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Out of Alignment

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Out of Alignment

All that knowledge. The bolts close down on my temples and the data starts trickling into my mind. Slowly at first, then faster. Faster. Before He can draw another breath (or is it me?, is it us?) everything changes. No holding back now, no filters, no exit. Only Destiny's knowledge drilling bit for bit into my brain. It's when He (yes it's him, we're divided by time, there's no us, not anymore) turns to run to safety - to his Destiny that won't fall into a star and won't burn and to the crew that is still alive while my Destiny is stripped bare and abandoned apart from Telford's corpse that stares into the darkness with lifeless eyes - and leaves me behind, his doppelganger but not him, that's when I find it: an innocent-looking subroutine in the depths of Destiny's memory banks, written to use the chair as a crude predecessor of the DNA resequencer.

As His footsteps echo in empty hallways that shake with explosions I run the program and there's a hiss, a cloud of smoke. Time slows down and then seems to stand still. My thoughts fracture and spiral and run in parallel. It's beautiful and frightening
and all I ever dreamed of and it will be my last chance to learn the universe's wonders and Destiny's secrets or do anything else, because I won't descend, I can't descend, I know I can't go with the other Nicholas, I know I can't live.

I know I’m going to die.

I reach out and it's there, the knowledge of Destiny, but not enough. I devour the facts and I analyse and I hypothesise and I prove and I solve; I'm hungry for more and stretch further, I don't know how I do it only that I can see into the future. I want to see it, want to catch a small glimpse of Destiny's future and the mission. So I find Him.

He helped me. He understands me, but where I want to see he wants to forget. He hurries down a familiar deserted corridor and wonders if there is a word for watching yourself die, because it would mean that it happened before if someone went to the trouble of naming it. He could file me away in his mind as something troubling but not rare, store me in a closed box and lock me away and stop looking back. He could do that, yes, we have tried that before.

It takes more effort than I have anticipated to stay focused on him, yet I don't have the energy to jump further into the future, so I decide to stay with him. What do I have to lose? To watch him allocates only a minimal share of my new cognitive abilities. Right now I'm seeing a nebula and I'm reading a chart of all gates Destiny ever visited and I'm mapping a thousand suns while I block out the sensations of my now superfluous body. Like the heat on my skin. Like the sound of explosions coming nearer. I see the past and the present and the parts of the future that is His.

Nicholas stops in front of a familiar door and pauses for a moment. He thinks the colonel is unpredictable - oh how predictable of him (us me him) - but I remember the last time, even if He tries not to. I can see it, snapshots of a former life, mine, his ours, devoid of all details. Broad strokes of the brush, still lives, is all that's left. Emotions are overwritten by algorithms and equations, cold hard facts. Notes on the page but no music...

+++

I have a hundred pages of a truly mediocre book to finish.

That was Rush's plan, but by his estimation he will run out of pages long before he runs out of life. Finishing that drivel is all he has left to do before they venture too close to the sun. That and finding out if their death will to be as quick as he led Miss Armstrong to believe, of course.

This ship, coming here, was my destiny.

Soft music plays in the background. Rush turns a page. The edge scrapes over his palm and gets caught on his wedding ring.

The one thing you can't change is what's happening to me. Don't let that hold you back.

The first notes of the violin concerto in d minor trickle out of the loudspeakers. Rush presses the book to his chest and leaves. Too many ghosts in his quarters.

He doesn't meet another soul on his way through the ship, the monotone drone of a distant prayer his only companion.

When the time comes, I know you'll be there.

Rush quickens his steps.

+++

An echo from the past. He must know, or has he forgotten, or is that why he's there? He's not me anymore and I could never be him again, but are we so different that I cannot read him? No, I think I understand better than he does. I do remember the last time.

+++

“Rush.” Surprise, but no hostility. Yet. “Finished that book of yours?”

“Not really my genre. Yours, maybe?” Liar, liar.

