Eli stood at the data terminal, shifting his weight from left to right and back again wishing that somehow in all the chaos he had remembered to pack shoes with better arch support. Maybe the next plan would be a shoe planet, full of his well-loved canvas shoes with Dr. Scholl's inserts already in them. Maybe there'd also be a planet where he could get his manhood back and quit thinking about arch support too.
He could hear Rush behind him in the room, pushing buttons and working away at his own computer terminal.
"The greatest mystery of Destiny is not where we are going, but whether or not the mad scientist in this room ever sleeps," he said, looking at the red light of the keno floating next to him. He went back to work, staring at the lines of data in front of him, trying to make sense of it.
"Or perhaps the question-"
"Perhaps you would be better served not asking pointless questions, but working in silence instead," interrupted Dr. Rush behind him.
Eli shared a significant look with the keno, but returned to work in silence.
A minute later. "Perhaps, someday when you are watching this you will be saying to yourself, 'look at the great Dr. Wallace, isn't it cute how he struggled with Ancient at first now that he is known as the preeminent Ancient linguist in the world? To think it all began with a computer game." He snuck a glance over his shoulder at Rush, but as expected there was no change in expression.
Sighing in frustration and shifting his weight again in an effort to relieve his aching feet he said, "You know, Dr. Rush, I think it was awesome how you made the problem of getting to the Destiny into a computer game."
"It made this work, you know, fun."
Rush was silent and Eli turned to look at him. Rush stopped what he was doing to look up. "Eli, learning about the Destiny, unlocking her secrets is not meant to be fun."
Eli raised his eyebrows, "I'm just sayin'-"
"What you're saying Eli is that for you, it would be more 'fun', sitting in a odorous room, surrounded by fast foot, corn syrup sweetened carbonated beverages escaping into the fantasy of an online computer game because you simply cannot face the reality of your mother dying?"
The keno recorded Eli's looks of surprise, disbelief and then resignation as he turned back to his own computer terminal, stung by Rush's entirely accurate but wholly unfair assessment of what his life had been. He put his head down and returned to work trying to make sense of the data on his terminal screen.
After a little while, Rush stood up. "I am leaving. Please lock the room if you leave before I return."
Eli watched his back as he walked out of the lab. He turned back to the keno and shared another knowing look with it. Someday, someone would understand. Before getting back to work, however, he retrieved Rush's chair for himself. No sense in sacrificing his feet any further in the pursuit of knowledge if there was a perfectly useful and unoccupied chair in the room.
Humming softly to himself and occasionally muttering under his breath, he got back to the data analysis he had been working on in the last few days. "Maybe if I just stare at it long enough, it'll come to me," he mused to himself. The thing was, the data actually was starting to make sense to him. He had been examining what he was pretty sure was the data from the ship ahead of the Destiny. He was also pretty sure that he had managed to begin to crack the archives of this data, although he wasn't sure where the current data, and Destiny must still be reciving current data, was stored. Finding out why they had been where they had been would be nice, but it was more important, to Eli at least, to figure out where they were going.
"Think of it like a computer game," he told the keno. "Right, I must find Zelda..." Eli smiled to himself.
Eli looked around as he entered the mess hall. There were a crew members scattered about, segregagted into civilian and military groups, huddled in pairs of trios. Conversation was hushed, but constant. Surprisingly, Rush was not alone, sitting with his head bent with Dr.'s Park and Volker. He appeared as if he was trying to explain something to a child. Park and Volker looked as if they were both annoyed at being spoken down to and interested in what Rush was saying. Not seeing Chloe, Greer, or even Scott, Eli made a decision, picked up his ration for the evening and headed over to join Rush, Park and Volker.
Listening, but not engaging, Eli realized Rush was trying to explain the importance of the chair to Volker while Park kept interrupting with questions. The chair is important to unlocking the knowledge they need, Rush stressed. Volker seemed sold on the idea, Eli noticed, but Park voiced her objections over safety. Every time she did, Rush looked just slightly more annoyed. His ration sat in front of him half eaten. Park and Volker's were untouched.
"That good, huh?" Eli said during a lull in the conversation, gesturing to Park and Volker's dishes with his fork. They looked down almost in surprise at the food still being there.
"I would suggest eating it while it is hot," Volker responded, as Eli watched him attempt to pull his fork out of the now fully congealed bowl of mashed whatever. Park looked disgusted and curled up her nose at her own dish.
"Colonel Young must allow us to use the chair," Rush picked up, as if there had never been a break in the conversation.
"He says it isn't safe," Parker responded, for what Eli is sure the millionth time.
