Force over Distance: At All Angles Part 8

“A bearing.” Rush’s voice cracks. “Derived from the nautical term.”




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

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

Additional notes: None.




At All Angles: Part 8


Rush vanishes into the dark water. Too fast and too quiet for a fall. It’s a predatory pull.


Greer takes a quick breath. His fingers tighten on his light and his knife.


He loses his footing so fast it’s only when he starts struggling he registers the long fingers wrapped around his ankle. He contracts his core, curls in on himself, and fights toward the serpentine motion of the thing holding him down.


The diffuse beam of his submerged light creates enough of a silhouette that Greer can drive his knife home. Into a sinuous, alien torso.


The thing doesn’t let go.


Arms come around him from behind, thin and strong.


There are two of them.


At least two.


Greer fights like hell, his fingers clamped around the knife and flashlight. He frees a foot and delivers a water-slowed kick to the head of the one he’d stabbed.


He needs to breathe.


With another solid kick, he frees both feet, turns himself in the water, and works at breaking the grip of the thing still holding him under.


He needs to breathe.


His movements are slowing, but still he tries like hell, dropping his center of gravity, trying to get below the thing he’s grappling with. Thin, strong fingers reach up, curve around his neck, past his ear, and find the side of his head.


He jerks back, but its reach is long and he feels the fire-whisper agony of what’s coming when—


It pulls away.


The water erupts in a turbulent swirl, and suddenly they’re all screaming—under the water, above the water, in his mind, outta his mind—as Greer gets his feet beneath him and surfaces.


He gasps. The air’s warm on his face and in his throat.


Water streams out of his eyes and he sees two Nakai screaming, writhing in agony.


He sucks in another breath and lunges forward, leading with his knife. He tackles the nearest one, and drives the knife where its heart might be, then pulls it free, flips his grip, and draws the blade across its throat. Its companion dives beneath the water and disappears.


His breathing comes loud in the quiet. The only thing he hears is the soft flow of water.


He sweeps his flashlight in broad arcs.


No sign of any additional Nakai.


No sign of the doc.


Slowly, something surfaces. A pale blue sheen catches the beam of his flashlight.


Greer raises his his knife—but the corpse is still and dead, floating down the tunnel, carried by the slow current.


“Shit.”


Greer sheathes his knife and takes a beat before diving. He sweeps the dimness with his flashlight, heading for the spot where the dead Nakai appeared. He walks with his hand outstretched, just under the surface of the water.


There’s no sign of Rush.


He dives, doing his best to back-calculate where Rush might be from the speed and strength of the current. The flashlight beam scatters and spreads in the turbid water.


His hand hits something. His fingers close, twist, and pull.


He surfaces with a gasp and drags Rush back along the corridor in the direction of a platform they’d passed. He lets the current help him all it can. He climbs onto the corroded metal and pulls Rush after him.


The guy’s complete deadweight, his clothes and his lungs full of water.


Greer drops his flashlight with a hollow clatter and starts CPR.


After a round, Rush coughs and chokes on the gallon or so of water trying to get out of his lungs.


“Cough,” Greer rasps, manhandling the guy onto his side, keeping him there as less water and more air enters the mix until the doc is breathing again, shallow and wet and shivering on the metal platform.


Greer, too, is shaking. He falls out of his crouch, shuts his eyes against the dark, and wraps a hand over Rush’s shoulder.


“Everything,” Greer says, his voice shot to hell, “Everything’s—” He can’t finish, because everything’s fucked and the doc won’t thank him for pretending otherwise.


“We’re almost done,” Greer whispers, eyes closed. “We’re almost there. We’ve made it just about five klicks. We must have. The gate’s around here somewhere. Something scared that last thing off.  Probably that was you. Yeah?”


Rush says nothing.


“Classic.” Greer’s voice breaks again. “Maybe they’ll leave us alone. Maybe you scared the shit outta them.”


He opens his eyes, looks into the dark, and listens to the doc breathe until he can’t take the quiet anymore.


“So.” He swallows. “We’ve got our knife, we’ve got our light. Everyone’s breathing. Huge win. We’re gonna find the gate. We’re gonna go back to Destiny and they are gonna give us extra dinner rations. For a week. Becker’ll work it out so we get the good stuff. The real stuff. The Earth stuff. Not the mush.”


Rush coughs weakly.


