Force over Distance: Chapter 47

Young was just a guy from Wyoming. Doing his best with crap rations and ship-wide power failures. Hostile incursions and math.

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

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

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 47

The muscles of Young’s arms and chest burned. His abraded forearms were on fire.

Had he thought he could do this?

He couldn’t do this.

He crashed to a knee, but kept his grip on his chief scientist as he went down. He spilled the man onto the deck as gently as possible.

Hands braced against the floor, Young fought to catch his breath.

Injuries and blood loss and exhaustion would’ve made the trek difficult under normal circumstances, but, with Rush’s sharp-edged thoughts coming like double blades to the eyes, carrying the man through unsecured halls was turning out to be a little much.

Chloe knelt in a swirl of dark hair, her hands outstretched. She tipped the scientist’s head back, two fingers at his throat.

“He’s okay.” Young shook his head, sucking down air. “It’s not him. Not this time. It was me.”

Chloe looked up at him.

“He’s breathing,” Young clarified, his voice ragged.

Behind Chloe, Eli bent over, his hand on the wall.

“Chloe—” Young pointed.

She whirled as Eli threw up what little gray paste was in his stomach, his hand pressed to the bulkhead, his nose streaming blood.

“It’s okay.” Chloe’s hand rested on Eli’s shoulder, but her eyes scanned the lifesigns detector. “We’re almost there. We’ll make it.”

“If only that meant my day would end.” Eli pressed the bloodied sleeve of his gray sweatshirt to his nose.

“One step at a time, right?” Chloe rubbed his back. “One step at a time.”

Young shut his eyes and tried to rest his arms. He wished he’d insisted Scott accompany them. Or Greer. Or anyone.

“Can you put him in a fireman’s carry?” Chloe asked, looking back at him.

Young shook his head, holding his throbbing arms in front of him, trying to ride out the pain. “Cross-shoulder grip’s not gonna work.” He paused, fighting for air, pretty sure it was his own battle and not coming from the guy on the floor. “It’s risky enough. Moving him like this.”

“Can we drag him?” Chloe whispered.

“Not gonna happen.”

“Can I—”

“Just help Eli,” Young said.

Chloe nodded.

Young had to coax about two more minutes outta his body. Should be no problem. He pulled in air until he felt his heart slow.

//Okay, genius,// he projected into the unfocused space of Rush’s consciousness, //last stretch.// He clenched his jaw, got his throbbing forearms beneath the scientist, and deadlifted the guy off the deck plates. “Let’s go.”

Young held out through the last few hallways, trying to keep his breathing quick and even. When they reached the infirmary, Chloe rapped pale knuckles against the door. Eli, leaning into her, added a shave-and-a-haircut knock for good measure.

“TJ,” Chloe said, her mouth close to the gap in the doors, trying to call through the metal with her low, melodic projection. “It’s us. It’s Chloe. Open the door.”

Rush was slipping out of Young’s grip. With a blaze of agony, he shifted the scientist to a new position. Rush’s head landed heavily against his shoulder, then slid back.

The infirmary doors swished open. TJ stood, ghost-pale, beneath the emergency lights. Her favorite device shone in her hand like a chunk of aquamarine. “To the back,” she said. “All of you.”

The infirmary was empty.

“TJ,” Young rasped, buckling under the strain of carrying Rush. “He’s in bad shape. He—there’s a virus in the CPU. He’s half in the ship. Telford drugged him. The Nakai tortured him. He was in a room full of tear gas without a mask. He’s stopped breathing. A lot of times.”

“I know,” TJ said, as they rounded the corner and headed for the back room. “Every device in here gave me an earful about it each time it happened. What did Telford give him?”

“Ativan,” Young breathed, his muscles burning. “Snagged it from your bag. Maybe. Or had it on him. He

“Telford doesn’t matter right now.” TJ lifted her stethoscope off a table as she passed. “Any coughing after the tear gas?”

“No.” Young laid Rush on the gurney, then staggered back, pulling in strained breath after strained breath.

Chloe stepped to his elbow, steadying him.

Together they watched TJ, tense and silent, hook up monitors, start oxygen, take vitals, one eye on her blue device.

As she worked, her movements slowed, turned more methodical.

