Force over Distance: Chapter 85

“Don’t get yourself in trouble now,” Rush said softly, and caught the edge of Wray’s blue track jacket.





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

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: None.




Chapter 85


Young stood next to Scott on the observation deck, one foot resting on the small ledge beneath the window.


“Sir,” the lieutenant said, freshly returned from a communication stone trip and giving the swirl of the shield emissions a speculative look, “I think General O’Neill might be trying to maneuver for you.”


Young sighed. “What makes you say that?”


“When they were grilling me on the specifics of Telford’s Tok’ra device,” Scott continued, “O’Neill got up to get some coffee. While he was standing at the coffee maker, his back to the conference table, he said: ‘used to be that people who pocketed alien tech got charged with treason. Galactic sedition. Somethin’ special’.”


Young snorted.


“And then,” Scott continued, “honest to god, sir, the general turned around and winked at me.”


“Have they given their recommendation yet?”


“No, we’re supposed to check back in the day after tomorrow. I got the impression that the IOA may be putting your command to a vote? Didn’t seem like Wray was invited.”


“Great,” Young growled. “We gotta fix that. Can you swap back in on the stones and try and reach Jackson? I don’t want Wray sidelined.”


“You got it,” Scott said.


“Did you get a sense as to whether they’ll let the charges against Telford stand?”


Scott rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s a toss-up.” He hesitated, then added, “It’d help if Rush’d go on record. Not sure the Article 128 violation will stand without it.”


Young sighed, braced both hands against the rail, and leaned his weight into his wrists. “He’s not back on active duty yet.”


Scott gave him a sympathetic side-eye. “He’s refusing?”


“I’ll get him to give a statement,” Young growled.


“Too bad you can’t put Telford on the stand and A-Few-Good-Men him into spilling his real feelings.”


Young lifted his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”


Scott shifted his weight and shrugged. “Nothing. Mostly a joke, sir.”


“Mostly,” Young repeated.


“It’s just—we’ve all seen him lose his cool at people. James gets it a lot. Greer. Bill Lee. You, here and there. When he really gets going, some of the stuff coming out of his mouth—” Scott shrugged. “You’d think he was still with the LA.”


Young said nothing, thinking of Destiny’s time-bronzed halls, of David Telford telling him he needed was to burn on the Altar of War. “Any chance Eli’s got kino footage of him ‘losing his cool’?”


“Maybe,” Scott said.


“If he does, get it to Wray. She’s the one who’ll be making our case.”


“Yes sir.”




After a day of operations meetings, morale building, and scrubbing the carbon scoring and alien mud off the gateroom floor, Young returned to his quarters. He paused outside the closed door, leaned his forehead against the metal of the bulkhead, and tried to reorder his thoughts.


God, there was so little time.


There was nothing he could say, nothing he could do, that would stop its flow. And he could spend all of it, every ounce of that flow, arguing with Rush. Trying to make his point. Trying to convince the scientist to come back to Earth and die a human, trying to convince Rush to do his damnedest to help Young ascend, trying to convince Rush of anything, anything at all that might help—and maybe he would, but for two things.


One: he’d never in his life convinced Rush of anything.


Two: the most likely way this whole thing ended was with a closed book on everything he knew, everything he loved. A multiversal cull at the hands of a transdimensional assassin. Young didn’t have a prayer of threading that needle. But Nick Rush, with all the firepower and memory of the Ancient’s first and only true AI incorporated into his consciousness?


Maybe.


The door swished open of its own accord. “I wasn’t done thinking,” he growled at the bulkhead wall, trying not to smile.


“Y’were, though,” Rush said, managing to pull off a confidently superior tone from the floor. The man had his feet propped on the couch. The last of the ghosted chalk lines from his circuit diagrams were probably all over the back of Hunter Riley’s black military jacket.


Young stood over him, crossed his arms, and nudged Rush’s shoulder with the toe of his boot. “Why do I put up with you?”


“I confess,” Rush said, trying to keep a smile off his face, “I remain somewhat unclear on that point.”


“I gave you special permission for three things today.” Young held up three fingers and eyed Rush expectantly.


“Oh I remember. So generous of you.”


“One,” Young said, “you were supposed to meet with Volker to finally fix the glitch in the starboard sensor array.”


“Mmm.” Rush let his eyes fall shut. “I remotely recalibrated the array. No meeting necessary.”


“Then,” Young held up a second finger, “you were supposed to meet with Camile to make a statement regarding Colonel Telford’s disciplinary hearing.”


“I don’ need to make a statement,” Rush replied. “I’m not pressing charges.”


