Ad Noctum: Chapter 4

"Oh, pretentious, are we?" Rush purred. "Did you learn that word for me? I'm flattered."

Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Injuries. Panic. Discussion of torture. References to  suicidality. Purposefully insensitive discussion of mental health issues. Boundary problems. Intrapersonal manipulation. 

Additional notes: None.

Chapter 4

They stood together in the transporter room. The dim gold of the walls felt close and confining, the dull metal pressing down upon Volker’s mind in a slow collapse.

“Just stick to what I told you,” Telford said, his eyes dark and serious. “You’ll be fine.”

Volker mouth was too dry to reply. He nodded, positioning himself next to Telford within the confines of the circle that had been etched onto the floor. He looked over at Rush, who was leaning against the wall. The mathematician’s stance was casual, his features impassive.

“Rush,” Telford said, with something less than his usual snap. “Glasses.”

Rush pulled off his square frames and placed them inside his jacket with an insouciant precision. He shook his hair back and gave Telford a twisted, superior smile.

“That attitude of yours is going to get you killed one of these days,” Telford said grimly, his eyes fixing on the wall rather than Rush.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Rush replied, straightening up and crossing the room in a few even steps. He turned sharply and positioned himself next to Volker. There was no trace of the terror that Volker had seen earlier in either his expression or his bearing.

Maybe he’d found something in the data.

Volker considered that to be extremely unlikely.

“When we make it back here,” Telford said, with a too-even cadence to his words, “we’re going to have to assume they left surveillance equipment behind, so act accordingly until I’m able to sweep for it.”

Volker nodded.


“Is this need for perpetual verbal confirmation of literally every statement you make a result of your military background or is it some—” Rush broke off, waving a hand, “personal quirk of your own?”

“I can see that this is going to go well,” Telford said, keeping a lid on his temper.

Volker tried to take a deep breath, tried to ground himself, but failed on both counts. His palms were damp and his mouth was dry and, in his chest, beneath where his heart pounded frantically, he could feel a strange unsettled, vise-like sensation, like someone had tied a knot in all his major vessels. And Rush—Rush was not helping.

“What is wrong with you?” Volker asked, his voice cracking as he turned toward the other man. “How can you be like this?”

“I’d work on improving your theory of mind, Dale,” Rush said dryly, not looking back at him, managing to turn his name into some kind of aspersion on his intelligence through tonal twist alone.

Volker stared at him, trying to think of something to say in return.

“Scintillating,” Rush said, after about three seconds. “And on that note, let’s get this over with, shall we?”

Telford reached over and clapped Volker’s uninjured shoulder in what Volker suspected was supposed to be a reassuring manner.

He was, in no way, reassured.

He had no idea why Telford, who had spent hours drilling him on his command of a relatively small number of facts about his cover story, who had critiqued his word choice, his bearing, his demeanor, and even what his eyes focused on, would allow Rush to go into the same situation with no guidance, no warnings, no attempt to bring his recklessness under any kind of control.

Maybe Telford had given up on Rush. Maybe that was the real reason the other man had been unwilling to send him home.

The rings surrounded them, solid, tonal, and uncomfortably close.  

When the rings receded, Volker found himself staring down a gun pointed straight at his face. There were several other guns that registered in his peripheral vision, but mainly he was concerned with the closest one. It was made of a dark silver material, and the diameter of the barrel seemed unreasonably wide.

He was too shocked to do anything other than stand there, looking at it.

“Hands behind your heads,” someone snapped.

Volker hurried to comply, trying to mask his wince as the motion pulled at his stitches. A flicker of movement to either side told him that Telford and Rush had also adopted the same pose.

“Who the hell is this?” The man on the other side of the weapon he’d been studying earlier was a good several inches taller than Volker, with deep-set eyes. He jabbed his gun forward.

Volker couldn’t help but flinch slightly. He swallowed and tried to work some saliva into his mouth so that he could answer.

“Dannic,” Rush said lazily. “Do me a favor and pull that trigger, won’t you? I can only stand so much inanity in my life and that one is not the sharpest of you lot I’ve dealt with. It’s possible he may be even stupider than you.”

Dannic swung the gun over to point it directly at Rush. “I look forward to the day that Kiva decides you’ve—”

“For fuck’s sake,” Rush said, speaking over the other man. “Fucking spare me the fucking rhetoric. Are you more eloquent in your native language? I’d like to believe that’s the case, but, try as I might, I find I just can’t imagine—” Rush broke off, stepping back into Volker as Dannic lunged forward.

