Chapter 1: Singed, Not Broken
If Nicholas Rush still had dreams, he might have been annoyed with being woken up in the middle of the night, but as it stood, he was more annoyed with the fact that someone had the nerve to even knock on his door at all. He’d been under the impression that no one even knew where his room was, but that bloody pounding wasn’t letting up or going away.
“All right!” Rush roared into his pillow, rolling up and out of bed, groaning as his head swam for a moment. He rubbed his face, blinking the sleep out of his eyes before shrugging up, his shoulders screaming and rolling his head from side to side, enjoying the satisfying crack that shivered down his spine. He cuffed his fist against the switch, glaring as the door opened to reveal a very upset Eli Wallace.
Nothing he particularly ever cared to see.
“This had better be worth my time,” Rush growled, rubbing life back into his arm which was tingling and numb.
Eli opened his mouth to respond, but the black talkie he held at his side crackled to life and a panicked Chloe broke over the frequency, “Eli, get him here now!”
Rush’s eyes snapped from the radio back to Eli’s face as the boy sputtered his message, “Someone came through the Stargate, and we didn’t dial out. No one did.”
Eli swallowed thickly when Rush didn’t reply, only because the doctor literally did not understand the words the boy had just said to him. But the logistics of what seemed to be happening to them at that moment were pushed aside as Chloe’s strangled voice crackled over the radio again, “Eli!”
Rush and Eli jolted into action, running down the hall. Rush realized he was barefoot, only in jeans and his long-sleeved white shirt, but this information hitting him was washing away any of those precedents. Someone was on board. Someone had come through the Stargate. Without being dialed?
That was impossible.
Rush and Eli could hear the infuriated shouting and boisterous commotion before they hit the gate room, and it seemed that everyone on board was awake and very, very unhappy. And like in every other fucking situation, they all had an opinion on whatever seemed to be happening.
The minute everyone heard Eli’s voice, they turned, and suddenly Rush found himself surrounded by angry, upset faces and pointing fingers, accusations flying at him, things that didn’t make sense about dialing Earth, keeping secrets, and working late into the night for this purpose.
A typical day for Nicholas Rush, really.
Until someone he hadn’t seen grabbed his arm, twisting painfully, and hauled him off his feet.
A moment later, after a satisfying crunch and a loud muffled thud, everything fell silent.
Master Sergeant Ronald Greer stood between Rush and Sergeant Spencer’s fallen body, the butt of his gun slightly bloodied from the broken nose he’d delivered. The doctor stared, bewildered and dazed, trying to understand the scene that he was met with, that one of the most unforgiving of his fellow crew members had just saved him. Standing in the circle of disgruntled citizens was Chloe, Scott, and TJ, fixed like the Holy Trinity guarding a fallen angel.
For that was an accurate description of the girl crumpled on the cold metal floor. Her face, cut by shadow, seemed carved of porcelain, dappled in tears and loss. Her hair was wild, a mass of tangled dark curls, and Rush felt his breathing hitch seeing her smudged in soot, the ends of her tattered dress burning, the hem simmering and ruined by smoke. She looked like she’d stepped out of hell, burns across her arms and neck, and her palms were bleeding, leaving haunting, grasping hand prints on the cold metal before the gate.
She had literally clawed her way through the gate.
But Rush realized there were people talking to him when Camille’s tired face cut off his view of the little creature that had found her way onto Destiny, grinding out, “You fix this now!”
“I’d be happy to, Miss Ray,” Rush rumbled darkly, turning from her as he walked to the console, muttering, “As soon as I figure ou-”
Rush looked up from the monitor, his eyes ghosting between Colonel Young and Eli, stepping back a pace from the console. He flexed his fingers. His mouth had suddenly gone dry. “Which one of you did this?”
The system was completely fried, circuits hissing from behind the control board. Whatever had woken it up had ruined it. Rush stared at it, truly disturbed. He’d never seen the system so completely undone, literally unraveled from the inside out, as if something, some ribbon of infection had unwound all the alignments of the components and split it open like a boiled cauliflower.
When no one answered, he slammed his hand against the console. “Who fucking did this!”
A heartbeat of the heaviest silence he’d ever heard passed, and TJ spoke from the middle of the room, “Eli found it that way… when he found her.”
