Force over Distance: Chapter 11

Nothing was working.




Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: None.


Chapter 11


The next morning, Young stood on the observation deck, his hands closed around the metal rail. He watched the smear of stars at FTL, took his weight off his healing knee, and tried to enjoy the lack of pain in his hands and feet.


It wasn’t working.


Nothing was working.


They had more problems than they could handle. They were being pursued by two alien races. Rush and Chloe still weren’t out of quarantine. Their food supplies were running low. And, hanging over everything, was the wild card of Telford gaining the approval to yank Destiny’s chief scientist (and personal human interface) back to Earth, with unknown consequences.


They were barely hanging on. Every day felt like a knife-edge balancing act.


All of that, he could deal with.


What he couldn’t deal with was Rush.


What the hell had happened in the CI room? The man had torn himself apart, to—what? Make a rhetorical point? To get one over on Young in that maddening, superior, condescending, sonofabitch way he had that seemed to come as naturally as breathing?


And then, last night, he’d found the guy entertaining Chloe? With goddamned math? Having a conversation with her, like a real human being?


Young would like to have an actual conversation with the man, but it seemed like that was never gonna happen, despite the fact they were mentally linked.


The situation was a disaster. Fucked up beyond all recognition.


He needed to switch up his approach. And not a little bit. A lot. He’d probably need to pull multiple conceptual one-eighties. As he stared at the swirl of streaming starlight, he sketched out his options.


One. As bizarre as it sounded, he could try pulling Rush out of the chain of command. Reclassify him as something uncontrollable. Like a storm. Like random chance. Like the ship itself. Command hierarchy would apply around him, but not to him. No more orders.


Cons: He hated this idea. It was extreme. It was dangerous. It gave Rush way too much power to do whatever the hell he wanted once he’d mapped Young’s new approach, which he would.


Pros: Had he implemented this rule forty-eight hours ago? Their confrontation in the CI room wouldn’t have happened. At all. Rush would’ve insisted on fixing the FTL drive. Young would’ve said “sure.” The end.


Two. When possible, he could take a page out of Chloe’s book and be nice to the man. Help him out from time to time?


Cons: This might start more fights than it prevented, given that Rush was so goddamn—well. Whatever.


Pros: If he did this, maybe, maybe, over time, they’d be able to interact with something more than tissue-paper politeness over naked hostility. That’d be nice.


And, damn it, he owed the scientist the effort. He owed him countless times over, up to and including his genius play with the FTL drive the previous day, which’d been executed against Young’s substantial interference.


He sighed, leaned forward, and braced his hands against the rail. “I could really use some help,” he murmured into the silence.


“Yes.” The AI appeared beside him. “You could.”


Young jumped. “A little warning would be nice,” he growled.


Emily’s features were remote and blank, illuminated by the glow of FTL.


“Are you just, I don’t know, listening in all the time?”


“Not all the time. My attention runs in parallel, but it’s not infinite in scope.”


“Great.”


“Useful,” the AI corrected, oblivious to his sarcasm.


Young tried to keep his irritation off his face. “Any idea how the hell I’m supposed to deal with your favorite human?”


“I told you to pick Tamara.”


“That was never gonna happen,” he growled.


It said nothing.


“That’s it? Not very helpful.”


“You know what else isn't helpful?" it snapped back at him, so much like his ex-wife that something tore in his chest. “Blocking him out. You're exhausting him.”


I'm exhausting him?” Young echoed. “Did you see what happened yesterday? If anything, it's the other way around.”


It sighed and looked away.


“Look,” Young said. “I get it. I'm not doing a good job.” He watched the stars blur around the ship. “You think I don't know that? You think you need to come here, looking like my ex-wife, and tell me?” His hands tightened on the rail. “I don't understand him. I don't understand you. Your role in all of this.” He edged sideways to put some distance between himself and the AI. “You talk to him, don't you?”


“Yes.”


He ran a thumb over the damaged material of his jacket sleeve, raw from where it'd rubbed against the line down on the planet. “You gave him the idea that pain would ground him, didn't you?”


“I did.”


