Force over Distance: Chapter 23

“We remember you.” Chloe’s voice was slow and cold.

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

Text iteration: Midnight. Hover-to-discover intact.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 23

Young gritted his teeth against the burn in his right arm. As he watched Eli struggle with the door controls to the cargo bay, he tried to maintain even the smallest sliver of hope that things might shake out in their favor.

They were facing a foothold of undetermined magnitude.

His team was untrained, terrified, and injured.

The only assets they had going for them were a handgun, an assault rifle, Chloe’s ability to sense the enemy, and Rush’s ability to—

Well, Rush. Full stop.

The guy’d figured out how to use Young’s own brain to tear himself free of the ship, and now, despite his injuries, he was supporting Young. Physically and mentally. Energy poured through their link. The scientist was running on adrenaline. That had to be it. Nothing else explained the iron grip the man had on Young’s good arm.

“Eli,” Rush hissed. “What in god’s name are you doing? This shouldn’t be complicated.”

“Yeah, well, I can’t do this with the power of my mind, like some people, okay?”

“Have you—”

Yes, okay?” Eli snarled. “Whatever you’re gonna say, the answer is ‘yes.’ I have. Stop backseat troubleshooting. You always do this! It drives me nuts. Can I have fifteen seconds to look at the entry mechanism? Is that too much to ask?”

Rush rolled his eyes, but stayed quiet.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Eli whispered, as the cargo bay doors slid open.

Chloe moved into the corridor without being told, raising her assault rifle and sighting down its barrel. Her expression was pinched and determined. The tension in her muscles slowed her down, but her stance was passable. Someone had given her some training. Scott, most likely.

//You sure it should be Chloe with the assault rifle?// Young projected. //What if she panics?//

//She’ll deny it, but she performs well under pressure,// Rush replied.

“Okay.” Chloe motioned them to join her.

“The word is ‘clear’,” Eli said, “not ‘okay’. Even I know that.”

“Whatever,” Chloe replied.

//Besides,// the scientist added, //nothing deters panic quite like an assault rifle. Isn’t that one of the central tenets of your profession?//

//Let me get this straight. You gave Chloe the gun because she was most likely to panic?//

//Not anymore.//

//I hope you’re right about that.//

Rush didn’t bother to respond. His eyes flicked between the long stretch of corridor and a point just inside the cargo bay doors.

Chloe shifted, waiting for instructions.

“Eli, you still have that lifesigns detector?” Young asked.

“Got it.” Eli pulled the device from his pocket. “We should at least be able to see our people.”

Young studied the distribution of glowing dots. The majority of the crew was in the mess. He hoped that was by choice, and not because they were being held there. Groups of four were scattered around Destiny in promising locations; Young assumed they were the teams that’d made it back from the seed ship. Most importantly, the path to the nearest armory was clear of any crew; hopefully that meant they wouldn’t be walking into an in-progress firefight.

Eli caught Young’s eye, then subtly pointed at Rush.

The scientist wasn’t looking at the lifesigns detector. He was staring into empty air.

“No,” Rush said flatly. “Not an option. I need something else. Something that falls within the parameters of my own—” He broke off like he’d been interrupted. “I already did that. As y’can very well see.” He paused again, then snapped, “Yes well, thanks a lot.”

Cautiously, Eli pressed two fingers into the scientist’s shoulder and gave him a tiny shove.

“What?” Rush hissed.

“Soooooooo,” Eli said. “Talking to invisible people now? Unbelievably, that’s a step down for you.”

Rush sighed, his thoughts an unhappy swirl.

“Give it a rest, Eli,” Young said. “It’s the AI.”

“No—I didn’t—I mean—”

“That was pretty harsh,” Chloe whispered.

“Yeah. You’re right. Sorry.” Eli shifted his weight, uncomfortable. “You uh—you talk to invisible people all you want. Go crazy. I mean—well. Not literally crazy, obviously, but—”

Rush leveled a glare at Eli. “Do yourself a favor?”

“Yup. I’ll stop talking,” Eli murmured.

//You okay?// Young projected.

//Fine,// Rush said shortly. //Negotiating with the AI. It’s not being particularly helpful. Armory?//

Young sent him a wave of assent, then motioned to Chloe to take point. She moved ahead, along the darkened corridor. Eli brought up the rear.

They moved quietly, but not quickly.

The emergency lighting at the base of the walls flared, marking their progress.

//Are you doing that?// he projected at Rush. //Cut it out.//


//The lighting.//

//What about it?//

Young sent him a mental image.

//Oh for fuck’s sake.// Rush pressed a hand to the corridor wall, and the track lighting faded back to a dim uniformity. “If you’re looking for ways to be useful y’could add that to the list,” the scientist whispered, glaring at the empty air.

