Force over Distance: Chapter 18
“Contemporaneous reference frames for all!” Park lifted her cup, her voice loud and determined.
Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.
Text Iteration: Witching hour.
Audio status: Proofing.
Additional notes: None.
The smell of Brody’s double-distilled ethanol filled the converted storage room. As Young followed Rush into the small space, the hum of conversation ground to a halt. Park and Greer, at the nearest table, got to their feet. Volker, seated between them, dropped his face into his palms. At the back of the room, James laid down her hand of cards and stood.
“At ease,” Young said.
No one moved.
“What’s wrong?” Park stepped up to Rush. “Is it the port-side sensors?”
Rush sighed. “No no, Dr. Park, everything’s fine.”
Young waved James back into her seat. Greer followed more slowly. Young caught Brody’s eye. “You mind if we just—” He looked pointedly at an empty table.
“You, and uh—” Brody gave Rush an anxious nod. “You guys are drinking tonight? The two of you. Together?”
“Scott has the bridge.” Young grabbed the back of a chair at the nearest empty table, pulled it out for Rush, then dropped into a seat on the opposite side.
Wordlessly, Rush leaned his crutches against the table edge and sat.
The entire room stared at them.
//Any chance you can lend me your ability to ignore people?// Young asked dryly.
//You’re the one concerned with appearances,// Rush replied. //Under scrutiny in a public venue is, perhaps, not the ideal time for experimentation?//
//Hold that thought.//
Rush lifted his eyebrows.
“Brody.” Young beckoned at the engineer. “Let’s go.”
“Doc.” Greer had an arm draped over the back of his chair. “How we doin’ on reference frames today?”
“Fully synchronized,” Rush replied.
“Don’t tell me you’re friends now.” Volker narrowed his eyes at Greer.
“You guys, do you even care about radishes?” Park asked.
“Oh yeah,” Greer said. “I care.”
“Um, tell us more,” Volker added.
At the back of the room, James, Barnes, and Atienza resumed their card game.
Brody poured two shots worth of ethanol into two metal cups. The engineer passed the first cup to Rush, who slid it along to Young.
“Thanks.” The metal was cool under Young’s fingers. He smelled the sharp, chemical edge of grain alcohol.
Rush accepted the second cup from Brody, then locked eyes with Young. His gaze was sharp. His movements were precise. His thoughts were powerful and present and running hot enough to burn.
The man looked pretty damn good for everything he’d been through.
Young held the scientist’s gaze. //So. Let’s see you block the room.//
//We gotta map this link somehow, genius, if we’re ever gonna fix it. Come on. I can feel how curious you are.//
//Map it?// Rush echoed. //It’s thought, I suppose.//
Rush fired up his focus, drew Young into it, through it, with it—
The room faded.
Young had expected math or physics or even the music of the shields, but his mind was all connection in double-overlay. Mechanical and waveform. Intricate and adaptive. Psychic weight and motive force; layers deep and shifting. As Young brought his own focus to bear, the representation of their link took on its familiar appearance—a web of running light. Within the network itself, he could feel the keen edge of Rush’s interest. Carefully, slowly, they brushed into and out of a kaleidoscopic swirl. Young could see the running heart of a bright engine; a power-source that he couldn’t usually perceive, let alone draw from. Tentatively, he reached for it. Before he could make contact, Rush reasserted himself. The impression shifted. It became less visual, more kinesthetic. There was an auditory component: ethereal, changing tones. The perceptual map of their link now favored gravity more than electromagnetism—a topography of resistance, of weight, of pressure—and, like a bookend to that bright power source, he could sense a lensing of light around a well of stability. Young tipped them into it. This time, Rush didn’t stop him.
They crashed straight into joint physicality.
It was a level up from what had happened on the Obelisk Planet. Or, maybe, a level deeper.
They drew in a sharp, unsettled inhale. Young was well-seated in his own body—strong and solid, the mass of his biceps, the power in his legs, his back, his hands—but he could also feel, with equal intensity, the faster, lither build of the scientist, how quick his reflexes were, how much tension he carried.
Purposefully, Rush relaxed his shoulders.
Young raised his eyebrows and waited.
Rush pressed five fingers against the metal table in a quick and fluid sequence, a movement Young had always taken for restless drumming, but he now understood came from scales, played over and over again, on the piano. Rush, seeing his insight, confirmed it as he slowed the movement down, and, this time, completed the left hand scale, crossing his middle finger over his thumb to play eight imaginary notes, followed by a chord. He shot Young a significant look.
Young hesitated. //You want to try that over here?//
Very delicately, Rush took Young’s right hand through a subtle scale, his thumb sweeping beneath his middle finger on the way up, his middle finger crossing adroitly over his thumb on the way down.
//Extremely troubling.// Rush’s projection was full of unease. //But also, potentially, extremely useful.//
//Not sure I can go the other way,// Young said.
//Try,// Rush invited.
Young made a cursory effort to flatten Rush’s hand against the table, but got nowhere.
//No thanks, genius. Not tonight.//
//We need to know.// Rush had a driving edge to his thoughts that Young was learning to recognize. The man was unsettled by what was unfolding and wasn’t going to back off until he’d mapped the full implications of their eerie new skill, consequences be damned.
And the consequences usually were damned, damn it.
//Hold your horses,// Young growled. //I need to think.//
//Since when?// Rush replied.
Young sent him a burst of mental irritation and did his best to wall off his deeper thoughts while he worked the problem.
Rush, with a quirk of the eyebrow, backed off.
Young could spike the guy’s gears, no problem. But once he’d done that—he was pretty sure he had no access to whatever fine-grained control Rush had used to take his fingers through a scale. The man had been so subtle about it that Young hadn’t gotten even a sense of exertion from the guy. He was pretty sure, based on what he could see of their link, that Rush had powered the movement. The energy and impetus for that little fingering job had come straight from the scientist. Young had merely allowed it to play out through the instrument of his hand.
The same thing had happened on the Obelisk Planet, more or less.
The problem was power.
Young had gravity. Grounding. Drag. But when it came to psychic braking, he was pretty sure he had a level of control just as fine as what Rush had, with energy. So, if he could just think creatively about it—
//You sure you want to try this?// Young asked.
He got a hard-edged, exasperated wave of assent from the other man.
Young pulled Rush in and down, anchoring him, hard, in his physical body, the same way he grounded the scientist against the drag of the ship. Young could feel the ache of his wrists, the burn of his feet, the tension in his shoulders, the sensation in Rush’s fingertip, tracing delicately the rim of his metal cup. He locked in on Rush’s breathing. The angle at which he held his hands, his head.
//This won’t work if you don’t let it,// Young told him.
He felt Rush hesitate.
//Which is fine with me,// Young added.
Rush tried to lower his native resistance. It worked enough that Young was able to help him relax his shoulders, his neck. Instinctively, he put pressure against the spiral of Rush’s running thoughts, and felt even more tension go. He synchronized their breathing. Young felt a feedback loop kick in, pulling them closer together, which relaxed Rush further, which pulled them closer together, which relaxed Rush further—
Young closed his fingers around his metal cup. Across the table, Rush mirrored his movement.
Startled, the scientist opened his hand, snapping free of the circuit.
//You okay?// Young asked.
//Interesting,// Rush glanced at him uneasily. //That’s not the first time you’ve created a while loop in a cognitive circuit.//
//A ‘while loop’?//
//Do it again,// Rush demanded. //Slower.//
Again, Young pulled the scientist in and down. This time, he leaned a little harder into the wind of Rush’s running thoughts, trying to create a predictable pressure. He moved methodically through each muscle group. He slowed it down. Took it deeper.
When their breathing had fallen into a matched rhythm, Young slowly readjusted his grip on the cup. Rush mirrored his motion, but still, Young could feel resistances he couldn’t quite map. This time, instead of letting them slide, he showed them to Rush.
He got a wave of fascinated surprise from the scientist. And then—
All resistance vanished. As if Rush had swept a chessboard clean.
Instinctively, Young tensed, straightening in his chair. Rush mirrored him. They both sat forward. Young tried to tap Rush’s fingers against the table. Again, he got nothing. But when he drummed his own fingers against the table, Rush replicated the movement.