Volker helped him as best he could, his good arm coming down reflexively to grip the leather of the other man’s coat and keep him steady. Rush pulled out of his grip immediately.

“Knock it off.” A blonde, powerfully built man was dragging Dannic back.

“I feel sorry for you,” Dannic snarled in Volker’s direction. “How do you handle dealing with this pretentious Tau’ri scum?”

Volker tried to look put-upon rather than terrified.

“Oh, pretentious, are we?” Rush purred. “Did you learn that word for me? I’m flattered.”

The blonde man had to yank Dannic back again. “What did I just say?”

“Rush,” Telford said quietly. “Enough.”

Slowly, everyone regained their composure, except for Rush, who had never lost his.

“This is Dale,” Telford said into the quiet. He gave Dannic a pointed look. “I don’t think Kiva would be very happy with you if you shot him. He’s Sixth House. I picked him up to—”

“Why the hell is he here?”

I picked him up,” Telford continued determinedly, “to help me out around the ship. As you might suspect, Rush isn’t very good at managing that sort of thing.”

Rush exhaled in a manner he managed to imbue with a significant degree of incredulity.

In his peripheral vision he could see Telford, his stance relaxed, move one hand to gesture at the array of guns that were pointed at them. “Guys. Come on. Isn’t this overkill? We’re unarmed. I’m sure you confirmed as much via your scans.”

“We also confirmed,” the blonde man said, “that there were three people on board your ship.”

“Yes, and now you know why,” Telford replied, his voice reasonable.

“This is not the time to be testing Kiva,” the blonde man replied, his voice brusque. “Your position is tenuous enough as it is.”

“Which is why we’re committed to completing the tasks she’s given us. Dale’s presence will free up Rush to spend more of his time on achieving our objectives,” Telford said smoothly.

Everyone seemed to be looking at Telford, so Volker allowed his eyes to dart around the space they’d ringed into. They were standing on a low platform, maybe five inches off the floor, in a large room filled with massive cylindrical containers the diameter of which seemed to be a near, if not exact, fit for the capacity of the ring transporter.

Most of his attention, however, was commanded by the group of six very armed, very capable looking people in leather outfits that had fanned out in front of them.

“I’ve brought along Dale’s credentials. If you’d like to confirm his identity, you’ll find the contact information for his next of kin on the data chip in my left front pocket.” Telford was utterly calm. Volker found himself feeling more confident by association.

The blonde man lowered his weapon to step forward and reach into Telford’s front pocket, then moved back, data chip in hand. “All right,” he said, gesturing with his weapon. “Let’s move.”

As they walked through the halls at gunpoint, it was difficult to keep his eyes from lingering on the unfamiliar, alien décor of the ship, but he forced himself to keep his focus on the nondescript leather jacket in front of him and off the wide, golden hallways, the hieroglyphic writing, or, most interesting, the obviously defaced statues that appeared in shallow alcoves all over the ship. 

The vessel was immense. It took them over five minutes of walking to reach their destination.

To Volker’s dismay, it turned out their destination was a gilded jail cell.

“You’ll wait here,” the blonde man said, “until Kiva decides how to proceed.” Volker stepped past him, following Telford and Rush into the cell, but the blond man grabbed his arm. “Not you,” he amended.

Volker didn’t trust himself to speak.

“Kiva won’t be happy if you—” Telford began.

“You let me worry about that,” the blonde man said shortly, pulling Volker away from the cell.

It took all of his willpower not to look back at Rush and Telford.

They walked in silence, flanked by the leather-clad entourage.

“You’re not much of a talker, are you?” Dannic asked, half turning as he walked, looking for trouble.

“Nope,” Volker said.

“I like that,” Dannic said. “Maybe if Kiva decides to—”

“Go,” the blonde man said, cutting Dannic off. “Take the team. Start the prep, in case she wants to use it on one or both of them. Then report to Kiva.”

Volker felt a cold thrill go down his spine. The “prep?”

“Calvos,” the blonde man said, holding up the data chip he’d gotten from Telford. “Get started on this.” Everything seemed to be moving too quickly.

The rest of the personnel peeled away, and Volker found himself alone with the blond man, who still had one hand on his arm. It wasn’t until the other man had looked back at him that he realized he’d been staring.


That was exactly the kind of thing he wasn’t supposed to do.