“Uh huh,” Young said, two fingers still raised. “I’m the one pressing charges.”


“Yes yes.” Rush cracked his eyelids. “But, in that case, perhaps it should be you who makes a statement?”


“Then,” Young growled, holding up a third finger, “you were supposed to meet me for dinner in the mess at eighteen hundred hours.”


Rush gave him a perplexed look.


“I can’t help but notice,” Young said, “that even though it’s currently ten minutes past eighteen hundred hours, you’re not in the mess.” He pulled two silver wrapped MREs out of his jacket and dropped them on the coffee table.


Rush levered himself up on one elbow and eyed the MREs. “It seems y’brought me dinner anyway.”


“Even probably three weeks ago,” Young said, dropping his hand, “I’d have bought this can’t-be-bothered act you’re pushing.”


“Fuck off,” Rush said, with princely dignity. “I place a premium on efficiency.”


“Yeah.” Young dropped into a crouch next to the scientist. “But I’ve been trying for months to get you to take a day off.” He pressed the back of his hand to Rush’s forehead. “Ugh. Genius. That’s gotta be one hell of a fever. You fixed your own feet, can’t you do anything about this?”


“I could, of course,” Rush said, drawing out the words. “I’m afraid that’d speed certain energetic processes along though.”


Young sighed.


“And,” Rush said, “I do need to make something of an effort this evening.”


“Oh yeah?” Young trailed his fingers through Rush’s hair. “Why?”


“I need to repair some cognitive architecture.”


“Yeah,” Young said softly. “I’ll bet. You need some help with that?”


Rush looked up, studying him, his expression faintly perplexed before smoothing with some kind of insight. “Ah. Yes, actually. That would be much appreciated.”


“How about we eat first?”


“After,” Rush said, with an expression of faint distaste. A hint of nausea ghosted through their link.


“Yeah.” Young bent to unlace his boots. “You wanna be on the floor for this?”


“Ideally,” Rush said, watching Young unlace his boots. “I know it offends your conventional sensibilities.”


He snorted, then pulled his legs beneath him, taking up a cross-legged position next to his chief scientist. “You’re damn right it does.” Gently, he tipped Rush’s chin towards him and said, “Okay, genius. Block the room.”


The schematic of their link poured into Young’s mind, assembling itself with slow control, effacing the room until there was nothing to see but an endless landscape of light/dark architecture. It’d been some time since they’d done this, and over the intervening span of days—god. A structured darkness ran through and beneath Rush’s cracked-glass architectures of light. Liquid gold leaked from splintered channels but was held close, caught and rerouted by a fractal lattice Young could only see in outline. Nothing here needed repair, nothing—


The landscape lit itself up in the sea-floor colors of astrometics.


The darkness turned to amber and lavender, cobalt blue and sea green, organizing itself around the running gold of Rush’s thoughts.


Young felt the weight of Rush’s awareness engage, iridescent and close and more, somehow, than it had ever been. More than it should be.


//Kid,// he growled in warning.


//Terribly sorry about this.// The words were a gloss on a wave of thought-obliterating iridescence.




Young woke with his head on Rush’s shoulder, surfacing from dreams of a Wyoming summer, full of sun-warmed rock, cloudless sky. He blinked in disorientation at the dimness of Destiny’s night-spectrum lights. He was on the floor, sprawled atop his chief scientist, their legs tangled. His nearest sleeve was covered with chalk.


Beneath him, Rush slept, deep and dreamless and profoundly exhausted.


Young groaned into the man’s shoulder.


Rush stirred. His eyelids flickered open. A hand came up to rest in Young’s hair.


“You’re a lotta work,” Young muttered. “A lot.”


“All I did,” Rush murmured, blithe and sleep blurred, “was take y’up on your offer of help.”


“Yeah. Help. For you. Not me. You knew what I meant,” Young growled.


“Did I?” Rush smiled. “Perhaps you’ll take this as a case study in the importance of specificity.”


“What time is it?”


“I’ve no idea,” Rush said, absently stroking Young’s hair.


Young looked at his watch. 0200. “Ugh. Nick. C’mon.” He raised his head, looked up at the couch, and saw Jackson sitting cross-legged on his coffee table. “Kid. Why the hell are you letting him drag you into this bullshit?”


“I’m not sure which ‘bullshit’ you’re referring to,” it said, with Jackson’s small smile.


“That’s fair; there’s so damn much of it.” Young’s back and shoulders and knees made their disapproval clear as he disentangled himself from Rush and scraped himself off the floor. “The specific bullshit I’m referring to is the pair of you combining, on your own, outside the chair.”


