Force over Distance: Alloy
Brody could spend a lifetime trapped on a derelict starship if it meant working with Nick Rush.
Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.
Text iteration: Witching hour.
Audio status: Theoretical.
Additional notes: None.
Brody, wearing his (only) new shirt, stands beside Vanessa James in a small, mostly bare room on Destiny’s starboard side. Together, they face Eli.
Eli regards them solemnly.
Volker steps forward, out of the assembled Science Team, to respectfully offer Eli the light-pen, using both hands. Eli takes it with a grave nod, and Volker backs away, without turning, to rejoin Lisa and Chloe.
“Kneel.” Eli holds the light-pen against his shoulder like a ceremonial blade.
“You guys are such nerds,” James mutters.
“Oh my god they really are,” Chloe whispers.
“Don’t embarrass me,” Brody says. “I put you up for this.”
James give him a hard side-eye, but she takes a knee in front of Eli.
“Do you, Lieutenant Vanessa James,” Eli begins.
“I’d like to say something,” Brody breaks in.
“As the official sponsor for our newest member, such is your right.” Eli turns to Brody, pulling ritual out of his ass like only real D&D players know how. “Speak.”
“I’d like to list the accomplishments of my inductee,” Brody says flatly.
“Proceed,” Eli allows.
“Huzzah for The List!” Volker calls from behind him.
“The List!” Park echoes, in a way that suggests a small dance move may have accompanied her pronouncement. Brody’ll never know, because he’s not gonna turn around.
Not at a moment like this.
“That actually sounds really nice,” Chloe says.
“Technomage Adam Brody,” Eli intones. “Please recite The List.”
Technomage, eh? Brody’ll take it.
He straightens beneath Destiny’s sunset-spectrum lighting. “The reclamation of usable corridor through the skill of welding. A working knowledge of Ancient circuitry. The discovery of a new, traversable area of Destiny. The ability to discern energy signatures by looking.” Brody stops there.
“Lieutenant James flipped a circuit breaker before we even knew there were circuit breakers,” Park adds. “She stopped current overflow into civilian spaces ten days into our mission.”
“She has Special Forces training,” Volker chimes in. “Sabotage and demolition.”
“Which she used,” Chloe picks up the thread, “to try and save us when we were trapped in ruins.”
“Never gonna forget that one,” Eli mutters under his breath. Then he recaptures his formal tone. “She added to our understanding of Destiny’s mission by recovering a very valuable kino from a plain of endless wreckage. And so. This is long overdue.”
“Hear hear,” Volker shouts.
“Ahem.” Eli clears his throat. “Do you, Vanessa James, swear on your life and your honor to respect and uphold the values and integrity of the NP-Complete Detective Society for as long as we hurtle ever further into the cosmos?”
James gives Eli a pointed look and says nothing.
Eli rolls his eyes, sighs, and adds, “Presuming it doesn’t conflict with the chain of command?”
“Do you promise to never reveal the existence of the NPCDS to anyone on the ship who is not already in the NPCDS?”
Brody clears his throat. Because c’mon. They discussed this.
Again, Eli sighs. “With an exception provided for: a-direct-order-from-a-superior-officer-or-circumstances-in-which-not-doing-so-would-reaslistically-endanger-the-lives-or-essential-resources-of-the-crew-of-this-vessel?”
“I do,” James says.
“Do you promise never to speak the full name of the NPCDS in a public venue?”
Brody nudges her calf with the toe of his boot.
“I promise,” James amends.
“Do you swear to never throw your fellow NPCDS members under the metaphorical busses known as Dr. Rush and/or Colonel Young.”
“I promise,” James says, with more conviction this time.
Eli gently taps each of her shoulders with the light-pen. “Then arise, Lieutenant Vanessa James, and welcome to your first official meeting of the NPCDS!”
Brody begins to clap, loud and methodical. The rest of the room follows suit. James stands, her cheeks flushed, her expression uncertain, like she thinks they might be making fun of her.
They’re not, so Brody stops clapping. He gives James a slow, one-armed hug, that she can definitely move away from if she wants. She doesn’t. It’s awkward. He knows that. It’s fine.
“Yeah! Bring it in guys.” Eli, quick on the uptake, doubles down on Brody’s gesture with more skill.
“Okay.” Chloe puts a hand on Eli’s shoulder, trying to rescue James. “Let’s just—”
“Group hug!” Park shouts, in pure joy. She goes straight for James, sweeping up Chloe and Brody’s left arm in the process.