Why?” The memory of Rush, leaning into his broken foot, bored into his mind. “Why—when it was you pulling him out of his body in the first place?”


“Is that what you think?” it asked. “Destiny pulls on him. Destiny.”


“What's the difference?”


“What's the difference between you and your arm?”


“Speak plainly.”


“I'm trying,” it snapped. “You think this is easy for me? I'm not like you.”


“No kidding.”


“I’m the ship's consciousness,” it said finally. “Not the ship itself. Your arm acts as you direct it. But, if you touch open flame, your hand pulls back. It does so without your conscious direction. It’s the same with me and the mechanics of the ship. I can direct it. But it reaches for him instinctively. That reaching is beyond my control.”


“Why?” Young asked. “Why would it do that?”


“It’s lonely,” there was a child-like sincerity in Emily’s face.


“It’s lonely,” Young repeated. “Seriously? All that intense, grinding strain he’s getting on his mind is because the ship is lonely?”


“I don’t expect you to understand.” The AI looked at the blurring stars.


“Uh, okay,” Young said. “Great. So it needed a friend. And it chose Rush?”


It fixed him with a blazing look, as if he were being deliberately obtuse. “I chose him. And because I chose him, the ship sees him clearly now.”


“Got it,” he said, trying not to piss the thing off. “I just—I think it would help me to know why you picked him. Rather than someone else. Like Eli. Or—TJ. Or literally anyone.”


“He has the greatest chance of success.” Emily’s eyes slid away.


“Success?” Young echoed.


“Defined as completing the mission.” It hunched its shoulders.


“Which is what?”


Its expression and tone turned remote. “You have more pressing problems.”


That sounded ominous.


“Fine,” Young said, uneasy. “Then tell me what you came to tell me.”


It hesitated, tracing the crisp, white cuff of its tailored blouse. “You describe him,” it said, “as ‘a lot of work.’ He’s attempted to explain what you mean by that, as it’s a somewhat sophisticated social concept.”


Young raised his eyebrows. “Oh yeah?”


“He says you harbor extreme dislike for him, but, because expressing such an opinion would have a negative impact on crew morale and efficiency, you choose this alternate phrase because it redefines the problem in terms of a word with positive social connotations and because it implies, by the nature of the word choice, that the problem is, indeed, fixable.”


“I hope it is fixable,” Young said, taken aback.


“You ‘hope’ it’s fixable,” the AI said, cautiously, “but do you ‘believe’ it’s fixable?”


Young didn’t reply.


“You didn’t accept this role to help him,” the AI said flatly. “Did you?”


“Of course I did. Why the hell else would I subject myself to this?” Young growled.


“He thinks you wanted to spare Lieutenant Johansen,” the AI said. “Is that true?”


“Yeah,” Young admitted. “Partially, yeah. But that doesn’t mean I won’t do the job.”


The AI looked at him with Emily’s narrowed eyes.


“What?” Young demanded.


“Do you understand, Everett, that, in this moment, you’re not ‘doing the job’? Stop blocking him out.”


“Sometimes,” Young said, keeping a lid on his temper, “we both need a little space. It’s a human thing. I wouldn’t expect you to understand. I won’t block him forever. I just need to figure out how to approach—”


“Are you deliberately trying to damage him?” Emily’s voice was flat.


“What? No.”


“Do you understand that you’re hurting him?”


Young shut his eyes and did his best to banish the memory of their confrontation in the CI room. “As in,” he paused, searching for the right term, “emotionally?”


“Possibly,” it replied, “though that’s difficult for me to assess. You’re hurting him physically. He’s not meant to be separated from you. You went to a planet and left him on the ship. He combined with Destiny outside the neural interface to repolarize the FTL drive. Shortly after that, you purposefully disabled his functionality by blocking him. Then you left him blocked for eighteen hours.”


“He seemed fine when I dropped by the infirmary last night,” Young said, uneasily.


“His link to Destiny is very strong. I can’t shield him effectively from the pull of the ship. I’m not meant to shield him. That’s not my role. He’s becoming fatigued.”


