Force over Distance: Chapter 46

Stepping away from the wall like she was materializing from smoke, Chloe brought her gun up in a smooth, fast arc.

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

Text iteration: Midnight. Hover-to-discover is intact.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 46

Young’s team clustered in the small conference room he’d used a lifetime ago to brief Scott, James, Greer, Wray, and TJ on the details of Telford’s likely agenda. In a matter of hours Scott’d been wounded, James’d lost the mess, Greer’d been captured, Wray’d been tortured, and TJ, alone, held the infirmary.

And Young—Young knew a hell of a lot more than he’d known walking into this endless night.

God, the way that combination had handled itself, facing down almost certain death—there’d been so much Rush in it. There was still so much Rush in it. Literally incorporated. Right now.

His heart ached for it. His heart ached because of it. How long had it existed when Young had stared it down in the shuttle? When it split an orange for him in Rush’s kitchen? It was the thing that’d hairpinned his ability to ground. Torn open Young’s mind. Ripped itself apart.

It’d wept, on that almost Scottish hillside.


In the dark of an Ancient conference room, lit by a single emergency light, standing amidst his team, Young felt a bone-deep dread take hold.

If Rush died, his mind would remain in Destiny’s CPU.

Young had to get to the man. Knowing he was in the hands of the Nakai was unbearable.

“Chloe,” Young whispered.

Chloe stood at the door, her eyes glued to the detector she cradled, watching for a gap in the patrols. She shook her head, and the dim light gleamed in her hair.

James ran her fingers over the small panel near the door, tracing edges. She found a hidden catch, sprang it, and let the panel fall into her hand. She shadowed a pull. A flip. A bridge. She closed the panel. She opened it again.

Scott braced himself against the wall, shoulder-to-shoulder with Young, his skin pale and clammy, his eyes shut, his right forearm cradled against his chest.

His team was a mess. He was a mess. But that’d always been true. And they’d always come through anyway.

When this was over, Young was gonna spend days annoying the piss outta Rush. Forget days. He wasn’t gonna let his chief scientist out of his sight for the rest of the man’s natural life. Which was gonna be long. And go really nicely. After Young macheted his way through the forest of thorn surrounding the guy.

One step at a time. First step? Recover the team in the CI room.

Young reviewed the plan: James hot-wires the door. Flash grenades and tear gas. He and Scott were a go. James and Becker were a go. Chloe, solo, makes her own call. Varro and Dunning post up in the hall to watch their six. The Nakai go down. They get their people out. They seal the room and haul ass.

As Shit Plans went, it was a good one. At least it was simple.

A glittering city floats on a calm sea. Soaring towers shine with sunlight, high above bright water. The calls of gulls carry on the breeze. He smells the ocean. The wind is on his face. He turns toward it. Sidera subter, but he’d always, always loved the water.

Young jerked, back in the dark, breathing hard, one hand on the wall. His head ached, deep and raw. His hands were cold.

“You okay, sir?” Scott whispered.

Young shook his head.

On the other side of his still-open link, which’d been transmitting building ache and shifting pressures, a sinuous thread of gold sparked itself up, died, and sparked again.

//Shhh,// Young projected, easing the scientist’s consciousness into the dark. //Don’t wake up,// he said soothingly, pressing against everything of the man he could sense.

Something foreign, sharp-edged, and curious looked through Rush—straight at Young himself.

He shivered. “Chloe,” he rasped. “Take the next gap. No matter how small.”

She nodded.

“Sir?” Scott said.

“It’s Rush,” Young rasped. “They’re at him.”

Scott nodded grimly.

James stopped messing with the door controls and stepped to Chloe’s shoulder.

“Very soon,” Chloe whispered.

“Form up.” Young unslung his plasma rifle.

They huddled in tense silence.

“Now.” Chloe hit the door controls.

James took off like a shot, sprinting silently towards the CI room.

Young and Scott followed, sighting down the halls with their rifles, covering her as she went to work on the panel. In a matter of seconds, she had it free. She yanked a wire. She flipped a crystal. Her fingers hovered above the circuit, centimeters from bridging a gap, while she waited for the team to form up at the door.

