Force over Distance: The Prepared Mind

Abducted by Nick Rush. Off his stairs. In his PJs. To go on space adventures.





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

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: None.




The Prepared Mind


Eli is cold.


He’s, like, so freaking cold it’s not even funny.


He hunches deeper into his sweatshirt, wraps the strip he sliced off his (already hopelessly inadequate) blanket a little tighter around his neck, and wishes, like, really hard, that on unfairly cold nights like this he had someone to cuddle with. Anyone. For warmth.


He thinks of Ginn.


No, okay? He does NOT think of Ginn.


None of it matters anyway because Eli has back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back shifts for a week, with, like, the bare minimum amount of time off that Rush considers reasonable (six hours per day) and Eli will never. Arrange. Anything fun. Again. So long as he lives. So help him god.


He’s learned his lesson.


Rush once told him that even though one shortens their total lifespan by not sleeping, the number of hours of conscious thought gained more than outweighs the survival differential. That was early on.  Eli wonders if he told his graduate students crap like that or if maybe he was nicer back in the day when all kinds of imminent death didn’t hang in the balance, when it was just, like, writing papers and doing experiments, or proofs, maybe? Writing theses? To be honest, Eli Wallace never even made it through college, so his conceptual understanding of graduate school was, and remains to this day, pretty limited.


He likes to think Rush was nicer.


Ugh.


The problem is, he knows there’s more to Rush than just a veneer of social grace wrapped around icy bitterness wrapped around razor blades of sarcasm wrapped around a hyperdense-neutron-star-tablespoon-weighs-a-metric-ton layer of malice wrapped around a tear in spacetime that leads directly to hell.


That’s probably a little much.


He’s getting carried away. It’s a skill set. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s less a skill set than a really annoying personal habit he’d like to shed, but hey, take your weaknesses, flip them over, give them a spin, and rebrand as strengths. That’s what they’d said at the temp agency that’d been trying to place him before he got tapped for this fantasma-glorius space adventure.


Abducted by Nick Rush. Off his stairs. In his PJs. To go on space adventures.


Yup. He’s a space adventurer. Sweet. If only the high school chess club could see him now. Doing night shifts. Doing day shifts. Doing day shifts that turn into night shifts. Doing night shifts that turn into day shifts. Doing them like a pro.


It’s 2055 o’clock. Everyone is basically dead, except Their Fearless Leader, who looks like he’s moonlighting as a well-put together academic villain in the Spider Man franchise.


“Netting won’t work.” Brody looks up from the calculations he’s doing on ‘paper’ that looks more like really flat potpourri than something supposed to absorb ink. “It has most of the problems of an explosive decompression, and, even if it were acceptably safe for the people in suits, which it won’t be, the mechanical force needed to sweep the airlock clear at the margin of Destiny’s artificial gravity would be more than two humans could comfortably exert, given the limited leverage that’ll be available.”


On the Photonic Chalkboard at the front of the room, Rush moves “netting” from the “maybe” column and puts it in the “no” column. This leaves them with:


Yes:

Shuttle


Maybe:


No:

Stargate

Demolecularization

Manual removal

Momentum

Explosive decompression

Programmed jettison

Weapons bay jettison

Netting


Rush sighs, pushes his hair back, checks the time, and adds the word “guns” to the bottom of the ‘no’ list. He spins the light-pen through his fingers, leans into his crutch and says, “Eli. Make a suggestion.”


Eli runs his eyes over the list.


It’s way harder to get rid of 500 kilograms of frozen alien corpses than he’d have predicted.


The problems are time and temperature.


They have enough power to withstand three minutes of enemy firing, assuming average intensity bursts. Given the Nakai’s hive mind, and given that not all of them were definitely dead at the moment Destiny jumped to FTL, the blue guys probably also have a directional vector, which’ll shorten the time to enemy dropout. And then, of course, #drones.


