Ad Noctum: Chapter 5
Maybe Dale from the Sixth House was a nice guy.
Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Injuries. Panic. Discussion of torture. Discussion of suicide. Purposefully insensitive discussion of mental health issues. Boundary problems. Interpersonal manipulation.
Additional notes: None.
Volker knew that he had fully rematerialized in the transporter room when the subtle shaking that wracked Rush’s frame faded back in a muted escalation.
The question of what had happened to Rush and Telford while he had been cooling his heels in that cell was almost too much for Volker’s already strained mind to bear. He was afraid to find out, but worse than that was the fear, the knowledge—that he would never know for certain.
Nevertheless, with Rush so clearly a complete wreck but without any obvious injuries, Volker couldn’t help the unsettling suspicion that Rush might have gotten whatever the “prep” was that Varro had mentioned. But he couldn’t ask. Not yet. He couldn’t say anything. All he could do was edge in closer, trying to take as much of Rush’s weight as possible.
He looked over at Telford, trying to convey a sense of what-the-heck-do-we-do-now via his gaze alone.
Telford’s eyes bored into him as the other man shook his head once in an unmistakable warning.
“Rush,” Telford snapped, his voice unnecessarily loud, his tone at odds with the caution in his eyes. “Can you plot a course, or are you going to be fucking useless?” His gaze scanned the room as he spoke, looking for something that Volker could only guess at.
“Piss off, David,” Rush muttered.
“You watch your fucking mouth,” Telford said shortly, again at a slightly elevated volume. As he spoke, he caught Volker’s eye and then carefully stepped forward, pulling Rush across the etched circle on the floor. “I’m sure that’s what got you into this state in the first place.”
“Oh I’m sure Kiva—“ Rush staggered, and Volker winced, feeling the pull of the other man’s weight against the stitches in his injured shoulder, “—appreciates my witty commentary as much as your next pseudo-enlightened despot.”
“Oh yeah,” Telford said, with an exasperation that didn’t reach his eyes. “I’m sure you’re making a great impression.” With a careful precision totally at odds with his tone, he reached across Rush’s chest, pulling the man away from Volker. He grabbed the front of Rush’s jacket, swept his feet, and lowered him to the floor in a gently orchestrated fall.
Volker was impressed.
Rush was not. He immediately struggled to sit, but Telford pressed him back.
“Just stay here,” Telford mouthed silently at Rush, his expression concerned. “Stay.”
Rush narrowed his eyes.
Telford gave him a pointed, steady glare, then looked up at Volker. “Watch him,” Telford said shortly, looking up at Volker. “I’m going to get us out of here.”
“Don’t you need—” Volker began.
“No,” Telford said quickly, before Volker could complete the question. “Stay here. Make sure he doesn’t set the ship on fire.” He held Volker’s gaze and then mouthed, “No talking.”
Volker nodded, and Telford shot to his feet, exiting the room.
Volker took a deep breath, trying to release the tension in his nerves to little effect. His heart continued to anxiously race away. He dropped into a crouch next to Rush, trying to catch the other man’s eye. Rush wasn’t looking at him. His eyes were half shut and he was still—god, he was still visibly shaking.
Volker had the urge to take off his jacket and give it to the other man, but he hesitated, figuring that was probably not something Dale from the Sixth House would do.
Maybe Dale from the Sixth House was a nice guy. There must be nice people in the Lucian Alliance. Ginn, for one, had seemed pretty okay.
He decided to hell with it. He pulled off his jacket and carefully draped it over the other man; Stockholm syndrome and putative-concealed-video-surveillance-equipment be damned.
What the hell had they done to Rush?
Had they brainwashed him? If they had, would it look like this? He had no way of knowing, and he didn’t, he couldn’t trust Rush or Telford enough to ask them. He could feel his heart, racing out of control, trapped in his chest, trapped on this ship, in a situation that had gone from terrible to untenable in the span of thirty six hours.
The walls pressed down upon him and he shut his eyes, trying to think of anywhere but where he was, trying to think of fields. Of panoramas, of vistas, of the endlessness of space but failing, consistently failing until he thought of Caltech—of the lawn outside the Planetary Sciences Building where the undergraduates would do their problem sets when the weather was nice. Rectangular. Green. Framed by elegant buildings.
