Force over Distance: Chapter 22

Rush had grounded the pair of them. Straight into whatever remained of Young’s split-open mind.




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

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: None.




Chapter 22


Young regained consciousness in pieces. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t open his eyes. He couldn’t tell where he was in space. He couldn’t feel the deck beneath him. He heard the quiet hiss of air, flowing over metal edges. The sound of a few people shifting inside a room too small to echo.


He got only the faintest hint of Rush through their link. The swirl of the man’s consciousness was weak. Far away. Laced with darkness.


Young clawed at the walls of his own mind, fighting a disembodied panic until—


Eli’s voice cut through the darkness.


“Seriously, Chloe.” The words and the tone and the presence of the kid himself were just about the most reassuring things Young had heard in his goddamned life. “It’ll be okay. I know it will, because, hi, let’s be real: this is exactly like at the end of Empire when everything looks bad, but then they fix the hyperdrive and—”


“Eli.” Chloe’s voice came thick and exasperated, like she was smiling through tears. “We have to focus.”


The three of them, at least, had made it to the shuttle.


But what about Rush? The scientist’s thoughts were troublingly dim. They didn’t feel close. At all.


Again, Young tried to open his eyes.


Again, he failed.


“Right. You’re right. Okay. But. If there’s someone here who needs to focus? It’s not me.” Eli paused. “Rush. Rush, come on, man.” The sharp crack of a strong snap broke the quiet, echoing off close metal walls.


A softer sound came, skin on cloth, and Nick Rush fired off a sentence in Ancient.


The wave of relief that washed over Young was so intense he felt sick.


They’d made it. All of them. Thank god.


“Ow!” Eli sounded aggrieved.


Eli,” Chloe snapped.


“Don’t ‘Eli’ me. He grabbed me.”


“You can’t just yank away like that. His wrists are injured.”


“Crap. Yeah. He scared me though.”


“Well, what did you expect?” Chloe asked. “He’s distracted, not dead.”


“What did he say? It’s hard to tell when he uses colloquialisms.”


“Knock it off, you ridiculous child.” Chloe sniffed.


“So, not helpful,” Eli said, with wounded dignity.


“Dr. Rush?” Chloe tried her luck, speaking clearly and distinctly. “Dr. Rush, can you talk to us? Or—potes dicere?”


No response.


Chloe sighed.


“Yeah,” Eli agreed. “He’s focused on something else. Just wish he could tell us what.”


“Why is he like this?” Chloe murmured. “Why is he all Ancient-y?”


Young finally managed to crack his eyelids. He couldn’t keep them open, but he glimpsed Chloe and Eli, backed by a field of stationary stars, looking searchingly at Rush, their faces lit by the glow of a live display.


“Why is he ‘Ancient-y’,” Eli repeated, stalling for time. “Umm, not sure.”


“You’re such a liar.”


“What do you mean?”


“Eli. If you didn’t know, you’d be climbing the walls to figure it out. Plus, you’d be talking about it nonstop. Making theories left and right. You know exactly what’s going on, and you have for a while now. Spill.”


“I can’t.”


Silence.


“Really I can’t,” Eli said. “I promised. But hey. Maybe if you guess correctly, then, y’know, I won’t have told you anything?”


If Young’d been able to roll his eyes, he would have. It was clear he’d need to have a conversation with Eli about the meaning of the word “classified.”


Chloe sighed. “We don’t have time for this.”


“Actually, we do. We’re parked underneath the FTL drive, we have no weapons, we have no communications, and Destiny’s not going anywhere, so—time is pretty much the only thing we have.”


“Eli. We could jump to FTL at any second.”


“Not true. We’re sitting under the drive, so we’d have a solid twenty seconds of warning, probably more—”


“You know that’s not what I meant.”


“Plus,” Eli continued, undeterred, “Destiny’s not going anywhere without Rush on board. Literally. Boots to deck plating. They’ll be lucky if they have even minimal power.”


“He’s that integral?”


“Yup. I’m pretty sure.”


“Okay,” Chloe said, with a soft exhale. “Guessing. I can guess, I guess.” She took a moment to think. “Rush is linked to Destiny,” she murmured. “Everyone knows that at this point, but no one’s really talked about the fact he speaks Ancient like a native.”


“Yeah, but he always did, right?”


