Force over Distance: Chapter 61

None of this seemed like chance.

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

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 61

Young’s quads burned as he shifted over a line of notebook pages, spaced to scale, assembled over hours. He balanced on the balls of his feet and his fingertips, referencing Lee’s datapad, making notes, dipping in and out of Rush’s sleeping mind. His timeline paralleled the track lights opposite the window, stretching from the door of the bathroom to the orthogonal wall. Each page in the sequence had a header and a collection of shorthand notes, written with a bold fluidity that wasn’t quite his.

THE PLAGUE. It’d begun half a century before the Second Exodus. It came on slowly, crawling genomic roads with unpredictable kinetics. The Ancients themselves had created it, in an attempt to smooth the path to a higher plane. They designed a viral vector, meant to integrate into the genome and confer a biochemical “lift” in the direction of ascension. It should’ve done its work once, then laid dormant. It wasn’t supposed to transpose itself again and again and again, destroying genomic integrity. It wasn’t supposed to spread.

“There are two things I worry about,” Fabrice says, blonde hair losing itself in the mist of a rainy Lantean morning as they approach Pinnacle Quay. “The length of the incubation period and the degree of our biochemical hubris.”

“Oh, you worry about hubris, do you?”

“Shut up,” Fabrice huffs. “You’re as bad as Orlin.”

“Tough to critique hubris when you’re the one who wants to carve up the multiverse and serve it on Solstice with starflower jam.”

SPLITTING THE MULTIVERSE. It’d happened at some point, given Destiny was periodically triggering D-brane collisions via Obelisk World fly-bys. But had it been Fabrice who’d done it? Or Fabrice who’d discovered pre-existing passable roads?

They pass into a far-flung tower beyond the city’s shield, and climb the spiral stair of the Galactic Lighthouse. The rain picks up, sheeting down crystal windows. A low hum through the metal railings indicates the Lighthouse Signal is live.

“I told you we’d be late.” Fabrice bounds up the steps.

“Physicians are above temporal etiquette.” Sortes takes his time.

Fabrice laughs. “Does that line work on Ganos?”

“No.” He frowns at the rain as they ascend the stair, wondering if the storm will affect the air recirculators. “It’s ridiculous these meetings aren’t remote.” He and Ganos are both here; stars below, if something should happen to them, who would care for Retia?

“They are remote,” Fabrice says. “Half the Council dials in from off-world.”

“Well exactly. If Orlin can dial in from Discenna why can’t I dial in from the eastern quay?”

ORLIN. A polymath with a broad knowledge of the weapons of war: mechanical, energetic, temporal, chemical, biochemical, cognitive. An early proponent of temporal manipulation using the entire stargate network.

They enter the room and find the meeting already underway. The local Council members are physically present, while virtual avatars haunt empty seats. Above, the spire of the Galactic Lighthouse draws charge from the clouds in the form of periodic lightning. Inside the dampening field that surrounds the chamber, they can’t hear the thunder.

“Awakening a machine to song has been proscribed for generations.” Orlin’s avatar stands, facing down Ganos Lal.

Sortes heads for the empty seat next to his partner, leaving Fabrice the chair nearest the door, directly opposite Orlin.

“Fusion of a living mind and a neural net is not proscribed.” Ganos looks at Fabrice in relief, then returns her attention to Orlin. “Our command chairs offer as much.”

“Starting without me, Orlin?” Fabrice sits.

“What kept you?” Ganos whispers, as Sortes takes his seat. A lightning strike shines off her dark hair. She’s dressed in gray, the color of sea under storm.

GANOS LAL. Mind-healer. Biochemist. Life-partner of Sortes and mother of Retia. She’d made a career of tracing the history of her people through their crystal and through their song. Lee’s notes had a cursory mention of her surviving the Second Exodus and going on to a millennias-long rivalry with another councilmember, Moros.

“Success depends on a demonstration of alignment between the augmented consciousness and the goals of our people.” Through Orlin’s ghostly outline, rain falls on Pinnacle Quay.

“This issue has been settled.” Sortes doesn’t bother to stand. He speaks with the utilitarian edge of a plague-time physician pulled from his patients. “Ganos has new information to report.”

“The issue has been debated,” Orlin doesn’t give a micron. “It hasn’t been ‘settled.’ Exogenous augmentation of the mind on this scale is anathema.”

“The ship is not anathema.” Ganos presses her fingertips to the table. “As long as alignment is achieved and preserved, it skirts anathema. We’ve agreed.”