“If he’s having such a hard time, then why hasn’t he radioed me?”


“Perhaps he thinks such information won’t affect your decision-making algorithms,” the AI said coolly.


And that—that was fair.


“All right.” He looked up at the ceiling and gathered his resolve. “I'll take down the block and keep it down. As much as I can. As much as he'll let me.”


When he looked back to where she’d been standing, she was gone.


Young grimaced.


He steeled himself against what would, almost certainly, be an argument of epic proportions. No point in being delicate about it. Better to rip off the bandaging job in one go. He dropped his block and moved in on—


A complete catastrophe.


Searing pain exploded through his wrists and forearms. Rush was on a gurney, soaked with sweat, and trying to ground himself by repeatedly clenching his hands. There wasn’t a recognizable thought in the man’s head. His mind was more than half tangled with the shadowed circuits of the ship; the only thing Young got from what was left was the grind of pure strain.


With a surge of adrenaline, Young yanked him back and landed him firmly in his body. The resulting metaphysical snap rocked them both. Young jerked and would have overbalanced, if not for his grip on the rail.


The sudden relief was so intense that Rush was on the verge of losing consciousness.


Young brought a hand to his jaw and waited it out.


As Rush reoriented, Young stuck with him. The infirmary came back into focus. He heard Chloe, talking to Lieutenant Scott by radio, the volume turned low. Rush’s feet were encased in a complex bandaging job. His hands and wrists and forearms hurt like hell. As the scientist’s thought patterns reengaged, the details of the room crisped up. Rush was staring at the ceiling. At shadowed, arcing lines of engraved Ancient text.


//Are you all right?// Young asked, shaken.


//Bored, are we?// Rush’s projection was exhausted, wavering in intensity.


Young sent a wordless, reflexive wave of apology through their link. It was strong. It was heartfelt. It was unintentional. It wasn’t a directed message; it just was. He felt goddamned terrible, and he didn’t bother to hide it.


Young’s wave of guilt caused a wash of disorientation in Rush, followed by a snap realization as he identified Young’s feelings, their source, classified them as absurd, was reconfronted with their genuine sincerity, and then—


The man started laughing. In unmistakable despair.


“Shit,” Young whispered, trying and failing to prevent another wave of guilt. “Sorry. Sorry, that was a lot. I know it was.”


“Dr. Rush?” Chloe sat, startled.


Rush shook his head and turned away from her.


“Sweetheart,” Gloria said, her voice soft and close. “What’s wrong?”


At this, Rush lost the last threads of his fraying self-control. He turned over, buried his head in his arms, and sobbed.


Young froze. His fingers tightened around the rail of the observation deck.


“Dr. Rush.” Chloe’s bare feet whispered against the deck plates as she left her gurney. “It’s okay. You’re on Destiny. It’s fine.”


Young’s own building panic and guilt fed into and from Rush’s distress. The scientist’s thoughts were an explosion of pain and grief and exhaustion.


This whole thing was on Young. No question.


The guy had been in a static contest of wills with a starship for the last eighteen hours. He had nothing left. At all.


Chloe put a hand on Rush’s back. “It’s okay.” She sounded like she was crying herself. “You’re not there. You’re here. We’re okay.”


//This is my fault,// Young projected carefully.


He got back a surge of inarticulate outrage.


//Yup,// Young said. //I know. Exactly.//


“It’s okay,” Chloe’s voice was thick with tears. “It’s okay, really it is.”


Young tried to calm himself down. He focused on his own breathing, on the blur of stars at FTL, on the ache in his knee that’d turned manageable with a full night’s rest. He did his best to copy Rush’s wordless, emotional projective style. The calm he scraped together was laced with guilt and anxiety. But he projected it anyway. Not as a wave—something that would  arrive, crest, and recede—but as a constant, low-level stream.


“This happens to me all the time.” Chloe spoke softly. “Like, all-the-time all the time. But you’re here now. Here, we do Night Math. We eat paste. Yum. We get quarantined for our fun genetics. We wish for Kleenex, like, at least once a day. That’s what we do here.”


