Force over Distance: Chapter 6

“Why him?” Young whispered to the empty room.




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

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: None.


Chapter 6


“Missing?” Young scanned the room for his jacket in the faint glow of blurred starlight. “How can he be missing? The man can't walk.”


“I know.” TJ sounded unsettled. “I don't understand. He was sleeping. I left the infirmary for a few hours to shower, grab a change of clothes—he’s been stable since he came out of the chair. When I got back, he was gone.”


“Understood, TJ. I got this.” Young tossed the radio onto the bed and pulled on his uniform.


There was an easy way to find Rush—he could just drop the block he was maintaining between the other man's mind and his own.


But the last time he’d done that?


Well. It could’ve gone better.


“Lotta work,” he muttered, as he shrugged into his jacket. “A lot of work.”


Over the long term, they’d have to figure out how to live with this. In the short term, whether or not it was ethically defensible to drop his block to look for Rush took a backseat to expediency.


Young clipped his radio to his belt, then lowered the barrier between their minds.


The sight of a room askew snapped into his thoughts. Reflective surfaces gleamed under yellow lights. The perspective wouldn’t resolve into something that made sense until he realized Rush was lying on the floor. The scientist was flat on his back, his feet hooked over a conveyer belt in a mechanized production line. The end of the tape measure that’d been caught on the edge of Rush’s boot retracted. The recoil sent a jolt of pain up the man’s forearm.


//Is your own mind,// Rush snarled, //so uninteresting that you feel the need to periodically invade mine?//


//Rush,// Young began, holding his ground in the face of unveiled hostility.


//What do you want?//


Young staggered as Rush loosed the full force of his temper; the strength of the other man’s emotion was enough to physically unbalance him. He caught himself on the wall before he fell.


A wave of surprise flowed across their link, coming from Rush and edged with instinctive apology. Young could feel the weight of the other man’s attention pass over his body, his room, and the swirl of stars beyond the window. He was hit with a strange, double-overlay: his perception of his own quarters, and his perception of Rush’s perception of his quarters.


//Cut it out,// Young growled.


//Fuck. Off.// The pressure of Rush's anger against his mind faded to nothing, like atmosphere venting to space.


He had only that much warning.


//Rush, don’t—//


The other man’s consciousness detonated.


Young didn’t understand what Rush was trying to do, he didn’t understand what was happening—he only understood what he could feel—a sense of tearing, of energy directed outwards—not at him, but away from him. The scientist’s back arched. His fingers curled painfully around the edges of the tape measure as every muscle contracted in a mirror of his outward psychic projection.


Young’s resistance was instinctive, compulsory, and painful.


He crashed to his knees. Far away, his stitches popped. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t do anything other than maintain a thoughtless opposition to a burst of endless energy.


Force of will, the AI had said. God damn.


The darkness of his room and the yellow glow of the lights in an unexplored region of the ship blended together. He couldn’t lock onto his own physical form. He couldn’t identify his own sensations, his own thoughts, his own pain—


This couldn’t continue.


But it did.


Rush wasn’t breathing. Young wasn’t breathing.


When their muscles were shaking, when their vision had faded to gray, when the leg of someone’s pants was warm with the blood that seeped steadily from someone’s knee—


Rush finally ran out of energy.


They collapsed into semi-separation. Rush was the one who went lax against the cold deck plating. Young was the one who fell sideways, his knee burning. Rush’s tape measure slipped from nerveless fingers. Young’s pant leg was warm with blood. Rush was too spent for words. Young had words to spare.


//God damn it, Rush.//


The scientist didn't answer him.


//What the hell were you trying to do? Kill us both?//


No response.


//Answer me, damn it.//


“I was,” Rush whispered aloud, a stream of incomprehensible images flickering across his mind too fast for Young to catch. Gold light glinted off the tape measure. “I was trying to leave.”


//Well you damn near succeeded in taking us both out.//


“Y'shouldn't have stopped me.”


