Type: genfic/drama/HC

Rating: PG-15 if I was going to use that type of rating
Spoilers: set early second season

Betas: LKY and Dr. Dredd (thank you both kindly – any mistakes left are all my own)

After posting to SGAHC, Crockett clarified some points relating to the use of MRIs and CAT scans.

Contact: Sealie


Frame of Reference series.




By Sealie


The early morning meeting was usually a thing of beauty or, more accurately, entertainment, Sheppard thought. By no sense of the word could McKay be described as a morning person. Beckett by definition could operate at any time day or night but his preferred time was the later hours of the day as the sun set and the world quieted down. Elizabeth was a morning person – through and through – too awake at 0-six hundred hours to be anything other than offensive to a confirmed night owl. Lorne, he hadn’t figured out yet, but he suspected that he was an A-type morning person. Kray, head of the newly created technical services section was a nine to fiver, excellent with the day to day administration of the City, but a bit pedantic otherwise. Sheppard knew that he was a morning person -– the cold crack of day as the sun rose couldn’t be beaten -- but today he felt sluggish and lethargic. They hadn’t been on a scouting trip or any other mission type for over a week and obviously he needed some fresh air.


Beckett poured himself into his preferred seat and reached blindly for the carafe of coffee in the centre of the table. Eyes sharp, Sheppard didn’t miss him palming a couple of Tylenol as he took his first mouthful of coffee.


“Hey, Doc.”


“Major. Sorry, Colonel.”


“You could just call me John, you know.”


“Yes,” Beckett said blearily – obviously it was far too early.


“You all right, Doc?”


“Fine,” he said immediately, but the man couldn’t even fib. “Got a headache the size of Atlantis.”


“I can sympathise.” Sheppard held out his hand. The pencil pushing geek who had not allowed them to secret their own supplies of painkillers when first leaving the SGC for Pegasus Galaxy was destined to burn in a place where the residents had pointy sticks. Even now, with the interstellar starship Daedalus carrying out semi-regular supply runs between Earth and the city of Atlantis, everyday, over-the-counter, painkillers were still prescription only.


Beckett wasn’t stupid. He pulled out a child proof canister of pills and decanted two tablets onto Sheppard’s palm.


“Thanks, Doc.”


Elizabeth sauntered into the meeting room, fresh and bright eyed and bushy tailed. Sheppard hated her instantly.


“Carson, John.”


Both man saluted her with their coffee cups.


Rodney dragged his sorry ass into the room, weighed down with two laptops and a diagnostic data tablet. “Is that real coffee?”


“Yep. Made it myself.” Sheppard refilled his own mug and poured one for McKay.


McKay worshiped at the altar.


Lorne came in with Kray.


“Good, we’re all here,” Elizabeth said. “If you could begin as normal, Carson.”


Sheppard tuned out the minutiae, registering the important details. Housekeeping was an automatic yawn. Kray got into a battle with McKay over the environmental controls, which McKay felt as an astrophysicist and not a repair man, wasn’t his remit.


The Tylenol wasn’t putting a dent in the headache. Sheppard blamed Rodney.


“Colonel?” the tone was insistent and Sheppard guessed that Elizabeth had called his name – without any response – more than once.




“You have an offworld mission scheduled.”


“Tomorrow,” Sheppard said succinctly. “Teyla is taking us to the imaginatively named ‘Market World’. Apparently it’s the planet’s annual solstice and they have a massive gathering. A number of planets’ inhabitants attend. It should be good for intel and trade.”


“You will of course be careful. It is paramount that we maintain Atlantis’ secrecy.”


“Of course,” Sheppard said easily.


Elizabeth quirked her eyebrow in a distinctively head mistress manner. Sheppard met her chastisement placidly. So his attention wandered – discussions about sewage systems weren’t that interesting.


“Major Lorne,” Elizabeth began.


Sheppard rubbed the bridge of his nose and only listened to the important stuff.


The final summary of the meeting had the section heads updated and day’s duties outlined.


 “We’ve finished? About time.” Rodney packed up his laptops with a little more than his usual alacrity.


“Rodney,” Elizabeth stopped him dead, “is there a problem?”




“McKay,” Sheppard interjected.


“Things to do. Things to do.” McKay scooped up his laptops. Huffing, he stalked out of the room.


“John?” Elizabeth asked a multitude of questions.


“You know how it is when he’s got something on his mind. It can’t be important otherwise he would have told us succinctly and too the point, but somehow at great length, that we have a problem. I’ll track him down later. He probably just wants to play with some Ancient doodad.”


Elizabeth nodded, accepting the wisdom of his words. Sheppard leaned back on his chair, stretching to ease the kinks in his shoulders. More coffee and a sparring match with Teyla would put him to rights.


“Major,” Beckett said.


“Yeah, Doc?”


“Infirmary.” He pointed over his shoulder.


“Why?” Sheppard manufactured a cough as his tone rose squeakily. 




“It’s just a headache. You’ve got one.”


“Aye, and I’m the doctor and I’m saying infirmary, Colonel. The Tylenol coupled with your morning coffee haven’t eased your symptoms – that warrants further study.”


“I’m fine!” Sheppard winced at the slight whine in his voice.


Beckett’s bottom lip firmed. “Don’t make me make it an order, son.”


Grimacing, Sheppard picked up his pristine notebook. “This is going over the top, Doc,” he noted as he followed the man out of the room.





“Blood pressure’s fine.” Beckett released the cuff.


“I told you, Doc, I’ve just got a headache.”


“Believe it or not there’s normally an underlying reason for headaches.” Beckett shone a penlight in Sheppard’s right eye watching as the pupil constricted satisfactorily. He didn’t miss the furrow forming between his eyebrows. “Is your neck hurting?”


“It’s stiff.”


“Touch chin to your chest.” Beckett demonstrated.


Sheppard easily craned his neck.


“And to the side.”

Sheppard rolled his eyes heavenward, but complied. “Glad to see that you can do it, Doc. You going to let Dr. Biro check you out?”


“She’s a forensic pathologist. No.”


“You’ve got a headache too. And the Tylenol haven’t shifted it.”


Beckett stepped back from the bed and crossed his arms. Sheppard took the opportunity to swing his legs back and forth like a kid.


“Probably tense muscles. Take a couple of hours off. Get some exercise. Go hit Teyla with some sticks. If it hasn’t shifted in a couple of hours come back and the nurse will give you a muscle relaxant.”


“And you?” Sheppard persisted.


Beckett rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ll go for a walk.”

Sheppard hopped off the bed. “You know, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to learn some self-defence.”


“Get a way with you, lad.”


“I’m serious, Doc.” And he was. “Given the situations that we get in, learning some down and dirty self-defence techniques could save your life.”


“Son, I was a hooker throughout college and university. I know how to take a man down.”


Sheppard knew that his mouth had fell open as he processed that obviously innocent little statement from Beckett’s point of view. He started to say something, paused, knew he was gaping. He smiled a crazy smile and finally said, “It guess that’s a position. No, no, no – that’s a bad choice of words. That’s a soccer term, or something?”


Rugby not football.”


“Right,” Sheppard drawled. “Word of advice, Doc: don’t tell anyone else that.”


The faintest of blushes touched Beckett’s cheeks. “Aye, probably sensible.”


“Seriously, Doc. You’ve got the physical strength; moving patients about can’t be easy. But, you know, I’m going to make this an order. You go off world. You need some hand-to-hand training.”


Beckett peered up at him under thick eyebrows. “When, Colonel?”


“You’ve took me off duty for a couple of hours. As the designated Military leader of Atlantis I’m saying now, at this time, today. Two hours in the gym.”


“I don’t know about this,” Beckett said worriedly.


“It’s a good idea. Tell your staff.” Sheppard executed a little shimmy to the left and then to the right. This could actually be fun.





