Force over Distance: Chapter 43

 Something scraped across the floor.

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

Text Iteration: Witching hour.

Audio status: Proofing.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 43

Young opened his eyes as the chair released him.


It was—

It was too much.


Cold and pain and a sense of why and a sense of wrong and—

“Surely goodness and mercy.” Scott, trembling above him, dark against the darkness, put his breath into the ghosts of words. “Shall follow me. All the days of my life. And I will dwell. In the house of the Lord forever. Amen.”

“What a beautiful recitation,” Riley said softly, “in such a lonely place.”

“Colonel, please,” Scott whispered.

Colonel? Colonel Everett Young. That was his name. Wasn’t it?

Cold and pain and the abrasion of clothing over skin and the scrape of bones under cartilage. The world gained edge. The pull of air into his lungs turned raw. His arms had been dipped in acid, wrists to elbows.

It was too much.

He couldn’t

“Colonel,” Scott’s voice cracked. His breathing was fast. “Colonel, please. Talk to me.”

He waited for a compulsion that didn’t come. That couldn’t. He was missing something.

The angles made by Scott’s face, lit up blue in the darkness, changed. “Why won’t you help?”

“I think you misunderstand my purpose here, Matt,” Riley said quietly.


He had—

It’s cold. It’s dark. Metal walls, warped to failure, press close. Riley, caught beneath and within the wreckage of a downed shuttle, says, “Sir. Please. I’m in pain.”

He had killed Riley.

With his bare hands.

But this—this wasn’t Riley.

“You were the one who told him to sit in the chair. So you can fix him. Right now.” Scott’s eyes flicked between Young and the doorway. Between Riley and the doorway. Between Young and Riley and always, always back to the doorway.

“I’m an observer,” Riley said.

“You told him to sit in the chair! You went in with him!” Scott’s whisper turned to an incredulous hiss.

“One cannot observe a system without affecting it,” Riley said, almost kindly. “Even your species, with its rudimentary grasp of quantum mechanics, has discovered as much.”

Young’s mind was working. He could follow the conversation. He could make sense of it, he just couldn’t—

His thoughts were hard to control.

They were damaged, but—


Rush had made it for him.

Rush, with his hands that were clever and sure and quick and careful and against his temples—

Rush had made it.

Young was stronger now. His mind was stronger.

Strong enough?

He stared up into the blackness as Scott made a distressed sound in the back of his throat. “Quantum mechanics? You’re bringing up quantum mechanics at a time like this?”

“What does time have to do with it?” Riley sounded curious.

“You guys missed this, but while you were in the chair there was a firefight in the hall.” Scott hissed. “A few of the Nakai made it into this room.”

“So I gathered.” Riley looked at something Young couldn’t see.

“There’s no team out there,” Scott hissed. “Not anymore. After the firefight, they were ordered to rearm and divert to the FTL drive. We’re on our own. So don’t start with me about ‘quantum mechanics,’ now’s not the time.”

“There are aspects of quantum mechanics that are independent of time,” Riley said mildly. “I find, whether you like it or not, your present macro-level difficulties have very strong quantum underpinnings.”

“Can you just—” Scott’s voice cracked. “Can you just help? Please? You’re obviously doing things other than just passively observing.”

“Observation is never passive,” Riley said softly. “I’m sorry that the episode with the chair seems to have damaged your colonel, but there’s nothing I can do.”

“How is that fair?”

“When a photon encounters an electron, and pushes it off its path, is that fair? It just is. There’s no way to set it back again without further disruption. If I ‘fix him,’ as you request, he will not be the same.”

Scott’s hands came up, his palms opening in Young’s peripheral vision, his breathing rapid. “How—”

“I’ve already said too much,” Riley said softly. “But, in that spirit, one last observation for you.” He swept his eyes over Young and over Scott. “You’re right to be afraid. Because they are coming.”

Riley,” Scott hissed.

But Riley was gone.

Young tried to move. Tried to speak. Tried to force organized intent through an overwhelming wall of pure sensation—it had to be possible.

Scott steadied himself. He closed a hand around Young’s shoulder. “Salve Regina, mother of mercy,” he breathed. The lieutenant squeezed his eyes shut. He looked toward the doorway. “Our life, our sweetness and our hope to thee to do we cry, banished children of Eve.” He spoke in a rush, a memorized prayer, as he brought the Nakai weapon to his shoulder.