“Oh, uh, okay.” Volker follows her in.
And then, it really is a group hug.
Brody has an arm around James. Chloe’s shoulder is wedged into his chest. Eli’s arm is wrapped around his back. Volker has a hand around his neck. Park’s fingertips graze his hair.
“This is nice,” Park whispers. “We should start all our meetings this way.”
“Ugh,” Volker says into Park’s hair. “Agreed.”
“Um?” James, somewhere in the middle of the pile, sounds squished.
“We’re done, right?” Eli’s already pulling back.
“Yeah,” Chloe squirms to free herself, a trace of annoyance in her voice. “We could use a little more choreography next time?”
Brody pulls back and sorts himself out.
It’s been a while since he’s had a good hug.
He scans the room for a spot to sit. The space is pretty bare. Chloe and Park have dragged a table in here. There are a few chairs, but not enough for everyone. Brody puts his back against a big, boxy-looking unit with a side hatch, and slides to the floor. Volker, James, and Park join him, sitting all in a line. This leaves Chloe and Eli at the front of the room.
Chloe perches on the edge of a table. Eli stands next to her.
“I call this meeting to order.” Eli does what will, maybe, one day, be a cool, Nick Rush flip of the light-pen over the back of his hand. Today though, he drops it. The pen clatters to the floor and starts rolling across the room. Eli chases it down.
“Oh my god.” Chloe rolls her eyes and pulls her legs beneath her to sit cross-legged on the table. She’s giving a little bit of a Nick Rush: Sorority Sister vibe. Brody’s into it. Extreme confidence coupled with new pink lip gloss and a sleek shine to her hair. There’ll be a day when Chloe Armstrong can command a room just as well as their current boss.
Eli sweeps the light-pen off the floor and grins at them. “Oops!” He rejoins Chloe at the front table. “Okay, a warm welcome to Lieutenant James. Before we get to the real substance of this meeting, does anyone have any new NP-Complete Saves to report?”
“He’s relearning English really fast, does that count?” Chloe asks.
“Um?” Eli cocks his head considering. “Maybe? But since it’s happening entirely in his brain, we’ll never know.”
“We should probably add it to the list.” Brody backs Chloe.
“Guys.” Eli frowns. “This is not the All The Cool Stuff Rush Has Ever Done List, okay? That’s a different one. Brody keeps it under his pillow.”
“Shut up,” Brody says.
“Very unprofessional.” Chloe glares at Eli.
Brody is liking this new, slow-building alliance he has with Chloe Armstrong. They don’t talk about it. But they don’t need to. It’s unspoken.
“Our list,” Eli continues, undeterred, “has standards.”
Volker raises his hand. “Well, in that case, I have an update on a named save?”
Eli opens his laptop. “A quick update?”
“Oh yeah,” Volker says mildly. “Super quick.”
“Go ahead.” Eli’s fingers hover over the keys. “Which one?”
“Firewall,” Volker replies. “I move to have it stricken from the list.”
“What?” Park breathes.
No. No way.
Yes, Volker’s his best friend on Destiny. Yes, Volker has a justified bone to pick with their boss. But there’s such a thing as a bridge too far, and the guy is standing on it.
“Stop it.” Brody leans forward and gives Volker an unimpressed look. “Firewall is the best, most complex example we have.”
“I’m not saying it’s not good. I’m not saying it’s not complex. Heck, I’m not even saying it’s not spectacular,” Volker replies, mild and self-assured. “It is. It’s too spectacular. It’s artistry. And, therefore, should be kicked out of our dataset.”
“Just because it’s beautiful doesn’t mean it’s not math.” Chloe frowns at Volker.
“Not saying that either,” Volker replied. “C’mon Chloe. You know I love me some beautiful math. But I don’t think his protective network architecture represents a solution to an NP-hard problem. Spending too long on Firewall will set us back.”
The room is quiet as they consider this.
Brody doesn’t want Firewall off the list. Firewall, when its interlocking directives are taken collectively, is one of the most beautiful logic weaves Brody has ever seen. It practically shines out of the Ancient displays. As if the hardware itself is grateful.
“What’s an NP-hard problem?” James asks, into the silence.
The room stares at her.
Brody looks away and brings a hand to his face. He should have anticipated this.
“This is the NPCDS,” Eli says, scandalized. “You’re just now asking what ‘NP’ means?”