“Gate draws too much power, demolecularization isn’t possible without dumping them into critical machinery, manual removal takes too long, any variation on venting that particular compartment creates an unshielded breach in the hull when we’re trying to drop out immediately adjacent to a solar corona, same problem for a programmed jettison, same problem with any kind of manual assist, and we can’t shoot them out our photon torpedo bays because, oh, that’s right, we don’t have any. My suggestion is, and has always been, that, with deepest regrets, we sacrifice our new shuttle. It’s not as tricked-out as the ones we have anyway, and for all we know it’s sending some kind of trackable signal.”


Rush sighs.


“Yeah, I know,” Eli continues. “I’m sad about it. You’re sad about it. We could have used that shuttle, dang it! But. Flip the whole thing around and it’s like a nice, free gift where no one dies and we don’t risk our EVA suits. We can strip its systems as much as possible for backup parts. Create some redundancy.”


“This won’t be popular,” Rush says darkly.


Meaning it’ll be a hard sell with Colonel Young. That’s for darn sure.


“You want popularity?” Volker’s voice is super mild and folksy, the way he gets just before batting a sick burn outta the park. “Turn it into a bomb.”


Eli snorts into his makeshift scarf. Brody, right next to Volker, lifts a hand without looking at him. Volker high-fives him. Those two are such nerds. Eli doesn’t need anyone to high-five.


He’s fine.


Chloe catches his eye and gives him a tiny smile.


See? He’s fine.


Rush takes a breath, about to launch into some kind of anti-Volker diatribe, no doubt, but then—he shuts his mouth. He cocks his head, considering. He gives Volker a tiny smile that looks—god it looks real—then he swipes his hand through the word “shuttle.” It vanishes in a glowing smear that renders a little like magical chalk dust. In its place, with his light-pen, he writes the word “bomb.”


“Even beyond rebranding,” Volker says, “if we’re lucky, it might take out one of their ships. They don’t have an infinite force. We whittle them down enough, firefights get easier.”


“We’ll need a team to strip the shuttle,” Rush says. “We’ll need a team to rig up an autopilot—” what else?” He spins his light-pen through his fingers.


“We’ll need to choose a star that’s far enough out to give us time for all the prep,” Volker says.


“Uh, and someone’ll need to build the bomb,” Eli says.


Rush waves a dismissive hand. “That’ll take fifteen minutes. All that’s needed is to remove the safety partition between the aft thrusters and the fuel cells, then override the thruster safety protocols and fire them at, say, three hundred percent of max capacity.”


And. Yeah. That’s a pretty good idea. Explained pretty well.


Volker glances back at Eli, eyebrows raised.


Eli nods. There’s no question about it. At all. Their Fearless Leader is getting WAY better at explaining himself. The improvement started after the whole chair incident, but it’s been on a steady increase. Six months ago, they’d have gotten, “I’ll do it,” or “don’t worry about it,” or, “it’s trivial.” Now? They got a whole sentence with three logical steps packed in there.


There’s a knock on the open doorframe behind Eli. 2100 hours. Right on time.


Rush shoots the colonel a cool look.


Pretty much everyone else, Eli included, turns around to smile at the guy in overjoyed relief. Young leans against the back wall of the room, arms crossed, looking at the Photonic Chalkboard, his eyebrows raised. “The hell is that thing?” he asks, sounding impressed.


“Another invention of Eli’s,” Rush says breezily.


“Nice work.” Young looks at Eli.


Their Fearless Leader is very squirrelly in ways that’ve never made a lot of sense to Eli. He goes through phases. Take Credit for Everything versus Take Credit for Nothing. Right now he’s in an I Just Work Here Phase. Usually those come pretty reliably on the heels of whatever day he’s just saved with one of the nineteen secret aces he keeps up his sleeve. He doesn’t want anyone looking too closely at the cards he’s holding.


“Uh, thanks,” Eli says. “But it was his idea. I built it. That’s all.”


Rush glares at him. It’s subtle, but it’s there.


Eli glares right back. Less subtly.


It’s not like he’d set out to become the Honesty Police or anything, it’s just, some people seem to need that? Eli’s almost sleep deprived enough to snap out a, Why do you do this? But he reins it in. Barely. The thing is, this exact tendency of Rush’s has almost killed everyone. Multiple times, but most notably in the beginning, when no one had any idea how much good stuff he was doing to maintain and expand Destiny’s working systems and then Young had left him on a planet and, suddenly, Eli had been in charge of making sure no one died and he’d BARELY MANAGED IT.