“He gonna make it?” Young asked.

“I don’t think he’ll crash on me right now,” TJ said, her voice soft.

It wasn’t a yes.

“Is there anything we can do?” Chloe asked.

TJ glanced up. “Chloe, you okay?”

“Totally fine,” Chloe said.

TJ gave her a quick smile. “Then you can grab me some blankets.”

Chloe vanished.

TJ ran her hands over Rush, looking for injuries.

“I don’t think he was physically hurt,” Young said.

“What about you?” TJ’s eyes were shadowed. “There’s blood all over your jacket. Please tell me it’s not yours.”

“I took a dart a few hours ago—well you know that, you pulled it out of my back. The toxin’s out of phase, some. I think. Had to flay my forearms a little bit. Those have been bleeding. I’m okay.”

“What?” TJ breathed. “Out of phase? Flay your forearms?”

“I’m fine. I’ll explain later. Once you’ve stabilized Rush, take a look at Eli. He’s a mess. Get him patched up as best you can. He’s our only way through this catastrophe. Pretty soon you’re gonna have a whole ship of wounded on your hands. I gotta go.”

“You’re going nowhere until I clear you,” TJ said. She started in on Rush’s bootlaces. “Sit down.”

“Sorry lieutenant, but this is a foothold. I can’t stay here. I won’t.”

“You’re not making sense.” TJ dropped Rush’s first boot and moved to the second. “How are you going leave? Last I checked, you can’t separate from him.”

“Our link is fixed.”

“I’ve heard that one before.” She wrenched the laces open. “You’re going nowhere.”

Something snapped in Young. Because, yeah. After all this time, after everything that’d happened, against all odds—it was true. He’d like nothing more than to stay with Nick Rush.

But if he did that?

“There’s no one else, TJ.” Young growled. “Telford’s taking the bridge, the rest of the crew is in the mess, but Brody and Volker are out there with no support. They’re civilians. Someone’s gotta go get them and there’s no one else. You think I wanna do this? This is the last thing I wanna do. But I sure as hell won’t let Brody and Volker be killed or, worse, taken, because fucking Rush needs me to hold his fucking hand. ARE WE CLEAR ON THAT?”

TJ looked at him in shock, her eyes wide under the emergency lights.

He realized he’d stepped forward.

He realized he’d leaned into her personal space.

He realized she’d stepped back, away from the gurney, her hands open.

“We’re clear, sir,” she said, her tone neutral, her face expressionless.

“Shit,” he breathed, stepping back. “Shit. TJ, I’m sorry, I am, but right now I have to—”

“Hey.” The word cracked the dim air. Harsh and flat and like no one he recognized. It came from behind.

Young looked to the doorway and saw Eli standing in the frame, chalk white with glittering eyes, a smear of blood beneath his nose.

“Don’t worry about it.” The kid’s voice was flat. “Volker and Brody are in the bulkheads. They’re fine. The Nakai have engaged the team guarding the FTL drive.”

Chloe came to stand beside Eli. Gingerly, as though not sure how the gesture might be received, she draped a blanket over his shoulders.

Eli pulled it around him. His gaze didn’t leave Young. “Are you gonna stay? Or are we gonna hear your next bullshit excuse.”

“Eli,” TJ breathed.

“It’s okay, TJ,” Young said. He took a deep breath, tried to relax, and tried to get a lid on his own impulse to come down on Eli like a ton of bricks. Eli was a civilian. He was a kid. He’d just been tortured. And he was the acting head of the Science Team for the foreseeable future.

“Yeah,” he said, in a passably even tone. “I’m gonna stay.”

“Great,” Eli said, with a strange blend of sarcasm and unshed tears. “I’ll be twenty feet in this direction, repairing our sentient home after it got fucked up by aliens.” He vanished from the doorway.

TJ and Young locked eyes.

“He was tortured,” Young said.

“Okay.” TJ kept her voice even. “Who else?”

“Wray. Rush. Greer, maybe. Telford.”

“Don’t forget Vanessa.” Chloe slipped between them to pile an armful of blankets at the foot of Rush’s bed.