With a crescendo of pressure at the back of Young’s mind—

He stands beneath massive crystal windows, between rows of hospital beds lit to blinding in the sun. They’ve removed the automatic tinting from the glass, just for an hour. The heart of Atlantis is leaving. Next to him, a woman wearing white looks to the sky. Her eyes shimmer with unshed tears. “Est filia tua in urbe?” she asks. Before he can answer, the world shatters in advance of a reaching darkness, tearing through the memory, tearing through the light, grasping toward the consciousness of Colonel Everett Young.

He gasped, throwing up a block in the nick of time.

“Sir?” James asked, her eyes wide, the crystal ready in her hand.

Young staggered, fighting pain, fighting nausea, fighting fear. Scott steadied him, and Young leaned into his grip, trying to get his feet beneath him.

“Colonel?” Scott whispered.

“They’re trying to wake him,” Young said, through gritted teeth. “We gotta move now. Mask up.” Young pulled his gas mask over his face, watching the rest of the team follow suit. He looked down the line, then pushed past Becker to adjust Chloe’s mask, strapping it tight to her chin.

They reformed their line.

Young pulled a flash grenade from a pocket in his jacket. Scott did the same.

Young nodded at James.

She used the crystal she’d pulled to bridge a gap, and the doors slid open.

Young yanked the pin from a flash grenade. Scott did the same. They tossed them into the room. James and Becker crouched behind them, tear gas at the ready.

As a unit, his team knelt, eyes shut, ears covered.

The flash grenades went off in quick succession. The tear gas followed.

Young was first into the room.

The blue light turned the tear gas an opaque white. Young moved forward, his weapon up, and took the only clean shot he had. His plasma blast connected with a Nakai posted near the door.

One down.

Scott tackled Young to the floor. A bolt of energy sailed over their heads, impacted the metal wall, and dissipated.

Within the mist, he heard sounds of struggle. Something hit the deck. Telford hurtled out of the fog, tackling a Nakai to the floor before it got off a shot.

Greer, a silhouette in thickening tear gas, wielded a chair like a club.

Near the rear wall, Eli coughed, trying to breathe.

Young forced himself to his feet as James burst through the doorway, dodging a blast from a plasma weapon as she dived and rolled. She landed next to Telford. From a crouch, she kicked the Nakai he was grappling with in the head once, twice, and, when she was sure her shot was clear, she fired.

Two down.

Where the hell was Rush?

Becker dove into the room beneath a burst from a plasma weapon.

The tear gas grenades hissed, releasing more of their white, acidic smoke.

There were no clear shots. Young couldn’t see a goddamned thing

He was tackled by a Nakai.

He hit the deck hard. A nauseating pain seared his forearms, but he got his gun around and fired. The close-quarters plasma blast knocked the thing back, into the mist.

Three down.

Young saw Chloe enter the room, silent and small. She crouched low in the doorway as she entered and kept to the wall. No Nakai fired at her.

He pushed himself to his knees, his muscles shaking.

Scott waded into the opaque mist, making for the spot they’d last seen Greer, behind the curtain of swirling gas that concealed the back of the room.

Before Young could follow, Eli emerged, one hand covering his streaming eyes. The kid was doubled over coughing, and—

A Nakai had him by the neck.

God damn it.

The thing pressed an energy weapon to the back of Eli’s head. It locked eyes with Young and hissed.

He’d been afraid of this.

No one fired.

It hissed again. It shook Eli, then pushed him toward the door.

Stepping away from the wall like she was materializing from smoke, Chloe brought her gun up in a smooth, fast arc. She pressed the tip of her assault rifle to the underside of the Nakai’s jaw and fired.

A single shot.

Four down.

Young pulled Eli away from the downed alien and shoved him at Chloe. “Get him out of here.”

She nodded, took Eli’s elbow, and guided him into the clear air in the hall.

Telford fell in at Young’s side. He tried to straighten, tried to bring a plasma rifle up, but he was choking on the acrid air.

“Go!” Young shoved him toward the door.

Telford resisted, shaking his head.

Go,” Young repeated. “Cover the hallway. More are coming.”

Reluctantly, Telford turned, his eyes red-rimmed and streaming.

Scott emerged from the back of the room, dragging Greer, firing his rifle.

Young heard a shrieking hiss as something impacted the deck.

Five down.

There was one more out there. He couldn’t see it, but he could feel its thoughts, broadcasting fast and far, and heavy with content.

He was tempted to drop the block between his mind and Rush’s, but he didn’t dare. His weapon at his shoulder, Young edged into the opaque cloud. James fell in at his side, shaking with tension or fatigue or both.

