Force over Distance: A Rebellious Bird

Only 0.3 lbs!

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

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: You thought I’d forgotten TJ, didn’t you?

A Rebellious Bird


I tried to find the words to ask you about this, but you know me…I’m not suave on the fly. Here we go:

Inside Brody’s best attempt at gift-wrap is the libretto for the opera Carmen. The whole opera is on Destiny’s media drive, but this has side-by-side translations of English and French. It’s from my personal collection. I requested it from Earth. (Only 0.3 lbs!)

I always suspected that when you chose the name Carmen, you took a little inspiration from an untamable woman who makes her own way in the world. Even if I’m wrong, it’s a wonderful name. A wonderful story. A wonderful opera. I wanted you to have the libretto, because sometimes it’s nice to have a physical reminder of something we’ve lost.

If this doesn’t hit right for you, feel free to never mention it again! You can slide it under Wray’s door; if she asks about it, I’ll say it was from me.

Thanks for saving my life fifteen times and counting. For me, you’ll always be the heart of this ship.


TJ presses the letter to her chest and tucks it into the libretto, then slides the little red volume into her crate of personal belongings. Hunter Riley’s hand-crafted truck is in there, wrapped in the dress shirt Robert Caine had lent her during her pregnancy. The onesie Chloe had made from a repurposed T-shirt is rolled in the bottom of the gray crate. She scans her quarters. Nothing left.

She picks up the box, labeled with her name, and carries it down the hall to a designated storage room near the gate. The only other crate in there so far is Greer’s.

She’ll be living in the infirmary for the next few days, supervising the transfer of files, of her database and her records, packing up samples, packing up supplies. She’ll need to think about what and how much to leave behind.

For Dr. Rush. And, maybe, for the colonel.

She sets her crate on the floor, next to Greer’s, and tips her chin up. She wills her eyes not to tear. She thinks of her to-do list.

It works about as well as it’s ever worked.

Her grief gnaws at her insides.

She faces the bulkhead, sits down, and sobs.

It’s been too much. All of it. Every part. The loss of her friends, the disappearance of her daughter, everything that’s happened to the colonel, to Dr. Rush. And then—all that’s coming for her on the other side of that gate, in a few years time.

They never did find a cure.

And now, their time is over.

As she cries, the little device at her hip ripples and flares, blue to green to pearl to amber to blue. She sees it glimmering on the other side of her tears. She can feel it, press worriedly into her mind, like a song she’s never heard.

She unclips it and holds it in her hands, next to her heart. “What will happen to you?” She strokes the device with her fingertips, and it flares aquamarine where she touches it. “Who will take care of you?” She cradles it in both hands, curling around it as she cries.

The device flutters against her mind, full of unhearable song, but behind its amorphous pressure, she catches an idea. It wants her to go somewhere. More than that, it wants her to see someone.

Nick Rush, represented by Ancient crystal that can do no more than evoke images and feelings from the salt and water of her living mind, comes as the sensation of ground coral, pressed to chalk and snapped; the smell of smoke and the shatter pattern of crystal in a blown circuit; flame against a clear sky on a bright day.

And why not?

He pulled her from a normal life, set her on a journey that’s done nothing but take.

She wipes her face. If nothing else, he’ll know what to do about the affectionate little thing in her hand that sings lullabies at night and waking songs in the morning, just beyond the range of human hearing.

She looks at the screen and sees a glyph of iridescent amber waiting for her in the infirmary. It glows brighter than usual, but that may just be the shine her tears put on the world.

There’s a small Ancient annotation next to the symbol. As she looks at the letters, she feels a patient anticipation she associates with progress, with plans set and ideas played out—he’s waiting. That’s what it must say.

“Thanks.” She runs her fingers over the device and its screen flares a brilliant blue. Impulsively, she presses her lips to the rim around the screen, imagining a little animal. A kitten. A rabbit. A bird.