Rush glared at the small trio standing around the broken, bloody girl on the floor, and Rush was charging through the people, his vision red and black with bile at the back of his mouth. He wasn’t conscious of the decision to smash the girl into the ground until Scott slammed him back in the chest with his gun, but even that-for once-barely had an effect on him. He shoved against the first lieutenant, who growled like a trained German shepherd. “Get back, Rush!”
A weak, hoarse voice from behind the three protectors cried out like a falling bird, “I’m sorry!”
Everyone froze, and Rush could only feel the burning blood in his veins heating the back of his neck, heard it roaring in his ears as the girl looked up at him pleadingly. Her eyes, such pale blue they looked grey, like opals, stared up at him.
“I didn’t… I didn’t mean it,” she whispered, her smoke burnished face crumbling.
Rush wanted to break her.
Young’s voice cut through the quiet like a dagger, asking the question everyone wondered but were not brave enough to offer. “Can you fix it?”
Rush continued glaring at the girl, wishing he could grab her by the nape of the neck and throw her back to whatever pit she came from. This had been her doing, somehow, this impossible thing. Whoever or whatever she was had taken away their only means of survival and their only chance of gaining ground on earth again. Without this system, how was he supposed to be able to work on Destiny’s other problems?
“Yes, of course I can,” he growled, his hackles raised, all teeth and spite and hunger to punish. “But it’ll be days before we can dial out again.”
Colonel Young walked closer, leaning heavily on his makeshift crutch as Rush continued glaring at the girl. The colonel took Rush by the arm but the doctor shoved him off, taking a step forward. Greer put a hand out, but the doctor spat, “At ease. I’m not going to hurt her.”
He stepped forward, and Scott and Chloe both tensed on either side, but he ignored them as he knelt down, his elbows against his thighs as he peered at the new arrival’s face. Her head was bowed, her arms curled against her chest protectively. She was shaking, and the low, rough tenor of his voice bit at her.
“Look at me.”
The girl raised her eyes hesitantly, tears streaking trails over her soot stained cheeks, her cracked, dry lips. Whatever planet she had come from had suffered some sort of explosion or disaster. Any normal day, he’d be very interested in questioning her on the subject, but as it stood she’d somehow single-handedly managed to destroy the only system Rush could get his hands on, that was able to function. For the most part.
“Where are you from,” he leveled his voice, but he wasn’t sure how long that would last.
The girl’s eyes widened, stones darkening from rain as she looked up to Chloe. The late senator’s daughter’s gaze flickered from the girl to the doctor. “She-”
“I don’t believe I asked you, Miss Armstrong,” he snapped, glaring now at the young girl in front of him and barking. “Answer me.”
“I don’t know,” she whispered. If he was any judge, her throat was bleeding.
“You don’t know?”
“I don’t… I don’t remember,” she whispered, curling closer in on herself as his hands fisted tightly against his knees, whitening the knuckles. She closed her eyes against him. “Please, I… I didn’t mean it.”
“That makes no bloody difference,” Rush barked, his voice so much harsher, so much rougher than he’d ever heard himself speak with before. But this girl, this anomaly had nearly taken away their only source of life beyond Destiny. That could not be overlooked, and it could not go unpunished. “You’ve nearly destroyed our most important source of communication,” the girl opened her mouth, but Rush snarled ferociously, spitting anger, “No- you keep your mouth shut and you listen to me, now. Whatever you did, whatever you’ve done- it will be reverted, do you understand?”
The girl stared at him, her lips parted in utter fear, and he saw tears well up in her eyes, her shoulders trembling. The singes were blackening the hem of her skirt, crawling up and opening holes along the bodice of her gown, charring and dissolving as if she’d been plucked with cigarette burns. Morbidly, he hoped she kept those scars for this. He hoped it was worth it.
Rush pushed himself up, towering over this frightened, burning child. He knew then that he would stub her out.
“And when that is done, you will be sent back to wherever the bloody hell you came from.”
Chapter 2: Tension Headache
It took Rush three days and his personal arsenal of cursing to fix the gate room’s console. With the occasional look-in from Colonel Young, the only person who dared to bother the doctor while he worked was his assistant. Every time young Eli came in, babbling about the girl who had fallen through the gate, Rush grew closer to throwing him out each time. He would have had he not needed the sodding man-child to give him updates on the logistics that they were running on the bridge, searching the unexplored parts of the ship.
