Force over Distance: Chapter 31

“Who said y'could call me Nick?” Rush asked.

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

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

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 31

Young, on his back and half inside a bulkhead, wielded a portable welder Brody had liberated from the machine shop. The flame heated the enclosed space and carved out a small blind spot in his visual field. Sparks rained around him, impacting the deck and fading to nothing as he worked.

His radio crackled. “Colonel Young, this is Eli.”

He snapped off the welder and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Go ahead.”

“We’ll be emerging from the star in about ten minutes.”

“How’s our power level?”

“We’re at one hundred percent, backups fully charged. Hopefully we don’t have to use it all up in a firefight to get out of here.”

“Agreed,” Young muttered. “I’ll be right there,” he said into the radio. He hauled himself out of the wall and scanned the corridor, looking for someone to take over the welding job.

Brody came around a corner, his expression harassed, a dark strip of grease over one cheekbone. “I heard.” He indicated Young’s radio with his eyes and jogged the last few steps to take the welder. “I got it.”

Young clapped him on the shoulder.

When he arrived on the bridge, he found Wray in his usual spot. At his approach, she slid gracefully out of the command chair.

“You can sit, you know.”

“That’s okay,” she replied. “Not my style.”

“All this?” Young waved a hand to take in the bridge, glowing red-gold in the light of the star. “It’s just ‘organizing,’ y’know.” He dropped into the chair.

She gave him a small smile.

“Think about it,” he said mildly.

“Maybe I will,” Wray replied.

“How long?” Young asked the room at large.

“Six minutes until we emerge.” Chloe looked back over her shoulder. “Hi colonel.”

Young nodded at her.

Wray positioned herself at his elbow. “There’s a rumor that Rush is in the neural interface.”

“Yup,” Young replied. “He’s been there for the past five hours.”

“Five hours?” Wray echoed, dismayed. “That’s an awfully long time.”

“We’ll need him when we come out of the star,” Young growled. “While the drive powers up, we’ll be vulnerable to attack.” He paused, then added, “I’m not happy about it.”

Arches and columns of plasma shifted in the forward view as Chloe navigated vast solar architectures.

“It wasn’t my intent to sound—accusatory,” Wray said softly.

“I didn’t mean to sound—defensive.”

“I’m sure you’re doing your best. I’m sure you both are.”

“I really don’t want him in there,” Young admitted, quiet enough for only Wray to hear.

“His interface with the ship is a difficult idea to get used to,” Wray murmured, “and you have a front row seat.”

“Yeah,” Young whispered.

As Wray watched the plasma vortices through the forward view, the glow from the sun put a gold cast on her hair. “Did you ever find out what happened between him and Colonel Telford?”

“I did.”

Wray said nothing.

Young said nothing.

“That bad?” she asked.


She nodded. “Any chance you might consider telling me the specifics? I heard Telford’s on the list of people they’ll send if Homeworld Command figures out how to dial in. The more I know, the better my odds are of getting him knocked off that list.”

“Camile.” Young’s throat closed. “I wish you could. But I don’t think anything in this universe is gonna be enough to stop Telford if the Resupply Mission gets off the ground.”

She studied him in the bronze light. “You need someone to talk to.”

Young watched the last of the giant plasma arches pass overhead as they approached the star’s corona. “I have plenty of people to talk to.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

“I can talk to TJ.”

“No, you can’t. Not really.” She brushed her hair back.

He didn’t reply.

“Maybe we start up our weekly meetings again.” Wray gave him a faint smile. “Maybe we call them ‘coffee’?”

“Maybe.” Young tried to keep his tone light, but his thoughts strayed to Rush, to their damaged link that was, probably, about half an hour away from reasserting itself with a vengeance. “Thanks.”

“Three minutes until we clear the corona,” Chloe announced.

Swirls of plasma snaked over the hull as the ship hurtled through the outer edge of the photosphere.

“We have sensors back yet?” Young directed the question at Eli.

“Aaaaaany second now. Yup. Okay. We’ve got ‘em. And crap. I’m picking up two, nope, make that three Nakai ships. They’re about 600 kilometers to port and, uh, kinda under us? Chloe, I’m sending you the raw data if you wanna throw up probability versus location. Estimates won’t sharpen until we clear the corona. And, yeah, we also have drones, but they’re where we would have exited had we kept our original trajectory—so, humans one, cylons zero.”

Overhead, Chloe projected a three-dimensional map. The star glowed a pale orange. Destiny was rendered in green. The probability clouds for the positions of drone ships and Nakai vessels were an amorphous blue. “We’ve got a debris radius,” Chloe said, as it appeared in red relief above them, “I’m not picking up the signal from the shuttle. They must’ve triggered it.”

“Did we take out one of their ships?” Young asked.

“We did,” Chloe confirmed.

“RIP, little shuttle,” Eli murmured. “You did good.”

“I’m getting real vectors; the Nakai are moving to intercept.” Volker raised his voice to be heard over the trill of a proximity alert. Overhead, Chloe’s clouds of blue began resolving into discrete ships.

“What’s the status of our FTL drive?” Young called back to Park.

“We can’t power it up until we’re out of the coronasphere,” she replied. “Two minutes.”

“Don’t think they can catch us in two minutes,” Eli said.

“You don’t think so?” Young growled.

“The ships themselves can’t, but if they launch fighters—”

“Aaaand,” Volker interjected, “that’s what they just did. We’ve got incoming. Twenty, maybe thirty ships? They just showed up on short-range.”

“What’s the power expenditure for firing versus relying on shields?” Young asked the room.

“Shields are better,” Eli said, his voice rising warningly.

“Shields,” Chloe snapped.

“Yeah,” Park agreed. “Engaging the primary array will cost us a chunk of power. Up to five percent of our current total, for an average firing time of twenty seconds.”

“If we want to try and cut down their numbers, this seems like a good time,” Wray said softly. “They’ve got to be as far from home as we are if they’ve been following this ship for, what, millennia?”

“Bold move,” Young said quietly. “But we’re not in the best shape ourselves at the moment. We’ve got two hull breaches and a guy in a chair.”

“Fair enough,” Wray replied.

“Are we at maximum sublight?” Young asked the room.

“We’re pushing it as much as we can,” Eli replied. “We’ve even got thrusters firing along our calculated trajectory.”

“One minute until we clear the corona,” Chloe called.

In the forward view, irregular curls of plasma gave way to the dark of interstellar space.

“The leading edge is within firing range,” Volker shouted, over a cascade of alarms.

