Force over Distance: Chapter 15

“So, um, time loop?”

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

Text iteration: Midnight. Hover to discover intact.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 15

When Young woke the next morning, Rush was already up. The scientist sat on the edge of the bed, glasses on. His fingers, hooked over his shoulder, rubbed 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 mental intrusion and looked at Young. “Nostri—” The inertia of the Ancient in his thoughts surprised both of them. The scientist’s brows knitted, and he made a quick gesture that indicated a circle cut by a line. “Radii? Radius. Our radius is improving.”

“Really,” Young said dryly. “You 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 guess.”

Rush avoided Young’s gaze and rubbed at his neck, doing the best he could with a wrist forced straight by TJ's bent-metal splint.

“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, y’know.”

“Are you—” Young wasn’t sure how the hell to land his question, so he sat, pushed the covers back, and regrouped. “How’re you doing with all of this?”

Rush shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Pretty sure it does.”

Rush smiled at whatever dark comedy was playing on the screen of his mind. “Y’actually give a damn, don't you? I can feel it.”

“I do,” Young said.

“You shouldn’t.” The words were eerily calm.

“Why not?” Young battled down a surge of dread before it took hold and passed through their link.

“Colonel. I understand you're concerned.”

Young tried not to wince at the use of his title; it was never a good sign. 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—” he cut in.

“Scratch that.” The scientist ignored him. “I suppose I can accept you’re concerned, bizarre as I find it, because I can literally verify it. But, frankly, I'm not about to discuss my mental state with someone who has, on so many occasions, deliberately tried to cause me harm.”

“That statement goes both ways.”

“I know it does,” Rush admitted. “I attempted t’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.” He smiled a humorless, bitter smile. “Not the most collegial behavior, I’ll grant you.”

“What's your point?” Young asked, hoping to prevent a list of his own transgressions.

“I understand my own culpability in all this. We can, I think, coexist,” Rush said, “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.

“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 is exhausting you.” Young kept his voice even and his temper in check. “More than that, Rush. It’s—I don’t think this is sustainable.”

Rush quirked an eyebrow. “So?”

“So 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 we’re going.”

Rush’s mind swirled with distress. “I don't know what you’re implying, but if y’think I’d—that I would leave the crew here when—” The bright wind of the scientist’s thoughts clarified to reveal a vast, self-generating network of projected memory and desire that wasn’t separate from Rush, but was building from him. Through him.

It was the ship. Beautiful and terrifying.

Rush.” Young reached across the bed, landed a hand on the scientist’s shoulder, and ripped him away from Destiny, 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.

His radio crackled, breaking the silence. “Colonel, this is Lieutenant Scott, please respond.”

“Damn it.” He let Rush go and unclipped his radio from his belt. “Young here.”

Rush dropped his head and dug his fingers into his temples.

“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?”

“I have to see it. I'm not omniscient.” The delivery was impressively wry, given the conflict swirling through the man’s mind.

“Such modesty.” Young depressed the button on his radio. “On my way,” he told Scott.

Rush's radio went off. “Dr. Rush, this is Brody, please respond.”

“Yes,” Rush sighed, “I'm already aware. Who turned it on?”

“Volker and I.” Brody’s monotone stacked apology and anxiety and ironed them flat.

“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.” Gingerly, Rush got to his feet.

Young winced as pain flooded their link. “You sure you're up for this?” he asked.

Wordlessly, Rush started for the door.

“Okay then,” Young said, and followed.

As they entered the lab, they saw Brody, Volker, and Eli studying a device built into the flat surface of a wrought-metal table. Greer and Scott hovered nearby, eyeing a collection of Ancient glyphs, glowing blue and lit from beneath, that spanned the breadth of the instrument.

“Hi,” Eli said as they approached. “So, before you say anything, just know that this was not my fault.

“Hey,” Brody objected.

“Thanks, Eli,” Volker said, with his usual genial sarcasm.

Rush shot the three of them a math-professor glare over the rims of his glasses.