Jackson shrugged. “You’re the one who told him it was possible. Forbearance is a lot to ask of someone like Nick.”


“Thank you, sweetheart,” Rush said, with half-asleep dignity.


“How many days did you just take off your life with that little repair job?” Young grumbled.


“Don’t be so dramatic,” Rush said.


“You’re the one bringing the nonstop drama.” He levered himself up, but before he could make it to his feet, Rush tangled a hand in his jacket and pulled him back down. Young let it happen.


“How do you feel?” Rush asked, looking through Young’s eyes to the thoughts beneath.


“Exactly the same,” Young said.


“Yes well, y’would, wouldn’t you? The real test comes later.”


“If you’re saying what I think you’re saying—hate to break it to you, genius, but there’s not gonna be a test. Pretty sure my story ends here. On this ship. With you.”


And, maybe, with the rest of the universe.


It was too much for one finite, inconsequential human to keep in his head. And, somehow, in these last days, it was all he could think about.


Rush sighed, finger-combing Young’s untamable hair. “Let’s postulate we survive, and act from that assumption, shall we?”


Young smiled faintly at him. “Is that your secret?”


“One of them.” Rush hooked two fingers beneath Young’s chin, angled his jaw up, and kissed him.


Young shifted, resettled himself atop the scientist, and kissed him back. “Acting from assumptions? Doesn’t seem like you. Seems more like a Volker thing.”


Rush clamped his hand around the hair at the nape of Young’s neck and pulled. Hard. “Now now. Let’s be civil.”


“Civil?” Young rasped, as Rush kissed his way down a stretch of exposed throat. “This is ‘civil’?”


“Mmm, less ‘civil’ than ‘satisfying’, I’ll grant you,” Rush admitted, and, between kisses, Young felt the press of teeth, sharp and quick and not quite a bite.


“Careful,” he growled.


//“Of what?”// Rush poured the words into his mind like shrapnel-spike syrup.


“I can take you apart,” Young said, closing a hand around Rush’s hip.


“Boring,” Rush replied, and pulled harder on Young’s hair.


“Boring?”


“It’s been done.” The scientist’s lips grazed the shell of Young’s ear. “Don’ y’want to know if the reverse is true?”


Young took a shuddery breath. “How are you so good at everything? Doesn’t seem fair.”


Rush grinned, delighted and sharp-edged.


“Fine,” Young growled. “Do your worst.”





At 0600, his door chime woke him. Rush was dead asleep, curled into his side like a cute little math professor who wasn’t threatening the integrity of the multiverse as a full-time hobby.


Young did NOT want to get up. Unfortunately, if he didn’t get up, he was pretty sure whoever was out there would just keep trying to get his attention, and there were probably only so many door chimes Nick Rush could sleep through. Already his dreams were turning shallower, veering toward REM.


Young pushed him deeper, stumbled out of bed and into his BDUs, then hit the door controls.


Eli stood in the hallway. “Hi,” he said quietly.


“Hi,” Young said. “What’s up.”


“You missed last night’s NHB.” Eli tried to peer around Young. “He okay?”


“Yeah, Eli.” Young tried to file the worst of his annoyance out of his tone. “He’s fine.”


“Are you okay? You look—”


“Eli,” Young growled. “There’d better be a reason you’re at my door at 0600.”


“I haven’t slept,” Eli confessed. And, yeah. Looking at him, Young could see it was true. The kid was pale, with dark circles under his eyes.


Young stepped back and waved Eli toward his couch.


In the back of his mind, images from Rush’s dreams flaked like snow: snips of Ancient songs; the geometric curves of relativistic physics, Gloria shivering with cold, frowning at a holly-pricked finger. Young pressed against the flurry of dream-blown images and they melted into the dark.


Eli glanced at Rush, still in Young’s bed. “I woke you. Sorry.”


Young perched on his coffee table. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”


Eli gave him a wan smile. “Uh, yeah.” He swallowed, sat forward. Looked at his own hands.


“What happened at last night’s NHB.”


“So, uh, weeks ago,” Eli began, “weeks ago he came to me. Asked me to help him. Around the time of Chloe’s engagement party. Just this small thing. Side project. Model what would happen if a massive influx of power from the solar collectors was routed directly to the the solid-state memory in the ship’s CPU.”


Young lifted his eyebrows.


“He asked Volker something also. Around that same time. He wanted a program to screen the CBR as we moved through spacetime. They had a whole fight about it. Relativistic cones and stuff. But Volker did it. We’ve been tracking places where D-branes collide. And we’ve found some.”


Young waited the kid out.


