Force over Distance: Chapter 92

“You happen over and over again. Wave to wave, salt to shore.”

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

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 92

“You gonna stay?” Sheppard teed up on Atlantis’s westernmost pier and sent a golf ball sailing into the sea.

Young leaned against the silvered naquadah alloy at his back and listened for a distant splash. The water was too bright to look at. “Not sure.”

Sheppard shielded his eyes against the glare and stared into the sunset. “Flip a coin about it, maybe. That’s what I did.”

Young snorted.

“Zelenka’ll be crushed if you go.” Sheppard pulled another ball out of his bag.

“You just got endless golf balls on tap, or what?” Young asked.

“Rodney makes these. Biodegradable. They come from kelp, somehow. He paints ‘em with a water-soluble coating so they don’t shatter when they meet—” Sheppard swung his club and sent the ball arcing into the sunset, “—a driver.”

“Nice of him.”

“You’re dodging my question.”

“This was a short term thing,” Young said. “Just the shield dynamics project.”

“You got other stuff on the front burner?”

Young shrugged.

Sheppard squared himself up, took another spectacular swing, and brought a hand to his eyes to track the ball’s descent toward the shimmering water. “It’ll be awkward if you go win a Fields Medal. Just sayin’.”

“Not gonna do that,” Young growled.

“You could start fresh here,” Sheppard said. “Math-forward. The only people on Atlantis who know you from before are me and Vanessa. Neither of us are talkers.”

“Aren’t you forgetting someone?” Young asked.

“Rodney? He doesn’t count. He met you on Destiny for all of ten minutes. You just feel like you go way back because he distorts spacetime so much.” Sheppard tried to keep the smile off his face. It worked about as well as it usually did.

Young sighed.

“You could fit in here.” An alien wind ruffled Sheppard’s hair.

“I’ll consider it.”

Sheppard stuck his driver back in his golf bag, then moved to stand at the silver rail that ran the edge of the pier. Young joined him.

Overhead, an almost-seagull rode the ocean breeze.

“You ever think about yourself, in all those other universes?” Young asked.

“Yep. Pretty sure there’s at least one where I’m a rigid, pencil-sharpening, card-carrying MENSA member.”

“Sounds specific.” Young felt the hint of someone else’s smile on his face.

“It is,” Sheppard replied. “We met an alternate McKay a few years back. He went by ‘Rod’. Wore a leather jacket. Life of the party. He told me about my alter ego.”


“It happened.” Sheppard grinned at the waves.

Young nodded.

“Why do you ask?”

Young shrugged.

“You thinking about your guy?”

“No more than usual,” Young said.

“There’s gotta be someplace he makes it,” Sheppard offered. “Even if it wasn’t here.”

“In a functionally infinite cosmos?” Young asked, as the sun sank into a bank of low clouds at the western horizon. “Sure. But functional infinitude is an assumption.”

Sheppard grinned at the darkening sky. “True. Don’t tell me you’re a simulationist.”

“Bit of a leap,” Young began.

“Am I wrong though?” Sheppard clapped him on the shoulder. “C’mon. You can horrify Ronon with Bostrom’s Trilemma over dinner.”

Young shook his head. “There’s something I need to finish.” He pulled a small notebook out of his pocket.

Sheppard shouldered his golf clubs. “Don’t let those energetic catenaries keep you out too late.”

Young waited until Sheppard was out of sight, then climbed the metal rail, just wide enough for a secure seat. He perched atop it and flipped his notebook open.

With the sun behind clouds, the glare was gone.

He sighed, running a thumb over a well-worn page, tracing the indentations of a forceful script in delicate paper.

“Now this,” Rush said, standing in Young’s peripheral vision as if he’d always been there, “is fair fuckin’ civilized.”

Young, startled, grabbed for the rail.

His notebook landed with a chime on the edge of the pier.

Rush looked up at him, uncertain. The sleeves of his crisp white shirt were cuffed at his elbows. His hair grew out of a short cut. The fringes of his bangs brushed the rims of his designer glasses.

The man looked as real as the fading day. Real as the rail he leaned against.

But the torn-open place in Young’s mind, the place that bled math and music, anger and anxiety, remained unchanged.

Right then.

Young took a breath. Recovered his equilibrium. “Fuckin’ finally.” He looked the scientist over, head to toe. “Though I have to say, I expected a bit more—accuracy.” Young swung his legs over the rail. His boots hit the naquadah pier with a hollow tone.