“I’m done.” Beckett looked at the ceiling once again. His headache had been beaten into submission by the padded mat. 


Sheppard leaned over, hands resting on his thighs and grinned down at him. “We haven’t even started.”


A healthy sheen of perspiration covered the colonel. Carson was sure he was a bit grey and pasty.


“You’re doing fine, Doc.”


“Do you make Rodney do this?”


“Yep. He’s not very good at it. Thinks too much, like you. He doesn’t get into the Zen of the moment.” Sheppard hauled him to his feet.




“Let’s try it again.” Sheppard shifted his feet until shoulder width apart. He balanced on the balls of his feet. “Your centre of balance is in your gut.”


“Ileum or—”




Beckett smiled at the chastisement. “Sorry, I’m listening.”


Sheppard poked his own gut just below his navel. “A woman’s centre of gravity is situated around her womb. A man’s is a little higher. When you throw a body you need to be aware of the distribution of mass. If you try and pull me from my shoulders, I’m not going anywhere unless you’re Conan the Barbarian.”


“Aye. Seems logical.”


Sheppard wiggled his fingers enticingly.  “Try it.”


Gingerly, Beckett gripped Sheppard’s shoulders and gave a half hearted yank. “I see.”


“But if I.”


Beckett winced as Sheppard stepped closer, leaned his hip into his side and pivoted. The world flew around him and realigned with the ceiling where the walls had previously been.


“You’re what twenty-thirty pounds heavier than me?” Sheppard grinned.


“Don’t rub it in, son, ‘cause I’m doing your next medical.”


Sheppard hauled him to his feet. “You saw what I did. You try it.”


Biting his bottom lip in concentration, Beckett carefully placed his foot between Shepard’s, swung his hip up against Sheppard’s providing the fulcrum which he levered the soldier’s body over. Sheppard sailed ever so satisfyingly head over heels to land flat on the floor.


“Good one, Doc.” Sheppard bounced to his feet. “Try it again.”


Beckett could learn to like this.





Beckett’s ear piece chirruped. Both men stopped dead and looked at it on the bench against the far wall.


A tiny voice said, “Dr. Beckett, to the infirmary, please.”


“Sorry, Major.” Beckett picked himself up off the floor and ran from the room. Sheppard collected their bags, wrapped a towel around his neck and set off after the man.


Beckett turned a few heads as he ran past, barefooted in baggy black shorts and old, soft-washed white rugby top.


Beckett had already pulled on a white coat and was checking over his first patient by the time Sheppard reached the infirmary. The man could shift with enough incentive. Medical bedlam reigned. There were at least fifteen sopping wet casualties coughing into buckets or curled up in balls around oxygen masks.


“I need some information,” Beckett bellowed.


“Containment leak in the chemistry labs. Aerosol inhalation of chlorine gas,” a marine supporting a coughing scientist supplied


“Concentration?” Beckett rapped out.


“52ppm,” McKay supplied from the doorway. Sheppard started having missing his arrival.


“How long?”  Beckett focussed a scarily intense gaze on the astrophysicist.


“Short term. The room was contaminated by a leaking pipe and then Atlantis initiated emergency responses. Air extraction took place and water ducts opened to shower the inhabitants. Kay and Tremayne were closest to the source.”


Beckett cocked his head to the side, looking as if he were reading from a text book. “Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been exposed to a chemical at levels which will make you feel uncomfortable but will not cause permanent damage. Medical staff will help you providing oxygen where necessary and saline eye washes.”


“Doc?” Sheppard called. “You need extra help?”


Carson had already counted heads and hands. “No.”


The dismissal was obvious and Sheppard didn’t take it personally. He withdrew pulling McKay with him.


“Were you there?” Sheppard asked.


McKay only spared him a fragment of his attention as he pulled up schematics on his data tablet. “No. I helped with the aftermath.”




“Got the door open. Helped the walking wounded to the infirmary,” McKay said absently, fingers clicking against the LCD screen. “Perhaps, I should become a repair man, it’s seems as if Atlantis is falling down around our ears. Hah.”


Sheppard craned his head to look at the screen, but upside down it was all gobbledegook.


“We have system phase modulation errors cropping up in the system,” McKay grumbled. “I suspect that it relates to our interfaces with ancient power conduits. We have created some fairly sophisticated calculations to allow our naquada generated power to align efficiently with the Ancients’ system. It’s an energy transformation problem. We’re probably looking at a maladjusted link which is setting up a cascade error. A little often over time.” McKay shook his head. “It shouldn’t be happening. The Ancient redundancies should counteract the problem. It’s very random.”


“Can it be fixed?”


“Hmm, Chair Room.” McKay flicked a glance at him and screwed up his nose. “You’re very sweaty. Go away. Shower. I have work to do.”


It was proving to be a pretty typical day in Atlantis.




“You look tired,” McKay observed as Beckett approached their preferred table in the commissary.


“Knackered more like.” Beckett dropped his tray on the table and plopped down on a seat. Every molecule of his bearing screamed tired.


“What’s up?” McKay twirled his finger in the air. “There’s been no emergency.”


“Remember the chlorine incident?”


“That was minor, wasn’t it? Bit of saline. Some O2.”


“Essentially yes,” Beckett said. “But Lieutenant Hillier took a fall and sustained a serious fracture to his hip and pelvis. There was an outbreak of food poisoning--”


McKay spat out his mouthful of tofu burger.


Beckett continued without pausing, “From an incident where a couple of environmental scientists stored their chocolate in a biohazard refrigerator. Idiots.”


McKay retrieved his piece of burger and popped it back in his mouth.


“Now, that is disgusting, Rodney.”


“Well,” McKay mumbled, “it actually tastes okay. Why waste it?”


Beckett stirred his tea, absently watching the eddies. McKay took the silence. Beckett finally sipped on his tea, settling back in the uncomfortable plastic chair and finding comfort. The inhabitants of Atlantis moved around them, selecting food, finding tables, eating as they read or chatted with their friends and colleagues.


Sheppard appeared, edging along the bank of heated catering trays. Food chosen, he meandered between the rank and file of tables to where they were sitting.


“Hey,” he greeted and then sat.




“Major,” Beckett said and eyed the contents of the tray. “Is that all that you’re having?”


Sheppard hummed introspectively. “Yes,” he finally drawled.


“Did you have breakfast?”


“I always have breakfast, mom.” Sheppard dug into his evening meal bowl of cereal. 


Beckett quirked a tiny smile. “That doesn’t constitute a real meal, especially after the type of days that you have.”


“I’m not hungry. It was a paperwork day. I wasn’t running away from T-Rexes or Wraith. I’ve been sitting working, apart from this morning when we sparred for a couple of hours.” His discontent at spending a day in front of a laptop, report writing was evident.


“It’s nice that it’s been quiet,” Weir volunteered as she sat. 


“Oh, no.” McKay thudded his head on the tabletop. “Now you’ve done it.”


“I never took you as being superstitious,” she said.


“Ha. I don’t believe in fate and I don’t believe in karma. But that’s just asking for it.”


Sheppard laughed lowly. “That’s a contradiction.”


McKay shrugged, deciding not to get into that coffee table discussion. They needed a late night, alcohol and preferably an impending Wraith attack to dissect religion and mysticism and logic. McKay eyed his table mates. Actually as a group, Carson, Weir and Sheppard were probably intelligent enough that they could have a discussion without too much emotionalism. Although Carson might get a little overwrought.


“What?” Sheppard probed as McKay cogitated.


“Hmmm?” McKay pondered on the fact that he was actually considering chewing over that hoary old chestnut with people in a casual setting.


“McKay?” Sheppard tried again.


“I just remembered that I need to check the phase invariance on the final naquada generator.” He stuffed the final mouthful of burger in his mouth and scooped up his banana and Athosian punt cake for dessert.