//That was for the AI’s benefit, I assume?// Young asked.


//So neither you nor the AI was doing the thing with the lights?//

//That was Destiny. Or, rather, one of the many interlocking hardware/software units that comprise the ship itself.//

//So—what? The lights missed you?// Despite the gravity of their situation and the gut-wrenching pain in his arm, Young couldn’t help but be amused. //Like a dog?//

//It’s not a bad analogy, but can we stay focused? Losing thirty percent of your blood volume is an unacceptable excuse for the level of distractibility you’re displaying. Don’t y’train for this sort of thing?//

//Yeah,// Young growled. //I do. Which is why I noticed the damn lights, Rush. I need to know if the ship is gonna do anything else to give away our position.//

//I don’t think so. The AI should be inhibiting most of what might indicate my presence.//

//It’s not exactly batting a thousand, is it?//

//It’s anxious. Stop making conversation and focus on surviving this, please?//

//You’re a lot of work.//

Ahead, the faint parallel tracks of emergency lights disappeared into the darkness.

In the back of Rush’s mind, a sense of unease was growing.

When they made it to the armory, they ducked through the door and sealed it behind them.

Rush pushed him against the wall just inside the door and did his best to control Young’s slide to the floor.

God, he was cold.

Rush knelt next to him, one hand closed over Young’s shoulder.

Young shut his eyes on unstable walls. The energy coming from his chief scientist was the only thing keeping him on his feet. As though he realized as much, Rush dug deeper and opened whatever bottomless store of power he’d tapped into.

Young felt his focus sharpen. //How the hell are you doing this?//

//Best not to question it.// Rush used Young’s shoulder to lever himself up, then joined Chloe and Eli, who were studying the racked weapons.

“How do we know what to pick?” Chloe murmured.

Young directed Rush’s attention appropriately. In short order, each of them had an assault rifle, a Kevlar jacket, a handgun, and all the extra ammunition they could carry.

Eli and Rush helped Young to his feet, and Rush shoved an extra sidearm into Young’s empty holster.

“Do we have a plan?” Eli asked.

“It’s not conceptually difficult.” Rush swept his hair out of his eyes. “Chloe finds a group of these things. We shoot most of them. We disable one. We drag it to the nearest lab, we scan it for EM interference, modify our detectors, then eliminate all of them.”

They all stared at him.

“Why does it have to be alive?” Chloe asked. “You know what they’re like.”

Rush regarded her steadily. “They have the capacity for telepathic communication so they’re capable of generating EM fields at baseline. This may be an inherently biologic phenomenon, and, if that’s the case, I don’t want t’have to do this twice.”

“What?” Young asked.

“They may be generating the interference patterns with their brains, so we can’t scan them if they’re dead,” Eli translated.

“You couldn’t just say that?” Young growled.

“I believe I just did,” Rush replied coolly.

Young motioned for Eli’s lifesigns detector. “Let’s head toward this group.” He pointed to four glowing dots on the display. “A bit more human firepower wouldn’t hurt—but if we meet up with some of these things on the way, so be it.”

Rush nodded.

They left the armory in the same formation they’d entered, with Chloe in the lead and Eli on their six. Rush continued to pour what seemed like endless energy through their link. More than that—the pain in the man’s feet was fading.

//Genius, don’t take this the wrong way,// Young began uneasily.

//Never an auspicious start,// Rush countered, with the mental equivalent of his poisoned-silk tone.

//Because you’re doing a great job,// Young continued, //but your feet should be killing you. You’re barely limping.//

//You’re quite hung up on the way things ‘should’ go,// Rush replied. //Try bein’ fuckin’ grateful.//

Before Young could respond, a surge of anxiety swirled through the energy coming from Rush. In the same instant, Chloe stopped them with an upraised hand.

Young’s skin prickled with cold and adrenaline.

Chloe looked back through the dark curtain of her hair and pointed at the cross corridor.

Rush gave Young a gentle shove in the direction of the nearest wall, then caught Eli’s eye and gestured at Young.

Eli nodded and posted up next to him.

Young shook his head. He pointed Eli at Chloe and Rush.

Eli stepped up to join them.

Rush shoved the kid back in Young’s direction.

“I hate you guys so much,” Eli mouthed without sound.

//Don’t be stupid.// Rush glared fiercely at Young. //If Chloe and I fail, you and Eli can make a second attempt. On your own, you’re useless.//

Young glared right back at the man. //Neither of you have any training.//

Carefully, silently, Rush laid his metal crutch on the ground near the wall. He unslung his assault rifle, and quirked a brow at Young. //You’re welcome to drive, if it makes you feel better.//


In response, Rush forced their link as wide as it would go. The scientist’s energy blazed like a star, hot and bright and boundless. He turned it on himself, running it through his own resistances, forcing them to fall. When they had, he handed the keys of his cognition to Young.

