Force over Distance: Chapter 41

Even at the unravelling of the world, some things stayed the same.

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

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 41

As the light of Rush’s mind faded, Young’s internal landscape went dark. He lost the CI room. Around him, the wind of the scientist’s thoughts died to blown ash and ember, too fragile to handle without damage.

Young pulled back and found himself locked to his own paralyzed body. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t feel a thing. He couldn’t open his eyes.

What had he just done?

He’d sent Rush into the dark. He’d put the guy down. Without knowing what Telford’s drug would do, without knowing whether the scientist would ever wake again.

Out of nowhere, out of nothing, like the memory’d been beating down a door he couldn’t see—

It’s cold. Metal walls, warped to failure, press close. Riley, caught beneath and within the wreckage of a downed shuttle, says, “I’d ask for your gun, but I don’t want them to blame you.”

He couldn’t take this shit. He couldn’t. Maybe, once upon at time, in sun-touched places on his own planet, married to a girl with curves and pearls and highlights in her hair, he’d been able to shoulder the responsibility of command.

But now?

Nick Rush had shattered it out of him.

Young’s heart slammed against his ribs. He had to get through this foothold. He had to get the crew home. He had to. In order to survive, in order to hold himself together, that’s what he had to do. He was nothing without that. Even if he burned everything he had as fuel in the attempt, he had to get the crew home. Or die trying.

He’d made so many mistakes.


If Camile could just get back to Sharon. If Matthew could see the son he’d never known; if Eli could see his mom. If TJ could start treatment for the thing waiting in her nerves. If Rush could hold himself together through everything happening to him—

//I’m gonna make this better for you, genius,// Young whispered into the quiet dark of Rush’s mind. //If you wake up, it’ll be more than just slog.//

With an adrenaline-powered effort, Young’s eyes came open.

He was on his side, facing the stargate. The blue glow of the active gate seared his retinas.

His eyes slid shut.

He focused on his breathing. On calming himself enough to recover.

Giving a damn, giving way the hell too much of a damn, was a huge weakness in the field. But all weaknesses, every one, came with a corresponding strength. He was gonna consolidate the hell outta this situation. He was gonna scrape back pieces of what was his. One person at a time. Starting with Scott. Ending with Rush.

The Nakai were the ones who’d sent their fleet to Sicily.

Young was the one who knew the terrain. The banks of the Assinaros by day. The banks of the Assinaros by night.

Nearby, he heard the quiet flutter of a Nakai soldier, shifting position.

There weren’t many in the room. One near him. Two farther away. They didn’t speak. Not aloud.

He focused on recovering.

They could still get out of this.

They could.

Telford was an outstanding tactician—one of the best Young’d ever met. Clever. Inventive. Deceptive. The fewer resources he had, the better he performed. Telford was the guy who could pull impossibilities out of flaming wreckage. The problem was, he’d come back with a tenth of the force he’d gone in with.

But Wray. Wray was different. Wray was like Young. A consolidator. She was in the mess. She had most of the crew. She had James as her ranking officer. James would listen to Wray.

One step at a time.

Beneath his shoulder, the reassuring hum of the FTL drive cut to nothing. Young felt the sickening drop to normal space.

He cracked his eyes. The overhead lighting was out.

It was hard to breathe.

There was a terrible pressure in his chest.

He took a breath. He took another. He tried to think of anything but Nick Rush, lying on the floor of the CI room atop a ribbon of emergency track-lighting, right next to a piece of wall that was trying, like hell, to heat itself up.

Young opened his eyes again. This time, they stayed open. Scott was paralyzed beside him, pale in the blue light of the room. In front of him was the silhouette of a lone Nakai, backlit against a field of event-horizon blue.

It looked directly at him.

It’d seen him. No question.

Young stared back at it, all his challenge on his face.

The thing looked to the other Nakai, positioned behind Young. But the glance was almost—furtive?

The whole thing was strange as hell.

It started toward him. Young braced himself, determined, somehow, some way, to give the thing one hell of a fight, even if it was just mentally, through a damn transmitter. But—

The thing stopped. Feet away. It cocked its head and dropped into an unnatural-looking crouch.

//Hi,// it projected at him.

He looked at it.

What. The hell.

//What the hell?// Young asked, too astonished for anything but astonishment.

//Hmm,// it projected. //Not sure how to respond to that one.//

Young felt a tinge of amusement from the thing. Its voice sounded human. Strange. Familiar. Like someone he’d known with overtones of other people he’d known. There was a subliminal buzz to it.