Rush began to reestablish a hold over himself, which made it easier for Young to generate and maintain the steady flow of calm he was projecting at the other man, which, in turn, helped the scientist relax further—like a loop, sustaining itself. Young fed straight into it. He felt Rush become aware of what was happening. The scientist hesitated, then engaged, throwing his own intentionality into the feedback spiral. With a few more turns, his overwhelming distress faded.


Young’s mind ached with the other man’s exhaustion.


“Sorry Chloe,” Rush murmured, his head still buried in his arms.


“Don’t be sorry,” Chloe replied. “Like I said, it happens. To me. Most nights. Your week has been kind of a lot.”


//She’s got a point,// Young said.


//We’re never discussing this again.// Rush’s projection was flat, totally lacking in energy.


//You got it,// Young replied.


//I think we should just move on,// Rush said.


//No problem.//


//Fuck up the next thing beyond repair.//


//Sounds like us,// Young agreed.


Rush sent back a wordless wave of amusement, laced with despair, laced with anger, laced with humiliation, laced with gratitude that felt an awful lot like the sentiment that’d kicked off the whole problem in the first place.


Young projected all the calm he could scrape together.


“Did you sleep at all last night?” Chloe asked.


“No,” Rush said, indistinctly, into his pillow.


“Do you want me to see if TJ has anything she can give you?” Chloe asked. “Sometimes, if it’s been really rough for a few nights, she’ll let me have something.”


//It’s not a bad idea,// Young offered.


He got back a wave of stripped-down acknowledgement, exhaustion, and not much else.


“Unnecessary,” Rush whispered.


“Okay.”


//You can sleep. I’m not gonna let you get pulled in.//


In response, Young got a collection of random images, interspersed irregularly over Rush’s perception of the infirmary. A piece of an equation, some kind of topological surface, Gloria, tessellating tiles—


//?// Young sent Rush a wave of wordless inquiry.


He got nothing back that felt directed. Not sure what was happening, still projecting calm, he narrowed the distance between their minds. Rush’s surface thoughts fired randomly through recent memories of terrible strain, the pale blue of the FTL drive, how difficult it'd been to drag himself off the floor of the CI room—


Their minds were so closely apposed that Young’s mental flinch caused Rush to physically twitch, snapping him out of the memory and into a haze of semi-alert disorientation.


“This is the part that’s better if TJ gives you something.” Chloe’s hand was still on Rush’s back.


And. Okay. Yeah. That random mental firing had probably been REM sleep. Young could recall shutting his eyes after particularly gruesome missions, struggling with too-vivid flashes of his day. Made sense the same thing would be happening here.


Young doubled down on projecting calm, and Rush dropped back into an uncontrolled instant replay of the worst parts of his day.


Great.


He eased himself away from the immediacy of the connection and let the observation deck come back into focus. His hand was locked on the rail in front of him. His hair was damp with sweat.


“God damn,” he whispered. “Hey.” He looked into empty air. “Emily. Or, whatever.”


The AI did not reappear.


The bleached-out heart of the FTL drive transitioned to a clean, white room where Rush sat on a piano bench, shoulder-to-shoulder with Gloria as she cried—


And nope. Sorry.


Experimentally, instead of decreasing the distance between them, Young began to apply pressure. The concept was similar to resisting the pull of the ship, but here he was resisting the engine of the scientist’s dreamscape. He dragged against the unfolding memory of Gloria, slowing it, leaning into its building intensity, until it flipped to—


At the base of an amphitheater-style lecture hall, he pulls down a moveable chalkboard. The one he’s just filled rises behind it. He’s halfway through the Axiom of Choice, the chalk sliding fluidly as he sweeps it over the board, in a graphical depiction of the indexed family


And, still, Young dragged against the momentum of Rush’s thoughts. The dream shifted.


He digs into the melodic progression, his fingers moving fluidly over the keyboard. C minor. A terribly personal key. He crashes into the Mannheim Rocket. “You play like Beethoven,” Gloria whispers in his ear, startling him. He glares at her. She has both hands braced against the piano bench. Her eyes are full of mischief. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” he says. She gives him a quick kiss, then grins. “Beethoven was deaf, sweetheart.”