TJ finds Rush alone, sitting on a bed near her office, no laptop in sight. She pauses in the doorframe, because there’s something eerie about the way he carries himself. He’s not fidgeting. He doesn’t look impatient. But it’s more than that—there’s a strange confidence in his bearing, the set of his shoulders, the way he holds his head.

“Hi.” She worries he’ll mistake the residue of tears in her voice for weakness, treat her too gently, try to slide around the conversation she wants to have.

“You’ve heard, then, I take it?”

She steps into the room. The door shuts behind her without anyone touching a control. She squares her shoulders, looks him in the eyes, and says, “Take me with you.”

He stares at her in shock. She can’t remember ever seeing such a look on his face; even when he’s blindsided, his defenses stay up. It’s one of the many things that drives the colonel crazy.

“Take me with you.” She presses her advantage. “I have no future anyway. Whatever you’re doing, wherever you’re going, even if it’s just—” her eyes flood again and spill over. She dashes the tears away. “Even if it’s just going out on your own terms. I can help. I want to come. Please take me with you.”

He looks at her, rebuilding defenses, turning his face neutral.

“Please,” she says again. “Please, I’m begging you to take me.”

Behind her, the bolt in the infirmary door slides home. Her heart beats fast and wild with hope. He hasn’t said no. He’s giving her that cold-edged, calculating, knife stroke of a look she’s seen a thousand times directed at other people, at machines, at the engines of the ship, but never at her. Not until today.

“You can use me,” she says, speaking directly to his analytical side. “I’ll keep you alive. I’ll help. I’m in. It’s why I’m here, I can feel it.”

He slips from the bed and stalks towards her, his eyes bright with more than fever. They seem to collect and hold all the light from the burnished bulkheads. “Give me your scanner.”

One hand goes protectively to the little device clipped to her hip. It flares defiantly, sensing her uncertainty.

“Give me your scanner and lie down.” Rush indicates the gurney with his eyes.

Her breathing quickens. He hasn’t said no. This is a yes. Or a door to a yes. It must be.

She follows his instructions, settling back against the worn, overwashed sheets of the bed. She lies stiff as a board as he scans her.

“I do believe you’re serious.” The device in his hands is a rainbow of desperate information, shining so hard it projects its display a few centimeters from its own surface. “But you’ll have to make the offer a second time. Twenty minutes from now.”

“What happens during the next twenty minutes?” TJ whispers.

“We find out if I can repair your nervous system,” Rush says absently.

“What?” TJ breathes.

Rush frowns at her. “Is this genuinely a fuckin’ surprise? The Science Team’s been working on this, independent of me I might add, for years now. Y’think they never queried the AI about failing motor neurons?”

“The AI,” TJ echoes, lost.

“Y’think, after everything you’ve done for him, Nick Rush wouldn’t take a bloody interest?” He sighs. “He has.”

“Um.” TJ’s a little thrown by the use of the third person, a little thrown by everything about this conversation.

“Never mind,” Rush says. “I’m fairly confident I can repair your nervous system with minimal risk to you. I’ll need to do some energetic borrowing, as my personal energy stores are in catastrophically short supply. Any objections?”

“No,” TJ breathes.

“Best crash ahead then,” Rush says, with a charmingly apologetic grin she’s never seen. “While the colonel is otherwise occupied? We can discuss details on the back end, depending on how well this goes.”

“Okay,” TJ whispers.

“You’ll be fine. Try to relax.” Delicately, Rush presses cool fingertips to the skin of her forehead. He closes his eyes.

Before the room fades, before TJ’s vision dissolves to sound and color, she sees a subtle glow distorting the edges of his jacket, burning in the wisps of his hair.

She wakes to music.

To the sound of opera, coming softly from her laptop.

To the sound of harmonic accompaniment, coming, maybe, from the walls themselves.

She blinks, feeling like she’s woken from a days-long sleep—disoriented and starving. Her heart pounds, working hard.