“Okay, maybe if I hadn't tried to cut the power buildup by isolating the device from our internal grid we’d still have access to the interface, which you could’ve used to turn the thing off, but—” Eli’s expression telegraphed a mix of guilt and anxiety.

“But?” Rush echoed.

“But I wasn't the one who turned it on?”

“Yes yes.” Rush narrowed his eyes at Volker. “Access to the interface is blocked?”

“Force field,” Eli confirmed.

Young trailed Rush as he approached the device. The scientist stopped in front of the primary interface and cautiously lowered his hand toward the glowing glyphs. As the metal of Rush's wrist brace approached the table, a field flared to life. A small, visible portion of it swirled angrily immediately before the point of contact.

“Well, that’s disappointing,” the scientist murmured.

//?// Young shot him a wordless question.

//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 over the surface and found a concealed release. He depressed the catch and the panel fell into his waiting hands, exposing glowing circuitry. He sat awkwardly, trying not to stress his feet. Young dropped into a crouch beside him and found himself facing a crystal-laced maze of wire.

//Go watch the monitors while I do this.//

//That's pushing it,// Young replied. //A good view is gonna take me about twelve feet. Maybe a little more.//

//Our time’s limited. We don't want this thing discharging; I can guarantee y’that.//

“Fair enough.” Young used Rush's shoulder to lever himself to his feet. //What am I looking for?//

//You're not looking for anything. I’ll be watching them. While I fix this.//

Young got about ten feet in the direction of the readouts Rush wanted to see before he felt a dull pressure behind his eyes. He split his focus between the glowing glyphs and his chief scientist, mostly concealed behind the device.

Greer took up a position behind Rush.

Young gave the sergeant a subtle nod, then focused on the illuminated data. //You getting anything outta this?//

//Quite a bit, actually,// Rush replied.

//That’s good, because I can’t read Ancient.//

“How's it going?” Eli asked. “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.”

Young pressed his fingertips against his temple, trying to hold his focus. “What does that mean?”

“It means it’s probably gonna do whatever it does,” Eli said grimly.

“Rush,” Young growled. “Get back here.”

//I fail to see how that will help anything.//

“Greer.” Young caught the sergeant’s eye. “Pull him back. Now.”

Greer grabbed a handful of Rush’s jacket.

The device flared to life. A blue-white glow flash-blinded everyone.

Loop 1, 0 minutes:

Young woke to find Rush already up, hunched on the edge of the bed, fully dressed down to his boots. The scientist’s hands were clamped on the bedsheets. His eyes raked the walls in random patterns. The guy looked like he’d just dosed himself with amphetamines.

“Hey,” Young said cautiously. “What’s wrong?”

Rush twisted to look at him. His hair fell across his glasses as he searched Young’s expression. “What time is it?” he asked, as if something critical depended on the answer.

Young frowned at his watch. “Oh eight hundred and forty seven minutes. Why?”

Rush stared at him expectantly. Like he was waiting on something.

“You okay?” Young shoved the bedcovers aside. “You look a little—”

“What's the last thing you remember?” Rush demanded.

“Falling asleep?” Young frowned at him.

“Fuck.” Rush spit the word and surged to his feet. “Fuck. I'm going to murder them.”

“Um,” Young said, “little early for murder, don’t you think?”

Rush shut his eyes, took a breath, and yanked his radio off his belt. “Eli,” he said, with a thin 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 replied. “And, as much as I’d like to listen to you yell at me about whatever’s bothering you right now? Turns out we're kinda busy. We discovered a piece of equipment that seems to be, uh, on. And doing something. Building a charge maybe?”

“Tell me you remember the last fifteen minutes,” Rush snarled. “Tell me you remember that device discharging.”

“Umm,” Eli said slowly. “So, on the insanity scale? You're ranking a solid eight right now.”

//I'll second that.// Young projected his own calm into the agitated swirl of Rush's thoughts. //What’s going on?//

Rush stared at his radio like it’d personally betrayed him.