It was breathtaking.

Young had the wheel, but didn’t touch it. Not yet.

Eerily calm, Rush stepped to Chloe’s shoulder. Together, they moved gracefully around the corner.

The loop Rush’d set up was delicate. Self-correcting. Young lost track of his own body as he adjusted the scientist’s stance, his grip on his weapon, the angle of his head, the rate of his breathing.

A group of six aliens approached in a cluster, their movements insect-like. Familiar.

Young opened fire. Chloe was quick to follow.

Four went down in the first sweep. Young took Rush through a fluid, left-handed re-sling of the rifle, a fast draw of his sidearm, a shift into a two-handed power stance.

Chloe took out the fifth hostile.

They sighted down the barrel of the sidearm, exhaled, and fired a single shot, straight into the narrow blue shoulder of the remaining target. As the alien went down, its plasma weapon discharged. A bolt of energy dissipated along the ceiling.

Bone-deep gratification reverberated through their link. Not only had they done what they’d set out to do, but it was intensely satisfying to use Rush’s body. His reflexes were sharp. He was every bit as fast as Young had known he would be.

They didn’t separate. Instead, they stepped forward, shoulder-to-shoulder with Chloe, to inspect the downed alien. It struggled to rise, hissing, writhing.

“I will shoot you,” Chloe said, low and dangerous.

The alien froze.

Young, still riding a wave of supernatural calm, reached for the small metal device on its temple.

As Rush’s fingertips brushed the gel that coated the creature’s skin, it tore into their minds.

Through their link.

It shredded thought and structure as it sought information about Destiny. Fused as they were, with Young calling the shots, it seized on him first.

Rush reversed their loop, took control, and threw irrelevant memories into the thing’s path, full of pain, of distraction, of emotional devastation: Emily, standing in darkness, staring into the illuminated screen of Young’s phone, her face a mask of hurt; Gloria, sitting the wrong way round on a piano bench, trying not to cry. It was a spectacular, fractal network of their worst, amalgamated memories.

Rush tried to pull back, but icy blue fingers closed around his wrist.

Their network was shredding. Breaking down. The alien presence grew stronger; there were multiple minds on the other side of the escalating agony. The thing had called for reinforcements and reinforcements had answered. The cognitive pressure changed from information-seeking to an attempt break down resistance. Pure agony poured through their link, distributing itself through Rush’s mind, through Young’s, and through another network. Darker. Larger. I know why you’re doing this, Chloe said, out of time and memory. This gel will have excellent conductance properties.

The pain and memory fragments vanished, leaving a signal void.

Young fought to reverse the loop, but Rush’s mind was full of ice and glass. Of Destiny’s darkness. Of the Nakai’s mental assault. Of Young’s own struggle for control.

Young heard the scrape of metal over metal.

Chloe dragged a knife through Rush’s field of view, a silver transmitter hooked around its tip.

Chloe pulled the sidearm from Rush’s nerveless fingers. She held it to the alien’s head. She hissed.

The psychic sustain ended.

They pitched forward.

Acting on instinct, Young reversed the loop just in time to throw Rush’s left arm out, narrowly avoiding a face-plant into the deck. They knelt, gasping for air.

Young pulled back, intending to project, but with even that much separation—

A darkness pressed against Rush’s mind. Urgent. Seeking. Relentless. In no time at all, it halfway had him. An endless anxiety echoed through their link. A terrible loneliness. The ache of an eternal longing.

The ship wanted Rush back.

It needed him back.

And Young could feel Rush’s profound sympathy for it.

Chloe continued her sibilant, threatening litany.

This was it.

“Nick.” The word came from very far away.

Young braced himself against Destiny. He dug in with everything he had left, which was almost nothing. Rush clenched his hands. He leaned into a sprinter’s crouch, flexing his foot.

He could barely feel a thing.

Nick.” Jackson crouched next to them. “Focus outward,” the AI said. “Destiny is trying to help you. Tell it how.”

With a fierce shift in focus, Rush shut his eyes and torqued his attention toward the lab, projecting a rough idea of their goals toward Destiny. Some of the terrible pressure eased.

“More,” Jackson said gently.

All over the ship, bulkhead doors slammed shut, trapping intruders behind them. Force fields sprang up like sparks. The equipment in the nearest lab turned on.

“Good,” Jackson murmured. “Even more.”

The lights brightened in the halls and in the mess. The two-part harmony of the shields began to separate itself in preparation for undocking. Beneath Rush’s hands and beneath Young’s back, the deck plating warmed.

Destiny backed off.

They took a shuddering breath and looked at the AI.