“He asked Lisa to take Volker’s data and mine it. He asked her for a predictive algorithm, based on temperature and anisotropy shifts, that would allow the prediction of collision points. He’s had Brody working on reducing redundancy in internal networks for weeks. Freeing up space within the mainframe itself. And Chloe—Chloe’s been working on the FTL drive for months now. Last night. At the NHB. We were going through all our progress. It’s been a while. It’s been a while since nothing’s been on fire, I mean.”


“Yup,” Young whispered, staring at the floor. Already, he could see where this was going.


“And, uh, Volker. Volker put it together. That we’ve been working, in pieces on what has to be a unified plan. Because, uh, just to lay it out for you? He can detect and time a collision point. He can use the energy collected to power the gate. He can direct the energy through the memory banks to allow Ginn, Dr. Perry, and Dr. Franklin to ascend.” Eli looked up at him with bloodshot eyes. “He used the space Brody had created to unlock them. Set them up on the CPU.”


Young steeled himself. Nodded. “When did that happen?”


“Night before last,” Eli said. “Ginn says hi.”


“So, uh, what kind of time table are we talking about here?” Young tried to hold Eli’s gaze. Couldn’t.


“Days,” Eli replied. “Maybe days. I actually—I don’t know how long the approach on an active collision needs to be. How long at FTL versus how long in regular space, or, um, if we even need to drop to regular space at all. But we’re, uh, we’re heading for a collision. No question. Chloe took a look at Lisa’s algorithm and cross-checked against our current heading. I don’t know our ETA, but it’s gonna be soon. Really really soon. The whole Science Team knows. We—we keep our secrets but. This one—it’s hard.”


Young curled his hands around the metal edge of the coffee table and worked to keep his breathing steady. “Fuck,” he whispered. “Fuck.”


“I’m so sorry,” Eli said, his voice strained. “I didn’t—I wasn’t—”


“Not your fault.” Young couldn’t look at Eli. “Not your fault.”


“But I—I knew. I knew and I know and I—I thought we’d have more time. That we’d fix it somehow. That there’d be a chance, before the end.” Eli’s voice broke, and the last word was muffled by the sleeve of his gray sweatshirt.


“We all knew,” Young whispered. “We all knew he couldn’t leave. You and me. TJ and Greer. From the moment that chair dragged him in.”


“What are you gonna do?”


“I can’t save him,” Young said.


“No,” Eli agreed, his eyes red-rimmed. “I don’t think you can.”


In a way, it was a relief to hear it aloud. He clamped his jaw shut, lifted his chin, looked up at Eli, and nodded.


“Oh god,” Eli whispered, his expression crumbling. “I know that look. Please don’t. Please don’t stay here.”


Young said nothing.


“Unlikely as it is,” Eli said, the words tripping over one another, full of anxiety, of grief, “there’s a non-zero probability he makes it out of this somehow. Ascends. Or something. But you? How could you possibly—”


“I’ll figure it out.”


“At least he can ascend. Physiologically. But you?” Eli whispered.


Young gave the kid a hard look. “It’s my problem to figure out. You say nothing about this. To anyone. You got that? Not TJ. Not Greer. Not anyone.”


Eli looked up at the overhead lights, his eyes glittering.


“Yeah,” he said finally. “Yeah, okay. The Last Secret of Eli Wallace.”


Young fought for control of his breathing. When he had himself in hand, he gave Eli as much of a smile he could manage. “The last? Somehow, I doubt that.”


Eli looked at him, his face pale, his eyes red. “You’re probably right,” he said dully.





A few hours later, Young and Rush stood together outside Wray’s quarters.


“Out of curiosity,” Young growled, his hand hovering over the door chime, “what was your original plan? Zero notice? Just open the stargate some afternoon and tell everyone it was time to go home?”


Rush gave him an exhausted smile, with just a hint of bite behind it. “Something like that.” He pressed a hand against the burnished metal paneling and leaned into it. The lights at the base of the bulkhead pulsed and faded in a slow, bright wave.


“You okay?” Young murmured.


“Yes.”


“I just ask because the, uh, wall panel seems concerned?” The track lighting pulsed again, a few more panels involved this time.


Rush managed a look of annoyed disbelief.


“Yeah,” Young replied, smiling at him faintly. “I get it.”


“There’s no need t’be so fuckin’ appealing,” Rush said, still leaning into the wall. “I said y’could stay.”


“Can’t help it.” Young hit the door chime. “It’s my way.”


Rush exhaled shortly, in something that was almost a laugh. He straightened and stepped to Young’s shoulder.


The door slid open to reveal Wray in sweatpants and a camisole. There was charcoal on her hands. Quiet classical music played from the room behind her.