“Shit,” Young whispered. “Yeah. James could be in rough shape. She got choked by one of those things. Greer was clipped by a plasma blast. So was Volker. Baras got hit. Reynolds. Barnes, shit, Barnes has one hell of a plasma burn—”

“So it’ll be a long day,” TJ said, her eyes on the monitors she’d hooked up to Rush.


“Colonel.” Chloe looked at Young, her chin angled up. “Do you want me to—go back out there?”

Young considered it.

“I could—” Chloe paused, like it was a struggle to get the words out. “I could take the lifesigns detector.”

She’d been useful as hell.

“I could back up Telford’s team.”

She was also a kid with no training to speak of, who’d been compromised repeatedly and profoundly by the Nakai, and who, even now, was so afraid of what she offered that she was trembling, subtly, all over.

“How much can you help Eli?” Young asked.

“Some,” Chloe said. “I know the FTL drive inside and out. Of all of us, Brody can help the most. He’s good with network architecture. How circuit diagrams translate to physical reality.”

“How would you feel about finding Volker and Brody? Helping them get back here undetected? Setting up a little command center to help Eli?”

“No problem.” Her stance relaxed.

“Don’t tangle with any Nakai.” Young brought a hand to her shoulder and looked her straight in the eyes. “Get the two of them, then high-tail it back here.”

She nodded, resettled the assault rifle strapped to her back, and headed for the door.

God damn could his crew step up.

As he watched Chloe pass into the dark hall, he had a strange, aching thought.

There were other multiverses out there. Riley’d said as much. Maybe there was one where he and Rush and Wray had gotten along, right from the beginning. Maybe there was one where Rush’d shown up, hours in, Wray in tow, sat down at Young’s bedside, and said, “Contrary to everything you’ve heard, I’m humanity’s best hope in a transdimensional war, and everyone here was hand-picked for this mission.” Maybe there was one where Young and Wray had listened. Where they’d gone all in. Where Wray had organized a government. Where Young had let his soldiers be civilians and where he’d let civilians serve as soldiers. Where Rush hadn’t needed to argue and lie and conceal to get his way.

If that array had ever existed, it’d probably been snapped like a twig, two weeks in.

Culled by a transdimensional assassin.

To what extent had their dysfunction protected them?

To what extent might it continue to protect them, moving forward?

How much should he change, given all he now knew?

God, what a tragedy it’d be, to erase everything Chloe’d become. To erase the way TJ had turned herself into the doctor she’d always wanted to be. To obliterate Eli’s inspired inventions, Scott’s marathon over an alien desert, Wray’s sense of justice, Volker’s sense of humor, Greer’s sense of honor. Destiny Bingo. Park’s garden, growing under stars. The handmade truck the real Hunter Riley had crafted for the son TJ was never gonna have. Emily’s black dress, turned white; the way that, after millennia alone, she’d watched a human party.

Young brought his hands to his face.

He wished he was someone like Daniel Jackson. Someone who knew what to do. Someone who could keep his head in an argument. Someone who could use words in the right way at the right time. Someone who knew what it was to fight like hell against nothing that made sense. Someone who knew what it was to lose everything anyway.

Young was just a guy from Wyoming. Doing his best with crap rations and ship-wide power failures. Hostile incursions and math.

“Can you help me?” TJ asked.

Young pulled his hands away from his face. He pressed the water out of his eyes. “Yeah.” He turned back to her. “What do you need?”

“I need his jacket off.”

They worked under dim lights without speaking. Young eased the scientist out of his clothes. TJ set up and started an IV, hanging a drip from a hook behind the bed.

//Not sure I can handle you without all your fight, genius,// Young projected into nothingness, trying not to look at the man, trying not to let any of this take hold and settle into memory.

“So why the Ativan?” TJ asked.

“What?” Young’s voice cracked.

“Why’d they give him Ativan?” she repeated, more gently this time.

“Because.” Young braced trembling hands against the bed. He looked away from her, away from Rush. Beyond the open door, in the main floorspace of the infirmary, he saw Eli staring down a terminal with glittering intensity. “Because he was going down with ship.”

TJ said nothing.

“If Eli can’t clear the virus,” Young whispered. And that was all. That was all that was gonna come out of his mouth. For the foreseeable future.

TJ wrapped her arms around him. She hooked her chin over his shoulder and tangled a hand in the hair at the back of his neck. “Eli’s gonna do just fine.”