Young had to do this.

He had to put himself back together.

For his blood-soaked Catholic lieutenant who stepped up when called, even if the call was to hopeless quantum mechanical debates in the midst of a firefight. And for the half-alien girl he loved, who’d guided a starship older than her species through the plasma geographies inside a star.

For Camile, who was rooms away, a fragile silhouette against emergency lights, holding her fear at bay, holding the crew together, holding the mess, full stop. For TJ—god—where was she in all of this? Had she made it to the infirmary? Where had Telford put her?

So many people depended on him.

He was gonna come through for all of them. Including—

Yeah, including.

The world was turning easier to parse. Lines and angles were more than lines and angles. They were walls, floors, the edges of the neural interface platform. That had to be progress.

This was a reintegration—mind to body—a fight to still the overwhelming flow of sensation that paralyzed him, a fight to remember what it was to walk the road between the idea of movement and movement itself. This was—

This was probably a version of what Rush fought through every time Young ripped his mind out of the neural interface. Rush’s cognitive architecture had been modified to withstand these kinds of pressures, but—

Maybe, now, Young’s was too.

Over the distracting graze of clothing against skin, the hollow sound of Scott’s breathing, the agony in his arms, the feel of his boots closing over his feet and the air flowing over his face, Young narrowed down on what was most important.

From the hallway came the whispery, irregular beat of another Nakai team approaching the room.

Scott froze, listening.

Lieutenant, Young tried to say.

Scott forced himself to his feet, his stolen weapon braced against his shoulder. He closed his free hand around the collar of Young’s jacket and dragged him across the floor, towards the limited cover of the nearest monitor bank.

Young fought waves of sensation, disorientation, pain—but, in the end, he lost the room.

When the overload dialed back, and, again, he world sorted itself into objects, rather than a field of dim lines and reflective planes, he saw Scott crouched with his back against the matte metal of the monitor bank, his face blank and determined, his breathing slow and quiet.

The emergency lights were dim in their shadowed corner of the room.

Scott’s hands closed gently around his weapon.

Young’s heart pounded against his ribs. The chill he felt seemed to come from inside him, and seep into the room. His breaths were fast and shallow. He tried to slow them. He did slow them.

The Nakai entered the room.

Their gait echoed against the deck plates in the small, enclosed space.

Young could feel their minds as they conversed with each other, a feathery, painful sensation against the abraded places in his thoughts.

Slowly, Scott leaned around the edge of the monitor bank.

Young clenched his hands. He released them. He clenched them again.


He was almost there. He was relying on the scaffolding, using it to integrate his sensation. Using it to transmit his intent from mind to body. This wasn’t as bad as what had happened in the shuttle. This was something else. He had Rush’s borrowed architecture. He’d been, at least partially, protected by Rush, or the AI, or the combination—

Well, by whatever it was, that’d looked out over the sea.

He focused on keeping his breathing even and slow.

The door to the room hissed shut.


Now was the time to attack, before any of them came around the back of the monitor banks, before they made an effort to completely secure the room, but he could do nothing, nothing, nothing but watch as—

Scott opened fire with his Nakai weapon. The blast kicked back hard into his shoulder, knocking him back before he braced his feet and fired again. And again. And again. His face was set, his eyes were narrowed, and he swept the room in fast arcs.

Young was distracted by the light, the sound, the pain, the cold, but, beneath it all, and behind him—

Something scraped across the floor.

Scott didn’t notice.

Scott didn’t hear.

Young’s own Nakai weapon had ended up somewhere near the chair. The thing might as well be miles away.  

He marshaled his willpower and reached for his sidearm. He moved his hand. His fingertips grazed the empty holster with a distracting, intolerable shock of pure sensation that flooded him from hand to shoulder.

The Nakai in the gateroom had taken his gun. God damn it.

The sound came again—that same low scrape. Closer this time.

He had to turn.

He had to turn.

With a herculean, poorly controlled effort, he flipped over. And now, he could see it. Directly in his line of sight, a wounded Nakai had been dragging itself, slowly, quietly toward him. Its mangled chest left a wide streak of pale blue on the floor behind it.

It was nearly close enough to touch.

Silently, it reached toward him with its long fingers—black eyes wide and depthless, its face contorted in pain or in anger.