“Do you want some company, McKay?”


“No. Finish your cereal.” McKay stood. “Carson, Elizabeth.”




Mouth full, Elizabeth simply nodded.


Pocketing his supplies, McKay beat a hasty retreat. He really did need to check the naquada generator on the fifth pier.


Radek peeked up from his behind his laptop screen as Rodney barrelled into their lab.


“McKay,” he acknowledged.


“I’m going over to the fifth pier.” He grabbed his laptop, control screen and the required interface cables.


“Is the naquada generator on the north east pier causing a problem?” Radek called up the power schematics on his computer.


“So Dopy--”


Dopiachsky,” Radek corrected.


“--says. The idiot said that the reactor’s acting up. There’s nothing wrong with the generator since I configured it myself. It’s probably the interface with the city’s power conduits. Dopyshy must had misaligned the power modulation when he reintegrated it into the system. It could be causing the error I’m picking up.”


Radek closed his own laptop and stood. “There is nothing wrong with the interface.”


“Yes. Yes, Yes.  But no. There’s a 0.00002% shift which I can’t account for.”


“Yes, we will check.”


“I don’t need--”


“Any help. I know. But I will come. I need to stretch my legs. And I wish to show that the interface is working correctly,” Radek said.


“It could be the interface.”


“It is not the interface. I designed the interface with the Ancient technology.”


“And I helped design the mark two reactor,” McKay said pompously.


Both scientists smiled.


“So Dopy’s obviously mucked up our brilliance.”


Radek smiled impishly. “We shall check.”




“The Naquada generator is not malfunctioning,” Radek said.


“Your interface is okay,” McKay returned.


“Have you thought of--


“Yes, yes. We have checked each others’ work. The fault isn’t here.”


Zeleneka rubbed his chin as he pondered the problem.


“Generator.” McKay pointed. “Cable. Transformer. Interface. Ancient power pathways.”


“The generator is working,” Zelenka said.


“So is the interface-transformer.”


“Cable.” Zelenka moved to the scroll work panelling protecting the power conduits. “Or the pathways.”


“Which one do you want?” McKay asked.


“I am here.” Zelenka prised of the decorative façade revealing the light flexes entwined around crystal matrixes. 


McKay crouched by the heavy duty black cabling. “You do realise that this is a profound waste of my valuable time. Checking cabling.”


Zelenka hummed under his breath, ignoring him.


McKay tapped is earpiece. “Operations tower?”


“Heaton, here.”


“McKay. I’m powering down the naquada generator at north east pier for three minutes.”


“Acknowledged. I’ll…”


Protz--!” Arch of lightning, searing crack and Zelenka was flung straight across the room. He slammed into a supporting pillar and dropped.




McKay grabbed the arrow piece on the central column of the Naquada generator, yanked it up, turned it ninety degrees and slammed it down in the off position. Without pause, he clambered over the generator taking the shortest route to the engineer. Slapping his ear piece, he dropped on his knees by Radek’s prone form. The Czech engineer’s head was twisted to the side at a scary angle.


“I need a medical team to the generator room in the north east pier! Carson, I need you.”

Radek was floppy like a dead thing. McKay didn’t want to touch him.


“Rodney, what’s the problem?” Carson responded immediately.


“It’s not me. It’s Radek.” McKay heaved a terrified breath. “I think he’s dead.”


Carson’s voice was calm. “A medical team is on the way. What happened?”


Radek was shocked. He was thrown across the room.”


“Is he breathing?”


“I don’t know,” McKay wailed. “The resus-dummies you made us practice on were always face up.”


“Rodney, you should be able to tell if he’s breathing.”


McKay dropped to his stomach and brought his ear as close to possible to Radek’s mouth. A whisper of a warm breath brushed his ear.


“He’s breathing,” McKay reported.


“Excellent. We’re almost with you.” Carson’s tone was still calm and level, although now it was interspersed with the huff of exertion. “Check his pulse. Place your hand on his wrist. You’ve done it before in training.”


“Yes. Yes.” Fumbling, Rodney felt the inside of Radek’s wrist. “Carson, I can’t find anything.”


“Calm down, Rodney. Try his throat. But try not to move him.”


The skin at Radek’s throat was cool and damp with the faintest prickle of bristles. “I got it. No, I don’t.”


“Calm, Rodney.”


Carefully, Rodney flattened his hand so he could rest fingers and palm along the whole side of Radek’s throat.




“I’m here.” Beckett barrelled into the room, lugging a large orange box. McKay thanked the deities that he didn’t believe in for the invention of the transporter systems. The transporter door behind Beckett closed and then re-opened disgorging the rest of Beckett’s team. 


Rodney rolled way with a relieved sigh, folding up against the wall. One of the medics moved to his side. He pushed her away.


“There’s nothing wrong with me. I was helping Radek.”


Carson leaned over the unconscious engineer, his hand was under Radek’s t-shirt holding a stethoscope in place.


“I have a beat.” But he sounded concerned. “Rodney, how far was he thrown?”


Silently, Rodney pointed to the open panel on the other side of the room.


“We’ll need the back brace,” Carson directed.


A white shirted medic unfurled the portable unit.


“I don’t know what happened.” McKay finally found his feet. Hand on the wall, he stood. The network of crystals were intact except for one in the middle of the central column which was charred. “That shouldn’t have happened.”


A clatter heralded the entry of the rest of the med team with the transport gurney. McKay turned away from the conduit. Carson had Radek trussed up in a network of black fabric straps and Velcro strips.


“Right on my mark. Turn. Mark.”


All hands moved to turn the engineer onto his back.


The gurney was placed alongside Radek’s body.


“One, two, three.” Carson directed.


As one they moved and smoothly lifted Radek onto the gurney. The transport was ratcheted up to waist height and in a blink the team was out the door leaving medical debris in their wake.


McKay bent down and picked up a plastic cap from a used syringe. He held it up, contemplating the efficiency of the design and then let it drop.


Mechanically, he tapped his ear comm.. “This is McKay. I want Passat and Bourbon here ASAP. And initiate a system wide shut down of all non-essential accesses to the power grid. And when I say non-essential I mean non-essential – that means only leave the infirmary, containment fields and the deep space sensors. That doesn’t include Kavanaugh’s PCD study.”


“Yes, sir.”


McKay sighed heavily. “Keep me informed of Radek’s condition.”


Hair flying, Sheppard appeared in the power room. He skidded to a halt, sliding on the shiny floor. His usually pale skin was flushed with exertion.


“You okay?”


“Yes.” McKay said shortly.


“McKay?” Sheppard asked, concerned.


Radek took a belt. It threw him across the room. Carson got him to the infirmary.”


“Why are you still here?”


McKay snatched up his laptop from the floor and jabbed at the on button. “I don’t know why it happened. I have to find out before it happens to someone else.”


Blue light from the screen played over his taut features. 




Beckett slowly walked out of the infirmary to the corridor which had become the designated waiting area when the doctor did not let concerned friends and colleagues into the infirmary proper.


Carson?” Rodney erupted to his feet.


“He’s going to be fine,” Carson said without preamble. “Significant concussion which will keep him off work for a few week or so, first degree burns to his right hand and feet. He cracked his shoulder blade when he hit the pillar.”


McKay heaved out a sigh. “A couple of weeks?”


“Yes,” Beckett reiterated. “A couple of weeks.”


“Dumb Czech, don’t know what he did.”

Beckett rested a warm hand on his shoulder. “Would you like to sit with him for a wee bit?”


“When’s he going to wake up?”


“Properly wake up – sometime tomorrow morning, more than likely. But he’ll be in and out. We’ll be monitoring him closely. Keeping an eye on his concussion.”


“Okay.” McKay scooped up his laptop. “Do you think that he’ll be able to answer any questions?”


“Questions, laddy? He’s just sustained a serious concussion.”