“Hey,” Park whispers, looking at Brody. “Didn’t you request Dr. Rush’s Nova special in the Resupply? We could all watch it! I bet it would be a great introduction for Vanessa.”
“Did you request his entire body of academic work?” Volker asks.
“Maybe,” Brody says sullenly.
“Ugh, did you?” Eli asks. “Thank god. I’m disappointed in EVERYONE HERE for not thinking of the same idea. At least one of us isn’t an idiot.”
“Not where I was going with that, but okay,” Volker mutters.
Brody shoots him an I-see-you-and-you-better-watch-it look.
Volker grins at him.
“Eli,” Chloe whispers.
“Yeah. Okay. Focusing. James, NP problems are a class of very difficult computer science problems that Rush is, like, uniquely and creepily good at solving. Figuring out how he does that is—well it’s what puts the DS in the NPCDS.”
“So, I joined a Math Detective Club,” James says.
“Yup,” Brody replies.
“You were inducted into it,” Eli says absently. He frowns at his laptop.
“Eli,” Chloe snaps. “Come on.”
“Okay okay, Chloe’s right, we’re way off track. Dale, take your low-key anarchy and put it in your pocket for a minute, will you? Math versus artistry obviously requires a full debate. Firewall stays on the list for now.”
“I have a concern,” Brody says flatly.
“Oh my god, what,” Eli snaps, still typing comments into his NP-Complete Saves spreadsheet.
“I don’t think pure math can be separated from pure artistry. I think you end up debating the line between truth and beauty.”
Silently, Volker leans forward, looks at Brody, and raises a hand.
Brody leans over James to slap him a high-five.
Eli looks at Brody, with Rush-like fire in his eyes. “I hate you guys so much sometimes.”
“Look man,” Volker says. “This is what you get when you ask former academics for ‘quick updates’ on ridiculously complex topics. You’re gonna go from zero to discussing semantic epistemology in under eight seconds flat. Every time.”
“Erase all of that.” Chloe cranes her neck to look over Eli’s shoulder. “Just write John Keats.”
“John Keats?” Eli says blankly.
“Truth is beauty, beauty truth?” James fires off, crisp and quick.
“You like poetry?” Chloe looks so surprised that Brody wouldn’t blame James for taking offense.
“Not really.” James says, flat and unimpressed. “I saw it on The Simpsons.”
“The Secret War of Lisa Simpson.” Brody says, equally deadpan. “1997.”
Experimentally, James lifts her hand.
Brody wordlessly high-fives her.
“Oh brother,” Eli mutters, mashing on the backspace key.
Chloe sniffs disapprovingly.
“I have another meeting in fifteen,” Brody says, tired of watching Eli type. “Can we get this show on the road?”
“Another meeting?” Eli looks up.
“It’s with Scott and Greer,” Brody says. “In the machine shop. They wanna make something.”
“Matt and Ron?” Chloe perks right up.
Oops. Brody keeps his face neutral and looks away.
“What are they making?” Chloe asks.
“You’ll find out if it works,” Brody doesn’t look at her.
“You’re leaving the NPCDS for leisure?” Eli asks, scandalized.
“This is leisure?” James points out, not taking any shit from Eli. “This, right here, is leisure.”
“Yup,” Brody says.
Eli shuts his laptop. “Whatever. Fine. I see how it is. Chloe, Park, take it away.”
Park pushes herself to her feet. She and Eli switch places. Chloe stands.
“Do you wanna do it?” Chloe whispers.
“No, you do it. It’s your idea!” Park makes a self-effacing gesture and smiles at Chloe.
“But you fixed the thing,” Chloe says, equally gracious. “At least do the first part!”
“Are you sure?” Park whispers.
“Totally!” Chloe says. “You do it.”
Someone had better fuckin’ do it, Nick Rush doesn’t say.
Brody really misses that guy. Rush is, hands down, the best boss he’s ever worked for. Gifted. Not a talker. Good with his hands. Good with his brain. He never second-guesses himself. Brody could spend a lifetime trapped on a derelict starship if it meant working with Nick Rush.
Sometimes he thinks about what it would be like with just the two of them. They’d go days without speaking aloud. Words would be unnecessary. They’d communicate through the repair of damaged circuits, the light of activating consoles, holding the same wires, manipulating the same crystals—
Park steps forward and spreads her hands like she’s pantomiming a girl looking at the Big City for the very first time. She stares up at at an invisible skyline, grins, and announces, “The 3D Printer is Working,” in an elated, breathy, melodramatic voice. She sweeps her hands wide, palms open.
