Force over Distance: Chapter 13
Velcro. How humane.
Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.
Text Iteration: Brunch with the lights off.
Audio status: Proofing.
Additional notes: None.
Young fought for his focus in a vertiginous, mental emptiness. Even when he’d blocked Rush out, he’d retained a sense of the scientist’s presence, like pressure against a dam. But now? There was nothing. At all. He felt like he’d lost a limb he couldn’t see, that he could barely recall.
For the first time in more than a week, he was alone in his own mind.
He didn’t like it.
With nothing to anchor against, he felt overwhelmingly anxious. The urge to get back to Destiny was intolerable.
He jerked against the restraints holding him to the chair.
Velcro. How humane. How reasonable.
Young's eyes swept the room.
Two guards manned the doorway behind Carter, their hands resting on their rifles. She was flanked by a man in a suit. He couldn't see the terminal with the stones. It had to be behind him. He turned his head and caught the edge of a table in his peripheral vision. A hint of a blue glow.
Next to Young, bound in chairs, were four people, likely all from Destiny's crew. As his gaze passed over them, one of them met his eye and gave him a small nod. Greer. Damn it.
He flexed his forearms against his restraints and tried not to betray even a flicker of dismay.
If he could’ve chosen anyone from the crew to remain on Destiny in this situation, it would’ve been Greer. The sergeant had no particular love for Rush, but when forced to choose between the scientist and Telford—Young was sure Greer would back Rush every time.
Telford had probably come to the same conclusion.
Based on the nervous glances he was getting from the man and woman next to Greer, he guessed he also had Chloe and Eli with him. There was another woman to his left. “Wray,” she mouthed silently. Young could see tear-tracks on her cheeks.
“What. Did you do to her?” Young growled at Carter.
“Nothing,” Wray said softly. “Colonel. I was just—upset. It’s all right.”
“The hell it is.” Young viciously yanked Telford’s wrists against the chair restraints, hard enough to bruise. “She’s supposed to be with her family.”
“Colonel Young?” Carter’s eyebrows drew together as she glanced between Young and Wray. “Can I have your authorization code as confirmation?”
Young rattled off his code while he zeroed in on his priorities, trying to remember the details of Eli’s worst-case scenario, which sure as shit looked like it was in the process of playing out.
“We’ll drop out of FTL.” Eli craned his neck to look over at Young. “Any time now.”
“Why do you say that?” Carter looked at Eli.
“Uh, I don’t know, maybe ‘cause I live on Destiny?” Eli snapped. “In my own personal body? All day, all night, all day? FOR YEARS? Where’s McKay?”
“Rodney is away,” Carter said. “I personally apologize to all of you—”
“I want to talk to my mom,” Chloe cut in. “Get my mom on the phone, please.”
"You apologize?" Young growled, locking eyes with Carter. “Gross ethical violations aside, you've compromised the safety of my ship, you've put members of my crew in danger using an untested technology which nearly killed me by the way, you restrained and effectively imprisoned a member of the IOA—”
“Colonel,” Wray said quietly. “This isn’t helping. It wasn’t Colonel Carter’s fault.”
“—you’ve replaced four of my key personnel with soldiers unequipped to deal with the challenges they’ll face on Destiny,” Young continued, plowing over Wray, “and you're ‘sorry’? You'll forgive me, ma’am, if I fail to give a damn about that.”
“They only have authorization for one hour," Carter said quietly. “Not everyone agrees with this plan. Dr. Jackson has already prepared and is currently filing a Request for Special Dispensation to be granted on the grounds—”
“I don’t have time for the bureaucratic bullshit,” Young snarled. “Send me back now.”
“I can’t do that, colonel,” Carter replied.
“What’s your primary mission objective?” Young demanded.
“The primary objective is a conversation between myself, Dr. Jackson, and Dr. Rush. The secondary objective is for Telford's team to study Destiny's power distribution system. I don’t understand—”
“There’s a lot you don’t understand,” Young growled. “Your primary objective is shot to hell. I’m sure Eli can tell you all you need to know about the power distribution system, with words, after he gets an apology for having his consciousness forcibly removed from his body. You need to send me back. Immediately.”
“Colonel.” Carter raised both hands. “It’s not that simple. There’s a congressional committee that—”
And then, with an abruptness that was shocking despite his readiness, Young was back on Destiny, standing in front of TJ and James, flanked by Greer. TJ’s eyes were wide, her hands outstretched. She was barely visible in the dim emergency lighting that illuminated the corridors.
“—significant neurological event and—” TJ’s eyes flicked to the ceiling at the drop from FTL, then snapped back to Young, sharp and expectant.
“Yeah,” he confirmed. “It's me.”
Rush’s mind was a dark echo, barely present. Young slammed a block into place.
He had, maybe, thirty seconds. Probably it would be less.
Young pulled his weapon and handed it to TJ. “Find Rush.” He stepped close. “You're the only one on board who knows what's going on. You have to find him, and you have to prevent Telford from getting to him—from physically touching him. Understood?”
Without being told, Greer pulled his own weapon and handed it to James.
