When a few days later the shuttle landed near their camp and both Destiny and Young came out of it, the rest of the crew immediately realized their vacation was about to be over. What made a few eyebrows frown, though, was the sight of Destiny's black leather uniform and meticulously braided hair. That was how she was dressed when she came out of the stasis pod, and the attire she chose every time Young had to give an important speech to the crew. Something happened up there in the previous four days, something big. But what, exactly?
"Hey, Scott," Destiny greeted the younger soldier that came to welcome them.
"Hey. So, Dee…" he added in an hushed tone once Young was already on his way to the camp, "When are we leaving?"
"One week," was Destiny's answer. "Right on schedule. See? My countdowns are always accurate."
Scott sighed, the picture of unhappiness. Destiny squeezed his shoulder with a sympathetic smile. "Oh, come on. Show a little optimism! The universe is a big place full of surprises."
"Destiny, please, could you tone down the excitement, just a bit? God knows when we'll find another place like this."
"In a few months, if we're lucky," replied Destiny with a malicious smirk that made the young soldier frown.
"Ok, stop right there. What are you not telling me?"
In that moment, Colonel Young called for everybody to gather around him, and Destiny nudged the confused Lieutenant to move closer to their commanding officer, so for both to stand right behind him.
"As you all know," Young said, "Our time on this planet is coming to an end. I know how you all feel about it, and how much many of you want to stay and build a new home for us. But we arrived here because we kept moving forward, because we didn't abandon hope. The hope that one day, we will find a way to get back home, to our families and loved ones. And thanks to Freya, this hope might be on the verge to become a reality."
He was smiling, and his good mood raised more than a few eyebrows. Including Scott's, that eyed suspiciously Destiny's calm demeanor again.
"Is there anything you want to share?" he hissed. "As in right now?"
Destiny gave Scott another smirk, and told the young soldier to keep listening. The Colonel was now explaining to an astonished crew the existence of a planet named Helia, inhabited by Ancients that might help them go back home. Slowly, the doubt and the confusion left their places to smiles and unconcealed joy. Everyone started talking at once, asking questions about the planet, about how much time it would take to get there and if the Colonel had more info about the Ancients that lived there.
Everyone, but Rush. Destiny could feel him staring at her from a distance from the very moment Young started talking, hopefully trying to catch her reactions to his speech. Better her than Young, Destiny thought. Her so-called poker face was way better than his. Destiny was a reliable keeper of secrets, a skill she acquired across the years trying to hide Tamra's alcoholism, a more than a few illicit affairs, and especially everything concerning Karis and the Alliance. Young wasn't. The only way for this to end well was to keep their mouths shut and to get to Helia as soon as possible, before her commander crumbled under the weight of his burden.
Scott let out an irritated sigh, snapping Destiny out of her reverie. "Guess someone cannot take a hint."
Destiny shrugged."Don't worry about Rush. Go celebrate! There's a good chance now you're going to meet your child for real within this year or even less."
"We'll see… we'll see about that."
Destiny placed both hands on her hips, frowning at Scott's tentative answer. "And what is that supposed to mean?"
"I don't know if it's a good idea, Dee," he explained. "He doesn't even know me… I'm just the 'good friend' that offered to support him and his mom."
"And that's more than most people would do. Take it from someone that knows… sometimes a leap of faith is just what you need. And now, would you please go hug that poor girl?" she then said, pointing at Chloe. She looked lovely in the turquoise shirt Doctor Brown had borrowed her, and ever more so when she met Scott's gaze and gave the young soldier a big, warm smile. Destiny eyed Scott and the smile on his face, and she jokingly pushed him forward.
"I won't say it twice, Lieutenant! Go! Shoo!"
"Yes, Mother," replied Scott rolling his eyes with fake annoyance. Destiny laughed, and watched the young couple hug and celebrate the good news. Every now and then though her eyes drifted from the happy couple and concentrated on Young for a few seconds, just to make sure he wasn't having second thoughts on their agreement.
When Destiny was sure everything was fine and no one was paying attention to her, she slightly winced in pain and rose an hand to her head. She tied her hair up in such an hurry she braided some streaks too tightly, and she could already feel a bad headache coming her way. Maybe she could avoid it if she managed to loosen the hairpins, but a few attempts later it was painfully clear to Destiny that she couldn't do it, not without causing a mess.
"Great, so damn great," she muttered under her breath. Then an hand came out of nowhere and removed hers from her head, adjusting the hair in her place until she felt comfortable again.
Destiny smiled, "Well, thanks for coming to my rescue," and she turned to look at her savior. Her smile froze on her face, though, when she met Rush's gaze.
"You're welcome," replied Rush, ignoring Destiny's sudden change. His lips curled up in an amused smile.
"What? Should I not have helped you?"
"I don't want your help."
"You might not want it, but you need it. And considering what Young just told the crew, you should reconsider your position."
Destiny shrugged, "I really don't see why."
"An Ancient outpost in the middle of nowhere. Am I the only one with a still working brain?"
