"So that's what I did - to save you," Eli concludes.

"Well, I'm out now," Rush points out, a bit frantically. "So you can let them out."

"No," Eli says, "I can't. Because thanks to the stunt you just pulled, the Colonel doesn't think that's safe."

"Destiny didn't need the neutral interface chair to draw him into a simulation," TJ points out quietly. "We don't know what will happen to you if Dr. Perry becomes part of the ship's core systems again; if you'll be pulled back into the simulation."

"And you -" said in tones of utter contempt. "- are apparently a vital resource that can't be risked," Eli explains. "We need your knowledge of ancient systems."

"But you can't just leave them there!" Rush protests. "You're talking about total sensory deprivation -"

"I know," Eli says.

"- practically solitary confinement -"

"I know," Eli repeats, voice low and tense.

"- it's cruel, inhuman, you can't -"

"I know, okay?" Eli explodes. "I know! But it's not like I've got a choice."

"Of course you do, undo it!" Rush insists, struggling to sit.

"You need to calm down," TJ says, pushing him back and holding him there easily with just one hand on his shoulder. His head swims.

"Damn it!" Rush grimaces, pounding a fist into the mattress, but unable to even think of trying to rise again. He's clinging to consciousness by bare threads. "How can you do that to them? To Ginn?" he demands, eyes squeezed shut and teeth clenched in frustration, trying to pull his whirling thoughts into order.

"It was Ginn's idea," Eli protests wearily.

"Did she know it was going to be permanent?" Rush counters, blinking up at the ceiling; it takes entirely too long to come into focus.

"It's not permanent," Eli argues. "It's just until - I don't know, okay? And I can't exactly ask her now. You think I don't care? You think this isn't killing me?"

"This isn't the time for this," TJ's says, her voice coming from some interminable distance off to the right of Rush's head. "He needs rest. He's lucky to be alive."

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised, you didn't do a damned thing when they died the first time," Rush lashes out, quietly but with enough disdain to match the younger man's tone and then some. He lets his head fall to the side, staring at the wall; he won't be this weak forever, he tells himself, and then he can just take care of it himself.

"What the hell was I supposed to do?" Eli shouts. "The Colonel wouldn't -"

"Something," Rush mutters to the wall. "You were supposed to -"

"- give me a gun! How was I supposed to -"

" - grow the fuck up and do something, not sit around waiting -"

"Guys!" TJ tries to interject, her hand disappearing from Rush's shoulder; he feels the bed shift beneath him as she stands. "Not now!"

"- do anything without a weapon?"

"- for bloody goddamned permission like some overgrown child," Rush concludes bitterly.

"I'm the immature one?" Eli protests. "That takes a hell of a nerve, considering what you just -"

"Enough!" TJ's voice rises, drowning out whatever Eli had been about to say. "Out! That's an order!"

"By all means, follow orders," Rush mumbles bitterly, turning his head into the pillow.

"And you, shut up!" TJ orders him.

He says nothing; he hears Eli's footsteps retreating, then TJ's going in the other direction. There is a sigh and a soft noise that he interprets as her dropping into a chair.

"Damn," says Greer's voice, from somewhere at Rush's back and seemingly very far away; Rush hadn't even known there was someone else in the room. Volker probably got to witness that whole little drama too, he realizes. "Guess you've got some human in you after all," Greer observes, tone caught somewhere between mocking and sympathetic.

Rush wants nothing more than to fly up off the bed and go beat him until he bleeds, for that tone, but it is becoming impossible to even keep his eyes open. A dark haziness is pulling at him, trying to draw him down to sleep.

Darkness, like the dark Mandy is trapped in - darkness without sound or taste or smell. Without touch. Darkness she'd gone to believing she was dying again, believing he didn't love her.

He can think of no better definition of hell, nor anyone who deserves to be there less.

He wants to scream and wail and burn something down, every memory of struggling and fighting and doing without he'd ever earned in a childhood of poverty clawing up through his throat and rendering him the angry child he'd accused Eli of being; he wants something else to hurt like he hurts. It isn't right. It isn't fair.

And then sleep claims him, and Mandy and Gloria pull him down into an endless black with misty fingers, the darkness thick as oil, filling his mouth until he drowns.