“He's somewhere near the control interface room,” Young said. “Take James. Go. Run.” They took off, sprinting down the hall. Before they rounded the nearest corner,TJ’s flashlight clicked on, lighting their way.
Young turned and started in the opposite direction, Greer at his side. He pulled out his radio. “Bridge, report.”
“We've got power failures all over the ship.” It was Brody who responded. “Everything's either shutting down or already dead. We've lost shields and weapons. We just dropped out of FTL. I think—I think we’re losing life support.”
The emergency lights failed. Young was plunged into darkness so complete that it seemed to press against his eyes.
“I don't know what’s happening,” Brody continued. “Rush isn't answering his radio. Neither is Eli. Oh. Wait. Never mind. Eli just showed up on the bridge.”
“Eli, report,” Young growled.
“Badness,” Eli said shortly. “Borderline worst case. The only good part is you’re not dead.”
Young heard Greer unzip a pocket. The sergeant clicked on a flashlight. He and Young locked eyes.
Young shored up his block with Rush, hoping Telford wouldn't be able to overcome it, hoping the other man wouldn't even guess that there was a link.
Time was nearly up.
It had to be.
“Shit.” Greer clicked off his flashlight and sent it hurtling into the dark.
With a visual and mental blurring, Young found himself back in the SGC. His eyes were on Carter, and tangled in his mouth was a sentence he didn’t remember beginning. He flexed his wrists against the restraints and vented his frustration on Telford’s forearms.
“Colonel Young?” Carter asked.
“Yes,” he growled. “Power is down all over the ship. No shields. No weapons. No life support. Odds are? This is a direct result of the stunt you just pulled.”
Carter’s expression was pained.
“That seems unlikely.” The man in the suit spoke up for the first time. “You've been using the stones continuously from day one. Why the sudden problems now? Seems convenient.”
“The ship is sentient,” Eli snapped. “It knows what just happened. I’m guessing it doesn't like its personnel being kidnapped. Consciousness-napped.”
“Why,” Carter asked, looking Young dead in the eyes, “when we tried to lock onto Rush's signal, did we get you instead?”
Young met her gaze impassively.
“If you tell me,” she said quietly, “I may be able to help you.”
“How?” Young asked.
“I’ll take it up the chain.” She glanced at the IOA representative beside her. He shot her a disapproving look, but said nothing. Carter kept her eyes fixed on Young. She gave him a subtle nod, a gentle lift of her eyebrows.
Young hesitated, considering. He trusted her by reputation. He definitely trusted Jack O’Neill. The person he didn't trust, at all, was David Telford.
It was unbelievable to Young that the man had kept his position as the de facto Earth-based leader of the Icarus Project, despite Rush having successfully proven that Telford had been the Lucian Alliance mole that betrayed the project's location. If that wasn't egregious enough to at least get the man reassigned, then Young didn't have a chance of getting him dismissed.
Telford either had a powerful backer within the administration or he was important for some other reason. Either way, Young did not want Telford or the IOA knowing anything about the connection between Rush and Destiny, if could be avoided.
Carter watched him, waiting for his answer.
“Eli's correct,” Young said slowly. “We recently discovered an AI at the heart of Destiny's mainframe. It’s interacted with several members of the crew, but most intensively with Rush.”
“It likes him,” Eli added fiercely.
“Yup.” Chloe nodded.
Carter raised her eyebrows.
“I’m guessing that it was the AI that interfered with your workaround for the terminal. As for why I was pulled out instead?” Young shrugged. “Couldn’t tell you. It likes me less.”
“Way less,” Eli muttered.
“It’s true,” Chloe confirmed.
Young gave them a knock-it-off glare before continuing. “I’m positive you’ll never be able to pull Rush out. That’d make your workaround for the communication stones a failure. And, even though you can pull other people out? The AI doesn't like it. Bottom line?” He raised his eyebrows. “You need to send us back. Before we can’t dig ourselves out of the hole you’ve shoved us into.”
Carter looked at her watch. “It's been ten minutes. We should be getting a report back from one of our scientists in another five.”
Fifteen minutes was too long.
He felt it in his gut.
Life support on Destiny was failing.
Life support was failing.
What did that mean?
Young couldn’t see Rush allowing such a thing to happen if he could do anything to prevent it. The man was already a mess. Joining with the ship was one thing—but the ship was shutting down. What were the implications of that?
Young gave the restraints a brutal jerk. The wood of the chair cracked.
Carter shot him a warning look. “Colonel,” she said softly, “don’t try it.”
“Send me back now,” he said. “Sam. Please. Get your report from Telford directly.”
“If I send you, they’ll just pull you back.” Carter’s eyes were clear and serious. She wanted to help him. He could see it in her face.
“Eli, then,” Young countered. “Now. Please. Send him early.”
“That’s not for you to decide—” the suit began, but Sam cut him off by stepping forward and edging around Young.
The airman whom Eli had switched with gasped, jolting against his restraints.
"Report," Carter snapped.