There, no trees blocked the sun.
It was okay.
He pulled in a deep breath.
He was a scientist. A good one. And right now he was just—defining his question. Which was gonna go something like: whom, if anyone, had been brainwashed?
The unfortunate truth of it was that he didn’t know, and no amount of mental gymnastics were going to facilitate acquisition of that knowledge. His question was currently unanswerable, but that didn’t mean it would always be so. He needed to gather data.
He looked back at Rush, who was now watching him.
“Hey,” Volker mouthed silently.
Rush nodded fractionally at him.
“You okay?” Volker mouthed.
Rush gave him a choppy, painful-looking shrug that Volker decided to translate as: “Absolutely not.” The man reached into his jacket and pulled out his glasses, trying to unfold them with shaking hands. Gently, Volker reached over to help him settle them into position.
They waited in silence for Telford to do whatever it was that he was doing—scanning for bugs, or starting the engines, or plotting a course, or all three.
The quiet felt raw against his nerves. The need to talk to Rush was overwhelming.
But Telford had said no talking.
Besides, what exactly would one say to someone who had just been tortured? Volker didn’t think there was really any standard set of things to say. Well, maybe there was, somewhere, invented by some psychologist. But it seemed like probably one would just say normal things. Whatever. Anything.
He wondered if Rush liked music.
Telford hadn’t even started the engines yet. He must be scanning the ship first. Or maybe he was very slow at plotting courses by himself.
Volker looked back down at Rush. His eyes were half closed.
Still, the shaking continued. The guy looked totally miserable.
He couldn’t just sit here and watch this. He wasn’t a monster. He wasn’t about to let his circumstances make him into a monster, either.
As surreptitiously as possible, he shifted closer to Rush. He repositioned his own jacket slightly and then reached down into the space between himself and the mathematician, which was hopefully blocked from the view of any hypothetical surveillance equipment. Without looking, he found one of Rush’s hands and gently pried it open, flattening it palm up on the deck.
Rush seemed to do his best to hold it there.
Using the tip of one finger, Volker traced a single line across Rush’s palm. Then another. Then he traced a three. Then a five.
Rush looked up at him, his gaze sharpening.
Volker repeated the sequence.
1, 1, 3, 5.
Then he held out his own palm, positioning it at an angle that Rush could easily reach.
Rush slowly traced an eight. He paused, and then added the number thirteen, the one and the three coming in quick succession.
Volker traced a new set of numbers.
2, 7, 1, 8.
Almost immediately, Rush responded with a two and then an eight, after which point he smacked Volker’s palm with two fingers in clear irritation, apparently unimpressed with Volker’s choice of integer sequence.
Volker shot him a look.
2, 3, 3, 5, 10, 13.
He waited a few seconds with his palm out, and then retraced the pattern. Rush came up with thirty-nine and forty-three.
Volker pursed his lips and cocked his head, trying to shoot Rush a look that said, “Not bad.”
Rush rolled his eyes.
Volker jumped as the engines started up with a vibration that traveled subtly though the deck plating.
Rush looked at him expectantly.
Clearly something harder was going to be called for. He chewed his lip subtly for a moment, watching Rush watch him impatiently. Finally, he had one.
13, 17, 31, 37, 71, 73.
This one was a bit trickier, in that it didn’t involve computation per se, but Rush nailed it after only about half a minute with a seventy-nine and a ninety-seven.
Rush smacked his hand again, apparently signaling his distaste for Volker’s chosen sequence. This time, Volker subtly flicked him back with one finger. Rush flinched, the movement punctuating his almost continuous shuddering, and making Volker feel like a complete jerk. He caught Rush’s eye and made a face that he hoped conveyed the half-guilty and half-horrified tenor of his thoughts.
Rush narrowed his eyes.
Rush flattened his hand against the deck plating.
0, 3, 8, 15—
Volker broke off as the door swished open and Telford strode in. He shot Volker an irritated look, which Volker guessed was probably due to the fact that he’d draped his jacket over Rush, because there was no way that he could have seen the integer sequence game from where he’d been standing.
