Force over Distance: Flip a Crystal, Bridge a Gap
Greer’s a real sucker for all the ways humans ride rockets.
Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.
Text Iteration: Witching hour.
Audio status: Proofing.
Additional notes: None.
Flip a Crystal, Bridge a Gap
Greer has a whole list of shit to get done when his shift ends. First and last and everything in the middle is: Checking On Lisa. On Lisa.
Lisa. His plant librarian with a lil demon tucked inside. Fine hair, long and dark. Dainty hands. A mind full of fire and a bedroom full of seeds. She’s read half the books on the ship with a Y chromosome and, out of all of them, she’d checked Ron Greer out of the library.
Lisa. She’s batshit crazy in khakis and a collared shirt. He likes it.
Lisa. When this massive, Ancient starship throws flame into the void of space—it’s his girl pulling the trigger. Sometimes he dreams about her, hands on the biggest gun he’ll ever see, the wind in her hair, firing pure plasma into the dark.
Lisa. She hasn’t run out of her body spray. And maybe she never will.
He’ll see her soon. Real soon. One last haul. Greer digs deep, pecs clenching, biceps straining, hamstrings bunching, quads burning. He’s pulling his last load of alien corpses through rust-colored hallways, tracked with blue slime and white blood. Next to him, Dunning and James pant with effort.
“You think we should keep these things on board?” James has her mouth set in a grim line. She stares along the smear of blue-white goo that tracks to the nearest cold-storage airlock. She doesn’t look at what’s harnessed behind her. She keeps that arrow gaze true.
“Can’t jettison while we’re at FTL.” Dunning’s short of breath. He’s dragging three of the things, kinda stacked.
“Think we can eat ‘em?” Greer strains against his own load.
Dunning and James freeze, like highway deer in oncoming lights.
All of them stop, breathing hard in the middle of the hallway.
Greer holds his expression.
“You, uh, you serious, man?” Dunning asks.
Greer nods. “Protein’s hard to come by. Valuable.” He leans into every syllable.
James and Dunning lock eyes then quickly look away. They’re disgusted. They’re also? Thinking. About. It.
Greer’s laughter comes on hard and starts down deep. He can’t hold it. He wants to, oh god how he does, but he can’t. It’s been hours of firefighting, hours of hauling deadweight alien corpses. “Your faces,” he chokes out, before he’s bent over, hands braced on knees, laughing so hard his whole body aches with it.
“Shut up.” James makes like she’s gonna slap him upside the head. She’s grinning. “Shut up, Ron. Oh my god.”
Dunning is laughing hard enough that he looks to be in danger of pissing himself.
Greer isn’t far behind. It’s been that kind of day.
“Can we just,” James says, putting her shoulder into hauling her load of alien corpse, “get these blue assholes the hell out of the halls? We’re almost done. I wanna shower. And eat. And sleep. In that order.” She’s leaving them in the dust. And the slime.
“Me too.” Dunning steadies himself with a breath, then throws in again, leaning against his load.
“Yeah, me three.” Greer brings up the rear.
Again, he thinks of Lisa. The day could have gone like anything for her.
Sweet and wild, full of glory.
Hard and dark, full of slog.
His day had come straight outta column A. Full of spectacular saves. Brave gambits. The battle had been hard, but no one, not one person had gone down. Casualties? Zero. That’s a damn win right there. That’s what he signed up for.
He can’t control everything. He knows that. But when blueass motherfuckers come step foot on his ship? Every one of the people on Destiny turn into His People. Every inch of the deck plating becomes His Turf.
“I hear they have a name now,” Dunning says. “These things.”
“Oh yeah?” James uses her lady-at-the-DMV voice. Dead and bored and immune to bullshit.
“Nakai,” Dunning says.
“Okay,” James says, like she’s renewing drivers licenses in hell.
“Nakai,” Greer echoes, soft and speculative.
Greer’s learned exactly five words of Ancient. The five words Lisa told him he had to recognize.
The word for stop.
The word for vacuum.
The word for voltage.
The word for current, live in a wire.