“Adequate,” the AI said, but Jackson’s expression was warm. His eyes flicked in Chloe’s direction. “You’d better stop her.” His brows drew together. “She’s in control right now, but that connection she’s making goes both ways.”

With that, Jackson vanished.

Young, too, withdrew, and his own surroundings faded back in.

Eli had him by both biceps. The kid’s terrified face was about six inches from his. “Colonel?”

“I’m fine, Eli.”

“Nope,” Eli said grimly. “Sorry. Not buying it. You just had some kind of seizure. You were making some involuntary movements, you weren’t responding to me, and then you kinda froze up? And now you look really, REALLY bad. I’m pretty sure that dart was poisoned. I—”

Young tried to stand.

“No,” Eli said. “No way. Did you hear me?”

“Help me up,” Young demanded.

“What part of ‘no way’ sounded like ‘sure,’ to you?”

“Eli,” Young growled, “poisoned or not, I can’t sit in this hallway. We gotta get this show on the road.”

Eli made an aggrieved sound but grudgingly, pulled Young up. They rounded the corner to see Rush stagger to his own feet, looking none too steady. The scientist landed a hand on Chloe’s shoulder. She was still hissing at the blue thing on the floor.

“Chloe,” Rush leaned into her, and Young couldn’t tell if it was out of necessity or for emphasis. “Stop. Stop. We’re scanning it, not engaging it in conversation.”

Slowly, her eyes focused on Rush. Her sidearm wavered, then snapped back into position. Her expression was horrified.

Eli helped Young forward while doing a passable job sweeping the darkened corridor ahead and behind. “I want you guys to know that this is making my top ten list of Worst Days Ever,” the kid hissed. “How the hell are we supposed to get this thing to the lab? It’s still conscious.”

Rush waved Eli back a pace, pulled Young’s sidearm like he owned the damn thing, removed the safety, chambered a round, and eyed the alien over the barrel. “Vos mos vado qua inquam.”

It hissed, writhing on the floor.

Rush raised his eyebrows, unimpressed. “Did it understand that?” he murmured to Chloe.

“Yes.” Her voice was barely audible.

“Very good. Vos sto sursum, then,” Rush said, with faux politeness. He tightened his grip on the sidearm.

Slowly, very slowly, the alien got to its feet.

“Chloe.” Rush tilted his head toward Young.

With no other prompting, Chloe slid into place at Young’s side, pulling one of his arms over her shoulders.

Hoc scite. Vos necabo sine remora,” Rush said, like cyanide-spiked syrup.

“What the hell are you telling it?” Young asked.

“Don’t worry about it.” Rush didn’t take his eyes off the thing.

“Know this,” Chloe murmured. “I will kill you without hesitation.”

Young gave her a sharp look.

“That’s what he said,” Chloe whispered.

“Got it,” Young replied. “Thanks.”

Once they’d made it to the lab, Rush backed the alien against a wall, onto a low metal platform. Eli sealed the door behind them as Chloe and Young fanned out beside Rush.

“Eli,” Rush snapped. “Start looking for that signal.”

“Already cycling,” Eli snapped back. “Don’t bother helping. It’s fine. I’ll do it myself. You three just stand there and look menacing.”

“You complain more than a graduate student.” Rush stepped back from their three-person formation and moved to a nearby console. He kept Young’s sidearm unholstered and within easy reach.

“Next time I use the stones I’m gonna look up all your former grad students and buy each of them a fruit basket,” Eli muttered.

//Can we question it, while we have it here?// Young grimaced as the thing hissed at Chloe.

Chloe hissed something back.

“Chloe,” Rush said, like they were at a dinner party rather than taking alien hostages, “English, please?” He glanced at Young. //The only way we can understand its answers is by using Chloe or the transmitter it was wearing. I’m not sure either is a good idea. We have the upper hand at the moment, but it’s a near thing.//

//Yeah, fine. Makes sense. You okay? You took one hell of a hit from that thing’s mind.//

//That hit was evenly distributed,// Rush replied, his projection full of disapproval. //Stop perseverating on my status. I’ll show you what’s left of my feet when this is over so y’can continue t’believe in whatever just-world hypothesis you’ve constructed, all right?//

//I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean.//

//Then fucking keep. Fucking quiet?//

The alien stopped hissing. Its restless movements stilled. It seemed to give up, curling itself around its gunshot wound.

“How close are you guys?” Young heard the grind of exhaustion in his own voice. “I think this thing is dying.”

“We’re close,” Eli said. “Very close. But, uh, it really needs to not die yet?”

“Not sure what you want us to do about that.” Young glanced at Chloe.

Her face was still. Blank. Tear tracks glittered in the dim lighting, but her gun was steady.