“Main power is down.” The airman squinted in the light, as though it hurt his eyes. “The backups are down as well. We—they have no shielding. No lights. Air recirculators are off. CO2 scrubbers are off. It’s pitch black. Colonel Telford’s convinced that Rush is behind this somehow, because he and two of Colonel Young's personnel have locked themselves in the infirmary. They're refusing to let anyone in.”
TJ and James had gotten to Rush, then. That was something.
“Could Dr. Rush be staging a crisis to force our hand?” the IOA rep asked. “It wouldn’t be the first time he’s tried something like this.”
“He’s not staging anything,” Chloe protested. “He’s in the infirmary because he was recently injured. I’m a former congressional staffer.” She jerked against her restraints. “I want to talk to the SGC-liaison to Capitol Hill. Immediately. Release me from these restraints. I don’t pose a danger to anyone.”
Young looked meaningfully at the IOA rep.
“I’d do what she says,” Wray advised coolly, “if you want to keep your job, that is.”
The IOA rep stepped forward and began unvelcroing Chloe.
"So you're getting no data?" Carter asked the airman who’d switched with Eli.
“No," he replied. “None.”
“What’s Colonel Telford doing?”
“He's trying to break into the infirmary to talk with Dr. Rush.”
Chloe, free from her chair, darted out of the room without a backward glance. Carter watched her go, then released the airman from his bonds with a quick, “You’re dismissed. Debriefing in fifty minutes.”
Young exhaled slowly. Chloe was—doing something political. He should’ve thought to bring her in on this in the first place. Eli was on the ship, and it looked like Carter wouldn’t pull him back. Maybe the kid would be able to make some progress—at least restore life support or shields.
“Send us back,” Young said quietly. “Send all of us back and destroy the workaround.”
Carter’s expression was torn.
“You're putting the entire crew at risk.”
“It looks that way,” Carter said. “But—it’s looked that way before.” She glanced at the IOA rep. “Given Dr. Rush’s history of manipulating Earth-based science teams sent to Destiny, I have specific instructions to confirm the veracity of any reported threats.”
“Confirm the veracity?” Young growled.
“Yes.” Wray jumped in. “We understand. You need something to give your superiors. Unfortunately, incontrovertible evidence of a demonstrable threat to human life usually takes a form that I’m sure we’d all prefer to avoid?”
Carter’s gaze shifted to Wray.
“Perhaps you could, instead, take them a reminder.” Wray’s tone turned icy.
“A reminder?” Carter echoed.
“Homeworld Command owes Dr. Rush,” Wray said. “Something—unfortunate happened to him? Something that wasn't his fault.”
If Young hadn't worked so closely with Wray, if he hadn't faced her down time and again, he’d never have known that she was playing a hunch that Carter had some knowledge about the incident involving Rush and Telford. Playing a hunch that such knowledge would, in this situation, carry any weight at all.
“The Air Force might find itself in an uncomfortable position should an international review panel be called to consider that incident,” Wray said coolly.
Carter tipped her chin. “Let me make a call.”
“Do what you need to do,” Young replied. “But hurry.”
After Carter left the room, Wray looked over at him, her expression grim.
“What happened?” Young whispered.
She shot a dark look at the IOA rep, who was leaning against the doorframe. “They think I’m working with him,” she mouthed silently.
“Who?” Young asked, without sound. “Rush?”
Wray nodded. “I’ve filed complaints on his behalf before. I asked a question, it triggered the swap. They had it ready to go.”
Wray’s eyes shifted to Greer. Young looked over, following her gaze. Greer tilted his head back at the table behind them and shot Young a significant look.
Young shook his head.
He watched Wray’s fingernails tear tiny crescents in the upholstery of her chair and tried to figure out how the hell he was gonna explain any of this to Rush.
Hopefully he’d get the chance.
Finally, after nearly eleven minutes, Carter burst back into the room.
“Okay,” she said. “This comes from the top. And I mean the very top. We're sending all of you back, but you'll have to meet with Telford tomorrow for a debriefing, and Rush will have to cooperate with McKay and I for a feasibility assessment. I need your word on that.”
“You've got it,” Young said, “if both the feasibility assessment and the meeting tomorrow can happen on Destiny, and I get your word that you don't pull me out again.”
“Done.” Carter was already moving toward the terminal.
“Thank you,” Young murmured.
“Don’t,” Carter whispered as she passed, her voice betraying unhappiness for the first time. “Don’t thank me.”
He heard a soft click, and—
It was dark.
Young stumbled, disoriented. His gaze caught on the shifting, focused beam that projected from the flashlight he held. Greer, beside him, backed away from the door he’d been trying to lever open, shaking out his hands, orienting himself.
A few quick sweeps from his flashlight confirmed they were outside the infirmary.
“Well, this doesn’t look good.” Greer eyed the overhead lights.
“Nope.” Young replied. He braced a hand against the nearest bulkhead, lowered the block between his mind and Rush’s, and tried to reach the scientist. He got nothing. At all. It was no different from how he’d felt on Earth, velcroed to that damn chair.
“Sir?” Greer said quietly.