“I haven’t been able to figure out what happened.” McKay grimaced at the laptop. “The central crystal matrix plate in the middle column blew. If it was a power overload sufficient to throw a body across the room the whole series should have blanked out. The crystal might be flawed. I’ve got crystallography doing a spectrophometric analysis.”


“He’s not going to be answering any questions, but you can sit with him.”


“Okay.” McKay shuffled into the infirmary.





Carson trudged tiredly down the corridor, his thoughts on a hot, hot shower before falling into bed. He did not need to consult his SGA-issued, big-faced watch to know that it was three o’clock in the morning. Ah, but since they were military and scientific staff perhaps he should call it zero three hundred hours. Whatever, he was so tired that his skin was crawling and he was rambling in his own head.


Radek was fine and in the care of his professional staff. Rodney had been turfed, reluctantly, from the infirmary around midnight.


On autopilot, Carson turned down a darkened corridor. He was halfway down the gloom when the oddness stopped him dead. Corridors didn’t stay dark for him – Atlantis usually illuminated his way.


“Hello?” Carson squinted to pierce the darkness, memories of the energy-devouring entity rising. Atlantis was still bloody creepy at night.


Lights,’ Carson structured the thought into a solid resonance. ‘Please.’


The lights immediately flared, warm, amber and welcoming, surrounding him in an oasis of safety. Carson took a step and the lights directly ahead of him awoke. The ones just behind ebbed and died. Carson took another step. The light ahead flared into life those behind flicked off.


“Happy joy,” Carson mumbled.


Each step was dogged by darkness and guided by light.


Uhm, control?” Carson flicked his ear piece. Uhm, you having problems with the lights?”


“Dr. Beckett? Where are you?”


“I’m on my way to my room.”


“Dr. McKay requested a power down while he ran some checks.”


“Is he still up? I sent him to bed.”


“I don’t have that information.” The voice said immediately. “He’s not here, sir.”


“Yeah right…” Carson said slowly and took another light filled step. The darkness around him was impenetrable.


“Are you all right, Dr. Beckett?”


He swallowed, hard. “Yeah, fine. Just tired. Going to bed.”


Carson slid a foot forward. The light kept with him. He wanted to pick up the pace but he didn’t want to get ahead of the lights.


“It’s just my imagination,” he muttered under his breath. “Imagination.”


A flare of bubbles in a water column almost made him jump out of his skin. 




“Imagination!” Unable to help himself, Beckett scurried forward. The lights kept pace, keeping him cocooned. Sweating, he slammed into his door. It opened as he reached up to the door panel, anticipating his request. He fell into his room and all the lights flared on. Stumbling down to hands and knees, he heaved in an anxious breath. The door behind him slammed shut.


“Jesus Christ.” He twisted on to his bottom. “I need a holiday.”


The omnipresent feeling of terror faded now that he was in the warm confines of his familiar quarters. ‘A little bit of darkness and you’re a complete and utter baby,’ he chastised himself. Luckily, the city itself had lit his way. Sometimes it paid to have the ATA gene.


He pointed at the door. “Lock.”


The click was audible and immensely satisfying.


Sighing heavily, he stood. For the longest time he simply stood staring at the closed door. Then tiredness and discomfort rose. Grimacing, he peeled off his ear mike and dropped it on his bedside table. Boots came next and then he stripped. He cast his clothes in the plastic crate – his laundry box – in the corner and staggered into his en suite bathroom. There were some privileges of rank.


The water was deliciously warm as it cascaded over his head. He stood for a lifetime, just allowing the warmth to ease the tension.


“What a day.” He rested his head against the cool, metallic glasswork and then found the energy to grab his shower gel and soap up.


In his bedroom the ear mike chirruped. He let it ring, half meditating to the cadence as he allowed the hot water to wash away the soap, leaving him so wonderfully clean and comfortable.


The chirruping became repetitive and annoying as he rinsed the soap residue from his feet. Belatedly, he realised that for all intents and purposes he had been sleeping standing up and had ignored a possibly important call. Swathing himself in towels he staggered to the mike.




“It’s Rodney, Hanson said that you were having problems with the power?”


“Rodney, I sent you to bed.”


“Well, funnily enough, I’m an adult and I go to bed when I want to.”


Radek’s going to fine, Rodney.”


“I know that. The power problem?”


“The lights in the corridor leading to my room were playing up.”


“Playing up?”


Carson dropped sideways onto his bed, his head thumping on the pillow. He yawned widely.


Carson?” Rodney prompted.


“They only initialised around me.”


“But they came on?”


“Yeah,” Carson mumbled sleepily.


“Okay,” Rodney said introspectively.


Carson listened to him cogitate. He couldn’t find the energy to get up and get dried.


“You still there, Carson?”


The towels were toasty and his body was turning into warm lead. As Rodney talked, he felt himself inevitably drifting off. His final thought was since he hadn’t dried his hair, he was going to be vying with Colonel Sheppard for the daftest hair style in the morning.




“I’m not going,” McKay announced loudly as he stomped into Sheppard’s quarters.


Sheppard looking up from lacing his boots. “Is Radek okay?”


“No, he’s sustained a significant concussion and fractured his shoulder. Weren’t you at the briefing?”


Sheppard took a moment to concentrate on the loop and twist of the intricacies of lacing. He could have sworn that he locked his door, with an extra-special Atlantis request. Talking to Rodney was so difficult at times.


“So why aren’t you coming on the mission?”


“Because I haven’t figured out the problem yet. I’m not leaving Atlantis,” Rodney underscored his words by executing a fairly good parade turn on his heel and stalking out of the room. He called over his shoulder, “It’s a boring meet and greet wandering around a market – take someone who likes shopping.”


Sheppard grabbed his BDU vest and shrugged into it. McKay was right, but the team that worked together and played together should also go on boring missions together. McKay should be going with them.


Sheppard reran through the mission spec as he ghosted through the armoury and picked up his P90 and a couple of extra clips of ammunition.


Teyla and Ronon were waiting in the embarkation platform by the Stargate. Sheppard gave them a ‘wait a minute’ wave and jogged to the stairs to the Elizabeth’s office. As he crossed through the operations tower balcony, he spotted a familiar pair of legs poking out from the bowels of a unit. Sheppard accidentally on purpose clipped McKay’s kickers.


Oi! Man working” McKay bawled.


Sheppard bounced into Elizabeth’s office. “McKay’s begging off this run ‘cause he wants to check something out here. I’d be happier if we had a geek to assess any finds.”


“You could take Kavanaugh,” Elizabeth said.

”No, seriously.”


“De Santis? He’s cool, calm and collected.”


“Really?” Sheppard shook his head. “That would be… refreshing.”


Elizabeth smiled, her lips moving a mere fraction. “I’m sure De Santis would jump – a very little jump – at the chance to go off world.”


“Well, he’s got five minutes to kit up and join us in the embarkation platform.” Sheppard jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m going to bug McKay for five minutes.”


“I’ll just have a quick word with De Santis before he joins you.”


Sheppard quirked an eyebrow at her words. He left her to contact the geek.


“Hey, McKay, find anything?” Sheppard poked him with his toe.


The scientist sighed. “You are such a child.”


“Do you think that the 0.00002% modulation error is responsible for Zelenka’s injury?”

McKay shuffled out from under the booth. “No. A flawed crystal matrix was responsible.”


Sheppard crouched down on his haunches. “And that wasn’t spotted when the reactor was interfaced with the Ancient power conduits?”


McKay pursed thin lips. “No. I don’t know how I missed it. Maybe it was a tiny flaw. Likely a resultant mis-resonance accelerated the decay in the crystal structure.”




“What do you mean ‘Ah’?” McKay sat up. “This isn’t about guilt. This about the fact that we have a problem. This place is ancient – funnily enough – and systems inevitably breakdown….”