Young looked back at the alien. It was staring fixedly at her.

//Genius, not sure, but I think we might have a problem.// He shot Rush a visual.

The scientist’s hands froze over his console.

When Chloe spoke, it was like they’d been waiting for it.

Her voice was flat. “Let us go.”

Young felt like someone had dumped ice water down the back of his fatigues. He tightened his grip on his sidearm and looked to Rush.

The scientist’s eyes were closed, his expression pained.

“Um, Chloe?” Eli asked anxiously.

“Let. Us. Go.”

“Who are you?” Young sighted straight down the barrel of his gun toward the enemy combatant on the floor in front of him. “What do you want with us?”

“We are Nakai.” Chloe gave the word an edge of menace. “We want what we have always wanted. To discover all that is. To continue without end. To read the pattern beneath existence. To, one day, write it. Let us go.”

“You release Chloe and we’ll talk about it.”

“This one is valueless.”

Young really wished Chloe wasn’t holding a sidearm.

“Yeah, well, she’s important to us,” Young growled.

“You are all valueless,” Chloe continued. “Unworthy of this vessel. We seek to liberate it. You will be torn from this plane of existence and cast into nothingness.”

“I’m not interested in your opinions,” Young snarled. “You wanna be released? You leave her alone.

“You will freeze in the vacuum of space.” Chloe’s voice rose. “You will cease to exist.”

“Eli,” Young said over his shoulder.

“Almost got it,” the kid said, through clenched teeth. “Ninety seconds for the FFT to deconvolute, then the confirmation.” He looked desperately at Rush.

The scientist stepped away from his console, leaving his sidearm behind. “You will never return to your people,” he said, his voice low and silk-smooth. “I’ll see to that. Do you understand what I mean?” He stepped forward, his body language open, even casual, both hands in his pockets.

//Genius what are you doing?//

“At the moment of your death,” Rush continued, with that honeysilk tone of his, “yours, you will fail to find your way back to them. Your knowledge, your singular knowledge, will be lost. Your very particular consciousness will be unmoored. Alone.”

It hissed aggressively.

“Unless—” Rush pulled a hand out his pocket and came up with the transmitter they’d pried from the thing’s temple. He laid it on the floor and shifted his stance, threatening to crush the thing underfoot. “Unless you let her go. Immediately.”

“We remember you.” Chloe’s voice was slow and cold.

“Oh, I’ll bet you do.”

“You are unlike the others,” Chloe’s gun remained fixed on the alien, but her gaze and the gaze of the Nakai shifted to Rush.


Rush wasn’t looking at her. He was staring down the alien, the transmitter under the threatening heel of his boot.

Young kept his eyes on all of them.

“You will unlock this ship for us,” Chloe said, her voice a command. Her hands, which had remained so steady, began to shake.

“Unlikely,” Rush said, in one long, smooth pour of provocation. “Let her go.”

The thing hissed at him.

Young’s eyes flicked between Chloe and the Nakai. At his side, in his peripheral vision, a familiar outline appeared.

Kill it,” Emily said. “Kill it now.”

Young’s finger tightened on the trigger.

With an explosive grace that suggested foreign pressure breaking through a mental dam, Chloe swung her weapon in a wide arc. There was no question as to who she was aiming at.

Young fired, putting a bullet straight through the head of their prisoner.

Eli came from behind, tackling Chloe, but not in time to keep her from getting off a shot.

Rush took the round square in the chest. He crashed into Young, and the pair of them hit the deck.

Eli knocked the gun out of Chloe’s unresisting grip with a clatter.

Young’s right arm was on fire. He forced himself up, fighting the deadweight hanging off his shoulder, and reversed their positions. Left handed, he tore Rush’s jacket open.

“I’m fine,” Rush said breathlessly, a hand pressed to his chest.

“Lie still, you idiot,” Young growled. “She hit you, I know she did.”

Rush made a distressed sound in the back of his throat as Young pulled his hand away from his chest. “I’m wearing a vest,” he said. “You’re bleeding more than I am at the moment. Get off me, for fuck’s sake.”

Young did not get off the guy. Instead, he examined the round, flattened and half-embedded in the Kevlar. When he was satisfied it hadn’t pierced the inner lining of the vest, he growled, “That’s gonna hurt tomorrow.”

“If I’m lucky it will hurt tomorrow,” Rush snarled. “That outcome is predicated on both of us surviving today. So let’s get back to it, shall we?”

Young backed off. As his adrenaline faded, his vision dimmed at its edges.

Rush sat, one hand pressed flat against his chest, and drew in a shallow breath. Energy started pouring out of the scientist’s end of the link.

Young felt a little less cold. His vision crisped up.