"Are you asking my opinion?"
"I'm just not prone to dismiss certain details… unlike some people here."
"No Ancient ever made it this far alive. Your sisters did. And the changes in your behavior since your awakening is proof that, as much as you want to deny it, you can't stand to be alone. Maybe the others reacted to solitude in a more creative way, so to speak."
"And now I think I'll go grab a drink and join the celebrations," said Rush smugly. "Excuse me."
Destiny clenched her fists, wishing Rush a painful death. Suddenly the impromptu party lost every attraction for her, and rather than spoil the party for everyone with her bad mood, Destiny decided to retreat in the shuttle and cool down. But the truth was she wasn't exactly angry at Rush. The fact he figured out in seconds what the others missed out was exactly what drew her to him in the first place, along with his sarcasm and his apparently innate understanding of the ship. In the darkness of the shuttle, for the first time, Destiny admitted to herself that she missed him. Eli was her best friend, that would never change. What she felt for Rush was different. He got under her skin like no one ever before. Whether or not that was a good thing, she had no clue. Yet.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
Destiny smiled and turned the head to greet Young and the two glasses of alcohol he was bringing along with him.
"So, on Earth, you actually exchange small coins in order to hear what someone is thinking about, sir?"
"Not really. Maybe when we'll be back you can discuss this with Doctor Jackson. I'm sure he has a long and exhaustive explanation for this way of saying," said Young, placing the glass in Destiny's hands before sitting next to her.
"I'm sure he does."
"What are you doing here, Destiny?"
"Hiding. But I clearly did a poor job, you found me," answered Destiny, attempting to crack a joke.
"Good. And now the truth, if you don't mind."
Destiny sighed, her eyes fixed on the floor. "Rush figured out that Helia is not inhabited by proper Ancients. And he felt the urge to tell me, in his usual arrogant, annoying way."
"Do you think he's going to tell the others?"
"No. He just wanted me to know, I suppose."
"We could tell them."
"If you think they won't freak out at the thought of my sisters cloning their dead crews and starting a new civilization from scratch, Sir, then go ahead, I won't stop you. But I'm freaked out… and we're talking about me. And it's not like they're not going to find out, they will… once we'll get there."
"As they will about… you know what."
Destiny emptied her glass in one go. "You're having second thoughts. Bad move. We did what we thought was best for everyone. Like General O'Neill said to you that time, this is not a democracy. If we did wrong, Sir… well, we'll have to live with it."
"I'll drink to that," said Young, raising his glass. Destiny watched her empty glass with an half smile. She chuckled.
"I think I already did. Sir, I request permission to go back on the ship. I want everything to be ready for tomorrow, when we'll start stocking procedures for fresh food and water. Three days for gathering, three days for sorting and stocking everything on board. That should be enough."
"Permission granted, but you'll have some passengers I'm afraid. A couple civilians and some scientists. And Doctor Rush."
Destiny pressed her lips together and took a short intake of breath. "Fine. At what time do they want to leave?"
"Half an hour."
"Good, I'll be here. And if I may, what about you Sir? Am I to come pick you up later tonight?"
"I'll see you tomorrow morning at 0700," Young replied. Destiny nodded, and got up from the bench.
"Ok, then. I'll start the pre-flight."
Young nodded, and left the shuttle. Destiny waited until she was sure he was far enough to sneak her head outside and watch him interact with the others. Maybe her gut feeling was wrong and he just wanted to enjoy a little more fresh air and actual soil beneath his feet before a six month straight jump. Maybe that friendlier vibe she caught between Young and TJ was nothing and not an attempt from either parts to rekindle their affair. Destiny sighed, unhappy. Those were pretty big 'maybe', and she didn't feel the need to play referee in a sparring match between her commander and her chief medical officer because their relationship once again didn't work out. Her plate was already full as it already was.
When she brought back on the ship her little group of civilians and Rush, Destiny did her best to ignore him and concentrate only on the other passengers. A few of them were concerned about Freya's condition and nodded in approval when they learned she was back into a stasis pod.
"With a little luck, maybe, we can all find help where we're headed, and Freya as well," said Lisa Park, ever the optimistic.
Destiny couldn't help but suppress a groan. Another maybe. By the Ancestors, would they ever stop coming?
"There's a chance, but she's pretty sure there's no cure. Her nanites are destroying her tissues and internal organs. Stasis seems the only way to keep her in one piece. But hey, we can still hope for some scientific breakthrough. She's been asleep for quite a long time."
"Speaking of sleeping, are we going to need the stasis pods in the lower decks?" asked Brody. "We haven't checked them all yet, but a few are definitely damaged…"
"No need. At least there shouldn't be. It will take us a few months to get to Helia, not years."
"And one giant jump. Still, I'd like to get in one of those. I mean, if it's possible. I don't think I can handle it."
"Yeah, me neither," said Volker. "It's already bad with a normal jump, Dee… Six months might be too long for many people."