The shields flared as bombardment commenced. Explosions of blue and green, rose and lavender, white and gold, flowered along the protective plane beyond the hull.

“It’s beautiful, in a way,” Wray whispered.

Against the firegarden of enemy energy, adjacent to Chloe’s station, Young saw a familiar silhouette. Rush stood like Jackson—both arms wrapped around his chest, his shoulders hunched, his head bowed, his gaze angled up to watch the assault on the shields. Young couldn’t make out his expression. In the next instant, he was gone.

“In a way,” Young echoed, rubbing his jaw.

“FTL is spooling up,” Park said.

Young felt a subtle vibration, deep in the deck plating. The transition to FTL was particularly spectacular as the swirl of stars distorted the rain of enemy fire. Once the starscape stabilized, the bridge breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“Good work, people.” Young looked at Wray. “You wanna hold the fort?”

“Me?” Wray lifted a brow.

“Just don’t ‘organize’ anything too exciting.” Young stood. “Scott’ll be here in ninety minutes or so. I’ve got a few things to take care of.”

“I imagine you do.” She retrieved Rush’s jacket from the floor, gave it a single expert fold, and offered it to Young.

“Thanks,” he said.

“You’re welcome.”

“Wray has the bridge,” Young called over his shoulder.

“Captain Camile,” Eli said, as the doors swished shut. “It’s got a nice ring.”

As he walked the halls, Young saw signs of restored power everywhere. The lighting was bright. The corridors were warm. On his way to the chair room, Young checked in with Brody to find out if there were any catastrophes waiting in the wings. The answer to that seemed to be no.

All in all, it seemed like a great time to kickstart a terrible night.

His chief scientist had done a real number on himself: physical injury, sleep deprivation, and link damage were all in the mix. And, because it was Rush, there’d probably be a few gut-wrenching surprises sprinkled in. It’d take days to sort out everything the man had done. And it would be miserable. Physically miserable. Mentally miserable. Socially miserable. Tactically miserable. For both of them.

But that was fine.

He could handle it.

When he entered the neural interface room, he found the lights low, despite restored ship-wide power. Greer, posted next to the door, snapped to attention. He was missing his jacket.

Young eyed the sergeant’s T-shirt.

“Jacket’s on loan.” Greer’s gaze flicked to the center of the room.

Young steeled himself and looked to the chair.

Where, yeah, UC Berkeley’s most widely travelled math professor was locked into a piece of alien tech. Blue-lit bolts at his temples shone through the fringe of his hair. Greer’s military-issue jacket was spread over his shoulders.

Young had the overwhelming urge get his hands on the man. To haul him out of that alien interface and never let him near the thing again. For the rest of his natural life.

“Not sure how helpful it was,” Greer said, “but it was cold as hell when we got here.”

“What?” Young rasped.

“The jacket,” Greer explained. “I was talking about the jacket, sir?”

“Right,” Young said. “Sorry. Speaking of, hang onto his for a few minutes, will you?” He handed Rush’s jacket to Greer.

The sergeant slung it over one shoulder. “You gonna pull him out?”

Young nodded.

“You want TJ here?”

“No,” Young said, “it went fine last time.”

“Did it?” Greer asked, an edge to his tone. “I seem to recall you out cold on the floor, sir.”

Young gave the man a hint of a smile. “I’ve noticed an uptick in insubordinate remarks, sergeant. Not your usual style.”

“No sir.” Greer’s pose crisped up.

“At ease,” Young said.

“Sir,” Greer said, “with respect? When this mission started, I was in the brig for decking a superior officer.”

Young snorted. “Point taken.”

“I’ll follow people right to the edge of the damn universe, if they’re worth following,” Greer said quietly.

“Doesn’t count if they drag you there,” Young muttered, looking at Rush.

“I was talking about you, sir,” Greer said.

Young gave him a small smile. “Terrible plan, sergeant.” He clapped the man on the shoulder, then headed for the waiting obsidian panel.

As soon as he pressed his palm down, the room tore away like a veil over a void. In a space that wasn’t a space, Young shone like a torch, bright and whole and tied to a network of light-limned edge. It was Rush’s mind that gave this place texture. It was Rush’s mind that gave this place depth. It was Rush’s mind that brought the spark-wind current that lit the dark. The shadow/shine blend of the network was beautiful. Complex. Evolving. Alien.

Young didn’t like it.

He began prying it apart. Light from dark, edge from shadow.

It resisted.

It resisted with a multihued flare of defensive energy. Distributed. Adaptive. Firing through the whole spectrum of visible light. The thing was running a variation on a Nick Rush firewall.

It was trying to keep him out.

Young paused, watching light, tracking movement.

The scientist’s mind was dispersed, but Young sensed its familiar spiral. The way it moved. He traced gradients. He traced patterns of flow. He mapped the terrain. He looked for a place to drop a block that would kill the running firewall.

Finally, he found it. A bright flow of energy, welling from shadow.

Young slid a block into the three-dimensional representation of that dark/light fountain.

This time, when he pried up Rush’s edges, they came without resistance. He tore the scientist free with a sharp, clean pain. There and gone.

Rush and the ship split along predetermined lines, the way an orange might, if it were ripe enough.

Young opened his eyes to the crack of the neural interface bolts disengaging.

A firestorm of psychic agony tore into his awareness. There was no structure to what he was being hit with: alien images and language, memories of Gloria on Destiny and off, memories of Jackson on Destiny and off, crystals like choirs, code like chimes.

“Oh god.” Young staggered against the chair.

“Sir?” Greer was at his shoulder, holding him upright. “You all right? That—that took some time.”

Young nodded wordlessly. He leaned into Greer. He couldn’t catch his breath. The solidity of his own cognition was swept into whatever was happening on the other side of the link. He couldn’t focus. His chest was tight; his heart pounded.

“Doc,” Greer hissed, still supporting Young. “You wanna snap out of it and help?”

Rush blinked up at them.

The scientist’s presence blurred as he pulled back from places Young hadn’t known he was— subterranean mental roads lined with his particular fractal lace, his particular mental ache. Rush’s thoughts revolved in a slow, incomprehensible spiral. Glassy. Brittle. Unfocused. Telegraphing nothing but pain and disorganized snippets of memory. Young didn’t like the feeling of the withdrawal. He tried, ineffectively, to pull the scientist back in, but it was like trying to grip mist, haul light.

Young slowed his breathing, got his feet beneath him, and pulled away from Greer. “I’m okay, sergeant.”