//You can break out of this, right?// Young projected forcefully, cracking them free of the running loop.
//Not only can I break out,// Rush replied, his eyes and his thoughts carrying a satisfied, semi-fascinated gloss. //I think once you set it up, I can reverse the dynamic. You may need to participate in the reversal, it’s hard to tell.//
//Meaning you lead, I follow?//
Rush nodded. //You’ll have to reestablish the circuit first.//
Young pulled him back in, leaned into his thoughts, and progressively worked through relaxing each muscle group. This round, he clearly felt the moment they snapped into sync. Young drummed his fingers. Rush mimicked the action. And then—in some kind of shoulder-throw of the mind, Rush switched their positions.
Bone-deep relaxation hit him like a wave. Allowing the transition was difficult, but Young was good at ridding himself of tension, keeping it out of his muscles, which helped keep it out of his mind. Delicately, Rush switched his grip on the metal cup. Young mirrored him perfectly. No lag.
In a single fluid motion, Rush knocked back his shot. As he did, Young’s bicep curled, his back arched, he tipped the contents of the cup into his mouth, swallowed, flipped the cup adroitly, and slammed it, rim down, against the table.
In perfect synchrony, they shook out aching right wrists.
And it was. Satisfying. As hell. They both felt it. They both felt that they felt it.
Rush broke the circuit.
Young looked away.
The converted storage room was dead silent, other than the sound of Atienza’s muffled coughing. The airman seemed to have choked mid-swallow.
Yeah. Okay. As a visual, what they’d just done had, probably, been a little much.
“Um, that was really synchronized,” Park said, her voice small.
No one spoke.
//Wonder how long we were deadass staring at one another before we did that,// Young sent, without looking at the scientist.
//Probably quite some time.// Delicately, Rush righted his glass.
//You just had to add that little cup flip, didn’t you?// Young growled.
//So, you’ll find, the thing about ‘ignoring a room—’// Rush began delicately.
“So,” Brody said slowly, “did you guys practice that?”
“Long day.” Young tried to keep his unease off his face.
“And on that note,” Rush said, looking up at Brody, “I suggest you keep pouring.”
“Maybe leave the bottle.” Young kept his voice mild.
Brody took a half-step back. “Well, uh, we don’t have a lot of bottles.”
“If you’re thankful,” Rush began, with that spun-sugar tone that sent chills down Young’s spine, “that your temporal reference frame is in continuity with the hull of this ship, and hence, reality, as it’s colloquially understood, you will, at a minimum, keep pouring.”
Young slid his cup in Brody’s direction and did his best not to look at Rush, who had spiraled straight back into his usual edgy, anxious thought-cyclone.
Slowly, Brody began refilling their cups. He shot Volker, Greer, and Park, who were seated at an adjacent table, an anxious glance.
“Contemporaneous reference frames for all!” Park lifted her cup, her voice loud and determined.
“Yeah, baby.” Greer touched his cup to hers with the subtle click of metal-on-metal. “It’s how we do.” He angled his cup toward Rush, who raised his eyebrows in acknowledgment.
A little life seeped back into the room.
Volker did a double take at the exchange. “C’mon man,” he said, looking at Greer. “You do one time loop with the guy and—you guys bonded?”
“Twenty-eight rounds through asynchronous reference frames with partial spatial tethering’ll do that.”
Rush shot Greer an impressed look.
“What?” Volker frowned. “That—doesn’t even sound real.”
Greer clapped Volker on the shoulder. “Don’t you worry, man. You got a literal piece of me. Nothing comes between us.”
“Promise?” Volker asked.
Brody finished pouring.
Young lifted his cup. Rush met him halfway. This time, Young waited for Rush to down his shot before he followed suit.
“So,” Volker said, conversationally, looking at Rush. “Is physical mimicry one of your new creepy skills, or did the colonel finally figure out how to brainwash you?”
“People who inconsiderately activate Ancient devices,” Rush said, his gaze laser-focused on Volker, “should count themselves lucky they’ve not been assigned night shifts for the foreseeable future.”
“We’ve been known to share a drink from time to time,” Young said, trying to diffuse some tension.
“Fun,” Volker said mildly. “And was that before or after the civilian mutiny?”
“Who says it wasn’t during?” Rush hissed.
Greer leaned back in his chair and tapped Volker on the shoulder. He shook his head, then gestured back and forth between Rush and Young with two fingers. “Come on, man. I like this. This is gonna be good. Better.”
“Oh yeah,” Volker agreed. “Start of a whole new era. Someone get a kino.” The astrophysicist sipped his grain alcohol and looked pointedly at Rush. “That way we can record this for posterity. Or use it as evidence.”
“Y’can fucking fuck right fuckin’ off, Volker.”
“That’s nice. You know where you can go?” Volker gave Rush a pleasant smile.
Young projected a wave of wordless calm at the scientist, and got a low-level glare for his trouble.
“Cheers.” Rush saluted Volker with his empty cup, then slid it across the table to Brody.
Brody slid it right back to him. “Did you eat dinner? I didn’t see you—”
“Don’t insult me.” Rush pushed his cup toward Brody. “I’m from Glasgow.”
//You realize you might be less Scottish than Ancient, at this point,// Young observed. //How good were they at holding their alcohol?//
//I’m certain they were fucking fantastic at it,// Rush shot back.
“I know.” Brody slid his cup back. “And that’s great. I’m happy for you. Did you eat dinner?”
“Yes.” Rush picked up his cup and set it pointedly in front of Brody, his thoughts turning increasingly frustrated and defensive.
“No offense, but you don’t seem like you’re in the best shape at the moment.”
“Yeah, or ever,” Volker muttered.
"I'm fine.” Rush shot a cool look in Volker’s direction.
“Doc, did you come here directly from the infirmary?” Greer asked.
//Genius, they’re getting after you because they’re worried, I’m pretty sure.// Young laced the thought with a thread of calm.
With an effort, Rush ground some of the edge off his tone and focused on Brody like a laser. “Y’can’t cut me off. You’re not a bartender. This isn’t a bar. You have no authority here.”
“True,” Brody admitted, “but an argumentum ad hominem won’t change the fact that you’re out of luck for the next twenty minutes.”
Rush smirked. On the other side of their link, Young felt the man pour his frustration into gathering himself for some kind of massive effort. And this, this right here, was why the guy drove him crazy. Because for all his faults—and he had many—Young had more than a little bit of a soft spot for people who swung for fences. Who tried like hell to pull solutions out the fire.
Unfortunately, about ninety-five percent of what Rush chose to pull out of any given fire was complete bullshit.
“Out of luck?” Rush echoed smoothly. “Un-fuckin-likely.” He leaned back in his chair, shook his hair out of his eyes, and finished with, “Colonel Young and and I are commandeering this bar.”
And then there was the other five percent.
Young crossed his arms and looked at Rush from beneath lowered eyebrows. The scientist radiated confidence. He didn’t so much as look in Young’s direction. He kept his gaze fixed on Brody.
“Okay. Sure. Why not,” Young said.
“There’s no way this could go wrong.” Volker locked eyes with Young. “Last time I, personally, left you two alone? Someone ‘died’ in a ‘rockslide’.”
Young looked away. “Everyone out.” He made a spiraling motion with one finger, then pointed at the door. “Leave the bottle,” he said, catching Brody’s eye.
Park got to her feet and placed her fingertips on the surface of the table, as if she were about to say something. Rush shook his head at her. She seemed to think better of the idea, and picked up her cup.
“Doc, you radio me if you need a gun,” Greer said.
Rush gave Greer a fluid, two-fingered salute.
“If you guys kill each other,” Volker said, getting reluctantly to his feet, “we’re putting Eli in charge.”
“Scott's in charge,” Young replied. “Now go.”
The room emptied.
Rush immediately grabbed the alcohol and poured them both a third shot. To Young's relief, he didn't seem inclined to knock it back right away. He just picked it up and considered it, then took a small sip.
“Can’t believe you just did that,” Young said mildly.
