Force over Distance: Chapter 89

“Ah, fuck,” he breathed.

Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations. References to self-harm and suicide.

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 89

When he regained consciousness, everything that defined his mind, every pathway and trajectory made and taken by his thoughts, was trafficked by agony.

There was no space for anything else.

When he regained consciousness the second time, he was able to open his eyes. TJ, her head resting on her arms, slumped over the edge of his bed, a blanket spread across her shoulders. Nearby, he heard the quiet clicks of plastic against cardboard.

“Check,” Eli said quietly.

“Whatever,” Chloe whispered. “I don’t feel like playing.”

His mind felt like it’d been torn apart.

Because it had been.

He shut his eyes.

When he regained consciousness the third time, he found Greer sitting next to him.

“Sir,” the sergeant whispered.

“You knew.” Young’s voice was dry and cracked.


“Get out.”


“Get. Out.”

“I’ll send TJ in,” Greer said.

“Don’t bother.”

The fourth time he regained consciousness, Young woke to sunlight streaming into a clean, white hospital room. Beyond the window was a parking lot. In the distance, the jagged cut of the Rocky Mountains rose above the cars, above the skyline of Colorado Springs.

The light hurt his eyes. He didn’t bother trying to untangle his thoughts.


Wray sat next to him, pale and composed and finally home.


“Hi.” Her voice wavered.

He sat, ran his fingers through his hair, and pressed the heels of his hands against his temples.

“Do you know where you are?” Wray whispered.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I know.”

Wray nodded, her lips pressed together, her eyes wet.

They listened to the quiet tones of the monitors. The muffled voices beyond the closed door.

“They don’t understand what happened to you,” Wray said. “Or why we returned so abruptly. There will be an inquiry.” She brushed away a tear as it escaped from the corner of one eye. “There will be several.”

Young said nothing.

“I’ll do what I can,” Wray whispered. “I’ll do everything I can to—”

“Why are you here, Camile?” he rasped. “Go home. Go be with your family.”

“Everyone is here,” she said. “Under quarantine.They’ve blocked off a hospital wing for us. The medical facilities at the SGC don’t have the capacity to hold everyone. Just a few weeks ago there was some kind of Ori plague? Resources are stretched a little thin.” Wray smiled weakly.

“Quarantined,” Young repeated dully. “For how long.”

“One more day.” Wray hesitated. “They’re talking about keeping you longer.”

“Are they.”

“You were unresponsive for two days. Far longer than—than the drug stayed in your system.”

Young looked away, barely able to tolerate even an unspoken reference to Rush.

Wray edged forward in her chair. “No one has told them,” she said softly, “that you and he were linked. But, ah—it became common knowledge on the ship, it—”

“It’ll come out,” Young rasped.

“Yes,” Wray replied. “Eventually, I think it will.” One hand outstretched, like she was approaching an injured dog, she perched on the edge of his bed. When he didn’t shy away from her, she rested a small hand on his shoulder. “Everett, do you know? Do you know what happened to him.”

Young shook his head. “Do you?”

“No,” Wray said. “Eli’s gone through the data we got through the open wormhole. We know he succeeded in transferring Ginn, Dr. Perry, and Dr. Franklin out of Destiny’s memory banks. They all came through the gate. Ginn and Dr. Franklin are helping the Science Team go through the kino footage. Everything he transmitted.”

“What about Dr. Perry?”

Wray shook her head. “She didn’t stay. Didn’t descend. She came and left as pure energy.”

Young nodded.

“There’s kino footage—” Wray trailed to nothing.

Young shook his head.

“All the kinos had been put into search mode before we left and they—there’s footage. I just—I wanted you to be aware. Someone might—” she pulled in a slow breath. “Mention it. Someone might—try to show you. It may get out. It has. I know for a fact it’s gone beyond the Science Team. The video feed was transmitted directly to Homeworld Command. SG-1, Landry, O’Neill, Harriman—they all saw it happen in real time.”

“Say what you mean, Camile,” Young growled.

“Everyone knows how you came home,” Wray said in a cracked whisper.

Young didn’t reply. Because what the hell was he gonna say to something like that.