It hissed softly at him.

If it touched him—

He wasn’t sure his mind would be able to take it. Not a second time. Not after the chair.

“Scott,” he breathed, but it was inaudible over the sound of the lieutenant’s firing.

He could feel the thing pressing on his mind. The mental touch of its thoughts against his own was raw. Painful.

It reached for his temple.

With a wave of agony burning along his abraded forearm, he brought a hand up to meet it.

Pain poured into his head, so intense that his vision flared to blinding white. His body and mind fused back together, forced into alignment by the arcing spark of a psychic pain forced down through physical channels.

The Nakai shrieked with its own effort, lunging forward, one ruined hand connecting with Young’s temple—

A bolt of plasma passed over his head, missing him by inches.

“Colonel.” It was Scott, his voice low and urgent. “Colonel, can you hear me?” His hands were on Young’s back, on his shoulders.

“I—” Young forced himself to his knees, then into a crouch, agony still running through every nerve ending he had. “I’m okay.”

How?” Scott breathed. “You looked—you seemed—”

“Think that thing snapped me out of it, somehow,” Young said, getting his feet under him. He flexed his right hand into a fist, shook it out, and looked at Scott. “We gotta—”

“I know,” Scott whispered, already hauling Young to his feet. “Those things are telepathic, right? So they probably all know—whatever. That we’re here.”

“Shit,” Young managed, fighting vertigo.

“We can’t hold this room,” Scott panted. “Right? We’ll get pinned.”

Shit,” Young said, fumbling for his radio. “Yeah. But. This room cannot fall. Where the hell is the team?”

“Telford redirected them to the FTL drive,” Scott said. “He’s using a combination of kinos and runners. He’s been avoiding the radio.”

“It was Thomas, right?” Young breathed, as they reached the door. “Thomas’s team?”

“Yes sir.”

“Lieutenant Thomas.” Young spoke over the priority channel, knowing he might be giving away some tactical intel, not having a lot of choice about it. “This is Young. Fall back to your prior position.” He leaned heavily into Scott as another wave of vertigo hit.

“Acknowledged,” Thomas said. “On our way.”

“What’s the plan, sir?” Scott braced his free hand against the wall.

“Thomas’s team seals themselves in here and holds this damn room no matter the cost,” Young said. “Once they’re clear on that, you and I make ourselves useful. In the meantime? I need a weapon.”

“You got it, sir.” Scott ducked from beneath his arm, and guided Young’s hand gently to the wall. “Be right back.” He started scanning the room for options.

Scott was a good kid.

Able to do his damn job after being drugged, telepathically assaulted, and in the face of insurmountable odds. At this moment, with Scott dragging him from the scene of one firefight into what was likely to become another, Young damn well appreciated that—

Even as he wished for Greer.  

But Greer was better where he was.

Scott returned with a Nakai weapon. “Maybe—maybe we sit, while we wait, sir?” He looked at Young dubiously.

Young slung the plasma rifle over his shoulder and shook his head. “I sit, lieutenant, and I’m not sure I’m getting back up.”

“Yeah,” Scott leaned into the wall. “I hear that.”

They didn’t have to wait long for Thomas to show. Young made it clear to the team that they were not to be diverted from their post, no matter what Telford might say. Young and Scott each borrowed sidearms, then stepped into the hall.

Thomas sealed the door behind them.

Already, they could hear Nakai in the halls. They ducked into the nearest cross-corridor, just ahead of another complement of the things, probably on their way to the chair room. Scott and Young plastered themselves against the wall of the cross corridor.

As they passed, Young counted six of them, marching together. 

Pressed flat against the wall, Scott gave Young a significant look.

Young nodded.

Carefully, Scott ducked from beneath Young’s arm. With a silent, lateral step, he brought his weapon to his shoulder and opened fire. The light of the plasma rifle was searing in the dimness of the corridors. After a few rounds, he stepped back.

“You get them all?” Young whispered.

Scott nodded. He slid back beneath Young’s arm, wrapped a hand around Young’s waist, and started pulling him down the cross corridor. The lieutenant’s heart was pounding so hard that Young could feel it beneath the arm he had draped over the guy’s shoulders.   

All around them, from almost every direction, came sound like the driven wind.

The Nakai were converging on them.

There was nowhere to go.

The corridors stretched endlessly. 