A few feet away, Chloe sobbed into Eli’s shoulder, her arms locked around his neck.

“You’re okay.” Eli’s expression was pained. He fixed his gaze on the ceiling. “You’re okay,” he murmured, holding Chloe tightly. “Rush is okay. Rush is fine. Everyone is okay. I finished the transform. I isolated the signal. Our stupidly risky plan actually worked. No one died.”

//You wanna handle this one?// Young projected.

//No. Not particularly,// Rush replied, but he got painfully to his feet. “Eli,” the scientist said, all business. “Did y’deconvolute our interference pattern?”

“Uh, yeah,” Eli replied.

“Start modifying the sensors. We haven’t got all day.”

“Kinda busy right now?”

“Go.” Rush pulled Chloe away from Eli. “And you. Stop crying.”

She stumbled to her feet, her face hidden behind the curtain of her hair.

“Don’t listen to him, Chloe.” Eli glared daggers at Rush.

“Go.” Rush glared at Eli and pointed imperiously at the nearest console.

//Wow,// Young said, //impressively terrible job. Literally, you’re doing the worst possible job I could imagine.//

Rush had Chloe by one arm. Her face was hidden under a curtain of hair, but she didn’t pull away.

Rush didn’t say anything.

“I am so sorry,” Chloe whispered, her voice barely audible.

“An’ what are y’sorry for, then?” Rush asked her, his tone deliberately light. “You’re by far the nicest person who’s ever attempted to kill me, an’ it wasn’t even your fault. I’m not inclined to hold it against you.”

She brought a hand to her face, stifling a sob.

Rush sighed. “Chloe,” was all he got out before she wrapped her arms around him.

“Sorry I cried,” she sobbed into his shoulder.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Rush said gently. “Now you’re just compounding the problem.”

She laughed, once, tightened her grip, and let him go. She wiped her face. “I’d better help Eli.”

“Off with ya, then.” Rush banished her in the direction of the monitors, then shifted his attention to the belt and shirt that made up the bandage around Young’s upper arm.

//You turned that one around,// Young projected, //I’ll give you that.//

//Generous of you.// Rush glared ice knives at Chloe’s undershirt. //This is bleeding. Again.//

//It never really stopped. Shouldn’t you be the one modifying the sensors?//

//In combination, they’re faster than I’d be. At least via the conventional way. Normal interfaces are beginning to feel foreign.//

//Maybe I should replace you with Eli,// Young said dryly.

//It’s a thought,// Rush’s projection was wistful.

//Rush. I wasn’t serious.//

//I was.//

//Yeah I can see that. Feel that. Whatever. Ugh, why are we talking about this? You’re it, okay? You’re my choice—for a lot of different reasons. You always will be.//

Rush shrugged, practically dripping nonchalance as he repositioned his belt around Young’s upper arm. Though their link, however, came the relief that the scientist couldn’t conceal, and—something else.

Something harder to read.

“Okay,” Eli called. “Modifications are done. We’re pushing them out now.”

Chloe retrieved the lifesigns detector. The four of them huddled around it on the floor.

“There!” Eli pointed as red dots began to appear on the screen. “Oh. Ew. No. I don’t like this. That’s a lot. That’s too many.”

Young did a quick count and came up with eighteen. He glanced at Rush. “Fewer than I thought there’d be.”

“Yes well. It’s enough. And they’re on the bridge. We’ll have to retake it to undock.”

“For that,” Young said quietly, “we’ll need more people. Time to regroup with Greer and Scott. Let’s move out.”

Eli and Chloe gathered their weapons. Rush brought Young to his feet in one long, slow pull and stepped in to steady him as the room spun.

Young did his best to breathe through the vertigo.

They just needed to retake the bridge. They were more than halfway there.

“Chloe,” Young said quietly. “Leave your weapons here.”

Chloe, who’d been midway through slipping the strap of her rifle over her head, froze.

//Don’t,// Rush said. //We need her.//

//We need you more. She nearly killed you.//

//That was an unusual circumstance. Unlikely to occur again.//

//Are you sure?//

Rush sighed, looking away.

“Chloe,” Young said. She looked up at him. “This isn’t a punishment. You’ve done a fantastic job today. Better than anyone could’ve asked for. Better than a lot of the trained military personnel on this ship.”

“It’s all right,” she said. “I understand. Maybe—” she paused, glancing at Rush. “Maybe you should lock me up somewhere until this is over. It might be safer.”

Young considered it.

“Right, so,” Rush said, his eyes shut, his head tipped back. “There’s only so much stupidity I can tolerate in a given day and I’ve about reached my limit.” The scientist opened his eyes, zeroed in on Chloe, and snapped, “Help the colonel.”

Chloe nodded and slipped in beside Young, pulling his good arm over her narrow shoulders.