Rush straightened to face him, his expression uneasy. “Sorry to disappoint. Y’seem to be taking this rather well?”

“‘Rather well’? Do you have any idea how long I’ve been trying to achieve something like this?”

“Achieve?” Rush echoed faintly.

“A nice, customized psychotic break. Not so much to ask, given you left an entire personality in my brain.” Young took a breath. Dialed it back. “You’re not as convincing as I’d like.” He didn’t bother to hide his disapproval. “That’s fine. You’ll improve.”

Rush looked at him searchingly. “Yes well. You know me,” he murmured, with his pained half-smile. “Always seeking out the next, best iteration.”

“It’s fuckin’ exhausting,” Young growled.

“I know,” Rush whispered. “I know it is.”

They looked at one another. At their feet, the swell of the tide broke against the pier.

“In the interest of full disclosure,” Rush said, “I’m not your psychotic break.”

“Thank you,” Young replied, pulling out a pack of cigarettes, “for that unverifiable opinion.”

“Everett,” Rush whispered.

“What.” Young snapped his lighter open, trying to conceal the shaking in his hands. “What. What do you fucking want from me? You’re not even fuckin’ real. He’s dead.”

“Not quite,” Rush murmured.

“Shut up,” Young hissed. “Shut the fuck up, all right? I pulled everything forward partly because I couldn’t stand to keep shoving it back, but partly on the off chance that I could get ‘you’,” he paused to give not-Rush a pointed look, “to make an actual appearance, but I know what this is. It’s not real. Don’t fuck with me any more than you already have, you jackass.” He took a long, slow pull of his cigarette, trying to regain his fraying control. “I don’t need this shit from my neural architecture.”

Rush drew the cigarette out of Young’s hand, dropped it on the ground, and crushed it beneath his boot. He quirked a brow at Young, his expression caught between challenge and sympathy.

Young stared at the crushed cigarette on the Lantean pier.

He looked up at Rush and found the twilight streaking its whole spectrum through the man’s hair.

“That’s—” Young swallowed. “That’s pretty good for a psychotic break.”

“I do try,” Rush said, with the ghost of a smile.

“I know,” Young whispered.

Slowly, the scientist lifted a hand.

Young pressed their palms together, interlacing their fingers. The man’s skin was warm and solid under his own.

The sensation was unbearable.

“I think,” Rush breathed, “it’s time I fix the neural architecture problem I left you.”

Young said nothing. He stared at their entwined fingers.

“Yes?” Rush said.

“Yes,” Young whispered.

Nothing happened.

He tore his eyes away from their hands and looked at Nick Rush, lit in sunset colors.

“Take down your block.” Rush stepped closer, soundless on the polished pier.

“I’m not blocking.”

“You are.” Rush’s hand came around the back of Young’s neck. Delicately, he rested his thumb against Young’s temple.

“Impossible.” Young held his gaze. “For months, I’ve done nothing but pull you forward.”

“Intention and execution aren’t the same,” Rush said. “The architecture I gave you. Your memories of me. The void in your perception where I should be. They’re eroding your defenses. Your mind is a mess of barriers. You build them. I destroy them. Over and over.”

“It’s not your fault,” Young whispered into the quiet air.

“Of course it is,” Rush murmured, his features lit with the diffuse light at the western horizon. “Think of—” He broke off, searching Young’s expression. “Think of letting me in.”

They were centimeters apart.

“Terrible advice,” Young breathed.

Rush applied a careful pressure to the back of Young’s neck, his hand warm over rigid, tense musculature. Young let him move closer, his mind an apprehensive swirl, wondering what he’d find when his barriers came down, wondering which one of them, but knowing already—

Rush kissed him.

It was familiar and slow and careful and Young didn’t have to think about letting him in, he was pulling him in, body and mind, hands and thoughts, dark and light.

Rush’s presence flowed without resistance down a gradient of mental pressure, sweeping through his mind in a pour of energy that was bright and clear and controlled and complicated and as overwhelming as the man himself had ever been.

The edge of the western pier was warm beneath his back. Above him, Lantean towers, twilit-red and gleaming silver, stood stark against the darkening sky.

His head was in Rush’s lap. The scientist’s fingers trailed through his hair.

“How do you feel?” Rush asked, looking down at him.

“Weird,” Young murmured.

Rush smiled faintly. “Weird,” he repeated. “Not very informative.”