The word for a thing that wants you to know it’ll kill you.
That last one? It’s ‘necare.’
It means to cause death. With intent. There’s a whole bunch of different forms of it. It changes if one thing is doing it, or multiple things. It changes based on who’s doing it, or what. It changes if it’s past or future. It changes if it might happen or could happen or will happen for sure. It changes with the god damned weather. But Lisa taught him the symbols at the root of it.
He looks for it, always, in any new place he explores on the ship.
Nakai sounds damn simliar to ‘necare.’
He doesn’t say any of this to James or Dunning.
He’ll sure as shit be asking Lisa about it though.
“How’d we get the name out of them?” Greer asks.
“Ten bucks says Rush.” Dunning’s breath has turned visible in the air. They’re almost to the airlock at the border of the habitable zone.
“Yeah, he’s probably known what they were called for years,” James mutters.
Greer shrugs, all set to to let it go, but then—what the hell.
“The doc’s on the level,” Greer says. “Pretty damn sure about that at this point.”
“The ‘doc’?” James says, like Greer just showed at the wrong DMV window and asked for a parking pass.
“The doc is shit at his own PR,” Greer admits. “But he’s solid.”
“Name one good thing he’s done recently,” James shoots back. “One. Actually you know what? Not even ‘recently.’ Name one good thing he’s done ever.”
“Oh, I’ll do you recent. I’ll do you today. Remember when these things showed up on our detectors?” Greer says. “That was the doc.”
“Yeah but that’s his job, right?” James grunts. “Shouldn’t we have been able to detect these things in the first place?”
“They were broadcasting some kind of interference.” Greer watches the fog of their breath catch the corridor light. The strap he hauls against cuts into his shoulder. “You know how he nailed down that interference pattern and pushed it out to our detectors?”
“How?” James asks grudgingly.
“He hunted one of the things down. Took it prisoner. Disabled it. Scanned it.”
“Uh huh. By himself?”
“Nah,” Greer says, setting himself up for his own slam dunk. “Chloe helped.”
“Shut up.” James has the airlock door in her sights.
“Where’d you hear this?” Dunning replies.
“Eli,” Greer says. “He was there. Saw the whole thing. Got parts of it on kino.”
“Is he releasing the footage?” There’s a hint of interest in James’s voice.
“Tomorrow,” Greer says. “Maybe the day after. He needs time to edit. There’s gonna be a little watch party. Something small. With alcohol. I could get your names on an invite list.”
“Oh hells yes,” Dunning says.
“Count me in,” James replies.
“Five bucks says it turns you two around on the doc,” Greer says, pressing his luck a little bit.
“Half the crew has some kind of advanced degree.” James pauses outside the airlock door, wiping her forehead with her sleeve, trying not to get any blue goo on her skin. “You could call any of them ‘doc’.”
“Nah.” Greer takes a beat, rolls his shoulders, then cranks the airlock hatch.
Nothing crushes a vibe like alien viscera. So, when they’ve cleared the ship of corpses, Greer heads straight for the showers. So does James. So does Dunning. They change into the limited supply of backup BDUs. Greer checks his rifle back into the lockup, but keeps his sidearm and his Kevlar.
You never know. You never goddamn know, sometimes.
James and Dunning head to the mess. Greer heads for the bridge.
The doors swish open. The room is quiet. Dimly lit. Scott sits in the command chair. Volker’s at the short range sensors, half asleep. Lisa stands in her usual spot, her eyes tracking power flows and the slow scroll of alien text.
Greer steps to her station.
Lisa doesn’t look up. She finishes what she’s doing. She soothes riled up light-streams with her fingertips.
He waits for her without speaking.
Both of them respect the gun she runs.
When she’s ready, when her console is locked down, she turns to him.
“Ma’am,” Greer says, keeping his smile off his face and in his eyes.
Her hands thread into spaces where she knows his weapons won’t be. She wraps herself around him in a way she’d never do in front of the colonel or the doc. Scott gives them a quiet smile and turns away, looking out the forward view.