"You're doing good," TJ announces two days later, removing a blood pressure cuff from his arm.

"Great. I can get back to work, then?" Rush demands.

"I think so," she nods. "But the Colonel wants to speak to you first."

And what a joy that will be, Rush thinks, and grimaces. "Wonderful."

TJ purses her lips, hovering at the edge of his bed, watching his face intently. He meets her gaze with as much belligerence as he can muster; part of him knows it isn't her fault, but to most of him, she's just one more person who isn't helping him get Mandy out. One more small mind that doesn't understand.

"I would do anything, absolutely anything, to hold my baby one more time," TJ says softly.

Rush blinks; he'd been expecting a lecture, maybe some vacuous words of comfort, a cloyingly heart-felt admonition as to how really needed he is - not that.

"I named her Carmen," she tells him, voice just above a whisper.

"That's a lovely name," Rush responds, aware of how trite it sounds but unable to think of a single more sensible thing to contribute to a conversation he doesn't understand or know why they're having.

"I thought - the details don't matter," she says, looking down, away from him as though embarrassed. "I thought she was somewhere . . safe, and I know how that sounds, but . . now, I don't know. I still want to believe that." She licks her lips. "I know it can't be literally true but -" she looks back up at him. "We've seen so many impossible things."

Rush says nothing, feeling unaccountably caught by the fragility of her expression; he is forced to remember that this isn't the first time she's shown him kindness. And she isn't a stupid woman - a stupid woman couldn't teach herself how to perform a kidney transplant entirely from reading a text, and within a few days.

Of course, Mandy had helped her.

That wailing, tooth-filled darkness threatens to swallow him again.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is . . maybe I don't understand exactly," TJ allows. "But I know what it's like to be desperate, and if you have a chance - any small chance at all, no matter what it takes, what it might cost -" Her voice goes low and fierce. "You take it, and the hell with what anyone else thinks. You understand?"

"Aye. Yes." Rush swallows, clears his throat; he has some difficulty meeting the intensity of her stare. "I understand." Is she giving him her permission, then, to disobey the Colonel? Saying she'll help him? He can think of nothing of significance that she can do to assist him, but still . . . still. "Thank you," he rasps out.

She shakes her head. "There's nothing to thank me for," she says solemnly. Her hand briefly lands on his knee and squeezes; just a swift, tactile reassurance, entirely impersonal, but it is enough to make him jump.

Who has he touched, besides Mandy, in the past year? Other than blows exchanged.

"I'll go get the Colonel," TJ says, and leaves.

"Tell me that if I let you go back to work, you're not going to try to release Dr. Perry and Ginn from quarantine," Young says without preamble, arms folded behind his back, posture rigid in a way that says he found this, at least, unpleasant.

Well, good for him - Rush doesn't give a damn about his poor wee wounded psyche.

"Very well," Rush says, back straight and chin up. "I won't try to release Dr. Perry and Ginn from quarantine."

"You give me your word?" Young presses.

"I give you my word," Rush intones solemnly.

Young watches him closely a long moment; Rush makes sure his face is entirely earnest, defeated and resigned.

"You're lying," Young says.

Rush deflates, shoulders sagging and throwing his hands up in the air. "Well what do you expect? That I'm just going to sit by and let you torture her? Them?"

Young shifts his feet, but the set of his jaw remained granite. "It's not anyone's intention to -"

"I don't give a damn what anyone's intending!" Rush interrupts before he can spew forth one more pointless military platitude. "It's cruel, and you know it! What happened to your boundless loyalty to your crew? Or don't Ginn and Mandy count?"

"I can recall you lecturing me, in the past, on the greater good," Young says flatly.

Rush has nothing to say to that because the man is right, damn him. And much as he would like to point out that in those past exchanges, the Colonel had all but called him a soulless bastard and ignored his advice damned near every time, it will obviously do no good.

"As I understand it, the only one at risk here is me," Rush tries to argue reasonably.

"And regardless of how anyone may feel about it, you are vital to the continued survival of this ship and its crew," Young reminds him, "as you have told us yourself, many times."

He has and he is, damn it all to everlasting hell.

"You didn't always think so," he lashes out.

