Force over Distance: Chapter 28
Rush sighed. “As a custom cellulose matrix, created from scratch, with very little in the way of either guidance or resources—it’s marvelous. Unfortunately, as paper goes, it’s terrible. Keep at it.”
Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.
Text Iteration: Pre-dawn.
Audio status: Proofing.
Additional notes: None.
Young woke alone.
Three hours into his shift.
“Damn it,” he growled, groping for his radio. He knocked it off the nightstand and into one of his boots. He flung himself half out of the bed to fish it free. When he finally had his hands on it? He discovered it was off.
He snapped it on, flipped to the military channel, and said, “Young to Scott.”
“Scott here. Go ahead.”
“Lieutenant.” Young tried for casual. “Who has the bridge right now?”
“James, sir. We heard from TJ that you were still out of the rotation?”
He took a beat. What the hell? Yesterday, he’d reinserted himself into the duty roster with TJ’s blessing. He—
This had to’ve been Rush.
Young tried, through sheer willpower alone, to travel backwards in time and undo the past three weeks. Never mind. Might as well go all in. The past three years would be a better choice.
“Colonel?” Scott said over the open channel.
“Got it. Thanks, lieutenant.”
His body still ached, his shoulder still burned, his arm still felt strangely heavy. He lifted his head, studied his watch, and did a little mental math. He’d slept for over ten hours.
He did feel, somewhat, better.
On his nightstand, he found a small scrap of notebook paper, tented to stand upright. Two words had been inked in a bold, fluid style:
“Ugh.” Young buried his face in his pillow.
On the other side of the link, Rush hosted a radiant wind that threaded into and out of ports in his firewall. The man was sitting in one of the labs, his feet propped on a locked console. His head was tipped up. He held a piece of homemade paper overhead, warping it delicately between his fingers.
//Good morning,// Rush practically poured the words into his head. //Sleep well?//
//I deserved that,// Young said. //I admit it.//
//Not sure what you thought would happen,// Rush said, like candied cyanide. He put the paper between him and the overhead light, studying the degree of transillumination.
//I was pretty sure you were going to crash for at least a day.//
//Yes well. Surprise.//
“So,” Brody said, from somewhere behind the scientist. “What do you think?”
Rush sighed. “As a custom cellulose matrix, created from scratch, with very little in the way of either guidance or resources—it’s marvelous. Unfortunately, as paper goes, it’s terrible. On balance: well done; keep at it.” The scientist passed the paper back to Brody, pulled his feet off the console, and picked up his crutch. “Oh yes. And I’ll be wanting custom letterhead. Best start working that up as well.”
“Wait, what?” Brody asked.
//Who are you?// Young asked.
Rush shook his hair back. He was moving well, feeling almost no pain, managing the stress on his injuries like a continuously evolving mathematical function, balancing damage and efficiency. He’d folded physical movement straight into the blaze of his cognition.
God the man had it together.
“Shall we say two weeks?” The scientist lifted his brows at Brody. “Talk to Chloe and Park. They’re working on a 3D printing project. It should be relatively trivial to create some kind of seal. Or stamp.”
“Uh, this is my hobby.” Brody looked uncertainly at Rush.
“Do y’not want to create a letterhead?” Rush asked, frowning.
“Actually, I do like fonts,” Brody admitted.
“I’m aware,” Rush replied. “You’ve talked to me more about kerning than anyone else on this ship.”
“Other people talk to you about kerning?” Brody asked. “Who?”
“Just design a letterhead.” Rush headed for the door, leaning on his crutch. “Show it to Wray. She can approve it.”
“I thought this was a side project. Why does someone need to approve it?”
“It needs to be ‘official,’ doesn’t it? If it’s letterhead? Wray wants to write a constitution for fuck’s sake.” Rush paused in the doorframe. “Just—make it happen, please?” With that, he headed into the corridor.
“Hey, uh, at least tell me if you want serifs?” Brody shouted after him.
Rush didn’t reply.
//Genius, you’re weirder than even I gave you credit for.//
Young had missed breakfast, so he stopped by the mess for the earliest lunch shift. He joined Scott and Dunning, who were speculating on what they were going to do with the dead Nakai in the furthest operational airlock. Young put that on his list of things to bring up at that evening’s NHB, which he was definitely planning on attending, and which he was definitely planning on ending at 2100 hours.
Young was halfway through a bowl of gray paste when Wray approached their table. “Colonel,” she said. “I just gave my weekly report to the IOA. They were hoping to send Colonel Carter and Dr. McKay through today to assess the feasibility of dialing Destiny from the alpha site.”
“Today?” he asked, grimacing.
“Yes,” Wray confirmed.
Young was not in the mood to deal with Telford’s next power play.
He tried to keep his thoughts off his face. He was pretty sure it wasn’t working. At all.
“How are you feeling?” Wray asked, her expression softening.
“I’ve been better.” Young stared at his bowl of paste.
He could stonewall Homeworld Command. It wouldn’t be the first time.
//Hey.// He mentally flagged Rush down. The man was sitting with Chloe in the control interface room, his feet propped on an empty chair. He was monitoring changing readouts as Chloe modeled the behavior of the FTL drive under conditions of rapidly fluxing plasma flow.
//If you have this much free time y’can bloody well track down damaged power conduits and start soldering,// Rush snapped.