So. Yeah.


It annoys him.


If Rush dies in a preventable way Eli will be so incandescently angry his whole personality will probably transform.


Maybe something like that had happened to Rush, somewhere along the line?


There’s a thought he doesn’t need.


“I’m liking the way this list is shaping up,” Young says, looking at the glowing words at the front of the room.


Rush nods. He crosses his arms, leans against the nearest console, looks at Volker, then says, “Volker.”


Volker blankly at him.


Rush glances at the word “bomb,” then back to Volker.


“Oh,” Volker says, visibly astonished. “You want me to—”


Rush doesn’t help him. At all. And, like, somehow, on Rush’s part, the whole thing hits as 15% dick move, 15% adorable, and 70% hilarious. Literally the guy has never done this before, but he’s staring at Volker like it’s an everyday occurrence.


“I, er, okay,” Volker says, recovering. “Sure. I can explain. Um.” He turns to Young. “The plan is to package our frozen corpses with a bomb, and dress them up in the kind of wrapping any enemy vessel would love to get their hands on.”


“I’ll bite. What kind of wrapping?” Young asks.


“The stripped-down shuttle we recovered from the seed ship.”


“Thought we were trying to keep our hands on that,” Young mildly. He looks at Rush.


Rush shrugs, spins the light-pen through his fingers, and ends with it pointing, subtly, at the Photonic Chalkboard.


God damn it, sometimes the guy’s ridiculous melodrama flips over into coolness. Eli resents that. He’s gonna learn how to do that pen flip. He’s gonna start tonight.


“As you can see,” Volker continues, doing subtitles for Rush’s magnetically awesome wordless pen flip. “The ‘no’ column has a bunch of entries. All the rejected items either take too long, require too much power, threaten our hull integrity in the proximity of a star, or require a risky EVA. We’ve run the numbers. On all of it.”


“All right,” Young says. “Good. You’re gonna need some personnel to haul frozen corpses from the airlock to the shuttle, I take it?”


The room stares at him. Even Rush seems taken aback. His eyebrows are up. “Day after tomorrow, I think,” the scientist says mildly.


Young nods. “No problem. We can get it done quick. We’ll mark a path, clear the halls, and set it up like a relay. Ninety minutes of prep, an hour or two of hauling.”


“Uh, hold on. Hauling?” Eli asks. “Like—manually? On the ground? With rope? Hello, we have kino sleds?”


“Twenty minutes of prep,” Young says, without missing a beat, “thirty minutes of work.”


The whole Science Team stares at him.


“You guys hauled them to cold storage, didn’t you?” Volker asks.


“They did,” Park whispers, hanging onto her laughter by her fingernails. “And then they scrubbed the floors.” She fights so hard for her straight face she looks a like a robot.


Eli does another snort laugh into his scarf that he tries to pretend is a cough. Rush, having a hard time controlling his face, looks at a nearby monitor and does a double pen flip. Volker brings a hand to his mouth, Chloe brushes her hair in front of her face, Park bites her lip.


“Why?” Brody asks, deadpan.


“I’m sure they had a reason,” Young says mildly. “I wouldn’t know. I was unconscious.”


Eli looks at the ceiling and thinks of his to-do list, which does a great job burying his urge to laugh.


They do a slow wind-down on the briefing. The colonel has really shifted his game since Eli’s pep-talk. He doesn’t slam the lid on whatever’s happening at 2100 (though, uh, truth be told, sometimes Eli misses that glorious week), but, somehow, he kills the momentum. People start closing their laptops and gathering up their crappy sheets of thick, amalgamated paper. Park and Volker laugh, sometimes. Here and there, Eli joins in.


It’s a nice way to say goodnight.


Y’know. For the people who get to say goodnight.


The room empties of everyone except Eli (on the night shift) and Volker (on the late shift).