Young nodded into her shoulder.

“I’ll give him something different,” TJ murmured. “Something safer. He won’t wake until it’s time.”

Young nodded again.

“I’ll mix it up.” TJ pulled back. “You want to sit with him for a minute? Then I’ll take a look at you?”

Young nodded again.

He watched her leave.

He looked down.

He looked away.

Everything would be fine.

It would.


“Really don’t think you’d approve of any of this.” Young stared at the shadows on the opposite wall. “Not a damn thing. Not transdimensional peacekeepers. Not turning Chloe into a sniper. Not the Science Team stitching your ship together without you. Not me standing here. Right now.”

He looked down. Rush’s hair, dark against the sheets, was streaked with emergency light. He was terrifyingly pale. Terrifyingly still. Terrifying in general.

Who was Young kidding?

There was no way, no way, he could stay here right now.

The scientist was hooked up to monitors. He’d be fine. They’d know if he wasn’t. He sure as hell didn’t know or care where Young was. Eli, on the other hand, could use some moral support.

Young headed back into the main floor space of the infirmary and parked himself on the gurney nearest Eli’s station. The kid shot him a guarded, quiet look from bloodied eyes.

“Everything okay?” TJ asked, drawing a suspension into a syringe.

“Yeah.” Young tried to calm his breathing, tried to unwind, tried to control the restive feeling in his hands.

It wasn’t going great.

“Take your shirt off,” TJ said as she passed, syringe in hand. “I need to look at your back and arms.”

Slowly, Young complied. It was painful, sticky going, but, when he was done, he had a pile of bloody, ruined shreds of Volker’s dress shirt next to him on the gurney. He balled up his jacket and T-shirt, shivered in the cool air, held his arms in front of him, and waited for TJ.

When she came back in, she took one look at his arms and stopped dead, her eyes wide. “What did you do?”

“Pulled outta some restraints.”

She dragged a table next to Young. “Guess so.” She went to work on the puncture wound in his back.

They were only a few yards from Eli. The kid was wrapped in a blanket. His hands shook as he scanned through lines of code. He was sipping a bottle of electrolytes.

He wasn’t talking.

At all.

No commentary, no banter, no references to movies.


Young could tell from the way TJ’s hands kept stilling against his back that she, too, was watching Eli. But she didn’t speak until she’d finished placing and tying a pair of stitches to close the wound in his back.

“Eli,” TJ said, her voice low and friendly. “I got a stash of chocolate in the resupply. Do you want some?”


“Okay,” TJ said.

She created a pressure dressing for the small wound in Young’s back, then secured it with a complicated tape job. She came around the gurney and turned her attention to the mess of Young’s abraded, bruised forearms. “This’ll hurt.” Her expression was full of sympathy.

“Yeah,” Young said. “I know.”

“Would you consider taking anything?”

“No,” he said. “Do what you’ve gotta do.”

TJ pulled a bottle of Brody’s ultrapure ethanol out of a cabinet, along with a stack of bandages and gauze.

Eli sniffed and pressed his shirt cuff to his nose.

TJ cracked open her bottle of ethanol. She grabbed Young’s right hand, holding it in hers.

Young caught her wrist before she could douse his arm. “He’s out, right?” he whispered. “Really out?”

“Can’t you tell?” TJ asked.

“Yeah, but I don’t want this breaking through to him.” The poor guy’d been put through enough bullshit he couldn’t understand; he didn’t need Young’s displaced pain piled on everything else.

“He’s not feeling anything right now,” TJ said.

“Okay,” Young smiled weakly at her. “Do your worst.”

He watched her pour the clear, cool liquid over his forearm, turning it quickly, covering every centimeter of abraded skin.

For an instant, there was no pain. And then—

He stopped breathing, his eyes tearing with the intensity of it. Surely she’d set the alcohol on fire. There was nothing that hurt this much; nothing could be this acute for this long—

“Breathe.” TJ’s voice was low and quiet, but, for god’s sake, she was rubbing at the deeper cuts, working the alcohol into his abraded skin. It was a mistake to watch this. What had he been thinking?