"And I was wrong," Young concedes, his stance still rigid - not giving an inch.

"Well, you got along without me before, you'll just have to figure it out again," Rush says, and moves to walk past the other man, toward the exit to the infirmary.

Young grabs his arm; Rush stilles, fighting the urge to strike out. The man has beaten him twice, in a physical fight, but it isn't in Rush to concede; he'd learned that much on the schoolyard, years and years and half a universe ago. You get back up, and again, and again.

"Rush, I'm not going to let you -" Young begins.

"Yes, yes, you're not going to let me release Ginn and Mandy, we've been over that," Rush interrupts.

"I was going to say I'm not going to let you kill yourself," Young corrects.

"And how do you propose to stop me, hmm?" Rush demands.

"I'll put you under guard, if that's what it takes," Young warns.

"And I suppose you won't let me near Destiny's core systems," Rush says. "Since it's not like some soldier is going to understand what I'm doing at a terminal."

"If that's what it takes," Young repeats.

"Well then, I'm going to be a lot of use to you that way, aren't I?" Rush concludes, smiling grimly. He wrenches his arm out of the other man's grasp. "I'll be in my quarters if you need me," he says, stalking off; he goes a few paces down the hall, stops, and turns back to face Young. "Of course, you do have two individuals aboard this ship with far greater knowledge of Ancient systems than I, and if you'd care to stop imprisoning them without cause like some tinpot dictator -"

"Rush-" Young begins warningly.

"- you could have all of us at your disposal," Rush concludes, then turns back around and walks away. "Let me know when you've come to your senses!" he calls over his shoulder.

"Come in," Rush says mildly, at the irate pounding on his door. He keeps his eyes on his notebook, scribbling down a translation as the door slides open and Eli stalks in.

"That was low," Eli says.

"What was that?" Rush asks, still not looking up from his notes.

"Sending me articles on the effects of sensory deprivation out of the Ancient database?" Eli says. "First off, that the ancients even did that kind of research -"

"With willing volunteers," Rush points out. "They were a civilized society."

"- creepy," Eli concludes. "And secondly - low. Seriously low."

"Hrmm," says Rush, flips a page, and begins with conjugation of verbs meaning 'to run'.

"What makes you think this isn't tearing me apart just as much as it is you?" Eli demands, spreading his hands and then letting them fall to his sides.

"Possibly that you're the one responsible for it?" Rush suggests.

"Because I had to save your pathetic, horny ass!" Eli accuses.

"Don't blame me for your own cowardice," Rush returns, still calmly. "You'd have been in that chair in a heartbeat if you'd had the nerve."

"Well, I wasn't," Eli says. "Because it was stupid."

"We made an error in the setting of the initial parameters," Rush says, deliberately choosing the word 'we' - he can't bring himself to blame Mandy, not aloud, not to someone else. "An easily correctable error and to be expected in the experimental stages of any new programming."

A small part of him is guiltily furious at her, though - that they love each other? Had she not thought for so much as a fraction of a second on how a computer, a system of logic and mathematical calculation with no appreciation for the subtleties of human emotion, would interpret that? Had she not realized just how far from simple such a parameter really was? For it to have functioned properly their feelings would have had to match exactly, perfectly in every way, and how could any two thinking beings possibly be expected to have the exact same definition of love?

The very fact that he is spending his time pondering definitions of love enrages him. Thoughtless, sentimental, sophomoric idiocy.

But oh God, Mandy. It's hard to think at all knowing at any given moment, each second, each fragment of a second, she's trapped in a vast and unending nothing that is surely eating her sanity in tiny, inexorable bites. He can only hope that she and Ginn at least have some means of communication - perhaps access to one another's memories - they might be able to sustain each other somewhat.

The silence grows long, and then Eli says, "You are so entirely full of shit."

Rush says nothing, and flips another page.

"What are you doing?" Eli finally asks.

"Composing an Ancient/English dictionary," Rush says.

"We don't know that they're -" Eli begins.

"You're deluding yourself," Rush cuts him off.

Eli's quiet again.

"You're really just going to hide in here," Eli says at length. "Take your toys and go home."

"So it appears," Rush says. "There's always the faint hope of the Colonel seeing reason, or you developing a damned spine."