“McKay, you’re gonna have a stroke if you carry on this way.”


“This is the way that I am. People let little things go until they become big things. Things that go boom. This is a boom situation. We’re now at 0.000034. Go away do the math. Tell me when we’ll be at 1%.”


“85, 714 hours and 29 minutes,” Sheppard responded immediately.


“Very good. Now go away.”


Fondly shaking his head, Sheppard stood. There was only one McKay. Thank god. “You do realise that is 9.8 years.”




“Suit up. You’re coming on the mission.”


“I’m not.”


“You’re coming on the mission because this hardly constitutes an emergency. You don’t get off because you’re allergic to shopping.”


McKay glowered.


Sheppard was resolute. He rested his hands on the butt of his P90 and smiled. McKay watched him from his supine position, reading his intent. Sheppard’s decision was made: McKay didn’t get to pick and chose his missions. Well, to be frank he did but this hardly constituted a good excuse to duck out of a mission.


McKay suddenly hissed out a frustrated sigh. “Okay. But don’t blame me if it’s jumped up to 0.00007 when we return in six hours.”


“It will be at 0.00007 in six hours, McKay. Get dressed. You’ve got two minutes.” Sheppard jogged down the stairs to the embarkation platform. De Santis was there, a gleam of excitement flared in his brown eyes. “Sorry, De Santis, McKay’s coming.”


“Typical!” The man stormed kyboshing Elizabeth’s character reference.


“So Dr. McKay will be joining us,” Teyla said.


Sheppard grinned.


De Santis drew in a meditative breath. “Colonel Sheppard, in the interests of ensuring that the scientific community gets experience in working with the military, rather then just during emergency situations, it might be an idea for you schedule our inclusion in some offworld missions in the future.” With a calm nod, the scientist strode off the platform.


De Santis met a red-faced McKay hauling his BDU vest and backpack. McKay came to a stuttering halt before the taller scientist. They made an interesting contrast: calm-collected, slim, tall, dark Mediterranean and shorter, pudgier, hyper, pale North American.


“De Santis.” McKay nodded. “Next time.”


“Sure, McKay,” the man said easily.


“Rodney, why aren’t you wearing your fatigues?” Sheppard called out.


“You only gave me two minutes!”


“Dr. McKay?” A voice called from the operations tower balcony across from the platform. The scientist who had replaced Grodin poked his head over the top of the DHD.


“Yes--” McKay clicked his fingers. “What’s your name again?”


“Sir, you asked me to monitor your phase modulation errors while you were offworld?”


“Yes. Yes. Get on with it.”


“Sir, it’s jumped to 0.009.”


McKay slid a speaking glance in Sheppard’s direction. And Sheppard watched as he metaphorically dug his heels in.


“Go on.” Sheppard jerked his chin in the direction of the control balcony. McKay was away before he finished speaking. “De Santis, you get to come.”

”Excellent.”  De Santis smiled.


The team stepped to the side as Grodin’s replacement dialled up the Stargate address. Sheppard admired the whoosh. He doubted that it would ever get old. Once it stabilised, Teyla and Ronon entered the wormhole. De Santis raised his chin high and face cut in stone strode forward. Sheppard turned around to nod to Elizabeth on her balcony above. She craned her head regally.


Of McKay there was no sign.


Sheppard stepped through the event horizon. 




Beckett increased the flow of the saline through Radek’s IV fractionally. He had yet to keep anything in his stomach and Beckett didn’t want the scientist to get dehydrated. The man had a significant grade 3 concussion but the CAT scan showed no evidence of bleeds, and the longer he went without showing any complications the less probable it was that they would occur.


He picked Radek’s chart and made a note of his observations and the increased saline output. Radek opened his eyes and looked at him without really seeing.


“Hello, Radek,” Beckett said softly.


The Czech swallowed harshly which had the doctor reaching for the emesis basin, but the contents of his stomach remained in place. Not that he had much left to regurgitate.




“Yes, Radek.” Beckett leaned over his patient to check his pupil response. As he shone his pen light in his eyes, Radek twisted away from the brightness. The pupils responded. “You’re doing fine, son. You’ll be up and about in no time.”


The words out of Radek’s mouth were unpronounceable and probably very offensive.


Radek, how old are you?”


The engineer ignored the question.


Radek, how old are you?” Beckett persisted.


“Forty,” he finally said.


“Good lad.” Beckett patted his shoulder.


Radek closed his eyes and eased back into sleep. Beckett padded softly across the infirmary. Lieutenant Hillier, racked up in traction, looked up from his comic book as he passed. Automatically, Beckett catalogued the young Lieutenant’s readouts and everything was on an even keel.


There was a skyscraper of paperwork to catch up on. Foolishly, he had assumed that being in a whole other galaxy that mundane paperwork would become a thing of the past. And now since the Dadaelus made regular supply runs they were a necessity instead of a thing that you did sometimes… when you had time in between emergencies… or felt the urge to review working practices. Beckett made himself a cup of milky tea and then settled down to summarise the previous fortnight’s medical activities in a format suitable for the SGC archives.


He was bogged down in the minutiae of the first day of what he was inwardly calling hell week when his ear piece chirruped.  “Beckett.”


Carson,” Rodney said. “You want a break for coffee?”


“Oh, yes, indeed.” Beckett stretched until his back and shoulders cracked satisfyingly.


“Commissary in three minutes?”


“Yes.” You had to love the man, he was so precise. Beckett saved his work and closed his laptop. A little break would be good since his headache was back from staring at the bright laptop screen.


His head nurse was checking Radek when he made his way through the infirmary.


“Love, I’m just stepping out for twenty minutes to get a coffee. Do you want anything brought back?”


“I’ll have one of those fruit pastries if there’s any left.” Nurse Andaman smacked her lips in anticipation.


“I’ll even fight Rodney for the last one.”


She laughed a deliciously robust laugh. “You’re too good to us, Dr. Beckett.” 


Marines greeted him by name as he sauntered his way to the commissary, deliberately taking his time so as to annoy his friend.


McKay was filling up his tray with an assortment of snacks. Beckett reached over him and snagged the promised fruit pastry.


“What took you so long?”   


“Are any of them for me?” Beckett pointed at the full tray.


“The cheese sandwich and the tea, made to your exacting specifications by our dedicated kitchen staff.” 


“Good. Good. Good. I’ll grab our table.”




Beckett leaned back in his chair and patted his satisfied stomach. That cheese sandwich had just hit the spot.


“How’s Radek?” McKay asked as if he hadn’t been thinking about him throughout their second breakfast.


“He’s fine, Rodney.”


“What do you make of this?” McKay said inelegantly changing the subject. Theatrically, he produced a thin, white plate -- it was approximately five centimetres by two. He deposited the wafer in front of Beckett, who eyed it suspiciously for a moment.  


Carson?” Rodney grinned. Teasing humour flared in his eyes.


“Idiot, it’s one of those new Ipod thingies. I saw you pouring over all the new hardware when we were at the SGC. What were you going to do when I failed to actualise it?”


“I’m amazed that you even recognised it.” He pulled a silvery sphere from his pocket which bore unmistakable scroll work around its circumference. McKay rolled it across the table so it would deliberately fetch up against Beckett’s fingers.


Beckett felt the unmistakable energizing jolt of Ancient technology as it touched him. He yanked his hand back as the hemispheres separated with an audible click, revealing an identical but smaller sphere within.



“It’s okay, it’s just a series of spheres like one of those Russian dolls. I was just conducting an experiment.”


“An experiment,” Beckett said darkly. “You know I don’t like this stuff, Rodney.”


“Yes,” McKay said ignoring his complaints. “But I was observing you when you were sitting in the Chair during the siege.”


“And?” Beckett stroked the ball and revealed the next level.


“It initialised the second you sat in it when it mattered. Either the environment is making you express your gene more or you getting better at manipulating the gene technology.”


