Force over Distance: Faster than Light
Matt really doesn’t want to, but he adds Possible Mind Control to his running list of Things Dr. Rush Can Maybe Do.
Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.
Text Iteration: Witching hour.
Audio status: Proofing.
Additional notes: None.
Faster than Light
Matt Scott waits with Chloe next to three sealed doors. The doors are right together, in a row. He does his best not to let it bother him. It’s just—Destiny doesn’t usually have doors all together like this. And, after two years, he’s tired of surprises.
Beneath their feet, the deck plating hums. Chloe has her back to the wall. Her arms are wrapped around her laptop. She can probably feel the purr of the drive through the bulkhead.
It’s the colonel’s policy that any civilians entering newly secured areas of the ship need a military escort.
It’s the Science Team’s policy that any military personnel entering newly secured areas of the ship need a Science Team escort.
So, this works out pretty well.
“Do you wanna maybe radio him?” Matt asks, checking the time.
“No,” she says, still and quiet, “not yet.”
Chloe is really excited.
She’s trying to pretend she’s not, but she is. He can tell because of the way she keeps looking up at small sounds and the way she’s holding herself, probably focusing on the metal at her back. Or the tiny vibrations under her feet. When she’s not thinking about it, she’s a fidgeter. She twists herself into and out of all kinds of almost-yoga poses.
Matt gets it.
She’s on the Science Team now, but she doesn’t get first crack at very much. She’s usually the backup. She started pretty small: reviewing kino footage, working through giant “factoring” problems for Dr. Rush, helping TJ figure out and catalog the equipment in the infirmary. But, lately, they’ve been ramping her duties up. She’s got a bridge shift now. She’s in the regular rotation.
Matt won’t ever forget the afternoon when she’d come to find him and tell him.
“Navigation,” she says, her eyes alight, her face flushed, damp with sweat, her newly-issued radio in her hand. “Navigation! Matt, can you believe it? Plotting trajectories, monitoring foreign objects, calculating interception times. It takes a lot of math. A lot. Eli’s always done navigation. Lisa was his back up. But now I’m going to do it. Eli’s going to be my backup. Rush never says this but it is very obvious, very, that there’s, like, an A-team and a B-team? Even though there’s overlap between the teams. So, like, if we’re in a B-configuration and things go wrong, he’ll switch it up to the A-configuration and, in the A-configuration, Eli mans multiple stations BUT now he’s not going to man navigation; that one’s going to be mine. And I know this because Dr. Rush told me that whenever something goes wrong I have to report to the bridge, which would only be true if I’m in the A-team navigation spot. This radio is mine, Matt! I’m supposed to keep it on me all the time. Dr. Rush gave it to me. It’s mine. Can you believe I have my own radio?”
Matt smiles a little, at the memory.
“What?” Chloe says, smiling a little bit in return.
“Nothin’,” Matt replies, glancing at the radio, clipped to her trim right hip.
“Have you heard that TJ found a whole cache of Ancient Devices that will only work for people with Ancient genes?” Chloe asks.
Matt shakes his head.
“They work for her,” Chloe says. “She has one. An Ancient gene, I mean.”
“TJ?” Matt says, frowning. “Really?”
Chloe nods. “I think you could probably go and ask her about your status. I don’t have one.”
“You sound a little disappointed,” Matt says.
“Well, I am, I guess.” Chloe smiles at him. “But it doesn’t really matter here. Not really. Rush is right; most of the ship isn’t genetically keyed. It was probably launched right before or right as the genetic requirement was becoming integrated into Ancient technology. There’s no genetic requirement, but that doesn’t mean all systems are totally blind to it.”
“Speaking of Dr. Rush,” Matt says, “you don’t think he forgot, do you? He’s had a lot going on.”
“He’s not going to forget,” Chloe says. “The Science Team has an adaptive schedule. We’re pretty much always on.”
Matt has to look away to hide his smile. He doesn’t want Chloe to think he’s making fun of her, but he can’t help it. She loves talking about things the Science Team does and doesn’t do. It’s been going on for months this way. He knows what it’s like. He gets it. He can remember his first few years after joining up, how he’d spoken about his job. How it had been something his high school friends couldn’t understand, and, in a lot of ways, didn’t want to. How it had set him apart. How it had forced him to live by his values, make choices about them, put his life on the line for them.
In a lot of ways, Chloe’s doing the same thing now. The choices she makes are totally different. And, somehow, exactly the same.
Every night before they go to bed, she turns her radio away from the the science channel and straight back to it, then checks the volume by radioing Eli. The last thing she does before they turn out the lights is place it, very carefully, on the nightstand.