//Did you just invite me to join the Science Team?//
//No. What do you want?//
//Carter and McKay have requested to come through on the communications stones today. Do some kind of feasibility assessment for dialing Destiny from the alpha site?//
//Absolutely not. I need at least seventy-two hours of warning if I’m going to have to talk to McKay,//
//Okay. You got it.//
Young looked up at Wray. “Today is pretty short notice,” he said. “We need a few days.”
Overwhelming astonishment blazed through his open link with Rush. In the control interface room, the scientist dropped the pen he’d been spinning through his fingers.
Wray pursed her lips. “I think it would be worth playing ball on this one,” she said, her dark eyes serious. “We have some political leverage to spend after the communications stones disaster; I wouldn’t burn any goodwill ducking this. It’s just a feasibility assessment.”
//She’s right about that.// The scientist’s projection was full of reluctance. Absently, he watched Chloe retrieve his pen from beneath a console.
“It’ll just be Carter and McKay?” Young asked. “Telford’s not coming?”
“That’s my understanding,” Wray said. “But—” she gave Scott and Dunning a sidelong look.
Scott nodded. He gathered his bowl and cup. “We were just finishing up, right airman?”
Dunning nodded, also getting to his feet.
Wray slid into Scott’s seat. It was the end of the meal shift, and the place had pretty well emptied out. She leaned forward. “Colonel, frankly, my position within the IOA has become unstable. I—they blindsided me with the communications stone swap. I can’t attend all the meetings. I’m not there to see facial expressions, hear the water cooler talk. In some ways, I’m indispensable to them. In other ways—I’m just the fulcrum between the command team on Destiny and the IOA on Earth.”
Young looked at her from under his eyebrows. “I don’t wanna hear that.”
Camile brushed her hair back. “I find there’s a lot you ‘don’t wanna hear’.”
Young kept his expression neutral. “You’re not a damn fulcrum is what I mean. I trust you.”
Her expression thawed. “Ah. Thanks. But my point is—I’ve made my position on Colonel Telford clear. The IOA knows where I stand. Based on what they did with the stones, I’d say it’s a certainty he’s got more leverage than I can map. I don’t put it past them to use me to broker a set-up that isn’t what it seems.”
Young nodded. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.”
“I’d say there’s a good chance Telford comes through on the stones today. Even so, I think we should allow it. We need a resupply. And if they try to put him in charge—” she trailed off, her eyes locked on Young.
Young raised his eyebrows.
Wray cocked her head.
“Camile,” Young said.
“Just because he is put in charge doesn’t mean he needs to stay in charge?” Wray said carefully.
“I’m gonna assume you’re referring to that constitution you keep talking about drafting.” Young kept his voice mild. “Because if you’re referring to anything else—we’re not gonna talk about things we don’t need to talk about. Got it?”
“All I’m saying is that I have experience organizing all kinds of events,” Wray said smoothly. “Social functions. Governing bodies. Departmental meetings. Shipwide mutinies. Bake sales.”
Young snorted. “You’re first on my speed dial for all those things.”
That surprised a small smile out of her. “Good.”
“All right,” Young said, scraping the last of the paste out of his bowl. “You want to ‘organize’ this feasibility assessment?”
“Sure. She checked her watch. Let’s aim for 1430?”
He spent the next few hours catching up on odds and ends and slogging through more of his overdue paperwork. At 1415 he showed up at the CI room to collect Rush.
When he hit the door controls, he found the lights dimmed. Chloe stood in the middle of the floor, beneath a glowing display of four equations. She was giving what looked to be a prepared talk. She paused as Young entered, but Rush waved her on.
As Chloe spoke about her overhead math, Young posted up against the back wall and studied his chief scientist.
Rush had his feet propped on a locked console. His ankles were crossed, his military boots sloppily laced. The pieced-together frames of his eyewear gleamed beneath Chloe’s shining math. His thoughts ran like liquid gold through blown-glass channels.
He’d turned goddamned glorious to watch.
But this caliber of cognitive pyrotechnics probably wasn’t sustainable.
In fact, he was sure it wasn’t.
Because when he’d finally dragged the man out of it? He’d been sore as hell and running on empty. He was pushing his body way past what it should be capable of. It had to stop. It had to. For at least a few hours every night. If it didn’t—
Well, honestly, Young had no idea what would happen. But it wasn’t gonna be pretty.
Getting the guy to knock it off and go to sleep on a regular basis would be one hell of a tough sell. He doubted he’d get the scientist to agree to a toe-to-toe sleep match every night. In fact, it’d be a miracle if it ever worked again. He had, maybe, one more round of that in the cards on some night when Rush was in a good mood and they both were on top of their game. Barring that?
He was going to have to convince the man.
Across the room, Eli began clapping enthusiastically. Chloe’d finished her talk. Rush gave her a few pointers, then approached Young’s position.
Young raised his eyebrows.
“She’s giving a talk to Bill Lee’s team,” Rush said. “On the stones. Day after tomorrow.”
“And you guys were—what? Practicing?” The door to the CI room opened of its own accord, and Young waved the scientist forward, into the hall.
“Yes,” the scientist said. “We have our own protocols, y’know.”
“The Science Team?”
Rush rolled his eyes. “Try science. In general. Trainees present their own work.”
“Seems awfully nice of you, genius. Just saying.”
“Fuck off. It’s not even remotely nice.”