“You can so tell that you’re a physicist. ‘Express my gene more’,” Beckett quoted.


“Isn’t that how it works? You can have a gene but it doesn’t necessarily express until it’s triggered. I would have thought that being in Atlantis would trigger it.”


“You are correct that some genes can initialise in that manner, Rodney. The ATA gene, however, is permanently switched on if you have it.”


“So why is John better at it?”


“The visualisation component, I would guess.” Without touching, Beckett mentally instructed the sphere to open. All the layers unfurled like a bud.


“It didn’t do that before.” McKay leaned over to study. “It doesn’t seem to serve any purpose other than



“A container?” Beckett hazarded. “You could put a ring or jewel in the centre sphere.”


“A gift box?”


“Why not? Maybe it has religious significance?”


McKay poo-pooed. “I find it impossible to believe that the Ancients were so gullible as to believe in higher powers.”


“Given that they were ‘higher powers’ to the Athosians and other cultures it would be an interesting conversation,” Beckett mused. “They’re fully capable of pretending to be ‘higher powers’.”


Rodney lined up the twenty six delicately wrought spheres across the table. “Close them.”


“Why don’t you do it?”


Rodney pulled out a scanner. “I want to get some readings.”


Close,’ Beckett thought, picturing all the balls simultaneously closing. They all snapped together and whole they began to roll off the table every which way.


“Whoops.” There were too many for two people to corral as they scattered. The tiny Japanese scientist, whose name Rodney could never remember, went down slapping the floor as she stepped on a sphere.


“Think them open,” Rodney directed.


For once Beckett was ahead of him. His hand outstretched, he commanded the balls to open. All clicked open coming to abrupt halts on the tiled floor. Many people joined McKay in picking them up. Beckett helped Miko to her feet.


“Are you okay, Love?”


“I am fine, Dr. Beckett. I know jujitsu; I know how to fall.” 


McKay had pulled out his t-shirt and had each of the concentric balls held in the pouch. “Come back to the lab and help me put them back together.”


Having made sure that Miko was fine and was walking without any evidence of pain or injury, Beckett collected Nurse Andaman’s fruit pastry from their table.  


“I’m afraid I can’t be joining you, Rodney. I need to get back to the infirmary. How come you didn’t open them?”


“Oh, I just wanted to see if you could,” Rodney said offhandedly. “I’ll walk with you.”


“Dr. McKay. Dr. McKay?” A young woman, dark eyed and dark haired and biting her bottom lip in determined resolution, came up to them. 


“Yeah, uhm, Furhar?” McKay guessed.


“Nadine Furmenty, Dr. McKay. I work with you in the astrophysics lab.”


“Yeah. Yeah, what is it?” 


“I was calibrating Dr. Zelenka’s deep space sensors,” she began.


“They’re not Dr. Zelenka’s deep space sensors,” McKay said authoritatively.


She waved narrow hands nervously dismissing his words. “I would you like you to confirm something that I’ve discovered.”


“What?” McKay snapped.


“I’d prefer not to say. I’d like you to check it out.” Her teeth rasped over her bottom lip worrying a fragment of skin.


“And why isn’t this a complete waste of my time?”


“Rodney, give the young lady a break,” Beckett said. It had obviously taken a great degree of courage, on the young woman’s part, to approach the abrasive Dr. McKay.


“I attempted to select competent staff,” McKay said down his nose.


“Oh right. Like you don’t check everyone’s work without needing it,” Beckett pointed out. “This young lady is asking for a second opinion it’s hardly an unusual request in the scientific community.”


McKay caved. “Okay, Dr. Furmenty, lead on.”


Head scrunched down, the short astrophysicist strode ahead of them. The men followed at their own pace. Beckett shook his head. McKay’s way of managing his staff seemed to work, but sparing the rod might engender a little more fellowship. Then again there might be a collective shocked fit if McKay was nice for the sake of niceness.


“Rodney…” Beckett began.


Eden, hold the transporter,” Furmenty called and darted ahead to step between the closing doors to halt them.


Eden caught himself, hand hesitating over the map touch panel. He turned and smiled down at the younger woman. 


“Hey, Nadine,” Eden said affectionately.


And the doors closed tight on Furmenty’s body.


Energy, faint and fragmentary strobed within the confines of the booth.


“Halt the sequence!” McKay yelled.


Inside the transporter the process was instantaneous and there was no physical manifestation of energy which moved the traveller hither and yon throughout Atlantis. The energy flare screamed of system failure. 


Furmenty shrieked as the matter transporter sheared away her right leg, hip and sliced away half her torso and arm.


“Oh, my god!” Carson whispered.


The doors retracted, releasing their grisly load.


Carson darted forwards and caught the mortally wounded scientist. Viscera and blood gushed from her body. The sheared edges of the cradle of her ribs held a bisected lung and the lobes of her liver. Blood soaked Beckett.


Nadine turned her head.


“Peace, Love.” Beckett gently cradled her neck as he lowered her to the floor. She found a tiny smile for him and then between one breath and the next – died.


“Oh. My. God.” McKay had not moved an inch. His pale skin was pasty with shock and his eyes impossibly blue.


Beckett brought a bloody hand to his ear mike and triggered it. Carson, here. I need a med team to the transporter outside the commissary. Oh--” he swallowed hard, “--Control, Control?”


Operations, shut down all the transporters now!” Rodney screamed into his own comm.. “I repeat: shut down all the transporters now.”


Attracted by the uproar, a marine exited the commissary with a couple of scientists. Someone screamed. Rodney stepped back from the growing pool of blood.


Carson?” he said softly, a question in his voice.


“Go, Rodney. I’ll take care of Nadine. You need to ensure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”  He turned her onto the side so the massive injury was face down. She looked as if she had merged with the floor tiles.


Rodney nodded once. His eyes were large. He turned and ran as fast as he could.





The mood around the meeting room table was, perforce, sombre. Rodney was jiggling from foot to foot, wanting – needing – to be elsewhere, to track down, identify and eradicate the problem. Beckett, his hair still damp from his shower, sat quietly regarding his folded hands resting on the table. Elizabeth maintained her persistent air of cool diplomacy.


“Rodney, what happened?”


“The transporter sheared Furmenty in two,” the astrophysicist said succinctly. “Can I go now?”


“What are your recommendations?” Elizabeth continued calmly.


“Don’t use the transporters.” McKay rolled his eyes heavenward. “I’ve initiated a system shutdown.”


“Does this have anything to do with the phase modulation errors that you’ve been picking up?”


“It’s entirely possible.” McKay crossed his arms tight against his chest. “But that is conjecture at this point. Doctors Mackie and Del Toro are stripping down the transporter. Safety protocols should have stopped it initialising.”


“It seemed malicious,” Beckett offered.


“It was an accident, Carson,” McKay said. “A tragic accident, but an accident.”


Beckett finally raised his gaze from the table top. “The lass was fairly focussed on getting you to look at her findings. She seemed concerned.”


“Sabotage?” Elizabeth asked.


McKay scratched the tiny mole on his jowl as he cogitated. “It would require a knowledge of the Atlantean systems that we don’t have. I doubt anyone in the galaxy would be able to hack in and manipulate the transporters to that degree. They would have to know that Furmenty was in that transporter which would require surveillance.”


“The Wraith virus which almost took over the Daedelus was capable of premeditative action,” Elizabeth pointed out.


“I’ll get Kavanaugh and Miller to figure out what Furmenty was on to. When’s Radek getting out of the infirmary?”


“Not today,” Beckett said.


“I’ll look at the systems, see if there’s a virus like the Wraith AI one. Are you sure that Radek--”


“I’m sure,” Beckett was resolute.


“Can we use the Stargate?” Elizabeth asked.