Greer shot him a wary look, but let him go.

Young stepped around the chair and put himself in front of Rush. He kept his hand on the scientist’s shoulder. “Hey,” he said, still breathless. “What the hell did you just do?”

Rush looked up at him with a polite, glazed expression. “When?”


“I don’ think ‘now’ exists.”

“Oh yeah?” Young asked gently. “Well, I didn’t think you could duck my questions any harder, but here we are.”

Rush blinked at him.

Young angled the man’s jaw, studying the puncture wounds left by the device. “Why’d you ask ‘when’ if you don’t think there’s a ‘now’?”

“What?” Rush pushed his eyebrows together and gave Young a pained look from beneath the fringe of his hair.

He brushed Rush’s hair out of his eyes. “Genius. You did something that helped me. Not thirty seconds ago. You’re still doing it. That’s what I’m asking you about.”

“But I wasn’t helping you.” Rush looked up at Young like he was making an honest-to-god effort to clarify something. “I stopped not helping you.”

“Okay, uh, thanks. But you can stop stopping not helping.”

Rush frowned at Young. Then he looked to Greer. For advice.

“Y’got me, doc,” Greer said. “Sir, you sure you’re all right?”

I’m fine,” Young growled.

“Doc, would he know if he’s fine?” Greer glanced uneasily at Young.

“No.” The word came slow, and almost wistful. “I really don’t think so.”

“Yes. I would know.” Young put some steel into his tone and eyed Greer. “I’m fine, sergeant.” He switched his gaze to Rush. “You’re doing something. You are pulled back, genius. Blurred out. I don’t have a good sense of your mind right now. It’s not a firewall. It’s something else.”

“I’m interfering,” Rush said. “With my own signal.”

Cut it out,” Young growled.


“Why not?” Young said, through clenched teeth.

“Y’can’t tolerate the raw EM input,” Rush said vaguely, his focus out beyond Young’s shoulder.

Young fought through a landslide of frustration. “Hey.” He leaned in. “Eyes right here. Look at me. Stop interfering, genius. Right now. I’m fine. I can take it.”

“I don’t think so,” Rush whispered.

And Young knew that goddamned tone.

He bit back a growl and tried to get some tactical patience to kick in. He’d damn well be getting his way. It was just gonna take time. And finesse. The guy was a civilian. He was a math professor. Not five minutes ago he’d been bolted into the chair he was sitting in.

Gently, Young took Rush’s jaw in hand, forced the scientist into eye-contact, and said, “Focus on me. Block the room.”

The schematic of their link fired up with disorienting speed and intensity.

An echo of his own surprise reverberated across their link and faded to nothing. Rush’s mind was blur and mist, but the network itself was glassy, brittle, and underpowered. Full of resistance and counterbalanced agonies. Nothing was traversable. No loops were possible. Even the hyperfocus required to visualize the link was painful.

This was gonna be absolute hell to work with.

Young banished the schematic by wrenching his focus to his own physical body. The room reasserted itself.

The scientist shivered, took a breath, and turned his head out of Young’s grip. His thoughts, artificially distant, resumed their slow and glassy swirl. He eyed Young suspiciously, as though confused about what’d just happened.

“Sorry.” Young swept the scientist’s hair out of his eyes. “You okay?”

“Yes,” Rush whispered, pressing fingertips to his temples, as though he could use the pressure of his hands to order his mind. “I think so.”

“Let’s get you out of here.” Slowly, Young pulled Rush to his feet and stabilized him against a wave of vertigo. “Give him a minute,” he murmured, as Greer shook out the scientist’s jacket.

Greer nodded. “You’re pretty quiet, doc. Say something science-y.”

“Fuck off,” Rush replied.

“Sure,” Greer said, as he eased the man into his jacket. “But, question for ya. Fuck off in respect to what frame of reference?”

Rush smiled faintly, but didn’t answer.

“C’mon,” Young drew the scientist’s arm over his shoulder and helped him off the chair platform. “Let’s get you some dinner.”

“Don’t forget the Fakeorade,” Greer muttered, on Rush’s opposite side.

“This doesn’t seem right to me.” Rush’s gaze swept the walls, the floors, the dim lights of the neural interface room.

“Dial back that interference, maybe,” Young said mildly.

“You did something.” Rush slowed, critically eyeing a blank wall.

“Let’s go,” Young said, pulling him toward the door. “You’re exhausted. You need to sleep for about a week.”

“Exhausted?” the scientist repeated, “are y’sure?” he eyed Young skeptically. “I don’ think that happens to me.”

“Everyone gets tired, doc.” Greer hit the door controls. “Even you.”

They stepped into the hall. The corridor lights dimmed of their own volition.

“Why does it look like this?” The scientist studied the hallway with confusion-laced disapproval.

Young, uneasy, moved in on Rush’s thoughts, trying to match the guy’s perception and figure out what the scientist was seeing. But it was a no go. Way too much interference to get anything except—

UC Berkeley, the math building, lines and angles in a sea of fog, and Gloria, dressed in a pale blue coat, her hair long, curling in the damp. “I love a city on the sea,” she whispers, her hand on his elbow.

A long hallway, full of light and lined with sonic crystal where Samantha Carter stands, wearing clothes of Ancient cut, her eyes the shimmer blue of water. “A forever ship,” she says, flinging another gift into the universal dark.

“Genius,” Young said, bracing himself. “What’s the last thing you remember? Before you sat in the chair?”

“The last? Temporal sequencing’s hard for me, you know that,” Rush replied.

“Give it a shot, doc,” Greer said. “Last thing you remember.”

“Those unaffected by the virus sealed themselves in the heart of Atlantis and left. There was no consensus reached regarding the correct course of action and so,” the scientist paused wistfully, and, through his misted interference, Young saw a city with a star drive, floating on a moonlit sea. “We let them go.”

What,” Greer said.

“Yeah,” Young said. “Okay.”

He should’ve expected this. He should’ve damn well realized right away that sitting in the chair for five hours was only gonna make matters worse, a lot worse, when he finally cut Rush off from the energy he’d been relying on for days now.

“That wasn’t correct?” the scientist asked. “If it doesn’t involve Nicholas Rush directly, it should be algorithmically excluded?” The guy looked like he was really interested in Young’s answer. His eyes were glassy. There was a sheen of sweat on his forehead. His breathing was fast and shallow. And—he was warm. Too warm.

“Yeah.” Young shifted his weight and pulled the scientist in. “That’s probably a safe bet.”

“He looks bad,” Greer said tightly.