“Are you—recreating graduate school for Chloe and Eli?”
“No,” Rush said, defensively. “I’m improving my own life, thank you.”
“Uh huh. By letting Chloe practice a talk on you.”
Rush glared at him. “Drop it.”
Young rolled his eyes. “Fine. Dropping it. Does the ambient temperature feel colder to you than normal?”
“Yes,” Rush replied. “We’ve started to dip into our energy reserves. We’ll need to harvest some stellar energy in the near term.”
“Yeah. That reminds me. I’m coming to the NHB tonight,” Young said.
“Why,” Rush asked, not bothering to hide his suspicion.
“Because, in addition to the power reserves, we need to talk about the dead Nakai in piled in the aft-side airlock.”
“Ah fuck,” Rush pressed two fingers against the space between his eyebrows. “All right. I wish we’d been able to jettison them before jumping. I’m sure, collectively or technologically, they gave away our directional vector. We won’t have much time after we drop out of FTL before their friends show up.”
“Can we just—I don’t know, demolecularize them in the FTL drive or something?”
“Yes well, let me think about that. Can we pitch half a metric ton of unclassified biological material into the running heart of our finely-maintained, millennia-old quantum engine? I think we’ll be giving that idea a hard pass.”
“Well I look forward to the briefing then,” Young said dryly. He checked his watch. “We’re late.”
“Yes, well, I’m usually late.” Rush shook his hair back.
“If you ever show at all,” Young growled.
“Mmm, it’s almost like you know me,” Rush replied in that spun-sugar tone Young was coming to acquire a real taste for.
As they drew even with the door of the room housing the communications stones, Rush stopped him with a hand on his arm. //Remind me,// the scientist projected. //What do they know? I’ve not been paying attention.//
//They know you sat in the chair and that you're tied to the ship. Only McKay knows you were genetically modified and, as far as I know, he's kept that secret. No one on Earth knows you and I are linked.//
//And we’re keeping it that way?//
//My vote is yes.//
Rush lifted an eyebrow. //Your ‘vote?’ Wray’s been a terrible influence on you.//
//Uh huh. You just focus on holding it together, please.//
//Don't verbally respond to something I project at you. Don't talk to the ship. Don't look at the AI if it's hanging around.//
Rush glared at him. //I don't do those things.//
//Yes, you do. Especially when you're distracted. Or upset.//
//Name one time.//
//When we’d made it back from the seed ship, you addressed the AI, out loud, in front of Eli and Chloe. You verbally respond to things I project at you at least once a day. At least. You stare into space really intently. You—//
//Right. You’ve made your point,// Rush snapped. //Let's get this over with.//
The doors next to them slid open. As soon as they cleared the doorway they paused, shoulder-to-shoulder to take in Scott and James who had, presumably, switched with McKay and Carter.
The indolent alertness of Scott’s posture suggested it was highly unlikely he’d actually switched with McKay.
“Identify yourselves please.” Young closed his hand on the back of Rush’s jacket and stopped him before he got too far into the room.
//I’d advise a little more self control,// the scientist projected, with poisonous solicitude.
//Do not walk over there before you know who we’re dealing with. For all you know, that’s Telford.//
//And so what if it is?//
“Samantha Carter,” James said, her eyes flicking once to the man beside her as she gave her rank and security code.
“Jack O’Neill.” Scott tipped his chair back and swept his eyes over the pair of them. “Hey Everett, long time no see.”
Young let Rush go and saluted, prompting a wave from O'Neill and an eye roll from Rush.
//I'm in the military. It's what we do.//
//I assume, if you’re saluting him, I can sit?//
Young sent him a wave of aggravation. //Stop projecting.//
//You started it.//
//You started it, Rush.//
//You’re the one mentally annotating your reactions for my benefit.//
O’Neill and Carter exchanged a puzzled glance.
“You guys wanna maybe sit down? Sometime this century?” O’Neill asked.
“General O’Neill,” Rush said, using that liquid crystal tone of his. “How nice to see you again. We were under the impression that this meeting was in regards to an attempt to dial Destiny?” He lifted an eyebrow. “We were expecting Dr. McKay.”
//I haven't done anything. Yet.//
“Dr. Rush,” O'Neill said pleasantly. “Good to see you up and around. Don't worry about the dialing stuff—Carter can handle the science-side solo. You both look a little worse for wear. Come on, boys. Take a load off.”
They moved in tandem to sit opposite O'Neill and Carter.
“I have the feeling,” O'Neill said, eyeing the sling Young was sporting, “that I'm not up to speed on what's happened since you last reported back. After the Telford-Rush swap that crashed and burned?”
“Right an’ thanks for that, by the way,” Rush snapped. “Remarkably well conceived. I enjoy being the victim of decisions of dubious ethical quality, y’know? I really do.”
O'Neill's eyes locked on Rush. “Well you've certainly made habit of it,” he said blandly.
Rush tensed. Intricate cognitive structures annihilated in a blaze of fiery momentum. Young was getting flashes of a floor, laced with crystal. Of golden script descending dark walls. Rush wasn’t about to let that comment ride. He was already pushing to his feet.
Young reached over and clamped a hand on his forearm. //Rush.// He laced the man’s name with all the calm he could build into his projection. //He’s trying to get a rise out of you. It’s his style.//
Rush froze. His gaze flicked to Young, then back to O’Neill. He dropped back into his chair.