They all wait for her to break into song.
It doesn’t happen.
“Oh yeah?” Volker says mildly.
“We printed.” Park pauses dramatically. “THIS.” She pulls something out of her pocket and holds it up.
It’s so small that Brody has no idea what it is. Whatever it is fits almost invisibly between Park’s thumb and forefinger. And Park has very delicate fingers.
They all squint at it from half a room away.
“I can’t see anything,” Brody says flatly.
“Is that a—” James leans forward “Tiny cube?”
“No, there’s some light coming through it.” Eli’s also squinting. “Like, a bead maybe? Aw! Did you guys made a bead?”
“It’s a tiny hex nut.” Chloe crosses her arms and frowns at them.
“Oh,” Volker says, “like for a tiny bolt?”
“Yes!” Park grins at him. “For the tiniest of bolts!”
“Do you have a tiny bolt?” Brody asks.
“Well, no,” Park admits. “But the point is—we printed something!”
“Heck yes you did,” Eli starts clapping. “Great job, ladies.”
“Thanks!” Park grins.
“Ladies?” Chloe mouths at Eli, fire in her eyes.
“Sorry,” Eli mouths back with a shrug. “But you are ladies a little bit?”
“Can’t believe you thought it was a bead,” Chloe mutters. She crosses her arms and scowls at Eli.
“Where’d you get the raw material?” Brody asks.
“All the MRE wrappers from the RSM Dinner,” Park says. “That’s why it’s so small. And not very sturdy. You feed the material you want to break down into—that.” She points, with high drama, to the giant bin they’re all leaning against. “The Demolecularizer!”
Everyone except Brody edges away and cranes around to look uneasily at the thing. Brody eyes Chloe and Park, a suspicion growing in his mind. “So you have to put material in to get material back out?”
“Last I checked, conservation of matter still applies even when you’re a sung matter wave.” Park smiles.
“So we have to disintegrate stuff to print stuff. Like, uh, recycling material ink?” Volker asks.
“Yup,” Chloe says.
Eli turns to look at her.
“I don’t know how useful this is going to be,” Volker says skeptically.
“Pretty useful,” Chloe says quietly.
The room is silent.
Brody’d seen where she was going with this whole seconds ago.
So, the room is silent until Brody says: “Corpses.”
“Yes,” Chloe says delicately. “Specifically, Nakai corpses.”
“Ew,” Volker says, dry and mild.
“The’ll be demolecularized,” Chloe insists. “Pure elemental components. Stored nicely. Reassembled into essential items. It’s fine!”
“Is it though?” Volker looks skeptical.
“We have to get them off the ship anyway,” Chloe says. “We don’t have a spare shuttle to load up with dead alien material this time. We still don’t understand how we’re being tracked. It’s a big problem. They’re way too dangerous to leave, uh, intact for long, given we know that they’re physiologically capable of producing EM fields.”
Brody wholeheartedly agrees. Rush had put him on the tracking problem weeks ago. It’s a thorny one.
“I don’t like this,” Eli says. “Chloe, I wanted you to print me a blanket. A nice blanket. Made of pure, atomic fluff! I don’t wanna sadly curl up under a weave of demolecularized enemies!”
“When you put it that way, it’s kinda badass,” Volker says. “Very primal. I mean, is it really that much different than Early Man wearing wolf pelts?”
“Nice,” Brody says.
“This is exactly what I’m proposing.” Chloe opens a hand in Volker’s direction. “The high tech equivalent of wolf pelts.”
“Uh, I think there are some big differences,” Eli says dubiously.
“I don’t like it.” James crosses her arms.
“Well, I don’t think anyone likes the idea,” Park says soothingly.
Brody’s pretty sure Chloe likes it.
She’s turned a little bloodthirsty on the DL when it comes to the Nakai. She’d spent the last foothold situation sniping her way around the ship, taking those things out left, right, and center. Greer’d said she’d had the highest enemy kill count out of anyone on Destiny, including the military personnel.
In Brody’s opinion, that’s pretty great.
“Yeah, obviously no one likes it,” Chloe says stiffly. “But—”
“I’ll take it to the colonel.” Eli sighs dramatically.
“Dr. Rush wouldn’t take it to the colonel,” Chloe argues. “He’d just do it.”
Yup. He would. No doubt about that.