//What are you?// Young glanced over his shoulder at the two aliens working the monitor bank near the doors. When he looked back, he wasn’t staring into an alien face.

Sergeant Hunter Riley crouched in front of him, his expression open. Familiar. Friendly. Edged with the sadness the man himself had carried.

//Hi colonel,// Riley said.

//Riley?// Young asked, unable to keep the hope out his projection.

//Sorry, colonel, no.// Riley looked pained. //I don’t mean to cause confusion. I’m not Hunter Riley. I’m borrowing his appearance.//

//Who the hell are you then?//

//I’m a member of the race that built the Obelisk Worlds, as you’ve named them.//

Young, at a loss for what to say, flashed back to John Sheppard.

“How’d you convince a wraith to break you out of a holding cell?” Mitchell asks, drunk and shoulder-to-shoulder with Sheppard on a king-size bed in Vegas, a pillow beneath his knees to ease the stress the car ride had put on the five separate cracks in his back. “Ah,” Sheppard says, drunker, one arm overhead, guiding a deck of cards around imaginary obstacles like it’s an F-302. “You gotta figure out what they think they know, because most of the time it’s wrong. And you gotta figure out what you think you know, because some of that’ll be wrong too. And then you gotta figure out what you both want. If there’s nothing—you’re screwed. But there’s usually something.”

//Nice to meet you,// Young said. //You got a name?//

//Riley’s fine, for now.//

//That’s a little strange for me.//

//I know,// Riley said, with quiet sympathy. //Sorry about that.//

He studied Young without speaking.

//Something I can help you with?//

//You’re an interesting person. Across the multiverse, you’ve created wildly different fates for yourself. I was wondering if you have an explanation.//

//An explanation for—for my different fates?//

//Yes,// Riley said.

//I don’t know what that means.//

Riley smiled. //In universes where you make it to Destiny, you’re dead. You’re in stasis. You’re missing. You’re in enemy hands. You’re locked in the brig. You’re living on an array of alien worlds with an array of different people. You’ve become terribly kind. You’ve become profoundly cruel. You’re lost to alcohol. To trauma. You’re despised by your crew. You’re found. You’re adored. You’re absent. You’re central. Even now, even here—in this slender line of salt on the beach of a cosmic sea—even here, you’re in array. If I were less experienced, you’d chance-blind me in this moment alone.//


Riley ignored his question. //Can you explain the depth and variety of your own array?//

//Well, uh,// Young said, trying to be accommodating, //seems like you have a lot more experience in this area; what do you think about it?//

Riley smiled, brilliant and sad-edged. //I know the answer.//

Then what the hell are you asking me for, Young wanted to growl. Instead he said, //Sorry to disappoint, but I got nothin’.//

//Maybe we’ll circle back on this,// Riley said.

Young subtly gestured at the Nakai. //How’d you meet your friends over there?//

//Within a collision, many things are possible. I joined their crew.//

//Do they know who you really are?//

//No.// Riley’s gaze lingered on the blue forms at the back of the room.

//And how did they get here?//

//Their own technical ingenuity,// Riley said. //They’ve had your gate address for millennia. They store salvaged stargates on their ships. But they’ve never had the power to dial Destiny while she’s at FTL. I admit, they wouldn’t have known it was possible, if not for me.//

//Wait a minute,// Young growled. //You helped them get here?//

//I did.//

Young’s blood turned to ice water, but it was no match for the firestorm of anger that spiraled from his core. //Why the hell would you do that?// He flexed his fingers, trying to encourage his sensation to return as quickly as possible. //You realize you not only put this crew in danger, you profoundly fucked up a sentient piece of technology? A piece of technology, by the way, that’s directly linked to my chief scientist and if he doesn’t recover from this, I will destroy you, if it’s the last god damned thing I do. I promise you that.//

Riley smiled his sad-edged smile. //You can threaten me if you like, colonel. You can do whatever you’d like, in fact. I encourage it. But I’m very sorry to tell you—I’m here to thin the local array.//

Young hesitated, breathing hard. //What does that mean?//

//Have you ever found a flower, pressed between book pages?//

//Are you fucking kidding me,// Young snarled.