Greer holds her. Her hair is in his face and her body is pressed against his Kevlar and she tucks her head against his shoulder. She doesn’t say anything. “Hi baby,” he whispers. “Glad you’re okay.”
“Hi.” Her voice cracks.
“When’s your shift end?”
“Not for a while.” She pulls back and smiles at him. “Chloe and the doc are out of the rotation, so the rest of us are in two-man teams.”
“Hey buddy.” Volker waves at Greer from across the room.
“How’s my kidney?” Greer asks.
“Pretty stressed, honestly.” Volker looks more awake now. “Lisa and I are on for another six hours. At least.”
Greer whistles, low and long. “Damn.”
“Yeah. Tell us about it. Eli had a heck of a day though.”
Scott stands and comes around the command chair, putting his back against it. “Hey Ron.”
Greer fires off a salute. “Sorry sir, just, uh, came to report.”
“C’mon man.” Scott smiles. “At ease. It’s 2300. We just survived an alien foothold. Again.”
“Yes. Yes we did,” Greer relaxes against Lisa’s station. “What’s the good word?”
“Everyone’s okay except the colonel. He took some kind of poisoned dart to the shoulder? Caused a lot of blood loss before TJ could get it stopped. He wasn’t moving too good when he got to the bridge. He passed out right after we jumped to FTL.”
“He gonna be okay?” Greer asked.
“TJ was optimistic last time I talked to her,” Scott said. “That was a few hours ago. I figure she’d have radioed—”
“This is TJ,” Scott’s and Greer’s radios, set to the military channel, go off simultaneously. “Sergeant Greer, are you available to report to the infirmary?”
“You had to say it.” Greer eyes Scott. “You just had to go and say it, didn’t you? When are you gonna learn, man?” He depresses the button on his radio. “This is Greer. I’m on my way.”
“I wish there were a few more people on this ship who were O negative,” Lisa whispers.
“Universal donor, baby.” Greer grabs one of her clever little hands and kisses it. “I’ll see you later.”
“Don’t give too much blood,” Volker calls, as Greer leaves the bridge.
The main infirmary’s empty, which is a damn miracle after the day they just had. Greer sees signs that TJ’s moved people through—there are bloodied bandages on tables and rumpled bedsheets on stretchers.
He heads for the back. As he passes TJ’s office, she calls him inside.
Her desk is a buffet of glowing devices, screens lit with blue-green readouts, full of things he can recognize, like heart rates, and things he can’t, moving in slow, multicolored waves. There are cameras, fixed on the back room.
“Damn.” Greer takes it all in. “It’s upgrade city in here.”
“Little bit, yeah,” TJ smiles at him, but her eyes are shot through with lacy red. “You up for a transfusion?”
“You know it.”
“The colonel’s in rough shape.” TJ presses her lips together, already sorry for what she’s gonna ask. “Can we start hydrating you? There’s a power bar in it, too.”
“You don’t have to bribe me with food,” Greer replies. “I told you. Any time. Day or night. I’m always up for this.”
“I’d feel better if I gave you a power bar,” TJ whispers. “In an ideal world, he’d get two units. It’s a big ask after a long day.”
Greer shakes his head. “No such thing.”
TJ goes to a locked cabinet, enters a code, and pulls out a power bar. She fishes a bottle of electrolytes from beneath her desk. She slides them across to him. “Take a few minutes. We have time.”
Greer cracks open the Fakeorade and knocks back half the bottle in one go. The power bar? Well. For that he’ll spare a few seconds. He runs his fingers over the packaging, then, reverently, tears it open. He peels it all the way back, smooths it flat on TJ’s desk, and places the intact power bar on top of the silver wrapper.
Formally, he breaks off a generous quarter of it, and offers it to TJ. It’s the most she’ll take.
“No,” she whispers, just like always.
“Take it,” he says, just like always.
She wants it. Greer can see it in her face. He knows these are hers. He knows she does nothing but give them away. There are deeper wounds than hunger she tries to salve. In others. In herself. She’s pretty damn good at it.
“We gonna do this song and dance every time?” he asks. “You take this, lieutenant.”