Volker comes right over to Eli’s console and sets up his laptop. He’s been walking around all day with a blanket over his shoulders, and, as he sits, he spreads half of it over Eli. “You surviving?” he asks.


“Barely,” Eli grumbles. “When will this end?”


“You could dramatically pass out in the middle of something important,” Volker suggests. “Then TJ’ll yell at him for you. He’s a little scared of TJ, I’m pretty sure.”


Eli grins at that idea. “Nooooo. Really?”


“I think a little bit,” Volker whispers.


“I’m penciling it it in.”


“I’ll gasp dramatically when it happens.” Volker’s breath condenses in the cold air. “Not Eli! He was so young. So full of life. Damn you, Rush!” Volker clenches his fists, doing a pretty good Charlton Heston. “Damn you to hellllllll.


Eli laughs out loud at that.


“Of course, the way things are going, he’ll probably beat you to it. On the bright side, whenever he inconveniently passes out, you can assign yourself a better schedule.”


“Yeah,” Eli says glumly. “I like the first option better. How’s he doing by the numbers?”


“Shockingly bad.” Volker opens his laptop and pulls up a spreadsheet with multiple embedded graphs. “He’s deeper in the red than he’s ever been. Pretty sure he hasn’t slept in about a week.”


“Yeah,” Eli whispers, wrapping the blanket around himself a little tighter. He edges closer to Volker. “Okay. Official NP-Complete Detective Society now in session, we have a quorum, right?”


“I should call Lisa.”


“No,” Eli says, sighing. “She’s probably cuddling with Greer. We can catch her up tomorrow. Any progress to report?”


“Not really,” Volker says.


They stare into the dark.


“I’m a little worried,” Volker admits, “that his ungodly stamina is related to our mystery power drain.”


Eli feels a chill that has nothing to do with the ambient temperature. “How would we nail that down?” he asks.


“I’ve been looking,” Volker murmurs. “I’ve got a little something.”


“Let’s hear it.”


“Doors open for him, right? The lights go on? Monitors go live? Turns out, you can quantify how much energy it takes to open a door on Destiny. To light up any given console. And then you can add all of that up.”


“How?” Eli demands. “When you look at the raw data, how would you know any given ‘door opening’ event is Rush, as opposed to, say, someone hitting the controls?”


“Ah ha. That’s where my ‘little something’ comes in. See, there’s actually a special signature in the code that accompanies what the ship does for him. Like a little burst of, I don’t know, I’m calling it ‘intent,’ that occurs before Destiny acts on his behalf. Almost like a few thousandths of a Joule go into the decision to open that door. Turn on those lights. Sort by that signature, and you can parse out everything it’s decided to help him with. Across all systems.”


“Wow.” Eli lifts his eyebrows. “That’s—that’s pretty dang good. Can I look at the raw data?”


Volker opens the program.


Eli starts scanning. “Deck plating, doors, lights, hang on—shields?


“You got me.” Volker shrugs.


“So if you add all of this up,” Eli says quietly, “does it explain the drain?”


“Not even close.” Volker sighs. “It sums to about a third of the total quantity.”


“Have you found the other two thirds?” Eli asks.


“Me? No. Not yet. Maybe not ever, because I don’t have half your chops,” Volker says. “Maybe you can figure it out.”


Eli nods. “Trace power,” he murmurs.


“What?”


“Oh, something McKay said to me. About how to not die. You trace power.”


“Ah. Kinda like follow the money, but for physics?”


“Yup.”


They huddle together under Volker’s blanket, shoulder-to-shoulder in a very platonic cuddle situation until midnight rolls around and Volker’s shift is over. He leaves, and takes his blanket with him.


Eli is now alone and blanketless in the freezing cold.


Yaaay.


The first thing he’s gonna ask Lisa to print if they ever get that 3D printer working is a blanket. A nice one. Huge. Fluffy. Really really warm.


He sighs, does a few jumping jacks, then starts simulating flight paths and startup sequences for their doomed, we-hardly-knew-ye shuttle, putting together a tentative list of strippable parts for Brody and Rush to look over.