“Is he still alive?” Telford asked, sounding bored. He dropped into a crouch and surreptitiously handed Volker a small piece of notebook paper.
“Yeah.” Volker said shortly, unfolding the paper as Telford grabbed his leather jacket and pulled it away from Rush, throwing it at him in such a way that it concealed the small piece of paper. Telford’s handwriting was neat and fluid.
There are three devices on the ship. One on the bridge. One in the sleeping quarters. One is in this room, probably on either you or Rush. Check your clothes.
“Fucking scientists,” Telford said conversationally, as he carefully turned Rush over onto his back. “They fall apart under even the slightest hint of pressure, you know?”
“Yeah,” Volker agreed, a subtle widening of his eyes the only expression of dissent that he allowed himself. “They’re pretty worthless.”
“Who needs math anyway?” Telford asked with a dark hint of a smile. He caught Rush’s eye and held a finger to his lips very briefly before he pulled the other man’s jacket open. Telford started running his fingers over the leather, methodically tracing seam lines and plunging his hands into pockets in a relentless, methodical progression.
Rush didn’t put up any kind of fight.
“Not me,” Volker said, trying to keep the irony in his tone from becoming at all noticeable. “That’s for sure.” He started to copy Telford’s methodical examination of his own jacket until he realized with a sudden thrill of insight that he likely knew exactly where the device was.
It had to be the small sphere in the pocket of his jacket that Varro had given him. Was there any conceivable harm in telling Telford about it?
He glanced over surreptitiously, watching the other man run his fingers beneath and along the collar of Rush’s jacket.
He looked back at the little sphere, dark in the depths of his pocket. If he gave this thing to Telford, it would take away the only edge in this entire scenario that he had. If things really went downhill it might be his only chance of coming out of the situation alive. Granted, if things came to that, if he took Varro’s offer and joined Kiva, he’d be signing himself up for a life of Space-Pirating—not exactly something he was excited about, but certainly better than death.
He looked over at Telford. The other man had Rush’s jacket off entirely. He had thrown it aside and had started running his fingers over Rush’s shirt, tracing the seams, the collar, his expression intent.
But if Telford, or Rush for that matter, had either already been brainwashed, or were, hypothetically brainwashed at some point in the future, than whether or not he was reporting to Kiva would likely end up being a moot point. He couldn’t imagine that he would go unpunished for being someone other than whom he appeared to be.
Telford was pulling off Rush’s boots.
This was getting ridiculous. He needed to say something before it looked to Telford like he was covering anything up, because he was sure that the thing in his pocket, whatever it was, was the thing that Telford’s scan had detected.
Volker reached over and tapped the other man on the shoulder, interrupting his methodical examination of Rush’s left boot.
Volker pulled out the small silver sphere and held it aloft for Telford’s inspection.
Telford looked up.
The dull metallic surface of the sphere shimmered.
Telford hit the thing out of Volker’s hand with so much force that it cracked against the opposite wall and rebounded back against the floor where it rolled rapidly toward them. With a speed that was difficult to follow, Telford threw Rush’s jacket at the thing, stopping its forward momentum and trapping it beneath the leather.
Volker stared at Telford in shock.
Telford glared at Volker and then shifted over, carefully wrapping the sphere entirely in Rush’s jacket, not touching the thing at all with his bare hand.
“What?” Volker mouthed.
“Later,” Telford mouthed back, getting to his feet, holding the jacket in both hands. He looked at Volker, letting his gaze shift pointedly to Rush and then back. “No talking,” he mouthed again.
The door hissed open and then shut again.
Volker looked over at Rush. His eyes were half open and he was still shaking. As he watched, Rush twisted onto his side and curled into himself, his head resting on one arm.
Before Volker could start up the Integer Game again, Telford came back into the room and dropped into a crouch, holding what appeared to be a Lucian Alliance equivalent of a military canteen.
“Listen up,” he said speaking quietly. “This room is now reading as clear, but I don’t know how sensitive the other two devices are, so we’re going to have to keep it down until we figure out what to do about them.”