Her expression cracks, like being strong-armed into a power bar is the nicest thing to’ve happened to her in a good long time.
He hopes it’s not true.
He worries it is.
“We have a ritual, you and me.” Greer’s eyes are hard, but his voice is soft. “Can’t break it. It’d be bad luck.”
She nods and takes the piece he offers her.
They bite down together. Greer tears off a quarter of his portion in one go, a real, solid mouthful. He crunches through chocolate and nut clusters and a little swipe of caramel that’s cracked with age.
“Maybe one day,” TJ whispers, “we’ll get a resupply.”
“We get a resupply and I’ll be requesting nothing but spice and salt,” Greer tells her.
TJ smiles and bites her lip. “I’d go for half power bars, half soap.”
“Girl, no.” Greer shakes his head. “That shit is heavy. You’re gonna want to rethink that. At least throw, I don’t know, a pair of pajamas in there?”
TJ laughs. “Does Lisa have PJs?”
“She does.” Greer admits. “And they are cuuute.”
“Things going pretty well these days, huh?”
Greer breaks off a chunk of his power bar and holds it up like glass of champagne. “Don’t jinx it for me, lieutenant, what’s wrong with you? You’re as bad as Scott.”
“Sorry.” TJ lifts a shred of her power bar in answer to his mock toast. “To not jinxing anything,” she whispers, touching chocolate to chocolate.
They each take another bite.
“So,” Greer says. “Tell me about the colonel.”
“He’s been unconscious for hours,” TJ whispers, her eyes flicking towards the monitors. Greer can see a camera in the bottom corner of one of the displays. The colonel’s lying on a gurney, still and quiet. “He collapsed on the bridge. I’ve got every device in here monitoring him. There was a toxin released into his bloodstream by the dart. He seems to be metabolizing it, thank god. But he lost a lot of blood. Too much. I stitched the damn wound shut and it’s still oozing. I’m hoping some of your platelets might help.”
Greer nods. “They’ll get the job done.” He takes another bite of his power bar. “How’s the doc?”
TJ grimaces. “Hard to say. His vitals are fine. He’s not talking much. He won’t get off his feet. Believe it or not, he seems okay. He looks—sharp. For once, he triages out at the bottom of the pile.”
“Yeah he was moving pretty well when we crossed paths a few hours ago.” Greer frowns. “Seems weird.”
“For tonight, I’ll take it,” TJ whispers.
They finish their shared meal. TJ rounds up all she’ll need. Greer heads to the back.
He finds the doc at the colonel’s bedside, both hands braced against the mattress. He’s leaning into his wrists. He’s flexing his foot. His forehead is lined, his expression concerned, but, the second he sees Greer round the doorframe, he straightens. He pushes back. He shakes his hair out of his eyes, he crosses his arms. He leans against the wall and tries to look like he gives exactly zero fucks whether or not the colonel lives or dies.
Smooth, doc. Real smooth.
It isn’t so much the concerned look that clinches it for Greer—Rush has eyed broken circuitry and disappointing dinners with the same expression—it’s the way the guy tries to pretend he doesn’t give a shit that shows how much a shit he actually gives.
“Hey man,” Greer says.
Rush nods at him, and it’s goddamned polite, like they’d just met for tea and watercress sandwiches, or whatever British people eat. He doesn’t say anything.
Even so, he looks better than Greer’s seen him look in weeks. Since before he got trapped by that damn chair. It’s how he’s carrying himself. Tack-sharp. Light on his feet. His shredded, broken feet. The guy doesn’t even have his crutches.
Absently, Rush flexes his left foot.
“What the hell are you doing, doc?” Greer gestures at Rush’s bullshit maneuver with his foot. “Tryin’ t’break your own bones?”
Rush huffs. He looks like he wants to give Greer an earful, but nothing comes.
Greer doesn’t try to get him to sit. The doc’ll grind on something, without end, if he thinks there’s a point to it. With a good enough reason, the doc will sacrifice his foot. Or his hands. Or his mind. Or his life.
They have that in common.