Little higher profile than Young would have liked—but all in all he’d count that one a win.
O’Neill was watching them. “Let’s hear that report,” was all he said.
Young described their encounter with the seed ship and the subsequent battle with the Nakai. Rush stepped in to fill in what Young had missed while he’d been unconscious. O’Neill asked for clarification on a few points before he switched gears.
“So.” O’Neill looked at Rush. “Someone needs to explain how this ‘linked to the ship’ thing works.”
Rush crossed left ankle over right knee, folded his arms, and regarded O’Neill over the tops of his glasses. “It’s an instantaneous transfer of information from a mechanical system to a biological one and vice versa.”
God he was such a math professor. Young really should have put this together years ago. It would’ve solved a lot of problems.
“I have no idea what you just said,” O’Neill remarked, bland and mild and probably feigning ignorance for show.
“Yeah,” Carter spoke up for the first time. Friendly. Reserved. “That’d be a link, all right, but how does it work?” Carter asked.
“Induced current,” Rush said softly. “Mechanical output is rendered as sensory input.”
//Anything you tell her is gonna make it back to Telford,// Young reminded him.
“Sensory input?” Carter echoed. “Can you give us an example?”
“I can hear the shield harmonics,” Rush said cautiously.
Carter flashed him a smile, trying to draw him out. “Neat. Can information be transferred the other way?”
“So,” Carter said, “you can effect systems changes just by thinking about them?”
O’Neill raised his eyebrows and gave Young a questioning look.
“Could you give us an example?” Carter asked Rush.
With a kaleidoscopic shift in what was flowing through the lattice of his firewall, Rush dimmed the room lights, then restored them to normal levels.
“That?” Carter said. “That was your example?”
“Well I’m hardly going to drop the ship out of FTL for you.” Rush shook his hair back. “What d’you want?”
“You misunderstand,” Carter said. “Dimming the lights in one room on a ship this size is extremely impressive. It indicates a fine level of control and implies a high degree of integration between you and Destiny.”
“Correct,” Rush replied.
“So,” Carter said slowly, “does this work the other way around? Meaning can the ship affect you?”
Young glanced over at him.
“It hasn’t made a habit of doing so,” Rush said, his tone dismissive. He sat back in his chair. His entire demeanor radiated confidence. His entire mind blazed with it.
As if the ship didn’t trap and manipulate his consciousness on a regular basis. As if it hadn’t forced him into the neural interface on two occasions. As if it hadn’t changed him, infected him, completely invaded his cognitive architecture.
//It’s a good question.// Young tried not to focus on his own unease.
//It’s a terrible question,// Rush shot back. //You’d better be ready for it.//
“Are you sure that you’d be aware if it were doing so?” Carter asked gently.
Rush gave her the specter of a smile. “Well, from my perspective, that’d be categorically unverifiable.”
“I’d say it’s a good sign you realize that,” Carter replied. She turned to Young. “What about you, colonel? Have you seen any evidence of the ship affecting Dr. Rush’s mental state?”
There was a long, uncomfortable silence.
//Did I, or did I not, tell you to be ready?// Rush snarled. //Say no for fuck’s sake.// The scientist’s expression stayed perfectly impassive.
“I’m—pretty worried about it,” Young confessed.
//Y’know y’make a whole fuckin’ show regarding how stolid and reliable you are,// Rush seethed, //but when push comes to shove, you’re a fucking loose cannon.//
//They’re going to hear some of this eventually,// Young shot back, trying to stay atop his intense unease, //especially if they dial in and send additional personnel. It’s better they hear at least some of it from us?//
//Easy for you to say. You’re not the one who looks compromised.//
//You are compromised, genius.//
//Fuck you, I’m not. And, if I am, you’re equally compromised. By definition.//
“You gonna elaborate?” O’Neill asked, pointedly.
God damn it.
“At a minimum,” Young said, looking at Carter, “the ship can force him into the chair.”
“How?” she asked.
“It makes him want to sit,” Young said. “It’s happened once. After Telford caused the ship-wide loss of life support. When we rebooted our systems, the AI was locked in the neural interface. He passed within a certain radius of the chair and it triggered some kind of overwhelming compulsion to use it and free the AI.”
O’Neill and Carter looked at Rush.
Rush glared at Young.
“We stopped him from sitting for about a day,” Young said, “by sedating him. But, uh, ultimately we had to let it happen. Once we did, and he unlocked the AI, it resolved.”
//Can’t you tone this down a bit?//
//I am toning it down. You don’t even remember this part anyway, do you?//
//Well, it was awful.//
//And are you hoping these two will make you feel better about it?// Rush hissed poisonously.
“Sounds inconvenient.” O’Neill crossed his arms. “It’s just happened the one time?”
“Yes,” Rush broke in smoothly, “under extenuating circumstances, brought on by a plan executed by Homeworld Command that completely disabled the ship.”
“Yeah, okay, we see your point,” O’Neill said, dryly. “Carter, do you and Rush want to start going over these plans of yours? Colonel Young and I can keep chatting.”
As Rush got to his feet, he shot Young a fiery glare. //Find out why he’s here, instead of McKay?// Rush hissed.
The two scientists left the room. The door swished shut in the middle of the first question that Carter fired at Rush.
Young and O’Neill sized one another other up in silence.
“Does it still hurt?” O’Neill’s eyes flicked to Young's arm.