“But alignment has not been defined,” Orlin says.

“There will be time for a consensus definition later.” Chaya Sar throws herself into the fray. “Ganos, please proceed.”

Reluctantly, Orlin sits, whole star systems away.

ANATHEMA. The concept came up around Fabrice with troubling regularity. Beneath the word, on an otherwise blank sheet of notebook paper, Young had written a pair of question marks.

Ganos stands. It’s only because Sortes knows her so well that he can sense her fear. There’s a wild current in her eyes but she holds herself formally, her hands clasped. The humidity puts waves in her hair. She looks up. Overhead, glittering, semi-transparent, Sortes sees the plague.

It’s become famous across worlds, this colored schematic of genes. He’d know it anywhere.

Ganos makes a gesture and the display zooms in on the integrase gene, a pastel red. The ribbon representation takes on its true form: a coiled crystal. An ethereal melody comes from the walls. The same melody that’s haunted their home for weeks now. Even Retia hums it to herself, while playing.

“This is our integrase,” Ganos says softly. “The one we designed. I understand not everyone here is a biochemist. Not everyone here is equally adept at hearing the Song of Life. So I will ask those who are. Chaya. Tell me what you hear from this gene.”

“Fragility,” Chaya says. “The melody’s sustained by the thinnest of threads.”

“Orlin,” Ganos prompts.

Orlin leans forward in his seat, listening over a directed signal strong enough to split space. “I hear a melody meant to be undone by its own transcription. This will work a single time and give way.”

“Fabrice,” Ganos says.

“I agree with Orlin,” Fabrice replies, strong and wry.

“Sortes,” Ganos says.

“This is safe,” Sortes offers. “I hear safety.”

Ganos nods. The display overhead changes. The song in the walls morphs, shifts, turns stronger. Multitonal, multivoiced, a chorus of praise, of triumph. “This is the genetic sequence Sortes brought back from Aurea.”

There are gasps around the table. Moros pales. Chaya presses her fingertips to her lips. Orlin, worlds away, stands and walks out of the range of his holographic interface. Fabrice sits statue-still, betraying nothing.

“Everyone, I think, recognizes this.” Ganos speaks softly.

A silent bolt of lightning strikes the spire above.

“This is an Alteran melody,” Fabrice says, “with a choral signature used by the city of Celestis.”

“This is of Origen.” Orlin, back in the range of his holographic interface, retakes his seat.

“This is still our vector.” With a gesture, Ganos banishes the celestial theme vibrating through the walls. “But it’s been modified by the Ori. This is a genetic alteration that was meant to be heard.”

Young terminated the memory.

“Bloody fuckin’ hell.” He pushed to his feet and paced the length of his timeline. Once. Again. Again. “The Ori?” He stopped, hovering over the sparse scraps of paper near the far wall. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Forget the tracking device—he needed to know what the hell was going on across dimensions and across multiversal branes. That was the critical question.

He crossed back to the bed and sat down next to his sleeping chief scientist. “Change of plans.” He pressed his fingertips to Rush’s temple. “Fabrice,” he muttered. “Fabrice is the key to this. What happened, in the end?”

Sortes kneels in a cell. His respirator blows cool air across his face. His personal shield glows a pale pink in the visible spectrum, marking its borders. Fabrice, on the floor, stares through the transparent ceiling, to the strip of night sky visible beyond the rise of buildings.

“Stars below,” Sortes swears under his breath, hearing the lift in his friend’s crystal.

“I’m so sorry,” Fabrice rasps. “I saw it go. Hours early.”

It’s too much. His mind is full of the towering wall of the active shield. His awareness is overwhelmed with the song of Fabrice’s crystal, singing itself away. His grief comes like a wave, strong and sure of itself. Tears flash, pale pink, as they impact the barrier of his personal shield.

“I hoped you were there.” Fabrice, too, is weeping. “I imagined you downloading the latest sector statistics all the way to the end.”

Sortes looks to the absent heart of the city, to the place where towers should rise, cutting into the stars. His mind aches. He can’t speak.

“Retia? Ganos?” Fabrice asks.

“With the city.”

“Heading to Pegasus, then.” Fabrice coughs. “They’ll be all right. Ganos—Ganos is profoundly capable.”

Sortes nods.

“You’re infected.” Fabrice lifts a hand, fingers spread wide in invitation. “I hear it in your crystal.”