"I agree with Parker," Volker added. "We should wait until we know more, or at least use the communication stones-"
"No. Those back on Earth will tell us it is too dangerous, that we don't know what we are doing, or that they have to conduct tests. They know nothing of the Destiny and are thinking only of their own experiences with very different chairs back in our galaxy."
"What if they're right, though?" Volker asked.
"And what if they're wrong. Our chair is an earlier model. It will work, and it will offer us the key to unlocking the Destiny."
"I don't think we need the chair to unlock the Destiny," Eli said.
Rush looked at him with a mixture of curiosity and contempt. "Oh? And what does the great Dr. Wallace know about that?"
"Well," Eli began carefully. "We've already managed to unlock plenty of the Destiny and we also know that whatever course she's following she isn't trying to kill us. We should use our time on the Destiny to try to hack the computer systems and use the communication stones to share with those on Earth what we find. We could even create a new computer game to tap in to the potential of the Internet back home."
Park began nodding along, listening to Eli.
"Don't be stupid, Eli, we need the information that the chair can provide and we need it now. We don't have the luxury of months to wait for an MIT or Stanford drop-out to waste enough time on a computer game. Besides, he'll just end up with just enough rudimentary knowledge to make him think he knows more than he does." Rush rose, picked up his dishes, and left. Park, Volker, and Eli watched him go.
"I could respect him more if he weren't so rude," Volker said.
Park nodded. "It makes working with him unpleasant."
"I don't know," Eli added, "I find it kind of funny. He's like that crotchy old professor that constantly says how stupid his students are compared to him, but recognizses that he is working with the brilliant minds of the generation."
Volker looked at Eli. "I am amazed at you Eli, he is hardest on you."
"He should respect all of us more. We could help him. Instead all we hear about is how worthless we are."
"That's because he likes us. If he didn't like us, he wouldn't talk to us at all."
Park and Volker looked at Eli as if had sprouted another head. "What, it's just like that old professor. He likes his students too, he just can't say it to them."
"Believe that if you will, Eli." Parker looked back down at her dish. "I wonder about that chair though," she said to it.
Volker replied, "if he's right, why don't we just sit in it?"
Eli looked at both of them, "you guys can't be serious? Colnole Young told us no."
"Yes, but Rush is convinced," Parker replied. "And, how often has he been wrong before?"
"That's the point, Eli, never. He's never been wrong, about the sun, or the planets, or the gate or anything out here. Do you think he, or Young is wrong about the chair?"
Eli looked at both of them and laughed, "You guys are crazy."
Park and Volker shared a look, "Crazy, Eli, but not stupid."
Park looked down at her food again and sighed before announcing that it was late and she was due to start her shift in the science room next. Volker rose after her and announced he was going to bed. Eli watched both of them. He trusted Young and he trusted Rush. Young said the chair was dangerous and not to sit in it, Rush hadn't sat in it himself so he must not believe it was safe either. In any case, Eli thought to himself, he would continue to try to hack the computer data the old-fashioned way.
Eli arrived for his shift the next day. Smothering a yawn he took up his post at the computer terminal, sent the keno off in explore mode and picked up where he left off the previous day. The data was this close to making sense, the lines and lines and lines of code almost forming in to something he could understand before becoming just gibberish. Close to a solution, he worked in silence and with intense concentration.
The sound of Rush shifting behind him snapped him out of it.
"You are quiet today, Eli, have you found something?" Rush asked, breaking the silence.
"I don't know."
"You don't know if you've found something, or you have found something and you don't know what it is?" Rushed asked as he continued to work away at his computer terminal.
Rush stopped what he was doing and looked up at Eli.
"See, I think I've found where Destiny stores the data she recieves from Zelda."
"The ship out in front of us, I named her last night. Anyway, I think I've found where she stores the data, the problem is, I can't make sense of the data. I mean, I almost do, but then it goes away."
"Perhaps you just simply don't understand it."
"No, see, I understand it. That's the problem. I think it is the data that doesn't make sense - not me."
"Eli, it's data, it has to make sense."
"That's the problem. I don't think it does."
Rush got up and walked over to Eli, looking over his shoulder at his data.
"See here," Eli said, flicking back in the data archive. "This data makes sense. As far as I can tell, this is a record of the planets that Zelda left gates at and then Destiny later visited. The data Zelda sent," Eli pointed to a column, "matches what Destiny later recorded," he continued, pointing at another column. "But here," he said, moving the data forward and showing Rush the columns again, "here it doesn't make sense."
Rush shouldered Eli out of the way, bending low over the data, squinting at it.
"What do you think the problem is?" Eli asked.
"Why don't you tell me what you think the problem is, Eli."
