Force over Distance: Chapter 15
“So, um, time loop?”
Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.
Text Iteration: Witching hour.
Audio status: Proofing.
Additional notes: None.
When Young awoke the next morning, Rush was already up. The scientist sat on the edge of the bed, glasses on. His fingers were hooked over his left shoulder, absently rubbing the base of his neck. His thoughts were a transparent swirl of images—a gray landscape beside the sea where Gloria, backlit in front of a window, made a dark silhouette against the terrible monotony of the sky; a room, full of numbers—on papers, on whiteboards, on windows.
Clear as the images were, the connections between them and the significance behind them remained obscure.
Rush felt the intrusion and looked at Young. “Nostri—" the scientist broke off, his difficulty switching from thinking in Ancient to speaking in English surprising both of them. His brows knitted. Young could feel the man working around the inertia of the Ancient in his thoughts. Rush made a quick hand gesture that indicated a circle cut by a line. “Radii? Radius. Our radius is improving.”
“Really,” Young said dryly. “You just had to push it, didn't you?”
“Of course.” Rush smirked. “We're at about five meters now.”
Young raised his eyebrows.
“Well,” Rush admitted, “that's the upper limit. A solid four meters though. Enough for me to brush my teeth in splendid fucking isolation.”
“That's a good sign, I suppose.”
Rush shrugged, looking away.
Young considered him. The scientist continued to ineffectively rub his neck with a wrist held forcibly straight by TJ's bent-metal splint. He avoided Young’s eyes.
“I'm sure there are places you'd rather wake up,” Young said quietly, “but you all but passed out last night. I wasn’t leaving you on the floor.”
“It's fine,” Rush murmured. “Thank you.”
Young raised his eyebrows.
Rush shot him a wry look. “I’m familiar with the concept of politeness on more than just theoretical grounds, you know.”
“Are you—” Young broke off, not sure how to continue. He sat, pushing the covers back. “How’re you doing with all of this?”
Rush shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.”
“Pretty sure it does.”
A twisted smile flashed over Rush’s features. “You actually give a damn, don't you? I can feel it.” He didn’t look at Young.
“I do,” Young said quietly.
“You shouldn’t.” Both the words and the tenor of Rush’s thoughts were eerily calm.
“Why not?” Young fought down a rush of dread before it could take hold and propagate through their link.
“Look, Colonel Young, I understand that you're concerned.” Young tried not to wince at the use of his title. It was never a good sign. This was the other man at his most icily professional. The guy was carrying himself like he had on Icarus, where every interaction had gone just like this—Rush in possession of more knowledge than he was willing to share, Young scrambling to catch up.
“Rush,” Young tried to cut in.
“Scratch that,” the other man said. “I suppose I can accept that you’re concerned, bizarre as I find it, because I can literally verify it. But frankly,” Rush continued, “I'm not about to candidly discuss my mental state with someone who has, on so many occasions, deliberately tried to cause me harm.”
Young tried to prevent his frustration from getting the better of him. “That statement cuts both ways.”
“I know it does,” Rush admitted. “I attempted to get you replaced by framing you for murder. I orchestrated a mutiny against your command that was a means to the end of preventing the destruction of this ship in the inevitable battle with the aliens responsible for taking Chloe. I cracked the command code and had control of Destiny for months before anyone even figured it out.” Rush smiled a humorless, bitter smile. “Not the most collegial behavior, I’ll grant you.”
“What's your point?” Young asked, hoping to prevent an enumeration of his own transgressions.
“My point is that I understand my own culpability in all of this. We can, I think, coexist,” Rush said icily. “But I have never and will never trust you. You have never and will never trust me. So don't ask about my subjective experiences. If I have tactically relevant information, I will share it with you. Otherwise—” he broke off with an abortive hand gesture, his meaning clear.
“I get that. I do.” Young paused. “On some level, I even agree.”
“There you have it, then,” Rush said coolly.
“I’m not done,” Young growled.
“Right, because that would’ve been too much to fuckin’ ask.”
“The ship,” Young said, trying to keep his voice even and his temper in check, “is exhausting you. More than that, Rush. It’s—I don’t think this is sustainable.”
Rush looked over at him, eyebrows raised. “Your point?”
“My point is that you don’t seem to care. You don’t seem to think it matters at all, which makes me wonder what’s waiting for us when we reach—wherever it is we’re supposedly going.”
Rush looked away, his expression locked. “I don't know what you’re implying.” His voice was barely audible, his mind a distressed swirl. “But if you think that I would—” he broke off, brows pulling together in pained incredulity, “that I would ever leave the crew here when—” Rush’s mind fell toward Destiny, which, this time, wasn't a darkness but a bright, self-generating network of projected memory and desire that wasn’t separate from Rush. It was building directly from him.
It was beautiful.