“Come on, doc,” Greer says. “Talk to me. I can’t do this without you.”


Rush says nothing.


“Colonel Young’ll kill me dead if you lost so much as one brain cell from that whole drowning thing.”


Rush says nothing.


“We gotta find this gate, right?”


Rush says nothing.


“Right,” Greer whispers.


Carefully, slowly, he pulls Rush up. The doc presses a shaking hand to the cold metal platform, but still, he doesn’t say anything.


“You gonna talk to me?”


Still, Rush says nothing.


Please talk to me, doc. Please.”


He listens to the sound of water flowing through narrow spaces.


“Okay,” Greer squeezes Rush’s shoulder. “I get it. I do. You’re done for the day. I do not blame you for that, doc. I can find the gate. I’m sure I can. We’re close. We’ve gotta be.”


The doc doesn’t respond. His eyes are shut. He’s not shivering anymore and Greer has no idea if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but the day really hasn’t been going their way so he slides back into the water and drags Rush after him, the guy’s arm across his shoulders.


“I’d love to give you a minute, doc, but I’m not sure we’ve got a minute.”


Ita vero,” the doc rasps, startling Greer so much he nearly drops his flashlight into the water.


“No idea what that means, but I’ll take it,” Greer says. “I’ll take it.”




Greer spends precious time and precious energy wandering tunnels filled with water that ranges from ankle-deep to chest-deep before his brain shakes itself outta its shock and reminds him he has a damn kino in his damn pack.


He gets it out and flies the thing around enough to map the space. Turns out, linear passages converge like wheel spokes around a huge, cylindrical vault.


The gate’s gotta be in there.


Problem is: there’s not a door in sight.


He hauls the doc up and walks him to the sidewall of the vault. “Doc, I need your help.”


Cum quid?” Rush replies.


“With this.” Greer taps the metal wall with two fingers. “We gotta get in here. Behind here. Behind this wall.”


Rush doesn’t respond.


Greer grabs the man’s hand and presses it against the rough metal. “You can feel circuitry, right? You feel anything?”


“Circuitry,” Rush whispers.


“Yes.” Greer’s entire body is shaking with tension, with frustration, with low blood sugar, with hypothermia maybe. “Do you feel any circuitry? Can you get us through?”


“This is a wall,” Rush says, perplexed and a little tentative, like he has no idea what Greer’s talking about. He pulls his hand away.


“Yeah, but there’s gotta be a door in it somewhere, doc. Where’s the door?”


“Not here.”


“Yeah, I can see that. I need you to find the door.”


“Contemporaneous precision and accuracy?” Rush whispers, like a request.


Greer takes a beat, takes a breath, presses Rush’s hand against the wall, and says, “I need you to find a way through this wall right now.”


The doc shuts his eyes, makes good contact with the metal, then starts moving to the left. Greer follows, trying to support the guy without getting in his way.


With a cat-like speed that comes outta nowhere, Rush flexes his fingers and digs into the wall, through the slime and the mold to pry open a panel. No chance in hell Greer ever woulda seen it, even if his flashlight beam had caught the thing dead on.


“Nice work, doc,” Greer says.


The doc gives him a fuck-you-anyway side-eye, then thrusts his hand into green-blue biologic circuit-goo.


Rush, don’t—well shit.“


Unlike the terminal the doc had powered on the planet, this stuff is live. Active. It pulses angrily. The doc’s eyebrows push together, and his expression takes on that sorta pained I-can’t-believe-I’m-losing-to-the-idiots cast it sometimes gets.


But then, a doorway slides open only a few feet away, revealing a long strip of deep black.


Greer flinches, tingling to with too much adrenaline and nowhere to put it.


Rush pulls his hand out of the panel and, polite-as-can-be, passes out without a word of warning.


At least now there’s something for Greer’s overtuned nerves to react to. He turns into the guy’s fall, ducks, and pulls him into a fireman’s carry. It’s a bit of a trick to manage the doc, a pack, and a light, but Greer crosses the threshold into the dark, flashlight sweeping in front of him.


There’s so much jumbled equipment that he can’t get line-of-sight to any wall. The room’s piled high with salvaged parts of ships, scrap metal, weapons, circuits—all of it made of naquadah, towering in skeletal stacks.


Somewhere in this mess is a gate.


Behind him, the door slides shut.


Great.


Carefully, lowers the doc to the floor. At least it’s dry in here.