"I can't deny this jump will take a toll on everybody. But without my FTL engines or one of those ZPMs you told me about, this is the fastest way to get there."
"And what about you, Destiny?" said Rush, joining the conversation. "Are you excited to meet… sorry, what are your sisters' names again?"
"Leda, Sati and Iras. And of course, Aurora. And yes, I'm excited. As you all would be if you got to meet your long-lost relatives after decades of silence."
"Are they all like… well, like Freya?" asked Park.
"Not exactly. Sati is the oldest among us, and she has absolutely zero sense of humor. Leda is like her, but she cracks a joke every now and then. Iras and I share the same lineage, so we are pretty similar. And Aurora… Aurora is the youngest, the rebellious child. Her maturity issues are more than balanced by her engineering skills, though."
"Definitely. I've seen some of her projects in your database… She's a visionary genius. I can't wait to meet Aurora and have a chat with her," said Brody, making no effort to conceal the admiration in her voice.
"And she likes humans, so you might even have a chance," murmured Rush. Brody's face turned a violent shade of red.
"I-I wasn't suggesting… I'm only saying…"
"I know exactly what you were saying, Doctor Brody, and unlike someone else here, I don't analyze every single word looking for your God knows what kind of hidden meaning," answered Destiny, thus effectively ending the discussion. A few minutes later, the docking clamps were engaged and the shuttle connected to the ship's airlock. Destiny turned the engine off, and watched her passengers leave the ship all together, eager to remove themselves from that awkward situation. All of them, but one.
Destiny snorted, annoyed. "What now, Rush?"
"Her indiscretions with her captain are written all over her file, why are you so touchy about it?"
"Because what Aurora does or doesn't do in her free time is not my business, and I'm damn sure it's not yours either. Unless, of course, what irks you is something else… that my sister is an avatar thus not a real person."
"It was a poor choice of words. I didn't mean…"
"No," he insisted. "I didn't. Would you stop trying to pick up a fight with me?"
"Not until I'm sure that was really a poor choice of words, Doctor. You see, they might not like this attitude where we're headed."
"Oh, I'm sure you would enjoy seeing me at their mercy."
"A girl can dream. But consider yourself lucky Karis never made their party."
"I read about her too. A vindictive girl."
"I wouldn't say that."
Rush snorted. "She tried to slit her commander's throat in his sleep."
"After he abused her. He had it coming."
"Then she fomented a rebellion against him. Twice."
"Oh, yes, I remember that part, said Destiny, smiling fondly at the memory. "So well played! Safir had to leave the fleet in disgrace and with many broken bones after she was done with him. Of course, then I had to deal with that guy…"
Rush frowned, "Safir? I've already heard that name."
"Of course you have," replied Destiny matter-of-factly. "He's the civilian that organized the mutiny against me, Eris and Janek."
"One of the mutineers you marooned."
"I'm confident he learned his lesson before he died. And now please, Doctor… Don't let me keep you."
Taking the hint, Rush left the shuttle and went straight for his quarters to retrieve his notebooks. As much as he - deep down - enjoyed the change of scenery, he enjoyed the ship more than green hills, waterfalls and clear, blue skies, and now that the crew was on the way back to the ship they could finally resume their researches, something that was put on hold thanks to that unexpected rest stop, much to his displeasure.
He was going to leave his room when something caught his eye. He didn't love technologic accessories the way the crew did, he found easier and simpler to write everything down on paper rather than on a tablet or a computer, but the other scientists just loved the new toys Destiny retrieved from one of the ship's seemingly endless storage units and in the end he just had to take one as well. They where all connected, much to his annoyance, and before his accident he felt Eli and Riley talk about trying to exploit the domestic network to put online their own version of Facebook. That was why he welcomed the beeping sound with an irritated sigh. Someone among the twenty people now on board just felt the need to send him a private message. He considered ignoring it, but in the end he sighed again and opened the link. He immediately frowned at the message that appeared on his screen a second later.
COME FIND ME, WE NEED TO TALK - FREYA
Right below, there were five strings of numbers. He recognized the third as the master code Destiny had given him, so he assumed the others were Colonel Young's, Wray's, Destiny's and TJ's. The five codes necessary to operate the chair. Rush couldn't help a smirk. He had to give Freya credit…the girl was smart. And apparently she wanted to get back at her sister for some reason. He didn't miss the angry look she threw at Destiny just before their fight stopped. Something happened to make Freya angry, something Destiny did or didn't do… Well, he couldn't wait to find out, Rush said to himself grabbing the tablet and leaving his quarters for the Chair room.