The dream shifted.


He stands in shallow depression at the center of a windowless stone chamber. Within the shallow pool, edged with the glow of semi-concealed crystal, there’s a thin layer of transparent gel. It’s cold against his feet. It soaks the cuffs of his borrowed fatigues. Above him, gold inscriptions in Goa’uld descend the wall, gleaming with the light of interfaced Ancient tech. “Ready?” David Telford’s hand rests on a lever. “Yes,” he whispers. “You sure you wouldn’t rather try this on Dr. Perry?” Telford asks.


Startled, Young let up on the pressure.


You're a cold-hearted bastard, David.” The gel feels strange on his bare feet. “Takes one to know one, Nick.” Telford throws the switch. Charge mounts in concealed capacitors.


Maddeningly, that fragment transitioned directly to—


“Nick,” Jackson says, his voice a cracked whisper. He leans forward. One hand comes to rest on the crisp, white sheets of Rush’s bed. His eyes are red-rimmed. “Nick, I’m so sorry, but it’s—it’s been days. Six days. And we’re—we’re not even on Earth.”


Young pressed harder and, finally, the cohesive memories splintered into quieter fragments. Sets of numbers. Doorways. Cyphered locks that would not open.


Young took a shuddering breath.


Those dream fragments had come from memories.


Young was almost sure of it.


What the hell had been happening between Telford and Rush in that room?


Given how goddamned at each other the pair of them seemed to be, Young’d suspected they had a history, likely involving Rush doing something to piss Telford off, but this—


They’d been alone. In a room of Goa’uld design, interfaced with Ancient tech. Rush had stood in the middle of the floor. Telford had thrown a lever. He’d heard the charge, building in the walls.


Young shivered in the cool air of the observation deck. A cold sweat trickled down his spine.


He unclipped his radio from his belt. “Eli, come in.”


“Eli here. Go ahead.”


“You implement that safety protocol yet?”


“Ummm, the one for the communications array?”


“Yup.”


“Getting to it,” Eli said.


“Get faster,” Young replied.


 



Young awoke the following morning to wild disorientation. He sat in the CI room, his feet propped on an adjacent chair, and, all through his thoughts, overwhelmingly loud, he heard—


//Ugh,// Rush projected. //Stop that, will you?//


//?//


Rush gave him the mental equivalent of a shove, and Young came back to himself, lying in his own bed. In pieces, his memory of the previous day returned. The block he’d put up against Rush. The fallout. The scientist had slept through the afternoon and into the evening. Young’d finally managed to fall asleep himself just after midnight.


//TJ released you?// Young asked.


//Less than an hour ago.// Absently, Rush tapped a pen against the pages of his well-worn notebook.


//You and Chloe are both clear?//


//Chloe’s still in the infirmary, but will likely be released shortly.//


//But you’re definitely clear?//


//That's generally a requirement for release from quarantine,// Rush said evasively.


Young sighed. //So when I go talk to TJ, she's gonna have no problem with the fact you're in the control interface room, working on god knows what?//


//Yes yes,// Rush said impatiently, more than half his attention on the problem in front of him. //Go do whatever it is you do around here when you're not harassing the science staff. I’m otherwise engaged.//


//With?// Young asked.


//Analyzing shield harmonics.//


//What’s with the shield obsession, genius?//


Young got a flash of irritation, maybe at the question, maybe at the nickname; it was hard to tell. This was followed by a linked series of what looked like abbreviated personal memories: Eli pointing out that the shield harmonics cycled in an unpredictable but nonrandom pattern when they were at FTL; months of irregular data recording; a meeting with Eli and Chloe and Eli; a clip of some directed math thing that went over Young’s head; but, running beneath it all—


//Music?// Young asked.


Rush, who’d been spinning his pen through his fingers, lost his grip on it. It clattered to the floor.


//Why do you think about music when you think about the shields?//


//I didn't intend for you to pick that up. It's nothing.// Rush shattered his thoughts into parallel streams, trying to keep Young out.


This time, it didn't work.