“Question for you,” Young murmured to Chloe, trying to cheer her up a little. “Has he always been this much of a drama queen? Or is this new?”

“Oh, it’s not new.” Chloe gave him the ghost of a smile. “You’ve just missed out because you’re not on the Science Team. He keeps it under wraps pretty well outside the NHB.”


“Our Nineteen Hundred Briefing. That’s what Volker calls it. He likes it because NHB can also stand for No Holds Barred.”

Young snorted.

They moved out again, with Chloe holding the lifesigns detector and Rush on point.

Young gritted his teeth against the near-constant dizziness. He suspected it was getting harder to stay on his feet because Rush was starting to tire.

The flow of energy from the scientist was wavering. The burning pain in Young’s arm ramped up. Young wasn’t sure what the hell was going on with Rush’s wrists, or feet, or with the round he’d taken to the chest. The guy was powering through like he was feeling no pain. There was nothing coming through their link.

Whatever it was spelled trouble, Young was pretty sure.

From ahead came a burst of gunfire. Chloe held up the lifesigns detector. The nearest group of four on the screen was flanked on both sides by red dots.

Young motioned Eli forward. The kid joined Rush, leaving Young and Chloe as rearguards.

//Don’t fire until you’ve got a clear line,// he advised Rush. //No need to give away our position before we have to.//

Rush nodded.

//And don’t shoot any of our people.//

//I’ll try an’ remember that one, thanks.//

“You keep an eye on our six,” Young murmured into Chloe’s ear as he pulled his sidearm. She nodded.

His heart pounded in his ears. The gunfire got louder. Ahead, arrayed across the corridor, they saw five Nakai, facing away, firing at another team.

//Now,// Young prompted Rush.

The scientist opened fire. Eli followed his lead. Young fired single shots, left-handed, from his sidearm. Three of the Nakai went down, but two turned and fired bursts from their plasma weapons.

Young tackled Chloe, knocking her clear of one of the blasts. He lifted his head to see Eli and Rush pressed against the corridor wall, untouched, already returning fire.

As the last of the Nakai fell, Rush staggered, his outflung hand pressed to the nearest bulkhead. The energy flowing through their link wavered. Rush dug in again and stabilized himself.

//Genius, what is that? Where the hell are you pulling this stuff from?//

//I’ll give you one guess,// Rush said dryly.

Greer, James, Barnes, and Thomas rounded the corner.

“Sweet Jesus, but it’s good to see you people.” Greer clapped Rush on the back, then knelt next to Young and Chloe. “What the hell is this?” he asked, as he took in Young’s blood soaked uniform.

“Looks worse than it is,” Young said.

“Yeah, or not,” Eli added.

“Report.” Young stood, with help from Chloe and Greer.

“Civilians are secure in the mess,” the sergeant said. “We’ve been taking strategic locations all over the ship since we got back aboard. We weren’t sure where to head when suddenly these guys started showing up on our detectors.”

“Yeah,” Young said. “That was us.”

“I figured,” Greer replied. “A sudden, unexplained tactical advantage? Classic Rush.”

Despite the gravity of their situation, Young had to work pretty hard not to smile.

They studied the lifesigns detector, and saw a group of eight move on the bridge. “Scott, you think?” Greer asked.

“Most likely.” Young watched another set of red dots vanish. “That’ll make six of these things left.”

“Sir,” Greer said, “my team can mop up the rest, if you four wanna head to the bridge.”

Young nodded.

“You need a hand? We could spare Barnes or Thomas,” Greer offered.

“We’re fine,” Young said, not wanting to draw any firepower away from the cleanup efforts. “The bridge isn’t far.”

Greer nodded.

“Watch yourself, sergeant,” Young said.

“You too, sir.”

They arrived on the bridge to find Scott’s team already there. Volker, Brody, and Park manned their usual stations. Chloe helped Young sit in the central chair before heading for her own station. On her way, she paused to throw her arms around Scott.

The lieutenant flushed as he caught Young’s eye.

Young waved him over. “At ease,” he said quietly, “and nice work.”

“Thank you, sir,” Scott replied. “Glad to see you all in one piece. Permission to rejoin the teams securing the ship? Looks we’ve got the aliens are pinned down pretty good, but I figure I’m more use out there than on the bridge.”

Young nodded. He looked to Volker, Brody, and Park. “Report.”

“Uh, so, we got here about three minutes ago,” Volker replied.

“Three minutes more than I’ve been here, Volker,” Young growled. “Report.”

Rush ducked his head, but Young felt his smirk.

“Okay, well, nothing on short range,” Volker said.