“Quite a bit,” Young admitted.
“Gotta love those poisoned darts.”
Young smiled, but said nothing. He was familiar with O'Neill's folksy banter and very much aware that it concealed an extremely perceptive interior.
“So,” O'Neill said. “Sure seems like you and Rush are getting along better these days.”
Young nodded. “We're working on it.”
“I work on my shed,” O’Neill said. “Behind my lake house? The thing has three sides. It’s had three sides for, oh, years now.”
“Um,” Young began.
“Whatever that was?” O’Neill’s eyes flicked toward the door, “was a damn miracle. I sat through weekly briefings with that man for something like six months before he transferred to Icarus and I’ve never seen him put a lid on it like he did back there. You didn’t even say anything to him.”
“There aren't many people on this ship.” Young hung onto his neutral expression. “We know each other well.”
They stared at one another.
“Did somebody switch bodies?” O’Neill asked.
“Get taken over by a community of microbes? Run afoul of alien tech? Get swapped with their mirror universe counterpart? Replaced by shape shifters? Replaced by robots? I’ve seen it all, Everett. Every damn thing.”
“No body swaps,” Young said.
“I don’t like this,” O’Neill drawled. “Stop dickin’ around and tell me what the hell is going on.”
Young said nothing.
“I get we broke your trust years back. When we sent Telford to try and dial home and he almost killed everybody. And yeah. I’m sorry about that. I am. But right now, you’ve got two choices,” O’Neill said. “We have an on-the-record talk, and say nothing, or we have an off-the-record talk. And, if we do that, maybe you can stop dancing around whatever it is you’re trying like hell not to tell me?”
“Maybe,” Young said cautiously.
“Great,” O’Neill said. “I’ll go first. Off the record, that guy,” he pointed at the closed door, “is nuts.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve been trapped on a derelict starship with him for years. What’s your point?”
“But he is also,” O’Neill said, “one of Daniel Jackson’s favorite projects. You ever met the guy?”
“Jackson?” Young asked. “Two or three times. I’ve seen his videos.”
“He goes by Daniel,” O’Neill said, leaning back, arms crossed.
“Okay,” Young said.
“So, Daniel kinda adopted your angry little math guy. Before all this started. Did you know that?”
“No,” Young confessed.
“Yeah. Looks weird on the surface, but I get it. There’s more than a little bit of an overlap. Rush loses his wife, unlocks a secret alien artifact, sits at the nexus of an interdimensional war—I mean I understand the draw.”
“Back up,” Young growled. “Sits at the nexus of an interdimensional war?”
“Oh yeah,” O’Neill said, his midwestern twang making an appearance. “See, Daniel Jackson, box-opener extraordinaire, started a little kerfuffle with a group of ascended beings known as the Ori. Come on. You couldn’t have missed this.”
“I know about the Ori. Sort of the anti-Ancients? Not exactly a priority for me lately. This has what to do with Rush?”
“We think Destiny’s purpose is linked to ascension. You wanna take a fight to a higher plane of existence? That’s pretty damn hard. But it’s been done. Anubis did it. Lotta people were worried, and still are, that we might need to do it again. And Rush was more or less our guy.”
“What?” Young growled. “Why wasn’t I told any of this?”
“Oh let’s see: you turned down Icarus,” O’Neill said, counting off on his fingers, “you effectively rejected the leadership of Homeworld Command, and SG-1 has a new angle on the fight with the Ori that’s looking pretty promising. So, we might not need your guy. Telford, however, is arguing that even if the Ori thing works out, we’re always going to need to transcend our current dimension to fully defend ourselves. And the nine-chevron address? It’s supposed to be about doing just that.”
Young’s mind was reeling. In fact, he was so profoundly shaken that he got a wave of confused reassurance from Rush, who was trying to carry on a conversation with Carter about the incorporation of naquadah into Earth-based circuitry.
//?// He got a wordless wave of inquiry from the scientist.
//Telford’s project. The one about ascension. It was for the war with the Ori? Why the hell didn’t you mention this?//
//Aren’t all Air Force projects focused on nebulous wars of some kind?// Rush replied, his tone soothing and faintly perplexed.
“Wait,” Young growled, staring at O’Neill. “Wait a god damned minute. So are you telling me that one of the key point people in the war with the Ori has been in my crew? For over two years. And no one mentioned this?”
“Well,” O’Neill said philosophically, “you did tell us that you weren’t going to be subject to our authority and then you lost the guy in a rockslide. So, After he miraculously made his own way back—well, nobody really wanted to give you a bargaining chip of that magnitude, especially if Rush hadn’t mentioned it himself.”
//I cannot believe you,// Young snarled.
//I fuckin’ told you all the salient points. Sorry I didn’t explicitly mention the trans-dimensional war as motivation for fulfilling ascension benchmarks. I didn’t think it particularly relevant.//
“But now you’re telling me?” Young glared at O’Neill. “Two years in? In a random off-the-record discussion we should have had on day two of this mission?”
“This is not a random discussion,” O’Neill said, his tone even and controlled. “I’m here on behalf of Daniel Jackson. He tried to come himself, but he couldn’t. You want to know why?”
“Because he couldn’t complete the damn long distance call.” The general’s eyes blazed.
“What?” Young asked.