But it seemed Eli couldn’t contain the self-righteous excitement he’d adopted over finding the girl, akin to a child finding an abandoned kitten in a trashcan. Unfortunately for the boy, he wasn’t going to be able to keep it.
“TJ says she seems okay,” Eli said with too much nonchalance to be convincing. “Nothing broken or anything, but she doesn’t remember much of what happened before she boarded.”
“Her accent is a little strange. I’ve never really heard it before,” Eli paused, glancing up from his monitor to look at Rush, who was concentrating what he was writing in his notepad. He knew of course that the boy was fishing, but he wasn’t going to let him go so easily. “I mean… I like it.”
Rush rolled his eyes, licking a finger to flip the page. “Eli, if you are not going to contribute any help to our work today, I suggest you leave while you’re ahead.”
“You can’t tell me that a phenomenon occurred with a Stargate, one that is supposed to be impossible, and you aren’t the least bit curious as to how it happened.”
Rush paused in his note taking and ministrations of rerouting the circuit board. He looked up at his assistant who was perched on the stairs just above him and leaned his elbow against his knee, frowning. “I never said that, did I?”
“You haven’t even asked about her.”
“An alien on the outskirts of the universe is not of my interest, Eli,” Rush sighed, looking back down at his work. “Right now, it’s this console. After that, it’s working on a way to unlock the master code, gaining access to the navigation and propulsion systems, and routing some of the untouched parts of the ship. Something you could be working on, actually.”
There was a long moment of quiet and the clicking of metal as Rush fixed the board before applying it back into the console, snapping the compartment shut. As he stood back up, rolling his head from side to side and feeling the familiar soreness creep up his back, Eli said, “She knows Ancient.”
Rush paused before he looked up at his assistant. Eli was looking at him expectantly, and the doctor narrowed his eyes. “How do you know that?”
“She can read, write, and understand it. She can translate it faster than anyone else- maybe even you,” the boy stood up, stepping down the stairs, and Rush watched him apprehensively as he passed him, walking out of the gate room. “And when you go and see her, don’t stare. It makes her uncomfortable.”
“Why would I do that?” Rush muttered, glaring after him, annoyed that the boy thought he would go at all.
“You’ll see,” Eli paused, adding, “Her name is Belle. Try to be nice.”
Rush leaned against the console, scowling at nothing as his thoughts churned for a while, remembering the crumpled girl on the gate room floor, covered in burns and blood. He didn’t like thinking that there was some force on board that could clear out a system or destroy communication, and not knowing who or what this girl was only spurred those feelings.
Colonel Young, he knew, would have her in quarantine and under guard, but Rush could think of a few cases just off the top of his head where people (and other beings) had done considerable damage without ever leaving a room. He wasn’t naive enough to limit his suspicions, and a girl who could spark a wormhole without dialing out on the edges of the universe fell under those thoughts.
With a quick sigh, he grabbed his notepad and strode from the gateroom. The halls were empty for the moment, though he figured that early in the morning the bulk of the crew was either on their shift in the mess hall or participating in Lieutenant Scott’s physical training, something Rush appreciated from a distance.
The medical bay was quiet when his boot hit the threshold. Tamara was at one of the metal tables, sorting through some of their medicines and looked to be labeling vials.
Their guest was lying in bed, her eyes closed and breathing slow and deep, and Rush saw what Eli had meant about the importance of not staring.
Tamara had cleaned her face, neck, and arms and been careful to comb out her hair, but the damage of whatever trauma she’d been through was still left behind. Burns and lacerations laced up her arms and speckled her neck and face, cracking and bruising otherwise pale and blameless skin. It appeared some of her hair had been torn out, near her temple, and there were stains of blood on her filmy white blouse.
It hurt just to look at her.
Tamara looked up from her work, her eyes flickering between the girl and him. “She’s been sleeping for a few hours at a time,” she set down a few of the vials so they wouldn’t roll off the table before sliding off her stool and joining him at the foot of the bed. “She seems alright, no serious wounds, but I need to keep a close eye on her burns in case of infection. She’s not strictly sick-very weak, though, and she doesn’t remember much before she came through the gate.”