Beautiful and terrifying.
“Rush.” Young reached across the bed to land a hand on the scientist’s shoulder as he ruthlessly pulled him away from the ship, unmaking that incandescent network before it had a chance to establish itself. “I'm not accusing you of anything. I want you to tell me what's going on. I want to help you.”
Rush's eyes were closed. He shook his head.
“Let me help you,” Young said softly.
Young's radio crackled, breaking the silence. “Colonel, this is Lieutenant Scott, please respond.”
“Damn it.” Young let Rush go and unclipped his radio from his belt. “Go ahead.”
Rush dropped his head, his fingers digging into his temples as if he could hold himself steady with just his hands.
“We've got an urgent situation in one of the newly accessible labs. I guess a machine got turned on? No word yet on what it might be doing.”
Young sighed, his eyes still on Rush. “Thoughts?” he asked the scientist, not sure he’d get a response.
“I have to see it. I'm not omniscient.” Rush's tone was deliberately wry, a paper-thin veneer over the conflict that Young could still feel in his mind.
“Such modesty,” Young responded, his chest tight.
“On my way,” Young replied to Scott.
Rush's radio went off. “Dr. Rush, this is Brody, please respond.”
“Yes,” Rush snapped. “I'm already aware. Who turned it on?”
“Volker and I,” Brody’s tone was a mix of apology and anxiety.
“Don't touch anything until I get there. Anything else.”
“Okay. Um, just so you know, it’s building up some kind of charge.”
“Of course it is.” Rush got gingerly to his feet.
Young winced at the sensation, but was relieved to find it improved relative to the previous day. “You sure you're up for this?” he asked. “I can get Eli to look into it instead.”
Rush shot him a disgusted glare and started for the door.
It took them six minutes to make it to the lab. As they rounded the doorway, they saw Brody, Volker, and Eli in front of a monitor bank a few feet from a device that appeared to be built into the flat surface of a table. Greer and Scott hovered to the left of the doorway, eyes fixed on the glyphs that had appeared over the table, glowing blue and lit from beneath.
“Hi,” Eli said as they approached. “So, before you say anything, just know that this was not my fault.”
“Hey,” Brody hissed.
“Thanks a lot,” Volker said dryly.
Rush shot the three of them a spectacular glare over the rims of his glasses.
“Okay, maybe if I hadn't tried to cut the power buildup by removing it from Destiny's internal grid we’d still have access to the actual interface, which you could have probably used to turn the thing off, but—”
“But?” Rush echoed.
“But I wasn't the one who turned it on.”
“Yes yes.” Rush narrowed his eyes in Volker’s direction before switching his focus back to Eli. “Access to the primary interface is blocked?”
“Force field,” Eli confirmed.
Young trailed Rush as he moved toward the device. The scientist stopped in front of the primary interface panel and cautiously lowered his hand toward its glowing surface. As the metal of Rush's makeshift wrist brace approached the field, it flared to life. A small visible portion of it swirled angrily beneath his hand, immediately before the point of contact.
“Well, that’s disappointing,” the scientist murmured.
//?// Young shot him a wordless question.
//I thought I might be exempt,// Rush explained.
//Exempt from a force field?//
Rush ignored him and ducked around the back of the device to look for an access panel. He ran his fingers deftly over the surface and found the concealed release. The panel fell into his waiting hands, exposing blue glowing circuitry. He moved it to the side and sat down awkwardly, trying not to stress his feet. Young dropped into a crouch next to him, eyeing the back of the device.
//Do me a favor and go watch the monitors while I do this.//
//That's pushing it,// Young replied. //It's going to be about twelve feet. Maybe more.//
//Our time is limited. We don't want this thing discharging, I can guarantee you that.//
“Fair enough,” Young murmured, gripping Rush's shoulder to lever himself back to his feet.
//What am I looking for?//
//You're not looking for anything. I’m going to be watching them. While I fix this.//
Young's head was pounding by the time he made it as far as the monitor bank. Greer, he noticed, without being asked, had slowly moved to take up a position immediately next to Rush. Young gave him a subtle nod before turning his eyes to the readouts that Rush wanted him to monitor.
//Are you getting this?// he projected as forcefully as he could at the other man.
//Mostly,// Rush replied, his mental projection distant but steady.
“How's it going?” Eli called over to Rush. “You haven't made a dent in the power buildup yet.”
“It's been, what, less than three minutes?” Rush snarled.
“Well, I just ask because it's starting to level off.”
“What does that mean?” Young blinked painfully at Eli.
“It means that it's probably going to do whatever it is that it does.”
“Rush,” Young growled. “Get back over here.”
“Greer.” Young caught the sergeant’s eye. “Pull him back. Now.”
As Greer reached down, his hand closing on the loose material of Rush's jacket, the device flared to life. Its blue-white glow flash-blinded everyone.
