Force over Distance: What Falls Away Is Always

“I’m in charge here,” Wray says.




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

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: Bit of Rilke, bit of Cicero’s De Officiis




What Falls Away Is Always


Wray kneels on the floor, her hands pressed to the deck.


She breathes hard.


She thinks of things that might help her. Like guns. Like science.


She’s thinking of Rush, of the AI, of Young, of Telford, of Greer, of Scott, of Chloe, of Eli, of Volker, of Brody.


None of them are here. She’s flanked by James and Park.


She looks at the room.


She looks at the crew, frightened and quiet.


She watches the Nakai prowl the perimeter of the room. She watches them wade between people, searching for something. Searching for someone.


For Rush. Maybe for Chloe.


Don’t think of Sharon, she tells herself.


Don’t think of Sharon.


Oh god, don’t think of her.


“What should we do?” Park whispers. It’s almost inaudible.


Out in the corridors, their status unknown, are the personnel most likely to resolve this situation. Wray can’t help them. She can’t discover what their plans are, if organized plans exist at all, which she doubts.


She can’t take back this room.


It’s unlikely the Nakai are here to negotiate.


“We watch,” James whispers back, just as quietly. “We wait for an opportunity.”


Wray flinches, as, across the room, one of the Nakai hisses menacingly at Barnes.


On the bridge, weeks ago, she’d told the colonel that being an HR person came with some relevant skill sets. She’d believed it then. She believes it now.


“Human Resources,” Dr. Jackson says, smiling, the first time they meet. “Kinda covers everything, doesn’t it? All we have, all we’ll ever have?”


Wray knows people because she talks to them. She understands group psychology and she’s made a study of human social constructs. She’s thoughtful. She knows the value of order and of regulation, but she doesn’t love these things for themselves. She loves them because of that which has been built atop them. Peace. Harmony. A platform to launch oneself at the stars.


Don’t think of Sharon, don’t think of her.


She knows this crew.


She loves this crew.


They’re her family. She wants them to persist, to survive.


She wants to protect them, but she has nothing, nothing to do it with.


It doesn’t matter.


Don’t think of Sharon.


Don’t think of her.


Across the room, the Nakai hisses again at Barnes, who’s done nothing, who doesn’t look at it, who doesn’t move, who freezes as if she’s facing a cobra, some reptilian thing that will not attack if she does not move.


Barnes is alone. She’s been separated from the crew by the instinctive, understandable, terrified, inching back of everyone around her.


The Nakai circles Barnes, considering.


Wray is trembling.


Her hands are spread flat against the icy floor, her hair falls over her back like a shield.


She will stand up.


She will stand up.


Her muscles feel like lead. Her mouth is dry.


The Nakai pulls out a small device. It’s silver. It glitters blue in emergency light.


Wray met Sharon outside, on June 15th, 1997, on the first day she’d shown up for a group run in New York City. It’d been early in the morning, and Sharon had worn a blue jacket, crisp and economical with the cleanest of lines. Her red hair, swept up, caught the gold of the sun as she ran.


Wray had run beside her for an hour before she’d worked up the nerve to ask her name because probably she was straight, probably she had a boyfriend.


Don’t think of Sharon.


Don’t think of her.


Wray watches the Nakai approach Barnes.


She’ll do this because she’s human. She’ll do this because of her place in this crew. She’ll do it as a function of her character. She’ll do this because she expects it of herself. But most importantly—


She will, simply, do it.


Wray stands.


“No,” James says, anguished. “No.”


Wray is the only one standing.


The crew looks at her.


The Nakai look at her.


She is trembling.


She takes a small step, then another. She holds her hands in front of her.


No one stops her.


The Nakai don’t shoot her.


The room is so crisp, so sharp, so solid. She feels the air pass over her skin, the drag and rebound of each blink, the give of her shoes, the smoothness of her blouse, the dig of the straps of her camisole coming over the edges of her shoulders and the weight of her hair and the sound of her steps and the breathing of the crew and the gleam of the emergency lights off the tables and the walls of the mess. 


She leaves Park and James to flank no one.


She looks at Barnes and the Nakai that threatens her.


The Nakai watch Wray with a menacing stillness.


Don’t think of Sharon.


Don’t think of her eyes, which were green, her freckles, which had mostly faded, or her parents, who, when Wray had been introduced to them had pulled her into their lives and had never let her go, and what they must think now and how they must ache for their daughter who was widowed without ever having been married, and who’d lost a partner without losing her, who could see her and know her only through the eyes and bodies of other people, who had begun to drink too much and eat too little and who did not know how to handle the grief of a boundless separation that grew greater every day.


Don’t think of Sharon.


Don’t think of her.


“Excuse me.” Wray’s voice is steady and strong, even though her body is shaking.


Don’t think of Sharon, don’t think of the surf shifting a small boat beneath a palm tree where they’d sworn to retire, don’t think of her hands and her eyes and she had played the flute and Wray had played the oboe, oh god, don’t think of the flute and don’t think of the fine, breakable texture of her hair and curls it would make and how there was so much of it, and the arch of her foot, so elegant, or the feel of her heartbeat against Wray’s cheekbone, oh Sharon, oh god. Sharon.


“Excuse me,” she says again.


The Nakai hisses at her, leveling its weapon.


They all have their weapons trained on her.


“I’m in charge here,” Wray says.


It’s true.


But it does not help her.


Her position, in the past, granted her the power to stand between people and the mindless cruelty of bureaucracy.


Now, it grants her nothing but the power to stand.


Barnes watches her with a frozen, horrified, grateful expression.


Wray has no idea if the Nakai understands her, but it lifts the device it holds.


She thinks of Chloe.


She thinks of Nick.


She’ll resist them with all that she is, she’ll resist everything they pull from her mind, she’ll resist everything, everything, except for this initial act.


Don’t think of Sharon.


Don’t think of her.


Wray brushes her hair aside in a dark, smooth sweep. She angles her head, exposing her temple where she knows the device will come to rest.


Shaking and steady, accepting and resisting, she waits for it.


Don’t think of Sharon.


Don’t think of her.


The Nakai lifts the device.


Its long, cool fingers close around her upper arm. It draws her in.


She gasps, shaking with the effort of holding still, but she keeps her head angled and she lets it happen and she waits.


She waits.


The transmitter comes up.


Time flows so slowly.


She waits.


She waits, not thinking of Sharon, because don’t think of Sharon, don’t think of her don’t think of Sharon, don’t think of Sharon, don’t think of Sharon, don’t think of Sharon, don’t move, don’t move and don’t think of Sharon, don’t think of Sharon, of the line of her neck and the angle of her jaw and her laugh and the curve of her hips and her books she left everywhere on windowsills and tables and on the edges of sinks and on the floor and hooked over the back of the couch, don’t think of Sharon, don’t think of her, don’t think of her, don’t think of her inability to neatly fold a map or the way she licks ice cream slower than anyone Wray’s ever met, don’t think of her, don’t think of Sharon, of her plants, of her voice, of the way she insists on eating in bed, don’t just don’t think of her, don’t think of her, don’t think of her just don’t.


Don’t think of Sharon.


Not Sharon.


Don’t think of—

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