“Tell me what I can do,” Wray said.

“You can get me some clothes.”

“Already done.” Wray slipped off the bed and gathered up the fatigues at the base of his cheap hospital nightstand. “New cut,” she said, her hands smoothing away creases in the material, “still black.”

“Thanks.” Young pulled the fatigues into his lap.

“Dr. MacKenzie, from the SGC’s Psych Department, will be coming to talk to you this afternoon,” Wray said.

“To clear me for duty?” Young drove the heel of his hand into his eye socket, trying to send a message to his headache.

“No.” Gently, Wray tugged his hand away from his eye. “No, I don’t think so.”

Young nodded and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

Wray scrambled back. “I’m not sure you should be getting up.”

He stood unsteadily, one hand clenched into the sheets of his bed, the other holding his hospital gown shut.

Wray put a hand on his arm.

As if she could help him.

He pulled away.

She shadowed his steps as he made his way, barefoot, across the tile floor.

“I can—” she began.

“No thanks.” He closed the bathroom door in her face.

He placed the fatigues on the low counter in front of the mirror.

He held himself steady, gripping the edge of the sink, where the white of its porcelain met the tan of some poorly defined waterproof laminate he was uninterested in putting a name to. He didn’t know shit about decor. He’d never known shit about decor.

He looked at his reflection.

He looked away.

The fabric of the fatigues was stiff and new under his fingers.

He found the socks. He pulled them on one at a time, bracing his hip against the wall to keep his balance. He unfolded and put on the underwear. He pulled the standard-issue black cotton shirt over his head and drew it down.

He held himself steady, gripping the edge of the sink.

The pants he shook out in a slow unfurl before he stepped into them. The fabric scraped its way over his skin as he pulled them up and fastened them. They were looser than they should have been.

He unfolded the jacket, slow and stepwise. He unzipped it, separating metal teeth in an endless pull he had to force himself to finish.

Giving up halfway through getting dressed wasn’t gonna solve a damn thing.

He put the jacket on.

He zipped it up.

He held himself steady, gripping the edge of the sink.

He opened an Air Force-issue disposable toothbrush, flinching at the crackle of plastic-wrap beneath his fingers.

He brushed his teeth.

He ran his fingers through his hair.

He’d need to borrow a razor.

He gripped the edge of the sink and dropped his head forward, not bothering to fight the weight of the headache that pressed down upon him.

“Come on,” he whispered.

Nothing happened.

He looked into the mirror, but saw only himself.

There was a soft knock on the door.

“Need any help?” Wray called.

“No,” Young said. “I’m fine.”

Dr. MacKenzie entered Young’s room around fourteen hundred hours. He had wavy gray-brown hair and a broad, lined face. He wore a rain jacket over a white coat over a tweed blazer.

“Colonel.” He extended his hand. “James MacKenzie.”

“We’ve met,” Young said coolly.

MacKenzie nodded. Without being invited, he took the only chair. “Sorry. Force of habit. How are you?”


MacKenzie settled into his seat and gave Young a skeptical look. “I was confidentially briefed by Colonel Carter.” He took a seat at Young’s bedside. “I’ve spoken to Dr. McKay.”

“You really get around,” Young said, poison pouring from nowhere into the waiting glass of his voice. “You talk to Dr. Jackson too? How’s he doing?”

MacKenzie, in the process of arranging his raincoat over the back of his chair, froze. “We’re here to talk about you,” he said, drawing his clinical experience around him like armor. Like blinders.

“Not interested,” Young said.

“Unfortunately, colonel, that’s not an option. General Landry sent me. Before your formal debrief, we’re looking to establish a few—”

“You got the MCHV22 in one of your jackets?” Young growled. “Give it to me. Let’s get this done.”

“I, uh, no. I don’t make a habit of carrying the V22 on my person,” MacKenzie said. “SGC resources are thin at the moment, but—” he trailed off under Young’s increasingly hostile gaze. “Scans performed while you were unconscious are suggestive of neurological trauma. Your EEG patterns don’t match what we have on file. You spent two days largely unresponsive. Before putting you through a formal debrief or subjecting you to the V22, Homeworld Command would like a narrative.”