Loop 1, 0 minutes:
Young opened his eyes to find Rush already up, hunched on the edge of the bed, fully dressed down to his boots. The scientist's hands were clamped down on the bedsheets. His eyes raked the walls in random, distressed patterns. The guy looked like he’d just dosed himself with amphetamines.
“Hey,” Young said cautiously. “Anything wrong?”
Rush twisted to look at him, hair falling across his glasses, searching Young’s expression. “What time is it?” Rush asked, as if something critical depended on the answer.
Young looked at his watch, his brows knitting together. “Oh eight hundred and forty seven minutes. Why?”
Rush stared at him expectantly. Like he was waiting on something.
“Are you okay?” Young sat, shoving the bedcovers aside. “You don't look—”
“What's the last thing that you remember?” Rush demanded.
“Falling asleep?” Young frowned at him.
“Fuck.” Rush spit out the word and surged to his feet. “Fuck. I'm going to murder them.”
“Whoa,” Young said. “Hold up.”
Rush shut his eyes, took a breath, then pulled his radio off his belt. “Eli,” he said, with a veneer of venomous courtesy. “Eli come in.” The scientist waited less than one second before adding, “Eli, respond to me right now.”
“Yeah, I missed you too,” Eli said. “And as much as I’d like to listen to you yell at me about whatever is bothering you right now? Turns out we're kinda busy over here. We just discovered a piece of equipment that seems to be—on. And doing something. Building a charge maybe?”
“Tell me you remember the last fifteen minutes,” Rush snapped. “Tell me you remember that device discharging.”
“Umm,” Eli said slowly. “So, on the insanity scale? You're ranking a solid eight right now, just so you know.”
//I'll second that.// Young tried to project calm into the agitated swirl of Rush's thoughts. //What’s going on?//
Rush was staring at his radio like it’d personally betrayed him.
“Crazy or not, we could use your help though,” Eli said. “So get down here.”
“Rush,” Young said quietly. “What's happening?”
Rush sent him a series of mental images. Dale Volker. A device that looked like it had been built into metal table. Glowing blue glyphs. Rush’s hands buried in circuitry. A searing light. Young’s own quarters.
//Was I supposed to understand that?//
//We're operating in different frames of reference, you and I.// The scientist was beside himself. Young was hit with an aggressive, gridded, three-dimensional mental projection, which had moving objects passing through it. //T(b)-T(a) does not fucking equal T(b)’-T(a)'.//
Something about this equation seemed to disproportionately upset the scientist.
//Okay,// Young said, still trying to project as much calm as possible.
//We're NOT TEMPORALLY SYNCHRONIZED,// Rush continued, nearly hyperventilating. He seemed to be trying to calm himself down enough to explain whatever the problem was to Young. //Time is, evidently, a reversible coordinate, in the same manner as space and fucking Volker just reset everyone but me by roughly fifteen minutes.//
Rush was trying to pace the room in a pained, aborted manner that was difficult to watch.
//You’re not making sense,// Young projected carefully. //Just—sit down, and let's talk about this.//
//Not making sense? Did I stop speaking English? I'm so happy we're linked and we can't fucking separate.//
//You are stuck in some kind of repeating temporal pattern. You are reliving a fifteen to twenty minute segment of time. I, for some as yet unknown reason, am not.//
Young looked dubiously at the other man. //Look, you've been under a lot of stress lately, I know it probably seems to you like—//
//Give me your watch.//
//Calm down, and we’ll talk about it,// Young said reasonably.
“Give me your watch and let's go.” The scientist held out his hand. “You're wasting time.”
Young slowly unbuckled his watch from his wrist.
“Come on, come on—this is intolerable.” The scientist tried to snap his fingers, but was prevented by the wrist braces he wore.
Before Young had finished pulling his boots and jacket on, Rush was out the door, pushing the distance between them to its maximum extent.
When they arrived at the lab, they found Brody, Volker, and Eli positioned in front of a monitor bank a few feet away from the same table-like device that he’d seen in Rush's mental projection. Scott hovered to the left of the doorway, his eyes fixed on the blue glyphs, lit from beneath, in the surface of the device.
Rush blew by the science team without even glancing at them and headed toward the back of the device.
“Hi,” Eli called after him. “Nice to see you too, thanks so much for your input.”
“Were you working on this, by any chance?” Volker asked.
Rush fixed Volker with a livid glare before dropping into a crouch.
“So I guess that would be a ‘no’?” Volker said slowly.
“What happened?” Young stationed himself halfway between the science team and Rush’s position next to the device itself, trying to curb his headache.
“We found it like this.” Brody was bent over Eli’s shoulder, watching whatever the kid had pulled up the display. “Someone must have turned it on.”