“Hull’s intact,” Brody said. “No breaches. Internal sensors have been calibrated to pick up non-human signatures. We have four remaining, uh, ‘aliens’ aboard. Radio communications coming back up in patches. Not sure why.”

“Weapons are operational,” Park said.

“We’re still docked with the seed ship; I recommend undocking ASAP,” Eli called.

“We sure we’ve got all our people back on board?” Young asked.

“Yes,” Rush said.

“I can confirm that,” Brody said. “Picking up our full crew complement.”

“Okay.” Young blinked against a wave of vertigo. Across the room, Rush swayed. He gripped the forward rail, then dug in and pulled energy from his bottomless supply. “Let’s undock.”

//Sit the hell down,// Young suggested.

//No thank you,// Rush said evenly.

“Initiating the undocking protocol.” Eli’s fingers flew over his console. “Chloe, you want thruster control? Kinda got a lot going on over here.”

“I’ll take it,” Chloe confirmed.

“Okay, ported to you,” Eli said. “Can you give me three percent starboard, five percent aft? Any time now.”

“Starting the burn,” Chloe replied.

Slowly, ponderously, Destiny began to move away from the seed ship.

“Rush, do you need to deconvolute our shield harmonics?” Eli didn’t look up from his station.

“Spatial displacement will take care of that,” Rush replied.

“Eli.” Young tried to ignore the burn in his arm. “What’s the status of the FTL drive?”

“We’re good to go as soon as shields decouple.”

Alarms began to sound.

“Ah fuck,” Rush hissed. His hands tightening on the forward rail.

“Four enemy ships just dropped out.” Volker threw the short range sensor display up into midair. “And uh—”

A blast rocked the ship down to the deck plating.

“—they’re firing,” Volker finished.

“Shield status,” Young demanded.

“Oh god; it’s forty percent,” Park said.

“Rush,” Young growled.

“Our shields are still merged with those of the seed ship. Same energy distributed across a greater surface area translates to reduced field strength,” Rush said tightly, coupling the words with a visual projected through their link.

“Eli, we need to undock faster,” Young shouted over the trill of layered alarms.

Eli looked up. “We’re mechanically clear. Chloe, crank port and starboard thrusters to fifteen percent, then throw control back to me.”

Another blast rocked the bridge.

“Okay, now we’ve got a hull breach,” Brody said. “Lucky shot. It’s in an uninhabited portion of the ship. Already behind airlocks.”

//You wanna get with the ship?// Young projected.

//That won’t end well,// Rush warned.

//Neither will this,// Young growled.

Another wave of vertigo hit, and Young dropped his forehead into his hand. When he looked up, Emily stood next to the command chair.

“Don’t push him, Everett,” she said quietly.

“Shields are at twenty-four percent and dropping,” Eli called. “Four minutes to total deconvolution.”

“We gonna make it four minutes?” Young growled.

“Keep asking pointless questions,” Rush snapped, “that’ll certainly help.”

“Shields at fifteen percent,” Eli said. “We’re definitely not gonna make it if someone doesn’t do something borderline magical. Ship Whisperer, I’m looking at you.”

Rush pushed back from the rail. He strode over to Park’s station. She was up and out of her seat like a shot. He sat, opened a window, and began to type.

“Ummm,” Park said.

//Genius, what are you doing?//

//Don’t talk to me.//

“Rush,” Eli snapped, “are you coding? There’s no time for this!”

Rush, his mind on the shields, outlined the skeleton of a short program.

“He’s lost it.” Volker was barely audible over ringing alarms. “He’s completely lost it, and we’re all gonna die.”

Rush’d gotten through something like fifteen lines of code when the shield harmonics changed. The scientist initiated his program and sent his consciousness after it, like a spear.

“Well,” Daniel Jackson said, arms crossed, shoulders hunched, fighting a smile, “that’s one way to get it done.”

Finishing the program had never been the man’s intention.

Rush had created a new kind of buffer between his mind and Destiny, but, on the edges of the scientist’s consciousness, Young felt the dark press of the ship turn more insistent.

He anchored Rush as best he could.

They felt every impact from the barrage of the enemy ships.

“He’s modeled the dual-shielding as a wave function and he’s forcing collapse!” Park, elated, looked on over Rush’s shoulder.

“How the HELL does he DO this stuff!?” Eli shouted. “Shields to eight percent. Two percent. Zero percent. Thirty-seven percent. Ninety-five percent.” The kid laughed. “Go to FTL. Chloe, spin it up!”

“Already spinning,” Chloe called, her voice full of joy. “Jumping in three, two—”

“You don’t look so good.” Jackson had both arms wrapped around himself. He eyed Young from beneath his eyebrows, then looked toward Park’s station. “Hey, Nick? I think you’d better—”

The stars blurred.

The bridge blurred.

Everything blurred.

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