“Yup.” Young backed Rush against the wall of the corridor. “Hey, genius, let’s sit down for a minute.”

The scientist looked at him skeptically.

“C’mon.” Young put pressure on the man’s shoulders, hoping he’d get the idea. “We’re sitting down. Right now.”

“Why?” Rush asked.

“We just are.” Young stepped in, grabbed a handful of the man’s jacket, and used his knee to create a point of leverage. He pressed the man off his center of gravity and controlled his slide down the wall.

“I need a minute with him.” Young looked up at Greer. “Get TJ. Tell her to bring her bag.”

The sergeant nodded and took off down the hall.

Young crouched next to the scientist. “Rush.” The man didn’t look at him. His gaze was on the empty air. The god damned AI was probably in the mix. Great. Young snapped his fingers. “Rush. C’mon. Eyes right here. What happened?”

“That’s a poorly formulated question,” Rush whispered.

“Shit.” Young smoothed the man’s hair back. “I think I did this.”

“Yes,” Rush breathed, “everything was fine before you.”

“You gotta sharpen up, genius,” Young said. “I need answers from you. Do you know your name?”

There was an uncomfortably long pause before Rush said, “Nick.”

“Okay, good. You know where you are?”


“What year is it?”

“What calendar are y’using?”

“The normal one. The Earth one.”

“Mmm—th’first or second decade of the second millennium? Third millennium? Second. Common era.”

“Uh, not your best work, but I’ll take it. Do you know who I am?”

“Colonel Young.”

“Good,” Young said quietly. “You were getting energy from Destiny, you remember that?”

“I think something’s wrong with me?”

“Yeah, I told you. You’re really fucking tired.” Young tried to keep his anxiety under control.

“Sorry, I didn’t think tha’ could be it,” Rush slurred.

“Ugh, genius you are killing me,” Young whispered. He ran a hand through the man’s bangs. A thin sheen of sweat had already started to dampen his hair. “You are really out of it.”

Rush’s gaze drifted to the left. Probably, he was looking at the AI again. Young wondered what the hell it was saying. Nothing good.

He wrapped his hand around the back of Rush’s neck and angled the scientist’s face towards him. “Nick,” he growled, and Rush’s eyes snapped back to him. “Focus up. When you were getting energy from Destiny, what were you using it for?”

“Improving our radius,” Rush said.

“Okay, good. What else?”

“Not sleeping.”

“Yeah.” Young rolled his eyes. “That, I knew. What else?”

“Fixing things.”

“What kind of things?”

“Like—every broken thing,” Rush said earnestly.

“How many of those ‘broken things’ were in your own brain?”

“Some,” Rush murmured. His attention was, again, out in the empty air over Young’s left shoulder.

Hey.” Young shook him, once. “Look at me.”

“Hi,” Rush said, taken aback.

“Genius, are you out of it because you have a fever, or because your brain is falling apart?”

“I have a fever?”

“Yeah,” Young murmured. “I think it’s pretty high. Were you firewalling on that, too? Along with your pain control, were you doing some kind of viral control?”

“Ah, yes. I think so. Except the reverse.”

“The reverse?” Young growled.

“Well, I wasn’t controlling the virus,” Rush said, with a crushing mix of disdain, confusion and exhaustion. “How would that work?”

“So—what?” Young growled. “You were undercutting your own immune system?”

Rush looked at him, confused. “Y’knew that. Y’said it. The energy from the ship was facilitating the changes? How th’fuck did y’think it worked?”

Young tried to shove down his frustration and his anxiety and his building anger. The situation had spun out of control sometime last week and he hadn’t noticed. Or, rather, he’d noticed, but he hadn’t realized what the hell he was looking at.

“When you were fixing things—Rush, what were you fixing.”


“What do you mean ‘when’?”

“I fix a lot of things,” Rush said, annoyed.

“We’re talking about the energy you were getting from Destiny. Were you using it to hold any mental structures in place?”

“Yeah. I built scaffolding. Cognitive scaffolds.” Rush gestured earnestly, his fingers forming a lattice.

“Rush, c’mon. I don’t know what that means.”

“Yes well. Y’wouldn’t, would you? You can’t see. Scaffolding isn’t meant to be permanent. That’s not it’s nature.” Rush’s tone had turned condescending. “Y’can’t build something from nothing, can you?”

“No?” Young had no idea what he was talking about.

“It’ll be fine. I made sure of that.”

“What else were you using the energy for?” Young growled.

“Not sleeping.”

“Yeah we talked about that one. What else.”

“Not eating.”

“Not—shit. Why? Do I have to watch you all the god damned time?”

“You’d do th’same thing if you could. Those rations are intolerable.”

Young shut his eyes and did his best not to shake the man. “You’re such an idiot.”

“Well, y’know what they say about people who live in glass houses.” Rush narrowed his eyes at Young.

“You gotta help me out here,” Young growled. “You’re one hell of a mess right now. Way more of a mess than I was expecting. So, which is better for you, to get energy from Destiny or not?”


“Try anyway,” Young said through clenched teeth.

“It’s a—ah, it’s a tradeoff. Y’pay in suffering what you gain in time.”


“No need t’be so fuckin’ scandalized,” Rush said darkly. “It works that way everywhere.”

“So if you take energy from the ship, you feel fine until—”

“Yes. Until. And that ‘until’ is short.”

“And the alternative is you feel like shit, but you live longer.”

“Option one is preferable,” Rush murmured, his eyes half-lidded. “Except—”

“Except what?” Young asked.

Rush’s gaze was on the empty air.

Young wrapped a hand around the back of the scientist’s neck. “Hey,” he said. “Look at me.” He traced small circles with his thumb behind the scientist’s ear. “Except what?”

“Except what?” Rush echoed, lost. He stared into Young’s eyes.

“Genius.” He swallowed. Started again. “Is your working memory is shot to hell?”

“Don’t think I’d know.” Rush whispered.

“You take energy from the ship,” Young said, holding his gaze. “You feel great, but it kills you quickly. You’re fine with that, except for—something. Except for what?”

“Ah,” Rush said. “One thing, really.” He reached up and ran his thumb along Young’s aching temple, then spread his fingers through Young’s tangled hair. “I damaged your mind. The longer I stay with you, the more I can fix. Given enough time, I may be able to fix it all. You could go back with the rest of them. I’d prefer that. I think—I think it might even be necessary.”

“Necessary for what?” His voice cracked on the word.

Rush wrapped his hand around the back of Young’s neck, mirroring their poses. He shook his head.