“Daniel couldn’t use the stones. He tried. It was supposed to be him swapping in for McKay. McKay’s listed on aaaaaalllll the official paperwork, but the plan, the whole time, was for Daniel to come. But, for some reason, it didn’t work out. I’m assuming that your chief scientist has decided not to take his calls.” O’Neill cocked his head.
//Genius,// Young growled. //What the hell?//
//What do you fuckin’ want from me? He’s expensive to host on an array. D’you think we’re made of power?//
//I cannot believe you.//
//Not a chance. You explain. Right now.//
//The AI,//Rush said, the words coming like blades of pure light, //knows Daniel Jackson well enough to impersonate him perfectly. Down to his body language. Down to his mannerisms. His verbal quirks. The physics of his ridiculous hair is perfectly rendered. It’s not pulling a template for him. It knows him. Personally. Very well. Presumably from the time period when he was ascended. It’s running a version of him backdated by several years. Should the actual man’s consciousness arrive here? I cannot. Predict. What it might do. Do not call attention to this. Minimize. Distract O’Neill, and hope for the fuckin’ best.//
“EVERETT,” O’Neill shouted, half out of his seat, waving his hand in front of Young’s face
“Sorry,” Young said, startled.
//Nicely done,// Rush said acidly, then flipped his attention back to Carter.
“Did your poison dart deal come with a free concussion? What the hell was that?”
“I’m fine,” Young said. “Or, actually turns out I, uh, I do have a concussion. Our medic took me out of the duty roster today.”
“Well why the hell are you here, then?”
“Trying to be accommodating.”
“Nice of you.” O’Neill dropped back into his seat.
Young steadied himself. He took a breath. “No idea why Jackson can’t use the stones,” he managed. “I doubt it was Rush.”
“So it was—it’s Jackson who wants me to know all this?” Young asked.
“Yup. Daniel and Telford are in a little bit of a power struggle right now. Over a lot of things. One of them is your chief scientist. Telford has been waging a one-sided PR campaign against you. He’s met privately with several of the more prominent IOA members, arguing for your replacement. I don’t know the specifics of what he's saying behind closed doors, but he's got Senator Armstrong's widow firmly on his side. Fortunately for you, the further he goes with this, the more teed off Daniel gets. He’s about ready to start a counter-campaign on your behalf.”
“Nice of him.”
“Oh you have no idea,” O’Neill said darkly.
“This may sound blunt.” Young tried to keep his tone even and his heart rate down. “But why should I care?”
“You should care,” O'Neill said, “because if Carter’s resupply mission successfully dials Destiny, it's very likely we'll be sending personnel. You can guess who wants to be first on that list.”
“There are no grounds for Telford to replace me,” Young said, struggling to stay atop the conversation, let alone the situation. “Last time I checked, I still outranked him.”
“Yeah. Still true. And if he were trying to make his case by critiquing your track record, he probably wouldn’t succeed, because it’s actually pretty good, aside from one or two spectacular screw-ups.” O'Neill gave Young a significant look. “But that's not the case he's making.”
“What case is he making?” Young asked.
“He's arguing that you’re not taking full advantage of Destiny’s potential. That you don't have the scientific personnel or the vision to investigate the nature of Destiny's mission, and any gains in technology or understanding are of very limited scope. He’s, uh, he’s also been doing a slow pivot on Rush for a little while now.”
“Meaning?” Young kept his tone neutral.
“Meaning he’s arguing that whatever connection Rush has made with the ship represents real progress. That you and Rush are a bad match. He’s arguing that Rush needs more support.”
“So send some scientists,” Young growled. “Unless Telford’s earned a PhD in theoretical physics in the past two years, I don't see how he's going to contribute anything.”
“Telford’s track record on scientific missions is better than the official version of his resume might indicate. He’s popular with the science guys. He’s gotten in with them.”
“Yeah,” Young muttered. “He does that.”
“He and Rush worked together on another project before he was offered the command that you turned down,” O’Neill said. “It was focused on investigating the scientific basis of ascension, and it was closely related to Icarus.”
They regarded each other in silence.
“Off the record,” Young said quietly, “I've recently become aware of that.”
“How? Rush told you?” O’Neill leaned over the table, his weight on his forearms. “About his genetics? The Anubis detour we took before the LA could beat us to it?
“So—between the war with the Ori and his track record with ascension—you understand why Telford has an actionable case for leading the Resupply Mission?”
“How has he not been labeled a security risk and pulled an assignment cleaning floors at the Antarctic base by now?” Young growled. “Explain that to me. That secret, nameless project? It was a failure. It did nothing but traumatize a UC Berkeley math professor.”
O’Neill sighed. “This is the part I wish Daniel was here for—but if Rush is linked to the ship in some kind of mystical way—it starts to look a hell of a lot more like Telford’s initial project wasn’t a failure. And that’s exactly what he’s now arguing.”
“Is there any way to keep from coming aboard during a resupply mission?” Young asked.
O'Neill sighed. “Give me something I can use,” he said. “Give me some evidence of wrongdoing under his own power, and Daniel will fight like hell to make it stick. He’s got a good shot. Better than anyone else.”
“Rush has something on Telford.”
“Why does that not surprise me?” O'Neill sighed. “What kind of 'something' are we talking about?”
O’Neill’s leaned into his forearms, braced against the table. “What!?” he snapped. “When I said ‘give me something I can use,’ I was thinking more along the lines of tax evasion or—” O’Neill broke off.