Young straightened. He tried to keep his anxiety off his face. He nodded at the sergeant, then pulled out his radio. “TJ?” he murmured, depressing the button. “It's me. Telford's gone.”
“I’ll need some confirmation,” she replied evenly.
Young nodded. “Yup. Sounds reasonable.”
He tried to think of something that would convince her—something he’d know, but Telford wouldn’t. It seemed like there should be so many of those things. In the end, he could only come up with one. He turned away from Greer and walked a few paces down the hall. Gently, he depressed the button on the radio. “Carmen.”
She didn't reply.
Behind the infirmary doors came the clang and scrape of a crowbar, wedged against metal. Young and Greer stepped forward, helping as much as they could, getting first fingers, then hands, and, finally, shoulders inside the widening crack between the door panels.
James was working the other side. Young's flashlight caught the wisps of her hair. “Telford never got through,” she said quietly. “We were with him the whole time.”
Young clapped her on the shoulder. “Good work, lieutenant. The two of you get over to crew quarters. I want everyone accounted for. No one should be wandering alone in this kind of dark. Coordinate with Lieutenant Scott and report back over the radio in twenty minutes. Hopefully the Science Team will have something by then.”
Greer and James gave him identical nods, swallowing the questions he was sure they had.
He doubted he’d be so lucky with TJ.
Young couldn't see her as he advanced through the darkness, running his flashlight in broad semicircular sweeps. Finally, the beam caught the pale flash of metal-lined holes where her bootlaces passed through black leather. She was in the back of the infirmary, quietly perched on the edge of a gurney. His handgun rested against her left shoulder.
“Hey.” She clicked on her flashlight.
“Hey.” Young squinted in the glare.
She set the flashlight down on the table next to her. The diffuse light from the beam spread into the space between them.
Her face was in shadow. She didn’t move.
“Is he alive?” Young asked.
He’d been braced for a “no.” Young released a shaky exhale. “TJ.” He raised both hands, palms outward. “It really is me.”
“I know. I can tell. I’ve always been able to tell.” The words were careful. Measured. She didn’t move.
“I need to see him.”
She didn't respond.
“TJ,” he said.
“He re-injured his foot,” TJ said quietly. “The left one. That’s the second time.” She paused. “The first time was yesterday, right before he fixed the FTL drive.”
“What are you getting at?” Young was pretty sure he knew exactly what she was getting at.
“You had an argument,” she replied. “Eli told me.”
Young said nothing.
“I asked him, yesterday,” TJ said quietly, “why he reinjured his foot. He wouldn't tell me. At the time, I thought it might be out of spite. To hurt you, by hurting himself. But now, I'm not so sure.”
“I've been asking myself,” she broke in, “while I sat here, with him, in the dark, why you would tell me to protect him from Telford. To prevent Telford from so much as even touching him?”
Young stayed silent.
“And now, to fix Destiny, to bring him back, you need to—what? To touch him? To do the same thing that you were trying to prevent Telford from doing?” She paused, her face still shrouded in darkness. “Does he have any defense against you? Any at all?”
“No,” Young admitted. “He never has. He still doesn’t.”
“You told me you could block the link,” TJ said grimly.
“I can,” Young admitted. “But he can’t.”
“So how are you any better than Telford?” she asked.
“I guess I don't know that I am,” he replied. “But what choice do we have? If I do nothing, he’s not gonna make it. And neither are the rest of us.”
TJ sighed. “He must hate this.”
“He does.” Young rubbed his jaw.
The set of TJ’s shoulders softened. “Why didn't you tell me?” she asked.
“There’s been a lot going on.”
“There’s always a lot going on. I can't help either of you if you don't tell me what's happening.”
“I know. I know that. But, right now, TJ, I really need to—”
“Yeah.” She slipped off the gurney and rotated her flashlight. “He’s here.” In the dim light, Young could see Rush had been directly behind her the entire time, lying motionless on the same gurney she’d been sitting on.
“We found him like this,” TJ said quietly. “On the floor. Non-responsive.”
“Yeah.” Young grimaced. “He's with the ship. I hope he's with the ship.”
“The ship is dead.” Her words fell like a slap. “No power anywhere.”
Young flinched, his eyes fixed on Rush.
“So what's the plan?” She softened her voice.
“I'm gonna fix this. Right now.” Young walked over to the gurney and looked down at his chief scientist. More often than not, he’d wished that Rush would just slow down and take a god damned break for once in his life. But—this?
It turned out he hated seeing the scientist like this, even when the man would have been well within his rights to go after Young with a broken bottle. Especially then. At some point, maybe, he’d developed a little bit of a fondness for the sheer amount of fight the scientist had in him.
Young slid a hand beneath Rush’s neck, trying not to catch the guy’s hair, half-fanned over the pillow. He slipped his other hand inside Rush's black military-issue jacket and pressed his palm flat against the man’s threadbare T-shirt.
He shut his eyes, and forced their connection as wide as it would go.
On the other side, there was nothing.
Not the depthless darkness of the ship.
Not an echo of the shields.
Not so much as a hint of Rush.