“We’re going back together,” Young whispered.

“Very sorry, Everett, but we’re not.” Rush’s voice was barely audible. “We’re just not.

“We are,” Young said. “I won’t accept any other alternative.”


“I don’t wanna hear it,” Young ground out. He dug his fingers into the nape of Rush’s neck.

“Okay.” Rush’s voice was quiet, sympathetic even. Humoring him.

As if the man had the nerve to sit there and feel sorry for Young.

And yeah.

He did.

Of course he did.

Dread pulled all the power out of his reflexive anger. This goddamned college professor was nothing but nerve and style, held together with sarcasm and shoe string.

Rush leaned in and slow-poured his attention straight into Young’s skull.

Young was convinced there was nothing and no one who could sit there and take Nick Rush’s undivided attention. He lost his grip on his anger, he lost his frustration, he lost every framework of every building strategy.

Rush’s interference pattern was doing a slow reversal. He felt the chaotic, fractal glow of the man’s disorganized thoughts begin to clarify.

“You’re gonna be the death of me,” Young whispered.

“Yes,” Rush breathed. “I worry about that as well.”

Whole architectures within the scientist’s mind began to change. His mental interference thinned down. The scientist’s thoughts turned immediate, turned pained; they were full of echo, full of a building loop Young didn’t understand.

He had a hand on Rush’s face, a hand in his hair.

They were inches apart.


Too. Close.

With a surge of panic, Young shoved Rush back into the bulkhead. Blindly, he got to his feet. He backed into the open corridor behind him. He turned, walked the width of the hall, and leaned into the opposite wall.

He took a deep breath. Then another.

What the hell was he doing?

He had no idea.

He had almost—

Yeah. He had almost.

What the hell had just happened? Where the hell had that come from?

Okay, yeah, he knew exactly where it’d come from, but how had he let the scientist pull him into it? The guy was half out of his mind; it’d taken him a good fifteen seconds to come up with his own name. And still, somehow, the man had a hold on Young to end all holds.

His head ached. God he was cold.

Not fifteen minutes back Young’d been sure he could handle this situation. And now? What? He’d—he’d just—

Shit. He’d shoved a half-delirious math professor into a bulkhead and walked away.

Young whirled and saw the scientist curled on the floor, one hand over his face.

“How am I so bad at this?” Young breathed, covering the width of the hall in two strides and dropping into a crouch next to Rush. “Nick,” he said urgently. “C’mon. You’re okay. Are you okay? Say something.”

“Y’can get the fuck away from me, how’s that?” Rush didn’t look up.

“Look, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, all right?”

“The fuck are you sorry for?”

“I don’t know,” Young said. “For doing such a shit job? At everything?” He pried the man off the deck and pulled him up so Rush was leaning against him instead of the wall.

“You’re fair fuckin’ confusing,” Rush said unhappily, his head heavy on Young’s shoulder, heat radiating off him.

“I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” Young murmured into his hair. “You confuse me all the time.”

Rush didn’t reply aloud. Young felt a miserable wave of acknowledgement aimed in his direction, along with a ten-out-ten headache and a sickening ache in his bones. Rush’s interference had dropped. His mind felt raw. Destiny pressed against his thoughts, searching out gaps in a firewall that wasn’t there.

He pulled Rush in, trying to maximize contact and ease the stress on their still-damaged link. “Relax. As much as you can.” He pressed against the scientist’s thoughts and found his mind a mass of fevered images, sharp-edged and immersive and only half his.

“Ugh, genius,” he whispered. “What happened?”

“They didn’t know what to do,” Rush said in a cracked whisper. “The city had a star drive. They made the geodesics of the shield the quarantine line.”

“Oh god,” Young murmured into his hair. “Try not to think about that, genius. Please.”

“Y’asked me what happened.”

“Yeah, I know I did, but those aren’t your memories. You’ve never been to Atlantis.” Young did his best to pull Rush up and out of the chaos of his own struggling thoughts. “You lived in California. You worked at UC Berkeley.”

“A city on a sea.” Rush shivered.

“I guess.” Young ran a hand up and down Rush’s upper arm. He pressed, very gently, against the slow flow of Rush’s thoughts. He sensed the underlying structure of REM, but it, like everything else, was disorganized. Slow to assemble. Working against itself.

TJ and Greer emerged from a cross corridor. TJ slowed as her eyes swept the pair of them.

“TJ’s here,” Young said quietly.

Rush didn’t answer. His eyes were closed. On the other side of the link, Young saw city street, shining silver under starlight and moonlight. The towering arc of a pastel energy field cut across an open air bridge. The way home was blocked.

“Hi.” TJ knelt next to Rush and unclipped her favorite Ancient device from her belt. As soon as she touched it, it glowed a brilliant blue. She studied it, then unzipped her bag and pulled out an aural thermometer. She fit a disposable earpiece into place. “He’s unconscious?”

“Actually,” Young said softly, “I think he might be asleep. Hard to tell. His mind is a mess.”

“Okay,” TJ whispered, thermometer in hand. “Do you want to wake him up? Or—”

Experimentally, Young shifted, getting a firm grip on the scientist. Rush didn’t react, his mind full soaring towers under an impenetrable shield. “Give it a shot,” Young said, projecting calm as he dragged against the memory of Atlantis.

“Hold his head,” TJ murmured. “He wakes up hard.” She braced the edge of her hand against the scientist’s temple, inserted the probe and pressed a button.

The tone shattered the Lantean nightscape of Rush’s thoughts. He went from zero to fighting Young’s grip for all he was worth, his thoughts snapping through terrifying memories, tangled in medical nightmares.

“Hey.” Young tightened his hold. “It’s me. You’re okay. You’re fine.”

Rush relaxed into Young’s grip, shivering, breathing hard. His mind was a brittle web of disorientation and fragmented REM sleep that was still trying to fire up.

“There ya go,” Young said quietly. “It’s just us. You feel like shit because you’re sick as hell right now.”

Rush nodded. The swirl of his thoughts restructured itself as he turned more alert.

“Sorry,” TJ murmured. “Hi.”

“Tamara,” Rush said exhaustedly.

Greer leaned against the wall, arms crossed, watching them.

She pulled out a penlight. “Sorry,” she murmured, before flashing into each of Rush’s eyes. Young jerked his head away as the bolt of photosensitivity translated across their link. TJ glanced up at his flinch. “Worst part, I know.” She unpacked a blood pressure cuff, took a reading, then used her stethoscope to listen to the scientist’s chest.