“No,” Chloe said softly. “Did you not realize that? He was always very good. The best of all of us. But now, his accent has changed. His constructions have changed.”


“How do you know?” Eli sounded uneasy. “It’s not like we speak a lot of Ancient aloud.”


“Maybe we should,” Chloe replied. “It’s beautiful. I read the database aloud, sometimes, to Matt. He likes hearing it.”


“Really?” Eli asked.


“Yeah. I hope he’s okay.”


“I’m sure he is,” Eli said bracingly. “C’mon. He’s Matt. Remember when he ran a marathon with a bag of sand in ninety-degree heat? I sure do. Aliens are like, so easy for him. Walk in the park.”


Chloe didn’t say anything.


“Stop stewing, Chloe,” Eli said. “Figure out why Rush is weird so I don’t have to tell you.”


“I think it has something to do with the colonel being out of commission,” Chloe offered. “Something strange has been going on between them.”


“Strange! Yes! Odd! Super freaking bizarre! Keep going.”


Young forced his eyes open. This time, through the forward view, he recognized the gentle curve of Destiny’s FTL drive.


“They’re always together,” Chloe continued. “I haven’t seen Dr. Rush on his own since we were yanked out on the stones.”


Interesting,” Eli said.


“Rush is right. You are ridiculous.” Young heard the smile in Chloe’s voice. “And then the colonel gets shot with one of those darts and Rush gets weird almost immediately? That’s more than a coincidence.”


“It does seem that way.”


“The colonel’s been helping him. I know he has.” She paused. “Dr. Rush told me he felt like the ship had a real hold over him, but now I’m wondering—”


“Wait. Rush told you that? Rush talks to you? Like, about stuff?”


“Are you jealous?” Chloe sounded amused.


“Jealous? No. No. Definitely not,” Eli’s tone turned nonchalant. “Keep going.”


“So—I’ll guess he’s somehow linked to the colonel,” Chloe said quietly, “in the same way he’s linked to Destiny?”


“Got it in one,” Eli murmured.


They were quiet while Chloe digested this new information.


Young cracked his eyelids and managed to keep them at half-mast. Try though he might, he still couldn’t turn his head. He watched Eli and Chloe, their faces illuminated by the the light from the consoles. His chief scientist was a dark silhouette next to the science station.


Chloe studied Rush. “This is more than just speaking Ancient. He’s not aware of us.”


“Yeah,” Eli said wearily. “It may surprise you to know that despite the number of demands I get per day, neither one of them ever tells me anything. Without the colonel, Rush gets ‘trapped’ with the ship. Meaning most of his attention is taken up by Destiny right now. Like, he has to have no idea we’re talking about him. Otherwise he’d look—I don’t know. More pissed.”


“Maybe,” Chloe said guardedly. “That’s what it seems like. Although, he was with it enough to yell at you when you were snapping your fingers in his face.”


“In Ancient.”


“Which we both understand.”


“Bottom line, though?” Eli said, “I don’t think he’ll be much help in terms of figuring out what the heck we should do.”


“It’s up to us,” Chloe agreed.


With a supreme effort, Young shifted his head.


His sensation was returning; he felt, now, the cold of the deck plates and the burn of his injured arm.


Hopefully that’d be temporary.


More alert, he searched out Rush’s dim and distant thoughts. He mapped edges, trying to anchor the man.


This time, Rush pulled back.


Alarmed, Young stopped his extraction attempt.


Rush kept pulling.


Young was in new territory, grounding himself against the interwoven forces of Rush and Destiny. He resisted for all he was worth, his heart rate rising, his breath coming faster. The burn in his arm intensified.


In response, the pressure on his mind eased. He got a faint but unmistakable wave of exasperation from the other man.


//All right, fine,// he growled. //Don’t make me regret this.//


He shut his eyes, stopped grounding himself, and let Rush pull him from his body.


There was a moment of mental vertigo, brief and terrible.


Then.


He opened his eyes. He was still in the shuttle. Except. All the lights were on. Everything was bathed in a friendly gold glow. The deck plates were warm, the consoles were live, the stars behind the forward view were bright, and, playing from the shuttle’s com system, he could hear piano.


Young sat easily, feeling no pain. No fatigue.


Chloe and Eli were nowhere to be seen. Rush watched him with an amused expression.