//It's a ship, Rush. You're a person. You belong here.//


“With you?” Rush had enough energy to put a bitter gloss on the words.


//Yes,// Young growled. //I'm sorry, but that's the way it is.//


“Your opinion’s been noted,” Rush said in a cracked whisper. “Now, if you’d fuck off for the remainder of the evening, I’d appreciate it.”


Young tried to focus on the pain in his knee, on the movements required to get off the floor and assess his injury. //No chance,// he shot back. //Let’s try this again. What the hell are you doing in some uncharted area of the ship in the middle of the night?//


“It's personal.”


//You're in an unsecured area of Destiny doing god knows what. That doesn't qualify as personal time.//


“Oh give over,” Rush closed his eyes. “It’s a machine shop.”


//And what are you doing in a machine shop?// Young found it difficult to maintain a civility that encompassed his entire consciousness.


//I'm making something.//


//You want me to drag it out of you? Fine. What are you making, Rush?//


//Y’can get straight t’fuck.// Rush turned his head, trying to look away from someone in his mind. 


Next to Rush, on the floor, was a collection of metal pieces, neatly aligned. They were constructed of a dull metallic alloy and looked sturdy. They were also, very clearly, being fashioned into crutches.


Great.


Young focused on the pain in his knee, rather than the fact that he felt like an absolute ass. Unfortunately, he was pretty sure Rush was getting most of it anyway.


//Okay, good, but Eli and TJ were already working on something to help you get around.//


“If I waited,” Rush said aloud into the quiet room, with devastating crispness, “for other people to fix problems, we’d’ve been dead circa day four of this mission.”


“We might not have been on this mission in the first place,” Young growled aloud.


//Fair point.// Rush turned onto his side and dragged a datapad within easy reach. //Now that you’ve satisfied yourself that I’m engaged in neither sabotage nor subterfuge, might I suggest removing yourself from my mind?//


Young brought both hands to his face and wondered if it was possible to strangle someone from a distance.


//How did you get here?// Young asked. //There. Wherever you are.//


//In the usual manner.//


//You couldn't have walked.// Even as he said it, he knew it was exactly what Rush’d done.


//Oh no?// the scientist replied grimly. He projected a memory of agonizing progress through empty corridors, hands gripping metal molding for support.


//God damn, Rush. You couldn't have waited? Someone would have helped you. I would have helped you.//


//Yes, well. It’s irrelevant now.//


Rush sat and pulled his datapad into his lap. He began to scan lines of code with a rapidity that was probably supposed to be a defense against further conversation.


Too bad.


//Where are you?// Young asked. //I'm coming down there.//


Around Rush, machinery hummed to life. //Don’t bother. I'm nearly done.//


//Do we have to fight about every god damned detail of our daily lives? Where are you?//


Rush sent Young a brief blaze of a mental map, engraved with pure irritation. //You're a much more persistent person than first impression would suggest.//


“Was that so hard?” Young growled. He pulled away from the scientist’s mind and focused on his own dark quarters, but he didn’t raise the block.


“Colonel?” TJ's voice crackled somewhere beneath his tangled sheets. “Colonel Young, please respond.”


He untwisted his bedding, coming up with the radio in the process. “Yeah, we're okay TJ. I know where he is. I'm gonna find him.”


“Understood. Tell him he’s in trouble.”


In trouble? He is trouble, TJ. Young out.”


Before leaving his quarters, Young retied the gauze wrapped around his knee. He yanked it tight and hoped the pressure would stop the persistent ooze from his popped stitches.


He was tired of washing blood out of his socks.


He had a pretty good idea of what section of the ship Rush was in, but, even so, he was left with a whole mess of closed doors along homogenous hallways. He’d begun methodically checking them, when, ahead and across the hall, a room opened, spilling yellow light into the dim blue of the corridor. From inside, he could hear a quiet, intermittent buzz.


Maybe the Ancient-equivalent of a welder?