//So was this you?// Young shot at Rush, edging closer to the scientist. //Did you turn this thing on in the last loop, or whatever we're calling this?//
//That question is so colossally stupid that I'm tempted not to respond, but, as such things invariably go over your head, no, of course it wasn't fucking me. When this device was activated, I was sitting uselessly in your quarters, not talking about my feelings, and getting accused of some poorly defined plan to fuck over the entire crew.//
//Take it easy.// Young was sure the guy was working himself up to the point he wasn’t thinking clearly.
Movement in his peripheral vision drew his gaze and he looked over to see Greer appear in the doorway, an unsettled expression on his face, his assault rifle slung across his chest.
“Sergeant?” Young asked.
“Sir, I know how this is gonna sound, but I think—” Greer compressed his lips. “I think that thing,” the sergeant pointed with two fingers at the table, “may have already gone off.”
Before Young could respond, he felt Rush's attention snap to Greer, a wave of relief flooding through their link. “Sergeant,” Rush called, leaning out from behind the device. “You remember what happened?”
“I do,” Greer confirmed grimly. “Thought I was the only one.”
“Here.” Rush tossed Greer the watch he had borrowed from Young. “We need to determine two things: how long the loop is, and whether we can effect lasting changes other than to this machine. Do you have a knife?”
Greer glanced at Young.
“Why do you need a knife?” Young asked mildly.
“So I can fucking cut open an artery and put myself out of my god damned misery, all right?”
“Fuck you. Fuck all of you. Greer, give me that knife."
Greer paced over to Rush, who was elbows-deep in the back panel of the device. The sergeant dropped into a crouch and presented Rush with his knife, handle first. “You didn’t say please.”
Rush made short work of slicing through the taped portions of each of his wrist braces.
//Is that a good idea?// Young asked. //Don't you need those?//
Rush ignored him. The scientist made a short, shallow cut at the base of his palm, then handed the knife to Young. “Do the same,” he demanded.
“And this is supposed to prove what?” Young made a small scratch on his hand, then returned the knife to Greer.
“Whether there's physical reset when the device discharges. If our reference frames are really discontinuous but colocalized, yours will be gone and mine won’t.”
“Power is leveling off,” Eli called.
“Time,” Rush snapped at Greer.
“Sixteen minutes, fifty eight—”
Young shut his eyes against the awful flare of blue-white light.
Loop 2, 0 minutes:
Young woke to the crash of metal on metal.
“Oh for fuck’s sake," Rush shouted, as he sent one of his crutches hurtling into the wall. “Seventeen minutes is too short.” He spun to face the bed. “Hold out your hand,” he demanded.
“Are you crazy?” Young growled.
“Getting there,” Rush said grimly, half climbing over the bed to seize Young's left hand and turn it over. He placed his own left hand, palm up, next to Young’s. Rush had a small cut at the base of his palm and, Young noticed, had somehow managed to lose his wrist braces.
“I knew it,” Rush murmured incomprehensibly.
Loop 3, 11 minutes:
“Rush,” Greer said, as they entered the room. “Eleven minutes? You gotta be faster if you're gonna fix this thing.”
“I’m aware of that,” Rush snapped. “You try explaining this to him, next time.”
Young crossed his arms, glaring at Rush. “You didn't say anything about Greer being outside the loop as well.”
“Thanks for pointing that out. I'll be sure to mention it when I explain it to you again in six minutes.”
“Sorry to interrupt your argument, guys,” Eli said, “but if I’m reading this right—Destiny is displaced from our calculated course. We're over eight hundred million kilometers ahead of where we should be.”
“Oh look,” Rush said, “independent verification that I'm not having nervous breakdown. How nice.”
“Rush,” Young growled, losing patience with the other man.
“Just fix the damn thing before we drop out of FTL,” Greer said.
“Very helpful, sergeant, thank you. I'm so glad that we're getting this chance to work together. Where would I be without your brilliant insights.”
//Stay focused,// Young shot at Rush. //And stop antagonizing the one guy who’s going to remember everything you say.//
“Where do you get off being such an asshole?” Greer asked.
“Right, as though you're some paragon of virtue.”
Greer crossed the space between them in three quick strides and dropped into a crouch immediately next to Rush, grabbing his jacket to twist him around.
Young stepped forward, ready to intervene.
“I'm not,” Greer hissed at him. “I know I’m not. I've lived through some fucked up shit, okay? And I'll bet my fruit ration that you have too. So if you can't respect anything else about me, at least respect that I still fucking get up in the morning to protect your ass, and everyone else’s, from the Lucian Alliance, from flesh eating bugs, from fucking creepy fungus monsters, okay? It's about the only thing you and I have in common.”
Rush stared at Greer.
The sergeant released him and stepped back. “So fix the goddamn thing, will you?”
“Working on it,” Rush replied.
