He stuttered awake, stiff and aching, his head pounding in waves of excruciating pain. Nicholas Rush moaned despite himself, and then nearly fell forward out of the command chair when his hand instinctively touched the side of his head. It came away covered in flakes of dried blood and memory swelled back at him.
Seeder ship, aliens… he'd been knocked out. Again. He was getting more than a bit sick of being everyone's – and everything's – punching bag.
"They're looking for you," Gloria's voice said from behind him.
He winced as he turned to look at the holograph of his dead wife.
Her eyes were filled with a mix of worry and censure. He sighed and shut his eyes briefly with pain.
"Guess I'd better let them find me, then," he said. It was so hard to look at her, so real and yet so not. Of all the forms Destiny's 'voice' could've chosen, why this one? But that was a problem for another time; so many problems, so little time.
Laughing, even at himself, was definitely a mistake. Walking wasn't much better. But he would not let that incompetent idiot of a Colonel anywhere near his discovery. The man was unstable, violent and untrustworthy. He'd already tried to murder Nicholas once and Nicholas had no doubts the Colonel would happily try again. And there was no one else that he could trust to keep his secret. If that meant doing the work alone, so be it. Nicholas preferred working alone anyway, notwithstanding hallucinations of his dead wife.
He made it to the elevator, barely. He fought nausea as it moved. He hauled himself towards the engine control room that he'd been using as a 'private place to work' – mostly as cover. He got within a few feet of the door… and felt his knees go just an instant before his consciousness fled after them. He did not feel the floor when it slammed into his cheek.
Colonel Young was an old hand at hiding how he felt. That was helpful now that he was trying not to show anyone how hung-over he was. The goop they had for breakfast didn't help his twisting stomach, though, and he eyed it with distaste.
"Where's Dr. Rush?" a female voice asked and he blearily turned his head to see Dr. Park hovering anxiously.
"How should I know?" he said, unable to keep the element of complaint out of his voice. The man had been disappearing a lot lately, or maybe he was just being deliberately annoying, Young could never quite tell with Rush.
"We never did find him yesterday," Scott commented from across the table. "After the ships split and we jumped back into FTL, Greer and I got called to help get the prisoners back into their cell. Has anyone seen him?"
There was a round of shaking heads, no, no one had seen him.
TJ stood up, her blue eyes widening with alarm. "No one found him? Dunning has a concussion and they were both unconscious when they were found on the seed ship. Rush could be seriously hurt."
"He managed to wander off on his own," Young said, wishing he didn't hear the bite in his own voice. And it wasn't unnoticed, both TJ and Scott gave him wary glances.
"If he's concussed, he could have wandered off in confusion and then collapsed," TJ replied. Her gaze was almost cold as she looked at him and a very familiar guilt struck him in the gut. "We've got to find him fast!"
She was right. As much as Young hated to admit it, they needed Rush. He was the one person they couldn't afford to lose. Quick orders had soldiers scurrying out of the mess hall, then he nodded at TJ, signaling that they'd look as well.
"It's an awfully big ship," Eli interrupted him, getting between Young and the door, Drs. Volker and Park hovering behind him.
"Thanks for offering to help Eli, why don't you send out some Kinos. Park, Volker, round up more search parties."
"Wait," TJ said, fingers barely brushing his arm and then yanking away as though burned. Yet, it was he who felt singed. She looked past him to the trio of scientists. "If he was in a state of confusion and in pain, where would Dr. Rush go?"
"Uhhh," stammered Volker, exchanging glances with Park, "the engine control room? He likes to work alone down there, says he likes the peace and quiet. Mostly, I think he just doesn't want to be bothered by anyone else."
"Yeah, he might be there!" Eli exclaimed.
"Good," TJ said, grabbing Eli and pushing him towards the door. "Show me where it is!"
Young followed them out the door, Scott trailing close behind him.
Eli ran on around the corner ahead and shouted back at them.
"I found him! Dr. Rush, Dr. Rush! TJ, he's unconscious!"
Young rushed forward with TJ and Scott to find Eli shaking Rush's shoulder. The scientist was sprawled awkwardly on the corridor floor, his shaggy hair covering his face, his body unmoving. Young's stomach managed to twist even harder.
But, just as TJ knelt and began to feel for a pulse, Rush jerked abruptly awake. He uttered a guttural moan and skittered backwards, to curl up back against the wall, hands outstretched in front of him in a defensive gesture.
Eli started to move towards him, but TJ stopped him. She slowly crawled forward to sit in front of the obviously dazed and frightened Rush.
"Easy, Dr. Rush, it's OK. Do you know who I am?"
Framed by a heavy curtain of long bangs, Rush's large, brown eyes blinked and focused on her face. His hands dropped to his drawn-up knees.
"Lieutenant Johansen?" he asked hoarsely, staring at her. "Where… what happened?"
Young moved closer, wanting answers himself, but she waved her left hand back at him, silently telling him to stay back.
"Can you tell me? What do you remember?"
Rush's dark gaze flickered downward as he concentrated, his mouth pursed.
"I was on the seeder ship, feeding energy to the Gate. It stopped working and I was trying to find the problem when Dunning suddenly collapsed and I turned…" he paused, shook his head, then gave an inarticulate gasp of pain, his hand flying to his right temple as his eyes squeezed shut.