Breathe,” TJ said, right in his ear. She covered his forearm with antibiotic gel, lined the worst of the abrasions with bandaging, then wrapped his arm in gauze.

It was over. A clean, white bandage covered the mess he’d made of his right arm.

“Shit,” Young breathed shakily. “Let’s, uh, let’s hold off on the other one. Do it later. What do you say?”

“Sorry colonel,” she gave him a sympathetic look. “No deal.”

“I’ll give you my share of the potato chips.”

She smiled, then took his left hand in hers.

“My fruit ration. For a month.”

“Here we go,” she said, grimacing as she poured. Again came the clear liquid, flowing over injuries with no pain, until—

He opened his eyes to find himself on his side, lying on the gurney. His head rested on his right biceps. In front of him, his left arm was encased in a mercifully complete bandaging job.

“Hey.” TJ squeezed his shoulder. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Fine. Sorry.”

“I keep spare BDUs in the back,” she said. “I’ll grab you a shirt and jacket.”

Young watched Eli, who was squinting at the monitor in front of him with bloodshot eyes.

Neither of them said anything.

For the first time in hours, Young’s radio crackled.

He flinched. Eli jumped.

“This is Telford. We’ve taken the bridge. I repeat, the bridge is secure. Twelve Nakai remain on the ship, near the FTL drive. We’re in pursuit.”

Young sat and pulled his radio free, ignoring the agony in his forearms. “This is Young,” he said, broadcasting on all channels. “All personnel are ordered to remain where they are unless already in pursuit of the Nakai or otherwise instructed.”

“Thank god.” TJ returned, shirt and jacket in hand. She helped Young ease the T-shirt over his bandaged forearms, then shook out the jacket. “Eli,” she said, as Young threaded an arm through the first sleeve, “do you want anything to eat? Or maybe—”

“No.” Eli fixed her with terrible, bloodshot eyes. “I don’t ‘want’ anything right now, all right?  I’m fine. I need to work. Leave me alone.” He turned back to the monitor.

“Okay,” TJ said, without sound. She compressed her lips as she finished helping Young into his jacket. “I’ll just prep for— ” she trailed off, her eyes glittering. “For everything, I guess.” She turned away.

Young watched her pile IV bags on a table. He zipped up his jacket. He scraped together all the patience he had left in him, got off his gurney, and pulled up a chair next to Eli.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Eli didn’t look at him.

Young couldn’t cross his arms. He couldn’t lean them against the monitor bank. He settled for bracing his wrists on his knees. “I know how much you hate this.”

Eli laughed, humorless and dark. “Somehow? I doubt that.”

“Eli. This isn’t you.”

“This isn’t me?” Young’d hit a nerve. The kid stopped typing and stared him down with furious, bloodshot eyes. “You—you what. You think I’m some happy-go-lucky idiot who—”

“No,” Young cut him off. “I think you’re a nice, perceptive kid. So. What. Happened.”

“Nothing. Look, it’s bothering me to have you here. Please stop watching me.”

“No,” Young said.

“No?” Eli repeated. “No?”

“Eli, you just came out of a hostage situation. You were tortured. You—”

“WHO CARES!?” Eli was shouting at him, half out of his chair. “NOT ME. NOT YOU. Nothing you can say will make ANYTHING BETTER. AT ALL. I have to fix this, right? BY MYSELF. SO LEAVE ME ALONE AND LET ME DO IT.” He dropped back into his seat, breathing hard.

“You done?” Young asked.

“Fuck you.” Eli locked his touchscreen just before a tear landed on it.

“You did a great job today,” Young said. “And you’ve got a great team.”

“Don’t,” Eli rasped. “Don’t do this. Don’t sit here. Don’t talk to me.”

“Why not?”

Eli wiped his face with both hands. “Do I have to spell this out for you?”

“Spell what out?”

“My point, since you’re just not getting it, is that I’m not the person you should be sitting with.”


“Yes,” Eli hissed. “Go sit. With Rush.”

Young held onto his neutral expression. “Not sure that’s the best use of my time right now.”

“Why?” Eli wiped away a tear. “Because we shut him down like the crashing hard drive he was? Because he’s useless now? Yeah, y’know what? I agree. What a complete waste. Don’t go sit with him. Terrible idea. Forget it.” Eli sniffed, staring determinedly at his locked touchscreen despite eyes that had to be tearing too much to see. “I hate this place. I hate this fucking place so much sometimes.”