Sortes deactivates his personal shield. He clasps Fabrice’s hand and pulls them into an embrace, desperate and powerful. “Don’t go.” Tears leak from his eyes. “Please don’t go.”

“I can’t stay.” Fabrice’s voice is full of kindness. “But I have a plan, if you have the despair to power it.”

“I could power a quantum engine.” His voice breaks.

“I know.” Fabrice holds him tighter. “Go to my ship and wait for me.”

He swallows in an aching throat and eases his friend back, so they can look at one another. “You won’t have the latitude to intervene.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do,” he’s weeping as he says it. “Because if any of the ascended could help us—they would have. They must be fettered. You’ll be the same.”

“They’ll punish me,” Fabrice agrees. “Beyond the bounds of time. But, from a detention cell, I’ve managed to accomplish more than they dreamed possible. I see no reason why that pattern shouldn’t hold.”

The cold burn of of fever traces his bones. “I don’t know that it’s worth it.” He speaks with the doomed melody of his own changing code. “Our time is ending.”

“And yet,” Fabrice says, “I can’t imagine the song without you in it. So. Go. Go to my ship. Sit in the chair. And wait for me. I’ll anchor you.”

He hesitates, his mind a whirl of indecision.

“Sortes, can you modulate your own melody?”

Miserably, he shakes his head.

“Then you’re lost,” Fabrice rasps.

“There are worse things than death,” Sortes replies. “Worse things than an unhappy ending.”

Fabrice grins, bloodied and ill and already glowing from within. “And there are better things too. How long have we known one another?”

“I can’t think of a time I didn’t know your name.”

“Then take what’s mine. Take my shuttle. Take my control crystals. Take my ship. Go now. You have weeks left. If nothing else, you can attempt ascension. There, the song will be all around you.” Again, Fabrice coughs. “Say you will.”

“I can’t steal a starship.” He closes his hands around Fabrice’s luminous fingers as though he can hold back the transition.

“You’re not stealing it,” Fabrice says. “I’m giving it to you. With one of my control crystals, it’ll open like a flower.”

“I’m not—I’ve never—”

“Our whole life,” Fabrice says, “you’ve seen the beauty of existence more clearly than anyone I know. Our whole life you’ve turned away on the threshold. Chosen small. Chosen ordinary.”

“Because I understand the stakes.” His voice cracks. “Ordinary is enough. It’s more than.”

“Exactly. And, yet, here you are. What are the chances? Can you feel the flux of fate in this moment? It’s overwhelming.” Fabrice gasps for air. “Very soon now, I’ll have to sing.”

“It’s such a miracle that there’s anything at all.” Sortes is blind with his own tears. “The melody of our own crystal is enough. We went too far. We shattered ourselves. Our time is over.”

“We didn’t,” Fabrice says. “The Ori—”

“The Ori gave us a shove into a chasm of our own making.” He forces the words through a closed throat.

“What a cold, dead universe it will be if no one keeps chance and song alive.” Fabrice’s water-shimmer eyes burn with fever and with raw energy.

“That’s not me,” he whispers.

“Yes it is.” Already, the blonde tips of Fabrice’s hair look a little too luminous beneath shieldlight and starlight. “You were infected, you were left behind because of this exact quality. For months now, you’ve done nothing but tend the song of our people. The ones who ascend. And the ones who can’t.”

Above them, the illuminated road of the galactic plane cuts the starlit dark.

“All right,” Sortes says.

Fabrice smiles.

And, together, they begin the Cantascendis.

Young pressed a hand to his chest. Beneath his palm, his heart beat hard and confused.

He wiped his eyes.

He needed more paper.

Beside him on the bed, Rush shifted, reacting subconsciously to the turbulence in Young’s mind. Images of the Icarus base, of electromagnetic storms and aching despair, flickered across their link.

“Shhh.” He stroked the scientist’s hair, soothing his thought patterns down.

When he was sure the man was deeply asleep, Young crossed the room and tore more blank pages out of Rush’s notebook. He found the scrap labeled “FABRICE” clustered with the other Council members. He slipped it out of the pile and capped it off with “detention cell” and “ascension.”

He could fuckin’ feel emerging structure through the seething energy of his own mind. His priorities cracked and shifted.

On a clean sheet of paper, he wrote a new word.