Of course not, that would’ve been too simple.
“Eli said she remembers her name,” he crossed his arms over his chest, watching the girl sleep. “Perhaps she remembers more than she’s letting on.”
Tamara licked her lips, glancing back at her patient. She gave a shrug. “If she has amnesia, trying to goad her to remember will do more harm than good. And any memories she may have might be misplaced. You can’t try to force anything out of her, not right now.”
Rush frowned at the implication. He wasn’t looking to torture the poor girl. “How long until she remembers, do you think? Assuming her memory loss is from trauma.”
The pretty blonde medic slid her hands into her pockets, letting out a puff of air, rolling her blue-green eyes up to the ceiling in thought. “It... it really depends. There’s too many variables to be sure. The type of trauma, whether it was a blow to the head or she fell, and how severe it was all play a part.”
“How does she respond when she’s awake?”
“Fine,” Tamara shrugged again, and he could read the honesty in her face and hear it in her voice. Out of all the crew, Lieutenant Johansen was the only one Rush knew he could trust for her opinion. “Confused, obviously, and frightened. She’s very receptive, though, and talks easily enough. Eli spends the most time with her, and Chloe has gotten her to open up a bit, too.”
“Has the Colonel spoken with her?”
“No,” she winced, before stepping closer to him and lowering her voice, “She won’t speak in front of military personnel.”
Rush frowned, his brow creasing. “Why?”
Tamara shrugged, just as lost for reason. “I don’t think she likes the guns. It’s peculiar. I’d say she’s like a child, scared of loud noises and quick to jump if you move too fast, but the way she looks at them, it’s like she’s never seen a firearm before,” They shared a look of meaning before the medic cleared her throat and stepped back. “Have you been able to find the address where she came from?”
“Unfortunately not,” Rush sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “The address disappeared before Eli could secure it, or so he tells me.”
It was more like there was never one to begin with. An impossible thought, but after the series of events he’d met in the past 72 hours, Rush was taking everything with a grain of salt as it was.
“I’d like to ask her some questions,” he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his notebook, ignoring the disapproving look the medic was giving him. When he met her eyes, he took a deep breath, “Look, we have to at least attempt to figure out what happened when she came through. Her arrival drained more power than we could afford to spare, not to mention the damage it caused.”
A small, hoarse voice broke the tension, “I said I was sorry.”
Both scientist and medic turned to the girl in the bed. Her pale blue eyes were open and so shadowed they looked bruised. Tamara went to her side and smiled, all gentleness and tender care. “How are you feeling?”
The girl winced at her voice, pursing her lips before trying to sit up. “Heavy...my head hurts.”
“Get used to that,” Rush muttered, stepping to the other side of the bed. The girl looked up at him, swallowing and pushing herself up a bit more. Tamara arranged her pillows behind her to help her, and then stepped back.
“I’ll... let you two talk,” she said quickly before whirling away, hurrying back to her vials.
Rush glanced down at the girl before drawing up a stool by her bedside. She flinched at the noise of the legs scraping the floor, and he raised an eyebrow when she pushed herself away. Sitting down slowly, remembering what Tamara had said about noise and movement, he felt like he was dealing more with a frightened animal than a girl. The thought gave his words a softer edge than he’d planned. “I suppose I was not very pleasant when we first met.”
“No, you were not,” her voice was quiet, the raspiness catching and breaking her words. Her accent was rich, and he recognized it, something close to Australian. Interesting.
She looked up at him, and Rush realized then that she was scared of him.
That pleased him.
“Eli told me your name is Belle,” he cleared his throat, tapping his fingers on his knees.
“Yes,” the girl stared at him for a long moment, threading her fingers over her stomach and she seemed to slowly relax under his presence. “Yes, my name is Belle.”
“No last name?”
She tilted her head, her eyebrows furrowing. “I’m not sure what you...Belle’s always been my name, I don’t... I’ve never had others.”
It was quiet as they looked at each other, attempting to figure out just who and what the other was. Her way of speaking was throwing him off, and Rush got the strange sensation that she wasn’t understanding everything he said.
“So you don’t remember anything from before you arrived?”
He watched her face tighten, her nose ruffling, and her eyes squinting as her mind sorted out something behind her eyes. “Not... nothing really, just bits and little pieces.”