“Can’t we just shut them off?” Volker whispered.
“That’s not going to look good,” Telford replied absently. He was watching Rush, who didn’t seem to be paying attention to anything going on around him.
“Hey,” Telford said, his hand closing on Rush’s shoulder. “Nick.”
“What?” Rush murmured, not focusing on him properly.
“What happened?” Telford murmured.
“What does it look like?” Rush asked. “I achieved all of my objectives with flawless execution.” He shut his eyes.
Telford smiled faintly. “Were you ever unconscious?”
“No,” Rush whispered. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, that’s something,” Telford said.
“She was in a very reasonable mood.”
Volker exhaled, short and incredulous.
“Yeah, she seemed pretty chipper,” Telford said, rolling his eyes subtly as he inverted the water bottle several times.
“She likes me,” Rush murmured, his eyes still shut. “I can tell.”
“I hope she didn’t put you into renal failure,” Telford murmured, dryly. “Come on, sit up.”
“Renal failure?” Volker repeated, nonplussed, helping Telford pull Rush into a sitting position and then holding him steady while Telford shook the canteen several times.
“I’m not drinking your fucking water,” Rush said, mostly leaning against Volker. “You clearly put something in it.”
“Yeah,” Telford replied. “I did. There’s a shit-ton of bicarbonate in here, which you had damn well better drink.” His eyes shifted to Volker. “Electrical current used to elicit pain also causes intense prolonged skeletal muscle contraction for the duration of the stimulus,” he said shortly. “If you’re subjected to it for hours—your muscles become injured and break down, which can fuck over your kidneys if it’s bad enough.”
“Great,” Volker said. “How do you know if it’s ‘bad enough’?”
“Your piss turns black,” Telford said.
“And you know this because—”
“Because it’s happened to me,” Telford whispered shortly.
“Oh,” Volker said, a bit weakly. “Obviously. And the bicarbonate helps?”
“Yeah.” Telford eyed Rush forbiddingly. “So drink it.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Rush,” Telford hissed, clearly irritated, “what the hell do you think is going to happen, exactly? It’s not fucking poisoned.”
“I’m not drinking that,” Rush murmured.
“Why. Because I want you to?”
“Yes,” Rush hissed. “That’s exactly why. Now fuck off and leave me alone. I’ll make my own bicarbonate water. Later.”
“God damn it,” Telford hissed. “I'm trying to help you. You can’t even sit.”
“Untrue,” Rush said, pulling away from Volker and sitting under his own power. “Get the fuck away from me, both of you.”
Telford stared at Rush, his jaw locked, his eyes dark and glittering. “Fine. I’ll just leave this here.” Telford shook the canteen. “You can either drink it, or lie here while your kidneys necrose.” He got to his feet. “I’ll come back in half a day to see if you’re dead.”
“Umm,” Volker said, looking skeptically up at Telford. “Why don’t we just—”
Telford yanked him to his feet and dragged him toward the door, away from Rush. He was too surprised and unbalanced to pull away until they were practically already out the door, at which point Telford shoved him into the hallway, hard enough to cause him to lose his balance and half fall against the opposite wall.
He shot Telford a look of horrified incredulity as the door swished shut.
“What the hell are you—”
Telford cut him off with a furious look and a short hand gesture. Then he stepped in, very close to Volker. “Quietly,” he hissed. “LA surveillance devices are very sensitive.”
“Okay fine,” Volker whispered back. “But you can’t just leave him in there. He—”
“You’ve been here for what?” Telford hissed. “Maybe thirty-six hours? You think you understand anything about what’s really going on here?”
“No, but I know you can’t leave a half-conscious injured person lying on the floor. He can’t even get up. He—”
“He’s got to drink the bicarb,” Telford whispered, “and the more I try to convince him that he should, the more he’s going to resist. It would take fucking hours and it would fucking exhaust everyone and we all need to fucking sleep.”
“Look,” Volker said. “I’ll talk to him. He—”
“You want to go in there and do what? Spout some sensitive NPR bullshit? Give him a fucking hug? Go ahead. Try it. See how far it gets you.”