There's another long, weighty pause.

"Amanda wasn't trapped, you know," Rush finds himself saying, though he had no real intention of making this argument - of begging, and begging Eli, of all people - but Eli's likely to repeat what he's told and Young trusts him. Rush can swallow his pride if it might be productive.

"She could come and go from the simulation at will, and she was the one holding Ginn back," Rush explains. "Even if I was pulled right back in, I'd be the only one trapped. You'd still have both of them, and every likelihood that between the four of us, we'd find some way for me to exit the simulation - as a consciousness - and exist in a similar state. The only real risk is my physical death."

"And you're -" Eli pauses; Rush glances up to see him looking uncomfortable and conflicted and terribly young. He's caught between sympathy and yet more rage. "You're okay with that?" Eli finishes uncertainly. There's more than one question there.

Rush sighs; sympathy and a bit of grudging paternal feeling are winning out, though not without a fair degree of resentment. He never asked for this.

"And you're not," Rush says, because Eli clearly can't. "It's alright, Eli. You're young."

"I didn't say -" Eli begins to protest.

"You didn't have to," Rush overrides him. "You're twenty-five years old and a young twenty-five at that, and you'd known her, what was it, a month? Maybe some people would die for someone after such a short time, but you're not one of them, and no one's asking you to be. Ginn's not asking you to be."

"I love her," Eli protests.

No, Rush thinks, you might have, in time, but you don't.

And again, he's pondering definitions of love; sometimes he feels the universe is playing some great joke on him. Certainly Gloria would be laughing at him.

He wonders if that's part of what got in the way; that as much as he loves Mandy, there is still and will always be Gloria, and there's no possibility of choosing, of one being more to him than the other. He thinks Mandy got the better part of him, the Nicholas who had learned so much the hard way, but then on the other hand he loves Gloria all the more that she put up with the man he was then.

How can a computer be expected to sort that out? Even Destiny.

"Feel guilt for the things that deserve it," Rush says, and looks back to his notes.

"I tried," Chloe says, looking pitifully dejected. "But I don't really understand what Eli did, and besides that, he caught me." She shrugs. "He's pretty mad at me."

"I would imagine he's pretty angry at himself," Rush says. "You just made a convenient target."

"It's eating him up," Chloe says earnestly. "Changing him. But he can't deal with the idea that he might end up responsible for your death, and I think it makes it easier for him if he just keeps telling himself he did the right thing - I don't think he can handle the idea that he didn't, not with Ginn. And Wray went as far as the powers that be at the IOA and General O'Neill on the human rights angle, and - they're not people. That's what the SGC is saying. An artificial intelligence isn't a person."

"They're not artificial," Rush objects, the words coming out harsher than he intends, and Chloe flinches.

"I know that," she says, approaching the end of the bed cautiously and sitting. "But they're thinking of the Replicators."

"They're closed-minded infants," Rush snarls, pushing his hair back out of his face - it's not like he'd really been counting on either her or Wray, but to have the faint hope gone - he closes his notebook and throws it across the room.

"I'm sorry," Chloe says.

He expects her to leave after that, but she doesn't, she just sits there in calm silence.

"The dreams are back, aren't they?" she finally says, as though she can read his nightmares in the lines on his face - and hell, maybe she can.

"Worse," Rush admits; she isn't who he'd choose to see him cry, she's a damned child, for God's sake, younger than Eli even - but she says, "Tell me," and he does.

One Ancient/English dictionary (preliminary draft, very rough, illegible in places), one frustratingly unsolved proof, and several revisions on the rules of chess later, the lights in his quarters flicker. They're only out a moment.

Rush waits.

He notices, as he waits, that it's growing colder by slow but perceptible increments. Life support, then. Well, that's troubling; he tries to maintain calm even as a frisson of real fear goes through his gut, chilling him further. He'd counted on some dire problem cropping up, but will they make the right judgment as to when to concede, or will they let the problem carry on past the point of retrievability? He can't get her out if he's - if they're all - dead.

He would, at the very least, find some way to wipe the drive before his death, Rush promises himself - if nothing else, he'll put her out of her misery, no matter what.