As Young entered the room, he wondered if it’d been Rush or Destiny that had opened the door for him. He was about ask, but the sight of Rush drove the question straight out of his head.


His chief scientist wasn't on the floor anymore. The man was seated on a stool next to the machine belt, his feet propped on its metal frame. He’d piled the metal pieces he’d shaped next to him on the conveyor, within easy reach. And he looked—


Well, he looked like the guy Young had met on Icarus.


Amazing what a razor and a set of non-disintegrating clothing could do.


Despite the borrowed military gear, Rush’s overall aesthetic didn't exactly suggest the crispness the Air Force prided itself on. The boots, miraculously, seemed to fit. The jacket was unfastened, and Rush had cuffed its sleeves, exposing a set of wrist braces that prevented him from further injuring his forearms.


Somehow, Rush had imbued the whole getup with a quirky, math professor vibe.


“You clean up pretty good,” Young said.


Rush looked up, switched off the welder, and scowled at Young.


“Oh c’mon,” Young said. “Do yourself a favor and give it a rest. It's four in the morning.”


“Your point?” Rush asked, coolly. He flipped the welder back on and glared down at the metal in his hands.


“Need help?”


“No.”


“Big surprise there,” Young said, coming to stand beside him. “But your hands are killing me.” He reached over and flipped off the power source for the welder.


Rush shut his eyes and put all his energy into containing a surge of venomous frustration.


Young knew he was treading on thin ice, and did his best to project some sympathy back in Rush’s direction. “So if you don't mind,” he reached forward, and carefully pulled the welder out of Rush’s grip, “I'll finish this.”


Rush took a breath and pressed two fingers against the space between his eyebrows.


Young picked up the metal Rush had been working on and examined it. He said nothing. He did nothing. In short, he tried not to give the other man anything to dig in against.


The silence between them lengthened.


“Would you like one?” Rush asked, with what seemed to be a supreme effort of will.


“One what?”


Rush tipped his head towards the half finished crutches lying on the conveyer and then looked at Young’s knee.


“I'm good.” Young braced the mostly completed crutch against the belt where Rush had propped his feet. “Thanks.” 


“Suit yourself,” Rush snapped. “Were you aware you're bleeding?”


“Yeah. I noticed. It'll stop.”


“Not if you keep falling on it.”


Young snorted. “Good peace offering, terrible apology.” He flipped on the welder.


“I'm not apologizing.”


“Yeah, but you want to, a little bit.”


“False.” Rush watched him critically as he positioned the metal. “You know how to strike an arc?”


“I've done some welding in my day.”


Rush shrugged. “Don't set yourself on fire.”


“I'll do my best,” Young said wryly.


Despite Rush's lack of confidence in his abilities, it didn't take Young long to get the feel of the Ancient device. Under the scientist’s direction, he made quick work of welding the pieces together. Rush's design was minimalist, consisting of two metal canes with a brace for his forearms to take some of the pressure off his injured wrists.


When completed, the crutches very much fit his aesthetic.


Young finished testing the integrity of the welding job, then handed the pieces over to Rush, who inspected each of them critically. He sent Young back to the welder.


Twice.


Young was pretty convinced this was for show.


“Time to give it a go, I suppose,” Rush said, after Young finished his second round of modifications.


“Be my guest,” Young replied.


Rush reached over with one crutch and adroitly flipped off the power source for the welder.


“Oh god.” Young rubbed his jaw.


Rush quirked an eyebrow at him.


“You're gonna be a menace on those things, aren't you?”


“It's possible.” Gingerly, Rush eased his weight onto his feet.


The pain was agonizing, with a tearing quality that turned Young’s stomach. “You walked here how?” he asked.


Rush didn’t reply. Instead, he shifted some of his weight onto his wrists and was rewarded with a shock from both forearms.


“I don't think this is workable,” Young said.


“Of course it's workable.” Rush took a few pained steps and bent to pick up a small notebook. He stuffed it into his back pocket.