“You’re not going to give me any trouble, are you?” the blonde man said, his voice subtly threatening.

“No,” Volker managed.

The blonde man stopped in front of a door and hit the controls, waving Volker forward toward the table at the center of the room. It was plain, and looked out of place in the context of the golden décor. “Take a seat.”

He felt numb. He could barely force himself over to the table.

“Relax, Dale. We know exactly who you are, and why you’re here.”

Oh god.

Oh god.

His heart was hammering in his chest. He pulled the chair back. He could barely feel his fingers.

“Varro,” the other man said, holding out his hand.

Volker stared at it uncomprehendingly, completely frozen, trying to guess when and where the torture was going to begin.

“Oh right,” Varro said, dropping his hand. “That’s a Tau’ri custom.”

“Ah,” Volker replied, confused. “I see.”

“They call it a ‘handshake’,” Varro said.

“Oh,” Volker said, trying to kick his brain into gear and marshal more than ten percent of his intellect into working for him, rather than freezing up like crapping out hard drive. Though, to be fair, that glitchy hard drive had probably just saved him from giving himself away via handshake. “You said you knew why I was here?”

“It’s obvious that Telford is trying to curry favor with Kiva by bringing a member of her house onto his crew. You can’t really blame him.”

“Ah,” Volker replied, trying not to look too relieved.

“I’m sure you are exactly who you say you are,” Varro said. “Telford is too smart for anything else.”

Volker cast around for something to say that wouldn’t reveal anything. The possibility that he might escape being tortured made it easier to engage his brain. “So—what now?” he asked.

Varro shot him an appraising look.

Volker tried to think of any way what he had said could have been inappropriate. Maybe he should have known what was coming? He tried to keep his face neutral.

“Anything you can tell me about them would be helpful,” Varro said, watching him carefully.

“About them?”

“Yes. Rush and Telford.”

Oh crap.

He hadn’t been prepared for this and neither had Telford, apparently, because the possibility of Volker being questioned not about his own fictitious background but about Telford and Rush had not so much as been mentioned.

“I joined up with them about a day ago,” Volker said truthfully. “That’s not much time to get acquainted.”

“And I’m sure that timetable wasn’t accidental,” Varro said, almost to himself. “Just enough time to show you off, not enough time to allow you to gather any useful information. That’s Colonel Telford for you.”

Volker shifted in his chair, uncomfortable, and more than a little concerned. Was it possible that Telford was keeping him around so he could pass Volker off as a cousin of Kiva’s? Had he not sent Volker home because this ruse they were pulling could save Telford’s life? Or Rush’s?




He had to stay focused. They were in this situation because Rush had an impulse control problem, not because Telford had some kind of dark agenda. For all he knew, Varro was trying to rattle him into giving something away, and this was just as much about him as it was about Rush and Telford. He could evaluate the implications of whatever he learned later. Right now he needed to focus on staying alive and not breaking his cover.

“A master strategist,” Varro said, “and very determined in going after what he wants.”

“Oh yeah?” Volker said neutrally.

“I wouldn’t trade places with you, my friend, I’ll tell you that much.”

“As long as he keeps paying me,” Volker trailed off in what he hoped was a suggestive manner. He shifted again, unable to hold himself entirely still.

Varro nodded shortly. “Where did you meet him?”

“Rolan,” Volker said.

Varro raised his eyebrows. “Rolan. Really. I have an acquaintance there.” His eyes flicked subtly to Volker’s jacket.

Ice went straight down Volker’s spine.

“You probably know him. It’s not a big settlement.”  Varro continued. “Does the name Simeon ring any bells?”


“Tall guy?” Volker asked. “Bit of a temper? Jacket like this?” He yanked on the front of his jacket, trying to cover his nerves as he took a stab at a generic description of pretty much every LA member that he’d seen so far.

“That’s the one,” Varro said, with a small smile.

“We didn’t get along very well,” Volker said shortly.

“Not surprising.”

They looked at each other in silence.

“What do you think of Rush?” Varro asked, leaning back in his chair.

Volker was halfway through a shrug when he realized he should probably convert it into a shoulder roll. “He’s arrogant. Other than that, I can’t tell you much yet.”

“Do you know what he’s working on?” Varro asked.

“No,” Volker said.

“Personally,” Varro said, “I like him.”

Volker said nothing.

“I’ll miss his commentary,” Varro continued.

“Kiva’s not happy with him then, I take it?” Volker tried to keep any hint of desperation out of his voice.