Young studied the scientist, taking in his altered appearance. Rush’s hair was short. Well, shorter, growing out of cut that might’ve, once upon a time, been neat. A crisp, white shirt had replaced his black military jacket. He wore designer shoes and intact glasses that caught the amber light.


“Hi,” Young said cautiously.


“Hello,” Rush propped his feet on a locked console, steepled his fingers, and tried not to smile.


There was something off about him.


Or—no.


There was something on about him.


The man was put together. Body and mind, a spectacular fit. This was the echo, maybe, of the math professor Young had never known. Alive. Charming. The brightest thing in a room full of light.


“Where are we right now?” Young asked, adrift.


“Difficult to say.” Absently, Rush swept a fringe of hair away from his eyes. “I’m hosting your cognition in a novel way. I created this representation so we could talk.”


“You made this?” Young got his feet under him and stood.


“Mmm hmm.” Rush gave him a searching look. “Do you like it?”


“Uh, yeah.” Slowly, he came to lean against the science console where his chief scientist had propped his designer shoes. “I like it, but, why bother?”


“Because,” the man said, “the unaltered human mind can’t interpret direct input from Destiny, which, unfortunately for us all, has annexed my attention and most of my consciousness. This allows me to shield you. Effectively, I’ve buried everything you can’t tolerate beneath a perceptual overlay.”


Young raised his eyebrows. “So what the hell is this supposed to be?” He gestured at their surroundings. “A shuttle with better lighting? You can build any interface you want? And you choose the shuttle?”


“An’ what’s wrong with the shuttle?”


“Nothing.” Young fought down a smile. “It’s just not all that imaginative.”


“Next time, I’ll consider making brunch. Right now? I’m extremely busy.”


“I’m sure.” Young’s tone turned sober. “What’s going on?”


“The most concerning thing our uninvited guests have done thus far is rig the communications array to broadcast a strong, short-range signal designed to alert neighboring ships to our presence. I’m suppressing it, but there was a brief window when it was live.”


“Good,” Young said. “What else?”


“They’ve got barely any power to work with, so that’s making their lives difficult—”


The man couldn’t give a report in a military manner to save his life.


“Rush. Numbers. Locations.”


“I don’t know. The sensors aren’t picking them up.”


Young sighed. “Why not?”


“They must be broadcasting some kind of interference pattern, the probable purpose of which is to prevent my prior tactic of venting them to space in a targeted manner.”


“Any information on the crew?”


Rush shook his head.


“We’ve gotta get back to the ship.” Young said. “Physically.”


“I agree, but, for once, let’s not go off half-cocked, shall we?”


Young cleared his throat. “What do you mean?”


“First,” Rush said, counting off on his fingers, “outside my head, you’re paralyzed on the floor. Second, I’m stuck with Destiny, and third, well—I’ll illustrate.”


The light in the shuttle dimmed. Like transparent specters, Eli and Chloe faded in, their voices faint, the outlines of the main console visible through their bodies.


“We’ve got power.” Eli scanned his display. “We’ve got navigation—mostly. Pitch is a workaround, but that’s okay because there’s two of us, and someone can do yaw and roll while the other does pitch, so we can go where we want. The question is—”


“—where,” Chloe finished. “We have to decide now. It’s already been forty-five minutes. We have to help them.”


“Chloe, we have no idea what’s happening on Destiny. Plus, we have two injured people here. Or, one injured person, one sanity-challenged person. Who, okay, yeah, also has injuries. The smart thing to do is to wait. Let the cavalry ride in.”


“We may be the cavalry, Eli.”


“If we’re the cavalry, we’re the worst cavalry in the history of all cavalries. We have barely any ammo left, and I for one don’t think we can take these blue guys on without lots and lots of bullets. Also? What the heck are we supposed to do with them?” Eli made a sweeping motion that encompassed Rush and the rear of the shuttle, where Young was still laid out on the deck. “At a minimum we need one of them.”


“Eli, we’ve got to do something before—” Helplessly, Chloe raised her hands. “They’ll tear through the crew.” Her expression distorted with the pressure of threatening tears. “You don’t know—”


“Okay,” Eli murmured. “Okay, we’ll go.”


Rush let Chloe and Eli fade. The scientist quirked a brow at Young. “It’s a bizarre mix of adorable and terrifying, is it not?” he asked. “If we make any kind of move now, Chloe and Eli will be implementing it.”