//You hear them,// Young realized. //The shields. You literally hear them.//


Rush shifted, uncomfortable. //I think that's how Destiny communicates with the seed ships, amongst other things.// He stared at the pen he’d dropped on the floor.


//What about the obelisk planet?// Young asked. //Could you hear the buried ship?//


//No,// Rush said shortly. //As far as I can tell, I hear only Destiny.//


//What does it sound like?//


//I don’t wish to discuss it,// Rush snapped. But the answer to Young’s question ran like a current through his reply.


Sad.


To Rush, the ship sounded unhappy.


That hadn't been what Young’d meant when he'd asked the question.


He wasn't sure how to respond, so he withdrew, refocusing on his own quarters. He sighed, adjusted his pillow, and stared up at the ceiling. “Could’ve gone worse, I guess,” he muttered.


He’d need to tell Rush about Telford’s plan to weaponize the communications array. Today. If he played his cards right, and, by some miracle, kept his temper in check when he did it, he might be able to get some information about what the hell had happened between Rush and Telford in that Goa’uld room.


Whatever it’d been had looked a hell of a lot like using untested technology on a human subject, in which case—


It likely would have gone through the IOA.


Which meant Camile Wray might know something about it.


He dressed quickly and made his way to the mess, hoping to find Wray still there. She was normally an early riser, and 0715 was on the late side to find her still at breakfast.


Luck was with him.


“Camile.” He caught her just as she was getting up. “Do you have a minute?”


She gestured for him to sit and gave him a cautious nod. “Colonel," she said. “What can I do for you?”


The briefest mental touch showed Rush absorbed in his shield harmonics data.


Wray stared at Young expectantly.


Young cleared his throat, wishing he’d thought this out ahead of time. “We need to discuss Rush.” 


“Is he infected?” Wray’s voice was full of dread.


“What? Uh, no. TJ let him go this morning.”


Wray released a shaky breath. “Thank god.”


Young nodded, finally settling on a reasonable context for his question. “Camile, McKay mentioned something to me when he swapped in on the stones a few days ago. I’ve been meaning to bring it up with you.”


Wray raised an eyebrow.


“Do Rush and Colonel Telford have any particular history that I should be aware of?”


“Colonel Telford?” Her voice turned casual. “Why do you ask?”


Young hesitated. Again. But what the hell did he have to lose? He was gonna be telling Rush about the SGC’s intentions regarding the stones within the day. Maybe it’d be helpful to get Wray involved.


“Colonel?” Wray prompted.


“Telford wants to swap Rush out, using the stones.”


“So what else is new?” Wray asked.


“What’s new is they’ve got some workaround on their end that makes a nonconsensual swap possible.”


Wray froze. She leaned forward and dropped her volume. “Are you saying Colonel Telford is threatening to use the stones to displace someone’s consciousness against their will?”


“Yup. McKay and Carter are helping us out for now, but if there’s anything you know that we might be able to use against Colonel Telford—” Young trailed off.


Wray glanced around the room. “Why wasn’t I told? Why wasn’t I told immediately? I’m a member of the IOA, colonel. I—”


“You know something?” Young pressed.


Wray did another visual sweep of the room. “Rush and Telford do have a history.” She dropped her voice. “During the time Telford was with the Lucian Alliance, he came into possession of either some intelligence or an actual piece of technology that required the highest level of security clearance. Even the IOA wasn't informed of the details. Telford was given his pick of personnel and resources, including Daedalus-class starship access when he needed it. Rush was heavily involved.”


“But Rush was recruited directly to Icarus. By Dr. Jackson,” Young said.


She shot him a guarded look. “He was. But he said no.”


“He said no?” Young echoed. “First I’m hearing of it.”


“It was Telford who convinced him. He split his time between Icarus and Telford’s classified project. Whatever it was, Dr. Jackson was strongly opposed. In fact, Dr. Jackson filed a formal complaint with me about the project, but it was sparse on details. The whole thing was so classified that oversight didn’t come from the IOA. It came from an Unnamed Committee.” Wray paused, then added, “None of this was widely known.”