Eli stopped to think for a moment before responding, "I think the data that Zelda sends is bad. And I think it goes bad a few years ago. I think Destiny is following Zelda's course to find the Stargates, but I don't think we're getting the whole picture."
"Where does the data go bad?"
"That's the thing. I don't think the data went bad in Destiny's computers, I think the Zelda went bad and Destiny is just trying to make sense of what, if any, of Zelda's data is good."
"Interesting hypothosis, Eli. This will require further analysis, but I don't want you to tell anyone yet."
"No, we wouldn't want to uncecssarily alarm anyone, least of all Colonel Young, who would simply report to Earth for them to further interfere with our work."
Rush turned around and went back to his terminal.
"Why do you think Zelda is sending back bad information?" Eli asked.
"Perhaps it was damaged, or just simply got too old. Regardless, the Destiny is still doing fine despite what, according to you, is a decade of bad data. I wouldn't worry too much."
Eli looked at Rush incrediously. "Worry? We could be flying blind!"
Rush looked up at Eli. "Blind? Hardly. Destiny always manages to find a gate, or whatever resource she needs most. Like I said, no need for concern."
"Maybe Zelda was damaged physically."
"It is possible. Destiny shows signs of a battle and we can tell her weapons have been fired at some point. Perhaps the other ship was damaged in a conflict."
Rush seemed amused by Eli's question. "They do exist."
"Well," Eli stated, rolling his eyes, "I know that, but don't you think they could pose a threat to us?"
"Not likely. Destiny has survived hundreds of thousands of years."
Rush cocked his head, considering Eli's point. "True."
"So there could be alien races out there, like the Romulans or the Borg. Or even species 8472."
"I highly doubt it, those are fictional."
"You know what I mean. Or maybe, there is a race out there that will help us get back home, or fix Destiny, or trade knowledge with us."
Rush signed, resigned to the conversation. He stopped and looked up at Eli.
"What contact Earth has had with alien races has been limited, Eli. And mostly negative."
"Well, I could see that. You know, us being in their space and all."
Rush went back to his work.
"I think I'm going to be optimistic. Hopefully we'll meet people who are more advanced than us and willing to help us get back home."
"And they can fix the ship."
"Eli," Rush said sharply, "if Destiny felt it prudent to contact an alien race, she would've done so already."
Eli turned to consider Rush, watching him as he worked.
"How you can trust a ship?" The 'and not its crew' remained unasked.
Rush looked at Eli before responding. "Out here, it's the only thing I trust."
"I guess I will just have to trust you."
They worked in silence.
"Rush?" Eli asked as he gathered up his keno tab and prepared to head to the mess for his evening meal at the end of his shift.
"What is so important about the chair? What is more important than everything else aboard Destiny?"
"Everything, Eli. It is the key to everything." Eli turned and left, knowing he'd get nothing more.
Eli walked into the mess and spotted James, Brody, and Park sitting in a corner chatting. He grabbed his own plate of food and joined them at the table just before Scott came in to sit down as well, carrying a pack of cards with him.
James smiled, "Eli, you're just in time to join us for a game of poker."
"Deal me in!"
Scott shuffled the cards before passing them to Brody to cut. "Draw, hold 'em, what'll it be?"
"Five card draw," answered James.
They all took their cards.
"So, Lisa, how's it going down there in the core?" Brody asked as he considered his cards.
"Well, don't you think Eli?"
"Huh, yeah, it's going well. We still don't know anything, but it's better than the nothing we used to know."
The Scott and Brody exchanged a smile.
"You couldn't pay me to be stuck in a room with Rush all day," James added.
"Oh, he's not that bad, guys," Eli responded.
"That's because he hates you a little less than he hates the rest of us, Eli," Park said.
"Oh, come on Lisa. He likes you."
"No, he tolerates me."
They all placed their cards down and selected recieved their new ones from Scott.
"I don't trust him," Scott said. "I don't think the Colonel does either."
Eli started to protest.
"It's true, Eli. He keeps things from us and then acts superior when things turn out the way they do. But, he doesn't give us any reason to trust him. I'm with Scott," James said.
"It's the way he talks down to us," Brody said.
"Show 'em." They laid out their cards and Brody took the role of dealer on as his prize for a small straight.
Eli thought about what they were saying. Rush was brusque and rude and yes, a little superior. He was smart and he knew it. Eli also suspected that he had a reason for the chip on his shoulder. It didn't forgive his behavior, but he felt as if he might be growing to understand him.
"It's his single-mindedness." They all looked at James when she spoke. Brody and Scott nodded in agreement.
James took the cards that Brody dealt her. "His single-mindedness. He'll stop at nothing to achieve his goals. And one of these days it really will get one of us, if not all of us, killed."