Around 0430 hours, Rush walks into the CI room, nods at Eli, then sits down at his usual station. He doesn’t have a blanket.


They don’t cuddle for warmth.


That’s probably for the best.


They work, without speaking, for a good thirty minutes. Normally Eli’d be all over the guy about any number of things, but he’s cold and he’s miserable and he’s profoundly sleep deprived and he really wants to low-key master Rush’s over-the-hand pen spin and the only way to do that is practice. There are no shortcuts when it comes to manual dexterity. Eli’s learned as much from a lifetime playing Astria Porta: Prometheus and its various expansion packs, including Enemy Within, Transparent War, Replicon, City on the Sea, Replicon 2, and—


“I have a question.”


Eli almost drops his pen. As he’s trying to recapture the pen, he almost drops his laptop. He barely saves it. God it’d be embarrassing to drop his laptop just because Rush asked him a question.


That’s a Brody/Volker thing to do, definitely not an Eli thing to do.


He’s not scared of Rush, or intimidated, or awed or anything. Yeah so the guy talks to the ship, and can just do things to the shields with his mind and solve NP-complete problems by transforming on data in novel ways to create those sexy little programs that perform insanely complicated tasks, but no, Rush isn’t a genius. Eli maintains this on principle. He’s just not comparison material, is all.


That being said, Eli’s better at math than he is and everyone, including Rush, knows it.


“Um, sure, yeah. What’s your question?”


Rush has asked him questions before, like “what’s the power level,” and, “why are you complaining,” and, “please clarify your reason for talking to me right now,” et cetera, but he’s definitely never asked Eli anything that falls even remotely inside a personal sphere and he’s double definitely never prefaced a question with a warning shot across the bow like this.


Eli looks at him, curious. This’ll be good.


Wait.


On second thought, it might be bad.


Yup. Eli’s gonna put all his chips down on “bad.”


Rush isn’t looking at him. He’s hooking a hand over his shoulder and massaging the back of his neck and it just makes him look—besieged. Besieged and tired and so alone and every time he does it Eli just gets this horrible feeling because when he pictures Rush left for dead, isolated on that alien world, he sees him just this way. He knows exactly what Rush did on that planet. He sat in the dust and the dirt and he brought his hand up and hooked it over his shoulder just like he’s doing now, and he looked up at an unknown, locked piece of technology and he got up and he made it surrender to him.


Eli stays quiet. He wonders what Rush is thinking.


“In the past, you’ve taken on some side projects.” Rush’s voice is quiet and bizarrely polite. “For Colonel Young.”


Oh no. Oh no no no no no. NO. Please no.


“Yeah,” Eli says.


“You’ve always been atypically discrete,” Rush continues, “about these assignments.”


“Yeah,” Eli says. “I’m not hearing a question.”


Rush’s mouth quirks at this, and it’s little moments like now that make Eli think that maybe, maybe the scientist does like him on some level, even though he’ll deny it six ways from Sunday and has, arguably, shown more personal interest in Eli’s laptop than in Eli himself.


“I was curious,” Rush said, “whether y’might consider taking on an additional project, with the stipulation that a similar level of discretion would apply?”


“You want me to work with you on something, but not tell the colonel about it?”


“Precisely.”


This is all kinds of trouble. But he’s—yeah, he’s tempted. Strongly.


“What kind of ‘something’ are we talking about?”


“That’s not how this works.” Rush pushes his hair out of his eyes.


Yeah, it never is.


Eli sighs.


He’ll have to make this call based on nothing but whether or not he trusts Rush to not completely screw him over or use him in an attempt to unseat Colonel Young or do something ridiculously dangerous, or frankly, actually insane because the guy really hasn’t seemed his most rock solid stable lately, what with being linked to the ship, and linked to the colonel, and speaking Ancient and getting hurt all the time and Eli’s not insensitive to that, he’s really not. Plus, deep down, there’s a part of him that’s been waiting, waiting for Rush to ask him something like this.


And he wants it.