“Little more me. Little less you.”

“Good,” Rush whispered.

A spectacular, bright-fringed darkness pressed against Young’s thoughts. Vast. Structured like the sea. Currents and waves of light propagated through the deep. He reached for Rush’s face in the twilight, for a sea-foam shimmer in the scientist’s mind.

“Careful.” Rush caught Young’s hand.

“Of what?” Young let the amber ribbon of thought slip through his mental hold and dissipate.

“You, a wholly corporeal entity,” Rush said with a faint smile, “have no business sticking your metaphorical fingers in electrical sockets.”

“Bullshit,” Young whispered.

“Yes,” Rush admitted, losing his fight with his smile. “But what did you expect?”

“Good question,” Young growled. He sat. The tracklights at the edge of the pier came on. “What the hell took you so long? It’s been a year, Rush. I thought you were dead. You could’ve warned me about—I don’t know—this shit.” He yanked on a piece of his too-long hair. “You could have told me what you were planning.”

“I did warn you.”


“I believe there was a rather dramatic mention of ‘razing your consciousness to the ground’?” Rush said, delicate and dry. “Y’never listen to me.”

“Oh yeah. How could I forget something so clear and well explained?” Young muttered.

“There was less of a ‘master plan’ than you’re imagining.”

“That, I’ll buy. But what happened to ‘I’ll try and let you know?’ I thought you were dead.”

“I ran into some trouble,” Rush whispered.

“What else is new.” Young edged closer to the scientist. They sat shoulder-to-shoulder. “What kind of trouble?”

“There are hierarchies,” Rush murmured, “into which I do not easily fit. Stringent requirements have been placed on me. They’re still in place—I—”

Young cut to the chase. “They wouldn’t let you come back.”

“No,” Rush whispered.

“And you just went along with that?” Young asked.

“I did,” Rush said, “but—”

“Well thanks a lot,” Young growled. “You knew this would happen and you sent me through that gate anyway because you couldn’t handle—”

“Oh shut it, won’t you?” Rush leaned into his shoulder.

Young wrapped an arm around him.

“Nice fuckin’ hair, by the way,” Rush said, his voice raw.

“Kept forgetting to cut it,” Young admitted.

“I know how that goes.”

“I’m sure you do.”

Young shut his eyes to the brisk wind and focused on Rush’s mind, tracing his ties to each sinking shell, each breaking wave, each bright current, each dark tide.

“Y’haven’t asked me,” Rush whispered.

Young looked up at the night sky, where the brightest stars fought through the fading glow of day.

He thought of Gloria.

“That’s because I don’t need to, kiddo. I already know.”

“Do you?” Rush asked.

“Yeah,” Young said, his voice unsteady. “I don’t blame you.”

“This was the only way.”

“Through that last needle.” Young swallowed. “I know.”

“It may not make a difference to you,” Rush’s voice cracked with strain, “but all I was—is here.” He tapped his own temple. “The AI compressed itself, before the end.”

“An iterative bit-rate reduction,” Young said. “Yup. Eli told me.”

Rush nodded. “I’m mostly him,” he whispered. “But not quite. Not exactly.”

“Better?” Young asked faintly.

“Oh,” Rush breathed, “I don’t think so.” He shivered in the wind coming off the sea.

“Guess not,” Young murmured, one hand running up and down Rush’s arm. “What’s the plan?”

“Well,” Rush said, trying for light, ending up in teary. “Y’have a choice.”

Young watched the wind ruffle the pages of the notebook on the edge of the pier.

“You gonna tell me what it is?” Young murmured.

“Either,” Rush said, “y’tell me to fuck off, and y’go back to your life with your newly repaired neural architecture, or you and I—” He couldn’t finish.

“You and I do what?”

“You leave the material plane,” Rush said, his eyes fixed on the darkening sea. “We leave this brane. God knows what happens after that.”

Young nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

The light from the city and from the stars, which was really the same thing, streaked itself through Rush’s hair.

“It’s all right,” Rush whispered finally. “I understand. I thought y’might feel that way.”

“What?” Young asked.

Rush shook his head. “I understand.”

“You’re such an idiot,” Young whispered. “Of course I’m coming with you. I’d follow you anywhere. Everywhere. Do you understand how difficult it’s been to—” He couldn’t continue.

“Yes,” Rush breathed. “Yes, I know. But there are people here who care about you. Your family. The crew. And I’m not what you—” he toyed with the cuff of his white shirt. “I’m not precisely what y’wanted.”

