Force over Distance: At All Angles Part 4
“I don’t know, man,” Greer whispers, “Lisa talks shit about tidally locked planets like you wouldn’t believe, but this one doesn’t seem so bad.”
Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations
Text iteration: Early morning.
Additional notes: None
At All Angles: Part 4
Greer stands on the bank of the broad, flat steam and surveys the twilit water.
Things have taken a turn. And not for the better.
The one bright spot is: his leg’s fixed. That’s useful. Good as new. Better than new, maybe, thanks to some kind of supernatural bullshit that’d burned like hell. There’d been no way, no way to know the doc was—
It’s the guy’s whole MO in a nutshell: a huge win in clusterfuck packaging. If Greer’s said it once, he’s said it a thousand times. The doc’s shit at his own PR.
“Don’t boil a guy’s leg from the inside out with no explanation,” Greer whispers. “It’s just not damn well done.”
The doc doesn’t say anything because he’s a pile of non-responsive misery at Greer’s feet.
Anyone, everyone’s gonna get upset if their injured leg gets grabbed and set on fire without warning. Everyone. Everyone’d pull away. Everyone would yell something like, “What the hell are you doing?”
He wants to get in there and apologize, but Rush isn’t exactly open for business at the moment.
Greer’s out of his face and giving him a minute. Or five. Or ten.
Even though this feels like a catastrophic, freaky-as-hell setback, it’s probably not that. This uneasy, guilty, unsettled, eerie-as-hell anxiety he’s got on deck is just part and parcel of what it means to have Nick Rush riding shotgun. The guy makes it easy to run the same mistake over and over and over again. In five minutes you could do it five times.
Greer’s sharp enough to spot the damn pattern; maybe he can whetstone himself up to the point he can avoid it. Colonel Young’s done as much.
“How long do stellar flares last, you think?” he murmurs.
The scientist says nothing. The river water licks the bottoms of his boots.
“I’m guessing it’s over now,” Greer whispers.
He does his damnedest not to think about Matt and Chloe, holding themselves to the hull of the ship. The way Chloe had panicked when she’d realized she’d lost contact. The sound of her scream, the way she’d thrashed in vacuum. The way Scott’d almost lost her. The way he held fast.
He does his damnedest not to think about the Nakai.
He does his damnedest not to think about how difficult it’s gonna be for Destiny’s crew to pull off a rescue.
They’ll try like hell. He’s sure of that.
He just needs to hang tight and make sure the doc doesn’t get eaten by alien tigers or whatever.
They’ve been in the open for too long. Time to find some cover.
“Hey, man.” Greer kneels in the loose bed of river stones. “How we doin’?”
“Fine,” Rush whispers.
“Nice.” Greer rests his forearms on his knees. “Very nice. Thanks for fixing my leg. Sorry I yelled at you about it.”
Rush stays quiet.
“Don’t patronize me.” Rush’s tone is all wasp-in-a-jar but his eyes are unfocused and he doesn’t move on the loose stone of the river bed.
“Not gonna waste perfectly good patronage on such an unbelievable jackass.”
“Go t’college,” Rush whispers hollowly.
Greer whistles softly. “Oh you’d love that, wouldn’t you? You gonna teach me some quantum mechanics? Give me your old trigonometry text book?”
Greer scans the treeline. “Yeah yeah. You’re scary as hell. Cold hearted bastard blah blah blah. What do you say we get out of the open?”
Rush levers himself onto an elbow and sits.
Greer tries not to look too relieved.
The scientist plants his hands in front of him like he needs the stability and stares at the river stone like it’s engraved with the Book of Revelation.
“Doc,” Greer offers, “if you can fix my leg, can you fix yourself up at all?”
“An’ what th’fuck d’you think you’re looking at, then?” Rush asks.
“Fair enough.” Greer lets his gaze sweep the tree line. “How’s it, uh, goin’, would you say?”
“Something like bricking yourself into a wall. Y’can—“ the doc trails off, staring at nothing, “—only get so far.”
Greer hoists his pack onto his shoulders. “You’re a lotta fun at parties, aren’t you?”
Rush flinches at something Greer can’t see.
“What do you say we walk fifteen feet in that direction?” He points at the cover of the trees.
“I—” Rush digs his fingers into the loose river stone. His expression freezes. He stares at something Greer can’t see, his gaze horrified.
“Rush,” Greer says. “Rush.”
Greer waves a hand inches from the scientist’s face.
He gets nothing.
“C’mon doc. Get with the program.”
“What?” Rush looks up, startled, like he hasn’t spent the last thirty seconds lost to an invisible horror show.
“What just happened?” Greer asks.
“Nimium notitia, parum processing power.”
“Doc, that tells me nothing.”