Young reeled back, heart racing, airways constricting. “Damn it.” He turned away from Rush, away from TJ, and strode over to the nearest wall in a few quick steps. He leaned against it.
This was his fault. There was no getting around that. He should have told Rush about the stones immediately, rather than relying on Eli. Young had known about this plan for days. For days.
The line of bad decisions that’d led to this moment was long, very long, and it traced back to the moment he’d pulled Rush out of that god damned chair instead of asking TJ to do it.
The guilt that he felt about Rush's current status was dwarfed by the very real possibility that they wouldn’t get life support back online. He’d have to check with Eli to see which would be first—suffocation or freezing to death.
His left hand curled into a fist.
“Colonel?” TJ said softly.
He smashed his fist straight into the wall with a satisfyingly painful crack.
“Fuck,” he breathed. He pulled his hand against his chest.
Behind him, TJ's breath caught, then steadied. Her hands came to rest on his shoulders. “Feel better?”
“No,” he said roughly.
She tightened her fingers, inviting him to turn. “Let me see your hand.”
“It's fine.” He pressed his forehead against the metal of the wall, unable to look at her.
“Try again,” she murmured. “He's tough.”
“No one's this tough,” he whispered.
“Try again,” she repeated.
He did try again.
He tried for more than three hours, taking breaks to coordinate with the Science Team and with Scott and Greer, who’d organized the civilians in the mess. He could only imagine what kinds of rumors were circulating regarding his very visible absence from—well, everywhere.
His radio crackled. “Colonel Young, this is Eli.”
“Go ahead.” Young could hear the exhaustion in his own voice.
“Just wondering how it was going down there.”
“Yeahhhhhhh, it's not going all that well here either. But I had an idea I’m feeling pretty good about. I was wondering if I could come talk to you? We kinda heard from Greer that the infirmary is off limits right now.”
“You're clear to come down, I'll take what I can get at this point.” As he spoke, his breath condensed in the air.
The temperature had started to drop. Beneath his hand, Rush’s fingers were cool.
“C’mon,” Young whispered, taking Rush’s hand in both of his, trying to chafe a little warmth back into the scientist’s lifeless fingers. “Don’t do this. Work with me. For once.”
A flashlight cut through the dimness over Young’s shoulder.
“So it's really creepy to walk around this ship in the pitch black, have you noticed this?” Eli said, crossing the room. “I’d give it maybe a seven on the creepiness scale, but only because—” The kid cut himself off.
Young twisted to look at him.
“Are you, um, holding Rush's hand?”
“Give me a break, Eli,” Young said tiredly. “I'm trying to separate him from Destiny. It's easier this way.”
“Right, no, I mean, I get it. It's just kind of a weird visual, y’know? With the mutual-assured-destruction-society that you guys usually have going on?”
“You seem to be in a pretty good mood for someone with—what was Chloe's estimate? Fourteen hours of air left?” Young growled.
“Well, that estimate is three hours old, so, uh, it’s eleven hours, now, actually.”
Young freed up a hand to massage his temples. “You must have something.”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” Eli said. “So, you may have noticed that, despite the fact we're being relentlessly pursued by not one but two alien races, we haven't had any trouble since we dropped out of FTL.”
“I assumed it was luck,” Young said dully.
“Seriously? You assumed that?”
“Can we get to the point here, Eli?”
“Yeah. Sorry. I think we haven’t been attacked because we're not using any power. Not any. We look like piece of rock on sensors. Plus, there’s also the fact that being completely without power turned out to be a great strategy for getting Telford off Destiny and getting you back.”
“What are you saying?”
“To me, this is starting to look less like Destiny freaked out because Rush got messed up when you were pulled away, and more like a plan for putting everything back to normal.”
“Except for the part where everyone dies by suffocation,” Young said dryly. “Otherwise, yeah. Great plan.”
“Yes, death is never a good time,” Eli replied, equally dry, “But I don’t think we’re gonna die. I think this was purposeful. We can't find any damage. Everything's just—off, and we can't restart it. We don’t have an an on-switch.”
“Don’t we?” Young tipped his head at Rush.
“He’s not an on-switch,” Eli said quietly. “I’m guessing that if we can restore even minimal power to the ship, we might get him back as well.”
“How are we supposed to do that?”
“We give it a jump.” Eli flashed a quick smile, then watched Young expectantly, eyebrows raised.
“You know, as in jump-starting a car? Destiny is, fundamentally, a piece of equipment and once it's off, it can't turn itself back on. But I'm betting if we give it some power to start with, maybe it’ll take it from there.”
Young looked at Rush. “It does seem like his kind of plan.”
“I know, right? Very effective, but coming with a slightly-larger-than-necessary risk that everyone dies?”
Young snorted. “Okay, I'll buy into this. What do you need?”
Eli shrugged. “A laptop, fifteen minutes, Brody, and um—access to the neural interface?”
“The chair? You’ve got to be kidding me,” Young said.
“I’m not going to sit in it," Eli said hastily. “I'll just open the panel at the back, hook up my laptop, and say ‘hello, world’.”
Young raised his eyebrows.