“Colonel’s not gonna like this,” Greer tells him. “You want an assault rifle to assemble? I can shout at you. That part comes free.”
Rush gives Greer an eyebrow lift full of personality. Still no words though. The guy is carrying himself with a enough sass to spice up even a bowl of Becker’s least inspired paste, but—
“Can you speak English right now, doc?”
Rush glares hard at the empty air, then says, “I’m working on it,” slow and precise, like he’s copying ghosts Greer can’t see.
“All right then.” Greer strolls over to join the doc at the colonel’s bedside. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder looking down at the man. Young looks awful. TJ’s put his bad arm in a sling with a pressure bandage in place. He’s got a needle in his good arm, taped down and waiting for TJ to put Sergeant Greer’s O Negative Microbrew on tap. “He gonna be okay, do you think?”
Rush throws up a hand, paces away, then turns back.
“You want a translator, doc? We can find you someone.”
“No.” The doc is testy as shit, which means he has energy to burn. That’s something.
“How come you understand me but you can’t talk?”
Greer doesn’t like the sound of that. “You saying you took some damage?”
Rush gives him a look that says, The whole fuckin’ universe is damage, sergeant. And you know it.
Greer supposes that’s true.
TJ comes around the corner, her arms full of supplies, a glowing device clipped to her hip. Rush clocks the thing immediately, and his eyebrows make a break for his hairline.
“I told you to get off your feet,” TJ snaps.
Rush throws up a hand and starts pacing the edge of the room.
“Will you please sit down.” TJ’s tone goes as hard as it gets.
Greer gets it. She’s patched the doc up more times in the past few weeks than a sane person could handle. TJ’s a little bit crazy. Ship’s best kept secret. And yeah. The doc’s years of horse shit, piled high, are hard to ignore. But. If Greer assumes the man has a reason for doing what he’s doing—
It’s easy to figure out. Nothing easier.
“Let him alone,” Greer says. “He’s trying to keep clear of the ship without the colonel.”
This idea freezes both TJ and the doc.
Into the awkward silence, Greer says, “Hey. I can spot a workaround.”
Rush gives him a a look that says, Yeah, you sure as shit can. Congratulations. The only reason the doc doesn’t slow clap it out is he probably doesn’t know that’s a thing. Greer should clue him in. The doc lives the Slow Clap Life, he’s pretty sure.
As TJ looks at Rush, her whole body softens. Maybe with sympathy. Maybe with defeat. “Help me out. Just here and there? Once in a while? Please?”
The doc gives her a look that says, Not my wheelhouse, but he’s a little less than a complete bastard about it.
The blood transfusion doesn’t go so well.
They set it up just like usual, but Scott had scrambled their teams just before lunch. Greer also didn’t get a real dinner, and he’s probably down and out more calories than a lone power bar can replace, no matter how good it is. He’s a little more dehydrated than he thought. A little more tired. The room goes cool. Dark at the edges. He hangs in, trying to make it through that second unit TJ wants.
He doesn’t quite get there.
TJ’s more upset about it than she should be. Her gaze goes to the floor. She’s pale. Her eyes get all shiny and wet like Greer hates to see. Like she did something wrong. She brings him three bottles of Fakeorade. Sets them all in a row on his bedside table. She brings him another power bar, and this time, she won’t take any of it. Not one bite.
The doc reads him about eight sentences worth of the riot act. In Ancient. His arms are crossed, his weight pitched forward, over his feet. He does some well-placed gesticulating. Two fingers. Aggressive as hell. While it’s going on, Greer tries to remember back to when he didn’t like this little Scottish asshole. It’s hard. Every memory he has is infected by all the shit that’s gone down over the past few weeks.
At the end of his speech, the doc gestures at TJ’s office, putting himself across pretty damn good.
The doc cares about all kinds of people, it turns out.
“IT WAS MY OWN DAMN FAULT, LIEUTENANT,” Greer shouts, knowing TJ will hear him.
Rush rolls his eyes, throws up a hand, and paces away from Greer, muttering the most beautiful string of profanity Greer’s never gonna understand.