Blindly, Scott picked a direction, and they staggered forward, until—

A wall panel opened, spilling light into the hall.

“Colonel!” Volker appeared, his blonde hair lit blue in the glow that came from the bulkhead. He leaned into the corridor and waved them over. “In here, quick!”

Scott wasted no time. The lieutenant knelt, covering him, while Volker helped Young through the small opening. Scott was right behind him, sliding through, then turning to reseat the metal panel Volker had opened. It slid home with a soft click.

The space was small and eerily lit.

Volker and Brody stared at him, their faces spectral in the soft blue glow.

Brody held a finger to his lips, his eyes dark, his expression full of warning. Then, careful not to make a sound, the scientist offered a lifesigns detector to Young. With his finger, Brody indicated their current position.

The hallways were swarming with Nakai.

Young looked up, startled. Volker nodded grimly. He pulled a pen and a Nick Rush Notebook out of his pocket, scrawled something, then handed the little book to Young.

They can’t detect us behind the bulkheads. Sound’ll carry.

With some difficulty, Young’s fingers closed around the pen. Accurate count? He passed the notebook to Volker.

Brody looked on over his shoulder.

67 total

58 alive


Young nodded and held out his hand for the notebook. At his shoulder, he could feel Scott’s steady presence, reading along. I can confirm these Nakai come from the ship caught in the D-brane collision we escaped. Their whole crew is likely here. Is anything coming through the gate (more virus)?

Volker showed Young’s message to Brody. They looked at one another. Volker took the pen, crossed his legs and started writing.

On the other side of the bulkhead, Young heard the arhythmic tread of the Nakai.

They froze, barely daring to breathe. Trapped in a confined space like this, they’d be easy targets.

The footsteps moved on. Volker continued writing.

When the scientist was finished, he handed the notebook to Brody, who read it over and added a line before passing it on to Young.

  1. How did you confirm these Nakai come from the collision?
  2. I ask because if #1 is true, then time dilation is in play. For sure.
  3. We CAN’T leave the gate open and connected to a time dilation field; it’ll start affecting the local environment!!!! 

Below Volker’s list, in his neat, blocky handwriting, Brody had added:

If we’re tethered, via the gate, to a dilated temporal field, that may explain why we lost FTL. We have to cut gate power first and restore FTL second.

Young looked at their comments, grimacing. Why didn’t Eli cut ALL POWER COMPLETELY?

Volker passed Brody the notebook. The other man started writing immediately.

Probably, he can’t. This virus has been fusing circuits for hours. Where’s Rush?

Young ground his teeth. CI room.

Brody and Volker crowded a bit closer to take a look at the lifesigns detector.  There were four people in the CI room. Volker grabbed the notebook.

That’s where Eli was headed. They’re together? Rush + Eli = excellent.

Young sighed, motioned for the pen, and tried to think what the hell he was gonna write. Finally he settled on: He’s down for the count.

Brody looked anxiously at the page.

Volker grabbed the pen out of Young’s hand. Less excellent.

Young nodded.  

Also less excellent = you’re both covered in blood. You guys need some bandages or something?  We can rip up our shirts?

Scott grabbed the notebook. Yes. The colonel needs some time to recover. You guys have any food?

Young eyed Scott skeptically.

Scott shot him a look that was somehow both defensive and admonishing as he reached over to take the chocolate bar Brody offered.

Young raised his eyebrows, looked pointedly at the chocolate, then back at Brody.

Brody grabbed the notebook. Thank the RSM.

Scott opened it quietly with his teeth and handed the entire thing to Young.

Young took it, broke it in half, and tossed the other piece to Scott, who had no choice but to silently catch it. The chocolate was dark. Even so, it was painfully sweet; the best thing he’d tasted since he’d eaten an orange that wasn’t real.

Young chewed, swallowed, and did his best to hold himself together.

Fifty-seven live Nakai on the ship. No FTL. A gate connected to a time dilation field.

One step at a time.

Scott pulled a tactical water flask out of a pocket in his BDUs, and offered it to Brody and Volker, who refused. He drank a few swallows before passing it over to Young. Young drained most of what was left.