Alignment and anathema were related; Ganos had alluded to the idea that alignment might allow anathema to be skirted. With Rush’s consciousness and patterns riding high and wild on their native winds, he could almost see the intersecting problems. Ascension. Anathema. Alignment. He had the idea by his fingernails. It had to do with time. It had to do with Destiny. The aligner and the drift anchor.

Were they meant to ascend?

That couldn’t have been a popular idea.

“There had to’ve been concerns.” Young crouched over his spread of notes. “Our concerns. The same concerns there would always be. That we would have. That we currently have. That I have. My concerns.”

“You don’t usually talk to yourself,” Daniel Jackson said, appearing out of bloody fuckin’ nowhere, and shorting out his heart.

“Fuck off,” he snapped.

Young’s head ached. Hard and deep. He couldn’t breathe. There wasn’t enough room in his chest for any air. He was talking to a god-damned loose-cannon of an AI that’d lost its initial orientation and tried to realign itself to a passing mathematician with a specialization in computational complexity theory. This was a disaster on a multiversal scale.

Can you feel the flux of fate in this moment? He could almost hear Fabrice say it.

And Jackson—god. Jackson. Jackson had met this thing. Jackson, ascended, had chosen to meet it. Jackson, descended, had chosen Rush, protected Rush, torqued the SGC around the idea of giving him Icarus. As chief scientist for the Icarus Project, he’d be more than the sum of his genes. He’d be—

Dead in the path of this ship.

This ship that Jackson had met. That he had mentored.

None of this seemed like chance. Not one single piece.

He couldn’t move so much as a molecule of air. The Ancients themselves had feared this thing. This thing that was, right here, right now, looking at him with concern. With the face of Daniel fucking Jackson.

“Nick panics sometimes,” the AI said in a small voice, “but not you.”

His bones ache in the silver-white light of Fabrice’s shuttle. And, god. It’s the same damn shuttle Young himself has flown. The extra. What will, eventually, become the backup. His proximity triggers the remote boot of the ship systems. 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. The orbital construction platforms draw back. Around his neck, he wears a control crystal. It thrums with Fabrice’s signature, just over his heart.

“You’re touching the CPU,” the AI said, real fear in Jackson’s voice. “Stop it. Stop it now. I told him I’d never let you.”

Young didn’t stop. He drove Rush’s consciousness back into the dark, into the CPU, riding his own fear, seeking answers to questions he was just beginning to articulate. Orlin. It’d been Orlin who’d been wary. It’d been Orlin who had used the word “anathema.” It’d been Orlin who’d been concerned with defining alignment.

What or who had sent Fabrice to that detention cell?

“Fabrice.” Orlin’s avatar is particularly ghostly against the bright day. “You’ve built a masterpiece of survivalist technology, designed for dimensional transit. You’ve laced it with awareness. You’ve tuned its structural and electromagnetic resonances to our most sacred melodies. It’s a triumph of engineering.”

Fabrice says nothing.

“Tell us truly—is the ship itself meant for ascension?”

Fabrice pales.

“Even the Ori,” Orlin says softly, “do not go so far.”

The room is silent. Sortes, his heart in his throat, locks eyes with Ganos. She shakes her head, a tiny movement.

“And when we’ve transitioned to your ‘higher plane’,” Fabrice says, low and resigned, “the lucky few, what will we find? Light and song and nothing else? When we left Altera we left a war behind us.”

“That war is over,” Ganos says.

“That war was abandoned.” Fabrice’s voice is dull. “That war was fled. And one day it will come for us. Arguably, it’s already come. The plague itself will cull our numbers. Force our entire civilization to a transdimensional crisis.”

“This is your justification for taking an augmented cognition beyond the bounds of this plane,” Orlin says softly.

“It is,” Fabrice whispers.

“This is anathema,” Orlin says. “This is of Origen.”

“It is not of Origen.” Sortes is on his feet. “Orlin, you go too far.”

“The Ori power themselves with worship,” Orlin shouts. “Fabrice would do it mechanically. The means are different but the ends are the same.”

Through the walls of the chamber, through the floor, beyond the windows, a sound echoes. Loud. Low. Building in intensity, disrupting memory, disrupting time, disrupting space, disrupting the fusion of mind and latent image.

Young gasped, his hands over his ears at the unearthly sound that followed him from the dream into the waking world. He couldn’t move under the pressure of competing realizations, half his mind unglued, the other half all too quick on the uptake.

The war with the Ori.