It wakes them up, at least once, most nights.
It’s really really cute.
“Yeah,” Matt says, still looking down the corridor. “I know you guys have your own structure going.”
Dr. Rush rounds the corner, moving pretty good with his machine-shop crutches. He’s got the colonel in tow, which is turning into a usual thing. Young is carrying Rush’s laptop. And what looks like a bottle of TJ’s home made electrolytes. He’s got a hand to his head, and looks a little worse for wear.
Chloe’s entire body tenses. Her chin tips up. “Ugh. They’re always together now,” she says.
“Well,” Matt says, “we’ve got that new dual escort policy, so that’s probably why.”
“Oh yeah,” Chloe says softly. “Still, I thought maybe it would be Greer.”
Matt catches her eye. “Pretty sure the colonel’s gonna try to keep those two apart for a little while. They got up to a few things during that time loop situation.”
“Like what?” Chloe asks, eyes wide.
“Taking hostages, I heard,” Matt says, speaking softly, trying not to grin.
“Ugh I can’t believe no one even told me or Lisa about that,” Chloe whispers, keeping her voice down. “We were looking at what we thought might be a 3D printer, and then Eli shows up and tells us ‘stop working, it’s time for dinner’? That’s it. That’s all we got.”
Matt nods. He’s heard this about ten times over the past two days.
“What I really can’t believe is that the colonel forbid further exploration.” Chloe scowls. “Do you know how useful a 3D printer would be?”
“We’ll get to it soon enough,” Matt says.
Chloe tries not to smile. “You’re so reasonable,” she whispers, as Rush and Young approach their position. “It’s really annoying.” She lets her smile go, and it lights up her face. She’s got the barest trace of lip gloss on. She’s kept it going for almost two years.
Matt tries not to think about kissing her as the colonel and Dr. Rush stop in front of them.
“Chloe.” Rush tries to shake his hair out of his eyes, but it doesn’t work at all. “Sorry I’m late.” He levels a glare over his shoulder in Young’s direction.
Young sighs. To Matt’s eye, the man looks exhausted. Like he hasn’t slept in a week and needs to, badly. He opens the bottle of TJ’s electrolytes and takes a swig.
“That’s okay.” Chloe looks uneasily at Young. “Hi colonel.” She doesn’t ask him why he’s there, but her face brings the question across pretty good.
“Hey,” Young replies.
“The colonel thinks he’ll be able to tell if we’re about to tear the ship apart,” Rush says dryly.
Chloe looks down, hiding a smile.
Young rolls his eyes.
“You feeling okay, sir?” Matt asks, eyeing the bottle of electrolytes he’s carrying.
“A little under the weather, lieutenant,” Young admits, “but I’ll be fine.”
Dr. Rush seems to find this amusing. He smirks at Young.
Dr. Rush can be a real jerk sometimes.
Young ignores him. “So. What are we doing here?”
“Open it,” Rush’s gaze flicks to Chloe and then to the central closed door. Chloe steps forward.
“Hold up,” Matt says, looking at the colonel.
Chloe stops, her hand inches from the controls.
“Oh I’m sorry,” Rush’s voice goes velvet. “Did you feel the need to do something with guns first?”
“Policy is that in unexplored areas of the ship, military escorts go first,” Matt says. He looks to Young to back him up.
Young is glaring at Rush. “Does two days ago ring a bell?” the colonel growls. “Science Team? Unmarked room? Device that sliced up reference frames pretty good?”
Rush shuts his eyes, like he’s trying to control a LOT of negative emotions. “That policy is for people who aren’t you and I?”
Matt gives Chloe a significant look.
She gives him a tiny shrug.
Matt really hates it when Rush gets on his high horse like this. As though the guy, personally, hasn’t ever caused a problem in his life. In Matt’s view, everyone is equally special. Everyone is equally important. Everyone can make mistakes. Everyone can accidentally turn something on. Everyone can step into a dark room on a dark ship and get taken out by something they didn’t see coming. That person shouldn’t be a beautiful, brilliant girl who traces patterns in glowing light. It should be someone like Matt, who’s built his life and his heart and his whole world around walking into dark places, with a rifle braced against his shoulder.
Young glares at Rush.
Rush glares right back.
No one says anything.
Matt takes half a step forward, putting himself a little nearer the colonel, because he’s pretty sure that this is going to turn into one hell of a fight.
Chloe widens her eyes at him in a what-the-heck-are-you-doing way, and steps a little closer to Rush, which was not what Matt had in mind at all.