“Crazy or not, we could use your help though,” Eli said. “Get down here. We’re six doors past the 3D Printer. On the right.”

“I know where you are,” Rush hissed.

Young abandoned his projection of calm; everything he scraped together was being obliterated in the vortex of Rush’s spiraling anxiety. “What’s happening?”

The scientist sent him a series of mental images: Dale Volker; 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. He hit Young with a gridded, three-dimensional mental projection, complete with moving spheres passing through it? //T(b)-T(a) does not fuckin’ equal T(b)’-T(a)’.//

//Okay.// The guy’d lost it. It probably wasn’t even his fault. He was yoked to a damned starship. Even without the invasive alien tech, he tended to be on the excitable side.

//We're NOT TEMPORALLY SYNCHRONIZED,// Rush paced away a few steps, maybe trying to calm down. He looked like he was in danger of hyperventilating. //Time is, evidently, a reversible coordinate, in the same manner as space, and fucking Volker reset everyone but me by roughly fifteen minutes.// The scientist spun, paced back toward the bed, stopped, because his feet were a wreck, then, like he couldn’t help himself, turned and paced away again.

“You’re not making sense.” Young switched to speaking aloud. “Sit down. Let’s talk about this.”

“Not making sense? DID I STOP SPEAKING ENGLISH? I'm so happy we're linked and can't fucking separate.”

First you sit down,” Young said, like he was laying down the law for his six year-old nephew. “Then we talk about it.”

You are stuck in some kind of repeating temporal pattern,” Rush hissed, still trying to pace. “You are reliving a fifteen to twenty minute segment of time.”

“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.”

“Give me your watch and let's go.” The scientist held out his hand. “You're wasting time.”

Slowly, against his better judgment, Young unbuckled his watch from his wrist.

“Come on, come on; this is intolerable.” The scientist tried to snap his fingers, but didn’t have much luck, given the wrist braces he wore.

As soon as Young handed over the watch, Rush was out the door, pushing the distance between them to the max. Young barely had time to grab his boots and jacket before the headache and vertigo laid them both out.

When they arrived at the lab, they found Brody, Volker, and Eli studying a table-like device, alight with the blue glyphs he’d seen in Rush's mental projection. Scott watched from just inside the door.

Rush blew by the Science Team without so much as a glance.

“Hi,” Eli called after him. “Nice to see you too; thanks so much for your input.”

“Were you working on this?” Volker asked.

Rush rounded the back of the active device, fixed Volker with a livid glare, then dropped into a crouch, tearing the hell out of his feet.

“So we’ll call that a ‘no’, I guess,” Volker said affably.

“What happened?” Young stationed himself between the Science Team and Rush, trying to choose a spot that would minimize the strain on their link without being too damn obvious.

“We found it like this.” Brody 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 edged closer to Rush and felt his headache dial itself back a notch. //Did you turn this thing on in the last loop, or whatever we're calling this?//

//That question is so colossally stupid 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 being accused of some poorly defined plan to fuck over the entire crew.//

//Take it easy. I’m trying to catch up.//

//I doubt it matters whether you ‘catch up’ or not,// Rush snarled.

//Thanks.// Young scanned the room and saw Greer in the doorway, surveying the room with an unsettled expression on his face.

“Sergeant?” Young asked.

Greer adjusted the assault rifle slung across his chest. “Sir, I know how this is gonna sound, but I think—I think that thing,” the sergeant pointed at the glowing table of glyphs, “may’ve already gone off.”

Rush's attention snapped to Greer and a wave of relief flooded their link. “Sergeant.” The scientist leaned out from behind the device. “You remember what happened?”

“I do,” Greer confirmed. “Thought I was the only one.”

“Here.” Rush tossed Greer the watch he’d 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. D’you have a knife?”

Greer glanced at Young.

“Why do you need a knife?” Young asked mildly.

“So I can cut open an artery and put myself out of my fuckin’ misery, all right?”

“Settle down.”

“Fuck you. Fuck all of you. Greer, give me your 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 the scientist 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. He made a 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’ll 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 a flare of blue-white light.