“This may be a little outta their league,” Young admitted.


“Y’think so?” Rush asked. His sarcasm, delivered with no bite, hit as pure charm.


Young looked away and tried to get his head on straight.


“You’d better go back,” the scientist continued, “and stop them from doing anything premature. When you’re ready, and, t’be explicit here, by ‘ready’ I mean not paralyzed, tell them to proceed to the port side of the ship. There’s a cargo bay three-quarters of the way toward the bow. I can open it and pressurize it when necessary.”


“Got it.”


“And get them working on a way to modify the sensors to track our guests.”


Young nodded. “When do you wanna be pulled out?”


“Don’t attempt it until we make it to the cargo bay on Destiny. The ship is more than a bit anxious, frankly, and it’s got an—” he broke off, his eyes sliding away “—an unusually good grip on me.”


“No kidding. I can barely feel your thoughts, genius.”


Rush nodded. “Well, in any case, I’m not inclined to fight it at the moment, as I’m actively suppressing outgoing communications, amongst other things.”


Young nodded. “You gonna be able to keep suppressing that signal when I pull you out?”


Rush’s expression was pained. “I’m not certain. As you know, I have a difficult time holding myself in that middle ground between reality and the ship when I’m trying to manipulate systems. It ends up being quite a bit harder on you than on me, I’m afraid.”


Young nodded. “Like with the shield harmonics.”


“Precisely. And you’re not in the best shape at the moment.”


“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”


“Too bad we can’t separate.Y’could leave me on the shuttle until you’d retaken the ship.”


“There’s no way I’d ever consider that.”


Rush arched an eyebrow. “It’d be safer. Speaking of, y’should use the chair. Pulling me free of the ship without it will be difficult.”


You’re difficult,” Young muttered. “I’m not dragging you to the chair room in the middle of a foothold situation.”


Rush sighed.


“I’m serious.”


“Oh I can tell.” The words came smooth and dark, like slow-poured molasses.


Young cleared his throat. “I should get back before Chloe and Eli do something—” he paused, searching for the right word.


“Ill-advised?” Rush suggested.


“Yup.”


Rush sat forward, pulling his shoes off the console. He looked up, meeting Young’s eyes. “Are you all right? I can’t tell for certain.”


Young shifted, uncomfortable beneath the full force of Rush’s gaze. The guy had enough personal magnetism for three people, and—like this? As a well-dressed, intergalactic math professor? Who definitely had a sense of humor? Style in spades? Forget it. Young couldn’t take it. He had to look away to collect himself.


“I’m fine.” He hoped it was true.


Rush said nothing.


When Young rallied enough to meet the man’s eyes, he found the going no easier. He cleared his throat. “You figure out how to bottle that look, genius, and you’ll make a fortune.”


“What?” Rush went from smoldering concern to confused concern. It didn’t help. At all. If anything, it was worse.


Young held the man’s gaze. “You’re a hell of a lot of work.”


“Sometimes,” Rush said, “I’m not certain I know what you mean by that.”


“Good.” Young smiled faintly.


They looked searchingly at one another in the gold light of a cognitive construct.


“Shut your eyes,” Rush murmured.


“Seriously?”


“I have to dismantle this interface. There’ll be a brief span of time with no sensory input.”


“So?”


“So it’ll be unsettling if y’try an’ watch something categorically unwatchable?”


Young brushed the fringe of Rush’s hair away from his glasses.“You be careful.”


“Hmm.” Rush looked up with a hint of a smile. “Doesn’t much sound like me, does it?”


Young leaned into Rush’s personal space, one hand on the arm of the man’s chair, one hand on the locked console where his designer shoes had rested, moments earlier. “Do your best.”


“That,” Rush said quietly, “I can guarantee.”


Young shut his eyes.


The sound of rushing water filled his mind. He felt the psychic press of a dark and unknown mass as he transitioned away from Destiny. With an immediacy that was shocking, his senses slammed into him.


The deck plating was colder than he remembered cold could be. The air flowed raw through his airways. His clothing scraped his skin. The burn of his wounded arm was almost unendurable.


“—and you’re the super genius, so do your super genius thing.”


“Sure. My thing. So we know we can’t land at the normal docking sites because—”


A hiss escaped Young’s clenched teeth.


Eli and Chloe turned, their faces lit with relief.


“Colonel,” Chloe breathed, already up.