“Ugh,” Young said. “You’ve got to be kidding me. What if we—”


“No.” Rush picked up on the forming thought. “No kino sleds. This is better.”


“How is this ‘better’?”


“Block if you don’t like it.” Rush ignored his question.


Young rolled his eyes and pulled back from the link as much as he could without actually blocking the other man from his mind. They made their way slowly out of the room. Behind them, the lights shut off. The door closed automatically.


Young glanced over at Rush. “Are you doing that?”


“Doing what?”


Young tipped his head back toward the closed door.


Rush looked back. “What?”


“What do you mean, ‘what’?”


“What do you mean, ‘what do you mean “what”?’ It’s a fuckin’ door.”


Young tried to hang onto his patience. “Yeah, but why is it shut, Rush. Neither of us touched a door control.”


“This is a sophisticated ship with an energy bottleneck,” Rush replied, like he was speaking to a dimwitted child. “Conservation of power drives most automated protocols. D’you not pay attention? Do you realize that on a semi-regular basis—”


“Rush,” Young growled, “you have to’ve noticed the ship responds differently to you than it does to anyone else.”


Rush gave Young a guarded look and said nothing.


Yeah. Seemed about right.


Much as Young wanted to chase this down, an 0400 agony walk didn’t seem like the best venue.


Between the machine shop and the infirmary, they had to stop multiple times.


“Fair warning: you’re in trouble with TJ,” Young said, as they approached the infirmary doors.


“Unsurprising.” Rush tried to manage a smirk, but it came out as more of a pained grimace.


TJ was waiting for them at the back, in the space just beyond her office. Her arms were crossed, her eyebrows were up, and the infirmary lights backlit her hair. She was hard to look at without squinting.


“Yes yes,” Rush said, responding to her aura of disapproval. “I’m aware.”


“Good.” TJ pointed at one of the gurneys.


Rush tipped his head in acknowledgement. Young followed the other man across the floor and leaned against the bed opposite the one Rush had chosen.


“Jacket.” TJ grabbed a blood pressure cuff off a shelf and tore the velcro apart.


Rush, with obvious reluctance, began to thread a braced wrist out of its sleeve. Once he’d safely extricated his hand, TJ stepped in, peeled him halfway out of the jacket, and wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his upper arm.


“Do you mind?” Rush hissed.


“No talking,” TJ said. “It interferes with the reading.”


Young boosted himself onto the gurney across from Rush, trying not to jar his knee. He watched TJ unlace Rush’s boots, loosening them as much as possible before she began easing them off his feet. Young clenched his jaw.


“How did you get these on?” TJ expression was strained.


“In the conventional manner, I assure you,” Rush said, through gritted teeth.


“Nice crutches.” TJ set the first boot on the floor. “You’re not allowed to use them.”


Rush rolled his eyes and leveled an annoyed glare at the air beyond TJ’s shoulder.


“If you can’t handle that, I’d be happy to sedate you.” TJ went to work on the second boot.


“Empty threat,” Rush replied. “Waste of resources.”


//I’d watch it if I were you.// Young said, as he saw TJ's shoulders stiffen. //You’re about ten wrong words from getting dropped like a rock.//


Rush glanced at him.


Young raised his eyebrows.


“It depends,” TJ said, her voice deceptively mild, “on what you consider to be a ‘waste.’ Preserving your ability to walk seems worth it to me.”


“I'd authorize it,” Young added dryly.


Rush narrowed his eyes. “I'll agree to twenty-four hours,” he said, “after which, I go back on shift.”


“Forty-eight hours, plus you give me your word that you won't leave, and you won’t put any weight on your feet,” TJ countered.


“Thirty hours.”


“Thirty-six.”


“With continuous access to a laptop.”


“Done,” TJ said.


Young looked at the pair of them. “This a usual thing for you guys?”


Rush narrowed his eyes at Young.