"Then I was here, wherever here is." His voice was a harsh, thickly accented whisper and his eyes didn't open. "Back on Destiny?" he asked. "What happened?" he demanded again.
TJ removed his hand and gently started examining the side of his head, pushing the heavy strands of hair aside as carefully as she could.
"You and Dunning were found unconscious. Scott and Greer took you back to Destiny. Telford stayed behind to try to reverse the energy flow before the seed ship drained all of our power, but he was running out of time, and then somehow, Destiny pulled away and went back into FTL. Telford got left behind."
Rush tried to nod, barely managed to stifle another cry of pain, and spoke through gritted teeth.
"The aliens must have been unhappy we were stealing away the energy from the seeder ship and set it to go the other way. Destiny likely detected the loss of power and automatically went into a search for an energy source. Have we passed through a star yet?"
"No," Young replied sharp, a familiar, if uncomfortable feeling coursing through him. It was part frustration, part amazement, part anger, part… he never could quite define it and didn't want to. It was simply Rush being Rush – even sitting there, half-conscious and in pain, the damned man was still thinking so quickly, assessing, judging, knowing. Rush was always so far ahead and Young knew he couldn't keep up but he had to look like he was or he'd lose control. He kept having the sick feeling that no matter what he did, Rush already had control.
The words tumbled out of his mouth, bitter and biting, before he could stop them.
"Did you do it, Rush? Stop the Gate, keep us on Destiny? I know you don't want to go back to Earth, did you make sure no one else would be able to?"
Eli, TJ and Scott looked around at him with various expressions of shocked surprise on their faces, but it was Rush who responded the quickest.
"Ya fucking daft moron!" Rush swore, somehow stumbling to his feet and pushing past TJ to shove at Young. The scientist could barely stay on his feet, he more swayed and staggered into Young than hit at him. Young and TJ had to grab his arms to keep him from crumbling back to the floor.
They sat him back down even while Rush continued to swear at Young. The words were so heavily accented as to be mostly incomprehensible, but "crazy," "paranoid," and "bloody drunk" were clear enough. Still, it was TJ's frigid, angry glare that made Young back away, that frustration giving way again to unforgiving guilt.
TJ tried to continue examining Rush's head, but he suddenly cried out and pulled away from her, almost moaning "OW" as he did so.
"Och, lass, watch what ya doing," he muttered.
"If you'd hold still," she said firmly. He glared at her. She ignored it and looked over at Eli who was awkwardly standing there, fidgeting. "OK it would be better to do this in sick bay anway, Eli, give me a hand with Dr. Rush."
"I don't need ta go ta sick bay," Rush insisted, his voice slurred.
TJ turned a stern gaze on him. "You've got a serious head wound with loss of consciousness and an obvious concussion. I need to clean and stitch the laceration and then you need to be under observation for a while."
"I am not…" Rush started to protest again.
"Don't be daft," she told him.
Young was startled to see Rush almost smile, though his voice remained thick and grumpy when he responded.
"Well, if ya put it like that."
"I do," TJ replied, tugging on his arm. He went surprisingly obedient to his feet. TJ slipped under his right arm and motioned for Eli to take the left, which the young man did without argument.
It was Rush who protested again, this time that he could walk on his own, but TJ shushed him and got them around the corner and out of sight.
"Did you mean what you said, Sir?" another voice startled Young as he stared at the now empty corridor.
It was Scott.
Young sighed and rubbed at his forehead.
"No, not really," he replied, unable to avoid being more honest with the young officer than he would with anyone else. "It's just that he's so damned… frustrating! Quite frankly, he drives me up a wall."
Scott gave a soft chuckle at that.
"He does seem to have a gift for being irritating."
Young echoed the laugh, but then frowned.
"It's just that sometimes he looks at me like I'm…"
"Something that crawled out from under a rock and isn't worth more than a casual scientific examination?" Scott completed for him with a rare acuity.
"Yeah, exactly. He's so damn calculating. And I know he's thinks I'm incompetent; he hasn't made any secret of that." Young sighed and shook his head. "And I have to keep listening to him figure things out faster than I can think of the questions to ask and then have to demand that he explain how he knew what he knew and that makes me sound even more foolish." He pressed the palms of his hands into his eyes.
"But I'm stuck with him and he's stuck with me and we have to make this work somehow."
"Yeah, we do," Scott responded with sympathy in his expression. "At least he is on our side." At a glance from Young, he shrugged, "well, as far as we know, besides, he's kept us alive and going this far. He really was concerned when he warned me about the turbulence on that planet. I should have taken it more seriously; Rush doesn't give warnings lightly."
"It was an accident," Young said, the exhaustion suddenly wearing him down to the point that he wanted to slide to the floor. "We needed to try to get food and water. We still need those." Yet another problem that he didn't know how to solve; at least this one Rush couldn't solve any faster. They had to wait for Destiny to find the right planet, he thought sourly.
"We'll find what we need," Scott said optimistically. "Come on, let's go call off the search parties and finish breakfast such as it is. Let TJ handle Rush. I don't envy her."
At that, Young could laugh without regret.