The war with the Ori that had, finally, millennia after the Second Exodus, come to the Milky Way. Fabrice had been hedging not only against the plague but against the war. Abandoning principle, banking on desperation to force the plan through the council, crafting a ship too beautiful, too important to destroy—

The sound coming from the walls faded to nothing.

Still, he crouched on the floor, balanced on the balls of his feet and his fingertips, lost in the timeline in his head, lost in the tactical assessment of an entire field of relevant information he was trying like hell to order and parse.

A pair of bare feet appeared atop the disordered collage of terms and ideas in front of him.

He needed to know, with extreme specificity, what the Ancients had feared. He needed to understand, with extreme specificity, what might happen to a machine that tried to ascend. He needed to map, with extreme specificity, the quantum causality problem of who broke the multiverse when breaks would propagate everywhere, transcending cause itself.

Riley’s people had broken the multiverse.

The breakers. That, too, was a maritime metaphor.

Someone sighed. “Y’were meant to be finding a fuckin’ tracking device, y’know. Not reconstructing all the decisions that led to the Second Exodus?”

Young looked up, squinting into the overhead light. “What?”

“Get off the floor, please.” Rush offered him a hand.

Young ignored his hand. “Lie down. We need to go back in. Right now. That was—ah fuck,” he hissed, as Rush unceremoniously dragged him off the floor.

“No one’s going ‘back in.’ Your idea was a colossal failure. Try not to think.”

“Try not to think?” Young snarled, as Rush manhandled him in the direction of the couch. “Why are you awake? Fuck you. You have no idea what you just interrupted.”

Rush rolled his eyes.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me. I’m fuckin’ fine. I’m making fuckin’ progress. No thanks to you. D’you know how utterly fucking shite quite literally every single one of your plans are? Do you? That—” Young gestured dramatically at the timeline Rush was hauling him away from, “is a smashing success. Because of me. Most productive thing I’ve done in fuckin’ months. Especially considering the epically fucked up day I had.”

“Epically fucked up?” Rush guided Young to the couch. “Bit dramatic, don’t you think?”

“Bit dramatic? You are the worst,” Young hissed. “I wake up hung over, then I find out—I don’t know, three of four fuckin’ horrendous things in about the span of one hour, and then you pull some truly Machiavellian-level shite to execute your use of the neural interface and that was not a good time for me, all right? Don’t ask me; I don’t wanna talk about it. And then I have a fucking meeting with fucking Telford and it just turns into a pissing contest every time with that guy. I don’t know what the fuck his problem is. And then I just want to fucking go to bed, but no. You insist on torturing the shit out yourself. Who does that? Answer: you. You do. Y’can’t even let yourself sleep. And your dreamscape? Not a great time. And then I have to fuckin’ take over some terrible plan that I don’t even want to do? And I did it. I fuckin’ hit it out of the fuckin’ park. So you can bloody well. Piss off. Rush.”

Rush stared at him.

Young stared back.

Rush didn’t crack.

Young certainly wouldn’t be cracking.

Rush was doing something. Young wasn’t sure what it was. Calming himself down or calculating the name of god or something in between.

“Are you just gonna fuckin’ sit there and fuckin’ stare at me?” Young demanded. “We’re wasting time.”

“I’m considering courses of action.” Rush was impressively collected for a guy sitting on Young’s coffee table in boxers, a threadbare T-shirt, and half-rebuilt glasses. “You’re quite dangerous like this.”

“Dangerous?” That set Young back. “How d’you mean?”

“Let’s put a pin in that,” Rush said. “Are you aware you’ve used the word ‘fucking’ as a modifier an uncountable number of times in the past three minutes?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“You’re in need of a bit of repair work, I’m afraid.”

Young looked at him sharply. “This is you. This is shit that you left behind coming forward again, isn’t it?”

“Well-spotted.” Rush’s light tone was at odds with his concerned gaze. “D’you know why this happened?”

“Yes,” Young said waspishly.

“Are you going to tell me?” Rush asked.


Rush swallowed. “Right. I, ah, realize this is very difficult, and you’re quite upset right now, but it’s in the best interest of the entire ship for you and I to—to—” he trailed off.

“What?” Young asked.

“I need to restore your native neural pathways,” Rush said.

“No,” Young snapped. “Absolutely not. We need to keep going. This is working. Furthermore, this is important. All of this ties back to the Ori, to the multiverse—”

“Stop speaking,” Rush said, pale beneath Destiny’s night-spectrum lights.

Young stopped. He hooked a hand over his shoulder and rubbed absently at the base of his neck.