“Crash and restart,” Rush whispers. “Gradual hard disk failure.”
“Doc. No. Hard disk failure? You’re getting better. Come on. Buck up.”
“Yes,” Rush gives him that I’m-amused-by-my-own-funeral smile he keeps on tap. “‘Better.’ What did y’want to do? Sit in the fuckin’ forest?”
“Yeah. We need to get outta the open. Can you stand?”
Rush staggers up, plants his feet apart, and scans their surroundings like he’s reading data out of the air. “How long?”
“Since we crashed? About an hour.” Greer resettles his pack. “How long do stellar flares last?”
“Minutes.” Rush looks at the sky. “Minutes to tens of minutes.”
“So they should be comin’ for us any time now. “They gonna to be able to follow our trajectory down?”
“No. We weren’t purely ballistic.”
“So they’ll have to sweep this whole twilight band for us?”
Rush rolls his eyes.
“Look, smartass, I get they can do some statistics or whatever, my point is: should we be trying to transmit a signal?”
Rush homes in on the shuttle, doornail dead in the middle of the broad, shallow stream. “I could reanimate the relevant hardware. But the Nakai, too, have sensors.” The doc’s body language shifts, like the shuttle’s exerting a physical pull.
Greer closes a hand around the man’s upper arm.
Rush tries to jerk free.
Greer stays steady.
“Maybe we hold off on that,” he says quietly. “You’ve convinced me.” Greer tugs him in the direction of the tree line.
“I wish it wasn’t in the water,” Rush whispers, like the shipwrecked star-sailor he is.
Greer pulls him into the tangled shadows of the wood. The interior of the forest is dark. The black trunks of trees grow close and straight, like the bars of a formless cage. Overhead, the puzzle-piece canopy lets only a little twilight through.
Greer scouts out a place near a downed tree where they can keep the shuttle in sight. He drops his pack and pulls Rush down next to him. He feels a little safer with their backs to a massive tree. He still misses his gun, though.
Around them, the forest is quiet.
There are no sounds of birds or insects, just a leaden silence.
“Dark in here.” Greer tries to shake his own unease.
Rush stares at the shuttle, his expression concerned as hell. Like they’d left a dog out there. Or a kid.
Greer reaches into a pocket and digs free a power bar and a two-pack of Tylenol. Then he pulls out their only canteen of clean water.
The doc’s eyes flick to empty air, like the AI’s still, somehow, talking to him.
Shit if Greer knows.
“Rush,” he says again, and jostles the guy with his elbow. “Take this stuff.” He offers him the water and medicine.
Rush stares at the pills like he’s got a doozy of an equation in front of him and he’s solving for Tylenol.
“What?” Greer keeps his tone light. “You being a skeptical son of a bitch?”
“You brought this?” Rush asks slowly.
“Yeah. This and a power bar, but one step at a time.”
“Why? Because I like being prepared. It’s a Marine Corps thing. I didn’t know how long we’d be in that shuttle and you need—”
“I don’t need a caretaker,” Rush hisses, like a pissed-to-hell cat.
“Then where’s your damn Tylenol?” Greer slicks the words with a hint of threat. “That you brought. Because you’re so prepared.”
Rush looks away.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought. Luckily, I will allow you to have some of my Tylenol. That I brought for myself. Most people would say ‘thank you’.”
“Thank you.” Rush swallows the pills, washes them down with a mouthful of water, and hands the canteen back to Greer.
Greer shoves it back at him. “Keep drinking. And stop being such a pain in the ass all the time.”
“But I’m so good at it.”
“You got me there.” Greer pulls a Lieutenant Johansen Power Bar outta his pocket. When Rush has put a dent in their water supply, he swaps the canteen for the power bar.
Rush runs his fingers along the packaging, turning the thing over in his hands five or six times. His eyes flick from power-bar to forest as he orients and reorients the thing. Seam up, seam down, seam vertical. Finally he settles on seam up. Slowly, as though mirroring someone Greer can’t see, he opens the wrapper.
Jesus H. Christ.
“Nice,” Greer whispers.
Rush gives him a look of “fuck you” misery.
“Yeah,” Greer admits, “that was complete shit.”
The doc hands him half the power bar, gives Greer an unimpressed science-y glower, and sets himself to simmer.
“Uh huh.” Greer rewraps the other half of the power bar in its packaging and pockets it.
When Rush has polished off his power bar he sits quietly, staring into the near distance like they’ve got some invisible company. “Doc,” Greer says, “what’re you lookin’ at?”
“My hash table,” Rush replies.
“You can’t see the AI?”
Rush, tack-sharp all of a sudden, drills in on Greer. “Why d’you ask?”
“Just seems like someone might be talking to you.”
“You’re talking to me,” Rush says.
Rush flinches at nothing Greer can see.