//Press too many flowers,” Riley said, //and you’ll ruin the book. Let them grow out of the book and you have a devouring garden.//

Young shivered. //What the hell are you saying?//

//You’ve understood the threat correctly.// Riley cocked his head. //You and all you’ve ever known might be unmade.//

Young’s heart hammered in his chest. //Might,// he echoed, no strength in his projection. //You said ‘might’.//

//It may not surprise you to hear this, colonel, but your chief scientist is a point of contention among my people.//

Even at the unravelling of the world, some things stayed the same.

//Welcome to the club,// Young whispered.

Riley nodded.

//Why draw it out?// Young asked, grasping at straws. //Why do it this way? Why would you—// He couldn’t continue, thinking of Wray’s terror, of Eli’s drawn expression, of the AI, sobbing on the floor of the CI room, of Rush—

//It must seem terribly cruel,// Riley said gently. //And, locally, I admit, it is cruel.//

//Locally?// Young asked.

//For every petal in the flower of your full self that won’t make it, that cannot make it—the local endings can be terrible. Perhaps it will happen here. Perhaps very soon now.//

//‘Perhaps’,// Young said fiercely. //Perhaps? Meaning some of us won’t make it—but some of us will? You’re doing it this way to give us a chance?//

//We revere chance,// Riley whispered. //And we prefer not to unmake entire realities, if it can be avoided.//

//Okay,// Young said. //Okay. I can work with that. And—your issue with Rush is—what?//

//Whether he should be classified as human or Ancient.//

//Why does that matter?//

//Because we are Ancients.//

//You serious?//

//We aren’t ‘your’ Ancients. We aren’t ‘local.’ We exist in superposition across the multiverse.//

Oh god. He was way out of his depth. Paralyzed on the floor. His hands tied behind his back. His crew under siege. And all of existence was, somehow, on the line.

He could do it.

He had to do it.

There was no one else.

“Just keep ‘em talking,” Sheppard slurs, flying his pack of cards around invisible obstacles.

//So if Rush were fully human, you’d stop us, but since he may be, semantically, an Ancient, you’re undecided?//


//Okay. So he’s making trouble, but maybe in the clear. And, because of that, you’re ‘thinning the local array.’ Of—what. The most dangerous flowers?//

Riley nodded, looking at him thoughtfully. //You’re more perceptive than some of your other incarnations. Yes. Well put. In this universe, and in all the others within the local array, your chief scientist is very close to achieving successful navigation between two D-branes.//

//And you’re opposed to this?// Young asked.

//Not categorically,// Riley said carefully. //It depends on his intentions.//

//Can’t you just look at all his simultaneous paths and figure him out?//

//We can’t,// Riley said. //Too few arrays exist to make a definitive decision.//

//What’s that supposed to mean?//

//He’s a rare variant. He doesn’t often survive to this point. Given he lives this long, his arrays are wildly divergent. Only a handful exist. Seven. Three of those seven arrays threaten the integrity of the multiverse. Within each array, he exists as manifold. Some manifold petals are more dangerous than others.//

Young shut his eyes. //We’re just trying to get home,// he whispered. //We don’t wanna screw up the multiverse, or whatever it is you’re afraid we’ll do.//

Riley sighed. //Nice try, colonel, but, important as you are, you’re not the one endangering all existence.//

He didn’t understand this. Not even close. But one thing was coming through loud and clear.

Riley, or whoever he was, didn’t trust Rush or the AI not to do something extremely irresponsible as they tore through the fabric of existence—if that was their plan.


Honestly, Young could see the thing’s point.

//So what now?//

//Now, you do your best,// Riley said. //Whatever that looks like to you.//

//Meaning,// Young said shortly, //you have some kind of noninterference policy that prevents you from helping me? I noticed you sure as hell gave the Nakai a hand.//

//Not to their benefit, I assure you,// Riley said. //There’s no question as to what their fate will be.//

Young shivered at the thing’s callous disregard for the Nakai. //You’re pretty damn decisive for an Ancient.//

Riley looked amused. //I’m something more and less than ‘Ancient.’ I guard the threshold of the living multiverse.//

//Sounds like a great justification for doing whatever the hell you want.//

//Rather than debating me, might I suggest an attempt to free yourself would be a better use of your time?//

And yeah. If it wasn’t gonna offer assistance, that was damn well true.

Young shifted his focus to Scott. The lieutenant still had a dart in his shoulder, which’d been leaching toxin this whole time. Young inched toward the man, angling himself with the idea of pulling the thing out. As he moved—

What the hell?

The dart wasn’t reflecting the light like it should.