He wants to know who Rush is. He wants to know what he knows. He wants to know how he got the way he is. He wants to call him Nick, and he wants Rush to like him, like he likes Chloe, and he wants to tell Rush that he’s sorry he got so firmly aligned with Young so early on, but that he just didn’t get Rush. He didn’t get him at all, but now he does and he feels like—


Like, maybe, right now, he gets Rush better than anyone else on this ship. Because the guy is battling in the same way Eli’d watched his mom battle, for years. Feeling like shit. Intensely anxious. Weighed down by grief. Dragging herself through life because her son depended on her. Because her patients depended on her. Because, if she gave up, there was no one to take her place.


Eli’s throat feels very tight for some reason.


Whatever.


He’s not crying, you’re crying.


He just—he wants to help Rush.


Because this has to be so hard.


Because he should’ve helped his mom, but didn’t.


Because—


Yeah. Because.


So. Okay. Fine.


Rush is a subtle guy. Eli can be subtle too. He’s seen it done. In real life and in the movies. So he lifts his chin, looks Rush in the eye, and says, “I volunteered, y’know. To pull you out of the chair.”


It’s only because he knows Rush so well that he can tell the scientist is startled. Rush focuses on him, laser-tight, like he’s done only a handful of times. It’s hard to look back at him when he’s like this, but Eli does it.


Rush is trying to work out what Eli’s response means.


Eli knows how he himself meant it—he wants to tell Rush that he’s sorry. He’s sorry for the part he played in leaving the man alone on a deserted world. He’s sorry about the accusations and the fights. He wants to say that he knows what it's like to be right when everyone around you is wrong. He knows what it's like to create an exterior for yourself that starts out as armor, then becomes who and what you are. If he could say any of this out loud, he’d say that he knows what it's like to wait in clean, white rooms with the scent of antiseptic in your sinuses, too afraid to work, too afraid to fall asleep, not knowing what you might wake up to.


But he can’t say any of those things.


He doesn’t know how to say them and Rush wouldn’t know how to respond if he did. He can only tell Rush about an action that he took, and let him infer what he will. Hopefully he’ll take the right things from it. That Eli doesn’t want him to die. That he wants to help. That he’s willing to go a long way, maybe all the way, to do so. But also that Eli is doing this because he gives a damn and he’ll be intensely pissed off if Rush takes that sentiment and twists it into something that hurts anyone.


And Rush knows it. God, he must because he looks away and his cheek twitches. He runs a hand through his hair. “So you’re in then,” he says.


“Yeah, I’m in.”


“I’ll know if you tell the colonel,” Rush says, one last warning.


“Duh,” Eli fires back. “So. What’s the story?”


“Personally,” Rush says, and Eli nearly drops his pen again, “I can’t believe y’haven’t been incessantly bothering me regarding the absolute garbage that’s littering the Ancient database about the nature of Destiny’s mission.”


“What, you mean that ‘edge of the universe’ stuff? It seemed a little too metaphysical for me to really get excited about,” Eli replies.


“Yes, it’s absolute nonsense,” Rush agrees. “The universe doesn’t have an an achievable edge. It’s spatially infinite.”


“So it’s not a physical destination.”


“Certainly not. You’d think Volker, who’s an astrophysicist for fuck’s sake, would’ve raised at least a token protest about this.”


Despite himself, Eli’s getting extremely interested extremely rapidly. “So ‘edge’ is more of a code?” He taps his pen against his hand.


“No,” Rush replies. “We are looking for ‘edges,’ just not those that exist in perceptible space-time. We’re looking for points at which D-branes of the multiverse collide.”


“Oh my god.” Eli whispers. “That’s, like, unspeakably awesome.”


Rush smiles faintly.


“And it would make a great band name. D-branes of the multiverse? Come on.”


Rush shrugs, affecting a haughty nonchalance that doesn’t fool Eli one bit.


“And once we can detect these collisions?” Eli asks. “Then what?”


“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”


“Wait—” Eli says, his excitement fading. “Why are you not telling anyone about this? This is awesome. We should have the whole Science Team working on this.”


“You’re worth the entire balance of the Science Team.” Rush stands so smoothly that Eli almost forgets how much of a mess his feet are. Almost.