“It’s a computer science thing,” Eli said. “Every time you start learning a programming language you—”
“Radio when you're in position.” Young turned back to Rush.
“Oh. Okay. So that’s a yes, then? Yes, Eli, go do your brilliant plan?”
“Yes, Eli,” Young growled. “Go do your brilliant plan.”
“Aye-aye, captain.” Eli gave him a mock salute.
“You must really think this is gonna work,” Young said, glancing back at the kid.
“I do.” Eli turned subdued. “I’m just not sure he’s gonna come back up when the ship does. Any thoughts about that?”
“I don't know, Eli,” Young said. “I really don’t.”
Over the course of the next half-hour Young watched TJ take Rush's vitals, pile blankets on the man, and do her best not to hover. Young listened to the radio chatter, deflected subtle requests for his presence in various locations over the ship, and took a break from combing the darkness in his mind where Rush should be.
When this was over, he’d have some explaining to do. To a lot of different people.
“I hope you planned this,” Young murmured, his hand closed around Rush's icy fingers. “I hope you are fucking furious at me when you wake up.”
Rush, of course, didn't reply.
Finally, Eli's voice crackled over the radio. “We're in position.”
“You have a go.” Young tightened his grip on Rush’s hand.
Nothing happened until the emergency lighting flickered.
TJ burst out of her office, a blanket around her shoulders, her eyes scanning the walls, the ceiling.
Beneath the deck plating, Young could feel the subtle vibration of the sublight engines.
He shot to his feet, wrapped a hand around the back of Rush's neck, and forced their connection as wide as it would go.
This time, he sensed something. It was distant, hardly more than an echo. There was almost nothing to grab on to, but he did his best.
“Come on,” he growled, fighting the urge to shake the scientist. “Come on.”
It still wasn't working.
Young grabbed his radio. “Eli,” he said. “We need more power.”
“You realize I'm using a laptop battery to start up a starship here, right?” Eli replied. “The backups are already on. We have shields. I think we might even get FTL in a few minutes. Everything’s unfolding. Slowly.”
“Do what you can,” Young replied.
“Any change?” TJ asked, coming to stand next to him.
“Some.” Young tried to keep the frustration out of his voice. “I can feel his mind, but I can't pull him out. It's not enough. This should have worked.”
TJ gave him a sharp look. “He's not a machine,” she said, “even if he's connected to one. He's a person, and I can't even tell you how to define what just happened to him. Being mentally joined with a starship that then shuts down for hours? This is uncharted territory. It’ll probably take time for him to recover from this.”
“I agree, TJ,” Young replied, “but we have an entire ship full of people who are vulnerable to attack right now. We can't afford this. He needs to wake up and restore main power. It has to happen. It has to.”
Young sat down again. He laid his injured hand on Rush's forehead, With his good hand, he intertwined their fingers. He focused, as intently as possible, on the link between their minds.
//FTL,// he projected into the dim, unfocused space of Rush's consciousness. //At a minimum, we need FTL. FTL.// Over and over, he projected it, picturing the bright glow of the drive. The swirl of slipstream starlight.
Thirty seconds passed. Forty. The radio crackled. “The drive is spooling up,” Eli said excitedly. “We're about to—”
//And you,// Young snarled determinedly into the dark echo chamber where Rush’s mind should be. //Spool yourself up.//
He waited, but nothing happened.
Young clamped down on everything of Rush he could get, which wasn’t much, and started dragging. Piece by piece, fragment by fragment. There was no leverage, no grip, no consolidated center of the scientist to grasp. But he had the guy. He was sure of it. And he kept hauling him back out of the dark, mapping what he’d secured, fixing it in place, preventing any backsliding. Hour after hour, strand after strand. The whole thing was a painstaking track and scrape through a labyrinth that Young could barely see.
It took hours.
Seven god damned hours.
By the time he’d run out of threads to chase down, his knee was giving him hell, his back had seized up, his bruised knuckles ached fiercely. But he’d done it. He was sure he had. He searched out the perimeters of everything he’d dragged from the dark and—
The overhead lights came on. The room lit up with a shower of gold, drowning out the dim blue of emergency lighting. Young looked up, squinting into the glare.
The radio crackled. “Eli to Colonel Young. We’re back to full power! The last of the top-level systems just reintegrated. How are you doing down there?”
Young leaned against the gurney, shifting his position, stretching overtaxed muscles. “Not sure.” His voice was hoarse. His shoulders ached. His back ached. His hand ached. His head had started to throb. “I’ll let you know.”
Young pressed his injured hand against his forehead, then shifted it to block the light as he looked down at Rush. No change. “Hey.” He slipped his good hand beneath the base of the scientist’s neck and lifted, repositioning him against the pillow, looking for any sign of resistance. “Lights are on, genius. Let’s go.”
The scientist didn’t so much as twitch.
Rush’s mind was completely still. Separate from the ship. No movement anywhere. No thought. Just a frozen, waiting network.