“What do you think?” Young asked.

“We’re gonna try this one again,” she said, returning to her thermometer. “Hold still.”

This time she flipped the device around to show Young. 102.5.

“That’s a pretty solid fever you’ve got there,” she said to Rush.

The scientist nodded.

“What’s the plan?” Young asked.

“I’d like to do some bloodwork, but, at first glance, I’d say we’re looking at a viral flare. If that’s the case, then without antivirals, there’s not much I can do other than provide supportive care.”

“Which means what?” Young asked.

“Rest, hydration, eating, that’s about it.”

At this, Rush’s thoughts took on more momentum. “This is a waste of time.” He tried to pull out of Young’s grip.

Young hauled him back in.

“How is hydration a waste of time?” Greer asked dryly.

“Any chance of this happening in my quarters?” Young projected calm at Rush for all he was worth. “We’re, uh, tired of sleeping in the infirmary.”

TJ compressed her lips, considering. “We can try it,” she decided. “You’ll need to check in with me every few hours or so.”

Young nodded.

“Let’s get out of the hallway,” TJ murmured.

Young shifted and shot Greer a significant look.

“Don’ even fuckin’ think it.” Rush escaped Young’s hold in one quick surge and made it, unsteadily, to his feet. They were both hit by a wave of vertigo. Rush staggered and would have fallen if Greer hadn’t stepped in to steady him.

“You are the most ridiculous person I’ve ever met,” Young snarled, one hand pressed to his temple.

“Excuse me,” Rush said, his tone icy, anger honing the disorganized swirl of his thoughts, “but let’s not forget that I’m going along with this as a favor. To you.” He pointed at Young with two fingers and stepped forward, dragging Greer with him until the sergeant planted his feet. “So maybe y’should let it go and be grateful that—”

Grateful?” Young snarled, looking up at him. “You spend a week grinding yourself to dust for no reason other than that you like pure efficiency and you expect me to be grateful?” He forced himself to his feet, fighting the agony behind his eyes.

“Guys,” TJ said. “Everyone’s tired here—”

“If you need to lie to yourself,” Young growled, advancing on Rush, “and tell yourself you’re gonna grant me the ‘favor’ of watching you reap exactly what you’ve sown—be my guest. But we both know it’s bullshit. You’re out of options.” TJ’s hand was on his shoulder, her arm across his chest, holding him back.

“Is that what you think?” Rush snarled. “Y’think I couldn’t circumvent your pathetic barrier? I create workarounds all fuckin’ day, every day. It’s what I do best—in any arena you might care to consider. I don’t need you. I don’t need any of you.” He made an unsuccessful attempt to wrest out of Greer’s grip, his mind a barely organized shrieking mess of a language, of images, that weren’t his—that never had been, and that never would be.

“Shut up, doc,” Greer wrapped an arm across his shoulders, holding him back.

“Keep telling yourself that,” Young roared, “but if you could create a workaround you’d have DONE IT BY NOW. You can’t do a god damned THING about that block.”

“Stop it,” TJ said quietly.

“Go t’hell,” Rush snapped, but Greer ruined his delivery by yanking him down the hallway.

“Come on, doc,” he sergeant muttered. “You can be a real pain in the ass, you know that?”

“Fuck.” Young squeezed his eyes shut and drove the heel of his hand into his eye-socket, trying to relieve some of the pain that had settled there. “Fuck.”

TJ stepped in, enveloping him in a hug. He froze, then gathered her in, the pose achingly familiar.

“It’s okay. You’re doing a good job,” she murmured, her voice tight and high. “You are.”

He didn’t reply. His throat hurt. It was hard to swallow, let alone speak, let alone say what’d been in his mind for weeks now. You’d have done better. You. With your grace and your grit and your hair like Gloria’s. You might have stood a real chance.

“He does,” TJ whispered. “He does need you. He needs all of us. He knows it.”

When he was able to speak, he said, “Yeah. He’s just—”

“A lot of work,” he could feel the smile in her voice.

“No,” he said. “I mean, yeah, he is, but I upset him.”

“Easy to do.” She looked up at him. The whites of her eyes were laced with red. “Want to talk about it?

“Not really,” he said.

Should you talk about it?” she asked.


“Well,” she murmured, “you let me know when you figure it out.”

“God.” His mind ached with despair, with dread, with the distance Rush was putting between them. He hooked a hand over his shoulder and rubbed absently at the base of his neck. “I need a cigarette.”

TJ’s neutral expression cracked. “You don’t smoke,” she whispered.

“Yeah.” Young reached up, touched her face, wiped away a tear. “C’mon, lieutenant. Don’t cry.”

“Sorry sir,” she whispered.

They started after Greer and Rush. Young estimated the other two were maybe thirty feet ahead of them, maybe, when the tension on the link became unbearable. Rush slowed, lost his footing, and was steadied by Greer. Young sped up, and the vertigo eased.

“Doc, you do that one more time and I take matters into my own hands,” Greer said mildly.

“Tell me one thing.” Young distracted himself by focusing on TJ. “And then I won’t bother you about it. Just—tell me Varro knows how lucky he is?”

A faint tinge of pink colored her cheeks. “I think so.”

“All right then.” He tried to keep everything he was feeling out of his voice. “You ever need anyone to kick his ass—” he trailed off.

“Thanks. But, uh, I’ve had a few offers in that department. You might need to get in line.”

He snorted. “Greer, I assume?”

“Actually,” TJ whispered, “pretty much everyone except Greer. James followed the guy around with a knife on her off hours for about a week. Even Volker gave him a talking-to.”

“Volker?” Young winced at the spike in his headache. “Seriously? Volker?”

“Yeah,” TJ murmured, with a small, real smile. “He had lunch with him. Explained Earth, uh, dating? I guess? It’s different in the Lucian Alliance. They have a whole culture.”

Young grimaced. “I know.”

TJ looked at him, her eyes red and wet. “I know you know.”

Young nodded. “So this has been in the works for a while, then?”

“A few months.”

“You like him?”

“I like him.”

“Okay then.”

TJ smiled.

“What?” Young asked.

“Nothing. That was just very ‘you’.”

Young nodded, gave her a smile in return, and let the conversation go. There were more questions he had, more he could’ve said, but it wasn’t his place anymore. It had, maybe, never been his place.

Ahead, Rush leaned Greer, rather than trying to fight him off.

//?// Young sent him a wordless wave of inquiry.