Loop 4, 2 minutes:
“If what you're saying is true,” Young said, palms out, trying to keep his tone reasonable, “why are you sitting here, with me, and not with this device? It's not that I don't believe you—”
He was interrupted by a knock on his door. “It's Greer,” he heard over the intercom.
“Come,” he said, without thinking.
“Sir, look, I know how this is going to sound—” Greer strode into the room, expression grim. He glanced at Rush, then paused, doing a double take at the sight of the scientist, sitting on the edge of the bed.
Rush looked at Greer over the tops of his glasses, his hair in his eyes.
“Um, this is more than I wanted to know,” Greer said, half uncomfortable, half amused.
"Glad you're enjoying this," Rush snapped. “We're not sleeping together."
“Really. Because it kinda looks like you are."
"Technically, yes, we slept in close proximity, but that is not the same thing. Our link is damaged. Or were you not paying attention yesterday?”
“Yeah, so, I don’t spend much time thinking about what you two get up to on my off hours. Gotta admit I didn’t see this one coming.” Greer was fighting a grin. “Good times.”
“Do I look like I am having an even remotely good time?”
“Not really, no.”
Young stared at the pair of them. No one said anything. Finally, Young cleared his throat. “So, um, time loop?”
Loop 6, 16 minutes:
Young stood with his arms crossed, a few feet from Rush. Through their link, he could feel frustration and anxiety rolling off the other man. Rush leaned forward at an awkward angle, Greer had posted up behind him with a flashlight.
Absently, Young massaged his aching wrists, knowing that it wouldn't do anything for the pain.
This wasn't working.
There was too much explaining, too much time wasted, and not enough time for Rush to work. This loop, the scientist had spent seven minutes with the device, which, when you were trying to repair a piece of Ancient technology you'd never seen before, wasn't much time.
Neither Rush nor Greer were very good at explaining things in a concise, trustworthy manner. The time pressure was frustrating both of them, and they both got aggressive when frustrated.
Young grimaced, shut his eyes, and took a breath. Then he walked forward, approaching their position. “Hey,” he said, as he dropped into a crouch. “I know you're on the clock, but I have a suggestion for next time.”
“What,” Rush snapped darkly. The scientist didn’t look up.
“I think the situation is grave enough that you two should consider playing to your strengths,” Young said, not without a little trepidation.
Rush looked over at him.
“Twenty seconds,” Greer said.
Young pulled out his handgun and handed it to an astonished Rush. “Don't make me sorry I suggested this. To either of you.” He gave them both a hard look.
Loop 7, 0 minutes:
Young opened his eyes to find Rush holding a sidearm to his head.
“Really sorry about this,” Rush said, not looking sorry at all. “I’m afraid we've got somewhere to be.”
Loop 8, 6 minutes:
“Okay people,” Greer shouted, forcing a round into the chamber of his weapon, “this is a time loop. We're trying to fix it, but we've only got eleven minutes before the loop resets. So, in order to increase efficiency, we’re gonna set some rules. Rule one: no one moves. Rule two: no one talks to Rush.
Greer motioned Young over to join the science team and Lieutenant Scott before taking up a position in front of Rush.
“Time loop?” Eli asked. “You made that up.”
“We're in asynchronous reference frames, or something, okay?” Greer’s eyes flicked from Eli to Rush as the scientist dropped awkwardly into a seated position.
Young pressed one hand to his head, fighting a headache.
“Yeah, that sounds legit,” Eli snapped.
//This was your idea, wasn't it?/ Young growled, trying to ignore the horrible tearing sensation in his feet. //I don't know how you convinced Greer to go along with this.//
//No talking,// Rush replied.
Loop 14, 14 minutes:
“Sorry about this, doc,” Greer said quietly. The sergeant’s hands were open, palms out. He looked calmly at Lieutenant Scott, who had a handgun pointed directly at his face.
“You start taking civilian hostages and screwing around with Ancient technology and then you're apologizing to him?” Young snarled at Greer.
Greer didn’t so much as look at him. His eyes flicked from Scott to Rush.
“Stop,” Young snarled, trying to restrain the scientist without hurting him, which was becoming increasingly difficult. Rush seemed determined to twist out of the shoulder lock that Young had him in.
It wasn’t gonna happen.
//Stop it,// he ground the words into Rush’s mind. He pressed his full weight down against the scientist's lower back, one hand maintaining the shoulder-lock, the other pinning the back of the scientist’s neck.
“Rush,” Greer said insistently. “Rush, it's not worth it, man. You’re gonna blow out your shoulder and for what? For three minutes? Let it go.”
Beneath Young’s hands, Rush relaxed slowly, a tremor tearing across his back.
Loop 15, 0 minutes:
Young woke up as Rush lay down beside him on the bed.
“Hey,” Young said quietly. “Are you okay?”