“Can’t believe you let it stand.”
“Well, it had style,” Young drained his third shot, and set his cup on the table with a quiet click.
Rush lifted his eyebrows and sipped his alcohol. “Appreciate such things, do you?”
“Here and there.”
“First I’ve seen of it,” Rush said dryly.
“Yeah,” Young admitted. “Probably.”
Rush didn’t look at him. The room was dead silent.
“They actually like you,” Young said. “The science team, I mean.”
Rush shrugged, repositioned his glasses, and swirled his alcohol around his cup. “Yes well, it’s not all Machiavellian schemes and cowardly self-preservation.” He narrowed his eyes at Young. “Just, y’know. Most of it.”
The guy was practically vibrating with the need to start a fight.
“We gotta do this differently, you and me,” he said softly.
Rush propped both elbows on the table, pressed two fingers to the space between his eyebrows and fought down a surge of irritation. “Oh yes?” The scientist coiled like a loaded spring, bracing himself against whatever the hell he thought was coming.
Young didn’t move. He said nothing. He did his damnedest to think of nothing, except for Brody’s double-distilled ethanol.
“Usually,” Rush said, his voice smooth and controlled, “this’d be the portion of the conversation where you lay out your demands.”
“I did say ‘differently’,” Young pointed out.
“Not sure that’s possible,” Rush murmured. Delicately, he traced the rim of his beaten metal cup. The fringe of his hair brushed the tops of his glasses.
Young wanted to argue that they could change, that they already had, that everything would be better because of it. He wanted to make that argument. He wanted to win that argument. He wanted Rush to admit that he’d won it.
It was never gonna happen.
Not a goddamned chance.
All the same. He wanted to try. Not only did he want to try for the sake of the crew, which had always been true, but he wanted to try for the sake of the guy in front of him. And that was some kind of progress. It had to be.
“I saw a memory when you were in the chair,” Young said.
Rush looked at him sharply.
“We used your dream interface,” Young admitted.
Rush’s entire body tensed. “Why.”
Young was losing the guy. He had, for some reason, been losing him since the moment the room cleared. Maybe since the moment they’d done their shot in tandem. He wasn’t sure why it always seemed to play out this way—a moment of accord, followed by explosive conflict.
He wasn’t sure how to turn the pattern around. He’d intended to lay it all out for the scientist, everything he’d missed, the whole experience of the past twenty-four hours, start to finish.
That was probably a shit idea.
“Last time you sat in the thing you got bolted through the hands and feet,” Young said, abandoning every plan he had.
Rush buried his face in both hands, fighting down a complex wave of anger, of anxiety, of indignation, of shame.
“Would it help if I apologized?” Young asked quietly.
“No,” Rush whispered into his hands. “No it would not.” He dropped his hands. “What did you see in there, then?”
“I saw the day you cut out your SGC transponder,” Young said. “The day Telford came to get you anyway.”
“Y’know, the thing about a dream interface,” Rush whispered, “is that, since it takes its cue from your own running processes, it’s pretty much a guaranteed terrible fuckin’ time.”
“Yeah,” Young said quietly, trying to keep everything he’d experienced behind his mental wall.
Rush gathered himself, dropped his hands, and looked at Young. “Out with it then. Whatever it is you’re doing your shite brick-job on.” He made a fluid circle in the air near his own temple.
“Shite brick job?” Young echoed.
“You’re holding something back,” Rush snapped. “Tell me or don’t. I don’t fuckin’ care.”
“We found the AI within the memory,” Young said, doubling down on his ‘shite brick-job.’
“Right. An’ where else is it supposed to be if you force dream-structure onto its digital environment?”
Young didn’t say anything. He mortared his ‘shite brick-job’ as best he could and projected a wordless stream of his intention to de-escalate straight at the scientist.
Rush lifted his fingers from the rim of his cup, spread them in wordless acknowledgment, and looked away.
Young dialed back on the projecting. “In the interface, the AI tried to convince you it was Gloria. Do you, uh, remember that?”
Rush made an equivocal hand gesture. “Some.” He sighed. “It’s not the first time.” Through their link, came a flash of Gloria, lying in a hospital bed, late afternoon sun pouring through windows.
“Does it understand what it’s doing to you, when it does shit like that?”
Rush smiled faintly, and ran a finger delicately along the rim of his metal cup. “I don’t believe its intentions are bad.”
“Oh yeah?” Young kept his voice controlled. “Why the hell does it wear people like clothes?”
“What an image,” Rush whispered.
They sat in silence. Rush sipped his alcohol. Young not to turn a conversation into something with a mission objective. It was, it turned out, pretty difficult. But the more space gave the scientist, the more the guy seemed to calm down.
“Outside the interface,” Young asked, “how much does it talk to you?”
“The AI? A fair bit,” Rush admitted.
“Why Gloria?” Young asked. “Why Emily?”
Rush looked up at him sharply. “You see Emily?”
“I’ve always assumed it pulls the mnemonic representation with the widest range of expression to draw from. Think about the scope and texture of emotion you’ve seen Emily display, as opposed to, say, Camile Wray. Or even Eli. Chloe.” Rush ran a hand through his hair, pushing it out of his eyes. “It wants to speak to you with nuance. It wants the full available range. You know, exactly, what Emily sounds like when she’s upset with you. When she thinks you’re being stupid. When she thinks you’ve done something brilliant.”
“Not sure about that last one,” Young said dryly, “but, yeah.” He sighed. “All right. I get you.”
Rush took a sip of his drink. “First time for everything,” he said philosophically.
Young snorted. More than anything, he wanted to move the conversation forward. He wanted to lay out everything that had happened. Question the man about his project with Telford, about what the hell had happened in that lab. He wanted to work through the whole damn thing. Slowly. Methodically, Start to finish.
He said nothing.
“What else did you see?” Rush asked, finally. “In the interface.”
Young cleared his throat. “I saw a room. Goa’uld on the walls. Ancient crystals in the floor. You were standing in some kind of gel.”
Rush looked away.
“I saw what happened between you and Telford.”
“All of it?” Rush asked.
“Pretty sure,” Young said softly.
“Genius, what the hell were you doing in that lab?”
“You think there’s a pithy answer to that, do you?” Rush asked dryly.
The room was silent. Beneath their boots, the subtle hum of the FTL drive vibrated through the deck plating.
“Start at the beginning, maybe?”
Rush hesitated, his mind balanced between two conflicting impulses.
Young tapped the table. Rush looked at his hand, then straight at Young.
“C’mon,” Young said. “Just this once. Twenty minutes from now you can go straight back to setting the world on fire.”
Rush smiled faintly. “Twenty minutes?”
“Bet you could do in fifteen, if you put your mind to it,” Young said mildly.
Rush sighed. “Daniel Jackson told me my mathematical work was well-suited to crack a cypher embedded within an ancient artifact,” he said softly. “He invited me to learn more about a top-secret governmental program.” Rush paused. “I said no.”
“You said no?”
“Yes well, it was fucking ludicrous.” Rush smiled a humorless smile. “And I had other problems.”
Rush nodded. “Jackson didn’t try to convince me otherwise. Made no effort, really. He told me—” Rush looked down. “He recommended I take some time to think about it. Gave me his card. Left it at that.”
“He knew about Gloria?” Young asked.
“I told him, yes.” Rush ran a hand through his hair. “Colonel Telford showed up a week later. Waited next to my car during my set theory midterm. We had a short conversation. He gave me a flash drive full of classified material.”
“He what?” Young growled.
“It was the cypher set. They thought it was one. One cypher. It was nine. Once I knew that—” Rush opened a hand. “I was on the hook. I agreed to consult, part time. Paperwork went through. I picked up Ancient. Very quickly. It annoyed the piss out of Jackson.” Rush’s mouth quirked. “I spent a few months working progressively through the cyphers, knocked four of them out in short order, met Dr. Perry during the process. And David—well he was very helpful.”
“Oh yeah?” Young asked mildly. “In what way?”