Luckily for him, everyone was in the Mass Hall to envision the video footage Destiny had brought back from the planet, and no one saw him entering the lab, or blocking the door behind him to prevent unpleasant surprises from Eli or other members of the crew. He sighed in anticipation, watching the Chair with a mixture of excitement and longing. Apart from Destiny and Young, and his brief, unauthorized stint with the Chair during Destiny's oath, no one ever sat there. Destiny offered the chance to experience the virtual reality in the matrix, but no one ever dared to try it. If they wanted an out-of-this-world experience, the communication stones were a safer alternative and offered pretty much the same result. And Young, Rush was sure of it, was just waiting for him to try and hack the codes protecting the Chair's systems to do whatever nefarious project he had in mind to gain control of the ship again. Rush chuckled at the thought and wondered if the Colonel also pictured him in his head actually doing that, all the while twitching a pair of villain moustache. Rush would've been more than happy to indulge the Colonel's paranoia in his spare time, if only he had some to begin with.
The Chair came immediately to life after he hit the last key. Rush couldn't help but smile. He slowly approached the Chair, savoring the moment, and after a deep breath he sat on it. Instantly the restraints blocked his wrists and ankles, and the neural interface connected with his temples. Rush closed his eyes, expecting pain, but nothing happened. When he reopened his eyes, he was standing in the Gate Room in the virtual Atlantis.
"The Chair might be a trauma the first time, but the software always keeps track of the people using it… this helps with the following sessions," said Freya, sitting on the steps right in front of him. "Is it weird that there's your digital imprint but no record of you ever using the Chair?"
"It's a long story."
Freya smiled, and got back to her feet, "Oh, I bet it is. Welcome, Doctor Rush. And sorry for the subterfuge, but Destiny is Destiny, I'm afraid. She can be stubborn."
"Why am I here, Freya?"
Freya nodded briefly, "Straight to the point then. Destiny refused to help me doing something that could bring many benefits to you, and especially to her. You're my contingency plan."
Rush raised an eyebrow, "Somehow I don't see Destiny actually doing something that inconsiderate."
"That's because I know her better than you. Destiny loves taking risks… but only on the battlefield. When it comes to other matters sometimes she's too cautious. To the point of raging paranoia."
"Her behavior concerning the plasma cannon on the front of the ship comes to mind," said Rush. "We're forbidden to even get near its control interface."
Freya smirked and nodded in approval, "I knew you would understand. Yes, and that's part of the problem. The energy required to make that weapon work is unimaginable, and obtainable only through a set of equations known in my time as Project Arcturus."
"We're familiar with that project as well. We found an outpost in the Pegasus Galaxy dedicated to research that form of energy. It suffice to say it didn't end up well, for the Ancients involved at the time, and for us, when we tried to make it work."
"And that's enough reason not to try again? Because if I got the facts right, you spent two years trying to figure out how to dial Destiny's address. With that equation solved, you wouldn't have to search the galaxy for a planet with a natural Naquadria core. Actually, with that equation solved, you could all go home. Isn't that what everybody's praying for?"
"Not everybody," said Rush. It was barely a whisper, but Freya heard it anyway.
"Good," she replied. "Then stay, and let the others go home. I'm sure my people on Helia will welcome you with open arms, as they will Destiny."
"There's just one little problem, Freya. We ran an extensive search in the database for all the already-known Ancient scientific projects, and Project Arcturus isn't among the ones we found."
"Because Destiny wanted nothing to do with that equation after the Battle of Venis. Which she won, by the way, thanks to that very equation. But I have a different view on the matter, so I made sure to upload a more updated version in the mainframe. Ah, not that you'll find it there, of course," she added in the end, almost as an afterthought.
"And why so?"
"You're a genius, find out. Anyway, before Destiny severed my connection to the mainframe, I also uploaded a copy among your personal files, along with that message for you. Just to be sure. Give it a look, figure it out. Do this, and everybody will get what they want."
"And what's in it for you? Because, see, I don't believe you're doing this out of compassion for us."
"I'm not. As long as you'll be here, Destiny will feel obliged to look after you. I think she's earned the right to decide how to live her life by now, don't you think? She deserves to be free and finally live in peace with what's left of her family."
"I can understand the need for secrecy now. Destiny would've never accepted your plan."
"She said she would think about it, but I know her enough to realize when she needs a nudge in the right direction."
"That's a matter of opinion, but I don't think I'll ever be able to take the moral high ground in a discussion around here. Fine, I'll help you. I'll solve the equation."
"That's really good news, Doctor."
"I'm not doing it for you."
"Nevertheless… thank you. You won't regret it."
Rush looked away, slightly uncomfortable. "Yeah. Well, we'll see about that."
Freya tilted her head and observed Rush with a malicious smirk, like she knew something he still ignored. "Then we're done here, Doctor. We won't meet again. And the message with the master codes is self-deleting itself as we speak."
"I thought you trusted me."
Freya snorted, clearly amused by his words, "Not that much."
And the feeling is mutual, Rush would've loved to say, but the connection ended a few seconds later and he woke up again in the Chair room. As Freya said, he found a copy of the equation in his personal files and no trace of the message with the five master codes. He located in a inhabited section the perfect place to work on the proof undisturbed, and once he wrote the equation on the walls in chalk he erased the file. If he had to keep his work a secret from Destiny, keeping everything on paper would help maintain the secret a little longer.