“Probably, but I wouldn’t advise anyone coming through it until I’ve ran some checks.” Rodney’s pacing reached the door. “Can I go now?”


“Yes,” Elizabeth said, but Rodney had left the room. “Dr. Beckett, Carson. How are you?”


The smiled that graced his face could only be described as tremulous. “It was a bit of a shock. It’s Rodney that I’m worried about. It was…it was… difficult to see.”


“We’ll keep an eye on him. It seems, though, that he’s sublimating his trauma in work.”


Beckett raised a chastising eyebrow. “Aye, well, that’s hardly unusual. I’ll keep an eye on him.”


“And Dr. Eden?”

“He is understandably shocky, but he arrived at his destination unharmed,” Beckett said softly. “Are you going to inform Colonel Sheppard that we potentially have a problem?”


“Yes. Telling him that he can’t come through the Stargate should be fun.”


“Aye, the lad doesn’t like being left out of the loop.”


Carson, you are the master of the understatement.”




“Lower the iris, Elizabeth,” Sheppard ordered.


“We can’t do that, John.” Elizabeth gripped the balcony rail and gazed out at the activated Stargate below.


Grodin’s replacement, decked out in insulated footwear and industrial thickness rubber gloves, stood poised by the DHD ready to shut down at the slightest evidence of problems. Miller, pulled over from dismantling the deep space sensor, crouched at the base of the DHD energy sensor in hand, scanning the activated consol.


“Yes, you can. There’s a problem with Atlantis’ systems and I’ve got the strongest gene. I need to be there.”


The Atlantis team members manning the consoles in the control level of the operations tower collectively winced.


“Rodney hasn’t had a chance to check the Stargate,” Elizabeth said levelly.


“Well, get him to check the ‘gate.” Sheppard’s voice rose.


“Rodney’s busy with other things.”


The unmistakable sound of flesh hitting flesh echoed over the comm.. Carson guessed the man had punched the palm of his own hand.


“I should be there, Elizabeth,” his voice was softer, more resigned.


Carson pulled his weary bones from the seat beside the environmental systems consol. The battle was over so Elizabeth no longer needed his aid. It was unlikely that his help would have been required as the woman was very shrewd. But a terse description of Dr. Furmenty’s demise would have definitely curtailed any attempts on Colonel Sheppard’s part to travel through an untested system. Beckett was grateful that he had not had to revisit Furmenty’s tragic accident. He slipped away leaving Dr. Weir verbally battling with the Colonel.


The infirmary was busy. Carson passed through the primary care section. A couple of the primary care nurses were wrapping a marine’s ankle at the far end of in the treatment cubicle. The young man’s foot was nicely swollen with a beautiful array of colours bleeding up the side of his foot and ankle. Carson took a quick shuftie at the man’s x-rays, confirming that it was a bad sprain and there were no breaks. Continuing on, he avoided pathology and Dr. Biro.


The ward had two new occupants. Passat lay with a towel over his eyes – the man had been subject to debilitating migraines recently, which was likely due to an unidentified environmental cue. The other patient was blocked from his view. Dr. Pega was examining his patient’s vitals. Professional, Beckett would not disturb his colleague with a patient unless asked. Lieutenant Hillier was still in traction and would be for a couple of weeks. In the far corner, Radek was sitting up, a rakish bandage wrapped around his head. He held an old magazine and was trying futilely to read.


Carson checked Hillier’s readouts; the young man was healing nicely.


“Hey, Doc,” the Lieutenant grinned, his freckles no longer stood out in sharp relief. In the space of a day, he was well on the way to recovery. 


‘Oh, to be that young again,’ Carson thought. “You’re looking good, Tom.”


“All thanks to you guys.” He stuck his nose back in his comic book.


Carson continued, moving to the last patient on the ward.


“Hello, Radek.”


Carson.” Radek blinked furiously, and Carson pulled out his pen light. “What’s going on?”


“Where? Here? Passat probably has a migraine, he has been working with Rodney all day.” Carson shone the light in Radek’s eyes and both pupils contracted satisfactorily.


“Stop. Please.” Radek batted at his hand.


“Can you track my finger?” He slowly moved his finger before the engineer’s eyes.


Carson watched hawk-like as Radek managed to follow his fingertip until he went into the far left quadrant. Carson hummed introspectively, but decided not to subject Radek to another scan. He plucked the magazine from his patient’s fingers.


“I want you to take a nap, Radek,” Carson instructed. He lowered the head of the bed.


Radek blinked up at him. “I don’t like sleeping…”


“I can give you something to help you relax,” Carson said soothingly as he turned off the light beside Radek’s bed. The light and the book coupled with the concussion were a bad combination. He guessed that a bored, concussed scientist had badgered for his laptop or a scientific paper until one of his nurses had given him a magazine to show him that it was a prescription for nausea.


“Cosmo?” Carson flicked through the gaudy pages. Certainly, the magazine was enough to induce nausea. He cast it through the air to land on one of the chairs beside the coffee percolator in the opposite corner.

Radek mumbled, his eyes closed he was already half way to sleep. Carson patted his shoulder and then moved on to his office.


The files were still sitting on his deck waiting to be transformed into SGC archival material. There was a pile of new files; evidently his staff had fulfilled their paperwork duties. Beckett flicked through the folder. Impressed, he noted that the minor injuries file was a couple of days early. Deciding to get the largest and more boring – medically speaking – of the pile out of the way, he opened it and settled before of his laptop. Pulling out the individual sheaves of paper, cataloguing each of the names at once allowed an incongruity to leap out.


“Huh.” He pulled up an excel spread sheet, but then decided to go the old fashioned route. He placed the individual treatment sheets on the floor in chronological order. They formed a nice line. A couple of days had multiple patients. Grabbing the other files he laid the sheets out by date. Each of the files were summarily sorted by first by date and then by severity.


Sitting crossed legged on the floor, he contemplated the problem. He reached up to his laptop and pulled up the previous week’s summary and his notes on the current week’s patients. A pattern was unmistakable. He grabbed his calculator, paper and pen and wrote out the numbers. Illness and accidents were on the increase. Misaligned environmental systems aggravated headaches and minor respiratory infections, broken pipes contaminated an entire section of scientists. A collapsing scaffold broke Lieutenant Hillier’s hip. Radek was thrown across a room by a faulty crystal.


He pulled his laptop down from the table to the floor and yanked out the DSL line. Opening his preferred stats programme, he inputted the numbers. He spent a long moment, head cocked to the side, contemplating the requisite stats tests. Fingers flew over the keyboard pulling out the different factors and combinations.


If you didn’t have the ATA gene you were more likely to be hurt.


All the serious and terminal accidents had happened to non-ATA humans.


“How?” Beckett whispered. He clamped his hand over his mouth afraid that Atlantis would hear him. This was premeditated; this was conscious targeting of the humans in the city.


He moved to trigger his earpiece, but what if Atlantis heard him? But he needed to talk to McKay without further ado.


He triggered the mike. “Rodney, where are ye?”


Carson, are you all right?” McKay responded immediately to the inordinately heavy brogue.


“Where are you, Rodney?”


“Operations tower.”


“Stay there. I’m on my way. Don’t touch anything ‘til I get there.” Beckett clambered to his feet. He never said a word, but as he exited his office all the staff on duty on the ward turned to him.


“Dr. Beckett?” Andaman asked – concern was etched on her face. Beckett figured that he probably looked a little bit harried and worried.


All the lights went out throwing the windowless room into complete and utter darkness.


“Lights on!” Beckett bellowed. They hiccupped, flicking dazzlingly on then browning down, before flaring back to full 100 watt brightness. He jabbed a finger at the main fixture in the ceiling. “And stay on!”


Connell, the youngest nurse on his staff, made a startled meep before clamping her hands to her face and blushing bright red.