Brody crept forward to help Young with his jacket, easing it down over his shoulders. Volker unbuttoned his shirt, pulled a screwdriver out of the toolkit he’d been carrying, and went to work on ripping the seams from his sleeves as silently as possible. They made short work of bandaging Young’s shoulder, putting pressure on the sluggish trickle of blood still coming from his back. They did the same for Scott, using the sleeves from Brody’s shirt. Another round of strips went into trying to stop the worst of the bleeding from their shredded forearms.

When they were done, Young motioned for the notebook.

Have you guys figured out how to manually cut power to the gate?

Volker grabbed the pad. We think so. The only problem is the 20 Nakai between here and there.

Young raised his eyebrows. That’s what guns are for. Time to move out. Let’s keep to the walls as much as we can.

With Brody in the lead, they began to crawl through the cramped space behind the bulkheads.

They wormed their way through, bathed in eerie, blue light. In some places, it was too tight to even get to hands and knees.  

Intermittently, they heard the Nakai move through the halls.

Young had a second wind in his sails. He was nowhere near his best, but the chocolate, water, and bandaging job had helped his physical condition as well as his state of mind.

Young was built for this. When it came to the inch-over-inch slog of reclaiming lost territory there was no one in the SGC that could match him. Not John Sheppard. Not Cam Mitchell. Not Jack O’Neill.

He could do it. He’d started with nothing. He’d started without the ability to move. And now? He had had Scott. He had an astrophysicist. He had an engineer. Between them they had a lifesigns detector, two stolen, phase-shifted plasma rifles, and two borrowed handguns. They had a route through the walls, and they were going for the gate.

He would take everything back. By inches. He would recover all losses. All of them. And when everything was said and done, he’d unmake that thing, whatever it was, that waited in the chair, staring at the sea, thinking thoughts that were as unnatural as they were sad.


It was a bad idea to think about Rush at a time like this.

Didn’t stop him from doing it, though.

The back of his mind was nothing but pressure and ache.

Fixing the guy up was gonna be one hell of a job. He hoped he’d get the chance.

Ahead, Volker and Brody came to a stop, crouching in the small space created by intersecting ducts. Volker held out the lifesigns detector, again indicating their position on the map. He traced a line to a second location, presumably the power source for the gate.

It was a long way over open stretches of corridor trafficked by Nakai.

Young gestured for the notepad.

Why the HELL didn’t this part of the grid power down when Eli went to emergency power?

Brody grabbed it back from him. In neat, block capitals he wrote: VIRUS.

Young gestured for the notebook again. He sketched the layout of the corridors ahead, then outlined his planned path, marking points of cover with sequential numbers. He showed the sketch to Scott, who studied it, then nodded. He grabbed the pen, motioned to himself, then scrawled one word.


Young nodded. He grabbed the pen back from Scott and wrote a quick message for Volker and Brody.

You two follow Scott. I’ll be in the rear.

Young pulled his sidearm from his holster, chambered a round, and handed it to Brody, safety on. Scott did the same, offering his own weapon to Volker.

Young handed the lifesigns detector to Scott and shifted to let the lieutenant move to the front of their little group. Volker went next, followed by Brody. Their point of egress wasn’t far.

Once they reached it, they waited. Scott watched the detector in his hand.

Silently, the lieutenant lifted the access panel and lowered it to the floor of the corridor. In the space of a heartbeat, he hauled himself out of the tunnel and turned to pull Volker after him. Brody and Young crawled forward until the entire party was back in the open corridor.

No Nakai were in sight.

Brody knelt to replace the panel. 

They moved as silently as possible, heading for the first point Young had identified.

A group of Nakai rounded the corner ahead of Scott, spanned across the corridor in a three-man patrol. Their weapons were out. They were looking for something. They were ready. And, as soon as they saw Young’s team—

They opened fire.

Young knocked Brody back against the bulkhead, out of the path of the energy weapons. Scott, shielding Volker, fired a broad burst with his weapon. Volker, edging around Scott, fired a single shot from the handgun, and put a bullet straight through the eye of the nearest Nakai.

God damn.

Had that been luck? Or—

There wasn’t time to think about it.

Scott broke into a run, fast and silent. They left the dead Nakai behind them as they sped along the corridor, breaths coming in shallow, gasps, boots and shoes falling as quietly as possible on the deck plating.

Young’s eyes flicked back, checking their six.

It was just a matter of time now before all hell broke loose.