It was translucent. He shifted his gaze from Riley to the Nakai across the room. They, too, were subtly translucent. The blue light from the gate shone through them. He could see the closed door panels through their bodies.

Telford had noticed this. It was why he’d hesitated before firing.

The Nakai were out of phase. Not entirely. There was enough overlap that their darts had brought him down, but—Young felt better than he should feel. Better than he’d felt with the first round of dart poison in his system. Maybe the same would be true of Scott.

With a sloppy, wavering effort, Young rolled onto his stomach. He inched close enough to use his teeth to pull the dart from Scott’s shoulder. He lowered the small weapon to the deck, so it wouldn’t clatter against the metal.

He looked Scott over as best he could, hoping he hadn’t missed any other darts. The lieutenant was bleeding slowly from a small wound positioned just past the edge of his Kevlar jacket.

Another quick check of the Nakai near the door revealed Riley had posted himself between Young and the two guards, shielding him from view.

//Thought you weren’t gonna help out,// Young projected.

//While I am, primarily, an observer,// Riley replied, //observation itself influences events.//

//Oh yeah?// Young tested his bonds, trying to get a sense of their composition.

//It so happens I prefer to observe events from this particular spot.// Riley shrugged.

//I’m not arguing.//

His bonds were made of an elastic material that bit into his bare skin. The Nakai’d forced his sleeves up and wrapped whatever it was around his forearms. The configuration pulled at his shoulders, but, strangely, left his wrists free. It was more suited to their long-limbed form than his. His feet were free. Maybe they assumed he wouldn’t be standing anytime soon? Maybe they were worried about something else? Something he might do with his hands?

It didn’t matter. The better question was why the hell hadn’t he issued himself a damn knife the second new supplies’d come through the gate?

He scanned Scott, but the lieutenant had nothing visible on him.

There was always the possibility that Scott’d picked up Greer’s habit of strapping a knife to his ankle.

As surreptitiously but as thoroughly as he could, Young searched the other man, coming up with nothing that had a remotely sharp edge. He considered using the dart he’d pulled from Scott’s back, but its needle-sharp point wasn’t gonna be effective and he’d probably end up stabbing himself in the wrist with the damn thing.

What would Rush do in this situation?

Rush’d do something. Rush had escaped an alien ship in an alien craft. With Chloe. Neither of them were pilots.

Young could get himself off the damn floor.

Hang on.

Supposedly, his mind had been ‘rebuilt’ by his chief scientist. If that were true—maybe, with a little effort—he could purposefully pull some of the guy’s scaffolding to the surface?

It would, in this moment, definitely help more than it could possibly hurt.

Okay then.

He took a breath. He dug into himself, and he thought about problems. Not his specific problem, but problems in general. Ways around and through. Arrays. He was a member of an array, a layered set, observed by Riley, flowering with small differences from his alternate selves, flagged to be culled. He had to get himself out of his bonds and he had to get this D-brane through the bottleneck of whatever allowable permutations were out there, and, for fuck’s sake, he might actually have a chance of pullin’ the thing off if he were in superposition—

Ah. Success. Fuck, better than success; this was satisfying. There’d always been something in him that loved a job done well.

Now. How, exactly, was he to get off the fuckin’ deck?

With a click of total acceptance, he admitted there was no way to cut free. It wasn’t happening. He flipped through a catalogue of possible options and settled on—

Leverage. Given the bite of the bonds and the friction involved, he’d cause a fair bit of damage, up to and maybe including an effective flay of his own forearms. That’d be costly.

Given the stakes, that cost was immaterial.

Young turned on his side with his back to Scott. He ran his fingertips over a ridge in Scott’s jacket, tracing his way up until he’d found the man’s collar. Delicately, he reached inside for the chain of the lieutenant’s dog tags. Slowly, he worked the chain free.

Riley continued to shield him.

Once he had it, he flipped to his stomach. He held one end of the chain in his left hand. Using his right wrist, he started trying to flip the tagged ends up and over the bindings around his forearms.

It took patience. And dexterity.

He found, for this, he had patience. And dexterity.

He had, in fact, a bloody-minded determination to make this plan do some real fuckin’ work within the confines of the system it occupied. Especially if that system was about to be unmade by an alien entity.

After small shifts in position, in momentum, after accounting for drag, for friction, for an angle that couldn’t be worse—he arced the metal chain over the loop that secured his forearms.