TJ tells him he has to stay overnight. Greer is on the verge of arguing, because he wants, more than anything, to see Lisa, but he doesn’t have the heart to give TJ a hard time. She’s looking away every few minutes to pull herself together, shove the tears down, put her Medic Face back up.
So, he stays. Knocks back the Fakeorade like it’s his job, which, right now, it is. Radios Lisa on the science channel to let her know his status, like he’s not supposed to do. Curls up under his blankets and shuts his eyes.
He’s not sure how long he sleeps for.
He wakes to the sound of a chair, scraping across the floor. He cracks his eyes open. Two beds away, near the wall, TJ’s finally managed to get the doc to sit. His boots are off. He’s got bandaging and icepacks taped to his feet.
TJ’s dragging a chair. It’s not loud. Just loud enough. She drags it from Rush’s feet to the head of the bed and drops into it. She sits, head bowed, shoulders hunched. She looks exhausted. Pained. Like she’s taken hit after hit after hit. All day. Probably she has.
The more hits you take, the more you’re gonna take. It’s a law of life. Greer knows it. Rush knows it too. The doc looks at TJ like he can see it in her, just like Greer can. How goddamned hard the world is, sometimes.
“Tamara,” Rush says, working for his words little bit. “It will be all right.”
God damn. He’s never heard the doc say something like that. Kind. Slow. Reassuring.
It doesn’t help TJ out. Not one bit. She compresses her lips and she tips over into crying. Controlling her face so hard that everything comes out at her eyes.
“The crazy thing,” TJ says, her voice broken to hell, like they’re in the middle of a conversation, “the crazy thing. Is. You’d think I’d be better at this.” She presses her hand to her mouth. “After all this time.”
Rush doesn’t say anything.
Greer thinks of blue skies, little boats, cajun food.
TJ takes a breath then blows it out, long and slow. “I’ve got the data we talked about, when you were in quarantine. I’ve been looking for a time to show it to you.” She wipes her eyes and unclips the Ancient device she’s been wearing all night. As soon as she touches it, it glows like it has a heart of pure aquamarine. She holds it out to him. “Take it.”
As soon as the doc touches the little thing in her hand, it lights up, wild and excited. Purple chases blue chases green chases yellow chases orange chases red chases purple in a quicksilver rainbow. Over and over again.
“Oh god,” TJ smiles through her tears. “It’ll break its little heart to show you.”
Rush gives her a rueful smile. He closes his eyes, and the device simmers down. He studies it, then looks up at TJ.
“You haven’t cleared the virus.” TJ says. “Unless there’s some kind of miracle—you’ll never clear it.”
The doc nods. He looks at Young.
Greer shuts his eyes.
Is he hearing what he thinks he’s hearing? He has to be. He tries to keep his breathing still and quiet. They’re gonna lose the doc? Because of the goddamned chair? No. No way. He doesn’t believe it. He can’t. He won’t. No way on God’s green Earth would the doc take that one lying down.
Unless he had a good reason.
“Tell me how to help you,” TJ whispers. “I want to.”
“I know.” The doc doesn’t say anything more.
There are things Greer would die for. There are ways Greer would prefer to go down. Incinerating in the heart of a star. His people behind, the enemy ahead, a rifle kicking back into his shoulder, doing what he was meant to do.
Life is fragile. It doesn’t last. He’s known that for as long as he can remember.
“If you die, what happens to the colonel?” TJ whispers.
“He’ll be all right.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” the doc’s voice is smooth. He sounds as certain as he gets.
Because there’s all kinds of “all right.” Greer is pretty sure that, if the doc dies, none of them will be all right. The doc has been dead before. It didn’t go that well. For anybody.
Greer hears TJ’s shaky exhale. He cracks an eye to see her elbows propped against Rush’s gurney, her face in her hands. The doc looks down at her and his expression is fond. Complicated. Like there are a million more things in his head than will ever make it out of his mouth.
“Are you in love with him?” Rush asks.
Greer just about chokes on his own spit. This ballsy motherfucker is just too damn much, sometimes.
“It’s none of your business,” TJ says, startled, turning cool.