For a second, he considered wiping his writing with his hand and forget his meeting with Freya ever happened. Maybe the last time he didn't mean to betray Destiny's trust, but this time there was no way he could've denied it, had she accused him of something. He was perfectly aware of his actions and Destiny's opinion on the matter, and he was choosing to act that way on his free will. But on the other hand, the equation was there, taunting him, tempting him. If Freya's quickness to analyze and understand his character – and his ambition – was any indication, she truly must have been a force to be reckoned with during diplomatic negotiations. One look and she already knew he wouldn't be able to resist trying to solve what the best Ancient scientists and his colleagues in the Pegasus galaxy couldn't.
He sighed. Well, he thought, raising the chalk to start writing, Destiny already hated him… one reason more wouldn't make any difference.
The guilt he was feeling was completely out of place.
When the last crate of food is safely stored aboard and all her crew is present and accounted for, Destiny allows herself to relax on the observation deck with a cup of Brody's finest. The sight of her storage units filled to the roof with fresh food, meat and gallons of water is beautiful, for lack of better words, and she knows she's not the only one to think that. It's also a pleasant thought to hold on to, something the six-month jump clearly isn't. As predicted, a few scientists and some civilians asked to be placed in stasis for the entire duration of their journey. Brody and Volker asked to be among them, but both Young and Rush refused their request, in light of their importance for the crew and the ship. After a little mediation from Destiny, though, they agree to let them go into the stasis pod after the first half of the jump. Along with Wray and TJ, they put together a list of the crewmembers more likely to need that kind of solution or in need of more psychological support to endure the stress.
After a couple of months, half of the people in the list are in stasis and Destiny has no doubt TJ and Young are sleeping together. She keeps a close eye on her commander and medical officer, but apparently, this time things are going well between them. Young is more relaxed and TJ looks happy, but the doctor is spending more time with Chloe and Wray and tries to avoid her company every chance she gets. This just prompts Destiny to keep a closer eye on her – Kinos included – and it doesn't take long to figure out TJ's secret. Destiny doesn't know whether to be happy or angry at those two for being so stupid. She rants for a while, listing to TJ all the reasons why having a baby right now isn't a good idea. The ship wasn't exactly a place for children back in her days, and it certainly isn't now, for example. They're in the middle of an hyperspace jump, so no sunlight or fresh air for months and that isn't certainly ideal either for TJ or her unborn child. The mess that's Young's family situation on Earth. What this could mean for TJ and Young's careers if they really will make it back to Earth. She ends her tirade with the thing that irks her the most, that TJ never thought of telling her. She's the freaking XO, Destiny reminds her. It's her job to take care of the crew. Now, the best solution for TJ and the baby - since TJ told her she wants to keep it - would be a stasis pod, but even with Destiny offering to take over the infirmary for the rest of the jump this is not a viable solution. She's risking another exhaustion fever with her current tasks, TJ points out, she doesn't need one more. But she does accepts to slow down and let Destiny take over a few of her tasks, with the promise to spend as much time as she can in the greenhouse, enjoying the better air and the artificial sunlight.
It's only after her meeting with TJ is over and the medic has left that she notices Rush's presence. He doesn't seem to have noticed hers, though, and Destiny frowns a little wondering what he's doing there. That's a unutilized living sector with no structural problems that could require Rush's presence, but he moves around like it's not his first time there, and that's more than enough to make Destiny suspicious. Lurking from the shadows, she watches him access a corridor and then close the bulkhead behind him. Everything happens in less than a few seconds, but Destiny doesn't miss the chalk writings all over the place. On any other day she would've dismissed it as Rush being his usual asocial self, but her instincts tell her something's off and she's always relied on her gut feelings. Eli is living proof of this. This the only reason why Destiny waits a couple minutes, and then she overrides the block Rush put on the bulkhead.
For a seconds Destiny hopes that for once her gut feeling is wrong.
Then she takes a closer look at the writings, and she knows it isn't.
Destiny's eyes couldn't stop travelling from one wall to the other, watching Rush's work written in chalk from the ceiling down to the floor. It took her less than a second to recognize the equation, and even less to throw herself at Rush in a fit of rage. She took him by the neck of his shirt and violently shoved him against one of the walls. Rush hit his head hard against the cold metal surface, but somehow he knew that the pain he was experiencing in that moment was nothing compared to what Destiny was probably planning to do to him now that his secret was out.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Destiny's face was so close he could feel her breath on his skin; her eyes were dark with rage. That was the Destiny that had fought and won all those battles in the Old Era, the reckless soldier eager to fight and not afraid to do what needed to be done. With a shiver, Rush wondered for a second if she was going to kill him. Right now, she looked like she could kill him in cold blood, and little Rush knew about how many times Destiny had actually done that to protect herself or the people she cared about. Luckily for him, that person was gone, buried under layers of shame and guilt. Destiny promised herself when she left her home galaxy that she would never resume her old habits and she was a woman of her word, even if in that instant she would've asked nothing more than to beat that arrogant bastard to death for possibly endangering the crew and the ship like they meant nothing to him. Again.