“In all ways,” Rush whispered. “He was single-minded, aggressively positive about—” Rush trailed off, shaking his head. “Almost certainly, he prolonged Gloria’s life. He looked for clinical trials. He was good at it. He had better stamina for it than either of us did. Better connections. And then. He told me about another project. One that I would be uniquely suited for. Of course I said I would help him. I even wanted to. At first.”
“What was the other project?” Young asked.
“It had to do with genetics,” Rush whispered. “Never a good start.”
“Telford had obtained permission,” Rush continued, “to screen a selection of government-sponsored tissue banks for a panel of genes, including the so called 'Ancient gene,’ to identify members of the population that might be useful for his project. I happened to have five of the fuckin’ things.”
“Five genes?” Young asked. “You have five?”
“Well, I had five. Now I have something like five thousand.”
“But, in short, yes. Two copies of ATA. Two copies of LTA. One copy of a third gene.”
“So you think that was why Telford tracked you down?” Young whispered. “All along?”
“I think that was why Telford and Jackson both found me.” Rush leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. “Incredible as it seems—I honestly don’t think it had anything to do with the math,” he whispered.
“You couldn’t have been the only one they found that way,” Young said.
“I wasn’t,” Rush confirmed. “But I was the best candidate. I was also unlocking the gate. An all-around coup for the SGC. I think, in the beginning, Jackson hoped I might balance out Telford’s monomaniacal drive.”
“Okay. So, I’m assuming he hadn’t met you, at that point?”
Rush’s gaze slid from the ceiling to Young, then back to the ceiling. “He’d met me. Not only that but he fuckin’ liked me. Still does, last time I checked.”
Young tried to tamp down on his incredulity, but Rush picked it up anyway. The scientist smirked at the ceiling.
“Sorry,” Young muttered.
“I think he likes everyone,” Rush said. “He’s not very discerning.”
It made some sense, Young supposed. He knew only a few things about Daniel Jackson: 1) the guy had come from academia; 2) he’d lost his wife—
Shit. Young did his best to cut the thought off before it gained any traction.
“You're terribly restrained over there,” Rush said, without looking at him.
“You’re pretty sensitive right now,” Young said mildly. “Maybe the alcohol?”
“Yeah or maybe it’s that I’m payin’ attention to you, which usually I try, very hard, not to do,” Rush said dryly.
Young snorted, then returned to the previous conversational thread. “So, to clarify, Telford's project wasn’t Icarus?”
“Correct. Telford's project was related. Unnamed.”
To Young, that hit as ominous.
“Too fucking right,” Rush said absently.
//Stop that,// Young sent.
Rush opened his hands, then sat forward and poured them both another shot.
“So you ended up as the chief scientist on two separate projects? Seems like an awful lot to ask of a guy who’d never seen a stargate.”
“Jackson ensured it was a joint appointment.” Rush smiled faintly. “Bit of a power play.”
“I’m not saying the man’s not as pure as the driven fuckin’ snow, but he’s more sophisticated than I gave him credit for. I learned a fair few things from him.” Rush’s diction had begun to lose some of its usual precision, leaning a little harder into his native accent.
“So what was Telford's project?”
“I find it quite unlikely that you haven't guessed.”
“Ascension,” Young said.
They downed their next shot simultaneously. Rush flipped his cup and it ended up rim down. He immediately righted it.
“It wasn't at all clear where the nine-chevron address led,” Rush continued, “but there was some evidence to indicate that it might allow one to connect to another plane of existence. Much like the city of the Ori, which Jackson had visited. But, in order to gain full access, certain ‘benchmarks’ had to be met."
“Don’t do that.”
“What, use words with more than four syllables?”
“Don’t hide behind things you know I don’t understand.”
Rush looked away.
“So,” Young said. “Tell me what the hell you mean by ‘benchmarks’.”
“Alterations in the electrochemistry of the brain. Seen in Dr. Jackson before he ascended. Seen also in the clone of Anubis that was studied at Stargate Command.”
“So Telford's project was—what then? Altering someone's brain?”
“Not someone’s,” Rush said delicately, his eyes fixed on the nearest wall.
“And you agreed to this?” Young growled.
“Many reasons.” Rush ran a thumbnail along the rim of his cup. “Surely it's not too difficult to imagine what at least some of those might have been.”
“You wanted to help Gloria?”
Rush nodded. “Seems pure dead naive now.”
“Not really.” Young rubbed his jaw. His injured fingers twinged sharply.
“What happened there?” Rush’s eyes flicked to Young’s bruised hand. “I've been meaning to ask.”
“Nothing.” Young tried not to think about the incident in question. “Don't worry about it.”
Rush narrowed his eyes, picking up on the brief flash of memory. “Y’hit a wall?”
This was getting ridiculous.
“Yes.” Young said shortly. “But we were talking about you.”
Rush sighed and looked away. He drove the heel of his hand into one eye, his thoughts an evasive mass. “How much did you actually see? In the interface? I can’t really recall.”
“I saw you cut out your transmitter,” Young said evenly. “I saw Telford take you anyway. I saw you beam down to the lab, with Perry. With Telford. I saw you send Perry away. I saw the device discharge.” Young paused, gathering himself, trying to seal the experiential memory away from the words that described it. “I saw the gel rise. And I saw Telford hold you under.”
“Oh,” Rush said weakly. “Well, good. Guess there’s not much more t’say, then.”
Young laughed shortly. “Not much more to say? Are you fucking kidding me? I just watched Telford try to murder you with his bare hands. I don’t know how you can so much as look at the guy.”
“He wasn't trying to murder me,” Rush sighed. “As you could, presumably, plainly see. Obviously the experience was disturbing, but ultimately—”
“You can't twist this one around, Rush,” Young said flatly. “I was there.”
“No,” Rush said quietly. “You weren’t.”
“Semantics. I’m gonna go ahead call this one murder.”
“Yes well, Colonel Telford will find himself in good company then,” Rush’s voice had turned artfully artless. “Obviously I can’t cut off relations with everyone who tries to kill me. From a professional standpoint, it’s not practical. There are simply too many of you.”
“How can you equate us?” Young growled. “It wasn’t the same.”
“True,” Rush sipped his double-distilled ethanol. “You didn’t apply the same kind of psychotic personal touch, and, certainly, you had reason to be angry, so congratulations there, but ultimately, for me, it was your attempt that was worse.”
“How could it possibly have been worse?”
Rush blinked, and, incredibly, Young could feel the guy try and suppress—
He’s soaking wet, on a table, in a lab, under lights bright enough to sterilize. Whatever they’re doing, they want him to survive. The raw agony they’ve been pouring into his mind for hours now has been framed by the rational edge of their plan. It’s a relief as they crack his ribs, because, in that instant, they’re out of his mind. He has David to thank for this trade he’s forced them into, David, because—
Rush shattered the memory.
Young lurched forward in his seat, dropping his cup, his hands flying to his chest at the remembered sensation of his ribs splitting open. He tried to erase the memory of something cold and metallic being placed next to his heart.
He felt like he might be sick. “God damn,” he breathed.
“Well, how’d you suppose it got there?” Rush asked mildly
“I—” Young shook his head. “You were conscious for that?”
Rush didn’t bother to answer.
Young righted his cup, and poured them both another shot.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rush said. “No harm done. Other than the pain, which was considerable. And the psychological trauma. Also considerable. The abduction of Chloe. Her pain and her psychological trauma, which continue. To this day.” He paused, sipping his grain alcohol. “Then, of course, there was the eventual mutiny of the civilians against your command. The genetic transformation of a crew member. The—”
“You’ve made your point,” Young growled.
“Yes, well,” Rush murmured, “I’m sure leaving me on that planet seemed like a good idea at the time. There’s relatively little advantage to the kind of retrospective analysis you’re continually subjecting yourself to. Do it once and shoulder the consequences, which, in your case, include but are not limited to,” he paused, counting off on his fingers, “mutiny, snide remarks—” he stopped.
“Don’t stop now,” Young said mildly.
“Well, mutiny and snide remarks.” Rush dropped his hands. “That’s pretty much it. For you.”
“I can think of a few more,” Young said uneasily. “You’re pretty philosophical about all this.”