Sweet.” Eli was hard on her heels.


Young tried to sit, but didn’t get far. At all.


“Hey,” Eli said. “Are you okay? Can you talk? Can you move? Do you know where you are? Probably that’s a no, because you didn’t see how we got here, so I’ll just tell you that we made it to the shuttle. This is the shuttle. We’re in it. Duh. You probably knew that. Can you talk? How’s your arm? Are you poisoned? Okay, two blinks for yes, three blinks for no.”


“Eli,” Young managed. “Settle down.”


Eli looked like he was about to burst into tears from pure relief. Chloe’d already crossed that bridge. Young tried to give them a reassuring smile. He wasn’t sure how well he pulled it off.


“You can’t move, can you?” Chloe sniffed, wiping her nose with the edge of a sleeve.


“It’s coming back to me,” he said, clenching and unclenching still-bruised fingers. He couldn’t move his right arm at all. “Slowly.”


He had a makeshift bandage wrapped around his right arm, consisting of Chloe’s undershirt and Rush’s belt. It didn’t seem to be doing much good.


“You’ve lost a lot of blood,” Chloe said worriedly. “It was a small dart. It’s not bleeding fast—it just—it won’t stop.”


“How much is ‘a lot’?” Young asked.


Eli shrugged. “Your jacket is soaked through and Chloe’s shirt is ruined, that’s about all I can tell you.”


“Great.” Young shut his eyes and tried to figure out what kind of trouble he was in. He felt pretty good, all things considered, but that didn’t mean much. “Report.”


“So we got to the shuttle, obviously,” Eli began, “and we relocated to Destiny’s hull about two hundred feet from the FTL drive, then powered down except for minimal life support. We’re not sure how to get back on board, but we’re working on it.”


“Don’t worry about that,” Young said. “Rush has it covered.”


“So, um, I’m thinking maybe he doesn’t? He’s gotten progressively more—“ Eli trailed off, waving a hand in a circle. “Or maybe progressively less—”


Young shook his head. “He’s okay.”


“Really? ‘Cause, looking at the guy, it doesn’t seem like he’s okay in any way.” Eli moved to give Young a better view of the science console where Rush sat gripping the edges of the monitor bank, his eyes unfocused, his muscles locked.


“He’s okay,” Young repeated. “He’ll be better when we get back to Destiny. Have you tried your radios?”


“Yeah,” Eli said. “Our creepy friends are broadcasting some kind of electromagnetic interference. I can’t get anything but static. Communications on the shuttle are down.”


“Of course they are,” Young sighed. “What happened after I passed out?”


“Um, you missed what was possibly one of the most badass Rush moments ever,” Eli said. “I wish I’d had a kino. Because, you know, when you think of Rush, or at least when I do, the word ‘badass’ doesn’t necessarily come to mind? But seriously. It was awesome. He literally stood in front of Chloe and I while we dragged you backwards and took out all of the remaining aliens.”


“Sorry I missed it,” Young said, suppressing a smile.


“Me too,” Eli replied. “No one’s gonna believe me, except maybe Chloe, who saw it anyways, and, like, barely cares for some reason.”


“How many times have I told you,” Chloe snapped, “he rescued me. From an alien ship. We had nothing. No one.”


“Yeah, okay, well, no offense to you guys, but I couldn’t ever picture it. Now I can. Kinda.”


Chloe and Eli continued regaling him with the details of their escape and repair of the shuttle. Young let them do it because it was improving their spirits, and because he needed the time to regain his mobility. After they’d gotten most of it out of their systems, he put them to work on modifying the sensors to cut through alien EM interference.


Despite their easy banter with one another, he could tell they were unsettled—especially Chloe. Eli did his best to keep her mind off their current situation by referencing obscure science fiction movies, amongst other strategies, but when she wasn’t actively engaging with him, her expression took on a pained, pinched look.


She glanced often at Rush.


Young got himself off the floor.


Progress.


He grabbed the nearest console as the room spun. That’d be the blood loss, he was pretty sure. He did his best to focus on his surroundings, rather than the rising anxiety he felt for the safety of his crew. Anything could be happening on Destiny.


Anything.


The thought of losing even one person was intolerable.


His injured arm hung like deadweight from his shoulder. The small wound throbbed mercilessly.


If he’d ever been in worse shape going into a firefight, he couldn’t remember it.