"Where did you find this equation? Answer me!"
"Freya gave it to me. It was hidden in my files."
"And you just had to solve it, didn't you? You. Just. Had. To. Do it!" shouted Destiny. For a second, she looked ready to punch him in the face, but instead she released him from her grasp and took a few steps backwards.
"It's a modified version of Project Arcturus, a research about a new form of energy…"
"I know everything about Project Arcturus, it was considered a huge waste of time back in my time as well. A dangerous, lethal waste of time. I won't allow this to continue!"
"You won't allow it?" he repeated, mocking her. "I don't take orders from you."
"But you take them from Young. The result doesn't change, we think the same on this matter."
Rush frowned, and Destiny immediately realized her mistake. "How can Young know about the equation? There's no trace of it in the database…unless…"
It took him just a look to get confirmation of his suspects from Destiny. The woman was looking at his straight in the eyes, silently daring him to voice his thoughts.
"…Unless someone erased everything the moment Freya planted it in the mainframe. You did it with Young's blessing. What a surprise. Do you do anything these days without asking for his approval first?"
"Careful with words, Rush," Destiny warned him. "This conversation might become highly unpleasant for you in no time."
"More than it already is?" he retorted, moving closer to Destiny. "What an hypocrite. You prides yourself to put the crew's interests above all, but apparently, only when it suits your needs."
"Takes one to know one, Rush."
"I'm not going to give up my work, Destiny. But maybe, we can find an agreement."
"A what? Have you listened to a word I just said?"
"I keep this for myself," he added, ignoring Destiny's protests. "Just like I'm doing right now. No one will ever see the data, no one will help me. I'll work here, alone, on my spare time, under your supervision. And nothing of this will ever go into the mainframe."
Destiny chuckled. "Yeah, right. Well, I don't believe you."
"You're underestimating how much I want to solve this. I couldn't crack the math proof that led us here, Destiny. But I will crack this one, I swear to God I will."
"So, if I understand this correctly, this is not about helping the crew or finding a way to create endless energy. It's just you and your damn ego."
"Please, Destiny. Let me do this."
Destiny remained silent for a while, her eyes moving from Rush, to the written walls, and then again to Rush. Stripped of all its physical applications, what was left of Project Arcturus but a very complex math puzzle with no solution? She could implement security around that sector of the ship, remove all the possible access to the ship's computers, have a few Kinos to keep track of what was going on inside the compartment when she wasn't around. It was doable.
"Hear me, Doctor, I'm going to say it just once. This place is out of limit for everyone else. We'll be the only ones to come here. You'll do your… game, puzzle, whatever it is, but the moment I say it's over, it's over, and you'll find more productive ways to use your free time. Understood?"
"Good. Then I suggest you to call it a day and go back to your quarters. I don't want to find you here when I'm back from the suspended animation section. You can resume your… puzzle tomorrow."
If Rush was annoyed by Destiny's dismissive tone, he didn't give it away. He smiled and bowed his head, "I will."
"You better," said Destiny, hitting the door mechanism on the wall with her fist and walking out of the compartment without stopping or looking back.
Four months gone, two to go. Brody, Volker and half of the crew are in stasis, TJ is showing and from what Destiny can tell Young took the news of his imminent fatherhood very well. So well actually, that he finally gave his wife back on Earth what she wanted – a divorce – and made his relationship with the ship's doctor public, along with the news of TJ's pregnancy. It was against the rules, but as he said to his superiors on Earth and to Destiny once he's back aboard, he's going to retire anyway and TJ still has every intention to leave the Air Force for med school once they'll make it back home. It's just a question of regularizing our positions with the Air Force once we're back, he says. And then Young smiles, for once happy and at peace with himself, and Destiny can't help but feeling happy for him as well. She had her doubts, but they proved her wrong, so good for them.
For her own peace of mind as well, Destiny has also decided against stomping into the Chair room and have a nice little chat with her beloved older sister. When she will, it'll happen in the real world and Aurora will be present, so to save Destiny the trouble to repeat her tirade twice. She should've known better, she's good at planning battle strategies but Freya was a diplomatic, and she's used to an entirely different type of war. She just knows what buttons to push to get people do what she wants, and apparently that skill of hers just got better with time.
Since she can't take her resentment out on Freya, Destiny settles for making Rush's life a living hell when Young is not around, and especially when they're alone in the abandoned quarters. But he doesn't seem affected by anything she does. It's like the numbers on those walls are his only reason to live, occasionally eat and rarely sleep, and soon the rage leaves place to worry. The mad scientist needs more rules than the ones already in use, and she's more than happy to oblige. She keeps an eye on him during his meals, makes sure he actually rests in his quarters, and silently rearranges the work among the surviving scientists in order to let him deal with his obsession. The more, the better, in her opinion. He will realize he's wasting his precious time and he'll let go. But he doesn't. So one night, Destiny declares her defeat, and grabs a piece of chalk with a resigned sigh. She doesn't miss Rush's half-grin, and for a second she wonders if he didn't play her again. Another part of her brain, though, seems convinced he's just happy she's alone with him again.