Rush gave him a fluid shrug. “It’s called perspective. I recommend you invest.” The scientist’s thoughts were a bright, settled swirl.
Young was impressed. He didn’t want to be. He couldn’t help it. The scientist was every bit as ruthless as Young had given him credit for, but that was only part of the picture. He had the kind of drive that—
“Stop that,” Rush said, annoyed. “Don’t fuckin’ think poetic thoughts about me. It’s absurd.”
“I wouldn’t call them poetic,” Young muttered, looking away.
“They had a certain momentum that was trending heavily that way.”
“Uh, okay, well, I’ll take your word for it, I guess.” Young cleared his throat. “So what happened between you and Telford?”
“I confess I wasn’t feeling very well disposed toward him after the episode you witnessed. We didn’t see one another until he gated out to Icarus after you finally got around to refusing the command.”
“I meant before,” Young said quietly. He knew he should stay quiet, but he was unsettled and frustrated and unsure about nearly everything. And so— “You guys seemed pretty close.”
Rush glanced at him, unimpressed. “So what if we were.”
“How close,” Young pressed him.
“Well, I followed him to a godforsaken underground alien lab and let him experiment on me,” Rush said dryly. “It’s what I do with all my favorite people. Chloe and I had a notable experience in an alien lab, y’know. Arguably this improbable little heart-to-heart we’re currently engaged in is a direct consequence of another foray into—”
“Were you sleeping with him?” Young asked.
Rush stared at him. The scientist’s thoughts spiraled up in on themselves.
“Interesting,” Rush said coolly. “So that’s your first fuckin’ thought, is it?”
“Tactically, I need to know—” Young began, uncomfortable.
“Oh, so it’s a tactical question, is it?” Rush’s tone was pure satin.
“I’m trying to understand Telford’s—”
“Right.” Rush snarled. “As if this is about David Fucking Telford. Y’know, my often criticized and ‘heartlessly’ pragmatic approach to dealing with situations requiring cost/benefit analyses between two frequently terrible alternatives does not translate into a complete lack of every human sentiment. I,” Rush continued, with an undercurrent of spite. “Am not the kind of person who would ever, ever step out on his wife. Who was fucking dying, at the time, if you failed to notice. Unlike you—”
“That’s enough,” Young growled.
“You certainly seem to have no problem with it.” Rush finished relentlessly.
“Rush, I don’t care if you slept with him or not—”
“Yes, y’do. It’s all over your fucking head. You absolutely care. This is so—so fucking you. To be explicit, because I know from first hand experience that you’re incapable of grasping subtlety, the answer is no. I didn’t sleep with him. He’s oriented toward discovery. We have that in common.” Rush was gripping the edge of the table, slowly levering himself to his feet. “He, unlike you, actually knows his way around a fuckin’ circuit diagram. He, unlike you, is capable of accurately assessing relative risks.” Rush was on his feet, leaning over Young, his eyes narrowed. “In point of fact,” he hissed, staring straight into Young’s eyes, staring straight into Young’s head—
“Oh this is interesting,” the scientist whispered.
Young buried thoughts of Emily before they had the chance to take hold, but she kept coming into his mind. The way she’d held a bedsheet around her after that terrible drop from FTL. That day in the kitchen, when he had found them together. Emily. Telford. Over and over he buried them. Over and over they unearthed themselves. It wasn’t going to work; he couldn’t stay ahead of it—
“You’re envious of him.” Rush slid the words though the air and through their link. They hit like silk-covered steel. “Envious of Telford. Of his drive, of his ambition, of his understanding of science. His ability to speak Ancient. His ability to fucking work with his fucking mind. You hate that I like him better than you, and that’s true, by the way, that’s absolutely fuckin’ true and will be true until—”
Young lost his grip on his own emerging memories and they came up like a wall to meet every bladed word that Rush was driving at him. Emily in tears in the semi-dark, the bedsheet clutched to her chest. The way she’d put herself between him and Telford in their own goddamned kitchen—
Rush’s poisonous monologue shut straight off.
Young clenched his jaw, looked away, and tried, like hell, not to think about what Rush had just seen.
The scientist lifted both hands, palms out, and dropped back into his chair.
Young topped off their shot glasses.
Rush sat forward, knocked his back in a single go, and then leaned back in his chair. He lifted his left foot onto the table went back to staring at the ceiling.
“Genius,” Young said. “This isn’t worth the alcohol poisoning.”
“Matter of opinion,” Rush said. “I can barely fuckin’ stand it.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“How th’fuck. Did David Telford. Manage. Whatever the hell that was. He’s—what.”
“Yeah. They’re ‘together’ now,” Young whispered. “I guess.”
“How though?” Rush asked.
“The stones,” Young said. “The drop out of FTL. It’s when he saw her. He and I used to switch. All the time. He’d wait by the stones. For hours. Pulling double, triple shifts. Eventually he figured out a way to—” Young shrugged.
“Does sound like him,” Rush whispered.
They sat in silence.
“So I just—” Young said finally. “I need to know where you stand with him,” Young whispered. “For a lot of reasons, Rush.”
“I try not to stand with anyone,” Rush said.
“Well,” Young said softly. “You’ve done a great job of that.”
“Thanks,” Rush whispered hollowly.
“Not a compliment.”
Rush shrugged. “The fuck y’need t’know where I stand with him for?” He turned his head to look over at Young. “Next time he has a good idea I’ll listen to it. Y’can count on me for that. Across the board. Must confess though, I’haven’t exactly heard one out of him for a while.” The scientist’s words were starting to run together.
“He’s built an IOA coalition. He tried to pull you out on the stones. It nearly killed you.”
“Mmm, I noticed,” Rush said.
“I don’t know how to spell this out for you any clearer. He’s planning something. He’s making a move. Currently.”
“So?” Rush asked, exhausted. “He’s not exactly fuckin’ here, is he?”
“If you don’t lay this out for me, I can’t protect you.”
Young looked at him steadily.
“Oh god,” the scientist whispered. “You’re absolutely fuckin’ serious. I can feel it.”
“You’re damn right I’m serious,” Young said.
“I need a cigarette,” Rush whispered.
“You can have water,” Young said.
Rush, very delicately, moved in on his thoughts.
Young held steady.
He felt the scientist travel like lace over the grinding dread he’d carried for days. Rush was in his head, running a wordless search. Unbidden, Young recalled TJ’s eyes, full of unease in the dimness of a ship-wide power outage, Rush’s silhouette, dark against the forcefield he’d coaxed from nothing, the feel of Telford’s body, restrained at the SGC, the taste of an orange, and then Rush went deeper, not looking at thoughts thoughts themselves, but tracing the relational patterns of those thoughts. Young felt him withdraw, leaving stillness in his wake.
Rush sighed, and lifted his right foot onto the table. He bridged his fingers and continued contemplating the ceiling.
“What was that?” Young asked.
“Bit of a—” Rush lifted a hand, and made an elegant gesture, as though he were conducting and orchestra.
“You get what you need to get?” Young asked.
“No idea,” Rush sighed. “I think y’might be an optimist. Tha’s’fuckin’ odd.”
“Yeah, well, I think that alcohol’s catching up with you, genius.”
“Turn it into a mission objective, why don’t you.”
“Sure,” Young growled. “No problem.” He pushed himself to his feet, the steadied himself against the edge of the table, and grabbed what remained of Brody’s ethanol.
“Where are you taking that?” Rush called after him.
Young replaced the alcohol behind the bar, filled an empty bottle from a canister of water, and returned to the table.
“You,” Young said, shoving the bottle at Rush, “need water. Drink that whole thing.”
Rush looked at the bottle, unimpressed. “That’s like—fuckin’. Three days.”
“We stopped rationing water a while ago, genius. If you spend tonight throwing up TJ is gonna read me the riot act. She might anyway.”
“Tamara should be in charge of this mission,” Rush said. “Can y’jus’ step aside, maybe? Take up some kind of sport. Teach people to run around injured in the dark? Your favorite hobby?”
Young snorted, and poured Rush a generous shot of water.
The scientist knocked it back like it was grain alcohol.