“How’s a project's lead scientist supposed to split his time?” Young asked.


“There are some indications that the two projects were related. The heavy involvement of Telford, Rush, and Jackson in both suggests it.”


“Any idea as to what this other project was?” Young asked.


“No,” she said quietly. “It was scrapped four or five months before we gated to Destiny.”


“Why?”


“There was some kind of incident. Or accident. It happened off world, and it nearly killed Rush and Telford.”


Young raised his eyebrows, inviting her to continue.


“Jackson filed a second complaint, afterward, which included medical discharge summaries. Telford had third degree burns down his right arm and flash blindness.”


“And Rush?”


“He was unresponsive for six days,” she whispered. “But uninjured.”


“Six days?” Young echoed uneasily.


Wray nodded. “Ultimately Dr. Jackson had to go through General O’Neill to kill Telford’s project. As far as I know, Rush and Telford didn't see each other again until you turned down command of Icarus and it was offered to Telford. Over Rush's vehement objections.”


“Any idea what happened between them personally?” Young asked.


Wray shook her head. “They were close in the beginning. Very close.”


“What does that mean?” Young growled.


“Telford played a huge role in successfully recruiting Rush to the SGC. Part of that was because of his genuine interest in the math behind the nine chevron address. But another part—well, I think Telford did a lot in helping to arrange medical care for Rush’s wife.”


Young took a slow breath. He and Wray looked at one another uneasily. Carefully, Young brushed against the scientist’s thoughts and found the man still absorbed in the shield harmonics, his thoughts an intricate braid of focus. Thank god.


“Colonel Telford won’t be able to do anything without the backing of the IOA,” Wray said. “And if they give him the go-ahead? Well, I’m sure it would be for a good reason.”


Young nodded. “Thanks Camile. I’m hoping they won’t try for a few more weeks at least. Let me know if you hear anything?”


“I’m going back today,” Wray said. “This morning. I’ll be seeing Sharon, but I can make a few discreet inquiries before I leave the base.”


“Keep them discreet,” Young said quietly.


Wray nodded.


Young stood, handed his empty bowl to Becker, and made for Lt. Scott's civilian boot camp. He needed a few minutes to clear his head before he took the problem with the communications stones to Rush.


For that, there was nothing better than a run through Destiny's long, dark halls.





“Colonel,” Scott said, as Young rounded the corner on a corridor convergence that was the meeting point for the long, ship-wide runs. “You joining us?”


“If my knee holds up,” Young replied ruefully.


Scott nodded.


The lieutenant led the way, setting a steady pace. As Young settled into the workout, he sifted through what Wray’d told him.


Rush and Telford.


Ugh.


He could understand how the two of them might’ve hit it off. Rush approached everything with a fiery intensity that would appeal to Telford, who had that same streak, but kept it better concealed. They were both ruthless. They were both practical. Telford had always liked scientists, and, the harder their edge, the better he liked them.


Rush had edge to go around.


The problem was, as soon as they found themselves on opposite sides of anything—well, the fallout would be unbelievable.


Unbidden, Young recalled Rush, kneeling on the floor of the control interface room, hands braced against the deck plating as he drove his weight into his left foot.


And yeah.


That was exactly the kind of thought Young did not need right now.


He focused on the pain in his bad leg and fell into the rhythm of his run. He stayed with it for a good two miles before his knee started to give him hell. Around him, the civilians were flagging.


“Come on, folks,” Scott called from his position on point. “Keep it up.”


//So,// Rush said acidly, surprising Young with his sudden attention, //you literally run aimlessly around the ship when you're not harassing the Science Team. I wish I could claim to be surprised.//


//Fitness is important.// Young replied. //You okay?//


//Did y’just ask me if I was ‘okay’?// Rush hissed, his thoughts an agitated swirl.


Young clamped down on his own frustration and did his best to remember the simple framework he’d laid out for himself. No orders. Be nice. If possible. //Yup,// he shot back. //Are you?//


//Was that some kind of top-down, mental heuristic?// Rush asked, a thread of real interest woven into his irritation.