“Yup.” TJ placed Rush’s second boot on the floor.


Rush, purposefully nonchalant, looked dead at Young and said, “Tamara’s a skilled negotiator. Very thorough. I’m sure she’ll be reexamining your knee after you spent all night trekking over the ship.”


//Uncalled for,// Young shot at the scientist.


//I’ll thank you to refrain from threatening me with sedatives out of pique.//


//Threatened? I prevented you from—//


//Yes yes. And I’m terribly grateful. As you can see.//


//She’s exhausted. She doesn’t need to be restitching my knee in the middle of the night.//


//I’d imagine, as chief medical officer, that should be her call, not yours.//


//Don’t pull TJ into this. You’re upset with me? Fine. You come at me. You don’t drag her in.//


//You think you have her best interests at heart, do you?// Rush asked, quirking an eyebrow.


//You’re damn right I do.//


//Then might I suggest looking at her?//


Startled, Young looked up to find TJ staring at him, her face colorless, her eyes wide. It occurred to Young that he’d just spent the better part of a minute silently and fixedly staring at his chief science officer.


“Apologies, Tamara,” Rush said, his voice silk-smooth and maddeningly solicitous. “You’ll have to forgive Colonel Young. He’s recently discovered he can shout at me in his head. You can imagine what an opportunity this is for him.”


TJ’s eyes flicked to Rush, then back to Young.


“Sorry TJ,” Young ground out. “He’s, uh, well, he’s not totally wrong.”


TJ gave the pair of them an uncertain look, then cleared her throat. “I—I probably should do a quick exam on that knee.”


“Yeah.” Young switched his focus back to her. Where it belonged. “Sure. Whatever you want.”


“Let’s take a look,” TJ said quietly, meeting his eyes.


Young eased his pant leg up over his knee. The gauze he’d retied was soaked through but had stopped the bleeding. Dried blood was crusted partway down his leg.


“Ugh.” TJ pulled a set of scissors from her suture kit and began to cut through the bloody knot of gauze. “What did you do, fall on it?”


“Yeah.” Young winced as she tore the material away from his skin. “Kinda.”


She looked at the wound critically. A good number of her careful stitches had ripped open when he'd landed on it.


“I'm going to have to redo this.” She opened a bottle of Brody's double-distilled ethanol. “Sorry colonel, but this’ll sting.” That was all the warning he got before she was dousing the injury in alcohol.


Fuck, but that burned.


Across from him, Rush flinched, making an abortive movement with both hands toward his own knee. TJ glanced over at him. Young blocked the other man out of his mind.


“You okay?” TJ asked, her blue eyes flicking up at him.


“I’m good,” Young said, his voice hoarse.


You okay?” TJ glanced at Rush.


Rush didn’t say anything. His brow was furrowed, his expression distant.


“Rush,” Young growled, partially lowering his block.


“What?” The scientist snapped.


“Are you okay?” TJ repeated.


“Yes yes,” Rush said absently.


“So.” TJ paused to open one of the suture kits in her dwindling supply. “I think we should talk about what happened. With the chair.” She locked eyes with Young. “You’ve been avoiding me. You both have.”


“I can’t imagine what you want to discuss.” Rush looked away. “I remember very little.”


TJ measured out a length of sterile suture thread. “Sorry,” she murmured, looking at Young. “You just need a few—otherwise it won’t close.”


“Go for it.” Young gritted his teeth and wished for the days when they’d still had lidocaine. He shut his eyes at the first pass of the needle through his skin.


“Your minds,” TJ said, making a second pass with the needle, “are linked.”


“Nominally,” Rush replied. “Though it doesn't make much of a functional difference when said link can be blocked.”


“You can block it?” There was no mistaking the relief in TJ’s voice.


“Yup,” Young said from between clenched teeth after another pass from the needle.


“We're blocking it right now,” Rush said truthfully. “And why wouldn’t we? You think I want to feel that?” He tipped his head towards Young's knee as TJ tied off her neat little row of new stitches.