“Sorry about the Telford thing,” Young said. “I didn’t mean to get derailed.”
“An’ isn’t that just like him?” Rush sighed.
“So, did it work?” Young asked. “Your electrophysiologic benchmark, or whatever. Did you reach it?”
“Well,” Rush pulled both feet off the table and sat forward again, propping both elbows on the table. “Tha’ was an open question. For a while. Consensus was no. And it fucked me up. I mean, you’ve seen this, right?” He gestured vaguely to his own head. “Whatever this is—it’s so fuckin’ far from your solidly methodical approach that you’re as bloody difficult for me to follow as I am for you.”
Young frowned. “So—your brain was altered? In a way you could detect?”
“Yeah.” Rush shot him an annoyed glare with no fire behind it. “I mean look at this.” He gestured to his temple. “Like, fuckin’ jus’ look, y’know? I mean, you know. You really fuckin’ know. Jackson was, like. Jackson was—”
“More water, genius.” Young said, feeling none too steady himself.
“Jackson felt sorry for me. He’s a right bastard.” Rush poured himself a shot of water, only spilling about half of it in the process. “But he knew—I don’t know if he could tell or if he just guessed, but I turned into this.”
“What?” Young asked, hearing the loss of precision in his own words.
“This,” Rush gestured dismissively at himself. “This, that you all fuckin’ well know. Ninety percent intuitive bullshit, ten percent explanatory gloss. Like a fuckin’ fired glaze. Y’think I’d walk around not explaining things on a disintegrating starship if I could explain the things and not have the ship disintegrate? I don’t want it to disintegrate. Even if your whole bloody bullshit psychologizing was correct and I didn’t care, literally at all, about any member of the crew, even then, I’m still not gonna want to fuckin’ rip apart by tidal forces while I’m burning to death, right?”
“Uh,” Young said. “Right.”
“Right,” Rush agreed, emphatically. “An’ I certainly don’ know how the fuck I’m supposed to tell Volker or Eli or you especially about power drains that are showing up at the marginal edges of multiple systems but like—” Rush’s voice had faded to a whisper. He closed his eyes, reaching into midair to touch something Young couldn’t see. “Mostly in my head. As a thing I can fucking hear.” He opened his eyes and glared at Young.
“Genius,” Young said gently.
“An don’t fuckin’ patronize me, all right? Because that’s all Jackson ever did. ‘Nick, this kind of intuitive bullshit you’re demonstrating is actually extuitive manifestations of an evolving consciousness, semicolon, give it time.’ That man,” Rush snarled, crossing his arms, “does not understand quantum mechanics. I’m not even a physicist. Did you fuckin’ ever even know that?”
“That I’m not a physicist.”
“Um,” Young said. “I think you’re doing a great job.”
“The fuck did I jus’ say? About patronizing.”
“I’m not patronizing you,” Young said.
“Well good, because it’s not my fucking fault,” Rush said. “They should have waited until I fuckin’ opened the thing before they put me in that gel. That is on. Them.” Rush shot him a fiery, righteous scorcher of a glare. “That is on them.”
“You’re damn right it is.” Young downed a shot of water.
“Do it after,” Rush said.
“Right, I’m jus’ sayin’ if you’re gonna do it, do it after. Please. Because I lost the ability to solve the problem of getting there. I knew it. Everyone involved with David’s project knew it. An’ they fucking felt sorry for me, the bastards.”
“And now it’s bloody well worse. Higher math’s dead instinct. I cannot impersonate a calculator. I cannot explain operator theory to Chloe. But I can manipulate shield frequencies, and generate force fields and—fuck, why’m I telling you this anyway?” Rush pressed the heel of his hand into his eye socket.
“You’re telling me,” Young said, “because you’re drunk, and I’m asking.”
“Bang to rights.” Rush sighed.
Unbidden, Young recalled the sight of scientist, working late nights at the Icarus base, his hair a mess as he stood in front of his whiteboard, one hand on the back of his neck, looking utterly defeated.
“Aye,” Rush murmured, seeing Young’s memory. “No one understood why I could rebuild the mathematical structure that defined the entire problem and code it into a virtual interface, but I couldn’t keep myself on track for a long enough period of time to just solve the damn problem. And it was a code. I mean I fuckin’ knew it was a code, didn’t I? Eli was right. I knew—I—well, I couldn’t explain it to them. I can’t explain it now. I don’t have much insight into what happened on that planet. In that lab.”
Young didn’t reply.
He tried to think of nothing, of space, of the inside of a star, of anything except the terrible pity that rose up to drown his memories of Rush on Icarus. The man had been falling apart. And no one had noticed. He was feeling his own alcohol too much to keep the idea from his thoughts.
“Fuck you, anyway,” Rush sighed, and the words were almost friendly.
“TJ told me more than half the crew has Ancient genes,” Young said softly.
“I know,” Rush murmured.
“Figured you might,” Young said dryly. “You know why?”
“Well y’can’t just sent one fuckin’ guy to the final fuckin’ frontier, right?” Rush whispered. “Have y’not seen Star Trek? There’s a whole right mess o’them.”
Young nodded. “Yeah, including a Scottish guy who liked engines.”
Rush pointed at him in confirmation. “S’like our cultural heritage. James Watt n’such.”
“Drink water,” Young said. “James Watt?”
“Pick up a fuckin’ book. He was an inventor. Worked at the University of Glasgow. Enjoyed tea. Made the steam engine do some real fuckin’ mechanical work. You’d’ve hated him.” Rush smirked, saluted, presumably, the ghost of James Watt, and knocked back his water shot. “An you,” he said. “It was always ‘wrong people’ this. ‘Wrong people’ that. They weren’t the wrong people. They were the ‘right’ people, mostly. Telford stacked the whole project with them. They just didn’t have, like, their luggage.”
“Oh yeah? Is that why you brought us all here?” Young asked dryly.
“I mean how unprepared, really, are a group of fuckin’ space professionals?” Rush asked. “Everyone there took a day job on a planet so full of naquadria that it was threatened by its own geology. In the middle of a firefight? Fuckin’ forget it. Planet takes a hit and y’annihilate the alpha site. Like not the site site. The entire planet. The other one. Both, actually. Two of them.”
“What?” Young said, confused.
“You want me to annihilate two planets on a Wednesday? Kill everyone? Fine. Next time. McKay did that, more or less. Everyone still likes him.”
“Rush, the crew was not equipped for a mission like this.”
Rush pressed a hand to his chest and looked straight at the ceiling and did his best impression of Dale Volker, which included what was probably supposed to be an American accent. “‘Gosh, I joined the fuckin’ Stargate Program and now I’m so far from home, how could that possibly’ve happened’?” He dropped his hand and glared at Young. “The only one I ever felt sorry for was Chloe.”
“We’re going to agree to disagree on that one.” Young poured the guy more water.
“We just disagree,” Rush said. “It’s our baseline state.”
“Yeah, probably,” Young said, and took a shot of water. He cleared his throat. “So, if you knew you’d been modified by that goddamned gel, why didn’t you want to sit in the chair when we found it? Why get Franklin to do it?”
“Okay, right, and by the way, the only influence I ever had over Franklin was when I told Sergeant Greer to shoot the man? So I’ll thank you to stop giving me credit for every morally dubious occurrence that’s ever taken place on Destiny.”
“Noted,” Young said dryly. “Still, why bother with firewalls? Why not sit in the chair. Just go for it.”
“Like,” Rush said, side-eyeing Young, “how much o’that murder thing did you actually see?”
“You mean Telford pushing you under? All of it,” Young said darkly.
“Whole thing. Start to finish?”
“Right, an’ so did it look like a fun time to you? Did it seem like an experience you’d just go and maybe sign up for again?”
“Uh, okay, good point,” Young said.
“Also,” Rush shut his eyes, “that chair has complicated properties and it can see the crew possessed of certain arrangements of aperiodic crystal, by which I mean DNA. It can see them. The crew with the genes? It can see. I don’t know what happened to Franklin, but he had a fair fuckin’ few handful of the things, by which I mean genes, and I was concerned, it does have a baseline pull. I could feel it from the first moment. You could tell I could feel it. If I sat in the chair, with no firewall I was worried—”
And, without warning, Daniel Goddamned Jackson was perched on a nearby table, arms crossed.