//What?//


//Never mind. I’m sure you’d find any kind of definition t’be a waste of time.//


//Did you want something?// Young growled.


//Just curious as to what the fuck you were doing to your knee.//


//Is this bothering you?//


//No.// The scientist's thoughts were an incomprehensible, agitated swirl beneath his surface projection.


Okay. Definitely bothering him then.


Young slowed to a walk and broke off from the group. He felt a flare of surprise from Rush, colored by something else he didn't catch. //We need to talk,// Young said cautiously.


//If it were up to you, we wouldn't do anything else,// Rush said. //Regarding?//


//I'd rather do it face to face.// Young was careful not to let anything slip.


//I’ve no wish to discuss what happened yesterday.// Rush’s mental projection was cool.


//Yeah, me neither. This is a new problem. When’s good for you?//


Rush couldn’t suppress the relief beneath his projection. //Forty minutes or so.//


//Let me know when you're free and I'll come find you,// Young said. //My schedule’s clear this morning.//


//Obviously.// Rush withdrew, returning to his analysis of the shield harmonics.


Young took a quick shower, then headed for the infirmary, intending to talk to TJ about the events of the previous day and hoping for an update on the nature of the virus she’d discovered in the ship's filtration system.


He’d just passed the mess when the first wave of pain struck him like a screwdriver to the skull.


He staggered sideways, fingers catching numbly on one of the metal ribs that lined Destiny's hallways.


He couldn't see.


His vision was darkening, splitting, resolving into something else.


The world rushed back at him.


He was on the floor. Someone knelt beside him.


“TJ, this is James. We have a medical emergency in the corridor outside the mess. It's the colonel.”


“On my way,” TJ's voice crackled over the radio.


At the back of his mind, the CI room snapped into crisp focus. //What the fuck was that?// Rush was on his feet, crutches in hand, headed for the door.


//I was pretty sure that was you,// Young projected back weakly.


//Definitely not.// Rush poured his own energy into their link. Young’s thoughts realigned, Rush’s gift for hyperfocus speeding his recovery. He levered himself up on one elbow.


“Sir, you shouldn’t move.” James pressed him back down.


At some point, Greer had joined her. “Sir? Everything okay?”


And, next to Greer, Young saw, not Emily this time, but Gloria. She knelt on the floor, her brows drawn together.


“What’s happening?” Young directed the question at the AI.


“Colonel, you just collapsed,” James responded. “Lie still. Help is on the way.”


The AI looked dismayed. “I don't know,” it whispered. “It’s a process, not a program. That process continues to run. I can’t trace it.”


Rush’s anxiety surged at the AI’s comment. Young’s heart pounded with it. His mouth went dry.


Another wave of pain hit him, and his vision split again. Something superimposed itself on his field of view. The resolving lines and angles looked familiar, but he couldn’t force them into a defined image.


“What the hell?” Greer swayed in his crouch, one hand coming to his head.


“Greer?” James asked. “Greer?”


Young tried to look at the sergeant, but Rush grabbed his attention and yanked it away from Young’s immediate surroundings. The scientist dropped his crutches and sank into a crouch, kneeling against the deck plating, pressing down against his left foot, trying to keep them both grounded.


It wasn’t gonna work. Not a chance in hell. Rush wasn’t meant to be the anchor.


//Let go,// Young barely had the strength to project.


//Fuck you. Not helpful.//


Rush's vision faded. The ship pulled mercilessly on his mind. The scientist couldn’t feel a damn thing. The only tie holding him to his body was a remote ache in his left foot.


Through what remained of their link, Young heard the building melody of Destiny's shields.


//Let go. You’re tearing your mind apart.//


//I won’t,// Rush said grimly, leaning into his foot for all he was worth.


A third wave of pain hit.


This time, they couldn't fight it.






Young opened his eyes, gasping.


The agony was gone.


So was Destiny.


He sat in an office, staring into the face of Samantha Carter.


He didn't need to look down at his uniform to know whose body he was in.


“Doctor Rush?” Carter asked, the words hesitant, apologetic.


“Guess again,” Young growled.

Popular posts from this blog