Young nodded, his lips pressed together. “I wanna help you.”

“Not possible,” the kid whispered.

“Tell me what happened.”

“No,” Eli said, flat and final.

“Yes,” Young said, just as flat. Just as final. “Right now.”

“Fine,” Eli said, his eyes glittering. “We deserve this story anyway, you and me.”


“Telford told me to run. And I did. A whole ten steps down the hall. Then I realized what I was doing. And you know what that was?”

“Following orders,” Young said.

“No. Schola Scientiarum non sequitur imperia. Look it up. It’s our damn motto. I was leaving my boss, who had a brain full of alien computer virus, to the Nakai. Bad idea. Terrible idea. So I go back. I find the door to the gateroom closed and sealed. I find a team of soldiers lining the hall, weapons pointed at the door. And, in the middle of them, are Rush, Greer, and Telford.”

Young leaned into the point of contact between his wrists and his knees. He tried not to picture what Eli was describing.

“They had him on the floor. He’d lost it. It took both of them to hold him down. He was trying to open the door to the gateroom.” Eli’s voice cracked. “He couldn’t do it with his mind. He was trying to do it physically. Greer was talking him down. It didn’t work. At all. They had to restrain him. With those plastic things you guys carry. In the middle of the hall. And the Nakai were opening the door. But he just. He did not get it. He would not stop.”

Young stared at his own clasped hands.

“They had to drag him to the CI room,” Eli continued. “Literally, they dragged him. And he fought them. For every inch of corridor. The whole time, screaming one word, over and over and over again in Ancient. You want to take a guess as to what it was?”

“No,” Young said.

“It was your. Name.” Eli leaned forward, choking out the words, his eyes glittering. “I doubt they could tell. The pronunciation is different enough. But I knew. And he kept it up. Longer than I thought possible. Through the halls. In the CI room. I don’t know why Telford didn’t use the Ativan right then. Maybe he thought Rush would be useful. Maybe he thought Greer would shoot him if he tried it.”

Young nodded.

“So you can imagine,” Eli hissed, “what it was like in the CI room. Telford trying to coordinate by kino when he wasn’t tag-teaming with Greer to talk Rush down. Rush trying to tear himself apart against plastic. Greer trying to stop him from doing too much damage. Half an hour it goes on like that. Maybe more. Until, finally, he comes out of it. He starts saying more than just your name. He starts talking to Greer. Talking to the AI.”

“Eli,” Young said.

“So Greer cuts him free,” Eli continued. “They let him up. He stands at my shoulder. He starts saying single words. Weapons. Hydroponics. Dialing. Sensors. FTL. I ask him what he’s doing, but he can’t tell me. Only later do I realize that he’s naming systems in the clear. Systems he and AI had quarantined. But Telford made him leave me alone. Dragged him across the room. Put him in front of a monitor.”


“But he didn’t know what to do with a monitor,” Eli whispered.


“Telford thought he was crazy,” Eli said, a tear running down his face. “Because of the way he talked to the AI. He was all over the place, I think because it was all over the place.”

Young nodded, looking away.

“But he was so nice to it,” Eli breathed. “Like it was a kid, or something.”

Young took a shuddering breath.

“It went on like that for a while too. But he—he started to look bad. Sick. He started to get confused. He was doing that thing he does before he passes out where he—he—” Eli pressed an open hand against the side of his head. “But he wasn’t going down. He was just getting more and more distressed. So—eventually. Eventually I—” The kid couldn’t continue.

“I saw this part,” Young rasped.

“The part where I talked him into taking the drug that almost killed him?” Eli asked. “The drug that might still kill him? Great.”

“That’s not on you.”

“No?” Eli asked. “Because it sure feels like it’s on me.”

“For what it’s worth,” Young said, “he’s been integrating with the CPU. I don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t put him under. If you hadn’t locked the AI in the neural interface. But it would have been—” Young’s throat closed.

“Horrible,” Eli said. “Slow.”

Young nodded.

“I don’t want these memories,” Eli whispered.

“I know.”

They sat in silence.