Rush looks like he’s been dragged through hell and back. His lips have a bluish tint. His eyes stay closed. The carpet of dust in the room cakes itself on his soaked clothes, and coats his hair. He’s still breathing, like the stubborn son of a bitch he is.


“Okay,” Greer whispers. “You just—“ he trails off. “I’ll find it.” He hesitates, really against leaving the guy alone, on the floor of a pitch-black room with no flashlight. He’ll move a hell of a lot faster without the guy. But, god, if he wakes up by himself—


“Doc,” Greer rasps. “How out of it are ya?” He snaps his fingers next to Rush’s ear.


No response.


“No more Nakai tech for you.” He eyes the vast, dark room. “I’ll be right back.”


He decides on a radial sweep. He walks the cylindrical space in a spiral, scanning the dense clutter. He sees cannibalized stasis pods that look like they coulda come from Destiny, panels with dead crystal hanging off them like creepy Christmas ornaments, power cells, pieces of shuttles, and strewn all through the mess are little hand held devices like the one TJ uses.


The gate has to be here somewhere.  


It has to be.


Finally he spots it, a dark arch, leaning against the back wall of the room.


Leaning.


“What. The hell.” Greer threads his way through stacked naquadah to lay hands on the thing.


It’s cold and dark.


It’s not mounted.


There’s no power.


There’s no way to dial the damn thing.


“You’ve gotta be kidding me.”


It’s not kidding him.


“You have got to be kidding me.” He smacks the nearest hunk of metal with an open hand and the cuff of his soaking jacket leaves a reflective streak where it smears away the dust.


“No.” He points at the gate. “You gonna fuckin’ work. You are gonna motherfucking work.”


He turns and makes for the doc, who’s still where Greer’d left him, lying in the dust, dead to the world. Greer drops down next to him, dipping fingertips into the shallow spread of water that’s seeped from Rush’s clothes and hair.


“Doc.” He jostles the soaked material of the scientist’s jacket. “Doc, c’mon. Show time.”


Rush’s eyelids flicker.


Greer taps his cheek gently.


Rush struggles back to consciousness.


“I found it,” Greer says softly.


Quid?” The guy’s got none of his usual spark.


“The gate. C’mon. Sit up.” He lets Rush get the motion started before he lends a hand, and they avoid a hard drive crash. “You okay?”


No answer.


“Doc, uh, what’s your status?”


No answer.


“Rush. What’s your current physical status?” Greer tries.


No answer.


“Verbally describe your current physical state using English. Now.”


“Unknown,” Rush whispered back, shutting his eyes in a slow, pained blink.


“I had to ask you four different times just to get an ‘unknown’? C’mon man. Work with me here.” He’s not expecting any response, but he gets a—


“Suboptimal.”


Greer snorts. “Same.”


He takes it slow, and they pick their way across the debris-filled room until they stand in front of the dead gate. Greer trains the beam of his flashlight on the familiar curve.


“What do you think? Can you use your magic tech-powering skills?” Greer murmurs.


Rush looks at the gate and doesn’t answer.


Greer pulls Rush forward, until they’re close enough to touch the gate itself. He places Rush’s hand against the cool metal arch. “Can you use this to dial Destiny?”


“No.” Rush stares at his own hand, covered with alien grime.


Despair threatens to stop Greer’s air. “Why can’t you use this to dial Destiny?” The words don’t come easily.


“Because the event horizon cannot form in the presence of an obstruction,” Rush whispers.


Greer feels a wild rush of untamed hope. “Fuck,” he whispers. “Hell yeah, doc. I can fix that. No problem.” He looks up, and finds the back edge of a disassembled stasis pod projecting through a portion of the open ring. “Easy.”


The doc doesn’t respond. He’s gripping the gate like it’s a lifeline.


“You sit.” Greer pries Rush’s fingers away from the metal, walks him a safe distance back from the gate, and helps him sit. He balances his flashlight on the edge of a gutted console so the beam illuminates an edge of the gate and bleeds into the surrounding darkness.


Greer studies the offending stasis pod. He steps through the dead gate, one foot on either side of the ring. He wraps his arms around the stasis pod, bends his knees, and hauls like hell.


He shifts it, maybe, a fraction of an inch.


“Shit.”


He steps all the way through the ring, wedges himself behind the pod, and, rather than lifting, he tries to shove it along the floor behind the gate.