Rush stands over her, solid and reassuring except for the too-bright gleam of the light off his glasses and off his hair. His hand is on her forehead. She hears the two-part harmony of him, braiding itself tight, tearing itself apart. In endless, hopeless rounds.

Out of instinct she reaches for him, clasps his shoulder, pulls herself up, brings a hand to his face.

Startled, he flinches back.

She slows her movements.

He steadies himself.

She presses her fingertips to his temples. “No,” she whispers, absorbed by the energetic war playing out beneath her touch.

“What?” Rush asks, alarmed.

“Has it always been this way?” She’s not sure what she means, but she’s thinking of the ship, or maybe that the Nick Rush she’d known for years had, in some way, never come back from that first encounter with the neural interface chair?

He reaches for her hip, neatly unclips the Ancient device, and scans her with it. “Terribly sorry, Tamara, but I’m finding the information density of your speech t’be troublingly low at the moment.” He frowns at the pastel rainbow of information in his hands, then looks up at her. “Are y’feeling all right? You look a bit off.”

“You aren’t—” she stops herself before she can say he isn’t Nick Rush. “You’re different. You’re—I can hear you. I can hear what you are.”

“Ah,” he winces. “That’s an unfortunate side effect; not sure we’ll be able to fix it.” He runs the device over her again, one eyebrow quirked. “I do think my attempt worked. Hope the, ah, altered sensorium doesn’t drive y’to distraction? Should be better on Earth.” He gives her an uncertain look. “I hope. Less Ancient crystal around, at least.”

“Better?” she echoes, her fingertips grazing the device as it passes over her again. She can hear its music, quiet and contented, rising and falling like the swell of waves on a calm sea. There’s a shiver of aquamarine as tiny crystal circuits sense the proximity of her skin. She hears a burst of wordless song.

Rush gives her a sharp glance as it happens. He hears it too. He must.

It’d worked, whatever he’d done. Her scanner’s song of soft relief confirms it. After a fourth pass with the little device, she grabs it back from him and cradles it in her hands, stroking it like it’s alive. “I hear you now,” she whispers, tucking it under her chin as it rainbows in delight.

Rush leans against the bed, his body language amused and a little defeated, the unmaking and remaking of his psychic song slower now. More tired. “I think it worked,” he says again. “No confirmatory tests t’run, I’m afraid. Just time.”

“Well you certainly did something,” TJ whispers, listening to a ship full of song. “Even if it’s just this—nothing more than this—” she can’t speak, overcome with sound, with feeling, with the idea of a life that might last.

“It’d better be more than fuckin’ auditory perception of crystal,” Rush mutters.

TJ pulls him into a hug. “Thank you,” she whispers, hanging on through his startle response, pressing her face into his shoulder as his body language shifts.

“You’ve done as much for me on more than one occasion,” he says, a little stiff, a little formal, but hugging her back all the same.

As they pull away from each other, she closes both her hands on his upper arms, like she’s seen the colonel do. She looks into his eyes. Listens to the sound of him in her head. Tries to read his face. “I know what you are,” she whispers. “I hear the ship in you.”

“Yes,” he whispers, his expression uncertain. “I wanted all available resources. Or, I suppose, ‘we’ wanted all available resources? It’s not so easy, y’know. An energetic adjustment to an ongoing symphony of a nervous system.”

“You’re not always like this?” TJ whispers.

“No.” His expression turns rueful. “Had no bloody idea it was even possible until the colonel confessed it’d been happening since day fuckin’ one. Every time I used the chair I became a fused entity. He never told you?”

TJ shakes her head.

“I think Eli was the only one who knew. Or guessed.” Rush smiles faintly. “I’ll need to deconvolute the fusion shortly—the colonel’s strategizing with Wray but as soon as he realizes what I’ve done and who I’m with he’ll be trying to break the door down.” He tries to ease out of her grip.

“Wait,” she whispers, her fingers tightening once before she lets him go. “Tell me your plan. Please. It can’t be Earth. Not for either of you.”