The drop in temperature levels off somewhere below comfortable but above dangerous, and holds. That's reassuring, anyway. It's about five hours before Young appears; longer than Rush expected. Perhaps the rest of them are becoming more competent in his absence. It's at once a hopeful and a discouraging thought.

"There is a problem with the life support system," Young says, words clipped and precise, shoulders squared and hands clasped. "Mr. Brody reports that while we're maintaining atmosphere, the sensors that should monitor temperature were burnt out in most of the crew quarters, as well as hydroponics, by the recent power surge."

"Were they now," says Rush mildly.

"Eli has suggested we retrieve sensors from the sealed portions of the ship to replace the damaged ones," Young says.

"Well, that sounds like a sensible plan," Rush says, while he wonders what caused the power surge; someone mucking around somewhere they shouldn't have been, no doubt.

"It's a good plan, but it's going to take several hours," Young says. "While the affected crew quarters adjoin undamaged sections and the surrounding ventilation system is compensating somewhat, hydroponics is isolated, and the dome structure is apparently much less efficient at conserving heat."

"Obviously," Rush says. Young's jaw twitches.

"We're in danger of losing our entire food crop as well as the medicinals if we don't find a way to keep the temperature in that section above freezing, and Eli tells me we're very close right now."

"That is a serious problem," Rush agrees.

"Damn it, Rush, I'm talking about the survival of everyone on board this ship, including you!" Young explodes.

"And what gave you the idea that I didn't understand that?" Rush retorts. "You know my conditions. You know you can't force me."

Young's hand drops to his sidearm, his face going hard, taking on that look of dogged irrationality that Rush has learned never bodes well for him.

"Go on," he says. "Put a gun to my head. I'm dead either way, aren't I?"

Young turns on his heel and storms out.

Rush exhales a shaky breath; bypassing those sensors and programming the ventilation system to maintain a steady output of hot air such as to keep a stable temperature without being able to monitor it as such isn't an easy proposition. Doable, but complex. It will take time. It doesn't sound like they have it.

Rush looks at the door, wonders if there's a guard outside. If there are guards on the control interface room, and the bridge - if he has time to transfer control of the ship away from those nodes, as he'd attempted once before. If they've reached a point where other heads might be cooler than Young's, if Eli might finally locate his bloody goddamned spine, if Wray could sway things to his favor, or Chloe.

Half an hour, he decides. He'll give Young half an hour, and then -

- what exactly had Lieutenant Johansen says? If you have any chance at all, irregardless of the cost. He'll take it.

Young returns in twenty-seven minutes. He says nothing to Rush, just glances vaguely in the direction of the ceiling (irrational behavior, bordering on superstitious, but it makes Rush's gut tighten and his breath draw in with sudden hope), and says, "Dr. Perry?"

And then she's there, at the end of his bed, blinking at him.

"Nick -" she says abortively, then flinches, eyes squeezing tight shut and hands going up to cover her ears.

"Mandy," Rush chokes out, reaching for her, stopping just short of touching - he's not sure he could bear to see his hand pass right through her, not in this moment.

"It's so bright," Amanda says. "And loud." She's trembling.

"I've met your conditions," Young says, in implicit demand.

And not a damned thing happened to me, you self-righteous bastard, Rush thinks, and for a wild moment it's tempting to say the hell with all of them, just for the sake of seeing Young starve. Rush could just upload himself and be with Mandy -

- but he doesn't hate Chloe. Or TJ. Or even Eli, really, who's just a boy in over his head.

And just like that he's swung around to a willingness to forgive everyone, anything. He's distantly aware that he's crying, and Young is watching him, and he doesn't goddamned care.

"Rush!" Young says sharply.

"I'm sorry," Rush says, hands hovering over Mandy's ephemeral shoulders. She slowly lowers her hands from her ears and opens her eyes for him, reaching one shaking hand out to almost touch his face, fingers hovering near his jaw, his lips.

"It seems I've got to go save us all again," he says, giving her a watery, lopsided smile that she returns in kind. "I hate to leave you like this."

"I'll be alright," she says, in a voice that sounds anything but. "Go."

"I love you," he says.

She glances sideways at Young; Rush suddenly wonders what she's been told. Then she looks back to him and says, "I know."