“Okay.” He tried to project more strength than he felt. “Let’s get moving. About three quarters of the way down the port side of the ship, we’ll find a cargo bay that Rush’ll open and pressurize.”


“Seriously?” Eli looked over his shoulder at Rush. “And he knows this?”


“It’s his plan.” Young glanced at his chief scientist, still sitting rigidly at his station.


“Well, does his plan involve keeping us off Destiny’s sensors? Otherwise, this is gonna be a real short trip.”


“I’m sure it does.”


“Did he say that explicitly? Because sometimes he—”


“Eli.” Young dropped into the pilot’s seat. “Let’s go.”


It didn’t take long to reach the point Rush had indicated. As expected, the cargo bay doors opened at their approach, then sealed behind them, allowing the bay to pressurize. There were no lifesigns in their immediate vicinity, and no indication they’d been detected.


Chloe knelt next to Rush. “He doesn’t seem better.”


Young pushed himself out of the pilot’s seat, then leaned against the back of the chair. “Yeah.” He fought the way his vision was trying to gray at its edges. “I gotta anchor him back in his body.”


Eli and Chloe watched him anxiously.


“Is that hard?” Eli asked. “Because, uh, you don’t look so good.”


“I’ll get it done.” Despite the strength he tried to project, he hoped Rush would be able to help. Young didn’t like his odds of pulling this off solo.


He settled a hand on the scientist’s shoulder and leaned into the guy, bracing himself for what was gonna be one hell of an effort. His impression of Rush was faint. Dispersed. Like glitterdust stirred into coffee.


He pried up every bright edge of the man he could find and began to pull. As soon as Young got any leverage, the strain kicked in. The blood roared in his ears. The world dissolved in gray-white mist.


Dimly, he was aware of Eli talking to him, of Rush flexing his foot.


It wasn’t enough.


Not nearly enough.


Rush was more entwined with the ship than he’d ever been, and Young had no stamina left.


He was gonna fail. It was already happening.


Rush reorganized. Structurally. Conceptually. Young’s grip on the man warped as the scientist entered a hairpin turn, pulling something from Young, turning it back on him. As they moved closer, tangled, reoriented—Young understood Rush’s intent.


The effort was brilliant.


It was shattering.


It came like a stave of light driven into the heart of Young’s consciousness.


His perception cracked into a terrifying landscape of circuits and energy gradients. Currents rushed around and through him like waterfalls in the dark.


He was losing his sense of himself, but—


He wasn’t alone.


Rush had grounded the pair of them. Straight into whatever remained of Young’s split-open mind. That was the hairpin. Now came the turn. The scientist sheared himself apart, separating along lines that only Young could show him, executing it perfectly.


In the instant of the rending, agony blazed through their link.


The pressure vanished from Young’s mind.


He opened his eyes to a world that made no sense.


Everything was eerily still.


“Fuck,” Rush hissed, far away, terribly immediate, somewhere in between. “Fuck.”


The room spun, forcing Young’s back to the floor, tangling him with Rush at the base of a console.


“Colonel? Oh my god, colonel?”


He couldn’t move.


“What’s going on?”


“Quiet.” Rush’s voice frayed with strain. “Go do something useful. Both of ya.”


“But—”


“I said go.” Rush knelt next to him, his mind a dismayed swirl of color, of music, of pain, of languages and symbols Young couldn’t hope to follow. “Colonel.” The scientist’s hands grazed over Young’s chest, over the makeshift bandage around his arm. “Answer me.


Young couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. His thoughts were clear, but carried no urgency. He tried to remember how to feel upset about it.


“Colonel,” Rush said again. “Everett.” Though their open link, the scientist unfolded a search query that ran like lace and ache, barely detectable. “Talk to me,” he said, his eyebrows drawn together. 


Young couldn’t. He was locked in his own mind, unable to do anything other than send a wordless burst of frustration along their open link.


“Ah.” Rush pressed a hand to Young’s cheek. “Talk to me,” he said, staring into Young’s eyes. Beneath his words, in the lace he’d laid down, was something else. A fairy-tale spell. A compulsion drawing Young toward his lost language.


//Keep at it,// Rush projected delicately over the searing longing to speak. //Talk to me.// His thoughts flowed like water through the damaged places in Young’s mind.