“The colonel’s hell-bent on making his own decisions,” Rush says mildly. “As for me, there’s nothing to do but attempt ascension. Not sure I’ll succeed. Especially if he stays.”

“But you must have a plan,” TJ whispers. “You must. Your perfect-world scenario? Something you’re aiming for.”

“Maybe,” Rush replies. “But I will say, Tamara, on behalf of both the colonel and myself, that it’d be enough of a victory if the only thing that came of all of this was you, living clear and long, on our local brane of the cosmos.”

“You said,” TJ begins, listening to the battling melodies of his psyche, “that I could ask again to come with you.”

“I did say that, but I’d hoped to change your mind. There’s a bit of of a war on,” Rush said gently. “Have you heard?”

“I’ve heard,” TJ whispers.

“Stay.” Rush leans into the gurney. “On Earth. With the crew.”

“I could help you.”

“I’ve no doubt of that,” he says, with a small smile. “But, I think, Tamara, with or without your help, it’s quite likely I’ll fail. And, in that moment, I’d much rather know you t’be living free of all of this. I’m certain the same is true for Everett.”

“You’ll look out for him?” she whispers.

“As best I can,” he confirms.

The radio clipped to TJ’s jacket crackles. “TJ, this is Young, come in please.”

Rush gives her a dry smile. “He sounds annoyed.”

TJ frees up her radio. “How do you wanna play this?”

Rush lifts an eyebrow but says nothing.

“You’re—” She cuts herself off before she puts her foot in her mouth. “I’m talking to Destiny right now, as well as Dr. Rush?”

“What a polite way of putting it.” Rush flashes her a quicksilver grin.

“Then, on behalf of the crew,” she says softly, “thank you. For taking care of us. From the first day we arrived.”

He looks away, self-conscious and pleased and touched. “You’re quite welcome.”

TJ’s heart aches with the weight of their whole friendship, aches with what might have been and what will never be.

Again, the radio crackles. “TJ, respond now.”

“He sounds serious,” Rush says, soft and amused.

“He does.”

Someone bangs on the locked infirmary doors.

“Oh god,” Rush whispers, a hint of a smile in his expression. “Shall I let him in?”

“Wait.” She offers him the Ancient device that’s been clipped to her hip for months. “Look after this for me? If I take it back to Earth it’ll be the SGC’s property as soon as I step through the gate. It’ll end up locked in a lab somewhere. Better that it stays with you, don’t you think?”

Rush doesn’t take the device. “Keep it until the end. Leave it anywhere. I’ll find it.”

She nods.

He nods in return, then looks up as the infirmary doors open.

Young stands in the frame, his expression forbidding. He’s a strange void on a ship alive with song. She tries to hear the bond between the colonel and Rush, but all she can discern is a faded border, the shape of the passing melody, like the line of the tide on a silent shore. The colonel’s expression shifts from relief to anger as he takes in TJ, seated on the gurney, Rush standing over her.

“What the hell did you do to her?” Young growls, stalking forward, glaring at Rush.

“Just a little recalibration,” Rush replies soothingly, and, beneath his words, TJ hears intricate melodies, suggesting changing voltages in small and delicate circuits. She wonders what Young hears, what he feels through the link she can’t sense.

“TJ. What happened.” His strong hands close around her shoulders.

“I’m all right,” she says.

“The hell you are,” Young growls. “What did he do?”

“I’m all right.” She holds up her little Ancient device like it can vouch for her. It gives a multi-tonal chime and ripples from blue to green to blue again.

“What. Did he. Do.” Young doubles down, staring into her eyes, his face a mask of anxiety and disapproval. Behind him, Rush wraps his arms around himself and sighs.

“Hey.” Despite her exhaustion, her voice is cool and sharp. “Back off. This has nothing to do with you.  Nothing to do with the ship. It’s a personal matter.”

It’s the wrong position to take. She sees it in the stiffening of Rush’s shoulders, in the stone that comes into Young’s face.