Rush shifted on the coffee table, both hands gripping its edge. He shivered in the cool air.

“Are you—” Young hesitated. “Are you frightened?”



“I’d rather not explain,” Rush whispered. “You’ve lost all perspective, and done a fair bit of damage already.” Slowly, he lifted his hand. “Let me in.”

Young grabbed his wrist.

“I realize,” Rush said quickly, “that overriding my preferences seems like the most efficient solution. It’s not.”

“I’m listening.”

“Your judgment is compromised. You are, in effect, running faulty software. Allow me to restore your original patterns before you decide on a course of action.”

“I let you do that, and I lose the upper hand,” Young said.

“You always have the upper hand.”

“Not like this.” Young shifted on the couch, gathering himself, physically and mentally. “You need to go back to sleep.”

“Try it, and you’ll encounter my full opposition.” Rush’s tone poured itself into the marrow of Young’s bones and froze there. “I built the pathways you’re using. They’re mine. You want to fight me? Pick a better ground. There’s no better evidence that your cognition is compromised than the strategic catastrophe you’re embarking upon right now.”

The man had a point. “Fine.” He released Rush’s wrist. “But make it quick.”

“Yes yes,” Rush breathed. He leaned forward and pressed his fingers to Young’s temple.

As the scientist ebbed into this mind, Young felt strange shifts beneath his surface awareness. The details of the world lost their knife-like press. Already, the intricacies of Lantean politics felt less immediate. The echoes of a grief that wasn’t his began to dissipate.

His head ached, deep and hot, like the base of his skull had split.

“Sorry,” Rush murmured, looking through Young’s eyes, focused on something beyond and below the threshold of consciousness. “Just another moment.”

And Rush. Rush—god, Rush looked upset. Upset and cold and exhausted and heroically material. With an ear that wasn’t truly his, Young listened to the melody of his chief scientist’s crystal, turning to song, tearing itself apart. As soon as it entered his awareness he lost the sound; it etched itself to memory, folding down with the song of dying Ancients a millennia ago, in a city on the sea.

“Shit,” he rasped, his mind full and his eyes wet. “Shit I’m sorry.”

Rush smiled faintly. “Control yourself please. Some of us are trying to focus?”

Young shook his head and pulled Rush off the coffee table.

Rush, caught by surprise, fell against him. Using Young’s shoulder as leverage, he worked himself into straddling Young’s lap. “For fuck’s sake, I’m in your bloody head.”

Deep in the substrata of Young’s mind, whole architectures of being reordered themselves around his running thoughts, coaxed along by feather-light streamers of whatever cognitive magic Rush was spinning. “Yeah,” he whispered. “I know. Sorry. Do whatever you want, genius.”

“I fuckin’ will.” The words were distracted, and Rush’s attention was again, in the space behind Young’s eyes.

Young regrounded. He was more aware of his body. Of Rush’s weight against him. The scientist’s thighs were spread, his knees bent, and his toes curled themselves against the back of Young’s knees.

“You’re pretty flexible,” Young said.

“Did I or did I not explain that I’m actively repairing your consciousness?” The words had only a gloss of the dry amusement the scientist had probably tried to give them.

“Why don’t you try this my way?” Young asked.

“Tell me how ‘your way’ works, and I’ll consider it.” Beneath his words, whole substructures of reactivity caved to delicate pressures.

“Tell you?”

“If possible.” Rush’s eyes picked up warm tones from Destiny’s night-spectrum lights.

Young swallowed. “Well. Um. I’d say it’s a three-step process. Step one’s the most complicated.”

Deep in his mind, something shifted with sharp spike of pain, a deep ache. He winced.

“Sorry,” Rush dragged a thumb over Young’s cheekbone. “Unavoidable. Step one?”

“Step one is the hairpin. Grounding you in your own body. It’s about being, mostly, predictable.”

“Predictable?” Rush smiled, still spinning his gossamer thought strands through Young’s mind. “Disappointing.”

“I said mostly predictable. Sort of like turning a screw into drywall. You make a revolution and you’re in the same place, just a level deeper.”

“Ah,” Rush said. “Screwing. Lovely.”

Young snorted. “Point being, I get some kind of physical rhythm going, then switch it up. Eventually, you, uh, you get out of your head and kind of unlock yourself.”

“Less metaphor, please?”

A deep wave of pain rolled through his consciousness, permitting nothing but its own perception as it crested.