Loop 2, 0 minutes:

Young woke to the crash of metal on metal.

“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Rush sent a crutch hurtling into the bulkhead. “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, 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. Somehow, he’d managed to lose his wrist braces.

“I knew it,” Rush murmured incomprehensibly.

Loop 3, 11 minutes:

“Rush,” Greer said, as Young followed his chief scientist into the lab. “Eleven minutes? You gotta be faster if you're gonna fix this thing.”

“I’m aware,” Rush snarled. “You try explaining this to him, next time.”

Young crossed his arms, leaned into the monitor bank where the Science Team were clustered, and growled, “You didn't say anything about Greer being outside the loop.”

“Thanks for pointing that out. I'll be sure to mention it when I explain it to you again in six minutes.” Rush dropped into a cross-legged position next to the mystery device.

“Sorry to interrupt whatever weird argument you guys are having,” Eli said, “but, if I’m reading this right? Destiny’s displaced from our calculated course. We're over eight hundred million kilometers ahead of where we should be.”

“Oh look,” Rush said, “independent verification I'm not having nervous breakdown. How nice.”

“What?” Eli said, confused.

“Rush,” Young growled.

“Just fix the damn thing before we drop out of FTL,” Greer said.

“Very helpful, sergeant, thank you. I'm so glad we're getting this chance to work together. Where would I be without your brilliant insights.”

//Stay focused,// Young projected. //And don’t antagonize the one guy who’s gonna 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 a few quick strides, crouched next to Rush, grabbed his jacket, and wrenched him around.

Young stepped forward, ready to intervene.

“I'm not,” Greer hissed. “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 get up in the morning to protect your ass, and everyone else’s, from the Lucian Alliance, from flesh eating bugs, and 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:

“Let’s think about this for a minute.” Young kept his palms out and his tone reasonable, “If I’m caught in a time loop and you’re not, why are you sitting here, with me, and not with this device? You should either reset or not, right?”

Now y’fuckin’ decide to apply a logical heuristic to a problem?” Rush’s voice cracked. “Now?” The scientist’s distress flooded their link.

Young realized, with a surge of horror, that the guy was, maybe, on the verge of crying? “I—”

He was saved from whatever terrible suggestion would’ve come out of his mouth by a determined pounding on his door.

His intercom chimed. “It’s Greer.”

“Come,” Young said, without thinking.

Rush tensed.

“Sir, look, I know how this is gonna sound—” Greer strode into the room, expression grim. He glanced at Rush, then did a double take at the sight of the scientist perched 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.

“Glad you're enjoying this,” Rush snarled. “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. Were y’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. He cleared his throat. “So, um, time loop?”

Loop 6, 16 minutes:


Young stood with his arms crossed, a few feet from Rush. His chief scientist leaned forward at an awkward angle, elbows deep in circuits. Greer crouched behind him with a flashlight. Frustration and anxiety roiled Rush’s mind.

Young massaged his aching wrists, knowing 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 wasn’t a wide window, considering he was repairing a piece of Ancient technology he’d never seen before.

Young grimaced, shut his eyes, and took a breath. “Hey.” He dropped into a crouch next to Rush. “I know you're on the clock, but I have a suggestion for next time.”

“What.” Rush’s tone was dark, and he didn’t look up.

“I think the situation is grave enough that you two should play to your strengths,” Young said.

“Fascinating,” Rush muttered. “Please tell me there’s more where that came from.”

“Twenty seconds,” Greer said.

Young pulled his sidearm.

Rush looked up.

Young offered the weapon to his astonished chief scientist. “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 chambered a round. “This is a time loop. We're tryin’ 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.”

The sergeant motioned Young over to join the Science Team and Lieutenant Scott. Then, with a little more attitude than necessary, he paced over to Rush, squared his feet, and took up a position in front of the scientist.

“Time loop?” Eli asked. “You made that up.”

“We're in asynchronous reference frames or somethin’, okay?” Greer kept both hands on his gun.