“That’s sweet of you to say,” Eli shoots back, “but I’m not that gullible. Plus, everyone knows Chloe’s your favorite. What happens at these collision points?”


“I suppose we’ll find out,” Rush murmurs, raising his eyebrows in a manner that suggests: a) he knows exactly what’s going to happen b) he’s not gonna tell Eli, not now, possibly not ever unless Eli figures it out on his own, and c) the answer is might be something ominous.


Eli hates ominous things.


“And the colonel can’t know about this because—” he trails off.


“Yes. Because. This is strictly observation and research. No need to bother Colonel Young. He’s terribly busy.”


“I really think we should tell him,” Eli says.


“And I really think that, if y’do, you’ll wish you hadn’t,” Rush says, with the kindly tone of a math professor announcing a pop quiz worth 25% of the semester’s final grade.


“I hate you.”


“That’s your prerogative.” Rush shoves his laptop at Eli. “Familiarize yourself with this,” he says.  “We’ll talk more later.”


“Why not now?” Eli asks. “Since when do you sleep? Wait…did you assign me all these night shifts so that you could coerce me into—”


“I don’t remember any coercion.”


“You did. How long have you been planning this?”


“Chance favors the prepared mind,” Rush murmurs.


“You’ve seen Under Seige 2: Dark Territory? My entire perception of you just—”


Rush looks at him in confused disdain. Eli wouldn’t have believed those two expressions could be effectively conveyed simultaneously, but he has to revise his opinion because the evidence is staring him in the face.


“Pasteur,” Rush says shortly.


“Ah,” Eli says. “Right. That too.”


“I’ll see you later.” Rush picks up his crutch.


“What? Why?” Eli’s unconvinced anything could be more interesting than talking more about D-branes and quoting quotes that might or might not be from terrible sci-fi movies.


“Y’don’t think this is the only project I have going, do you? It’s past four in the morning and I—” he pauses. “I’ve got things to do.”


Eli’s about to start firing questions and demanding answers—or, if not answers, at least justification for Rush’s attitude and his secrets and his everything, but he doesn’t. Partly it’s because he’s already agreed to help. Partly it’s because he can’t imagine what it would be like to be linked to another person for every single waking moment and it probably really sucks at times, so if Rush wants to be by himself and think about D-branes without constant interference and wander around and tear his feet open and be an idiot and not eat and not sleep because it makes him feel in control of his own life, well then, who is Eli, really to stop him? But mostly, mostly it’s because Rush seemed so sad as he said it, and deep down, Eli just doesn’t think he’s a bad guy. He doesn’t think the things Rush is working on will destroy them.


Rush wouldn’t do that.


Rush saved Chloe. He saved her. Twice.


So, there you go. Problem solved.


Right?


Right.


He chews on his lip as he watches Rush go, the lights trailing after him like a firefly entourage. Rush is steady and solid and walking like he isn’t hurting at all. He’s barely using his cane/crutch thingy. It looks more like an accessory. He’s energized and he’s confident and he doesn’t look cold.


With the energy conservation mode they’re in, at four thirty in the morning, with only one little lifesign in this big open room, Eli estimates it must have dropped to forty five degrees (Fahrenheit, thank you). He sees his own breath crystallize in the air. He’s freezing. He’s been freezing for two days now.


But Rush is fine?


This isn’t sitting right. He’ll work on the D-branes, sure, but there’s something else going on here, and he wouldn’t put it past Rush to pull a bait and switch on him. Maybe he knows about the Official NP-Complete Detective Society and he’s trying to create a distraction.


As soon as he has that poisonous little thought, he’s back to Volker’s data, examining premises and working through everything without preconceptions.


D-branes are cool, but, Eli, too, has a complicated to-do list. So. In the grand tradition of Dr. Rodney McKay, he’s gonna spend what remains of his shift tracing power. Voltage differentials. Flowing current. Lines of force.


It’s a mistake to underestimate Eli Wallace, but people do it all the time.


Something’s not right here.


He’ll get to the bottom of it.

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