Young had to admire the man.


He really did.


Rush hadn't technically lied to TJ. His entire demeanor, down to the set of his shoulders and the tilt of his head, gave the impression of ease. There was no indication anywhere of the uncomfortable truth: the ability to block was unilateral. Rush couldn’t do it.


Young hesitated.


TJ’s gaze flicked back and forth between the pair of them. “What happens the next time one of you is seriously injured?”


“I think we already have the answer to that.” Rush’s delivery was nonchalant. Almost bored. “I spent most of yesterday unconscious and Colonel Young suffered no ill effects.”


TJ looked over at Young. He gave her an uneasy shrug.


“And what about the other way around?” TJ asked, as she rewrapped Young’s bandages. “This link is supposed to be about stabilizing you, right? So if something happens to the colonel—”


“Yeah,” Young interjected before Rush could further hijack the conversation. “That’s, uh, that’s a little less clear.”


“Not much can be done about it,” Rush said.


“Hopefully we won't have to find out,” TJ’s expression was grim as she eased Young's pant leg down over her new handiwork. “How about any other changes?” She asked Rush delicately. “Do you feel any different? After the genetic modifications, I mean?”


Rush brought a hand to his shoulder, but his wrist braces prevented him from getting at the base of his neck. “My night vision has gone to shite.” He glared at his mostly immobilized hand. “Thanks for asking.”


“Anything else?” TJ’s voice was gentle.


“No.” Rush looked down. “But it's early.”


“Yeah,” TJ said. “I know. Just—keep me in the loop.”


Rush nodded without looking at her.


“All right,” TJ said. “I think we could all use some sleep.” She eyed Young critically. “You look dead on your feet.”


“Rough day,” Young admitted.


“Get out of here.” TJ smiled faintly at him. “Get some rest.”


Young nodded at Rush as he left. The other man gave him a barely perceptible nod in return. Young had no idea if he should fully unblock their link or not, and he was too tired to analyze the situation. He left the block where it was, figuring they could both use a break for the time being—at least until the morning.


He barely remembered stumbling back into his room. He didn't even make it to the bed before passing out from sheer exhaustion on his couch, fully clothed.  





Young’s door chime woke him at 0900. He got to his feet with difficulty. His knee nearly gave out as he rounded the edge of his table. The jolt of pain caught Rush's attention, and Young could feel the brief pressure of the scientist’s full concentration before Rush shifted his focus back to his laptop with a wave of irritation.


“Yeah, good morning to you too,” Young muttered as he hit the door controls.


Eli was standing in the corridor. “Ohmygod.” The kid stared at him. “You look terrible.”


“Thanks,” Young said. “Wanna come in?”


Without waiting for a response, Young turned and made his way back to his couch. He sat, then propped both feet in front of him on the Ancient version of a coffee table. In the back of his mind, he could sense Rush note Eli’s presence in his quarters, but the guy was mostly concentrating on Destiny’s shield frequencies.


He blocked the scientist completely out of his head, then motioned for Eli to take a seat. “What's up?”


“I'm supposed to report to McKay today,” Eli said. “Using the stones? I thought I’d check in before I go.”


“Right.” Young rubbed his jaw, glad he’d blocked Rush from his thoughts. “We’re gonna need to find out everything we can about that communication device and whatever workaround they've designed to involuntarily swap people out. Because when you get back,” Young paused to make sure he had Eli's full attention, “your new assignment is preventing Homeworld Command from gaining access to Destiny through illicit use of the stones.”


Eli stared at him. “You're kidding, right? Because other than sounding impossible, that also sounds, oh, I don't know, kind of mutinous? Then again, I do have some experience with mutiny, so I guess I’m your guy.”


Young gave Eli a pointed look.


“Aaaaaanyway,” Eli said. “I’ll get what I can from McKay and then talk to Rush, see what he thinks about—”


Young shook his head. “Let’s leave Rush out of this one.”