Varro made an unfamiliar repetitive hand gesture that seemed to indicate uncertainty. “It’s hard to say. But, eventually, the need to keep him in line will outweigh the advantages of an unaltered mind. You know how it is.”

“Yeah,” Volker said, trying to quiet his nerves.

“You seem like a solid guy, Dale,” Varro said. “And, being Sixth House—well, I’m sure we could find a place for you here once these two are—reassigned.”

“I appreciate the offer,” Volker said neutrally. “Do you—“ he cleared his throat. “Do you see that happening any time soon?”

“It’s hard to say,” Varro replied. “Someone’s been passing the Tau’ri information for months now, and Kiva is suspicious that it’s these two. But—” Again Varro made the equivocal up and down hand motion. “She needs Rush.”

“I see,” Volker said.

“I could personally guarantee you a spot with us in the future,” Varro said, “if you would be willing to pass information back to Kiva at convenient intervals regarding their movements, along with anything else you may think we’d find useful.”

Volker did not want to accept. Unfortunately, he had the feeling that this was the kind of offer one didn’t walk away from. He looked at Varro. He was sure his indecision must be written all over his face.

“It would be discreet,” Varro said. “We’d equip you with a Goa’uld communication device. They’re very simple to operate. We wouldn’t expect reports at regular intervals. Just—whenever you find it to be convenient.”

“I’d be reporting directly to Kiva?” Volker said, trying to hide his dismay, trying to think himself out of the net that was closing around him.

“You’d report to me,” Varro said. “And you’d be compensated for your trouble in proportion to the value of the information you provide.”

Volker hesitated.

“If it makes a difference,” Varro said, “I don’t think Telford would kill you if he found out you were passing intel along behind his back. For one, you’re Sixth House and it would damage his relationship with Kiva. For another, the Tau’ri don’t generally kill in close quarters like that, except in self defense.”

“All right then,” Volker said, trying to force the despair out of his tone.

“Good man,” Varro said. “Good answer.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a small silver sphere and rolled it across the table.

Volker looked at it uncertainly.

“It’s the small version,” Varro said, as if that explained anything.

“Ah,” Volker said. “I see.” He pocketed the device without inspecting it.

The door opened behind him, and Volker jumped. He turned to see a girl with long red hair standing in the doorway. Volker wondered if she was Kiva, but decided that was unlikely, as she didn’t look particularly menacing.

“Everything checks out,” she said, looking in Varro’s direction. “Kiva wants to see you as soon as you’re done here.”

Varro nodded. “Ginn, this is Dale.”

“Hi,” the girl said. She looked about as nervous as he felt.

“Hi,” Volker replied.

“Can you escort him back to the holding cells? He can wait for his shipmates there.”

“Yes,” the girl said. “Of course.” Her hand came to rest delicately on her sidearm.

She reminded him of a graduate student.

A graduate student with a gun.

The walk back didn’t seem nearly as long and, though he was careful to be circumspect about it, he let his eyes wander a little more, trying to get a sense of the size of the ship, catching details he’d missed the first time around—the way certain strands of hieroglyphics seemed to be reliably defaced with a fluid black script in many different hands, the way the metal plating seemed to vibrate under his feet, the lack of windows, the way the girl next to him was surreptitiously watching the top of the walls, where the corridor joined with the ceiling.

There were gaps there. He wondered if they were being monitored.

They had almost reached the holding cells when she spoke. Her voice was low, and she didn’t look at him. “Dr. Rush,” she said quietly. “Is it true that he’s a scientist?”

“Yes,” Volker said, just as quietly.

“He does nothing else?” she whispered. “That’s his primary designation?”

“I haven’t known him very long,” Volker said. “But I think so.”

“If such a thing is truly possible with the Tau’ri,” she murmured, “why would he leave them?”

“I don’t know,” Volker replied, wondering if this was still a part of his interrogation. Somehow, he doubted it. “Do you—” he had no idea how to talk about the Lucian Alliance scientific community—if there even was such a thing. “Like science?”

He very nearly clapped his hand to his face, but he caught himself.

Ginn stopped in the hallway, her expression tight, her eyes dark and anxious.

“No,” she said, after a long pause, looking him dead in the eyes, as though to assure him of something. “I am much more interested in learning the use of military tactics to strengthen and broaden the reach of the Alliance to the best of my ability for the betterment of all worlds.”

“Yeah,” Volker whispered. “Me too.”