No luck.


He takes a beat. He can’t shift the pod. But he might be able to shift the gate. He tries to estimate the height of the gate and the free space in the room.


“This’d be easier with two people, doc,” he mutters.


Rush shivers on the floor and says nothing.


“I got this.” Greer scans the room for a likely-looking lever. “Like always.” He picks up a piece of stripped metal paneling about the length of a crowbar.


“Y’know,” Greer says, trying to dispel the oppressive quiet, “you need to show a little more appreciation for the military personnel. We save your ass all the god damned time. Atienza doesn’t even think you know his name? After two and a half years? That’s pretty weak.”


Using the edge of the gate as balance he steps onto the stasis pod and climbs as high as he can without compromising his balance.


“That’s pretty bad, doc. I covered for you. Told him you knew it, you just weren’t big on the socializing. I don’t think he bought it. I don’t know if I bought it.”


He wedges the paneling behind the point where the gate rests against the wall.


“The problem,” Greer says, “is you’ve been ruining your image. You can’t just design people’s engagement rings and think that’s not gonna have consequences. So now, Atienza expects you to know his name. Just the facts of life, man.”


Greer adjusts the position of his not-crowbar. “Everything’s got a price.”


He braces his feet, grunts, and levers the gate away from the wall. He doesn’t have to move it much. Only a few degrees, and gravity’ll do the rest.


With a burst of power and a strangled yell, he gets the thing vertical. Then a hair past vertical. And then—


When the gate was halfway to the floor Greer realized it probably woulda been a good idea to prep the doc for what was about to happen.


Metal impacts metal with a crash that rings in his ears and echoes through the room as a low, hollow tone. The vault itself vibrates with the impact.


It’s a good bet he’s just given away their position.


The doc’s staring at the edge of the gate with a glazed, horrified expression.


Greer climbs off the broken stasis pod and makes his way over to Rush. “Hey.” He kneels in front of the scientist. “Sorry. That was me. My bad. Too close for comfort. I know.”


Rush doesn’t respond. At all.


Greer waves a hand in front of his face.


Nothing.


“You’re okay, doc.” Greer tries to channel Colonel Young. “You’re fine.”


Slowly, a little life comes back into the doc’s eyes, and he flexes and clenches his hands. Over and over again.


“Hi,” Greer says quietly. “Rush. Think you can dial this thing up?”


No answer.


“Can you use this gate to dial Destiny?”


No answer.


“Can you currently dial Destiny with this gate?” Greer tries again.


“No,” Rush whispers.


“Doc.” Greer brings a hand to his face. “Why can’t you dial out?”


“No gate bearing.”


“The hell is a gate bearing?”


Rush looks at him.


“Verbally define gate bearing,” Greer says.


“A fixed part, inductively coupled to the gate, that defines a single location permutation out of the set of all available permutations.” Rush shuts his eyes and drives the heel of a hand into his temple.


“Try again. Smaller words.”


“A fixed part, inductively coupled, that variably defines a four dimensional coordinate within a circumscribed volume of space-time,” Rush rasps.


“Doc. Again. Simpler.”


“A bearing.” Rush’s voice cracks. “Derived from the nautical term.”


“I’m not sure how that helps me.” Greer’s panic is rising, riding high. If he doesn’t figure this out, they’re gonna die here.


“Define bearing,” Rush whispers, just as desperate.


“Doc, I don’t—”


“Define nautical bearing,” Rush snarls, fixing him with a fiery gaze.


“In a nautical sense—well I guess it’d be where you’re going.”


“Yes,” Rush repeats. “Where you’re going.”


“A fixed part,” Greer murmurs, “that tells you where you’re going?” Finally, the missing puzzle piece turns itself in the right direction and snaps into Greer’s brain. “That part! On Destiny. That thing suspended from the ceiling, shaped like a triangle? You need that?”


Rush nodded.


“Okay. It’s gotta to be around here somewhere. Loads of naquadah in it I’ll bet.” Greer stands and sweeps up the flashlight.


Rush flinches.


“Sorry doc,” Greer whispers. “It’s gonna get dark for a minute.”


Rush says nothing.


Greer paces ever-widening arcs, sorting through piles of gutted equipment.


He doesn’t have to go too far before he finds what he’s looking for. He drags his prize back to the gate and sets it up right next to the curve of metal, pretty close to where the doc’s curled on the floor in a sad little ball.