He got back an equally wordless wave of irritation-laced reassurance, an intensification of his headache, and the sense that projecting even that much was a strain for the scientist.

When they reached Young’s quarters, Greer made the excellent tactical call of heading straight for the bed. The sergeant helped Rush sit, then parked himself next to the man.

Young took up a position against the wall, arms crossed.

TJ knelt at Rush’s feet and unzipped her medical bag. First thing she came up with was a power bar. “Eat.” She thrust it up at Rush as as she dug through her bag.

“No thank you,” Rush said.

“Yes.” TJ fixed him with a stern look. “You eat this. Right now. You’re lucky I’m not making you consume your weight in protein mix.”

Greer grabbed the power bar, peeled the wrapper back, and passed it to Rush. “Come on, doc,” he said. “Man up.”

With a pained expression, Rush took a bite of the power bar and swallowed with difficulty.

TJ pulled supplies out of her bag and piled them on the edge of the bed. Plastic tubes. A needle. Gauze. She stood and slipped past Young, into the bathroom. “Just washing my hands,” she said, quietly.

“You got any Fakeorade in that bag of yours?” Greer called to TJ.

“Yeah,” TJ said, over the sound of running water. “Back edge. You’ll have to dig for it. Get him out of his jacket, will you?”

“Does she think I can’t hear her?” Rush asked.

“Well,” Greer said philosophically, “your hearing is known to be selective.”

“If you can hear me,” TJ said, appearing in the doorway, “why aren’t you out of your jacket?”

“She’s got you there,” Young said mildly.

“I don’t—” Rush began, but Greer reached over, yanked his zipper down, and pulled his jacket off one shoulder. The scientist leveled a glare at him.

“What?” Greer asked. “You hate efficiency all of a sudden?”

Rush didn’t have a retort for that. His thoughts were a painful swirl of fiery, overstimulated agony.

Young did his best to scrape together as much calm as he could. Subtly, he started projecting it. //I know you feel like shit. But this is gonna help.//

“I fail t’see how any of this’ll help,” Rush hissed. “The fuck are you going to do with a blood sample?”

“Quantify viral titers.” TJ unwrapped an alcohol swab and sterilized the crook of Rush’s elbow. “Keep eating,” she said sternly. “Don’t watch.”

Rush rolled his eyes. He took another bite of his power bar and looked away as she inserted the needle beneath his skin, filled four tubes in quick succession, then taped a neat square of gauze in place.

Greer dug around in TJ’s bag, found her budget Gatorade, cracked it open, and passed it to Rush.

“You need to drink that entire thing,” TJ informed the scientist.

Rush nodded, but he seemed distracted. His eyes flicked back and forth between TJ and the empty air to her left, before settling on the empty air.

The AI was talking to him.


Steeling himself against the unbearable headache, he moved in on Rush’s mind, close enough to edge into the man’s direct perception. And, sure enough, he saw Daniel Jackson next to TJ, his hands in his pockets, his head cocked.

“—and you wouldn’t be having this problem right now if you spent time building in order from the bottom up, rather than trying to impose it, top-down, into all your running processes.” Jackson’s tone was mild. “Or, if you’d put any effort at all into metaphysical discipline. I don’t understand you, Nick. I really don’t.”

//No one’s happy with you today,// Young growled.

The scientist flinched, startled by the immediacy of Young’s presence. TJ and Greer steadied him.

“Whoa,” TJ said, her voice a smooth slide. “What was that?”

“Get out,” Young said.

The AI snapped its head around to look at Young. Jackson’s blue gaze was full of fire.

“Leave him alone,” Young growled.

“What?” TJ asked, bewildered.

“Not you,” Young said, not breaking his stare-down with the AI.

The thing held Jackson’s expression at stone-cold neutral. Its gaze was unblinking. Finally, it vanished.

“Oh god,” Rush breathed. The scientist leaned forward, one hand braced against his knee. “It’s not a good idea t’piss it off, y’know that, right? Please tell me y’fucking know.”

“You let me worry about that,” Young growled, still eyeing the empty air where the thing had been.

“Oh yes. Right. Sure,” Rush said faintly. “Sounds a fantastic plan t’me.”

“Can someone please explain to me what the hell is going on?” Greer asked.

“The colonel’s pickin’ a fight with a sentient starship,” Rush said, and took another bite of his power bar.

TJ and Greer both turned to give him nearly identical incredulous stares. He shrugged. “I’d say it was picking a fight with me.”

“Either way,” TJ said, her eyes wide, “it seems like a terrible idea.”

Young tried to ignore his swoop of unease. “What’s it gonna do? Slam doors in my face?” Deliberately, he kept his tone light. “I get that already.”

“You know very well it’s capable of a good deal more than that,” Rush snarled. “And so does everyone else here. So stop patronizing—”

“Doc.” Greer elbowed the scientist in a friendly manner. “You are burnin’ energy you don’t have, man.”

Amazingly, Young felt Rush rein himself in. The scientist took a breath and reasserted a wavering control over his own mind, which sent a spike of agony along their link.

“Yup,” Greer said. “That’s how it’s done.”

“No need to write a fuckin’ novel about it, I know, all right?” Rush glared at Greer and took another bite of his power bar.

Greer snorted.

Young and TJ exchanged a surprised look.

It took Rush half an hour to force down the power bar and a liter of TJ’s budget Gatorade. TJ insisted on staying to watch it happen. Young would’ve dismissed Greer, but Rush seemed to like having him around, so Young and Greer shot the shit for thirty minutes, talking about nothing in particular—guns and Colorado Springs and basic training.

Finally, TJ and Greer made their exit.

The room was uncomfortably quiet.

Rush sat on the edge of the bed, his head angled down and away.

Young stayed where he was. He tried not to think about whatever the hell had gone down between them in the hallway. Bottom line? No matter Young’s feelings, no matter what confusing-as-hell bullshit was echoing around in their link? Nothing was happening between him and Rush. Nothing was gonna happen. Not now. Not ever.

Probably not ever.

He, personally, had screwed up enough between them to last a solid two decades.

His only priority was to figure out how to be consistently nice to the guy.

Stop shoving him into bulkheads for no reason. That’d be a good start.

//So,// he said, projecting casual intent along with his words. //Sure seems like you and Greer are getting along these days.//

Rush nodded. “He’s your best, you know.”

//You’ll get no argument from me.// Young projected calm at the scientist, hoping it might help him order his thoughts.

“Y’should promote him.” Rush threaded a hand through his hair, closed his fingers into a fist, and pressed his knuckles against his temple. “Make him your second.”