The doc doesn’t follow TJ into fight mode. He stays careful.
He says a word in Ancient. Then he says, “Tell me anyway?”
“Don’t you already know?” TJ whispers. “Can’t you see into his head?”
“Yes,” Rush replies. “His head. Not yours.”
“He’s the father of my daughter,” TJ says, her voice thick. “That’s all.”
Greer keeps his eyes tight shut.
“You,” Rush pauses, working hard for his words. “A branching stream of you chooses him.”
“A ‘branching stream of me’,” TJ echoes, looking up with eyes as ice blue as the device in the doc’s hand. “I—I love that.”
Greer tries not to think of TJ in the records they brought back from Novus. Her hair brushed long and thick and glorious. Her son. Her daughter. All that comes after.
“I die,” TJ whispers. “Every branching stream of mine comes with an expiration date.”
Rush doesn’t say anything.
“And,” TJ admits, “there’s someone else.”
Holy hell, really? Greer tries to keep his feet under him across the terrifying shifts his conversation keeps taking. TJ and the doc are a real pair, it turns out. Greer’s always been of the opinion that TJ’s less a rock of sanity than she likes to play on TV, and the way she keeps pace with the doc, flowing from death to love to death and back to love is giving nothing but a whole boatload of confirmation to that theory.
Rush, surprised, says something in Ancient.
“Whatever you think you know is an echo,” TJ says, gentle and amused. “Coming from a person who never saw all of me. Not because he didn’t want to—but because he was my commanding officer. Everything we had happened in Emily’s shadow. There’s no way for he and I to be clear of it, except, maybe, on an alien world, thrown back in time by a star.”
The infirmary is quiet.
“Why did you ask me?” TJ murmurs. “If I was in love with him. Why did you ask?”
Rush says nothing. He looks at his hands.
“I gave you a real answer,” she says, very gentle. “You can give me one too.”
“Disadvantaged.” The doc points to himself. “Lexically.”
That’s pretty weak, in Greer’s opinion.
TJ looks at the doc, her expression turning a little lighter as the seconds tick past. “Well, I’m gonna let that slide,” TJ whispers, “mostly because it’s true.”
“Thanks,” Rush whispers. He offers her the glowing device. When it leaves his hands it rainbows toward him in sad little flickers, before setting to back to a steady blue in TJ’s grip.
“Do you want me to tell the colonel about this?” TJ asks.
Rush shakes his head.
“He won’t take it well,” TJ says. “I think we both know it’ll go better if he hears it from me. As soon as he makes it through my formal report on the quarantine he’ll have the bones of it. Not sure if he’ll realize the implications—but, at some point, he’s going to come to me about it.”
“Why?” TJ whispers.
Rush levels a look at her over the top of his glasses that says something like, Girl, you know why.
“He’ll be angry,” TJ admits, “but not at you.”
Rush manages to suggest he’s disappointed in her assessment with a little quirk of his eyebrows.
“Maybe in the moment he does some shouting. But at the end of the day—I don’t think there’s any way he comes down on you for any of this. If anything, he’ll come down against—” TJ stops speaking.
“Now you see,” Rush says softly.
“The ship,” TJ whispers. “Oh god.”
“Minimize,” the doc suggests, lightly.
Greer shuts his eyes on a tidal wave of pure foreboding. There are all kinds of ways this whole thing could turn bad. He wishes there was any part of this whole mess that he could put on the other end of his favorite rifle.
Greer wakes in the morning to see the doc standing over Young. He’s got one hand pressed against the colonel’s forehead, the other hand pressed to his own temple. His left foot is flexed, his expression is fire-focused, and he looks like he’s been there for a long-ass time. The colonel looks, maybe, a little better.
And, despite everything he heard last night, Greer feels a little hope spark up.
Because the doc is on point and running like flame in a world of wood. If he’s sick, he doesn’t look it. He rolls with the ship now. This massive, Ancient vessel that’s protected them from the first damn day they got here.
TJ and the colonel see Rush as a roughed-up little math guy, coming out on the wrong end of alien tech again and again. And he is that. No doubt.