“Yeah, that sounds legit,” Eli snapped.

//This was your idea, wasn't it?// Young growled, trying to ignore the pounding in his temples and the 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 raised his hands, palms out. He looked calmly at Lieutenant Scott, who had a handgun pointed at his face.

“You start taking civilian hostages and screwing around with Ancient technology and then you're apologizing to him?” Young growled.

Greer didn’t look at him. His eyes flicked from Scott to Rush.

“Stop,” Young snarled, trying to restrain the scientist without seriously injuring him. The guy was hell-bent on twisting out of the shoulder lock Young had him in.

It wasn’t gonna happen.

//Stop it.// He ground the words into Rush’s mind and pressed his full weight into the scientist's lower back, one hand maintaining the shoulder-lock, the other pinning his neck.

“Rush,” Greer said. “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 collapsed into bed beside him.

“Hey,” Young said, startled. “You okay?”

There was a terrible ache in the man’s shoulder and wrists. His feet felt like they’d been torn apart.

Rush didn’t reply.

Alarmed, Young sat.

His chief scientist had to’ve been up all night. His feet burned. His hands ached. His eyes were shut. Young gently placed a hand on the man’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 reset. But it has to reset. 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 frowned, crossed the room, and hit the door controls.

Greer leaned against the doorframe, a harassed expression on his face.

“Sergeant,” Young said uneasily. “What can I do for you?”

“Can I come in?”

“Now’s not a good time.”

“What's wrong with him?” Greer came just short of shouldering Young out of the way as he ducked around him to get into the room.

Rush hadn't moved. “I think I need t’take a loop off.”

“Yeah.” Greer dropped into a cross-legged position next to the bed. “I think maybe you do. Your shoulder still in its socket?”

“What?” Young asked.

Rush nodded.

“Well, that’s something. We need to eat anyway. It's what, almost 1300?”

“What the hell is going on here?” Young growled.

Loop 16, 0 minutes:

Young opened his eyes to find Rush next to him in bed, a sidearm resting against his left shoulder. Young sat, trying to gather his wits about him, trying to figure out what the hell was—

Half-heartedly, Rush pointed the gun at him. “We have t’go.”

Young considered several ways of disarming the man, all of which seemed unnecessarily violent. Slowly, he closed his hand over the weapon and pulled it out of the scientist’s unresisting grip.

Rush sighed. “It wasn't loaded anyway.”

Loop 18, 12 minutes:

Reluctantly, Young moved to stand with the Science Team as Greer herded him away from Rush.

//What the hell is going on?// Young growled.

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.”

Rush snorted.

Young glanced at Eli, Volker, Brody, and Scott. They 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 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 eyed Rush speculatively. “It is kinda weird 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 t’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. “Little space. Dash o’time. You don’t get one without the other.”

Rush looked up at 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’ 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 teeth and inserted it somewhere deep in the tangle of glowing wire.

“Oh my god they’re for real,” Eli whispered. “I mean, just listen to them.”

Young grimaced.

“You think I might be able to actually help you?” Greer asked. “If you tell me what’s going on? Hold somethin’, or whatever?”

“If you have an interest,” Rush said mildly, “I could show y’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 the back of the room, “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.”

“An’ 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 clamped on the scientist's jacket, one hand beneath his elbow.

“You promised me an explanation,” Young stood over Rush.

“And you'll get it.” Greer forced him back a pace. “But, right now, he needs to work.”

Young touched Rush's mind with a wordless question.

He got a wordless dismissal. Rush’s thoughts swirled darkly along, an obscure mix of circuit diagrams and Ancient phrases.

“Okay people.” Greer crossed his arms 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 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 wanna verify what we're saying, check Destiny's current position.”

“We're almost six hours off.” Eli paled. “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 and looked to Rush. “What’d you think?”

“Well-executed,” Rush replied absently. “I like that version. You could consider adding something about the cumulative power drain.” His 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 snarled. “I want answers, and I want them now. If this is a time loop? Do not lie to me in subsequent rounds, sergeant.”