//That’s not how the military works, genius. Scott’s doing a perfectly fine job.//

“Who cares?” Rush asked.

//I care. Besides, I promote Greer and next time you try to take the ship, your odds look a hell of a lot better.//

A smile flickered across Rush’s features. “I doubt it.”

“Why aren’t you projecting?” Young asked. “You’ve been avoiding it all night.”

Rush sighed. “If I do it, you’re going to feel like pure shite.”

“I already feel like shit,” Young said.

“No y’don’t,” Rush let up on the pressure he’d been putting on his temple, and swept his hand through his hair. “Plus, it’s harder for me than it is for you. I’m fuckin’ tired.”

“Did you just admit to being tired?” Young asked. “That’s a first.”

“A moment of weakness.”

“I wasn’t aware you ever had those,” Young replied.

“It’s been known to happen,” Rush said. “On occasion.”

“On occasion,” Young echoed. “That’s allowed, I guess.”

“Generous of you,” Rush muttered.

Young pushed away from the wall and closed the distance between them. He felt the other man’s forehead with the back of his hand. It was alarmingly warm. “So,” he said quietly, “are you going to get better?”

“In the short term,” Rush murmured, “yes. I think so.”

“In the long term?”

“It depends on how you define ‘better’.”

“You’re a lot of work,” Young sat on the bed, next to Rush.

“Yes well,” Rush said, his eyes closed. “Think about how I feel. I have to deal with myself all the time.”

That surprised a short laugh out of Young.

They sat in silence.

“You seem a little sharper than when you came out of the chair,” Young said quietly.

“You, on the other hand, have been making increasingly shite choices,” Rush replied, with the exhausted specter of his poisoned-honey tone.

“I’m tired of this,” Young murmured.

“Yes, well,” Rush whispered. “I’m not insensitive to that.”

“I need your help.”

“That much has always been clear to me,” Rush said, flat and exhausted.

“I need you to throw in with me,” Young said.

“An’ what the fuck does it look like I’ve been doin’ for weeks now?” Rush asked, testily. “I don’t know what y’fuckin’ want.”

Young steeled himself. “I need you to side with me. Against the AI.”

The scientist opened his eyes and looked warily at Young. “Meaning what?”

“I need you to gate the crew back to Earth.”

“I’m working on that,” Rush said, “but so is the AI.”

“I don’t want you to complete Destiny’s mission.”

“Don’t say that.” Rush dug the heel of his hand into his eye and spoke through clenched teeth. “Please don’t say that. It attracts attention.”

“I don’t want you to change, or ascend, or whatever it is you’re supposed to do. I want you to stay with us. Tell the AI it can go to hell. Renegotiate terms. Do whatever you damn well need to do.”

“You’re making a spectacularly terrible choice right now,” Rush hissed. “Please drop it.”

“Genius, I can’t. This is killing you. You need to go back to the table and tell the AI to get back in its lane. You’re a human member of this crew. You need to focus on gating us back, not completing the mission. Or doing whatever the hell that thing wants you to do.”

“These—these things that you want—they’re not independent—” Rush broke off, trying to order his thoughts. “They’re not independent of one another.”

“What do you mean?” Young frowned at the difficulty Rush seemed to be having.

“I can’t—” the scientist broke off, motioning vaguely. “You—you’re putting me in a position—” Rush broke off with a quiet, frustrated sound in the back of his throat.

Young grabbed his shoulder, alarmed as he realized the swirl of Rush thoughts was grinding to what looked like an artificial halt. Somebody was putting on the brakes—but it wasn’t Young.

“I, quite literally, can’t,” Rush said faintly.

“Can’t what?” Young growled. “You can’t what, Rush?”

“I—specta mentem meam.”

“English,” Young snapped. “English.”

Rush shot him a livid glare. “You—” was all the scientist was able to get out, but he made a gesture between his temple and Young’s with two fingers.

Young moved in on his mind and was struck by an appalling sense of strain. Of Rush struggling to escape an outside influence that was preventing him from explaining; exerting a terrible pressure, grinding the flow of his thoughts to a halt.

It didn’t take much imagination to figure out what was going on.

“Stop,” he said, giving Rush’s shoulders a shake, “stop trying to tell me.”

But Rush was still trying to work around the damn thing.

Rush,” Young said urgently,“for once in your life give it up. I get it. The AI won’t let you.”

Rush dropped whatever he was trying to do, and the pressure on his mind faded. The scientist slumped forward in his grip, as if he’d finally, finally run out of energy. Young eased him back against the pillows, swept his feet onto the bed and sat next to him.

“You with me, genius?” Young asked, shakily.

Rush nodded slowly, eyes half open. “They didn’t die of the plague,” the scientist murmured, as he flashed back to what Young assumed was Atlantis. “But they died all the same.”

“Great,” Young said, patting him on the shoulder. “Yeah. You just—stay positive over there.”

“Y’shouldn’t set yourself against her,” Rush whispered. “Not directly. It makes it difficult for me.”

“Yeah. I can see that.” Young pushed his hair back.

“You’re bad at taking theory to praxis,” Rush murmured, in a bizarrely comforting manner.

“Okay. Well, uh, probably. Yeah. Sorry about that.”

Rush nodded weakly.

“Get some sleep, Nick,” Young whispered. “You’re a mess.”

“Who said y’could call me Nick?” Rush cracked his eyelids.

“If Colonel Carter and the AI and Telford get to call you Nick, then I definitely do.”

“No,” Rush said.

“Yes. You finally called me Everett. We’re making real progress.”

“Go t’hell,” Rush said, smiling faintly. “I don’t even like ya.”

“Yes you do.”


You’re incorrect.”

“Unlikely,” Rush replied. “Statistically speaking.”

“Yeah yeah.” Young smoothed Rush’s hair back from where it clung to his forehead in damp tendrils. “Go to sleep already.”

Rush shook his head weakly.

“Or,” Young said, “just lie there and think of nothing.”

“Fuck off,” Rush whispered.

“Don’t talk.” Young ran his fingers through Rush’s hair. “Don’t think. Just close your eyes and stay out of trouble.” He pressed himself against the slow spiral of the scientist’s thoughts, dropping the man down through REM as soon as it emerged.

He sat there, watching the scientist sleep, putting off the moment when he’d need to look up and confront the figure he knew was standing next to the bed.

It hovered in his peripheral vision like a specter from a childhood story.

It’d been there all along.

“Everett.” Jackson’s voice was full of warning. “We need to talk.”

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