There was a terrible ache in the other man's shoulder and wrists. His feet felt like they’d been torn apart.
Rush didn’t reply.
Young sat up, studying the scientist. The man must have been up all night. His feet burned. His hands ached, His eyes were shut. Young gently placed a hand on the scientist’s shoulder, wondering where Rush's wrist braces had gone, why he was wearing his boots, why was he holding—
Wait a minute.
Was that his sidearm?
“So I think,” Rush said, in an exhaustedly conversational tone, as though picking up a thread Young didn’t remember starting, “if we weren't linked, my location wouldn't be resetting. But it has to, because your location resets.”
“Yeah, okay, great. And I think I’m gonna call TJ.” Young reached for his radio.
“Don't do that.” Rush said. “Just wait for Greer.”
“I am definitely—”
Young was interrupted by a knock on the door. He stood to open it.
Greer stood in the hallway, looking harassed.
“Sergeant? What can I do for you?”
“Can I come in?”
“Now’s not a good time.”
“What's wrong with him?” Greer stepped forward, his expression concerned. The sergeant came just short of pushing past Young as he ducked around him to get into the room.
Rush hadn't moved—he was still lying on his back, the hand with Young's sidearm trailing on the floor.
“I think I need to take a loop off,” Rush said, as Greer dropped to a seated position next to the bed.
“Yeah,” Greer agreed, “I think maybe you do. Your shoulder still in its socket?”
“What?” Young asked.
“Well, that’s something. We need to eat anyway. It's what, almost thirteen hundred hours?”
“What the hell is going on here?” Young growled.
Loop 16, 0 minutes:
Young awoke to find Rush staring at him, a handgun resting against his left shoulder. Alarmed, Young sat. Rush tightened his grip on the weapon and pointed it directly at him in an exhausted, half-hearted manner.
“We have to go,” Rush said.
Young didn't reply. He considered several possible ways of disarming the other man, all of which seemed unnecessarily violent. Finally, he settled on slowly reaching forward and closing his hand over Rush’s. Gently, he pried the weapon from the other man's unresisting grip.
Rush sighed. “It wasn't loaded anyway. It never was.”
Loop 18, 12 minutes:
Young stood with the science team as Greer herded them away from Rush.
//What the hell is going on?// Young growled at the scientist.
Rush ignored him.
Greer backed into a position between Rush and the rest of the room. “Okay. Y’all are in a time loop. Dr. Rush and I are operating in an asynchronous temporal reference frame relative to your own—”
“Oh, ‘Dr.’ Rush, is it?” Rush asked. “That’s new.”
“Well, I feel like you’re earnin’ it today.”
Young glanced at Eli, Volker, Brody, and Scott. They all looked as confused as he felt.
“What the heck is going on here?” Volker asked. “Asynchronous temporal reference frames shouldn’t be possible.”
“I’ll tell you what. You just stand there quietly for five more minutes,” Greer said, “and then I’ll let you tell me aaaalllllll about it.”
And Rush—Rush actually laughed. It was short, it was wry, but it was real.
“Oh, you like that one?” Greer asked. “Maybe I’ll use it again.”
//Rush// Young projected. //Talk to your team.//
//What does it look like I’m doing?// Rush shot back.
Greer looked down at Rush. “It is kinda weird that we’ve got different times running in the same space, right?”
“Yes.” Rush freed a wafer-thin crystal from the back of the device and placed it delicately between his teeth. “Prior to today, I’d have been willing to bet real money such a thing wasn’t possible.”
“Spacetime is supposed to be a blend, I thought,” Greer said. “You don’t get one without the other.”
Rush looked up an Greer, one eyebrow lifted. “Curious, isn’t it?”
//Can you fix this thing, please?// Young growled.
“Yeah, but doc, what does it mean?”
“Honestly, sergeant? I haven’t the fucking faintest. I’m certain it’s quantum mechanical in nature.”
“Are you guys for real?” Eli whispered, aghast.
“That’s the freaky shit, right?” Greer asked.
“Quantum mechanics is, indeed, the freaky shit,” Rush agreed. He pulled the crystal out of his mouth and inserted somewhere in the back of the panel.
“Oh my god they’re for real,” Eli whispered, looking at Young. “I mean, just listen to them.”
Young grimaced. It certainly seemed that way.
“You think I might be able to actually help you?” Greer asked. “If you tell me what’s going on? Hold something, or whatever?”
“If you have an interest,” Rush said mildly, “I suppose I could show you the basics at some point. You’ve already evinced a greater understanding of the fundamental principles at play than, say, Dr. Volker.”
“Don’t get excited,” Volker called, from behind Young’s shoulder, “that’s a real low bar.”
“I’ll tell ya, doc,” Greer said, “I’d like to be able to do your thing with the doors.”
“So we’re calling him ‘doc’ now?” Eli said. “Okay.”