But they’re ignoring the role Destiny herself will play in all that’s coming.
The doc’s got a wandering starship on his side.
A wandering starship, a lost crew, and a full bird colonel who’d left him for dead.
A lot might happen with a mix like that.
Greer sits. There’s no sign of the dizziness that’d dogged him last night. He slips off the bed and preps for the day. He won’t leave until TJ clears him or someone tells him he’s needed; but there’s no point in cooling his heels if he’s feeling just fine.
He laces his boots, uses the facilities, and saunters over to TJ’s office to find her asleep at her desk, a blanket around her shoulders, her cheek pillowed on her forearm. He circles back to where he’d started and finds the doc leaning against Young’s gurney, his hands braced on its edge. His eyes are open. He’s stressing the hell out of his foot.
“Morning,” Greer says.
“Is it?” Rush sounds less like he’s carving words off a block of theory. “I doubt you’re cleared to be vertical.”
“Cleared to be vertical! Look at the vocabulary on this guy.” Greer claps his hands, once, loud.
“Nice goin’, doc. You fix your brain? Steal some English back from the colonel?”
Rush tries not to smile, but he sucks at it. “I did some repair work, yes. I’m hopeful I may have boosted our separation radius in a sustainable manner. Probably best not to test it just yet though.” He gives Young an analytic side-eye.
Greer nods. “Looks like we got some time. You gonna teach me your door trick or what?”
“Hmm,” Rush’s eyes flick between Young, Greer, and the exterior doors to the infirmary. Then he grabs the crutch someone must have found for him during the night, and leads the way.
As they pass TJ’s office, Greer presses a finger to his lips and gives Rush a pointed look. He sees the doc peer around her doorframe to clock the lieutenant, passed out at her desk.
“I vote for a week without another bullshit space battle,” Greer says quietly.
“Agreed,” Rush says darkly. “If we’re going to be in a space battle, let’s at least hope for something more interesting?”
“Doc,” Greer hisses, “No. You’re as bad as Scott, man; do not tempt fate like that. What’s wrong with you?”
“Tempting fate has turned into something of a hobby.”
The infirmary doors slide closed as they approach. Greer glances at Rush. The doc doesn’t so much as wave his hand. Or shut his eyes. Or look at them special.
The doors just close.
Greer’s a real sucker for all the ways humans ride rockets.
He’d been ready to die with nothing but a pane of glass between his skin and the burning heart of a star. Of course he’s gonna fall for the sweetest girl with her hands on the biggest gun his species’ll ever man. Of course he’s gonna flank the guy who spends himself out on starships, whispering them awake.
Rush leans against the wall near the doors. Greer stands next to him, watching the doc expectantly. Rush doesn’t do anything. He lifts his eyebrows.
Greer lifts his eyebrows right back.
“Unlike an assault rifle,” the doc says delicately, “every door is different. You’ll need to develop a feel for the relevant paneling. It’s a bit hard on the fingernails.”
Slowly, then with more commitment, Greer starts prying his way around panels until finally a nail catches and tears. “Shit,” he says, shaking his hand out.
“Less gusto,” Rush says dryly. “Otherwise, passable. You hit it too fast. Get beneath it. Slowly.”
Greer goes at it again, this time with his best finger. Index. Right hand. He keeps his eyes on the ceiling, working by feel on the delicate little bitch of the catch. Finally, finally, it comes free. The panel drops into his hand.
“Nicely done,” Rush says. He threads his fingers between Greer’s and gently clicks the panel straight back into place.
“Doc,” Greer says, the word one long swipe of a blade over a whetstone.
“You’re lucky I’m not timing you. That was abysmal. Do it again. With some subtlety, please?”
Rush takes him through each step of the process, over and over until he’s fast and fluid. Until Greer can identify the components of the crystal and wire circuit in the wall. Until can describe the flow of charge, define and insulator, define a conductor, define voltage, define resistance.
And, in the end, Greer cracks a panel, yanks a wire, flips a crystal, bridges a gap, and opens a door.