Scott was setting a quick pace, the lifesigns monitor in one hand, the Nakai weapon in the other. Volker and Brody stayed right with him. Young followed more slowly, pulling cold air deep into his lungs as he kept some space between himself and the rest of the team. If they were attacked from behind, he wanted to be able to break away and lay down cover fire.

He glanced back again.


And again, but—

When the attack came, it came from the right. A group of Nakai burst out of a blind corridor straight into their midst. He couldn’t tell if they were shrieking in his ears and in his mind.

Volker was knocked off his feet in the confused tangle of bodies—blue skin and black uniforms and ripped civilian clothing—it was impossible to get a clear shot, impossible to see Scott, impossible to do anything but pull Brody back and out of the tangle.

The nearest Nakai let out a venomous hiss, sending a wave of cold down his spine and through his thoughts. Young shoved Brody behind him and fired a single plasma burst at the the thing coming at him. It was probably the only clear shot he’d get in this mess. He took it out, then threw himself into a tackle of the alien standing over Volker, its weapon raised.

They crashed together to the floor, but not before it got off a shot.

Young pulled back before it could grab him, got it at the end of his gun, and fired. Dimly he was aware of Brody coming from behind, pulling an energy weapon free off a dead Nakai and firing taking two more out as he moved to stand over Volker while the other man got to his feet, one hand at his head, the cut edge of his shirt singed and fused into the strip of plasma burn on his shoulder.

“I’m okay,” Volker breathed, as Brody gave him an anxious look. “I’m fine. Tis but a scratch.”

“Just a flesh wound,” Brody said flatly, holding his new gun. He had Young’s sidearm shoved into the waistband of his pants.

Young pulled his sidearm free and reholstered it. “Save the Monty Python for when no one’s trying to kill us, please,” he growled.

“Oh crap,” Volker said, his face pale, his gaze fixed on a point somewhere behind Young’s shoulder.

He turned back to see another group of Nakai round the corner.

God damn it.

“Go!” Young shouted to Scott, his voice echoing over the sound of the energy weapons that had already started firing.“Go!”

And they were running again, Scott in the lead, Volker and Brody on his heels, Young in the rear, laying down the thickest cover fire he could coax out of the alien weapon in his hands. 

“Almost there,” Volker shouted.

Young’s eyes flicked forward. He saw the door they were aiming for at the end of the corridor. He glanced back just in time to see an energy bolt headed straight at him. He flinched, lighting quick, and felt its heat against his temple as it passed, the plasma warming his skin. The tiny hairs on the back of his neck prickled.

“Go, go, go!” Scott shouted, and then the lieutenant was beside him, firing straight down the hall. Between them, they laid down enough cover fire that the Nakai were forced to scatter to the cross corridors or be mowed down.

Over Young’s shoulder, next to the door, he heard Volker say, “Oh crap.

What,” Young growled, laying down another round of plasma bursts as the Nakai started to emerge.

“So, the door won’t open,” Volker yelled conversationally, over the sound of discharging alien weaponry.

“You are kidding me,” Young shouted.

“Working on it,” Brody said.

“Well work faster,” Scott shouted.

“There are blast doors fifteen feet in front of you,” Volker called. “You can close them manually.”

Scott sprinted forward, ripped the panel off the wall, and slammed his hand down on the controls. A set of metal doors shut in front of him, leaving only the open corridor to their left to cover.

At the moment, no Nakai were in sight.

Young took a breath.

“Should I shoot the panel?” Scott backed up a few paces and pointed the energy weapon at the door controls.

“Only if you want Rush to murder you,” Volker replied mildly. “This isn’t Star Wars, lieutenant. Just pull the control crystal.”

Scott yanked it out in one smooth motion and pocketed it before turning back toward Young his eyes on the handheld detector. “It looks like we’ve got about forty seconds before they show-up in this hallway.” He indicated the corridor to their left. “Make that thirty.”

Behind the sealed doors, they heard the sound of energy blasts impacting the metal and dissipating.

Young drummed his fingers over the barrel of his plasma rifle. “How many did we get, do you think?” he murmured to Scott.

“At least eight.” Scott’s eyes flicked down to his monitor and back up.

Young nodded. “Nine, I think. Hard to be sure.” He looked back over his shoulder. “How we doin’, guys?”

“Not good,” Brody said.

“Almost there,” Volker responded at the same time.