“And what ‘thing’ would that be?”
“The one where you crack a panel, yank a wire, flip a crystal, bridge a gap, and—voila. It opens.”
“Ah. That, I’m sure I could teach you.”
//Don’t even think about it,// Young growled.
“Oh yeah?” Greer glanced down at the scientist.
“We’ll set up a time,” Rush said, casually.
Loop 20, 10 minutes:
Greer helped Rush sit, one hand clenched around the front of the scientist's jacket, one hand beneath his elbow.
“You promised me an explanation,” Young stood over Rush.
“And you'll get it.” Greer stepped into Young's personal space and forced him back a pace, away from his chief scientist. “But right now, he needs to work.”
Young backed off, touching Rush's mind with a wordless question.
He got a short, equally wordless dismissal as Rush's thoughts swirled darkly along, an obscure mixture of circuit diagrams and Ancient phrases.
“Okay people,” Greer crossed his arms over his chest and launched into what sounded like a rehearsed speech. “This is a time loop. Rush and I are operating in an asynchronous temporal reference frame relative to your own, which resets every seventeen minutes as this device discharges. The two of us, along with Destiny are still passing through space-time in a normal manner. You all," Greer said, fingers tightening against the shoulder strap of his weapon, “Are stuck. If you want to verify what we're saying, check Destiny's current position.”
“We're almost six hours off,” Eli said, looking up at Young from where he stood behind the monitors. “What happens if we drop out of FTL?”
“Why is it just you guys who aren’t resetting?” Volker asked.
“Has anyone checked the cumulative power drain?” Brody added.
“What caused this in the first place?” Young growled, as his frayed patience snapped.
Greer sighed. He glanced over at Rush. “What’d you think?”
“Well executed,” Rush replied absently. “I like that version. You could consider adding something about the cumulative power drain.” Rush’s hands stilled, braced against a mix of crystal and wire. “Hang on." He looked up at Greer.
“What you got, doc?”
“What if you tell them the loop is—say, twenty-five minutes long. We work for twenty—”
“And the last five for questions,” Greer grinned at him. “Oh yeah. That’s a bona fide Nick Rush plan right there. I’m in.”
“Are you guys freaking serious right now?” Eli demanded. “We’re really in a time loop?”
“If they’re the only ones not affected, I can pretty much guarantee they turned it on,” Volker muttered.
“What the hell did you do?” Young roared. “I want answers, and I want them now. And, if this is a time loop? Do not lie to me in subsequent rounds, sergeant.”
“Welcome to my life.” Rush spared him a brief glance. “This is it. Right here. This is the whole fuckin’ thing.”
“I feel,” Greer said, staring at the ceiling in obvious aggravation, “like maybe I'm starting to get where you're coming from.”
Loop 21, 10 minutes:
“Okay people, this is a—” Greer broke off mid-sentence. “Nah. Y’know what? Screw this.” He unslung his assault rifle from his shoulder and pointed it at Young and the science team. “Y’all are gonna be quiet for seven minutes. Then, we’ll take questions.”
“What the hell?” Eli asked.
“I said no talking.”
“I thought we agreed guns were not the best plan. Remember nearly getting shot in the face?” Rush didn’t take his eyes off the device under his hands. “There's no reset for you.”
“Whatever,” Greer replied.
“Please,” Rush said. “Don't get shot.”
Loop 24, 5 minutes:
“None of this makes sense,” Young growled.
“We already explained it to you,” Greer said, dragging Rush down the corridor. The sergeant had the scientist’s arm pulled over his shoulders. His other hand was wrapped around Rush’s waist. “Over twenty times. You're just going to have to trust us.”
“Never going to happen,” Rush commented breathlessly.
"And you," Greer said. “Stop being such a god damned pain in the ass.”
“You must admit it’s one of my truly exceptional talents.”
“You’ve got me there,” Greer said.
Young looked at them walking in tandem, in a practiced manner like they had, indeed, done this countless times. He felt like he was the one out of sync, not the two of them.
His open link with Rush was nothing but strain. Young tried to help him, grounding him as much as possible.
“I trust you," he said. “I trust both of you.”
They eyed him warily.
Loop 25, 0 minutes:
Young opened his eyes to see Rush sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched and exhausted in the unusually dim light.
“Rush?” Young said, pushing himself to a seated position.
“We have to go,” Rush murmured, eyes half-closed. “Just—maybe, ah fuck it. Trust me on this one?”
From the other man's mind, Young was getting almost nothing but pain.
“Rush, you're in no shape—”
//Please.// Rush said. //I need your help.//
The scientist’s eyes were shut. His head was bowed. He didn't look at Young, just waited for his answer. Young reached down and grabbed his boots. For some reason, Rush already had his on.