If Nick Rush were here right now, instead of in the infirmary, Greer and James would’ve been dumping a corpse into the thing at Brody’s back about two minutes ago.
“We were literally in this exact same situation weeks ago and he did take it to the colonel.” Eli comes right back at Chloe.
No way is Brody letting that fly. “Because he didn’t have easy access to a working demolecularization device.”
“Let’s just do one.” Chloe says, her expression sweet, her eyes aflame. “Proof of concept. Tonight. We can take the data to the colonel. He can use it to make an informed decision. They might have rare earth elements in their blood that we could use to print circuitry or replacement parts. You don’t know.”
Nick Rush would be so proud right now.
“True,” Eli says. “I don’t know. And I don’t want to know. My vote? We get the ship whisperer to drop us out of FTL for, like, ten seconds, we vent them into the void of space, then we spin up the drive again, and, at the next stargate we find, we shovel dirt and rocks onto kino sleds and dump that into the demolecularizer.”
“You have no idea what kind of opportunity we might be passing up.” Chloe voice is powerful and flat.
And she’s right, Brody thinks. They won’t know if they don’t try it. It’s very likely that, if they take this to Young, Young will say no. If they take the data to Young, if it looks good, if he knows what he’d be passing up—then, maybe, he’d change his mind.
“Maybe we should vote on it,” Brody says.
Chloe locks eyes with him.
He gives her a tiny nod.
“No.” Eli’s voice is flat and final. “We are not demolecularizing any corpses tonight. I’ll take it to Colonel Young in the morning.”
The kid is Young’s man, through and through. And he always has been.
He gets to his feet. “In that case, I gotta get to my other meeting.” As he leaves, he can feel the pressure of Chloe’s eyes on his back.
In the machine shop, Brody fires up the heating element beneath the crucible adjacent to the manufacturing belt. He deposits a tiny chip of naquadah and a tiny pile of stripped copper wiring onto the heating surface.
Tonight, he’ll be creating an alloy. Hopefully.
Greer and Scott arrive together. They perch on unused equipment and mostly talk to each other, which is nice. It saves Brody the trouble of making conversation. He stands over his crucible, where his chip of unmelted naquadah is surrounded by a slowly growing pool of molten copper.
Just as the naquadah is starting to liquify, the doors swish open. Brody looks up to see Rush standing in the frame, leaning on a crutch, an expression of otherworldly annoyance on his face.
Young is with him. That’s probably why.
God, Rush looks awful. He’s pale. It seems like he’s lost weight. He’s got a fever-glazed look. Brody’s sure the guy should be in bed.
“Doc,” Greer says. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Rush sounds about fifty percent Ancient, fifty percent Scottish at this point. Much better than he’d been when Brody and Volker had visited him yesterday. They’d watched the first Lord of the Rings movie, because Peter Jackson had decided that Tooks had Scottish accents, more or less. That’d been Volker’s reasoning. Brody had stopped by again later to drop off a USB stick with the best examples of Scottish he could find on Destiny’s collective media drive, which consisted of Trainspotting, the Doctor Who episode “Tooth and Claw,” and the Disney movie Brave.
Eli’d pressured him to include Braveheart, but Brody was not and is never gonna do that to his boss.
His boss whom he likes.
“Lieutenant,” Young says. “Sergeant.”
“Hey, colonel,” Scott hops down from his perch on the mechanized production line to grab a chair from a workstation against the far wall. He drags it over and positions it near where Brody’s working.
Young takes Rush’s crutch, and leans it against Brody’s superheated station.
Rush instantly rescues it from danger and adroitly slots it onto a shelf below the heating element as Young eases him into the chair.
The whole thing annoys Brody.
It’s about time Young decided to look out for the guy who has the ability to save everyone on board with the power of his mind.
Maybe they should collectively treat that guy as valuable. Maybe they should have been doing that since the beginning. Maybe some people realized that right away. Maybe some people hadn’t needed two years and two thousand obvious near-lethal examples before they figured it out.
Some people are quicker than others.
“Bene conservatum.” Brody glances at Rush’s crutch.
Rush props his feet on a piece of nearby machinery. “Perspicax,” he replies, smooth as liquid mercury.
“It’s good to see you up and around, Dr. Rush,” Scott says.
“Yes yes,” Rush replies.
“So.” Young crosses his arms and glares at all of them. “We gotta lay down some rules.”
Rush rolls his eyes and points wordlessly at the door.