Whatever that implies, is not something Destiny is ready to process yet.
Destiny let out a long suffering sigh. "Enough, let it go."
"Let me finish, I'm close."
"To what? Mental breakdown, physical exhaustion, neither of them, both of them? I said," she continued, taking the chalk from his hand, "let it go."
"I'm serious. How long do you think you can keep this up?"
"As long as it takes."
"Oh really? People are starting to notice. You're reverting to your old self. Insufferable, annoying, rude... for the love of your God, take a break. Play chess with Colonel Young…"
"Not a worthy opponent."
"With Eli, then. Go to the greenhouse. Punch a bag in the gym. Do something else, I beg of you."
"I'll have a drink. With you. In here. That's what I'll do to unwind. But I don't think Brody managed to brew whisky or scotch in here, didn't he?"
"Not yet, but I have a viable alternative," replied Destiny with a wicked grin. She left the corridor, and a few minutes later she came back with two small bottles and two metal cups.
"Brody one day or another will realize moonshine is boring and start looking at Tamra's cookbook. In the meanwhile, I'm using it," she explained, holding them up to inspection. Rush took one, uncorked it and sniffed the content. He frowned and did it again, not trusting his first impression.
"This smells like… but come on, it's impossible."
"What's impossible? To actually brew some decent apple cider on a spaceship? I should remind you that this ship had a reputation to defend back in the day, and brewing alcohol was an alternative to see our precious drug supply depleted ahead of time, if you get what I'm saying."
"I'm just curious to see how you do it."
"A magician never reveals its secrets."
"Fair enough. What's in the other bottle?"
"Something a little stronger."
"How much stronger?"
Destiny grinned, "You'll see. You're going to try it, aren't you? See, Tamra is not dead, she ascended. And she takes great offense when someone doesn't taste her 'creations'."
"Oh well, who am I to anger an ascended being," he commented, taking the bottle Destiny offered him and pouring himself a cup of the clear liquor. After he was done, Destiny did the same.
"Bottoms up," she said. She clang her cup against his and drank half of its content in one swift move. Rush tried to do the same, but he spitted the moonshine right out, coughing violently.
"Dear Lord, what was that?" he muttered, his mouth still burning. As an answer, Destiny threw her head back and started to laugh.
"Stop it, it's not funny. Bloody hell… and I thought Brody's moonshine was bad," he said, passing an hand through his hair. Still laughing, Destiny took his drink and drank a little moonshine before giving the cup back to him.
"Aw. Such a lightweight, you are."
Rush gave Destiny a dirty look. "Well, I didn't have millennia at my disposal to master the art."
"To be honest, I started drinking only because if it was gone, then Tamra wouldn't have nothing to drink. But she was the ship's resident distiller, so…"
"Your friend was an alcoholic."
"There's no point in denying it. But to her defense, before she became the ship's doctor she was involved in some pretty crazy stuff."
"Of what kind?"
"The kind that messes you up in the head. Secret operations, classified missions. Keep in mind that soldiers back then were supposed to do their job and keep going. We weren't supposed to break or develop that thing TJ is so worried about, PTSD. Things had to be done, end of story. I don't even think the Council ever considered the possibility of their soldiers failing in something."
"Including you and your sisters?"
"Especially us. They could break from time to time, in private, but we didn't have that luxury. We had to be strong for them. And when we couldn't do that anymore…"
"… you were sentenced to meet a sun or leave."
"That was their solution."
"No, it was them sticking their heads in the sand and refusing to see the truth."
"Ok, then a non-solution to a problem that according to them couldn't be solved. Happy now?"
"Very much, thank you," said Rush with an amused chuckle. Then his expression changed from relaxed to serious, and he sprinted to the wall where the last dead-end results were scribbled.
"What is it?" said Destiny, confused. "Nicholas? What's wrong?"
Destiny called him again, but Rush didn't seem to have heard her. He had his piece of chalk back in his hand and he was busy writing another set of equations, erasing some of the previous calculation to make space for new ones. For twenty minutes nothing in the world existed, nothing mattered more. The solution was there, in front of them, it had been since the very beginning… how could he not have seen it?
"You were right," he said, stopping writing all of sudden. When he turned to look at her, Destiny couldn't believe her eyes. Yes, she had seen him smile, even showing some degree of happiness from time to time. But all the emotions conveyed in her face in that moment, his smile… Rush looked ecstatic. He took her face in his hands, and smiled some more.
"You were right," he repeated.
Then he leaned down on her face and kissed her.