“That was the worst of it.” Rush dragged his fingertips through Young’s hair as the ache ebbed to nothing. “What do you mean when you say I ‘unlock myself’.”

Young swallowed, trying to get and keep his bearings. “It’s less metaphorical than it sounds. I think what happens is that you’re in a complete hairpin. Unlocked meaning—I could take anything of yours. It’s all there. I don’t think about it that way when it’s happening, though.”

“How do you think about it?” Rush looked at him, rather than through him.

“I don’t think,” Young confessed.

Rush smiled faintly. “Imagine that.”

“No, I mean—it’s all driven by instinct. I grab your energy, because it’s what I need.”

“And once you have access, what do you do?”

“I direct it through all the damage I can see, building back along shattered pathways. Reforming what should be there. It creates itself as I direct it. I’m not designing anything. Just patterning through gaps.”

“I’ve no memory of any such thing.” Absently, Rush flexed his toes against Young’s calf.

“You max out.” With difficulty, he forced words through the wall of his own protectiveness. “You’re pretty tired afterward. It takes something out of you. Probably because I’m using your energy to do it.”

“Any interest in finding out what it feels like?” Rush whispered, with the hint of a real smile. “I’m not above stealing a good idea, even if it does come from you.”

“Sure. I mean, if you think—”

Rush kissed him. The scientist’s mind was delicate, exploratory, hovering at the weak places in his defenses with a magnetic counter-pressure. “I don’t actually know that I need this part.”

Young hauled him forward a few more inches, then spread a hand over the small of Rush’s back. “Why? Because you can just reach in and do whatever you want, whenever you want?” He deepened the kiss.

Rush ground his hips against Young and came up with enough leverage to pull back and gasp: “Only in certain domains. Y’do it by instinct?”

“Yup.” Young grabbed a handful of the guy’s hair and tipped his head back. “Whenever I get a clear look at your neural architecture,” he said, kissing the scientist’s neck, “I have a very physical urge to fix the hell out of it.”

“Do you straighten askew paintings?” Rush asked. “Alphabetize your bookshelves?”

“Maybe.” Young pulled a little harder on the scientist’s hair, exposing his throat, and got a wave of desire across their link. “You gonna get this show on the road?”

“I’m—” Rush made a small noise in the back of his throat as Young pressed his lips to his pulse point. “I’m assessing. Some of us prefer to stop and think before running raw current through a human brain and assuming a salutary effect?”

“This is really working for me,” Young growled.

“Which part,” Rush breathed.

“The whole damn thing. The poise. The vocab. The boxers. You have, maybe, three minutes before my self control runs out.” Reluctantly, Young let the man’s hair go.

“What happens then?” Rush quirked an eyebrow.

“I’m gonna let you wonder.”

“I’m sure it’s something disappointingly wholesome.”

“Two minutes and forty-five seconds.”

“Your headache’s improved then, I take it?”

“What headache? Two minutes and thirty seconds.”

“I’ll tell y’something about a deadline like this,” Rush whispered.

“Go for it.”

“I’ll always let it run down.”

“Why’s that?”

“There’s no advantage to an early attempt. Best to hold back and prepare.”

“See, you tell me that, and now I’m gonna prepare.”

“And, paradoxically, now there is an advantage to an early attempt.”

“Is this Information Theory 101 or are you gonna make your move?”

“Brace yourself, if you think it’ll make a difference,” Rush said lightly.

The scientist poured into his mind with a suffusion of bright, restless energy. It came on like a wave and left no part of him untouched. The crest overwhelmed sensation, thought, memory, desire, until everything bleached to a white-gold light that flowed like wind and warmed like flame, hot and bright and more than a little dangerous.

Awareness returned with touch. Fingers tracing through his hair. The satisfying weight of someone pressed against him.

“Everett,” Rush said, his voice low, immediate.

“Yeah.” He opened his eyes to the ceiling, engraved with curved lines of Ancient text. He lifted his head. “Hi.”

“Hello,” Rush said.

“Did you fix it?” Young adjusted his grip on the scientist, pulling him closer. “I can’t tell.”

“He can’t tell,” Rush muttered, leaning into him, warm and lithe. “Brilliant.” He propped an elbow on Young’s shoulder. “Of course I fixed it. I’m fuckin’ fantastic when it comes to rogue circuitry.”


“You like it,” Rush said.

“Maybe a little,” Young admitted. “Are you okay? I think I gave your brain a workout.”