“I’ll take first watch,” Greer says. “You get some rest. I’ll wake you when we’re rescued.”
“I’ll not be taking a fuckin’ nap, Greer.”
“Sleeping in the field is serious business. Requires planning and coordination. We gotta stay sharp.”
Rush isn’t listening. He’s staring at nothing, his body language closing. Little flinches come every few seconds, like someone’s giving him an earful. Greer tolerates it as long as he can, but eventually he can’t help himself. He wraps an arm around the guy.
Rush tenses, then, like someone flipped a switch, he relaxes. Too much.
Greer frowns, shaking him. “You with me, doc?”
No answer. Rush is boneless against him.
Greer shifts, trying to get a better look at the scientist. His eyes are open. He doesn’t so much as blink when Greer waves a hand in front of his face. “I hope to hell we don’t run into any trouble.” Greer looks up at the purple sky. “Because, no offense, but you don’t seem like you’re gonna do too well down here.”
He sweeps his eyes over the dark maze of trees and over the calm, shallow river.
“I don’t know, man,” he whispers, “Lisa talks shit about tidally locked planets like you wouldn’t believe, but this one doesn’t seem so bad. It must be something like seventy-two degrees. Lucky.”
“Luck,” Rush says, back in the game, full of disdain. “If I plot a course for the twilight band, then the twilight band’s where we fuckin’ hit, Greer.”
“Hell yeah.” Greer scans the shadowed underbrush, the banks of the river, the swath of stream he can see. “You tell ‘em, doc.”
Greer spends a good ninety minutes splitting his attention between Rush and their surroundings. Even asleep, the guy’s having rough go, jerking awake every twenty minutes and scaring the hell out of Greer every damn time.
“How long?” Rush whispers.
“Two and a half hours,” Greer holds neutral.
Rush looks at the shuttle, a dark island in glittering violet water. “They’re not coming.”
“Doc, I will personally guarantee you they are coming.”
Rush struggles into a sitting position and swipes a hand through his hair, dark in the twilight. He looks up, into the perpetual evening. “The Nakai have dropped out,” he says, like he’s talking about the weather.
Around them, the forest is utterly still.
Greer feels a swoop of unease. “There’s no way for you to know that.”
“Oh no?” Rush asks. “Then why haven’t we already been rescued?”
“I don’t know. A million reasons, doc.”
The scientist flinches. “There are ruins on this planet. Ruins that contain a naquadah alloy.” He looks at Greer expectantly.
“Nope. No way. You can forget it. We’re waiting right here.”
Rush musters up a fiery asshole glare and clenches and unclenches his hands. “Correction. You’re waiting right here.” He surges to his feet.
Greer grabs him before he’s taken three steps. “Don’t even think about it,” he hisses right in the guy’s ear. “I’ll tie you up if I have to. This is where they’re gonna come. This is where they’re gonna look. We have to be here.”
Rush shudders. “Right now,” he whispers, his eyes shut, “Destiny’s passing through this planet’s star.”
“You don’t know that.”
“The Nakai have calculated where it will emerge.”
“But they’re also scanning the planet.”
“They’ll detect the energy signature of our shuttle.”
“Come on, man, shuttle’s dead. You’re freakin’ yourself out.”
“They’ll launch their own short range vessels to investigate.”
“Rush. You don’t know any of this.” Greer, somehow, has lost his cool. His breathing comes fast as he looks into the dark interior of the forest.
“Even if we leave now, they’ll follow,” Rush whispers. “They’ll track us across the planet.”
“Rush. Stop it.” Greer shakes him. Just once, but he makes it count.
“They’ll find us,” Rush hisses. “And they’ll never, never let us go. They’ll tear you apart.”
“Get a damn grip.” Greer digs his fingers into the man’s biceps.
“They’ll take what remains of your mind and they will remake you. Into something horrible. Monstrous. Something you wouldn’t recognize. They’ve done it before.”
“Rush!” Greer gets in his face. Shakes him again. “Stop.”
They stare at one another.
The forest is so quiet.
“You’re okay,” Greer tries to calm himself down. “You’re fine. I’m fine. Everyone’s fine.”
You poor bastard, Rush’s expression seems to say. It sends a chill tearing through Greer’s very bones.
The only sound in the dead forest is the wind in the trees and their breathing.
High above their heads comes the sound of a sonic boom.
A craft has entered the upper atmosphere.
He drags Rush deeper under the trees and looks for a break in the cloud cover, but he can’t see a damn thing.
“It could be ours,” Greer whispers.
Rush shakes his head.
The pair of them flinch like hell as a second sonic boom breaks the quiet.
Then a third.
Then a fourth.
“Go, doc.” Greer shoves Rush deeper into the forest. “Go. I’m right behind you.”