Young pulled him in, pressing their foreheads together. “You’re it, genius,” he said, “in whatever form you take.”

Rush said nothing, but relief echoed through their link, clear and harmonic and profound. It nearly overwhelmed his consciousness before Rush hauled it back and tamped it down.

“That’s new,” Young whispered.

“Sorry,” Rush breathed.

They sat together, quiet in the gathering dark.

“Why didn’t you descend?” Young asked.

“I couldn’t,” Rush whispered. “I can’t. This,” he said, lifting a hand and flexing his fingers, “is a corporal workaround. Even now, I’m not in full descent. I can’t be. My consciousness won’t map to a human mind.”

“You can’t break away from the AI, now that you’re ascended?”

“No,” Rush whispered. “And even if I could, I wouldn’t.”

Young nodded.

They were quiet.

Carefully, Young leaned into the density of the other man’s mind, not fishing for light, just trailing thought-tendrils through dark water. Through their link, he felt a troublingly familiar ache.

“What’s the point of fusing yourself with the most sophisticated computer in existence if you’re still gonna have a headache at the end of the day?” he growled.

“Turns out my self-concept includes ‘headache’ as a central feature.” Rush’s thought patterns shifted, the shine turning bright, the dark turning depthless.

“You upping contrast to obscure signal?” Young asked.

Rush grinned, and Young caught a layered echo of paired feelings, paradoxical and intricate. Annoyed delight. Impressed anxiety. Desire and dread; passion and patience. “No,” Rush said, when the answer was an unambiguous “yes.”

“Didn’t think it was possible for you to get more complicated,” Young said.

“That’ll be a failure of imagination, I’m afraid,” Rush breathed.

“So why now?” Young asked. “Why this sunset?”

“You’ll find ‘now’ is a challenging concept,” Rush began delicately.

Young rolled his eyes.

“Yes well. Point taken. I’m sorry it took me so long. It’s been a bit of an uphill battle, working with the Council. They don’t particularly like me.”

“Nice to know some things never change,” Young said dryly. “What’d you do to piss them off?”

“Haven’t the fuckin’ faintest,” Rush said, all artless innocence.

“And I’m pretty sure you do.”

“They’re not particularly fond of my ambiguous status: a blended Ancient, human, and anathematic piece of abandoned technology. My existence itself breaks rules.”

“Is that all?” Young asked.

“I’m also,” Rush said, sounding pleased with himself, “untethered from this D-brane.”

“What does that mean?” Young asked, raising his eyebrows. “I thought you couldn’t tear through.”

“I didn’t tear through,” Rush replied. “I left the brane. I was, in fact, invited t’leave it. However, in order to preserve our mental continuity,” he paused, tilted his head, and caught Young’s eyes, “I did find I needed t’shred the fabric of existence.”

Young raised his eyebrows.

“Just a bit. It was an unintended consequence of the manner in which I ascended,” Rush said, unable to hide his smile as he looked out over the darkening waves.

“Right. Unintended.”

“Always so suspicious,” Rush murmured, shaking his head with aggrieved amusement. “An’ rightly so, I suppose. Point being, my little proof-of-concept ruffled a few feathers.”

“Can’t wait to find out all the things you’re not telling me.”

“They’re manifold,” Rush whispered.

 Behind them, the city’s night-spectrum lights swept over darkening towers in a gorgeous wave.

“Did you do that?” Young asked.

“I don’t know,” Rush said, math-professor dry, leaning back on one hand to look up at the lights. “Does it happen every night?”

“Uh, yeah.”

Rush smiled faintly at the towers shining against the dark. “Do me a favor and make an effort toward the application of valid inference and correct reasoning? Start now. I know you’re capable of it.”

“God, you’re a lot of work,” Young said.

“We can take that as given,” Rush’s half-smile evened out into something that Young had only ever seen a few times. “There’s no need to continuously state it.”

“So how’d you convince them to let you come for me?” Young asked.

Rush’s expression lost its amused cast. He looked away, over the dark waves. “There are layers of answers, Everett. They’ll unfold over time.”

“So I’m gonna hate this,” Young said.

“Parts of it, yes.”

“Bottom line it for me?”

“I consistently, persistently, and without fail, argued the same point for thirteen months.”

“What point were you arguing?”

“That you and I,” Rush whispered, his gaze so intent it was unbearable, “are not truly separate things.”