“I feel troublingly well-rested,” Rush said dryly.

“Uh, yeah.” Young kept his eyes on the time-tarnished walls. “Sorry about that. What I mean is—you just poured a bunch of your own energy into my brain.”

“It was nothing. More impressive on the receiving end, I’m sure.”

“Maybe.” Young slid a hand around the small of Rush’s back and pulled him closer, so their hips were flush.

Rush readjusted himself and got enough leverage to prop an elbow on Young’s shoulder. “It’s nice to have some insight into your technique,” he murmured, “and I must say that I can see why you employed the approach you did last night. Sensory overload really—ah, terminates any kind of progression.”

“Yeah, it’s not as fun. But seriously? Who talks like that?”

“T’my abject astonishment, you like it.”

“I do,” Young admitted, running a proprietary hand over Rush’s thigh.

“Don’t do that again,” Rush whispered.

“It’s better for you than the Tok’ra device.”

“It’s not better for me. You profoundly damaged your mind.”

“Yeah, but you fixed it.”

“At best, I splinted it. And, beyond that—you can’t function in your designated role with my neural pathways directing your choices. Tell me you see that.”

“I see it,” Young said grudgingly, “but—”

“No. Give me your word you won’t attempt it again.”


“Your word,” Rush said.

“All right.”

Rush nodded.

Young pulled him a little closer. “Now you give me your word that you won’t use the Tok’ra device.”

Rush kissed his forehead with a calculated sweetness. “My word’s worthless.”

“Only because you make it worthless,” Young growled.

“Yes, and I’ve worked hard to keep it that way.” Rush pulled himself free of Young’s grip and stood. “Get up.” He offered Young his hand.

“You’re a lotta work.”

“Everyone needs a hobby.”

Young sighed, reached up, and clasped Rush’s forearm.

The scientist hauled him to his feet.

He swayed as the blood left his head, but Rush kept him steady, then, slowly, pulled him toward the bed. The scientist unzipped Young’s jacket and made short work of easing it over the minimal bandages that still ringed his forearms. He dropped the jacket on the floor.

“You gotta fold that,” Young said.

“Sit.” Rush guided Young to the edge of the bed with a subtle pressure on his biceps before dropping into a cross-legged position on the floor. “You need to sleep.”

“So do you.”

“I slept all night.” Rush unlaced Young’s boots, his fingers rapid and sure.

“Did you though?” Young asked. “You had a rough time of it in there, and I’m pretty sure your unconscious was powering my CPU queries. I think you should actually sleep.”

“I will.”

When though.”


“I love those kinds of answers, I really do, did you know that? Is that why I get them so god damned much?”

Rush ducked his head as he pulled off Young’s boots. “I’ll shower,” he murmured, “finish up a few things, and then I’ll go to sleep.” He grabbed Young’s ankles and deposited his feet on the unmade bed, then pushed him back against the pillows.

Young did his best not to surrender to the give of the mattress beneath him. “Rush, it’s 0530. You’re gonna end up doing your entire day.”

“Yes well, since you’ve brought it up, I admit my plan is to be off-cycle, relative to you.”


“To be explicit: I won’t be sleeping while you are sleeping, until we find the tracking device.”

“Are you serious?” Young tried to sit.

Rush pressed him back. “Someone,” he said, like the slow-pour of poisoned molasses, “depressed my consciousness for hours on end?”

“Rush, that was for your benefit.”

“I wouldn’t dig yourself in any deeper.”

That was, maybe, fair.

“Rush, you can’t just not sleep.”

“Mmm. Can’t I?”

“You start hallucinating and I drug your food.”

“Telling me about it ahead of time isn’t a very effective strategy.” Rush unbuckled Young’s belt, and, with supernatural skill, slid it from beneath him with Young’s sidearm attached.

“Yeah, but now you can avoid it. By sleeping. Information Theory 201.”

Rush looked up at him with a real smile. “I need less sleep than other people.”

“I actually think you need more sleep than other people.”

Rush laughed.

“I’m serious.”

“I’m sure.”

“Don’t pass out in the shower.”

“I won’t,” Rush whispered.

“That’s what you always say,” Young growled.


“Because it’s always true.” Rush glanced at the ceiling and the lights dimmed  to near darkness. “Goodnight,” he murmured.

The scientist’s fingers trailed through Young’s hair, their minds blending, until, with a subtle, quiet pressure, everything faded.

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