“Everything he does affects me, TJ,” Young growls. “Either he can’t get that through his head, or he doesn’t give a damn. I don’t know which, but whatever he did to you—I felt it.  And it was goddamned painful, all right? At least for me. So I’m sorry if I’m intruding into your personal life, but I wanna know what the hell he did, and why the hell you let him do it.”

TJ drops her eyes, disappointed. Still, she’s certain that if he weren’t half out of his mind with worry about what Nick Rush has done, is doing, will do—he’d remember what’s coming for her on the other side of the gate.

What had been coming.

Not anymore.

Her life stretches before her, so much longer and vaster than she’d dared hope. She doesn’t know what to do in a world of so much potential space.

“Have you really not guessed?” Her eyes prick with tears she’s trying not to shed.

The colonel lets her go.

She blinks, schools her expression, and, when she looks up, she finds him halfway across the room, pacing away, his hands in his pockets, trying to cool down.

She looks at Rush.

He gives her a wistful look in return, and then—

The running braid in his making/unmaking melody stops its work. In the space of a heartbeat, he’s rent in two. The braid withdraws into the walls, the floors, the lights, the hum of the FTL drive and the song of the man in front of her turns turbulent. Wild. Reaching for something. Tearing itself apart to get there.

Across the room, Young stills. Like he’s sensed what she just heard.

“He was trying to fix you,” he says dully. “The—“ he breaks off, waving a hand. He doesn’t want to say it. He’s never wanted to say it. “The ALS.”

“Yes,” TJ breathes.

Young stares at the floor, unable to look at either of them. “Did it work?”

Rush, leaning heavily into TJ’s gurney, nods. “I think so.”

“Good.” Young, still staring at the floor, chokes on the word.

TJ slips off her gurney and takes a few steps, a little unsteady on her feet.

He comes forward to meet her. She wraps her arms around him.

“Good,” he whispers into her hair. “That’s good.”

“He says time will tell. But that’s all anyone ever gets, right? A chance to keep going?”

Young nods against her shoulder, a strange void in the song of the world. He holds her tight, then lets her go. “You’re sure you’re okay? He didn’t screw you up?”

“Charming,” Rush says from the opposite side of the room, dry and unimpressed.

“No,” TJ says softly. “I’m fine.”

“Apparently,” Young growls, the words too loud to be intended for her alone, “these things aren’t always so straightforward. Sometimes you don’t realize what he’s done until after he’s done it.”

Rush rolls his eyes, sweeps a hand through his hair, and leans a bit more into the gurney. “I admit, historically, that’s been something of a problem, but in this case—” He breaks off as the striving, ascendant quality of his melody crescendoes, tries to tear free, retethers itself. He sinks into a crouch, breathing hard, fingertips pressed to the floor.

Young darts to his side, draws him off the floor, and helps him onto the gurney. “You’re a lotta work, you know that? A lot.”

“Fuck off,” Rush says, with the ghost of a smile.

You fuck off,” Young smoothes his hair back from his forehead.

TJ watches them, cradling her scanner in her palm, listening to its song of soft anxiety.

She tries to think of Earth. Of seeing her family again. Of showing Varro every exotic experience she’s ever promised: cheesecake and ski slopes and theater and whales. Of what the ship will sound like when Rush makes his final run on a d-brane collision. But all she can think of is how quiet the colonel is, how, in a few hours, when this ship is lit up with the raw energy of cosmic collision, even then, he’ll remain the still center in a storm of song and light.

There’s a part of her that wants to intervene. To make a case. To ask him to come back. For her. For the crew. For his family. For the SGC.

But she’s less certain now of the well-ordered universe she thought she believed in. She thinks of Robert Caine, speaking of her daughter. Maybe Carmen is with them, the breakers and traversers of the cosmos.

I’m not sorry I’m here. She sends the words into the music just above and just below the range of human hearing. I’m not sorry you brought me. I hope you find your way. I hope we all do.

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