“Umm, why?”


“Rush doesn't know anything about this. The second he finds out the SGC is capable of pulling him back to Earth, I’m pretty sure we know what he’s gonna do.”


Eli’s eyes flicked away and back. “Destroy the terminal, you mean?”


“Cutting off our only means of communication with home.”


“Extremely unpopular opinion here—full disclosure, even I hate it, and it’s mine—but now that he’s linked with the ship? Destroying the terminal—” Eli trailed off. “Well, it might be our best option.”


“We’re not doing that,” Young said.


They were silent for a moment.


“He might not destroy it, you know,” Eli said quietly. “Plus, can't you, like, read his mind now? You should be able to stop him.”


“You’d think,” Young said. “Unfortunately, my track record for preventing him from doing things he shouldn't is pretty bad. I'm at least zero for two already, if not more, and it’s been what—something like forty-eight hours?”


Eli sighed. “Even by messing around with the device at all I might render it inoperable.”


“It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”


“Somehow? I knew you were going to say that.”


“So—” Young said.


“Yeah. I’ll give it a shot.”


“Good,” Young said quietly.


Eli stood and tucked his laptop under one arm. “For the record,” he said, ”Rush is linked to Destiny in a very fundamental way. It's possible there may be consequences for the ship itself if they try to pull him out.”


“Such as?”


“Power failures would be most likely, based on all the additional power that came online when he first synced with the ship.”


“Give me a worst case scenario,” Young said.


“Yay! My favorite hobby.” Eli hugged his laptop to his chest. “Okay, um, worst case. We’re at FTL. They yank him out, taking him totally out of commission. He can’t help at all. We’ll say, for whatever reason, that whomever they swap him for also can’t help. On the hardware side, we suffer a complete power failure. There are safeguards in Destiny's power grid that should kill the FTL drive before we lose shield integrity so we probably won't tear ourselves apart? But once we fall out of FTL, we’d be sitting ducks—no shields, no weapons, no life support. We'd be able to last half a day? Maybe? You get the idea.”


“It's a risk I'm willing to take to keep communication lines open,” Young said. “At least for now.”


Eli nodded. His expression was conflicted.


“Something else on your mind?” Young asked.


“For what it’s worth—I’ve been doing more reading in the unlocked database. We could be in for a lot of metaphysical weirdness if they try a swap. On both ends. I think it’s going to heavily endanger whomever they try to swap him with.”


“You wanna elaborate on that?” Young asked, his throat dry.


“I’m hoping this has also occurred to McKay—which is something maybe I can find out today—but say it’s McKay they try to swap him with. Like, McKay’s consciousness is going to end up in a brain that’s interfacing with Destiny. Definitely weird and dangerous, but maybe handle-able. What I’m worried about is the other direction.”


“Rush’s consciousness in McKay’s body?” Young clarified.


“Yeah. Because I’m not sure it’d be just Rush,” Eli said. “He’s integrated with the ship. We could be in a situation where Rodney McKay’s normal brain had to host a chunk of a starship run by an AI. That’s the kind of thing that seems like it could maybe kill everyone involved.”


“Damn it,” Young whispered.


“Right and, uh, also?” Eli murmured. “You’re in the mix. Not sure what that means, but you’re supposed to be his anchor against, like, the cognitive gravity of Ancient tech. Not sure what happens when quantum entanglement enters the picture.”


“Yeah,” Young said dully.


“And, uh, just to be totally clear, if they do successfully swap him out? I think the odds of you surviving that are pretty low.”


Young nodded.


“But on the bright side,” Eli said. “I think McKay’ll understand the problem.” Eli snapped his fingers. “Like that. There’s a good chance he helps us. A better chance if you ease up on the redacted report request.”


“Eli,” Young said, exhausted. “McKay un-redacts his report, and I can pretty much guarantee there’s gonna be a faction that uses it to advocate for swapping Rush out immediately.”