As it continued, as Young tried, over and over, to speak, he began to understand that, somehow, Rush was healing him.


Healing his mind, restoring pathways that’d shorted out.


//Talk to me,// Rush projected with a gentle insistence.


//What are you doing?// Young was finally able to ask.


//Fixing things.// The words were light, undemanding. //You’re not so different from Destiny, really. Voltage differentials. Neuronal impulses. It’s all of a piece.// The scientist poured energy into their link. His presence eased away the existential horror of what’d just happened before it could take hold.


//I’m flattered.// The compulsion to speak drained away.


//You should be.//


//When did you figure out how to do this?//


//Just now.// Rush soothed away what was left of Young’s unease. //It’s not so difficult. A circuit is a circuit, after all.//


Young’s thoughts settled into their normal, linear, interpretable pattern.


“Can y’speak aloud?” Rush asked.


Young nodded and brought a hand to his temple.


“Very helpful,” Rush said. “You’ve overshot stoicism and landed squarely in stupidity.”


“Are you seriously harassing him?” Eli called from across the room. “He just fainted, and it was your fault.


“I can speak.” Young squinted up at Rush. “You can be a real jackass sometimes.”


“Yes well, I’ve never claimed otherwise.” Rush’s thoughts were a bright, relieved swirl as he helped Young sit.


“Are you—” Young hissed as a shock of pain jolted down his injured arm. “You still blocking that signal?”


Rush looked at him blankly. “What signal?”


“Those aliens are broadcasting our position. Calling for reinforcements?”


Rush stared at him. “And I was preventing this?”


“That’s what you said.”


“When?” Rush asked, confused.


“About an hour ago? You built an interface and we talked?”


Rush’s brows furrowed. “Are y’sure you’re all right?”


“This day just keeps getting better,” Young muttered. He braced his injured arm with his good arm, and tried again. “You need stop Destiny from transmitting that signal.”


Rush, his brow furrowed, stared into nothingness, like he was listening to something. “Not sure that’ll be possible,” he said, after a protracted pause.


“Not ‘possible’?” Young growled.


“What is possible,” Rush said, ignoring Young’s question, “is eliminating our ‘guests’ before reinforcements arrive. Worst case, we jump to FTL before we’ve done so, but I’d rather eliminate them first. The nature of their collective consciousness may allow for a qualitative track of our FTL trajectory if any of them are alive when we jump.”


Young stared at the man, waiting for more.


The scientist said nothing. His thoughts splintered, like cracks feathering through brittle glass.


Fine.


Young turned to Chloe and Eli. “Have you two been able to modify the lifesigns detector yet?” The pair of them were sitting at the forward monitors, pretending to work while they focused on every word of the conversation between himself and Rush.


“Nope. I’m not magical, okay?” Eli snapped. “Chloe? Are you magical? No. You’re not. We can’t just modify sensors to detect some unknown interference pattern that’s broadcasting somewhere on the electromagnetic spectrum.”


“Eli,” Rush said, and Young caught the hint of a smile in his expression.


What?”


“Don’t panic.”


“Oh. ‘Don’t panic.’ That’s great. That’s just great. Coming from the guy who regularly passes out from stress, it really means a lot.”


“Yes well.” Rush reached beneath a console and came up with his remaining crutch.“T’retake the ship, we need to know how many of them there are. We also need t’know where they are. Therefore, it follows we’ll need to—” he paused, cleared his throat, shook his hair back, and said, “—we’ll need t’capture one of them to determine how they’re generating the interference pattern.”


Young, Chloe and Eli all stared at Rush in naked disbelief.


Capture one?” Chloe asked faintly.


“That’s what I said.” Rush got painfully to his feet and collected Young’s sidearm from atop a nearby console. He ejected the clip, inspected the ammunition, reassembled the gun, and chambered a round.


Young watched him with a mix of horror, admiration, and something less easy to put a word to.


“Are you crazy?” Eli asked.


“Are y’taking a poll?” Rush offered Eli the sidearm, then picked up Young’s assault rifle, gave it a once-over, and handed it to Chloe.


“Wait a second, why—” Eli began.


“Sergeant Greer tells me Chloe’s the best civilian shot on the ship.” The scientist limped over to Young and extended a hand. //Can you stand?//


Young clasped Rush’s arm behind the elbow, and, slowly, the scientist drew him up.


“Let’s go,” Rush said.

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