“A narrative?” Young hissed.

MacKenzie said nothing.

Young said nothing.

MacKenzie said nothing.

Young said nothing.

“Command has a ‘best guess’ as to what happened,” MacKenzie said, “pieced together from what Dr. Carter suspected after seeing your brain scans. From what Dr. McKay saw on Destiny. From what Jack O’Neill put together. From what Dr. Lam was indirectly briefed about. From Camile Wray’s IOA complaints, reports, dispatches. From the video footage transmitted before your ship was lost in the energy of a multiversal collision. But we need to hear it from you. You have to see that.”

Young looked away, trying to hold himself together, trying to keep everything he was feeling off his face and out of his mind. “It wasn’t ‘my ship’,” he whispered.

“Sorry,” MacKenzie said. “My mistake.”

Still Young couldn’t look at him. “Just give me the V22.”

MacKenzie stayed silent.

“Ask what you need to ask,” Young rasped.

“Who or what damaged your mind?” MacKenzie asked. “Nick Rush? Destiny itself?”

“False dichotomy,” Young snapped. “Rhetorically lazy.” He looked away, ran his hand through his hair. Shit. He took a breath. “Whatever. I don’t care. Proceed. Continue. Do your thing.”

MacKenzie did not proceed. Or continue. Or do his thing.

Young took a breath, trying to focus, trying to calm the fuck down, trying not to pull something forward that he was never, never gonna force back.

“I knew him,” MacKenzie said quietly. “Nick Rush, I mean. We had a few sessions together. Never got very far with him.”

Young smiled, hard-edged and vicious. He kept his head turned and did his best to hide his expression from MacKenzie. “Really?”

“What was the nature of your relationship with Dr. Rush?”

Young opened a hand and said nothing.

“He was instrumental in the return of your crew to Earth,” MacKenzie said, “but he didn’t come back with you.

“I noticed.”

“Do you know what happened to him?”


“Do you think you might be harboring his consciousness?”

Young stared a hole through the opposite wall. “What. You mean like in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock?”

MacKenzie, flummoxed, had nothing on deck.

“You’re a space professional,” Young hissed. “The least y’can fuckin’ do is watch fuckin’ movies about fuckin’ space.” He took a breath. “Shit. No. He’s not in my head.”

“You can see why I ask, though, right?” MacKenzie said slowly.

“Yeah well, y’know what? If he were in my head, he sure as shit wouldn’t tell you about it. He was an arrogant, deceptive, untrustworthy son of a bitch who respected math and music and not much else.” Young pulled in a shaky inhale. “He did a little cognitive repair work in my mind a few months back. His personality comes out when I’m upset. He’s not in here. He’s dead.”

“Dead?” MacKenzie repeated. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah. Pretty damn sure. Because it’s been, what, four days? If he’d ascended, he’s had more than enough time to unmake the universe.”

“Was that his goal?” MacKenzie asked, unsettled.

No, damn it,” Young hissed. “Keep up.”

“I’m doing my best, colonel. Why did he drug you and send you through the gate?”

“To force me to leave.”

“I can see how that’s true in a literal sense. Was he trying to save your life?”

“Preserve, maybe,” Young growled. “Kick the can down the road because he damn well could.”

“Where ‘the can’ is your life?”


“Things will go better for you if you’re a little more forthcoming.”

“Better? Great. That what you said to Jackson when you involuntarily committed him because you mistook an alien parasite for late-breaking psychosis?”

“Excuse me?”

“Jackson hates you,” Young said, his poise ice-cold and not his own.

MacKenzie released a shuddery breath.

“And I happen to think pretty damn highly of Jackson.” Young stared at the opposite wall.

Quietly, MacKenzie gathered himself. “Are you having any thoughts of hurting yourself?”

“No,” Young said.

“Why did he have to force you to leave?”

Young looked at him steadily. “You trying to connect those questions? You think I have some kind of death wish? I stayed,” Young said, “because he was permanently locked to that ship, and we do not leave people behind.”

“So you stayed for him,” MacKenzie said.

“I stayed because it was the right thing to do.”

“What was the nature of your relationship with Dr. Rush?”