Visibility was no more than a yard in front of their faces. He tried to map the room in his mind, tried to orient himself with the shadowy outlines of consoles.

Beside him, James took in strained breaths through her bruised throat.

Young scanned the mist, sweeping his weapon in arcs as he advanced.

He didn’t see the last Nakai, or Rush, until he was on top of them.

Rush was draped atop a monitor bank in a heart-stopping, lifeless sprawl. One hand trailed toward the floor. Beneath him, the touch-screens were dark and dead.

The last Nakai stood over the scientist, one hand at its own head, one hand at Rush’s temple.

It watched their approach, hissing.

It wasn’t trying to survive. It was sacrificing its last moments, its last seconds to transmit as much information as possible to its people. Not just on this ship, but on the ships Chloe’d seen, hovering kilometers to port.

Young and James fired simultaneously.

The thing fell back, into the mist.

Six down.

Young shoved his gun at James and stepped forward. He threaded a hand behind Rush’s neck, gently angled his head, and searched out the borders of the alien transmitter. He pulled it off the man’s temple, dropped it on the floor, and crushed it beneath his boot.

Young caught up the scientist’s trailing hand and brought it across the man’s chest. His fingers were slack and cool.

“Sir?” James whispered.

“He’s alive. Cover me.”

“Yes sir,” James rasped, slinging his plasma rifle over her shoulder, and sighting down her own weapon.

“Okay,” Young breathed, running his hands over the scientist, checking him for injuries. As he went, he thinned his block to nothing. The other side of the link was nothing but shards of someone else’s memory. Starlight. Sunlight. Moonlight. Shieldlight. All of it falling on water.

Young brought his fingertips to Rush’s temples. Into the splintered-apart glass of the man’s mind, he projected all the calm he had in him. //Sleep, genius.// He pressed against the scientist’s thoughts. The images broke apart and went still. “There you go.”

Ignoring the pain in his forearms and back, Young lifted Rush off the console.

The relief at finally, finally pulling the guy outta this damn room was indescribable.

Rush was tough to handle with every coil of his spring-loaded tension unspooled. His head fell back under its own weight. His hair fanned over Young’s biceps. The top of a creatively-laced boot caught the edge of the console, sending a blaze of agony up Young’s arm as he maneuvered to free Rush’s ankle.

James fell in at his shoulder. Together, they left the CI room and emerged into the cleaner air of the corridor, only to find themselves in the midst of another firefight.

Telford had joined Dunning, Varro, and Scott. They’d arrayed themselves across the corridor, covering the rest of the team. Young sank into a crouch behind their tenuous, overexposed line, and laid Rush on the deck next to Eli. The kid leaned into the wall, still coughing. Chloe, her mask off, her eyes wide and frightened, knelt in front of him.

The setup wouldn’t last.

James snaked a hand between Telford and the wall, reached up, and sealed the CI room.

Young’s hand closed around Chloe’s upper arm. He pulled her in. “Find us a path,” he shouted over the roar of weapons fire. “We can’t stay here.”

She nodded and pulled the lifesigns detector out of her jacket.

“Prepare to fall back,” Young shouted. “Eli. Up. Now. You’re with James. Go.”

Young turned to Rush. He steeled himself, braced his feet, repositioned the scientist—

“I got ‘im.” Greer slid into the spot Eli’d just vacated. “You’re bleeding all over the damn place.”

Young nodded. He grabbed his weapon and joined Chloe on point, watching their progress on the screen in her hand.

“We need somewhere to regroup,” Young said.

The overhead lights flickered, plunged them into darkness, then reengaged.

Beneath his feet, Young felt the FTL drive spin up.

Volker and Brody.

Behind them, the attacking Nakai released a synchronized shriek of anger. Scott, Telford, Varro, and Dunning laid down heavy cover fire. Young stuck with Chloe. James pulled Eli with her, one hand on the kid’s elbow, forcing him to keep on the pace. Greer followed, his eyes red-rimmed and streaming, carrying Rush.

Chloe darted around a corner. Ahead and to their left was room Brody’d converted to a distillery.

Young waved James, Eli, and Greer through the door, then joined the rest of the team in mopping up the remains of their pursuit.

There weren’t many left. Over half the force that had converged on them had diverted to another target. Likely the FTL drive.

Telford and Varro pulled weapons off the fallen Nakai.

Young steadied Scott as the lieutenant swayed.