“Yeah, I know, I know. You said that the other day—but why? Especially if McKay can convince them that there’s substantial risk to whomever they swap for Rush.”


“Eli,” Young said, “there’s something strange about the relationship between Telford and Rush.”


“Is there?” Eli was skeptical. “Because from where I’m standing, it kinda looks like the usual murderous-hatred-shtick that Rush has going with most of the military. Y’know. He’s allergic to orders. Everyone but him is stupid. And it escalates from there.”


“Pretty sure there’s more to it than that,” Young said.


“Since when?”


“Since everything with the LA,” Young replied.


“Okay,” Eli murmured. “Okay. I’ll see what I can do, what I can get from McKay. Can I—can I tell him any of this?”


“Tell him the minimum amount necessary to get him to block the swap,” Young advised.


“Remember the good old days?” Eli said. “When we were worried about running out of air? Running out of water?” He sighed theatrically. “Those were simpler times.”


Young snorted.


The door hissed shut as Eli left.


Young bent forward, burying his face in his hands.


Maybe destroying the communications terminal was the best choice.


But he couldn't bring himself to completely sever ties with Earth. He just couldn’t do it.


The blow to morale would be enormous. They’d have no access to technical expertise, to doctors, to encouragement, to a team of people focused on nothing other than bringing them home. And for what? To protect Rush, who had brought them here in the first place?


“Why him?” he whispered to the empty room. “Why did you have to pick him? You could have chosen anyone.”


Young forced himself to his feet and spent the next hour putting himself in order. He showered, shaved, and changed the bandage on his knee before making his way toward the mess to see if Becker might be persuaded to give him his ration after the official mealtime had ended.


Before he reached the mess, the ship dropped out of FTL.


Lowering the block between his mind and Rush's seemed as natural as turning his head to look for the man. //What's going on?// he asked, feeling the click of keys under fingers that weren’t his own cease as Rush looked up.


//How should I know?// the scientist snapped.  //I don't have a direct line to Destiny's CPU in my head.//


Young rolled his eyes. //Pretty sure that’s exactly what you have.//


//Yes, well, I’m not fuckin’ synonymous with the thing.//


Young pulled out his radio. “Young to bridge, what’ve we got?”


There was a short pause, then Volker replied, “You’re not going to believe this, colonel, but we've got another planet that doesn't match the age of its parent star. No stargate in sight.”


//Any signs of technology?// Rush prompted Young.


“Any signs of civilization?” Young asked. “Giant obelisks, that sort of thing?”


“Let’s see,” Volker responded. “Yup, uh, giant obelisk, check. Naquadah alloy, check. Colocalized organic matter and elements found in Ancient circuitry, check. No life signs.”


“How much time on the clock?” Young asked.


//Almost eight hours,// Rush projected. The scientist’s sense of anticipation seeped into Young’s mind. His heart was beating fast.


“Seven hours, fifty minutes,” Volker replied.


//You’re pretty accurate for a guy who doesn’t have a direct line to Destiny’s CPU in his head,// Young said dryly.


Rush sent him wave of uneasy dismissal.


“Lieutenant Scott,” Young said into the radio, “assemble a team and be ready to go in ten minutes.”


//You should go.// Rush tapped his fingers impatiently against the edge of his laptop, sending little shocks of pain up his forearms.


//I'm not so sure that's a good idea.//


//You should go because I should go. But I can’t.//


//Are you going to be okay if I leave the ship?//


//We won’t have a better opportunity to test this. We're not under attack—//


//Yet.//


//Furthermore, the shuttle can turn around if something unanticipated happens. With a stargate, it's a binary choice. We have to know if we can separate.//


Young turned and started making his way toward the shuttle bay. The man had a good point.


//You sure about this?//


//Just don't block me out. You'll know if anything happens.//


//Why do I feel like I’m gonna regret this?//


//I can’t imagine.//

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