“Come on, Doc. Talk to me. Now what?”


Rush cracks his eyelids.


Now can we dial Destiny with this gate?” Greer asks.


“No,” Rush whispers.


“God damn,” Greer sighs. “Why not?”


“We lack the capacity for induction.”


“Induction?”


ε=dφB/dt.


“Um,” Greer says. “Not helpful. Try again. In English, not math.”


“Motion is integral to selection and fixation of coordinate points. The glyphs must change position relative to the gate bearing,” Rush said.


“You mean it can’t spin, lying on the floor?” Greer asked.


“Correct,” Rush whispers.


“Well how about I drag the gate bearing instead?” Greer asks. “If they just have to move relative to each other—”


Rush says nothing.


“Doc, is moving the gate bearing relative to the gate equivalent to moving the gate relative to the gate bearing?”


“Yes.”


“Okay. That’s what I’ll do. Now can we dial?”


“Yes,” Rush, whispered.


“Seriously?”


The doc lays a hand on the gate, and with a subtle, quiet hum, the glyphs light up.


In the hostile dark of an abandoned world, it’s just about the most beautiful thing Greer’s ever seen.


“You mystical little asshole,” Greer murmurs. “Think you can power the creation of a wormhole?”


“Unknown,” Rush whispers.


Greer stands and hauls the gate bearing onto the metal surface of the gate. He walks the perimeter, dragging the triangular piece counter-clockwise. The pale globe screeches across the dark metallic surface to the first glyph.


“Locked,” Rush says faintly.


Greer’s used to dialing home via Ancient remote, so it takes him a minute to locate the next glyph on the ring. When he has it, he reverses direction and walks clockwise.


The gate bearing is heavy as hell. Unwieldy. His arms and shoulders, already fatigued, burn with strain. As he approaches the final glyph, he looks at the doc, one hand still pressed to the edge of the gate.


The bearing connects with the final glyph.


The doc grimaces. His back arches with strain.


The gate lights up and shuts down. No puddle of blue lights up the room.


Greer’s arms shake with the weight of the gate bearing, but he keeps it in place.


Rush comes up on one elbow and looks at the dark arc of the gate as though it’s personally betrayed him.


Greer’s knees buckle. He goes down beneath the bearing. “Not enough energy?” he rasps.


“Still unknown.” Rush’s sounds upset as hell. Like he’s on the verge of tears.


He’s not the only one.


“If it’s not energy then what’s the damn problem?” Greer shouts, unable to control himself.


“Destiny,” Rush says, with a sickly smile, “has locked us out.”


“Why?” Greer asks, his voice unrecognizable with strain.


“Because,” Rush whispers, “this is what they did.”


“The Nakai,” Greer whispers. He lets the weight the weight of the gate bearing press against his chest. “When they dialed in from the D-brane collision.”


“Yes.”


“They blocked the connection.” Greer brings a shaking hand to his forehead. “And if they blocked it once, they’ll keep blocking it.”


“Yes.” Rush breathes.


“Fuck,” Greer says. “Fuck. Well. I guess we need a ship.”


Rush doesn’t reply.


“Doc.” Greer can’t keep his voice from cracking with misery as he scrambles out from underneath the gate bearing. “How far to one of those ships? Those ships you saw in the computer? How far are they from here?”


“Immaterial.”


“Doc.” Greer fights a bleak wave of despair. “Where. Is. A ship.”


“They are assembling,” Rush murmurs, “and they are coming.”


“The Nakai? How many?” Greer whispers.


“Many.”


“Can you do that thing again?” Greer asks. “Whatever you did that made them leave?”


Rush shakes his head.


And, suddenly, things get real clear.


Greer’s decisions are done. They’ve got one path now.


He thinks of Lisa, up there right now, above ground, above the atmosphere, soaking up pure starlight, maybe firing streams of plasma at enemy vessels, sharp hands, sharp mind, a song in her heart and shine in her hair.


She’ll be all right.


“Always thought I’d go out fighting.” Greer gets up, using strength he’s doesn’t have for what’s probably gonna be the last push of his life. “Never pictured I might clock out on a manual dial. Dr. J’d be proud, don’t you think?”


Rush smiles faintly.


“Because this is what we do,” Greer whispers, hauling the bearing along a stationary arch. “This is who we are.”


Rush lays his hand on the gate.

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