“As bad as I think it is?”

Rush crinkles his nose. “Worse.” A low chuckle is his reward. Some of the tension in his shoulders drains away.

See, and all it took was dying.

+++

We don't really forget, we can't forget even when we want to, we can only pretend. Especially when we want to, but we try anyway. Now He is trying to forget me.

Young opens the door and the dance begins. “I didn't expect you, Rush. What's so important that it can't wait?”

A thin veneer of calm professionalism laced with the promise of hatred and mistrust if you know where to look and how to push. Same old, same old, but He doesn't want to play that role tonight. I He we don't like to tell the truth either, at least not if it can be used against us, and so Nicholas hesitates before he answers Young. “I found him in the chair room.”

“I don't follow you. Who?”

“The other Rush.”

Young's calm facade shatters, but He had expected it and hurries through his practised speech. “He needed my help. Telford's death was an accident, but we knew nobody would believe it. He asked me to activate the chair and I did it.”

Young's eyes narrow. He straightens and there's more than a hint of impatience in his voice. “Why didn't you just say so when you came back?”

Nicholas averts his gaze and his hair falls into his eyes. He considers keeping silent, of course, we don't like to appear weak. “Does it matter? It changes nothing.”

Brittle silence stretches between them.

“Hm. So he did decide to go down with the ship after all.” Young sighs and shifts his weight. The tension seems to drain from his body, maybe the confrontation is avoided, but maybe it's only postponed; I could never tell with him. “I just don't understand why you're telling me this now?”

“No more secrets, I told you.” Nicholas cradles one shoulder with his hand and stares at the floor. “I gave you my word.”

His voice is quiet, but Young hears him and gives him that look. I know it. Young raises his hand, but not in anger, not clenched into a fist, and still there's that look. I have seen it before and my younger self looks up and he remembers, too, of course yes he does. He knows what will happen and I know it and you do, too, don't you?

Because it's only half the truth he has told, only one of many reasons he's there, because yes, he remembers that day even though he tried to convince himself that it never happened. The spark when Young agreed to back us up and the shiver we felt when we realized he was staying behind with us.

Because Young can kill us only with kindness.

+++

Young sits down and fiddles with the book cover. “Look, I should've listened--”

“Doesn't matter. Honestly, it wouldn't have changed a thing.”

There is nothing left to say but things already said, and Rush is not one to dwell on the past. He already regrets coming. "Goodbye, then, Colonel.” He holds out his hand as Young did a few hours earlier.

Young takes it in his and looks up. Their gazes lock for a moment. Maybe that is respect in his eyes, maybe it is only a trick of the light. Rush tightens his grip. Best not to think about it.

The seconds tick on and neither man lets go. Rush's skin tingles. The last time he would ever feel the touch of another human being: that thought runs circles in his head.

His left hand comes down on Young's shoulder seemingly of its own accord. He doesn't know which one of them is more surprised. It doesn't matter. There is certainly no good reason he can come up with as to why he runs his thumb over Young's neck.

It is probably the same reasoning that makes Young close his eyes and lean into Rush's touch.

A bad idea, Rush knows this. But then he has run out of good ideas a long time ago.

+++

Their clothes are scattered around the room, carelessly discarded as the last barriers they have to tear down that night. They don't talk and He likes it that way. He thinks of Young standing up for him and promising to stay on Destiny, the moment when Young stood alongside him, alongside me and the ten volunteers we would need to keep Destiny operational stepped forward to join us; the anguish when they had all vanished through the gate. Which is strange because he wasn't there, no, he wasn't then, but I can see it in His mind nonetheless, and maybe it's not that strange, because I look into a future, his future, where (when?) I am absent so why shouldn't he look into my past and make it ours now that he believes me?