“You need a jump too?” Young murmured. Rush had poured what felt like raw mental energy directly through their link. He’d done it twice. First, on the obelisk planet, as Young had been descending the cliff. Then on Destiny itself as Young had been pulled away via the communications stones. It stood to reason that Young should be able to do something similar.
Except, he knew, for a fact, that their link had asymmetrical properties.
Projecting an emotion made sense to him. Projecting a thought. Even sharing his capacity to focus. But projecting pure energy? Where the hell was he supposed get it from?
Rush was the engine. He was the brakes.
Young looked again at Rush’s mind. It was frozen because no movement was possible. Young himself was preventing it. He’d clamped down so hard in the process of dragging Rush out of the ship that the guy had no room to maneuver. At all.
“Sorry,” Young whispered. Carefully, he loosened his mental grip on the scientist, then gave Rush’s mind a gentle shove, hopefully just enough momentum to get going.
Rush’s eyelids flickered. His shoulders tensed. He turned his head.
“TJ,” Young called, and then—
Rush reengaged like a goddamned freight train.
Young was rocked by a wave of panic that brought with it a headache so intense he could barely see. Rush sat so fast that the room spun for both of them. Young, who already had a grip on him, managed to shove him back before he could get any leverage, but only just. He pinned Rush’s shoulder with his good hand.
“Easy,” Young ground out, as the scientist made a second attempt to sit, his eyes watering with the pain in his head. He projected what little calm he could scrape together. “Take it easy. You’re okay.”
“Whoa,” TJ was beside him, helping him keep Rush on the gurney. The overhead lights glared painfully off her hair. “Hi there.”
Rush collapsed back, breathing hard, all the fight leaving him. The lights dimmed of their own accord. The scientist had his eyes shut. One hand clenched around the hair at his temple, trying to contain a headache that was so bad that Young’s eyes were watering.
“Rush,” Young murmured, taking his weight off the grip he had on the scientist’s shoulder. He hoped there was something that made sense beneath the painful, wavering images he was getting from the other man’s mind. “Rush, talk to me.”
Rush opened his eyes and squinted at Young. Then he shut them again, and asked what seemed to be a question. A question in Ancient.
“Oh no,” TJ breathed.
“Come on,” Young said, rubbing the scientist’s upper arm. “Don’t tell me this is gonna be a thing.”
“Dr. Rush,” TJ said, speaking slowly and distinctly, “can you understand us? Can you understand what we're saying?”
Rush cracked his eyes open and gave the pair of them an unimpressed look.
“English, Rush,” Young said, trying to control his anxiety. He shook the scientist’s shoulder gently. “English. Get with the program.”
“Fuck you,” Rush said, his accent slightly off.
“That's more like it," Young said, his voice unsteady. “Can we get a sentence?”
“Fuck you is a sentence,” Rush replied weakly.
Young couldn't control the wave of relief that washed over him. He felt hours of tension unknot from his shoulders and back as exhaled slowly. He looked away, clapped Rush on the shoulder, tightened his grip, and gave the guy a gentle shake for good measure.
TJ let out a long, shaky breath, her hands braced on the gurney. “Thank god.”
“The fuck is wrong with the two of you?” Rush asked.
“You scared the shit out of us.” Young growled. “You took one hell of a risk shutting down the ship. What if Eli hadn't figured it out?”
“What?” Rush breathed, confused. The hand he’d been clenching to his temple was slowly opening, dropping to the gurney, as his energy faded. “The last thing I remember is you, actually, on the floor. I was trying to—” he broke off with a vague gesture, either not sure how to explain or too exhausted to make the attempt.
“TJ,” Young said quietly, “we need a minute.”
She looked at him and nodded, more than a hint of warning in her eyes. “Call if you need anything,” she murmured to Rush.
Young watched her go. When she’d vanished into her office, he dragged the chair he’d been using earlier next to Rush’s bedside and dropped into it.
Rush raised his eyebrows and gave Young an unimpressed look.
“I know,” Young said quietly. He toyed absently with the fabric of Rush's jacket, tracing the edge of a cuff with his thumbnail before he realized what the hell he was doing and stopped. “You're not gonna like this.”
“I already don't like it,” Rush murmured. His eyes were mostly closed.
“Homeworld Command has wanted you to use the stones for a while.”
Rush nodded tiredly.
“What you didn't know was that they were designing a modification to the terminal that would allow them to replace people against their will, with the express purpose of using it on you.”
Rush opened his eyes to look at Young. A hollow echo of surprise reverberated through their link. “Why?”
“Probably because they can never get you on the phone,” Young said mildly.
“Seems a little extreme,” Rush whispered, looking for all the world like the skeptical math professor he’d been, at one point.
Young nodded. “Yeah.”
“And you knew about this?”
“And you didn’t me because—”
“I thought you’d destroy the terminal,” Young said truthfully.
“Hmm,” Rush considered. “I might have done, if I’d been certain it would help. But I could’ve told you that they wouldn't have been able to pull me out. I might have been able to prevent this."
"I realize that," Young replied. “I’d decided to tell you. That was what I wanted to talk to you about this morning."
“Yes, well. As usual, your timing leaves something to be desired.”