They looked at each other. Then they continued on in silence until they reached the holding cell.

“You may wait for your shipmates here,” Ginn said, opening the door and gesturing him through with a sweep of her hand.

He stepped inside and she hurried away. He looked out through the bars, watching her go, wondering what she would have made of a college education and a life on Earth with the “Tau’ri.”

After what Volker estimated was maybe three hours plus or minus two hours, they brought Telford back. 

Volker had dozed off, too exhausted to keep his eyes open, asleep against the wall with his good hand bracing his injured shoulder, when the sound of the door controls woke him.

Telford was dumped on the floor before Volker could organize an attempt get to his feet. 

He lurched forward, bracing his injured arm, and crouched next to Telford, carefully helping him onto his back before he remembered he was supposed to be a hardened member of the Sixth House of the Alliance. 

He stopped.

He tried to school his features into an indifferent mask. “Hey,” he said quietly. “Telford.”

The other man looked terrible. He had a long gash on his cheek and his eyes were mostly shut. He blinked up at Volker, disoriented.

“Nick,” Telford said.

“Nope,” Volker said. “It’s Dale.”

“I know,” Telford said hoarsely, shutting his eyes and pulling in a measured breath, “who you are.”

“Oh,” Volker said uncertainly.

“Where is he?”

“Not back yet,” Volker said shortly.

“Ah fuck,” Telford said, managing to turn himself onto his side and then force himself up on one elbow. He looked like he might be sick.

“What—” Volker cut himself off before he could say anything too revealing. “Can I do anything?”

“No,” Telford said, collapsing back to the floor and curling onto his side. “No.”

“All right,” Volker said quietly. He backed away to sit against the wall.

He couldn’t picture Rush outlasting Telford when it came to torture.

To think that last week, the worst thing he’d had to dread was the upcoming competing renewal for his grant from the NSF and the terrible emptiness of his personal life. God. He’d give anything to have those concerns back rather than this whole new set of things that seemed impossible to face.

He watched Telford shut his eyes and dig his nails into the metal of the floor, as if he were trying to close his fist straight through the metal.

Volker wondered if the man had been drugged, wondered if he’d been given the “prep” that Varro had mentioned earlier. How difficult would it be to tell if someone had been brainwashed? How long did it take? By what mechanism could it possibly be achieved?

Had it just happened to Telford?

Had it happened to Telford months ago? Years ago?

Would Telford even know whether it had happened to him or not? Or was it one of those things that would creep into one’s awareness, slow and insidious, like an invisible block that could be mapped only by its borders?

His hand flew to the small sphere that Varro had given him, tucked away in his pocket. That, at least, was real enough, but could he trust any of what he himself remembered? Could he trust his own mind?

Rush had implied that they had killed themselves—those ruined scientists, whom the LA had destroyed. But when? How long did it take them to realize what they had become? Did they know? Were they told? Was it obvious? Did they remember? Or did they just have to figure out how to map and test their own borders, how to do it always, until one day they found an edge that they couldn’t push beyond?

Was that, possibly, what Rush was doing?

And if so—was it his own borders he was testing, or Colonel Telford’s?

He sat in silence with his circuitous thoughts for what felt like hours.

Across the room, for no reason that Volker could see, Telford sat up.

“Hey,” Volker said. “Are you—”

Telford held up a hand to silence him, then stood, motioning Volker up at the same time. Distantly, Volker heard the sound of footsteps, echoing steady and sure over metal.

He stood.

The footfalls had a hard double click, as if they were made by high-heeled, rigid boots.

Telford’s face was completely frozen. Volker stepped forward to stand next to him.

She came into view, dressed entirely in black leather. Her hair was black and her eyes were black and her dark collar was high and austere. Varro walked next to her and slightly behind, his expression as frozen as Telford’s.


She was beautiful.

She was also the most terrifying thing Volker had seen in his life.

“Cousin Dale,” she said, stopping outside their holding cell, her voice low, nearly friendly. “Welcome to my employ.”

Volker nodded, not trusting himself to speak. What had she meant by that? Had she been referring to his ‘recruitment’ by ‘Telford,’ or was this a sign that everything was about to go to hell? 

“David,” she said, stepping laterally. “How are you?” Her hands closed around the bars. “We haven’t had a chance to speak in quite some time.”

“I’m a little worse for wear,” Telford said guardedly.

“Yes, I hear Dannic was somewhat exuberant during the course of your interrogation, but he tells me your loyalty is above reproach.”