“Oh no,” she breathed. “What’s happened?”


Young wasn’t sure how to answer that one. Neither was Rush. He got a wave of uncertainty from across their link and the scientist’s thoughts, already glassy with fatigue and fever, lost structure. Gained shine.


“Could I ah—” Rush trailed off. He pressed his fingertips to his temple. “Could I sit down, possibly?”


“Yes.” Wray dialed up the lights and stepped back. “Yes, of course. Let me just make the bed.” She rubbed her hands on her black sweatpants, fished Sharon’s blue track jacket from a tangle of bedding, and pulled it on.


Young took Rush’s arm and guided him into Wray’s quarters. The room was larger than average but smaller than his, with a lonely, neat desk in one corner, beneath a collection of charcoal drawings.


“Brody and Chloe 3D-printed some paper,” Wray said, noticing the direction of Young’s gaze. “A little bit of charcoal. It’s not much. I should have cleared it with you, I know, but Chloe said there’s some discretionary use built into how the Science Team handles demolecularized assets.”


//You okay?// Young projected, only half listening, his attention on Rush.


Rush sent him a vague wave of what Young guessed was supposed to be reassurance, but it hit like a burst of disorganized code. The scientist stared at Wray’s drawings. “Y’know,” he said, with a glassy intensity, “Chloe really enjoys making the corpses of her enemies into gifts.”


The guy was about twenty seconds away from hitting the deck.


“What?” Wray asked, perplexed, looking up from her bedcovers.


“Terribly sorry,” Rush said faintly, “but it occurs to me that I may be about to—” he trailed off as his knees buckled.


“Y’think?” Young growled, mostly ready, caught him before he hit the deck. 


Wray snapped her coverlet over her sheets and Young laid Rush on her bed.


“I’ll get some water,” Wray breathed.


//Hey.// Young knelt next to his chief scientist, already loosening his jacket cuffs. //Nick. You with me?//


Rush made a distressed sound in the back of his throat. His eyelids fluttered. After a few more seconds he managed a burst of feeling, of concept, words draped over it like lace. //Bit low on energy at the moment.//


//No kidding.// Young smoothed damp hair away from his forehead. //There a reason you’re pushing so hard? Recover first. Then unmake the universe.//


Rush looked at him from beneath lidded eyes. He smiled faintly.


//Wait a week.// Young entwined their fingers. //You’re too tired for this.//


“Waiting won’t help. It’s downhill from here, I’m afraid,” Rush whispered.


Young sighed.


Wray returned, her step quick and light, her hair smelling of TJ’s homemade shampoo as she knelt, a metal cup in her hand. “Is he all right?” she asked.


“Yes yes,” Rush breathed. He levered himself up on one elbow, took the water, downed it all in one go, and collapsed back to the bed, spent.


“He’s driving himself into the ground,” Young growled.


“No more than usual,” Rush countered. “But this isn’t what we came here to discuss.” He looked meaningfully at Young.


“I thought you were gonna tell her,” Young replied, dry and unimpressed.


“I’m indisposed,” Rush said weakly.


Wray lifted an eyebrow at Young.


Young steeled himself and said, “We’re gating back to Earth. Two days from now.”


She locked eyes with him, her face frozen in shock. One hand came to her mouth. She turned away, her face hidden behind the sweep of her hair.


“Camile,” Young murmured.


“Yes,” she said, unsteady. “Yes. This is just—this is phenomenal. Being able to go back and forth will be—”


“Camile,” Young said again, “this is a one time thing. Everyone goes. One way. One shot.”


She gave him a searching look.


“Why?” she whispered. “Why does it have to be like that? Why only one way one time?”


“Because,” Rush said, his eyes closed, “the amount of energy required to power the gate will destroy this ship.”


“Destroy,” Wray repeated, stricken.


“Only physically,” Rush said, like it was some kind of consolation.


Wray gave Young a searching, desperate look.


“You’ve always wanted to go home,” Young said. “Time is a factor here. For this to work, I need your help organizing the crew.”


“But,” Wray breathed, “why so soon? Why—” she stopped herself. Her eyes flicked from Young to Rush and back again. Young felt her putting the pieces together, felt her forming the questions, understanding how little she would like the answers.


“Does it matter?” Rush asked, cracking his eyelids to look at her. “It’s always been the goal, correct?”


My goal,” Wray said in a small voice.


Young shifted in his crouch, full of unease, full of doubt.


“But,” Wray began.


“Don’t get yourself in trouble now,” Rush said softly, and caught the edge of Wray’s blue track jacket.


Reluctantly, her eyes full of tears, Wray nodded.

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