“No,” Young said, unable to look away. “I suppose we’re not.”

“For better or worse, the Council agrees.”

“Good. Let’s do this,” Young said.

“It doesn’t have to be now,” Rush murmured. “There’s more to tell you—”

Young shook his head. “I’ll learn as I go.”

“Once you ascend,” Rush cautioned, “y’won’t be able to interact with this plane.”

Next to him on the silver pier, the pages of his notebook fluttered in the wind. Young caught its edge with his fingertips and dragged it within reach.

“Is that mine?” Rush asked, a brow quirked.

“Yup. 1998. You know you nearly had the Hodge Conjecture worked out?”

“Algebraic topology was a hobby in the late nineties.”

Young snorted. “I know.”

“I suppose you would.”

Young flipped to the front cover and wrote a brief message.

Shep—tell Eli he was right.

He signed his name, and his handwriting was his own again.

Rush swiped the notebook from Young and eyed the message skeptically.

“What?” Young asked. “It’s succinct.”

“True.” Rush motioned for the pencil and added a post script.

Young grabbed the notebook back.

Don’t worry about us, Eli.

Young snorted. “He’ll hate that.”

“I know.” Rush’s tone was unmistakably fond.

Young stood and offered the scientist a hand. “Aren’t you supposed to be glowing or something?”

“Yes, actually. Thanks so much for noticing.” The scientist let Young pull him up and into his personal space. “I can’t fuckin’ stand wisping at my own edges.”

“Uh huh,” Young wrapped an arm around the man’s back. “Nice work. But how are you managing all this glow-free corporeality without also manifesting the ship?”

“You’re sharper than I remember,” Rush said, staring into his eyes. “I’m sure that’s my influence.”

“And you,” Young said, “are—

“Don’t say it,” Rush cut in, his voice low and amused. 

Trouble,” Young finished. “But you’re worth it.”

“Yes rather.” Rush shook his hair out of his eyes.

Young set his notebook, Rush’s notebook, against a silver wall, in a small corner, sheltered from the wind. He looked at it for a long moment, thinking of the fragility of paper and pencil. Of the sea. Of the wind. Of the timeless naquadah alloy beneath his feet, which already seemed more alive to him than the people within it.

“I thought you wouldn’t make it,” Rush whispered, standing at his shoulder.

“I thought you didn’t make it, genius.” Young turned to face the man, tipped his chin up, and looked for the amber in his eyes. “Let’s lock it in. Do your thing already.”

“What about your family? Tamara?” Rush paused. “Emily?”

“There are letters on file at the SGC,” Young said. 

“Are you sure you’re ready?”

“Yeah,” Young said. “I’m sure.”

Rush extended his hand in the darkness.

Young took it.

Like a slow wave, Rush flooded into his mind, into every aspect of him, throwing all that he was into stark relief. The dig of blades into the ice, the rush forward and the pull back, the feel of his fingers against the cool, familiar planes of an assault rifle, Emily, his brothers, TJ, his daughter, the memory of math, of a mercy killing, of leaving a man to die, of a half-human girl kissing his cheek in a cold hallway—

“Let it go,” Rush whispered.

His hair, his shirt, his skin began to glow.

“Everything that’s happened, everything you’ve done, is only a permutation of who you truly are.”

Young looked at him.

“Circumstantially defined,” Rush continued, “depending sensitively on initial conditions, your path deterministic but unpredictable within the confines of a system containing more variables than could ever be formally described.” His voice was quiet and low, his outline subsuming into edgeless illumination. “You happen over and over again. Wave to wave, salt to shore.”

Young let the images come faster and they passed before him without restraint, without remorse. TJ, her hair lit to blazing beneath fluorescent light. The cold of the North Platte River. Daniel Jackson curling into his own darkness. The fluctuations of an open gate. And Nick Rush, smoking a cigarette, on a hill overlooking the sea.

“That’s it exactly,” Rush said.

Young looked down at their clasped hands. His fingers, his palms, his wrists, his clothes were illuminated at their edges.

A strange sensation crept along his arm. The painless sear of matter to energy. It came on like a wave.

The feel of the ground under his feet, of the night air over his skin, began to fade.

“Let go,” Rush whispered, their thoughts interweaving.

Their boundaries blurred and mingled. They lit up the darkness, reflecting off the waves, the naquadah, the white pages of a wind-blown notebook, inscribed with math and memory.

And, in the end—

He let go.

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