Rush and Young are just—glaring at each other.
It’s getting weird. And long.
Young’s glare turns more neutral. Rush’s glare turns more exasperated.
“What’s happening?” Chloe whispers to Matt, very very quietly.
Neither Rush nor Young seem to notice.
“Not sure,” Matt keeps the words almost inaudible.
The colonel’s shoulders relax.
Rush shakes his hair back and looks at Young over the tops of his glasses.
They both glance at Chloe, then back at one another.
“Chloe can open the door,” Young says.
A chill goes straight down Matt’s spine.
Chloe’s eyes are wide. She’s standing very still.
Matt really doesn’t want to, but he adds Possible Mind Control to his running list of Things Dr. Rush Can Maybe Do. It slots in right below Win a Knife Fight and right above Dial the Gate Home.
“Um,” Chloe says, unsettled, trying to hide it. “Okay. Thanks. Um, thanks, colonel.”
Chloe steps up to the middle of the three doors. Rush stands next to her. Young transfers the laptop and the electrolytes to one hand, then moves to flank Rush. Matt flanks Chloe. He keeps his rifle in his hands, pointed down. Young has a hand on his sidearm.
Chloe hits the door controls.
Ahead of them stretches a narrow, silver bridge, spanning a river of light. The hum of the drive vibrates through the air, low in the register, like a hymn Matt can’t quite hear.
To either side, behind the other two doors, are two narrower walkways, diverging from this central path. They look like they lead to distant monitoring stations. Along the bridge, maybe the length of two long city blocks, Matt can see a small platform, ringed with consoles.
Chloe has one hand over her mouth. Her eyes are wide.
Matt scans the room, taking it in, looking for threats, for structural problems, for points of danger. But this room—this whole, vaulted space—it—
It’s undamaged. In fact, it shines silver, like he’s heard Atlantis does.
It reminds him of churches. Of cathedrals. Stained glass with sunlight behind. Meant to uplift the spirit. He’d always thought the Ancients had it so wrong—sending a dark and lonely ship out into nothingness for the sake of exploration alone.
Turns out, they sent something beautiful.
Sometimes, it takes a while to get to heart of things. To see them the right way.
The light beneath them flows like water. The bridges hang like silver filigree. The distant monitors glow with flower-garden colors, in the tones of Ancient crystal.
Chloe is crying, her eyes wide and wet, unblinking. One hand presses her laptop against her chest. The other hand is still over her mouth. The light of the FTL drive shines on her hair, on her face, on the tears running down her cheeks.
Matt presses his lips together. His throat closes at the sight of her. She looks—she looks like something inside her that’s been hurt, for a long long time, is knitting together. She’s come through so many terrible things and every time, every time, she, somehow, gets more beautiful.
Not everyone’s like that.
He’s not like that. When parts of him go, he feels less.
He understands, if he does ask her to marry him, if he commits to her for good, this is what his life will look like. This is what it’ll mean to stand at her side. He’ll watch her change, beyond his reach, his whole life long. Becoming more. Becoming better. There’s no one else like her. He’s not sure he can keep pace.
But. He’s pretty sure he’d like to try.
Chloe looks at Rush.
The scientist doesn’t say anything. He just gives her a little sweep of his hand. His face is amused. Kinda wistful. More than a little fond.
Dr. Rush can be a real jerk.
But sometimes, sometimes, there’s no one better.
Chloe steps forward, onto the bridge. It’s made of laced metal and the same clear, hard, plastic-y stuff that forms the windows. Below their feet swirls the shifting light of the drive. Yards and yards down there’s an energy field. Matt can see it flare, just a little, when the glowing vortex of the engine light gets a little too close. Probably, without that field, this chamber wouldn’t be habitable. It would be too bright. Too hot, maybe. Full of radiation.
Matt sticks right with Chloe, just a step behind her. A handspan away. Within grabbing distance, if anything goes wrong.
Rush lets Matt pass him by.
Step by step, he and Chloe advance along the bridge. Matt can feel a swoop in his chest like he’d gotten at Niagra Falls, just after his first tour of duty, when he’d watched all that water barrel over a ledge.
With that much power churning below them, it’s hard to make room in the mind for anything else.
The further Chloe gets, the faster she goes. Matt wishes it was the other way around. But when they reach the central platform, suspended over the bright gyrus of turning, flowing light, she stops, and starts circling. She looks over the edge from all sides. She looks at the monitors. Her face is tense, her eyes are bright. She sets her laptop down, edging it in next to one of the displays, and pulls an adaptor out of her pocket.