Gently, Young shoves his hand out of the air.
Brody wonders what would happen if he tried something like that. No way could he pull it off. He can make even a nice, communal hug awkward.
Young sweeps his eyes over everybody, then settles on Greer. “Rule number one: he doesn’t get up. Rule number two: he definitely doesn’t pace. Rule number three: he operates no machinery. Rule number four: he needs to speak English. Rule number five: I’m coming back in one hour. Rule number six: you guys radio me if he looks like he needs to lie down. Or if he looks like his fever’s getting worse. Or if anything seems like it’s going in the wrong direction. We clear on all of that?”
“Yes sir,” Greer says, like any of this is normal.
“We’re clear, sir.” There’s a trace of hesitation in Scott’s voice.
“Brody?” Young growls.
“Yup,” Brody says. “Got it.”
“And you,” Young growls. He pushes Rush’s hair out of his eyes and presses a hand to the man’s forehead. “Don’t overdo it.”
“Fuck off,” Rush says gently.
Brody looks back at the slowly melting metal in front of him and keeps his eyes there until Young leaves the room.
The naquadah’s getting nice and melted.
Rush leans over to take in Brody’s metallic concoction.
To be brutally honest, it looks pretty uninspired—more of a muddy, variegated brown/gray sludge than anything. He’d hoped the naquadah would add depth. Luster. But it’s not fully integrated. It’s got less native shine than he’d hoped.
“Hmm,” Rush says. This prompts Greer and Scott to join them.
Great. Now everyone can see how terrible it looks.
“That looks pretty good.” Scott sounds impressed.
Scott is as bad as Park, sometimes.
“It looks like crap,” Brody replies, not in the mood for sunshine or rainbows right now.
This metallic blend is not worthy of Chloe Armstrong, who guns down genetic invaders and tries to demolecularize their corpses to turn into gifts for her friends. It’s not worthy of someone who can pilot a derelict ship through the plasma architectures within stars, who can perform prime factorizations in her head, and who was the first to understand that they flow through spacetime as a matter wave, sung by shields into the unknown dark.
Brody is honored to be crafting her ring.
It’s one of the greatest honors of his entire life, in fact—to make something she’ll wear for the rest of her’s.
And it. Is not. Gonna look like crap.
“It’s kinda lacey, y’know?” Scott sounds encouraging. “Complicated. The blueish part and the copper part make swirls. That’s nice.”
“Nice if you’re Queen of the Spiders, maybe.” Brody waits a beat, then remembers that Volker isn’t here to high-five him.
They all stare at him in silence. Then, “Queen of the Spiders?” Greer echoes. He looks at Rush.
Brody’s not sure what to make of the Rush-Greer dynamic.
“It needs to be brighter,” Brody clarifies. “More luster.”
Volker would’ve understood immediately.
“Solidify, please,” Rush says. “Then assess.”
And yeah. That was Brody’s plan anyway. He angles the crucible, uses the Ancient tungsten bench scraper to remove the impurities at the edge of the liquid metal, then kills the heat. As the metal cools, he shapes it into a round disc. Like an irregular little coin. When it’s solid enough, he drops it into a small depression in the workstation, which floods with cool water. It begins to steam.
“Why do I feel like we haven’t unlocked even half the things this ship can do,” Greer says, watching the mist dissipate.
“Half?” Rush says haughtily. He crosses his arms. “Not half. Not as much as half.”
“Less than half.” Brody helps him out.
“Doc, you are crushin’ it with the English. What do you think? Twenty-five percent? Fifteen percent?”
“Ten. At most.” Rush’s diction is careful.
Greer gives a low whistle.
They watch as the little flowing water bath stops steaming. Brody reaches into the still-cycling water and finds it cool. He pulls out the coin-shaped pice of metal, dries it on a corner of his shirt, and studies it. It doesn’t look any better.
“Let me see.” Rush extends an hand in Brody’s direction, but he’s looking away. His other hand is at his temple, like he doesn’t trust himself to stay steady on his chair if he does something as complicated as hold out his hand and focus on a moving target.
Brody’d like to know how someone who’s feeling as terrible as Rush clearly is, can manage to pull off a demeanor that’s so imperious. Somehow, the guy manages to take the whole sick-and-injured thing and run with it, giving it a superior, highhanded, math-genius bent.