“I just think that—”
“No,” Telford hissed. “No thinking. Right now, you and I are going to the bridge and we are going to look busy and have a conversation about how fucking annoying Rush is, because until we figure out how we’re going to deal with these surveillance devices, we’re going to have give the impression that we don’t know they’re there.”
“Can I go let my cat out of the wall first?” Volker whispered, finding a somewhat rebellious appreciation in the irony of being reasonable in the face of an unreasonable situation.
Telford exhaled, short and irritated. “Make sure it doesn’t make it out of the cargo bay. If we fucking get killed because of that cat—”
Volker turned on his heel and walked down the hallway toward the aft portion of the ship. He opened the cargo bay door and stepped inside. The lights here, like everywhere, were dimmed down in a sad demi-night that sapped at what remained of his energy.
He knelt down and pulled the paneling away from the wall, revealing Mendelssohn curled up in a nest of his shirts, sleeping contentedly. “Hey buddy,” Volker whispered, leaning the paneling against the wall. The cat blinked at him sleepily, but otherwise seemed disinclined to move.
He considered the pluses and minuses of relocating the litter box and the cat food back out into the main area of the cargo bay, but decided that maybe it was better that Mendelssohn’s stuff stayed inside the shielded bulkhead, in case of any type of emergency.
“You’re not bored?” he whispered, reaching over to scratch behind the cat’s ears. “Sorry you got locked in the dark for a while there.”
Mendelssohn meowed a bit plaintively and sniffed at the cuff of his unfamiliar jacket, and then reached out a paw to bat at his wrist.
“Yeah,” Volker said. “I hear ya.” He considered a moment and then pulled the cat out of the small space, settling him over his good shoulder. “Telford can wait for three minutes, right?” he murmured, running a hand over the cat’s back. He stood and scanned the cargo bay, making sure that nothing looked amiss, and then headed for the door.
“Shh,” he whispered. “No meowing. And no running away, either. Otherwise no more field trips for you. This is a highly covert operation right here. Are we clear on that?”
Mendelssohn purred softly.
“Okay,” Volker murmured. “Here we go.”
The cat startled slightly at the hiss of the door controls but was otherwise well behaved on the walk down to the transporter room. Volker opened the door and stepped through, half turning to shut it behind him. Rush was lying on the floor curled on his side, still shaking.
“Hey,” Volker whispered, dropping into a crouch. “How are you doing?”
“Fine,” Rush said, his eyes closed.
“Look,” Volker whispered. “I’m supposed to go have a fake conversation with Telford on the bridge, but my cat is pretty lonely after being trapped in a wall all day. If you’re just going to be lying in here on the floor anyway—”
“Oh very subtle,” Rush said dryly.
“Eh,” Volker shrugged. He reached over and dragged the canteen that Telford had left closer to Rush. Then he pried Mendelssohn off his shoulder and set him down immediately next to Rush. “Be nice to my cat.”
“I’ve been nothing but nice to your cat,” Rush whispered hoarsely, watching Mendelssohn delicately bat at the canteen.
“True,” Volker said, “which is why I’m giving you my cat and not some, and I quote, ‘sensitive NPR bullshit’.”
Rush gave him a wan smile. Volker gave Mendelssohn a final pat, and was about to stand up when the other man reached out, icy fingers closing on his wrist. Volker looked over at him.
“Were you ever unconscious?” Rush whispered. “Is there any time you can’t account for?”
“No,” Volker replied, his gaze locked on Rush. “Is that what they do?” He paused. “But would I even know if I was unconscious? Would I remember? If they can implant loyalties, can they implant memories?”
Rush looked at him, his eyes half-closed. “You’re beginning to understand.”
“You have to help me,” Volker whispered desperately. “You have to tell me what you know.”
“But,” Rush said soundlessly, with a twisted smile, “how could you ever believe anything I say?”
“No one can live like this,” Volker said, his voice cracking, “without going insane.”
“Oh I’m aware,” Rush replied, shivering.