“He was my chief scientist.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Your question was vague.”

MacKenzie gave him a tight smile. “Most of them are,” he said. “That’s the idea. Colonel, I’m trying to prepare you. There will be a lot of scrutiny in the coming days. Especially because there’s some question as to whether your chief scientist ascended to a higher plane of existence. I’m not sure if you know this, but the war with the Ori isn’t going so well.”

“I’ve heard, yeah.”

MacKenzie said nothing.

Young stared through the windows, past the parking lot, toward the gray haze of approaching rain.

They held him for a week. He muscled through sets of interviews: with the top brass, with the IOA, with a stream of doctors. When they finally released him, it was to base housing. VIP Suite #4, pending full evaluation and reassignment.

The crew came by to visit in irregular little clusters. TJ and Varro. Chloe, Brody, and Volker. Wray and Jackson. No one stayed long. Until the night Greer showed up in civvies to get Young off the base. They went to the sergeant’s new apartment, spartan and spare, but with a good view to the Rocky Mountains.

They sat on the sergeant’s couch and left the lights off as the sun set over the Rocky Mountains.

The light, red and gold, turned the distant peaks black as it faded.

“You got any kind of plan?” Young said, after a solid thirty minutes of silence.

“SG-2.” Greer took a swig of godawful beer.

“No shit.”


“How’d that happen?”

Greer shrugged, the movement almost invisible in the growing dark.

“I didn’t put you up for it,” Young said, dangerous and quiet. “Who did.”

Greer, never one to back down from a coming fight, stilled himself. Steeled himself. “Colonel Telford put me up for it, sir.”

Young smiled, a quick and feral flash of teeth.

Greer bristled. “Colonel Telford hates my guts. Always has. Always will. I didn’t ask him for shit.”

And yeah. That was probably true. Young took a sip of bile-flavored beer. “How’d it happen?”

Greer said nothing.

“What am I here for, if not for you to tell me?” Young growled.

Greer looked down at the bottle in both hands. “The doc sent some things through the gate. After you came through. Telford got a letter. I guess Rush asked him to help me out.”

Young looked away, trying not to let the news cut him too deep. “What else?”

“You sure you wanna know?”

“Yeah,” Young rasped.

“He sent a whole slew of letters,” Greer whispered, “all tied together with a bootlace and labeled. There was a letter about Chloe addressed to the head of UC Berkeley’s Math Department. Three pages long.” Greer paused. “He sent one of his little notebooks through, tagged for Eli, full of stuff he thought Eli should know, or would like, or whatever. He ah—” Greer drew his hand across his mouth. “He wrote letters for everyone on the Science Team, describing things they’d done, so that, if they wanted to leave the SGC, or if they wanted to stay—they’d have something to take with them. I read the one he wrote for Lisa,” Greer whispered. “It was really—” he trailed off.

“He liked her.”

“Yeah,” Greer said. “She—she didn’t know that.”

“Anything else?” Young asked.

“He wrote a letter to Dr. Jackson,” Greer murmured. “Rumor is the only thing it said was: ‘Send Lt. James to Atlantis’.”

Stone-faced, Young stared out the window.

Greer said nothing.

The sun had dipped below the horizon. Above the mountains, the waning moon shone silver-white.

“He—” Greer began.

“He what,” Young snarled.

“He cared about you,” Greer said. “He did what he did because—”

“Because?” Young hissed. “There’s no fucking ‘because.’ Even I, who was fucking linked to his fucking head, have no idea what his real plan was. Let alone whether he ever gave a damn about anyone. Including me.”

Greer said nothing.

The moon began its slow fall toward the mountains.

“He should have let me stay,” Young whispered.

“He wanted you to live,” Greer replied simply. “So did I.”

“Well thanks a lot, sergeant.”

“He’s gonna come back.”

“I wouldn’t hold your breath.”

“I talked to that Cultural Sensitivity guy. Dr. J. I asked him. Both times he ascended, he didn’t come back on any kind of schedule.”

Young drained the dregs of his piss-flavored beer.

Greer pulled another bottle from the six-pack at their feet, levered the cap off, and handed it to Young. “How many times’ve we counted him out, only for him to show up?”