“Okay, well, you’ve got about twelve seconds.” Young faced the open corridor and shouldered his weapon. Beside him, Scott did the same.

“So no pressure then,” Volker said, a small screwdriver between his teeth.

There was a click, a hiss, and the door opened.

They slipped inside before the next group of Nakai made it around the corner.

The door slid shut behind them. Scott yanked its control crystal.

“Please tell me there’s more than one way out of here,” Young growled.

The room they were in was long and dark, full of monitor banks and viewscreens. There was a dead display built into one of the walls.

“Yup,” Brody said shortly. “There’s an access point to the starboard bank of FTL power cells at the other end of the room. He pulled the lifesigns detector out of Scott’s angled hold, studied it, then pointed. “Here,” he said.

A pained hiss from Volker caused everyone to look up. The astrophysicist was trying to get a look at his burned shoulder.

“Hang tight,” Scott said. He stepped up to Volker and put a hand on the man’s elbow to steady him, and then took a close look at the shoulder.

“How’s that flesh wound?” Young asked, leaning into the wall as he steadied himself.

“Looks okay,” Scott said quietly. “Third degree burn all right, and you got some melted shirt in there, but it’s just a narrow patch. I bet it hurts like heck though.”

“Yeah,” Volker breathed. “It’s the melted shirt, really, that I’m sad about. I was kinda digging this new sleeveless look.”

As Volker and Brody buckled down, Scott and Young stood together, studying the lifesigns detector, trying to get a picture of what was going on in the rest of the ship. Most of the pale blue dots that indicated human lifesigns were clustered in the mess, where—

“God damn it,” Young breathed.

“They’re in the mess?” Scott asked, horrified. “They must have just broken through. God. God. All the civilians—“

“There are only four Nakai in there,” Young said quietly. “The rest are in the corridors. Watch.” He broke off, his eyes narrowing. “They’re doing sweeps. Looking for something.”

“Us?” Scott asked, eyes flicking to Young.

“Rush,” Young said.

“How would the Nakai know he’s—well, whatever the heck it is that he is?”

“They know,” Young said grimly. “They knew before we did that there was something different about him.”

“What do you mean?” Scott whispered.

“They couldn’t change him like they changed Chloe,” Young said, looking up at the LT, synthesizing information he’d been piecing together for weeks now. “They tortured he hell out of him, but—I don’t think he cracked. They failed to alter his mind. They failed to alter his genes. That’s why they implanted him with that transmitter. It was the only way they could get anything out of him.”

Scott nodded. “Presuming we can cut the power to the gate—what’s the next objective, sir?”

“We need FTL back,” Young said quietly. “We need FTL back and we need to cut down some numbers.”

Scott nodded. “I uh—I wonder where Chloe is.”

His question sent a chill down Young’s spine.

He had nearly forgotten about her. With her genetic changes and her science training and her more-than-passable firefight skills, she was one hell of a wild card.

They had to keep her out of Nakai hands.

Young cleared his throat. “She could be in the infirmary.”

Probably, she was in the mess.

“Yeah,” Scott said softly. “Yeah, she could.”

A shower of sparks rained down from the wall interface where Volker and Brody had been working. The two scientists jumped back, startled, as the room faded into utter darkness.

“I take it this is a good sign?” Young asked dryly.

Volker’s iPhone lit up the void.

“The gate should be off,” Brody confirmed.

Should be?” Young echoed.

“Yeah. That’s what I said. It should be. We’ll have to confirm it visually.”

“Fine,” Young said. “You can do that after you figure out how to power up the FTL drive.”

They stared at him in dismay.

“That’ll be pretty—” Volker began.

“Look. Guys. You’re all we’ve got right now.” Young looked each of them in the eye. “Park, James, and Chloe are probably all in the mess, which has been taken by the Nakai. Eli’s trying to get this virus out of Destiny’s computer system without killing us all or deleting the AI. Rush is completely out of commission. So. You need figure out how to power up that drive and then you need to make it happen. Got it?”

“Um, yeah,” Volker said.

Brody nodded.

“Good,” Young said. “Scott and I—”

“Colonel.” Something in Scott’s tone made Young’s blood freeze in his veins. He turned to see the lieutenant looking down at the handheld monitor, his expression grim and set.

“What,” Young asked, already knowing the answer.

“The Nakai just moved on the control interface room.”

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