“So, I guess if you wanna help me,” Eli said, “go hold his hand. Because even though it won’t do a damn thing for him right now? It’ll make me feel better.”

“Okay.” Young got to his feet. “I can do that.”

Eli nodded, pulled his blanket around him, and looked down at his running lines of code.

Young stood, squeezed the kid’s shoulder, then headed for the back of the infirmary.

He paused in the doorway, leaned into the frame, and tried to cross his arms. An acid-fire pain stopped him. He winced, pressing his forehead into the retracted metal of the door.

The space was quiet.

He crossed the room, grabbed a chair, and dragged it next to Rush’s gurney. He braced both hands against the back of the chair, stood without speaking, then stepped around the chair and dropped into it. He braced his wrists against his knees. He interlaced his fingers.

He looked at the split-apart, hollowed-out shell of the guy who shared his head.

“Not sure if anyone’s ever mentioned this,” Young said, “but, at the end of the day, you turn out to be a good chunk of work, genius.”

He leaned forward, captured the scientist’s hand, and tried to work some warmth into the man’s slack fingers.

“You got James trained up yet?” Young whispered. “Because we might’ve broken Eli. He’s gonna need some time off. No more night shifts for a while.”

He pushed the man’s jacket cuff up and traced the narrow ring of bruises braceletting Rush’s wrist. It looked like Greer and Telford had done it properly. Tight. Over the jacket. Right at the joint.

“We missed our first night of toothpaste,” Young said, gently massaging the man’s hand. “Earth toothpaste. The real stuff. Soap. Tylenol. I’m not happy about this, genius. At all. You’re gonna need to make it up to me.”

He closed Rush’s hand in both of his.

“I see you figured out how to dodge the second half of the conversation you owe me about whatever the hell we did in that cross-corridor. Nice work.”

Young pulled his chair closer to the bed.

“Two things.” He smoothed Rush’s hair back. “You’re not gonna like either. Number one, you’re on medical leave. Effective immediately. I know you hate that, but you can deal.”

He ran his fingers through Rush’s hair, working out subtle tangles.

“Number two, you were so full of shit about that whole ‘people kiss each other all the time’ thing, because your computational alter ego definitely tried to put the moves on me, and he was less than half you. So I’m figuring you must like me. A lot.”

Young cleared his throat.

“You’ll be glad to know I handled the whole thing. Really well. Shoved him down a hill. Told him he shouldn’t exist. Gave him a hug. Little bit of a pep talk. Casually let him know I was gonna try to unmake him. He was about two hours old at the time. He’d maybe just saved all of reality.”

Young swallowed.

“I don’t wanna see him. Ever again. Which means—which means you’re gonna have to be fine, genius. We’ll hunt down this virus and get rid of it. No problem. We’ll put you back in the chair. Fix you right up.”

Young’s throat closed.

“Then, after that, I’ll let Eli put on the movie night he wanted to do. I think it was gonna be Star Wars? Star Trek IV? Whatever it is—you’re going. Mostly for Eli’s sake, but also because I’m gonna enjoy the hell out of watching you be a jerk about it. Refusing popcorn on principle. Crossing your arms. Rolling your eyes. You know how you are.”

“You’ll help Brody make Scott a ring, and, even though you’ll pretend you don’t want to, you’ll make something ridiculously spectacular, because you’re not gonna let it fly if it’s not worthy of our little navigator. You’ll terrorize your fake graduate students over their quantum mechanics homework. Maybe Volker, too, a little bit. You’ll pretend it’s some kind of burden but secretly you’ll love every minute of it.”

“TJ’s gonna put you on anti-virals. We’re gonna keep you off your feet. And every night before you go to sleep, I’ll make you that tea you pretend not to like. The one with the tiny blue flowers.”

“And, since I’m listing, let’s say—no battles. For a month. Telford stays in his goddamned quarters. The AI leaves you alone.”

He ran his fingers over white sheets, smoothing away small creases in the fabric.

“That’s the plan,” he whispered. “Don’t mess it up.”

Young spent the day coordinating between teams, verifying all Nakai had been neutralized, organizing a manual sweep of the ship for any tampering by enemy forces, and transporting the wounded to the infirmary. Twenty hundred hours found him on the bridge with Park and Volker.