"A non-solution," said Rush, grinning. "This equation has no solution, too many variables… that's why at some point the energy discharged becomes uncontrollable. You need to make all the calculations again with the new set of variables obtained by the experiment, and so on every time the parameters change! It's the only way to keep it stable! Come, see for yourself," he then added, taking Destiny to see the new calculations. He then started to talk again, but Destiny had no idea of what was he talking about. She was too shocked and confused by what had just happened to pay attention to what Rush was saying now. Did Rush just kissed her? Was the equation really solved? Why was Rush squeezing her hand to the point of breaking the bones? And come to think of it, why was he holding her hand in the first place? Was the euphoria for solving his puzzle acting in his place?
"I don't understand."
"Well, these calculations…"
"Screw this equation! I mean, what happened before you started talking a mile per hour!"
"Oh. Right. I… I apologize, Destiny. I don't know what's gotten into me. Please, forget it's ever happened," he said, before resuming his work. Destiny, completely taken aback by his change of behavior, stared at his back for a few seconds, trying to decide her next move.
Oh, to hell with it.
"What if I don't want to?" she whispered. Rush froze; he clutched the chalk so hard he broke the little piece in two.
"What if I actually want to remember… this time?"
For a second Rush widened his eyes in shock. He felt relieved that Destiny couldn't see his face.
"So you remember what happened."
"I wasn't sure about who dragged me into my quarters. Eli told me he didn't do it, but at the time no one else would've helped me. I guess I was wrong."
Rush slowly turned to look Destiny in the eyes. "Dee, I… This…"
"I guess I could've realized it a bit sooner myself. I never held a grudge for so long. Or tried so hard to pick up a fight with someone. Not even with my first Deck Chief, and seriously, I hated him! Well, I suppose I'm really twelve years old, as Colonel Young suggested a few times in the past…"
Rush acted so quickly Destiny had barely time to register his hands on her face and his mouth on hers again. But she had more than enough time to register the long, slow kiss that came immediately after.
"This is wrong," whispered Destiny against his lips, after she managed to break the kiss. Rush chuckled and touched her forehead with his.
"I know," he whispered. "Let's do it anyway."
"And people will talk."
"Only if we get caught and admit it, we're too smart to let that happen."
"Young won't be happy."
"Young got Lieutenant Johansen pregnant after a one-night stand. No chance for him to take the moral high ground this time."
"What if you'll betray my trust again?"
"Would I be that stupid?"
"I don't know, you tell me. But I hope the answer is no, because the next time I might actually kill you."
A loud knock at the bulkhead destroyed the atmosphere. Rush and Destiny let each other go immediately, both watching the door. They exchanged a look.
"Have you told someone about this place?" hissed Destiny.
"No one, I don't understand…"
"Dee!" said Eli's voice from the other side of the bulkhead. "Come on, I know you're here, I've seen you come inside. Cabin fever struck again, we need help with the stasis pods!"
"So this time it's actually your fault," smirked Rush. Destiny elbowed him.
"I've heard you, Eli. I'm coming. Meet me there?"
"Fine. What's wrong with the door? I can't open it!"
"Just a glitch, I'll fix it later."
"Good, so… see you there!"
Destiny listened to the sound of Eli's footsteps getting weaker, but she didn't relax until she was sure he was gone. Then the tension on her face left place to a relieved smile.
"Well, so much for being too smart to get caught," said Destiny. When she turned her head to look at Rush, though, she saw him laughing softly.
"This is not funny."
"Oh, it is. Come on, go help Eli. I'll be on the bridge if you need me."
"I won't. But I might need you in the afternoon, Eli is busy and I have no one to play chess with."
"I now happen to have a lot of free time."
"Well, then, Doctor… I'll see you on the observation deck."
"Aaand here we go," said Eli, pushing a button. A second later, Katie Brown's pod came to life, freezing the scientist, and after a quick check the young genius declared everything was perfectly fine.
"You've done this a million times by now, you didn't need me to hold your hand, Eli," commented Destiny from the opposite wall.
"Well, you haven't frozen Brody by mistake…" he muttered under his breath.
"Nothing! You look different today," said Eli, immediately changing subject. "Strangely happy. What happened?"
"Nothing, purely in the mood."
"You haven't found a way to kill Rush and get away with it, have you?"
Destiny suppressed a laugh. "if that were the case, would I tell you?"
"Only if you needed help with tossing the body out of an airlock."
"Relax, Eli, nothing will happen. In fact… Doctor Rush and I just found an agreement. We're going to try and mend our friendship."
Eli suddenly stopped. With a frown, he started looking around him and checking the walls.
"Weird," he eventually said.
"What's weird, Eli?"
"You said you and Rush are going to be friends again. I was just checking the universe wasn't imploding or something."
Destiny playfully pushed him, and Eli returned the gesture, laughing.
"Enough mocking me, go make yourself useful."
"Yes, ma'am," he replied, improvising a military salute. Destiny rolled her eyes and started walking in the opposite direction. Eli watched her for a few seconds before calling her again.
"Everything's going to be alright," he said with a smile and a nod, before leaving. Destiny watched him go with a little smile on her lips. There was no need for further explanations, Destiny already knew what her friend meant, or who he was referring to.
"Yes, Eli," she whispered to herself. "It's going to be alright."