“What the hell,” Young shouted, half out of his seat.
“Well this is new,” Rush said, eyebrows raised. “Nice outfit, sweetheart.” He leaned back in his chair again, and re-propped his feet on the table. “Wha’s the fuckin’ occasion?”
“Is that—” Young said, recovering himself, “—the AI?”
“Nick.” It frowned at him. “The colonel is poisoning you.”
“It’s called alcohol,” Young said defensively, hearing the slight slur in his own words. “We drink it on purpose.”
“And I’m sure you’ll find we’re both poisoned,” Rush said patiently.
The AI narrowed its eyes. “Not equally,” it said. “You’re more poisoned than the colonel.”
“Right but whose fuckin’ fault would that be?”
“The colonel’s fault?” The AI asked, slowly, doing a dead-on impression of Jackson.
“No,” Rush said, with an even-tempered patience that hit as really damn bizarre. “It’s your fuckin’ fault. Because you fuckin’ changed, my fuckin’ genes, y’know? I used to be able to metabolize this stuff—much more. Better. I could have drunk this one under the table.” He pointed at Young. “No problem. On m’worst fuckin’ day.”
“Wellllll,” Young said, skeptically.
“Is this a valued skill in your culture?” The AI looked perplexed.
“Yes, it’s a fuckin’ valued skill. More valued than math, isn’t it?” He looked to Young for confirmation.
Young paired an equivocal hand gesture with a skeptical expression.
“That doesn’t make much sense to me.” The AI crossed its arms and frowned at them.
“Yeah, well, me neither,” Rush muttered. “Anyway, y’can’t just come in here right now. We’re not done. Your politeness index is in the basement. You’ve gotta bring that up if you expect me to fuckin’ converse with you.”
“You aren’t thinking clearly,” the AI said. “Stop letting Colonel Young interrogate you.”
“It’s called a conversation,” Young growled.
Rush looked at the AI and pointed at the door.
“Drink water,” Jackson hissed. Then it paused. “Please,” it added, before vanishing.
Rush looked down, hiding a smile.
“Did it just show up because we were—” Young began.
“You,” Rush said forcefully. “Are not smart.” He glared straight at Young, powerful unease echoing across their link. //Leave it. Alone. Stop asking about the chair.//
Young cleared his throat. “I really hope that thing sticks with Jackson.”
“That’d be nice,” Rush said. “She has a fair point though,”
“About what?” Young asked, pouring him another shot of water.
“Ah y’fuckin’ know what, don’t ya?” Rush snapped.
“You’re getting increasingly Scottish over there,” Young said mildly.
“Fuck,” Rush said, with delicate precision. “I hate that. But. She is correct.” He sighed. “You’ve to tell me something.” Rush steepled his fingers. “I told you all this shite because I’m fair fucking wrecked, and,” again Young felt him make an effort to sharpen his accent back up, “And—she’s right. This isn’t a conversation. You’re just getting me smashed and fucking interrogating me, and I don’t—”
“Whoa.” Young grabbed Rush’s crossed ankles, currently propped on the table and shook them slightly for emphasis. “Not true, okay? Definitely not true. What do you want to know? Ask me something.”
Rush took a deep breath, steadying himself.
Young tried to avoid feeling too relieved. He leaned forwarded and handed the guy a full cup of water.
“Why’d you turn down Icarus?” Rush took a delicate sip of water.
“I wanted to fix things with my wife. I fucked everything up by sleeping with TJ, and Emily—well, she asked me to stay. I knew that if took the command, I’d lose her for good. But—I lost her anyway.”
“I wanted you to take it,” Rush said. “I was fucking furious when you didn’t.”
“Yeah,” Young said softly. “Drink water.”
Rush glared at him, downed the entire cup, and set it on the table out of Young’s reach.
“What else you got, genius?”
“Okay another thing I want to know. At the beginning. Did you actually fuckin’ think,” Rush said, squinting at him, “that I sent a fucking shuttle, loaded with supplies, to a fuckin’ planet, for a handful of people to scrape out a miserable existence, on some bare fuckin’ rock, for—I don’t even know. Fun? Show? The pure pleasure of pissing straight into the wind?”
Young grinned down at the table top. “Not my best moment,” he admitted. “But yeah. I did think that.”
“D’you understand you’re not rational?” Rush whispered.
“You’re not rational either,” Young said, defensively.
“Right, but m’point is that I fuckin’ know I’m not rational? Jus’ made a whole passionate bloody speech about it, didn’t I?” Rush crossed his arms. “An’ another thing.”
“Yeah?” Young stood, reached across the table, grabbed the rim of Rush’s cup and dragged it back within reach.
“I’ve wondered about this for a long time. It’s insulting, I admit that, I was never going to explicitly ask it but I will ask it, because you fucking asked me—”
“Let’s go, genius,” Young said, simultaneously bracing himself and fighting down amusement.
“D’you think your ideas are good?” Rush whispered, his expression pained. “Or do you know how bloody terrible they are and just try an’ do them out of, like, fuckin’ tradition, or something?”
Young buried his face in both hands, and tried not to break down in hysterical laughter.
“Oh god,” Rush whispered. “Y’think they’re good. Right.” He straightened in his chair, regrouping.
“Okay. Well, some of them are. I suppose Like—like—ah. Sometimes when you listen to Wray. Sometimes, that’ll be a good decision.” The scientist finished strong. He nodded, leaned back in his chair, and shook his hair out of his eyes.
“‘Sometimes when you listen to Wray’,” Young repeated, unable to keep his amusement off his face. “Thanks, Rush. Thanks a lot.” He poured the scientist another full cup of water. “Anything else you want to know?”
“That was most of it that I can think of.” Rush pulled his feet off the table, sat forward, and propped an elbow on the table. He pressed a hand against his head. Young felt the ache down his own forearm.
“You wanna be done for the night, genius?” Young asked.
Rush nodded. “I’m pure dead wrecked. Fuckin’ genetic modifications. But who the hell are you, anyway, that you can put away half a bottle of, I don’ know, some grain alcohol equivalent an’ still be so bloody coherent?”
Young stood, and the room spun around him. “Not sure how coherent I am,” he said, pulling on Rush’s arm. “Let’s go back before I have to carry you. Again.”
“Dinnae fash yersel’—ye wilnae hae t’do i’.”
“Getting very Scottish, over there, genius. Unless that was Ancient?”
“You can get,” Rush said, with delicate, near-perfect elocution, “straight to fuck. I’m fine.”
“Sure,” Young said. “Sure you are.” He pulled Rush up, drawing the man’s arm over his shoulder and handing him one metal crutch. Rush looked at it as though he weren’t sure exactly what it was for. Young pulled him along for a few steps, trusting he would get the idea.
In the hallway, they stopped short at the sight of Eli, sitting on the floor, his eyes glued to his laptop.
“What’re you doing here?” Young asked him.
“I relieved Greer about twenty minutes ago,” Eli said, eyes glued to his computer screen. “He seemed to think it was necessary that you guys have some kind of escort, so—” he broke off, staring up at them.
“Mm. Nice of ‘im,” Young said.
“Wait a second. Are you drunk? Is he? You got Rush drunk?”
“Uh,” Young stalled, not sure why Eli was asking.
“Eli,” Rush said, raising his eyebrows. “Do you hae to state the obvious like its a fuckin’ revelation? It’s every fuckin’ day with this shite. Too right we were drinking. That’s what people do in storage rooms converted to distilleries. Like, what. Is in that room. Other than alcohol.”
“Dear God,” Eli whispered, his hands clasped, his gaze directed toward the ceiling. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Young looked at Rush, who was giving Eli a perplexed expression.
Eli shut his laptop and pushed himself to his feet. “This is amazing.” He looked straight at Rush. “Let’s go. Seriously, top five desert island movies. You owe me this one.”
“If I were on a desert island, I’d sure as fuck be trying to get off it, not watching films.”