“You’re way less pissed than I thought you’d be,” Young whispered. “You sure you’re okay?”
Rush shot him a weak glare. “I’m waiting to hear what actually happened, if it’s not too much t’fuckin’ ask?”
“They tried to swap you for Telford,” Young said, “but they couldn’t. I’m guessing that was because McKay and Eli put failsafes into the communications array that prevented massive data transfer.”
“McKay and Eli?” Rush hissed.
“We were trying to help you.”
Rush shot him a look of pure disgust.
“Yeah, okay, we definitely should have told you. Anyway, I’m guessing, because of our link, I was swapped instead. I ended up in Telford’s body at the SGC. You, I’m pretty sure, got pulled into Destiny’s network immediately.”
Rush had settled into a low-level glare.
“Since Telford couldn’t talk to you, and since there was no way to study Destiny’s systems, Carter eventually pulled the team back. I’d say we were gone maybe, twenty, twenty-five minutes?”
Rush nodded, and shut his eyes in a protracted blink. “Twenty minutes? This could have been much worse, you realize.”
“It was,” Young said quietly.
Rush squinted at him.
“That ‘twenty minutes’ was half a day ago. We lost power. We lost life support. You went down with the ship.”
Rush nodded, his eyes falling closed.
“We just got full power back a few minutes ago. You don’t remember any of this? Eli was convinced you’d cut power on purpose. It got Telford’s people pulled back, and it protected us when we dropped out of FTL. We were pretty worried we were gonna die. All in all, it seemed like a Nick Rush Plan.”
“I’ve no memory of of any of that,” Rush murmured, his eyes still shut. “I’ve no memory of anything beyond the point you were pulled away.”
“Hey,” Young said, rubbing his hand slowly over Rush's upper arm and shoulder. “I know you're tired, but stay with me.”
Rush cracked his eyes open
“I need you to know that I—well, I didn't mean for it to happen this way.”
Rush nodded. “This whole push came from Telford, didn't it?” The scientist sounded defeated.
“Yeah,” Young said quietly.
“Of course it did,” the scientist replied. “Of course.”
“What happened between you two?” Young asked, trying to keep his words and his thoughts casual.
Rush just shook his head and said nothing.
“I should let you rest,” Young said finally. “I'm long overdue on the bridge anyway. I’ve been MIA for eleven hours.”
“Why?” Rush asked, his brow furrowing.
“You were our best hope for restoring main power,” Young said. “Plus,” he continued, “I figured I owed you. I wanted to fix this. If I could.”
Rush nodded, his thoughts an unreadable, slowing swirl.
Young's fingers briefly tightened on his shoulder, and he stood up to leave. He’d only taken a few steps when his headache intensified. The room spun. Young turned back to Rush. The scientist hadn't moved. His eyes were closed. “Rush?” he asked.
“I'm fine,” Rush replied. “It'll pass.”
Young watched him uncertainly.
“Go,” Rush said.
Young rolled his eyes and turned.
His vertigo only increased as he crossed the infirmary floor, and he stopped by TJ's office on his way to the doors, partly because he wanted to touch base with her and partly because he wasn't sure he could make it to the corridor without a break.
“How is he?” TJ asked, as he rounded her doorframe, one hand gripping its molded metal edge.
“He seems okay.” Young had to fight for focus through the pain of his headache. Behind TJ, the wall hitched and spun.
TJ stood and gave him a searching look. “I'll check him out, try to get him to eat something. I think what he really needs—” she broke off, darting around her desk in a blur of black uniform and gold hair to catch one of Young's arms as his knees buckled. She wasn’t positioned well enough to take his full weight. Together, they folded to the cold metal of the deck plating.
“Who is it?” she asked him sharply. “You or him?”
“Not sure,” he managed choke out.
She grabbed his chin and tilted his face, looking into his eyes. “Can you get up?” she asked.
Young tried to steady himself against the vertigo in his mind. Mentally, he reached for Rush, and got nothing but a mirrored version of his own disorientation.
“Can you get up?”
“Yeah,” he slurred, trying to get his feet beneath him.
TJ draped one of his arms over her shoulders and stood, dragging him up with her. They crossed the floor, always on the risk of overbalancing, as she pulled him back toward Rush. As the distance between them narrowed, the vertigo started to diminish.
TJ tried to drag him towards a gurney.
“Nope,” Young said, making for the chair he’d vacated earlier. He struggled to avoid throwing up on her as she guided him back to sitting. It was a near thing. He reached out blindly, unable to open his eyes against the pressure in his head. His fingers caught on Rush's jacket. He leaned forward, his injured hand closing painfully around Rush’s injured wrist.
The world stabilized. The pain in his head faded back to a manageable level. He opened his eyes.
Rush was looking at him with undisguised hostility.
“You said you were sure,” Young growled, glaring back at the man.
“I said relatively sure.”
“What just happened?” TJ asked, dismay evident in her tone.
“I think we might have damaged our link.” Young rubbed his jaw. “We can't separate.”
“I fucking despise you at times,” Rush hissed. “You know that, correct?”
“Correct,” Young whispered.