Young's breath is on his skin, his mouth pressed to Nicholas's chest like the sheets of paper with his speech not long before. There is no looming sun threatening to scorch them, only Young's mouth, much, much warmer than the cool of the sheets, hot and exciting and consuming like only a flaring sun or a kept promise can be. Nicholas runs his hands through Young's hair and holds firm and holds still and tries desperately to hold back and never, ever to hold dear.

Young tears himself away and lies down. “What do you say?”

He produces something from under the pillow and hands Nicholas a small battered container with the oily substance they use as grease for repairs and He wants it and doesn't even pretend not to want it, not when Young's spit has left a glistening trail from his chest down to his cock. It's different this time, not just humping and groping of slick skin between two men terrified of dying dying dying.

Nicholas smoothes the way before he gently pushes and Young's body slowly yields to him. Nicholas slides in slowly, inch by inch, not pushing harder than Young can take, nor taking more than Young is ready to give. For once it's easy between them, for once they work in tandem and their bodies  come together as if they were always meant to. It just feels right.

They rock together, face to face, starting slow and gentle.

“What do you need?” Young whispers and his breath fans out over Nicholas's face, but he just shakes his head wordlessly.

“Tell me what you need,” more urgent this time.

“A secret.” Nicholas closes his eyes, exhales, stumbles over his words. “Tell me a secret, I told you mine, now you tell me one.”

Young cranes his head, rolling his hips, panting. “I need you. That's my secret, damn it, I need you.”

Nicholas's eyes widen a fraction in surprise and a small smile appears on his face, because it's one of his secrets, too, but one he won't share. He pulls out and pushes back in, again, and again. When that's no longer enough they stop being gentle and that's even better. As they gain momentum they start to lose their rhythm, Nicholas with his sweat-soaked hair plastered to his skull and Young breathing hard through his open mouth, both heading fast toward an end that is unavoidable. All rational thought has deserted them and all too soon it's over, a long, frantic ending with shudders and groans and shouts of ecstasy before the silence returns and sweat cools on tired limbs.

In the grand scheme of things their encounter is only one insignificant moment, one small ripple of irrationality in the vast calm sea of eternity. I can now see the steady stream of madness that runs between them and I finally understand, but He is too close. My understanding of time, of the here and now and then is beyond him. When he can breathe evenly again it's the past that creeps into Nicholas's thoughts once more.

+++

Two hands, intertwined. Two golden bands. A goodbye by proxy, was that all it was? Rush strokes his thumb over his ring out of habit. Behind him Young slides closer and presses his own hand to Rush's.

“Emily wants a divorce. Bit late for that now, huh? She'll have to make do with being my widow.”

Rush rolls out of bed before Young can finish his sentence, grabs his clothes and dresses quickly. “I'll be going, then.”

“Rush, I'm sorry, I heard about your wife--”

Rush picks up the book from the floor and holds it up. “I think I'll finish it while I still can. Imagine not knowing how it ends.”

“Rush.”

“Goodbye, Colonel.”

He doesn't look back.

+++

It's only a matter of time until their next crisis, until Young doubts and his mood shifts and Nicholas mistrusts and the same dance begins again. That's what He thinks, at least, but maybe he is wrong, yes, I hope Nicholas is wrong. I can't see any further, and I don't want to see more of His future. It's the right time to stop now, still with the hope that everything works out for Him, them, when there is none for me. Time to leave them behind. Time may be relative, but it's slipping through my fingers. I'm kind of busy right now, busy dying. Shutdown, end of transmission, that's it. When the time comes, I know you'll be there. “For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.” q.e.d. Imagine not knowing how it ends.

I wanted to learn the destiny of all things, I wanted to unravel the mysteries as old as time itself. Too late. This journey was the reason I came here, but you were my reason before all of this, before I lost you. Now I only want to find you again.

I'm Icarus too close to the sun. I will fall, I'm falling, will you catch me? This ship will go dark. Are you there?

Are you there are you,

my love, it’s dark...

did you wait for me, did you,

my love, did you wait,

Gloria?