//All right. Where are we going?//
Rush didn't respond in words; instead he sent Young an image of a device—of blue glowing circuitry exposed, of a soft electric hum that increased slowly in intensity.
“Greer's coming,” Rush whispered.
Someone pounded on the door.
A chill shot down Young’s spine. He looked at Rush, but the scientist didn’t move.
Opening the door revealed that it was, in fact, Greer.
“Can I come in?” Greer was leaning against the doorframe, one hand resting on his rifle in a pose both exhausted and truculent.
“Be my guest.” Young backed up a step. “I hear we're going somewhere?”
“Yup,” Greer sounded relieved. He walked straight over to Rush, who was still sitting on the edge of the bed. “Look at you, doc,” he said, as he pulled the scientist up. “That was quick. No handgun or anything. It only took you twenty-five tries to get it right.”
“Oh shut up,” Rush replied.
Loop 27, 9 minutes:
"Okay people," Greer said, unslinging his weapon from his shoulder. “This is a time loop, and we're trying to fix it for you, but we're fucking tired. The loop is twenty-five minutes long. We work for twenty, then answer questions for five. That’s the deal. If you understand, say nothing.”
Although no overt threat had been made, Greer's stance and relaxed grip on his weapon combined to suggest that he would not hesitate to head in that direction if the situation required it.
Young frowned, rubbing his jaw.
He could feel Rush fighting to stay focused through his exhaustion. The ship was dragging hard on his mind.
Young stepped forward.
The sergeant moved to block Young’s path, his expression full of warning.
“I think I can help him,” Young said, voice too quiet to be heard by anyone other than Greer.
“He needs to focus,” Greer murmured back, his entire stance forbidding.
“He can't keep doing this forever,” Young said.
“I know that,” Greer said quietly. “I know that better than anyone. I've been with him this entire time.”
“So let me help him,” Young murmured.
Greer looked at him evenly, considering.
“Oh for the love of god,” Rush snapped, “stop posturing and get over here.”
Loop 28, 13 minutes:
Young knelt behind Rush, the palm of his hand pressing into Rush's back, right between his shoulder blades, over his spine. As he watched, the scientist finished stripping the jumper wire he’d cannibalized from somewhere inside the device.
“Greer,” Rush said, his voice hoarse, “I think this is going to work.”
“That's what you said twelve loops ago.”
“Yes, well.” Rush uncuffed his jacket sleeve, and brought the material down over his fingers.
“If this doesn't work, we're taking the next loop off,” Greer said, sparing a concerned glance in Rush's direction.
“It will work,” Rush said. He deftly connected one end of the wire to an exposed circuit, then paused.
//Let go of me,// he projected delicately at Young as he grabbed one of his boots and brought it across his lap. Carefully, he inspected its sole.
“Doc, what the hell are you doing?” Greer asked him. “We’re running short on time.”
“I'm trying to make sure I'm not going to kill myself, if that's all right with you,” Rush said conversationally. “I’ll be shorting this thing out, which is not without risk.”
“Well, shit,” Greer said.
Rush gritted his teeth and shifted his position, pulling his feet underneath him in a crouch. He hissed softly as he balanced himself, transferring his weight from fingertips to feet.
“Rush,” Young said quietly, the other man's name an agonized, incredulous admonishment.
“Don't touch me,” the scientist murmured, his intonation rising, the reminder almost sympathetic.
Balanced on the insulated soles of his boots, Rush reached forward, fingertips protected by the sleeve of his jacket, and carefully moved the wire into place.
A plasma arc formed, brief and blue, burning out an arch in Young's retinas.
Rush jerked back, overbalancing, falling out of his crouch as the entire internal circuitry of the device flared a brilliant blue-white.
Together, Young and Greer dragged Rush back toward the nearest wall.
The lighting in the room flickered as Ancient symbols projected over the ceiling in ghostly relief. The metal of the device itself began to glow with a pale, white heat.
“You overloaded it,” Eli yelled from the other side of the room.
“I can see that, Eli, thank you,” Rush yelled back.
The electrical whine in the air had reached an intolerable level.
Rush was between Young and the device, a dark silhouette against the blue. Hair falling into his eyes, he yanked back his jacket sleeve to expose his hand and pressed it down to the deck plating just as the device went critical.
The flare was blinding. The explosion was deafening.
Young tensed, waiting for the impact of debris.
It never came.
When he opened his eyes, there was a devastated twist of blackened metal where the device had been and a perfectly defined debris radius that extended a good eight feet into the room on all sides.
At the border of the debris-line, a force field flickered in and out of the visible spectrum, extending up from the deck plating to the ceiling. At its base, Rush was kneeling, his right hand outstretched, in contact with the edge of the field.
“Well shit, doc,” Greer whispered.
“Yes,” Rush breathed. The scientist shook his hair back and turned to face them. He smiled faintly. “For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.”