Young began to pull, clenching his jaw, tensing his shoulders, his neck, his chest, flexing his wrists for all he was worth. He dragged the bonds down towards his hands a fraction of a centimeter at a time. Even with the diminished sensation from the anesthetic in the dart, the pain was incredible.

The skin on his forearms was tearing, bruising, bleeding under the pressure.

It was immaterial.

Scratch that. Blood, actually, was helpful. Blood was preferred.

He tangled the chain through his fingers and flexed his wrists. He kept his mind off the damage he was doing. It was easy. Nothing easier.

After all, damage was immaterial and blood was preferred.

Finally, finally, he’d pulled far enough that the skin-shredding tension in the bonds eased. The material slid quicker now, easier. The pressure on his shoulders faded. In the end, he had, in his hands, a blood-soaked mass of alien cord and slick chain.

He lay there, controlling his shuddering breaths, staying conscious, shoving Rush’s mental patterns and reactivity as far down as they’d go.

It didn’t feel like they’d gone all that far?

But it was enough. It’d have to be.


His next move would be to wait for Scott to regain consciousness. Unfortunately, freeing the lieutenant would probably involve the same thing he’d just done to himself. Yeah well, the kid was tough. He could take it. After that, they’d immediately run into their next problem, which was that they’d been disarmed. So it was either hand-to-plasma combat or—

He looked speculatively at Riley.

Would the forcible reallocation of resources [read here: taking Riley’s plasma weapon] be grounds for the destruction of all reality? Seemed terribly unlikely. And he needed that weapon. The risk calculus favored the attempt. Absently, he flexed his hands. If he could—


Wait a goddamned minute.

That was completely crazy.

Riley, watching Young, subtly shifted his stance.

Probably, in some other universe, Young was attacking him.

God, an’ that was fascinating. What’d that even look like? Feel like? Was there some kind of privileged perspective that kept him clear of the entire mess? ‘Chance-blind,’ he’d said. Was—

Ah fuck.

Wait, no, not ‘fuck.’ God damn it.

Young needed to get rid of this curious-edged panic, this aggressive need to move, the physical fucking requirement to take some fucking action, the imperative to do something, anything other than lie here, uselessly on the floor. He flexed his hands, feeling the blood run warm over his fingers, and it was satisfying and it should fucking hurt and he bloody well deserved it, this was his fault and—

Jesus Christ.

Rebuilt. Yeah. Okay.

Because this went way, way beyond support structure, this was fucking personality and fucking facts he shouldn’t know, and fucking sentiment he shouldn’t have, and a fucking predisposition to panic, which, from the outside, looked like self-indulgent, academic, prima-donna bullshit, but was, in fact, extremely—just extremely difficult to control and organic, and god—and no one, god, no one should feel this fucking trapped by their own body, ever—it was fucking torture, and maybe, maybe if he didn’t just miss the man’s mind so fucking much maybe he’d be able to just let go of what he’d called up, but—

Behind Young, Scott shifted. “Sir?”

The word was the barest whisper, but it snapped him back into his own head.

He was not Nick Rush, damn it.

He was Everett Young, who was, in fact, famous for not panicking in situations like these.

He needed to get it together.

Young reached back and closed a bloody hand around Scott’s wrist. He tightened his fingers, then worked his way up the man’s forearms to find the loops of material that bound his arms. Using a combination of the chain and his fingers, he worked the bonds down. More gently this time.

Scott tensed, holding himself still, helping where he could. And, when it came, the blood made everything easier.

When the lieutenant was free, Young found the man’s palm and tapped a pattern in Morse code on his hand. Can you move. He had to repeat the message twice before Scott tapped back.

Some. The other man’s fingers were shaky and cold.

Tap when you can stand.

Young watched the Nakai behind the monitors. They had their hands near their weapons and a clear shot across the open floor. He and Scott would be easy targets, slowed by the effects of the darts and the blood loss. He’d have to get them to approach without alarming them.

Probably, it’d be as easy as revealing he’d regained consciousness.

The cold tap of Scott’s fingers against his hand startled him. Ready.

Young forced his muscles to relax. I’ll draw them over.

Behind his back, Scott gave him a subtle thumbs-up.

Young tightened his grip on the chain of the dogtags and sat. He kept his arms behind him.

The Nakai turned in tandem. Their movements had a certain grace, he supposed. He wasn’t above appreciating that. He shook his hair back and leveled a glare at them. Riley stepped aside, clearing their path.

They hissed as they approached.

“Right so.” Young shifted, getting his feet beneath him. “Maybe y’both go fuck yourselves?”