“Fucking hell, Everett.” Telford joined them as they fell back to the distillery. “How are you two on your feet? You look like shit.”

“Yup,” Young growled. “Speaking of people who look like shit, what the hell happened to Rush?”

“We put him out,” Telford replied.

“Oh yeah?” Young said, deceptively mild. “And you just happened to be carrying tranquilizers around with you? Convenient.”

They passed through the door. Scott closed it behind them. James popped the panel and pulled the control crystal.

Young scanned the room. Greer had put Rush on the nearest of the long tables and had two fingers at his throat. Chloe and Eli looked on anxiously.

Telford followed Young’s gaze. “You should be thanking me. I probably saved not only his sanity, but his life by putting him out. You think the Nakai would’ve—”

“On yeah. You did one hell of a job,” Young snarled. “I’ll be sure to put a commendation in your file right after I write you up for assaulting a civilian whom you were charged with protecting, you son of a bitch.”


“What the fuck did you give him?” Young roared.

“I gave him nothing. He gave it to himself,” Telford shouted right back.

They were toe-to-toe with one another, just inside the distillery door.

Greer left Rush and posted himself at Young’s shoulder.

“Now’s not the time.” Varro tried to get between them.

Young shoved him aside. “What the hell was it, David?”

Ativan,” Telford rasped, his hands open, his eyes red-rimmed from the tear gas. “Jesus Christ, Everett. TJ requested it from Earth. It’s perfectly safe.”

“You don’t know how the hell he’s gonna react to that,” Young snarled, “he’s not even half—”

He stopped himself.

The room was silent.

“Half what?” Telford asked.

Young looked away.

“Half. What.”

“Leave it alone, David.” Young pinned the man with his stare.

Telford knew when to back the hell off. He raised both hands and shot a speculative look toward Rush.

No one spoke.

“Chloe.” Young fought for his equilibrium. “Let me see that lifesigns detector.”

Chloe came around the table, slipped through the military personnel, and handed him the device.

“You put the daughter of a U.S. Senator on your assault team?” Telford asked.

Young looked Telford dead in the eyes and said nothing. At all.

“Can’t wait to see what Homeworld Command thinks of that,” Telford hissed.

Young took the monitor from Chloe and studied it. The mess looked fine. No Nakai in the vicinity. The chair room remained secure. The seal James had put on the CI doors was holding. The bridge was still controlled by the Nakai. The enemy numbers had thinned down, but there was a sizable complement converging on the FTL drive.

Young fought down a wave of dizziness.

“Colonel,” Chloe said, “I think you should sit.” She and Greer helped Young to one of the empty chairs.

God, he felt terrible.

“You okay, sir?” Greer asked, his voice hoarse. Young looked up at him. The sergeant had a split lip. He’d been clipped by an energy blast at some point—the shoulder of his uniform was singed and blackened and a still-damp stain of blood had soaked through his jacket. His eyes were red-rimmed and tearing.


But there was a dull buzzing in his ears. His heart beat wildly in his chest. At the edges of the room, gray crept into his vision.

He didn’t understand.

Something was going wrong.

Very wrong. Very quickly.

He couldn’t get enough air. He gasped for breath.

“Sir,” Greer said urgently.

“Something’s wrong with the colonel,” Chloe said, her voice high and tight. “Vanessa—we need help. We need—”

Non aliud, he thinks, sweat dripping into already tearing eyes. He knows before he sees her that they’ll lose her—he can hear the trapped song of her crystal trying to turn to energy, tearing itself apart instead. His mask digs into his face. His glasses hurt. His clothes hurt. He’s been wearing them too long. He can’t go on like this. But he does. He has to. The climate controls are gone. There’s no one left to fix them. The air, too warm, smells like the nearby sea.


Fucking of course it was fucking Rush. The scientist’s mind was clawing its way back toward consciousness because something was wrong

Taedet,” a blonde man sighs, giving shades of Riley, giving shades of Sam Carter, giving shades of neither. In his hands (in her hands?) she holds a cup of flower tea. “Quia nullam habent conspectum, nos omnes moriemur. Hic et ubique.” Her eyes (his eyes) are the color of the sea.

Young shot to his feet, but hands were holding him up, holding him back.

The wind is strong enough to rattle the windows, and so cold he’s fair certain it’s freezing the sea spray. “Let’s go out,” Gloria says. “Let’s stand in the storm. Just for a moment. Don’t you want to?”