Volker shut his eyes against a sudden hot sting, and fought against the deep, instinctive, anger he felt toward Rush—toward this academic pyromaniac who had destroyed his old life, who had literally burned it to the ground, who had ripped from him everything he’d spent his life working towards—-only to plunge him into some kind of absurdist Space Nightmare.
He pulled in a deep breath, ran a hand over Mendelssohn’s back, got to his feet, and left the room without a backward glance. He stood in the dim hallway, trying to steel himself against—well, the remains of his presumably short life.
He really couldn’t see any way by which things were going to end well for him. No matter whom the LA got to—himself, Rush, Telford—it was only a matter of time before his true identity was revealed. Maybe it already had been.
What in god’s name was he going to do?
He walked toward the bridge.
Telford turned in his seat when Volker walked in. “Dale,” he said shortly. “What took you so long?”
Volker shrugged as he slid into the copilot’s seat. “I had a few things to take care of.”
“Did you check on Rush?” Telford asked, his tone casual.
“Yeah,” Volker replied.
“Did he drink the water?”
“Not yet,” Volker replied, trying to guess what Telford wanted conveyed to whomever might be listening. “Are you going to keep him trapped in that room all night?”
Telford shot him a look that Volker thought was probably approval. “Just until he drinks it.”
“You put anything in it?” Volker asked, forcing his voice to stay casual.
Telford shot him a look that was a bit more measured this time around. “Of course I did. Standard post-interrogation cocktail.”
“Yeah, of course,” Volker said, wondering what the heck was in a ‘standard post-interrogation cocktail,’ and also whether Telford had really given any such thing to Rush.
He hated his life.
“Are you testing me?” Telford snapped, his tone abruptly hostile. “You think I don’t know the protocol?”
Telford was much better at this than he was.
“Clearly you do know it,” Volker said, trying to sound offhand and cagey, but pretty sure he just sounded nervous.
“You’re damn right I know it,” Telford hissed. “If you doubt my loyalty I’ll be happy to drop you off at the next spaceport. Because I don’t need that from you. You got that?”
“I was just curious,” Volker said, backpedaling. “I wasn’t sure, since you’re both from Earth, whether the same standards applied to—”
“Of course they do,” Telford said, sounding mollified. “Even though I’m originally of the Tau’ri,” Telford paused, putting a subtle emphasis on the word, giving Volker a pointed look, “I take my affiliation very seriously.” Telford paused, presumably allowing the manufactured tension to leave the air. “You know I was formally inducted into Sixth House myself.”
“Really,” Volker said, not needing to feign interest.
“Yeah,” Telford said. “Sponsored by Kiva, actually.”
“That’s—“ Volker searched around for something appropriate to respond with. “That’s quite an honor.”
“You’re damn right it was,” Telford said quietly.
“I didn’t mean to cast any doubts on your loyalty,” Volker offered.
“I understand,” Telford replied.
There was a short pause.
“What about Rush?” Volker said. “Was he formally inducted into the Sixth House as well?”
“Yes,” Telford said darkly. “Not that it means anything to him.”
“That’s disappointing,” Volker said neutrally.
Telford shot him another approving look.
“He’s completely insane,” Telford said casually, leaning back in his chair, his posture, his face, his tone all indicating relaxation. Only the fingers of his right hand gave away any tension as they tightened on the armrest of his chair.
“Yeah, he seems—unbalanced,” Volker agreed.
“Do you know he doesn’t sleep?” Telford asked incredulously. “He hasn’t slept in his damn bunk since we set foot on this ship. That’s why I gave it to you.”
“Ah,” Volker said. “But must sleep sometimes.”
“Oh he does, I guess, here and there. Mostly down near the engines.”
It occurred to Volker that Telford had just neatly explained why Rush would not be appearing in one of the two places that the LA surveillance devices were located.
“Is he really worth all this work?” Volker asked.
“Probably.” Telford sighed. “It’s hard for me to say. But I do know that Stargate Command was leaning on him pretty hard to join up before we recruited him.” Telford gave an artless shrug and glanced over at Volker. “They generally pick them pretty well.”
“They must be looking for him, then,” Volker said.
“They think he’s dead,” Telford said flatly.