He couldn’t remember when he’d last slept.

“I heard we didn’t lose anyone,” Park said, breaking a long silence, her eyes on Volker. “I heard Barnes is gonna pull through.”

“I heard that too,” Volker replied, his good hand braced against his injured shoulder. “Thank god. Word is that Greer gave Scott a blood transfusion?” His eyes flicked to Young.

Young pretended not to notice.

“He did.” Park snuck a glance at Young. “Any word on—”

“Oh come on, guys,” he growled. “Just ask.”

“Um, any word on Dr. Rush, colonel?”

“He’s sedated until Eli gets the virus out of the mainframe.”

“I talked to Brody before I came on shift,” Volker said. “He said they’re making good progress.  They’ve got a code to search for anomalies that Eli’s finally satisfied with. They’re running it now.”

“Yeah.” Young rubbed his jaw. “It’ll take six hours and some change to run.”

“The mainframe’s a big place,” Volker said.

“Yup.” Young shifted in the command chair, trying not to bang his forearms into anything. God, but they hurt.

“Colonel,” Park said, “you look about ready to drop. Nothing’s going on at the moment. Why don’t you get some rest?”

The door to the bridge hissed open, and Telford strode into the room, crisp as hell. He’d changed his uniform. He looked like he’d slept. The only trace of the past twenty-four hours was some lingering redness around his eyes.

“Everett,” he said. “You look like shit.”

“David,” Young replied. “You look better.”

“I’m here to relieve you. TJ sent me. She ‘respectfully requests’ that you report to the infirmary.”

Young sighed. As he stood, the room spun. He caught himself on the edge of the command chair.

“You all right?” Telford closed a hand around Young’s arm.

“Yeah,” Young said. “Thanks.”

“You gonna make it to the infirmary?” Telford asked. “You need an escort?”

Young shook his head.

“Once you’ve slept,” Telford said, pulling him in, “we need to talk about Nick.”

Young nodded.

Telford let him go.

The walk to the infirmary passed in an unreal haze of exhaustion. When he arrived, TJ was busy with Barnes, so Young headed to the back room. He passed a handful of occupied beds. Scott was sitting, his color improved. Chloe, perched on his gurney, gave Young a wave as he passed.

In the back room, he found Wray, curled into the chair he’d dragged next to Rush’s bed.

She held an iPod in one hand. A single white earbud stood out against her hair. The other earpiece was in Rush’s ear. Wray rested a hand on the scientist’s forearm.

Young hovered in the doorframe, wondering if she’d fallen asleep.

Her eyes opened.

It was a fight not to flinch at the blood in the whites of her eyes. “Hey Camile.”


“What are you listening to?”

“Satie. Gymnopedie Number 1.”


“It’s my contribution.” She shut her bloodshot eyes.

“Your contribution? To what?”

Her lips curved into a trembling smile, but her eyes stayed closed. “If you don’t already know, I’ll let Eli tell you.”

“Do I want to know?” he asked.

“It’s very nice.” Her tone carried a shadow of admonishment. She cracked her eyes, revealing slivers of red beneath the shadows of her lashes. “You’ll like it.”

Young pushed away from the doorframe and came to sit on the end of Wray’s empty gurney.

“Do you think he can hear it?” she asked, the muscles of her face quivering as she tried to hold her neutral expression.

At the back of Young’s mind, Rush’s thoughts were still and dark.

“Maybe,” he said. “TJ’s got him pretty snowed though.”

“Good.” A tear leaked out of one closed eye. Wray brushed it away. “That’s good.”


“You should sleep,” Wray said, opening blood-red eyes. “I’ll sit with him. I’m not tired.”

Young tried to suppress a shiver at her ghastly appearance. “I’m good.”

Wray closed her eyes, as though she could tell they bothered him. “Lie down,” she said, the hint of a smile in her voice.

Now that he was sitting on a bed, it was impossible to resist. He collapsed onto his side, his forearms resting gingerly in front of him.

It felt odd, sleeping separated from Rush, even if it was only a few feet of empty air between them. He opened their link, wide as it would go, but picked up only darkness from Rush’s mind.

Young left the connection open anyway.

Across a vast distance, he heard a solitary piano.

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