“Greer,” Eli rasped, and even though the kid was hoarse his voice cut across the room.

“Oh shit,” Greer whispered, looking up.

All he can see from the angle of the shuttle approach is the aft of the ship. A silver crescent, limned with blue fire. The CQL drive has begun its slow startup sequence. The orbital construction platforms draw back.

“Let’s do the jacket thing,” Telford said, very far away.

“Colonel, stay still,” Chloe whispered. “They’re helping him.”

They’ll punish me, Carter murmurs, blood leaking from the corner of her mouth, “beyond the bounds of time.” Young grabs the front of her jacket. He can feel the fire of fever in his own bones. “And yet, he says, “I can’t imagine the song without you in it.”

“I thought we were done with this.” Eli’s voice cracked.

“He’s still got a pulse,” Greer said. “Come on, doc,” he said. “Quit it.”

Numquid non esset dulce incipiare ex novo?” A woman with dark hair asks. Her eyes are grey, like the sea, under cloud cover. “Non places quod facis. Debemus relinquere. Noli iterum ad opus redire.” Beyond the crystal windows, there’s a storm over the sea. Lightning flashes.

Young came to himself lying on his back, staring into nothingness.

The emergency lights didn’t reach the central dark of the ceiling above him.

He pulled air into his lungs like he was the one who’d stopped breathing.

“Colonel, say something,” Scott said. “Please.”

Scott, Chloe, and James were at his side. He nodded at Scott, then levered himself up on one elbow. Across the room, Eli, Telford and Greer bent over Rush. All he could see was the lace job on the man’s boots.

//Sorry, genius,// he projected into the fragile shards of whatever was left of Rush’s mind. He could feel the ache in his chest easing.

“Help me up,” he ground out.

Scott compressed his lips, but all he said was, “Yes sir,” as he got his own feet beneath him.

“What the hell was that?” Young rasped, as he came to stand with Greer, Telford and Eli.

He leaned into the edge of the table. Greer and Telford’s jackets were wadded beneath Rush’s shoulders, keeping his airway open.

That,” Greer said, his gaze boring into Telford, “would be the fourth time he’s stopped breathing after whatever the hell Colonel Telford gave him.”

Telford’s face was a neutral mask.

“Oh yeah?” Young said mildly.

“It hasn’t been a problem for hours now,” Eli said thickly, his arms wrapped across his chest, his eyes bloodshot, his face pale. “It’s gotta be the tear gas. He can’t cough.”

“Whatever it was, he’s breathing again.” Greer glared at Rush. “Finally. Jesus, doc. Take a year off my life, why don’t you.”

Young laid a hand flat against Rush’s chest and took a directed look at the scientist’s mind. It was nothing but a stained glass window in a slow motion blow out. Most of the fragments Young could see didn’t even belong to the scientist, they belonged to Destiny, they must, because they were full of pain and disease and the abandoned dying

//Shhh.// Young fought through the disorientation and the pain he was getting from the other man, and—god, it was already so difficult and Rush wasn’t even awake yet. Not even remotely close to consciousness.

Young didn’t want to apply any drag, didn’t want to shove the man down, didn’t want to do anything that might suppress the scientist’s already tenuous respiratory drive. Not until they were under controlled conditions. In the infirmary.

“You’re actually worried about him,” Telford said softly.

Young looked up. “He’s a tactical asset.”

“A tactical asset.” Eli’s voice was flat. “He’s a tactical asset?”

Young shot Eli a sharp look.

The kid was leaning against the table near Rush’s feet, his skin chalky, his eyes a horrible, bloodshot red. A deeper red than tear gas alone could explain. A trickle of blood came from his nose, and he wiped it away with the cuff of his sweatshirt.

Damn it. They’d tortured him. Almost certainly.

Telford’s eyes flicked between Young, Rush and Eli. “Let me take Greer, Varro, James, and Dunning. Maybe Scott. We’ll move on the bridge while you and Chloe get Eli and Rush to the infirmary. If we don’t make it, you can assemble a team from volunteers in the mess and give it another shot.”

Young shut his eyes. He didn’t want to be stuck in the infirmary while they had an active foothold situation still in progress. But they needed Eli. Now they were back at FTL, purging the virus was priority number one.

Young nodded.

Beneath his hand, Rush’s chest continued to rise and fall.

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