“I see,” Volker said, when, unfortunately, he really didn’t see at all. Nupur had definitely described the man as “vanished.” Not dead. He really wished he’d had time to read a wikipedia article on Nicholas Rush before leaving the planet and the internet behind.
They lapsed into silence, watching the blur of the stars. Volker fought against the drag of exhaustion for an uncounted length of time before Telford finally suggested that they go check on Rush. He nodded and stood, feeling slightly more alert as his blood started flowing again.
They left the bridge and walked down the hall to the transporter room. Telford hit the door controls. Rush was half-curled on the floor, no longer shaking, clearly asleep. Mendelssohn watched them from where he had coiled up next to Rush’s chest, his tail ticking irregularly back and forth at intervals.
Telford shot Volker a strongly-worded glare.
“What?” Volker whispered defensively.
“What part of ‘cargo bay’ was not clear to you?”
“Mendelssohn is a people person,” Volker informed him.
“Mendelssohn? That’s your cat’s name?”
“Yes. After the composer, because, you know, people name their cats Felix sometimes, and—”
“I know who Felix Mendelssohn is,” Telford whisper-snapped, offended. “And I get it. It’s clever.”
“Thanks. Rush hates it.”
“Of course he does. He hates everything.” Telford stepped forward and knelt down. He picked up the canteen and shook it. It was mostly empty. “Thank god.”
“What was really in there?” Volker asked, dropping into a crouch next to Telford and pointing at the canteen.
“Bicarbonate,” Telford said, giving him a measured look, “Tylenol, and a muscle relaxant, which he clearly fucking needed.”
“What was supposed to be in there?”
“Bicarbonate, a muscle relaxant, and a psychotropic drug.”
“Which he did not get, right?”
“No,” Telford said, not looking at Volker, reaching out to scratch gently behind Mendelssohn’s ears. “Of course not.”
Volker stared at Telford.
Telford looked back at him. “What?” the other man said. “You don’t believe me?”
“Not sure,” Volker replied.
“He’s fucked up enough already,” Telford hissed. “I’m not about to fuck him up more.”
“Yeah,” Volker murmured skeptically. “I guess.”
Telford stared him down, dark and forbidding, his jaw locked.
Volker fought the urge to recoil.
“I’ll be right back,” Telford said after several more seconds of pointed silence.
Volker released a shuddery breath.
As the door hissed shut, he reached out to stroke the top of Mendelssohn’s head, listening to the quiet, familiar purr and watched Rush critically, trying to find any sign that Telford had given him anything other than what he’d claimed. Nothing seemed obviously amiss.
Telford returned, carrying an armful of blankets, and dropped into a crouch. “Two below for every one above,” he murmured to Volker, indicating the blankets with his eyes. “Otherwise you create a heat sink on a cold surface like this.”
“Hmm,” Volker murmured. “Emergency medicine is a hobby of yours?”
“Wilderness medicine,” Telford whispered. “As hobbies go, one could do worse.”
“I guess so,” Volker said. “Yeah.”
They spread the blankets out on the deck plating and Volker detangled his cat from Rush’s grip so Telford could maneuver the other man onto the blankets. When that was done, Volker carefully put the cat back down mostly on top of Rush. They spread his jacket and the last blanket over him.
“Is he going to be okay like this?” Volker asked skeptically. “Lying on the floor of the transporter room all night?”
Telford pulled himself into a cross-legged position and leaned forward, his back hunched. “First of all, it’s ‘transport’ room, not ‘transporter’ room. This isn’t fucking Star Trek, Dale.”
“Oh. Yeah. I don’t know how I could have messed that up.”
Telford looked up with a hint of a smile. “But, to answer your question, I’ll keep an eye on him for a few hours, make sure he doesn’t wake up and immediately pass out and concuss himself. Or do anything equally stupid.”
“Wake me when you need a break,” Volker murmured.
Telford nodded. “I’ll try to give you a solid four or five hours.”
Volker nodded tiredly and got his feet, making his way toward the door.
“Remember,” Telford murmured, “you’re being monitored in there.”
“As if I could forget.”