always like this? Gatetravel? Horrible and frightening and yet at the same time way more exciting than you ever thought it would be?”
Eli laughs. He moves to sit at the foot of the Gate and rests his head against the thick stone plinths while Dr. Jackson continues sighing over his papers. Eli feels tired, the kind of tired he never understood before all this; stranded-in-outer-space tired. His watch beeps angrily to tell him that it’s noon, which means he’s overdue for the sleep chambers’ daily check.
“Gotta get back to work,” he tells Daniel, who ignores him. He pushes himself up off the Gate and retrieves the logbook from his pocket, allowing himself a moment to think that, maybe, if he’s lucky, he might be able to pull this thing off.
“I can do this,” he says under his breath, more of a reassurance than a statement. “Probably.”