Young said nothing.

“It’s his thing,” Greer whispered, a stubborn silhouette in the dark.

Young said nothing.

The moon sank toward the dark ridge of the mountains.

“He told me he would try,” Greer whispered.

Young said nothing.

“He promised me,” Greer said.

Young said nothing.

Two weeks after he’d woken up in a hospital bed in Colorado Springs, Young was back in uniform, twenty-seven levels deep under Cheyenne Mountain, sitting in General Landry’s office.

“—and then,” Landry said, “not only does he proceed to tell the entire delegation that their intel metadata revealed inconsistencies in ‘informational entropy,’ but he hacks into their security system, in the briefing, to map out transmission vs. location. He identified their security leak. In real time.” The general shook his head. “I didn’t know whether to reprimand him or promote him right there. I did both.”

“Sounds like Eli,” Young said.

“That boy is a treasure,” Landry said.

Young nodded.

Small talk over, they looked at one another across the broad expanse of Landry’s mahogany desk.

“What are my options?” Young asked.

“Colonel,” Landry began, with a note of caution that edged up every last one of Young’s nerves. “I’m not sure we’ve ever dealt with something quite like this.”

“Meaning?” Young tried to file the edge off his tone.

“Meaning you allowed the destruction of Destiny, which may have been humanity’s last hope against the Ori. Meaning your V22 is radically altered by whatever the hell happened between you, Nick Rush, and that Ancient ship. There’s concern about a new posting. Any new posting. There’s concern about letting you back into civilian life.”

Young clamped down on the fiery string of words that wanted to come out of his mouth.

“But there are mitigating circumstances,” Landry continued, with what was probably supposed to be a kindly tone. “Your crew speaks well of you, and you brought them home safe. You acquired another Ancient database. You brought us Dr. Franklin, who had direct, prolonged mental contact with Ancient tech and who’s already wowing our Area 51 guys. You brought us two LA defectors, who’ve thinned our ranks of a few LA operatives. Camile Wray and Dr. Jackson have been advocating on your behalf.”

Young listened to the tick of the clock on the wall.

Landry lifted his eyebrows.

“So,” Young tried again, “what are my options?”

“There’s only one,” Landry said. “Atlantis. Colonel Sheppard is the only person willing to give you a shot. You’ll be formally joining the expedition as a consultant. If he wants to risk putting you in the field, that’ll be his prerogative.”

“When do I ship out?”

“Two days.” Landry slid a file across his desk.

“Two days?” Young growled. “What about my case against Colonel Telford? His counter-case.”

“Your case is being thrown out,” Landry said. “Insufficient evidence. He’s dropped his case against you.”

“He’s what?” Young snarled.

“Jackson convinced him.” Landry reached forward to tap the thick file folder in front of Young. “Drop it colonel. Read this, stay on base, and keep your head down. Stay out of Telford’s way.”

Young stood, slipped the file under one arm, and walked out of the Landry’s office.

“Dismissed,” Landry called after him.

It was only after he’d passed the secretary’s desk that he realized he’d forgotten to salute.

As he stalked toward the elevator, he did his best to wrap his mind around what the hell’d just happened. An Atlantis posting? As a consultant? In two days? No mandatory leave? No reintegration into civilian life? What the fucking fuck had been so wrong with his V22?

Young stopped, one hand pressed to the poured cement of the nearest wall, cool and rough under his palm. His heart pounded in his chest.

“Ah, fuck,” he breathed.


He knew this feeling.

He took a breath and tried to shove down the steel and naquadah his mind was built of.

Around a corner, he heard Colonel Carter, speaking about electrostatic repulsion, about distinct matter occupying the same space at a fixed time coordinate. He’d never noticed her musical undertones, like the echo of a half-remembered sea bell on a still day.

He looked up.

She stepped into the corridor, David Telford at her side.

Young straightened, shoving down the blade-to-the bone words that were fighting to come out of his mouth, that weren’t his at all.

Telford and Carter slowed to a stop, their faces wary. Guarded. Full of pity.

Young bit down on everything his brain was offering him, stepped in, and drove his knuckles into Colonel Telford’s mouth.