Brody is sure that even if he himself were suddenly, right now, made Intergalactic Emperor with a lifetime appointment, he wouldn’t be able to pull off imperious as well as Rush does now—sick and exhausted and not exactly a native English speaker anymore.
“Sure.” He puts the fledgling coin of metal into Rush’s outstretched hand.
Rush examines it, turning it over in his fingers. He holds it up to the light. He looks into empty air, like he’s listening to something there, then looks at the metal. “Not good enough.”
“Not for Chloe,” Brody agrees. “No.”
Scott makes a small, touched sound in the back of his throat.
Brody and Rush both roll their eyes, then lock gazes.
“Zinc,” Rush says. “Maybe zinc.”
“Yeah,” Brody replies. “I thought of that. But where am I supposed to get zinc?”
“Um,” Rush pauses, glances at Greer and Scott, then, cautiously, says, “demolecularize small American coins?”
If he’s throwing around the word “demolecularize” when what he actually means is “melt,” Chloe’s probably told him they’ve got the 3D printer working. It occurs to Brody that there’s a good chance Chloe might have already demolecularized a Nakai corpse. In her free time.
“Pennies,” Brody says. “Actually, I’ll take anything, but pennies would be best.”
“Scott.” Rush snaps his fingers at the lieutenant, then points at the door. “Go and find. Ask Wray.”
“Uh, okay.” Scott gets to his feet and heads out the door. “Be back ASAP.”
Once Scott leaves the room, Brody experimentally says. “Narra mihi plura de zinc?”
The relief on his boss’s face is painful to witness. He holds the alloy up to the light again. “Si metalla invicem permiscueris, aspectus singularem habere possit.” The words flow easily, and Rush’s expression clears as he speaks. “Non polliceri possum pulchritudinem necessario fore, sed operae pretium esse arbitror. Ductilitatem amittere potes, sed hoc difficile praedicere est.”
“It would suck if it shattered,” Brody agrees.
Rush glances sideways at Greer. The sergeant sighs, opens a hand, and says, “Yeah, okay. Knock yourself out.”
Rush smiles a wicked smile. He turns the coin of metal over in his fingers. “Quomodo procedit conatus inveniendi instrumentum rastri Necai?” Rush murmurs. “Colonel Young,” he says, with a nicely Scottish edge, “nihil mihi dicere voluit.”
“Doc, you’re pushing it.” Greer gently kicks Rush’s chair.
“Nondum aliquid invenimus,” Brody replies, uneasy.
“Novae informationes nuper in lucem venerunt,” Rush says.
“Oh yeah?” Brody switches to English.
“Ita est.” Rush is using his troublemaker voice. “Necai navem ascendere. Muito primo tempore.” Something about the way he says it sends chills down Brody’s spine.
“Doc,” Greer snaps. “No. Stop talking about the Nakai. Save it. For next week or somethin’.”
Rush raises an eyebrow at Greer. “Sergeant,” he says archly. “Learning Ancient?”
“Maybe.” Greer glowers at him. “You’ll be the last to know, if I am.”
“Fuck off,” Rush says. It’s supposed to be haughty and self-contained, but, to Brody, it just sounds miserable.
Greer reaches over and claps him on the shoulder.
The doors swish open and Scott returns, out of breath, with a handful of small change. “Got it,” he says triumphantly. He dumps an assortment of coins into Brody’s hand.
Brody sifts through them until he finds a penny. He throws it in in the crucible, and cranks the heat back up. Rush hands him the disc of naquadah and copper, and he throws that in with the melting penny.
“Doc.” Greer gets out of his chair and wanders over to look into the crucible. “Are pennies seriously made of zinc?”
Rush nods exhaustedly.
“They used to be pure copper,” Brody confirms, glancing up at Greer. “Now they’re copper-plated zinc.”
“Not cool,” Greer says to the melting penny, his voice full of disapproval.
Rush sighs. Then he fixes Scott with a penetrating look and goes for one hell of a subject change, with, “Is it not obvious to you that Chloe should go to graduate school?”
And whoa, that was a surprising amount of English, pretty well put together. Also pretty aggressively delivered.
Scott’s caught flat-footed.
Brody can sympathize. Is it a trick question? Is it even a question? It sounded more like a statement. What’s the correct answer? Agree? Disagree? Maybe this is the Nick Rush version of hey-nice-choice-for-your-future-spouse talk. Or maybe it’s the Nick Rush version of the you’re-not-good-enough-for-Chloe talk.
“It’s kind of a moot point at the moment, doc,” Scott says.