Young watched him turn something over in his mind.
“When did this happen?” O’Neill asked.
“It happened,” Young said, “on an off-world base belonging to Anubis, while using a piece of equipment meant to change the electrophysiology of his brain.”
“Yeah,” O’Neill said. He stood and paced over to the nearest wall. “I was afraid of that.” He turned back to Young. “How the hell did you get him to tell you? Daniel took three personal days to sit with the guy on Icarus. Daniel asked him, directly, what Telford had done. Over and over. He got nothing out of him. Zip. Nada. You want to explain why the man finally tells you of all people?”
“He didn't tell me,” Young said quietly. “I saw it.”
“What do you mean you 'saw' it?” O'Neill snapped.
“I pulled him out of the neural interface chair. As a—side effect of that, I saw a few of his memories. That was one.”
“Telford and Rush were alone in that lab. They used the device. It discharged. It did something. But afterwards—there was this electroconductive gel. It seemed to, maybe, be part of the process. Anyway. Telford held him under. Effectively, he drowned him in it.”
“Question for you,” O’ Neill said, glaring at Young. “What the hell is wrong with him? A colonel in the United States Air Force tries to murder him, and he says nothing? That’s. Not. Normal. If Rush had just told us about this, we might have at least detected the brainwashing at a point before the Icarus project was hopelessly compromised? It's not like the man had no evidence. We have a Tok'ra device that allows cognitive testimony!”
“Did he know that?” Young asked.
“Yes, Daniel damn well told him! About eighty times!” O’Neill paced back to the table and sat. “I’ll lay it out for you, Everett. If Homeworld Command makes a successful dial-in to Destiny I don’t think I can prevent Telford from leading the team. I doubt Daniel can either. Maybe if he can end the war with the Ori. Maybe. But even then—higher dimensional warfare is on a lot of people’s radar.”
Young propped his good elbow against the arm of his chair and dropped his forehead into his hand. He looked up at O’Neill. “If you send him, the chain of command needs to be very clear. He needs to be heading an independent research team, stationed on my base.”
“That, we can probably swing,” O’Neill said.
Young clenched his jaw. “As far as timing goes, I need to think about this,” he said.
“There’s nothing to think about,” O’Neill said. “If the IOA decides to send personnel, you’re stuck with Telford.”
“Pending the results of this feasibility assessment.” Young got to his feet.
“True,” O’Neill said dryly.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Young said, “I have something to attend to.”
“You walk a fine line, Everett,” O’Neill said. “You have from the beginning. It’s one of the reasons Daniel’s decided he likes you. Fine lines go interesting places.”
“Tell Jackson thanks,” Young said.
“Sure, but, fair warning, he’s gonna be real upset you didn’t call him Daniel.”
“Permission to—” Young got to his feet.
“Go,” O’Neill said.
//Rush,// he projected as soon as he was out of the room.
//I’m occupied at the moment, try conversing with yourself for a change.// Rush was with Carter, in the gate room. They were shoulder-to-shoulder, flat on their backs against the deck plating, looking up into the inner workings of Destiny’s equivalent of a DHD. Eli was seated on the floor nearby, cross-legged, with his computer on his lap.
“—I understand what you mean,” Carter said. “My god, that’s phenomenal. You can see the evolution toward zero point module technology at play in the system that powers the gate—it’s not all the way there, but they mostly had it.”
//Rush. Seriously. We need to talk. Right the hell now. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that you were the god damned lynchpin of a god damned war effort. You complete maniac. No wonder Telford managed to get the IOA so up in arms. Get out of there.// Young headed toward the gate room at a fast walk. //Right now.//
The scientist sent him a wave of irritated acknowledgement.
“I agree,” Rush replied. “As you can see, the platform isn’t entirely crystal based—it’s a hybrid technology, bridging the older system based on the use of a Naquadah alloy with the more sophisticated crystal-based control interfaces you see on say, Atlantis.”
“Aren’t we feeling talkative today?” Eli commented.
“You’re lucky you aren’t cleaning the sediment out of the CO2 scrubbers,” Rush snapped.
//Rush,// Young growled. As he passed the mess, he broke into a slow jog.
“The gate itself is different as well, isn’t it?” Carter asked. “The architecture of the dialing hardware is unique.”
The gem twist spiral of Rush’s cognition shifted in a direct response to her question. From their link, Young got overtones of admiration and—the scientist was enjoying this. He liked Carter. The SGC’s key tactical chess piece in a transdimensional war was having a nice afternoon. That was great.
That was just goddamned great.
No wonder the SGC had taken Rush so seriously at the beginning. No wonder they’d been so hesitant to dial the damn gate in either direction. No wonder Young had been told to make the best of it—to try to create teams and explore the ship and focus on exploration in addition to gating home. No wonder Homeworld Command had always seemed err on the side of backing Rush. They’d gotten the guy they’d wanted to the place they’d wanted him to be.
Getting the crew home had never been a real priority. For anyone but Young.
“Very true, colonel,” Rush said. “You spotted that remarkably quickly.”
//Rush,// Young growled. //Stop science-flirting with Carter and get out of there.//
//Maybe Eli is rubbing off on you.//
“Well, I’ve been under the hood of half the DHDs in the Milky Way. Call me Sam.”
“Nick,” Rush said, glancing at her.