Telford staggered back, stumbling into Carter.

“What the hell?” Carter shouted.

“Sam,” Telford said, straightening, licking a split lip. “It’s fine.”

Young leaned in, ignoring the hand Carter thrust between them. “And you wanna know what?” Young said conversationally, “that wasn’t for him. That? That was for Gloria.”

Telford, breathing hard, nodded. Short and sharp.

Young pushed past them, toward the elevators.

“Colonel,” Carter called after him. “Colonel Young.”

“Let it go, Sam,” he heard Telford say, his voice low. “Just—let it go.”

Back in VIP Suite #4, Young dropped onto his couch, thought about calling his brother, but instead decided to open the folder Landry had given him. It was thick, full of overviews, tactical threat assessments, dispatches from Elizabeth Weir, and mission reports from Sheppard and McKay.

He found he preferred McKay’s reports to anything else in the file.

—at which point Colonel Sheppard ‘engaged the locals’ [here read: with guns] while I deciphered and interfaced with the control panel. I discovered a fusion of Ancient and endogenous technology, likely the work of the fraction of the population that survived the first culling. Because I was trying NOT to die, I didn’t read around the database but, for future reference, I did come across a cache of files that seemed to deal with local anisotropies in the microwave background radiation coupled with a modified form of the FLRW metric, in which the spatial component of the metric wasn’t time dependent.

Young stopped reading and frowned.

He left the couch and moved to the suite’s desk, searching drawers for pencils but finding only pens. Fine. Absently he stowed a cheap pen between his teeth and returned to the couch for the empty file folder. He had to dig the thing out from under a messy stack of classified paper. He seated himself at the desk, snapped the light on, flipped the folder to its blank inner surface, pulled the pen out of his mouth, and wrote:

-c2d(𝜏2)= -c2dt2 + a(t)2d(𝛴2)

He boxed it.

He looked at it.

He pulled out the scale factor and started to work with it, replacing variables, redefining the problem in terms of spatial curvature, redefining it for reduced-circumference polar coordinates, redefining it for hyperspherical coordinates—

He didn’t stop until every centimeter of blank space was covered with a loose, effortless flow of math. He didn’t stop until the base lighting shifted from day to night patterns, until the strange, all-consuming mental energy finally loosened its grip and left him, sitting exhausted at his desk, surrounded by the carnage of Einstein’s field equations and the shreds of an incorrect model of physical cosmology.

He pressed the heels of both hands against his eyes, trying to force away a headache that was never gonna leave.

He looked at the mathematically defaced file, wondering how he was going to explain this when he had to turn the classified document back in to Walter Harriman. Wondering if it mattered.

He capped his pen.

If this’d been pencil, he could’ve erased it.

“Nick,” he whispered.

No one answered.

“Let’s talk about dreams,” MacKenzie said, the morning before Young’s Atlantis departure.

“Let’s not.”

“Okay, have you spoken with your brother?”


“Do you plan to?”


“Why don’t you want to talk about your dreams?”

“Because they’re normal,” Young said. “Completely uninteresting.”

“Normal,” MacKenzie repeated. “What is ‘normal’ for you?”

“Combat.” Young stared at the nearest poured-concrete wall.

Each night it’s the same: He stands alone before the open gate. The ship, ablaze with mounting power, feels like an extension of his mind. The lights are on, the doors unlock; the shields become a symphony of sound.

“Any recurring dreams?” MacKenzie asked.

He walks in solitude beneath the lights.


There’s nothing in his peripheral vision.

“Sometimes,” MacKenzie said, “I get the feeling that you’re not making an effort.”

“Huh,” Young said.

“I’m guessing it’s because either you place no value on this kind of therapeutic intervention, or, you don’t want to let go of what’s bothering you.”

“Sounds like another false dichotomy.” Young replied cool and collected. “You’d have better luck if you cut your specious social-sciences bullshit and just ask what you wanna know.”

MacKenzie visibly suppressed a sigh. “You will not talk about him,” the psychiatrist said, “even though he altered you in such a profound way that your EEG has changed. Your V22 score is more his than yours. I can’t imagine your dreams haven’t been altered as well.”