That’s a good move.
Skirt the issue and join on with the Greer-trend of calling Rush “doc.”
“What do you mean?” Rush replies.
“Well, we’re not on Earth, so—”
“Right,” Rush says, like he’s forgotten. “Well, after you get back—”
“We,” Greer snaps.
“What?” Rush asks.
“After we get back,” Greer says.
Rush goes strangely neutral in response to this. He ignores Greer and looks at Scott. “Keep in mind she is very talented so it would be a waste—“ he breaks off, like he’s not sure how to complete the phrase he just started.
Brody can sympathize; in Ancient he’s snarled himself up into a tangle of subordinate clauses.
“Don’t drag her after you.” Rush frowns, forbidding as hell. “She drags you, please.”
Ugh. There’s something about that “please” that doesn’t sound at all like a real “please,” but, all the same, is pretty hard to take.
Brody looks down.
The metals are melting together. He picks up something that looks like a tungsten icepick and starts swirling liquid zinc through the naquadah/copper blend in intricate, lacy patterns.
“Sounds right,” Scott finally says. “Maybe you can write her a letter? For graduate school? If she wants to go?”
“Obviously,” Rush says.
Scott smiles. Some of the tension seems to go out of Greer, like Rush’s earlier statement was nothing more than some odd, Ancient turn of phrase. Like Rush has admitted that he plans on going back to Earth as well.
Rush has already written the letter. He borrowed some letterhead and a pen from Brody to do it. Weeks ago. He’d asked Brody to check make sure that the current chair of the UC Berkeley Math Department was still the famous Langlands Problem guy.
Rush and Brody lock eyes.
Things have been a little awkward between him and Rush ever since they found out that in an alternate timeline, a very different version of Brody, who was not at all the same as him, founded a society that adopted the scientist as their deity. Sort of. A little bit.
So sue him.
He’s always admired Rush, with his confident, crazy-genius je ne sais quoi attitude and his preternatural ability to code, and his Fields Medal, and his ability to intimidate everyone in his path.
Brody flips the crucible to cool.
It makes whatever’s happening to Rush that much more difficult for Brody to watch.
He wishes he understood it. He wishes that he knew Rush or the colonel well enough to ask what’s going on between them—or, even to ask Rush what’s really going on between him and the ship.
But he doesn’t. So he coaxes cooling metal into a sheet, thinner this time.
“So, um any advice?” Scott asks Rush, cutting the tension in that disarming way he has. “Other than the graduate school thing?”
Rush presses two fingers against his forehead and considers Scott. It’s weirdly intense. Like he’s looking at the lieutenant and trying to do difficult mental math at the same time. “Have a July wedding,” he says, finally.
That’s weirdly specific.
“July?” Scott echoes. “Why July? What does it matter on a starship?”
“That’s my advice.” Rush shrugs and looks away. “July is nice.”
“Um, thanks,” Scott says, guardedly, like he’s not sure whether he’s being insulted or not.
Greer frowns at Rush. His arms are crossed over his chest. He looks suspicious. Unhappy. “Doc,” he whispers. “Seriously. Why July.”
Rush and Brody lock eyes again.
Brody is pretty sure Rush expects that by July, somehow, Chloe will be back on Earth, letter of recommendation in hand.
As they look at one another, Brody’s sure Rush understands what Brody’s just realized.
“July’s a good choice,” Brody says flatly. “It’s a tradition. All serious academics get married in the summer. Before the new academic year starts.”
Rush gives Brody a nod of acknowledgement.
“Didn’t know that,” Scott says affably.
When, again, the metal cools enough to touch, Brody inspects his handiwork.
He holds a multicolored, imperfectly blended alloy of three materials, which swirl together unpredictably, catching the light. The copper shines, a deep red gold. The blue/gray of the naquadah gleams, set off by rivulets of zinc that run like liquid water through the metal.
“Not bad.” Brody angles the sheet of metal that he’ll stamp and grind and melt and remelt and file into a delicate, unbreakable engagement ring. It won’t have a stone, but it’ll handle charge. It’ll catch the light, concentrate it, and, unpredictably, throw it back into the world.
When he’s done, it’ll be a ring worthy of Chloe Armstrong.
“Wow,” Scott says.
“Holy shit,” Greer says.
Brody offers the metal to Rush. The scientist takes it and examines it under night-spectrum lights.
“What do you think?” Brody asks. “Will it be enough?”