Greer sighed.

“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, “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 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. The sergeant had Rush’s arm slung over his shoulders and was dragging the guy through the corridor. “Over twenty times. You're gonna have to trust us.”

“It’ll never happen,” Rush commented breathlessly.

“And you," Greer said. “Stop being such a god damned pain in the ass.”

“Y’must admit it’s one of my truly exceptional talents.”

“You’ve got me there, doc.”

Young looked at them walking in tandem, like they had, indeed, done this countless times. He felt like he was the one out of sync. His open link with Rush was no help. All it was giving him was strain and pain and iron determination.

“I trust you," he said. “I trust both of you.”

They eyed him warily.

Loop 25, 0 minutes:

Young woke to find Rush sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched and exhausted in the dim light.

Alarmed, Young sat. “Rush?”

“We have to go,” Rush murmured, eyes half-closed. “Just—maybe, ah fuck it. Trust me on this one?”

The scientist’s hands ached. His feet were shredded. Shit. Shit, how the hell had this happened? “Rush, you're in no shape—”

“Please,” Rush said. “I need your help.” He didn't look at Young, just waited for his answer.

Young grabbed his boots. “All right. Where are we going?”

Rush didn't respond in words. Instead, he sent Young an image of a device: the blue glow of exposed circuitry; the swirl of an active force-field; the hum of building charge. “Greer's coming,” he 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?” The sergeant leaned into 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.“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 said.

Loop 27, 9 minutes:

“Okay people.” Greer unslung his assault rifle. “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, the sergeant’s stance and relaxed grip on his weapon suggested he wouldn’t hesitate to head in that direction.

Young frowned, rubbing his jaw.

He felt Rush fighting for focus through overwhelming exhaustion. The ship was dragging hard on his mind.

Young stepped forward.

Greer blocked his path, his expression full of warning.

“I think I can help him.” Young’s voice was too quiet to be heard by anyone other than Greer.

“He needs to focus.” Greer’s stance was 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, 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 rasped. “I think this’ll work.”

“That's what you said twelve loops ago.”

“Yes well.” Rush uncuffed his jacket sleeve and brought the material down over his fingers.

“Doc, you need a break.” Greer spared a concerned look in Rush’s direction. Young caught the sergeant’s eye and gave him a subtle nod. “If this doesn’t work we’re taking the next loop off.”

“It’ll work.” Rush deftly connected one end of the wire to an exposed circuit, then paused. //Let go of me,// he projected delicately. He grabbed one of his boots and brought it across his lap. Carefully, he inspected the sole.

“Doc, what are you doing?” Greer asked. “We’re runnin’ short on time.”

“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 pulled his feet beneath him in a crouch. He hissed as he transferred his weight from his fingertips to his feet.

Rush,” Young rasped in reaction to the agony pouring through their link.

“Don't touch me.” The scientist’s warning was bizarrely polite, full of distracted sympathy.

Balanced on the insulated soles of his boots, Rush reached forward, fingertips protected by the sleeve of his jacket, and moved the wire into place.

A plasma arc formed, brief and blue, burning out an arch in Young's retinas.

Rush jerked back. He fell out of his crouch as the internal circuitry of the device flared a brilliant blue-white.

Young and Greer dragged Rush back.

The lighting in the room flickered. Ancient symbols projected over the ceiling in ghostly relief. The metal of the device began to glow with a pale, white heat.

“You overloaded it,” Eli shouted.

“I can see that, Eli, thank you,” Rush shouted back.

The electrical whine in the air intensified.

Rush put himself 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. He pressed his palm to the deck as the device went critical.

The flare was blinding. The explosion was deafening.

Young tensed, waiting for the impact of debris.

It never came.

He opened his eyes to a twist of blackened metal and a perfect blast radius.

At the border of the debris-line, a force field flickered in and out of the visible spectrum, extending from the deck plates to the ceiling. Rush knelt at its base, his right hand outstretched, fingertips in contact with the field-edge.

“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.”

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