//Nick?// Young projected in frank disbelief. //You spend ten minutes with her and she gets to call you Nick?//
//Are you fuckin’ envious?//
//No,// Young growled, coming to a stop just outside the gateroom doors. //Just get out here, will you?// He leaned against the bulkhead glaring at the closed doors.
“Pardon me for a moment.” Rush slid from beneath the console. “I’m sure Eli can answer any questions that might arise in my absence, if you can stand to listen to a three-to-one ratio of meaningless pop-culture references to actual scientific content.”
“Meaningless?” Eli called after him. “You should see some of the kino footage I didn’t show, you ungrateful—”
The door swished open and Rush strode out of the gateroom, leaning on a crutch, moving with grace, edged with the fire of his own cognitive architecture.
Young didn’t move. His arms were crossed and he gazed at Rush steadily from beneath his eyebrows. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Shall we just skip to the part where you tell me?” Rush asked.
“Why didn’t you disclose your tactical importance?” Young growled.
“Disclose my tactical importance? To whom? For what? Fuckin’ when? An’ what the fuck does it matter? My tactical importance, to you, is and has always been at the absolute apex of whatever hierarchy you’d care to build. Do you—”
“Bullshit,” Young snarled.
“Do you speak Ancient?” Rush seethed. “Can you repair a damaged starship? Can you open locked doors. Can you maintain weapons. Can you restore shields? Can y’figure out what’s fuckin’ wrong with the fuckin’ scrubbers for the CO-fuckin’-2? No,” Rush hissed. “Has any of that, ever, mattered to you? No. So I’ve no earthly idea what you’re so upset about now. Some theoretical front in a war a universe away? What could it possibly matter?”
“I,” Young said, trying to keep his voice down, “cannot help you if you don’t tell me what’s happening.”
“I don’t need your help,” Rush matched his tone, right down to Young’s semi-hysterical frustration. “You need my help. That is your primary blind spot.”
“Telford is back at Homeworld Command arguing that you, you personally, are supposed to be taking humanity up a level. In such a way that gives us an advantage when it comes to a war with a higher plane. If that’s the case he’s making to the IOA? Your tactical importance is astronomical. No wonder he’s gotten so much traction. No wonder he hasn’t been reassigned. Icarus isn’t just a science project gone wrong, which was how it was presented to me. It’s much more than that.”
Rush threw up a hand in disgust and turned back to the gateroom.
Young grabbed his upper arm and pulled him back. “Genius. Come on. We need time to work this out. Find a reason to stall.”
“Why?” Rush hissed. “We need a supply line.”
“Not yet we don’t,” Young said, “and any supply line we get? Is going to come with David Telford.”
“He’s replacing you?” This seemed to set Rush back. “They have no grounds—”
“Grounds? Rush, they are fighting a war with the Ori. And yeah. Maybe, maybe Jackson and O’Neill can keep them from replacing me, but, if he comes here, apparently, he’s coming for you. To complete that god damn project the pair of you were working on.”
“Well, courtesy of this ship, that project has, essentially, been completed. He won’t have anything to do.”
“Rush,” Young growled. “You’re not taking this seriously.”
Rush glared at him. “You want a technical problem with their feasibility assessment? Certainly. I’ve got one for you. We’ll call it: no-one-gates-onto-Destiny-without-the-express-permission-of-Dr.-Nicholas-fucking-Rush. Will that work?”
“No.” Young shook the guy, once. Hard.
Eyes livid, Rush pointed two fingers straight at him in clear warning. “Back off.”
Young let him go, palm up.
They stared at one another, breathing hard. He felt Rush make an organized effort to calm down, threading his agitation out beyond his firewall, looping it back in, creating a pattern that threaded from the physical to the metaphysical and back.
Young took a breath. Then another. “Sorry,” he said. “I don’t know where that came from.”
Rush pressed two fingers to the space between his eyebrows. “Don’t you?” He looked up at Young, sighed, and raised his hand. “Hold still, please, and don’t do anything exciting. Think of hockey. Or some kind of sport. Cars. F-302s. Whatever the fuck it is you enjoy thinking about.”
The scientist swept into his mind, drawing Young directly into his elaborate, balanced spiral of mental light. Young could feel subtle streamers of flickering energy shoring up his own mental patterns.
“Genius,” Young said. “You’re not burning the candle at both ends. You melted the candle down, cut up the wick, and used the wax to create about ten new candles. Stop it. I don’t need this. I’m not upset because I’m mentally injured, or whatever. I’m upset because you’re driving me crazy.”
“False dichotomy,” Rush said, pulling his hand away from Young’s temple.
“You’re a false dichotomy,” Young muttered.
“What’s your primary objection to Telford coming aboard?” Rush asked.
“Do you even have to ask? The man tried to murder you.”
“It’s not as if he didn’t have a reason,” Rush said, pathologically calm. “He probably won’t do it again.”
“Probably? I don’t want him anywhere near you.”
“That’s your main objection? Seriously? I’d’ve gone for his dubious loyalty to Stargate Command and his long history with the Lucian Alliance, but—”
“Stop trying to pretend it doesn’t matter to you,” Young said.
Young sighed. “Stall them.”
Rush looked at him evenly, his hair falling in an unruly fringe that brushed the frames of his glasses. “Is that an order, colonel?”
Young sighed. “No. It’s a suggestion.”
“Well then.” Rush arched a brow. “Consider it done.”