“Hold up, Chloe,” Matt says, softly, “before you go connecting anything.”
She lays the adaptor down next to her computer, then looks back for Rush. The scientist and the colonel are talking quietly as they move more slowly along the central bridge.
“Can I hook it up?” Chloe calls back to Rush, her voice clear and strong in the cathedral-like space.
Rush nods. Chloe grins an I-told-you-so grin at Matt and snaps her adaptor into its ports. There aren’t any chairs here, so she doesn’t sit. Matt stands at her shoulder, glancing at the monitors, looking out at the cavernous glory of the drive.
Chloe flits from station to station to laptop to railing for a good ten minutes before Rush gives her something specific to do. He sets up his laptop a few stations down from hers, and they start combing through systems. Young and Matt post up a few yards away, where the bridge meets the suspended platform.
“Pretty incredible,” Matt says softly.
“It is that, lieutenant,” Young agrees.
“Are we really the first ones in here?”
Young nods. “Should be.”
“They’re uh,” Matt looks at Chloe and Rush, “learning about the drive, I guess?”
Young’s expression is complicated as he looks at Rush. “I guess.”
“Sir,” Matt says, “I feel like maybe there’s a little more going on than I’ve been told about?”
Young raises his eyebrows and gives Matt a patient look. The kind of look that, maybe, Matt’s dad might’ve given him, if he’d lived. “Something on your mind?”
“No sir,” Matt says. “Just—”
Young smiles a small smile and takes a swig of his electrolytes. “Out with it, lieutenant.”
“What’s going on behind the scenes at Homeworld Command? Why’d they pull five people back? It was terrible for Chloe. She was two minutes into a talk with her mom when they dropped her back in with no warning. Why would they do that?”
Young grimaces. “Colonel Telford forced that one through.” His eyes flit watchfully around the room, landing on Chloe, on Rush, tracing the lines of the other bridges as they diverge away over the river of light.
Matt nods. “Yeah. I remember that from Wray’s Town Hall. I was hoping for a little insight as to why?”
“Telford needs a win.” Young shrugs. “Rush outed him as an LA operative. Tough to come back from that.” Young’s expression tightens. “All the same, he’s got powerful backers. I’m guessing he needs to show them some progress to hold his position.”
“So he tries to yank Rush back, and it shuts down the ship,” Matt says. “You’d think that’d count against him.”
“Unfortunately,” Young’s voice is dark, “I suspect it was a win.”
“How do you figure that, sir?”
“He pretty handily demonstrated that there’s more going on with Rush than meets the eye. I’m sure he’s arguing that’s been the case for a while.” The colonel glances at Rush, then takes an exhausted swig of his electrolytes. He looks dead on his feet.
“You thought about taking a day, sir?” Matt asks. “I can’t remember the last time I saw you off the duty roster.”
Young smiles faintly. “I’m fine, lieutenant. This is just a little damage control.” He lifts the electrolytes with a wry expression. “I got a little carried away last night.”
Matt does his best to control his expression. “Ah. Understood.”
“It’s been a while since—” Young breaks off. Across the platform, Rush steps back from Chloe, plants a hand on the glass beneath the railing, and slides into a seated position, his left foot held in front of him. It looks mostly controlled, maybe a little fast. The scientist leans against the glass, his eyes closed. Young is already halfway around the monitor banks.
Matt isn’t sure what he thought would happen? But it’s not what does.
The colonel doesn’t say anything. He ducks into a crouch, grabs Rush’s ankles, and bodily hauls the guy away from the glass paneling, toward the center of the platform. And it’s one heck of a haul. Rush, unbalanced, ends up on his back and slides for about two feet over the metal-laced glass of the floor.
Slowly, not sure what he’s gonna do about any of this, Matt starts over.
It doesn’t go the way he’s expecting.
Rush gets one elbow beneath him and looks at Young, his eyebrows pushed together.
“Do not lean,” Young grinds out from between clenched teeth, “against paneling that is hundreds of thousands of years old.”
Dr. Rush looks like he’s having a tough time deciding whether to be mad or not. He mostly looks surprised. Maybe a little confused, even. The colonel sighs, and offers him a hand up. Rush takes it, but instead of getting hauled to his feet, Young helps him sit, real slow, one hand on the scientist’s shoulder.
Matt looks at Chloe to see what her take is, but her hair is over her face and she’s bent over one of the monitors, totally focused on whatever’s coming through. He backs into his original spot.