Young said nothing.

“A terrible thing happened to you,” MacKenzie said quietly. “I’m not even sure if you recognize that.”

You don’t give a shit about me.” Young kept his neutral tone. Held his neutral facial expression. “You’re not trying to help me. You’re trying to dig into him. As though this place,” Young hissed, gesturing at the metric fucktons of rock over their heads, “hasn’t done enough.”

MacKenzie said nothing.

“Command wants to know if he’s coming back,” Young ground out. “If he’s gonna bring anything that might help deal with the Ori.”

MacKenzie shifted in his seat.

“You think I wouldn’t tell you if I knew?” Young snarled.

“I believe you would,” MacKenzie said delicately. “Everyone who’s ever known you believes you would act in defense of our planet. Our people. But, colonel, you have his neural patterns. And he—well, let’s just say he had significantly less trust in the SGC than most who worked here.”

Young shut his eyes. Swallowed. Clamped down on the urge to flip MacKenzie’s desk. “Nice way of putting it, but let’s just call him what he was: a lying, untrustworthy bastard.”

They stared at one another.

“Is it so hard to believe I want to help you?” MacKenzie asked quietly.


“Where does that knee-jerk doubt come from? Have you thought about that, at all?”

Young looked away. Swallowed. Tried to iron out the hopeless tangle in his thoughts.

“It comes from him, doesn’t it?” MacKenzie asked softly.

Young shook his head, not sure of anything in his own mind.

“Are you having any recurring dreams?” MacKenzie asked again.

“No,” Young rasped. “But he did. All the time.”

“Tell me about one.”

Young felt the memory rise like a flashback, playing out though his body, monopolizing the screen of his mind. “He’s in a tank. A tank of ionized water probably something like fifteen degrees centigrade.”

“That’s very specific.”

“Yeah well. Cold slows down metabolism. All cellular processes. Ionized water is an excellent conductor. Really good choice for prolonged telepathic torture.”

“Ah,” MacKenzie said delicately. “His time with the Nakai?”

“In cold that profound, mental processes slow. It’s impossible to think. And they hammered at him for hours. For days. And still he managed to hang onto every piece of tactically relevant knowledge. He let none of it slip. He gave them his experiences, his memories, the tools to dismantle his whole emotional life. Just handed them over. In service of a workaround. A workaround he elaborates over days.”

“What ‘workaround’?” MacKenzie asked.

“Control of his body. That’s what he wanted. Took days of torture to get there. But he does. And that’s where the dream picks up. When he regains control.” Young took a breath. He looked down and found his fingers clenched on the edge of MacKenzie’s desk. He relaxed his grip. Flexed his hands. Shook them out.

“What does he do?” MacKenzie asked.

“He reaches up. He pulls the breathing apparatus off his face and he inhales the water.” Young tapped the side of his temple. “He broadcasts as much spite as he can throw at them. And through the conductive water, the interface he’s wearing, he can feel they’re afraid. They are afraid of him, a delicate, ephemeral, dying thing that they do not understand.”

“What happens then?”

Young sat back. Shrugged. Crossed his arms. “That’s it. That’s the dream. He passes out from lack of oxygen. They get him out. They resuscitate him. Then they’re back at it.”

MacKenzie said nothing.

Young said nothing.

“How did he get there?” MacKenzie asked.

“What do you mean?”

“The tank,” MacKenzie said. “How did they capture him?”

Young shook his head.

“I’ve read the mission reports from Destiny. I’ve spoken with Dr. Volker. With Camile Wray. With Eli Wallace. With Colonel Telford.”


“Nick Rush had more than his fair share of horrors,” MacKenzie continued, undeterred. “I guess I find myself wondering, out of everything that might have haunted him, why that dream is the one you picked to describe.”

Young said nothing.

“I understand the Nakai found him on a barren planet.”

Young looked away.

“He’d been left behind. After a rock slide.”

Young shook his head.

“You thought he was dead,” MacKenzie said softly.

“We’re done here,” Young said.


But Young was already out of the room, reaching for a pack of cigarettes he wasn’t carrying as he headed for the elevators.

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