One of the Nakai held a transmitter. He was pure dead certain he didn’t want that thing attached to his head.

It was meters away.


Reaching towards him.

With an explosion of energy he forced himself up. The cold and the drug and the pain and the blood loss slowed him, but not enough. His hands came apart as he tackled it to the floor, unbalancing its long, ungainly limbs with his lower center of gravity and all he needed was to just—

It tore into his mind. It wasn’t looking for information. He could tell. He remembered the interrogations but he remembered this too and this was only about pain, which was fuckin’ fine with him. He preferred this actually, he did, even though, yes well, he was screaming, he supposed, choking on the tension that clamped his teeth together and the blood running down the back of his throat. He tried not to be bothered about the fact he could not breathe because he would fucking kill this thing if it was the last thing he ever did.

He wrapped the chain of Scott’s dogtags around its neck and hauled back for all he was worth.

With a burst of vindictive, dying agony, it faded from his mind.

He looked up, gasping, shaking with adrenaline, but there was nothing left to fight. It was only Scott, kneeling next to him, his hand on Young’s shoulder, and it was intolerable to him.

“Don’t touch me,” Young snarled, pulling away.

“Sorry sir.” Scott looked pale and lost. Confused. Afraid. His hands were covered with a pastel blue-white substance. His face was spattered with it. His breath came in gasps as he looked back and forth between Young and Riley.

A few feet away, the second Nakai lay on the deck plating, its features unrecognizable, half submerged in its own blood.

“God,” Scott whispered. He brought a shaking hand to his forehead, leaving a smear of blue where he touched his skin. He looked at Riley. “Oh my god. I—this is. You’re—”

With a heroic mental effort, Young shoved Rush’s thought patterns down as far as they’d go.

“Hey.” Young put a hand on Scott’s shoulder and looked the lieutenant in the eyes. “Eyes on me. You’re fine.” He pulled the kid into a hug. “You’re fine,” he said again, his mouth next to Scott’s ear. “You’re okay, son. You did good.”

“Did you feel that?” Scott whispered, hugging him back, his voice strained to breaking. “That’s what they did to her. They must have. And worse. Worse than that. More. Longer. And I—they must’ve left something behind; for her they did. And I see—I can see something. Something I shouldn’t. Right now.” Scott’s whole body was trembling.

“I know,” Young rasped, “but we’ve gotta go.”

Scott nodded against his shoulder, then pulled back, still shaking, still unsteady. He looked at Riley, but he didn’t say anything.

“Hi Matt,” Riley said, quietly.

Scott’s eyes flicked to Young.

Young nodded. “I see him too.”

“Um, hi,” Scott whispered, his throat dry. “I guess you must be the AI?”

“No,” Riley said softly. “I’m an observer.”

Scott looked to Young. “Chloe told me—they left things in her mind. They. She didn’t always know what was real, after they’d—after—”

Young squeezed Scott’s shoulder. “He’s not with them. He’s some kind of suped-up Ancient. Comes from the people who built the Obelisk Worlds.”

“Oh,” Scott whispered. “Okay then.” He turned to Riley. “Uh, nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” Riley said, with his sad-edged smile.

//You’re pretty fuckin’ polite for someone in the midst of a cross-reality cull,// Young hissed, hooking a hand over his shoulder and rubbing the base of his neck. He was having pretty good luck ignoring the pain in his shredded forearms.

//You seem to have developed some interesting personality traits in the past half hour,// Riley said mildly.

Ah fuck.

Wait, no. God damn it.

He wondered if he’d really fucked himself—


He wondered if he’d screwed up by digging Rush’s patterns out of the deeper layers of his mind. He also wondered if this was partially or even primarily a consequence of the other man being profoundly unconscious and therefore missing from their link. Rush’d been concerned about what the outcome would be for Young if anything happened to him.

Well, it looked like he’d fuckin’—

It looked like, maybe, he was getting a little preview.




Yes well, it was all fine, actually, because Rush was deadass brilliant when it came to surviving situations like this. He’d worry about getting his own architecture back later.

“So,” Young growled, looking at Riley. “Any ‘observations’ you’d like to share?”

Riley looked speculatively at the ceiling. “Yes,” he said, his eyes running over the bulkheads. “A visit to the neural interface device would be in order, I think.”

“You’re gonna sit in the chair?” Young asked, not at all sure that was a good idea.

“No,” Riley said quietly. “You are.”

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