“Of course it is,” Telford replied, respectfully.

Kiva stepped back, taking the door with her as she swung it wide, opening their cell. Volker fought down a surge of dread.

“You’re free to go,” she said.

Telford didn’t move. Volker stood his ground as well.

“What about Rush?” Telford asked.

“He’s waiting for you at the cargo transport.”

“In a box?” Telford asked dryly.

“Hardly,” Kiva said. “I am convinced of his loyalty as well.”

“Meaning what?” Telford asked.

“Meaning I am convinced.” Kiva’s voice sharpened to a knife edge. Varro and Telford flinched.

Kiva’s eyes snapped to Volker, her attention captured by his inappropriate stillness.

He shot a look at her that he was certain was a completely transparent window to the utter terror filling every square inch of his body.

She smiled faintly at him.

“He doesn’t favor the Sixth House, does he, Varro?” she asked, stepping toward Volker.

“His references check out,” Varro said. “He’s—”

“So you said,” Kiva spoke smoothly, her hand closing around Volker’s jaw like he was something she owned. He fought the urge to flinch away from her. “The eyes, perhaps,” she said after a moment of studying him. “What house was your mother from?” she demanded.

Telford had gone over that with him.  

“Fourth,” Volker managed. “Fourth house.”

“Hmm,” Kiva said, releasing him. “You take after her, then.” The sentence was delivered like a slap—hard and full of disdain, as if it were some kind of insult.

“Yes,” Volker said, a little steel entering his tone. “I do.”

Kiva smiled faintly. “So you have at least a fraction of a spine somewhere in there.”

Volker said nothing.

Kiva stepped laterally, her eyes almost even with Telford’s thanks to the heeled boots she was wearing. “David,” she said. “Be careful.”

“I always am,” Telford said neutrally.

“Be sure that you’re careful enough,” she said, her voice silken, the menace in her tone unveiled.

“Right,” Telford said.

She stepped back and turned to stalk out of the cell, glancing at Varro as she did so.

“If you’ll come with me,” Varro said, starting in the opposite direction from the one Kiva had taken. Telford and Volker fell into step behind him.

The walk to the cargo bay seemed very long.

Near the same place where Ginn had asked him about Rush, Telford stepped forward and asked Varro a question that Volker barely caught.

“Who was it?” Telford asked.

“Kiva,” Varro said, his voice clipped.

“The whole time?”


Telford slowed enough to bring himself even with Volker. Volker tried to catch Telford’s eye, and shoot him an inquisitive look. Telford shook his head and said nothing.

When they got to the cargo bay, other than the two guards inside the doors with their dusky silver weapons, there was no sign of anyone else. Volker tensed. Next to him, he sensed Telford do the same.

“Varro—” Telford began, his voice icy.

“He’s not on his feet,” the other man said, holding up a hand to forestall any further comment. “It was a long session.”

“Yeah,” Telford said shortly. “Okay.”

They walked forward, toward the platform they had ringed in on.

They had nearly reached it by the time Rush came into view. He was on the floor, his eyes half open, visibly shaking. He did not look normal. Volker had a hard time keeping his eyes on Rush so instead he looked at Telford.  

Telford studied Rush for a long interval, then looked over at Varro. “How the hell is he supposed to work like this? This is going to set us back by at least a day.”

“Then it sets you back,” Varro said. “Not my problem. Next meeting is in three weeks. Kiva says he’d better have a planet by then so that he can go back to the decryption.”

Telford sighed and then dropped into a crouch next to Rush. “Hey,” he half-shouted at the mathematician. “Get up.”

Volker winced subtly in sympathy before he remembered himself. His eyes flashed over to Varro, who was looking at Telford with a thinly veiled expression of distaste.

“Rush.” Telford tried again, slapping the man’s face, none too gently. “Get. Up.”

“Maybe you didn’t hear me,” Varro said. “It was a long session. I don’t think he’s going to be able to stand.”

Telford seemed to reach the same conclusion. “Dale,” he sighed, sounding put-upon. “Give me a hand here, will you?”

Volker knelt down, and together they pulled Rush to his feet, then managed to keep him there. They dragged him forward, toward the ring platform, and positioned themselves unsteadily in the center of the etched circle.

“See you in three weeks,” Varro said, catching Volker’s eye and giving him a small nod.

Volker nodded back before the sound and sight of the rings drowned everything else out.

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