With a deeper sigh, Rush nodded and looked down at his notebook. He rubbed the back of his neck, the tension building there making the muscle ache in a familiar way. This was not just proving to be an annoyance but a tedious one at that. “Right,” he muttered. “So no recollections of the planet you came from, no explanation for your bruises or burns, or your current state. Marvelous.”
Belle narrowed her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes, you’ve said. When it starts proving to be useful, I’ll be more willing to accept,” he took his pencil from his pocket and wrote a series of phrases on the paper cradled in his hand before laying the notepad beside her leg, watching her face. “Tell me what this says, please.”
Belle glanced down at the paper, peering at it apprehensively before gently plucking it up and closer to her face for further inspection. “I’m not as schooled in the newer translations, forgive me,” she said hushedly, glancing at him. “Especially so shoddy, but I believe you’ve written the phrase ‘Where are we?’”
Rush’s mouth had gone completely dry, probably because his mouth was hanging open.
“I beg your pardon.”
She tilted her head at him curiously before replying, “As I said, this newer tense is hard for me to grasp, but I can understand the intent of the words well enough. I am more fluent in the older language.”
“What ‘older language’?” he snapped, grabbing the notepad from her weak grip.
“The one before this,” Belle answered, her eyes flickering in surprise. “I assume the development has trickled down over the years.”
“This is Ancient.”
“Not from where I’m sitting,” she snorted, laying her head back comfortably against the pillows. Under the light, her skin looked sallow and he noted the bags under her eyes, but what weak persona had covered her before was melting off. Her smile softened. “I could help you, if you wish.”
“I don’t require your help,” Rush said, flipping his notepad closed and tucking it in his pocket like a gunslinger sliding his pistol in a holster. “And I would appreciate it if you would focus on remembering what happened and how you got on board my ship.”
“‘Your ship’?” She raised her eyebrows, a smile tugging at her lips. “Are you captain, then?”
Rush glared at her, “That was not- never mind,” her smug smile was grating on his nerves, and Lieutenant Johansen’s appreciative chuckle from across the room didn’t help matters. Rush shot the medic a dirty look, frowning, “Do you mind?”
The medic turned on her stool so her back was to them, but the shake of her shoulders gave her silent laughter away.
Rush directed his attention back to the burned girl in the bed, feeling thorny tension prickle the back of his neck up to his temples. “Look, Miss...”
Rush rolled his eyes, “Right, Miss Belle . You are responsible for setting me back three days work. Not only is that problematic for myself, but everyone else on boar-”
“What kind of problems?” Her voice was meek and humble now, but she met his gaze without flinching and leaned forward. “If there’s anything I can do-”
“You’ve done plenty. Too much, in fact, and I not enough. We are sending out a team to venture into unexplored parts of the ship,” he muttered more to himself than the girl in the bed. He rolled his head from side to side, his hands on his thighs as he pushed himself up from his stool. He glanced at TJ, whose back remained resolutely facing them, and he pulled his vest straight. “I assume you’re being contained here.”
The girl narrowed her eyes in confusion once more, taking a small breath as if to speak but words seemed to fail her. Rush rolled his eyes, “Never mind. You are to remain here then, under the watch of Lieutenant Johansen. You are not to leave under any circumstances.”
Belle gathered her wits quickly at that, and she tried pushing herself up. “But Eli said that I could-”
“Eli is not a ruling authority. Far from it, in fact, so you would do well to disregard any promises he’s made to you and remain in the medical bay,” Rush turned, ignoring the noise of protest Tamara issued, and was already nearing the threshold as he gave his orders. He was sure Colonel Young would, this one time, agree with him on the matter. Having an unexplained passenger come aboard Destiny was too risky to simply allow her freedom of the ship’s halls.
The scientist stopped, turning on the heel of his boot to look at the girl who appeared much smaller in the bed, skin of paper and eyes of glass. She swallowed hard, pushing against the mattress beneath her uncertainly. When she spoke, her voice was subdued again, but he did not have to imagine the discomfort that lingered behind her words, “What are you going to do to me?”
Rush tilted his head as he studied her for a moment longer, threading his fingers behind his back. “Whatever it takes to preserve the greater good,” his lips twitched as the flicker of fear that crossed her face. “Welcome aboard Destiny.”