“Top five things you miss about Earth,” Eli said, not missing a beat.
“Hmm,” Rush squinted at him. “Coffee.”
“Eli, you’re supposed to be helping.” Young pulled Rush forward. “Not playing twenty questions.”
Eli shot Young an imperious glare, then turned back to Rush. “Uh huh. Coffee, what else?” He pulled Rush’s other arm over his shoulders.
“Cigarettes,” Rush said. “Paracetamol, having loads of those little fucking notebooks, playing the piano, pencils—”
“You play the piano?”
“All civilized people do.”
“Love the intense accent, by the way,” Eli said.
“Do you think I’m smart?” Eli asked without missing a beat.
“Pure dead brilliant. But you know that already, I should think.”
Young glanced over at Eli to see his eyebrows draw together. He looked away, then came back with a cocky, “Duh, yeah, of course I know. I just wanted to hear you say it.”
“Okay,” Young said. “That’s enough.”
“Oh come on,” Eli said. “Like you didn’t do the exact same thing.”
Young didn’t have much of a defense against that, so he just continued down the hall, listening to Eli, with his characteristic muted exuberance, gently draw Rush out, question after question.
“Top five people on Destiny, other than me and Colonel Young.”
“As if either of you would be in my top five.”
“Well you don’t have to worry about that, do you?”
“That’s it? Your top five is ‘Chloe’. That’s weak, man.”
“Brody, James, Tamara, Greer, and Wray.”
“Was that in order? Also, if you count Chloe, that was six.”
“Okay. Can you quote any line from any movie.”
“I can’t rewrite what’s perfect.”
Eli gasped dramatically. “That sounds like a quote! What’s it from?”
“Ask Volker,” Rush said dryly.
“Oh god,” Eli laughed. “Okay. I will. What was it? ‘I can’t rewrite what’s perfect’?”
“That’s the one.”
“Is it going to mortally offend him, somehow?”
“S’very very likely,” Rush said dryly. “Be sensitive about it.”
“Oh my god this is killing me.” Eli looked to be on the verge of weeping. “Have you ever seen Star Wars? Planet of the Apes? The Matrix. Alien? Back to the Future??”
“I knew it. Why? Have you lived in a cave your whole life?”
“No,” Rush said, defensively.
“You work. In space. You haven’t seen Star Wars?”
“He’s seen Star Trek,” Young offered.
“Wait, really?” Eli asked. “Well, that’s something I guess.”
“Star Trek has a culture of excellence,” Rush said coolly. “As opposed to magical fuckin’ genes.”
“Uh, they’re called midichlorians, actually,” Eli said, “and they’re not genes, they’re like, space mitochondria? But, yeah, I get it. Star Wars is too on the nose for you.”
“Never said tha’,” Rush slurred.
“Awww, yeah, you didn’t have to,” Eli said solicitously.
They paused at a corner where two of Destiny’s hallways intersected, Young heading one way, Eli the other. “Um, his quarters are this way,” Eli said.
“Yeah, I know. We’re going to my quarters.”
“Because.” Young replied.
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” Eli said, inching forward before stopping again. “I think we just take this as a win. You guys went drinking together and no one died. Yaaaay. Let’s quit while we’re ahead.”
“Eli,” Young growled
Still, Eli hesitated. “What are you guys going to do in your quarters?”
Young tried not to be distracted by the dryly amused tone of Rush’s disorganized thoughts.
“It’s fine, Eli,” Rush said, eyes half-closed. “We cannae separate. That’s all.”
“Since when?” Eli said, starting forward, shooting Young a watchful glance.
“Since Telford swapped me out and the ship lost power.” Young sighed.
“I guess that explains why you’ve been MIA from—well, everywhere.”
“Yeah.” Young fought down a stab of guilt. “I’m still not clear on how things are going to work if we can’t get more than fifteen feet away from each other. People are going to start to notice.”
“Well, they’ve already started to notice, but it’s only going to get more obvious when you guys aren’t just sitting in the infirmary all day,” Eli murmured, “Especially since before, like, two weeks ago, you generally avoided each other like the plague. Word’s already spread about the drinking thing.”
“So people are talking?” Young asked Eli.
“Forget talking. They’re taking bets on which one of you survives until morning.”
Young rolled his eyes.
Rush sighed. “Did anyone bet on me?”
Eli laughed, short and delighted. “Uh, yeah, actually. A bunch of people bet on you. Most, actually. I’d say most.”
“What else are people saying?” Young growled.
“There’s actually a rumor going around that the chair did something horrible to Rush, and now he’s dying but doesn’t want anyone to know, except TJ figured it out anyway, and then told you, and so you’re trying to be nice to him.”
“He’s not dying,” Young said flatly.
“I never said he was. Well—okay, I may have helped that rumor along, but it makes sense, if you think about it.”
“He’s not dying, Eli.”
They came to a stop in front of Young’s quarters. For a long moment, no one spoke.
“Technically, you’ll find tha’ everyone’s dying,” Rush clarified.
“I hate hanging out with you guys. I really do.” Eli looked edgily at the pair of them. “Y’know what? I’m going. Enjoy your sleepover.” He ducked out from beneath Rush’s arm, backed up a few paces, then asked, “Are you going to be okay?”
“You’re a nice fuckin’ kid,” Rush replied.
“Thanks? You’re a complete jerk, but I kind of like you anyway. Kind of.” Eli turned and went back the way they’d come.
Young hit his door controls and dragged Rush “Come on,” he said, tugging the scientist forward, toward the bathroom. “You need help?”
“Hardly,” Rush said, raising his eyebrows. “You can jis’ stop dragging me about. I’m not that smashed. I only had—what? Four point five shots? Or five? Six or six point five or seven at the most.”
“You’re pretty damn smashed, over there, genius,” Young said dryly. He pulled back, experimentally abandoning Rush as the door of the bathroom. The scientist made a grab for the doorframe to stay standing, but missed. Before Young could restabilize him, the automatic door shot out to meet his grip.
“Neat trick.” Young leaned against the doorframe as Rush pulled himself over to the sink.
“Y’can stop fucking hovering. Ah’m no for havin’ it.”
Without warning, the door to the bathroom swished shut, closing a few inches in front of Young’s face.
//You’re a lot of work,// Young shot in his direction. //If you pass out in there, you’re waking up in the infirmary.//
Rush ignored him.
Young rolled his eyes and sat on the edge of the bed, removing his boots, belt, and jacket. After a few minutes, Rush emerged and Young took his own turn.
When he made his way out of the bathroom he found Rush lying on the floor next to the bed, still fully clothed down to his boots. The man was curled on his side, mostly asleep.
“Why do you do this?” Young asked him. “You know I’m not going to let you sleep there.”
Rush made no move to get up. “The deck plating heats up for me.”
“Seriously?” Young looked down at him with raised eyebrows. “How does that work?”
“Energetic transfer in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics. Y’ know, you have alarming deficiencies in your basic—”
“Shut up, Rush. I’m familiar with the concept of heat.”
“Then fuck if I know what you’re on about.”
“You’re not sleeping on the floor. Not now. Not ever. Next time you try this, I’m gonna deadlift you straight off the deck plates rather than spend five minutes arguing about it.”
Rush squinted up at him. “I didn’ know ‘chain-of-command’ could be a type of personality? But it is, and s’yours.”
“Uh huh. Young bent down next to him. and dragged him into a sitting position by his jacket lapels before pulling off his glasses. “You generally sleep with these on?”
“D’ you hae to criticize every god damned thing?” Rush sounded more plaintive than irritated, though Young was positive that wasn’t the effect the scientist had been aiming for.
“Yes,” Young said. “For you, I do it on principle. Now come on.” He tightened his grip on the front of Rush’s jacket and used it to pull the other man halfway to his feet and shove him onto the bed. Once the other man was situated, Young sat down next to him. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yes,” Rush murmured. “Thanks.”
“Look’t how well we’re doing,” Rush said. His eyes were closed. “Civilized as fuck.”
“Oh yeah,” Young agreed. “We’re doing great.”