The colonel looks at Rush like he’s worried. Real worried. And even though he’s pulled the guy up, their hands stay clasped. Young keeps his grip on Rush’s shoulder. They look at one another without speaking. This time, it looks like the mind control is going the other way. Because at the end of it, when Young lets him go, Rush looks up at Chloe and says, “We’ve got more than enough data for the initial modeling. Let’s start downloading.”
With a lot more patience this time, the colonel gets Rush situated with his back against a monitor bank, a few feet from Chloe. Rush and Chloe start going back and forth about ways to neatly back out of systems. Young comes to stand next to Matt, his arms crossed.
“He okay?” Matt asks quietly.
“Yeah.” The word is full of grind and grudge. Young has stopped watching the room. He’s only watching Rush.
“So, did you guys decide to stop fighting out loud?” Matt asks, because he can’t just let whatever’s been happening slide completely.
This distracts Young. He looks over at Matt, trying not to smile. “Something like that, lieutenant.”
“How does that work?” Matt asks, cautiously.
“Not sure it does,” Young says, with a flat finality that leaves no room for further questions.
“Yes sir,” Matt replies.
The colonel is a great commanding officer. He’s true to his word. He’s got a good heart. He doesn’t believe in himself like he should, sometimes. He thinks Telford could do his job. Or Wray. He doesn’t know how much he’s pulled the crew together. But the guy’s had a chip on his shoulder about Rush from day one. A blind spot a mile wide. He doesn’t see Rush clearly.
Matt isn’t sure what to make of that, and he never has been.
Rush is just a guy. Complicated as hell, sure, but just a guy, all the same. In fact, he’s a little like Greer, who the colonel has one heck of a soft spot for. Greer is tough, hotheaded, quick to laugh, quick to pick up responsibility, quick to take offense, quick to set aside differences for the sake of a mission, just as quick to pick them back up. Quick. In general.
The colonel is, Matt’s pretty sure, starting to turn around on Rush. He doesn’t know why. Rush has made a few spectacular saves in recent months, maybe it’s that. Maybe it’s the scientist’s new connection with the ship, which looks to be pretty hard on the guy. Or maybe it’s just that the smaller things have started to add up. Like this. Right here. Half an hour back. When he’d insisted Chloe be the one to open the door.
It would sure be nice if there was a little more unity at the upper command levels.
But, even if things stay as explosive as ever. Matt believes in the crew around the colonel and Dr. Rush. Like some kind of containment field. People have, finally, started to rally beneath a dual banner.
And the reason is, at the end of the day, pretty simple.
They’re becoming a family. A real one. A strong one.
Matt’s grown so close to Eli over the past year that he doesn’t see how another mutiny could happen. He and Eli wouldn’t let it. No way. Eli’s become Rush’s number two. Matt is Young’s number two.
It’ll be fine.
Because, really, the thing that holds Matt and Eli together, like cement and cement, is Chloe Armstrong. Matt’s girlfriend. Eli’s best friend. Destiny’s navigator.
The light of the FTL drive illuminates her from below as she finishes her work.
Chloe is why there won’t be another mutiny. Chloe is why.
“Sir,” Matt says. “Are we considering this area secure?”
Young shakes his head. “From the door to the central platform, where we are, is accessible to the Science Team. For now, no one uses the other bridges, or goes beyond this monitoring station. No one comes here alone, for the time being.”
“Maybe, sir, at some point, once we fully assess risks, maybe we could open it up. Even just occasionally, for people to take a look. Every so often.”
“Sundays?” Young says, giving him a hint of a smile.
“I didn’t say that, sir,” Matt replies. “But, uh, there is a small group of us, who meet. Might be nice, once and a while, to do it someplace like this.”
“We’ll consider it, lieutenant.” Young’s eyes are still on Rush. The scientist is sitting on the floor. His feet are crossed at the ankles. He’s looking up at Chloe as they go back and forth in Ancient. Just a few words each way; call and response, like Matt remembers from church.
“You understand what they’re saying?” Young asks.
“She’s naming parts of the drive. He’s calling back something mathematical,” Matt replies. “She’s been teaching me a little, but not so much I can follow equations.”
Matt loves the sound of spoken Ancient. He loves the sound of the drive itself. He loves hearing Chloe and Rush go back and forth, in this starlight-powered cathedral.
It’s a real lift for the spirits.
Maybe the Ancients didn’t have the Bible. Maybe they didn’t come at religion the way Matt has for his whole life. But they knew something about the truth of the universe. Something about belonging to existence itself. He can hear it. In Rush’s words. In Chloe’s. In the river of light below.