“I want none of you to touch any Ancient devices ‘til I return,” Beckett ordered. “Any member of staff that comes on duty: pass on the instructions.” 


He made a conscious effort not to run from the infirmary, to not scare his staff and patients. Once outside he sprinted. Open corridors, metal framework stairs, he picked a deliberately circuitous route that ensured that he did not pass through any doorways that could be commanded mentally. He entered the Ancients’ colossal parade hall, for lack of a better description. The domed room was well ventilated with open windows on all sides. It was immensely reassuring that he could see the sea glistening in the evening light. The open plan floor bore the same crisscross patterns of the embarkation room.


Halfway across, the floor rumbled.


It split in the middle.


Beckett fell as the floor ratcheted away, sliding rapidly into the wall. Horrified, he threw a glance at the gaping maw in the centre of the room. The gulf grew as more of the floor slid away. The exit was at an angle to the retracting floor. It would be unreachable long before the floor fully retracted.


“Oh, crap.”


Beckett scrambled to his feet and, heart in his mouth, ran for the exit. The floor jerked suddenly to a halt. Running flat out he was cast down. Stunned for a heartbeat, he lay quiescent. The floor jerked again and moved more rapidly.




Once again he scrambled to his feet. But like running the wrong way on a conveyor belt he made little headway.


The edge of the floor slid beneath his outstretched foot leaving him only held by his momentum.


Inevitably, gravity grabbed him and he fell.


“Stop!” He screamed as he plummeted. “No. no. no. no.”




Carson?” McKay wrenched his comm. from his head as the scream grated through him. “What the fuck?”


Everyone in the operations tower could hear the screaming, drawn out and tinny through the tiny headphone.


Carson, where are you?” McKay yelled. There was no response.


Elizabeth looked at him, appalled.


Zelenka--” Rodney swore, dropped his comm. and ran to the biometrics sensor array. His fingers danced over the matrix plates, moving one, shifting two others.


Elizabeth picked up the abandoned ear piece. “Carson?” she tried and then started at the terrified screaming.


“Gene, gene, gene. Ancient. Ancient,” McKay muttered.


“What are you trying to do, Rodney?”


“Trying to find Carson.”




“Oh, crap!” that was unmistakably Carson.


Carson, where are you? What’s happening?” there was silence. Elizabeth shook the comm. futilely trying to get a response.  “Rodney? What are you doing?”


“Beckett’s human but he’s got the gene. I’m trying to configure the system to separate the Ancients from the non-ATA humans.”


“Can it do that? There’s a number of people who have the gene now thanks to Dr. Beckett’s gene therapy.” 


“So we’ll have twenty id’d! Try and find out who saw him last. It’ll help me narrow it down.”




It was too far to fall, arms wind-milling Carson tumbled and he knew that death was upon him. Darkness enveloped his screams. Wind whistled through his hair as he plummeted down and down and down.


Beckett prayed for an angel.


Silvery light rose up beneath him. Open mouthed, watched it rise. Tendrils of energy probed out from the central mass.


“Oh, crap!”


Voices yelled in his ear.


The light engulfed him, the force of its impact knocking the breath from his lungs. The world turned sparkly, the silvery light blinding him to anything other than the force that held him.


‘Oh. My. God.’


Every part of his body was paralysed. The voices continued and belatedly Carson realised that it was Rodney and Elizabeth shrieking at him over his comm.. He didn’t have the breath to respond.


‘What is this? Oh, God, no. Let go. Let go.’


Abruptly, the light released him and with a castrated scream he fell ten feet. He hit water and reflexively drew in a breath. Coughing and spluttering, he flailed desperately. Magically, he brought his head out. His feet hit floor, and coughing and wheezing, he managed to stand.


He stood in pitch darkness in water that was chest high.


He coughed and coughed again, caught between being seriously winded and aggravated by the salty water he had inhaled. It was freezing. The coughing seemed to come from his toes, but finally he managed to get it under control.


Chest heaving he stood, simply gathering himself for the next round. Finally, he managed to look up. High, high, above him – the open floor now looked like a tiny crack. He watched as the two edges of the floor met and the only light went out.


He had easily fell two hundred feet.


The silvery energy blob had saved him. A forcefield?


That didn’t make sense.


Beckett scrabbled at his ear for the mike, but it had gone -- no doubt lost as he had fallen in the water.


What the fuck is this place?’


“Help!” he shouted, and was rocked backwards on his feet as his voice was echoed back at him decibels louder.


“Hello?” he tried. The words were picked up and reflected back at him loud and clear.


Hands outstretched he took a few, tentative footsteps in the darkness. Wherever the Hell he was it was larger than a football stadium.


“Idiot,” he suddenly chastised himself. “Lights!”


He ducked, reflexively, as a whole series of spotlights illuminated. Mouth open, he took stock. It wasn’t a football stadium, it was a truly massive auditorium. Tiers lined the walls from the lowest level to the gods. Hundreds of empty seats surrounded him.


“Echo.” He couldn’t resist. It rebounded back at him.


An ancient auditorium. He grinned at the alliteration. A flooded, ancient auditorium. Beckett cast about looking for the doors. He needed to get to the operations tower as soon as possible. He had revised his initial hypothesis but there was still a horrible problem.


He forged his way through the water, trying not to think about any beasties that might be lurking.




“Yes!” McKay exulted. “It seemed logical that the Ancients would be able to use this consol to separate humans from Ancients.”


The symbols on the screen on the far wall shifted, reforming as a map of the city. The pale glowing concentric circles which identified Terran and Athosian inhabitants throughout the city appeared. Rodney chewed on his bottom lip as he swapped two matrix tablets. The circles underwent a subtle shift. The majority turned green – the humans. The others turned golden. By a process of elimination, they were the thirty five successful recipients of Beckett’s gene therapy and four of the five natural ATA gene humans.


“Which one is Beckett?” Elizabeth asked.


Rodney scowled at the readouts on the laptop slaved to the biometric array. The graph outputs were similar to EEG readings.


“What about that one?”


Rodney glanced at Grodin’s replacement, who was pointing at the faintest glowing blob which was pulsating unevenly.


“Can we see a three dimensional representation of the city?” Elizabeth asked. “Or level by level?”


“Ah…” McKay used the laptop rather than the array-tablets.


The image on the screen rotated, providing a complex, transparent version of the city. Most of the inhabitants were confined to the three levels corresponding with sea level.


One blob was slowly descending through the complex structure.


“He’s in a lift?” Grodin’s replacement hazarded.


“It’s an open space. It’s enormous,” McKay said. “He’s falling.”


Abruptly the muted life sign flared brightly and jumped a fraction of an inch on the scaled down version of the city.


“What happened?” Elizabeth asked.


“He fell. He hit bottom.” McKay abandoned the array and crossed to the screen. His finger stabbed the large open space. “He fell two hundred and eighteen feet.” His fingertip covered the bright life sign. “He’s alive?”


“Amazing,” Anti-Grodin said. “How?”


“Where is he?” Elizabeth spoke.


“Stop asking questions!” McKay snapped. He pointed imperiously at two of the marines guarding the embarkation room. “You and You, follow me.”




Beckett finally reached the double doors. On a scale with everything in the auditorium they were immense, towering over his head. Shivering, he eyed the twisting slate grey patterns scrolling up the gun-grey blue metal beneath.


This was getting old.


Hand outstretched, he intoned, “Open.”


Despite being sealed for thousands of years, they swung outwards.


The water gushed through the gap. Beckett made a futile grab for the edge of the door. But he was caught in the avalanche.


“Oh, crap!”




For once McKay was grateful that the hours spent hiking on alien worlds and being chased around the gym by Sheppard and Teyla. The stairways seemed to go on forever.  The two hulking marines ran ahead of him. McKay kept one hand on the railing and the other held a life signs detector.


“Hurry up!” McKay called up to the medic who was several floor above him. “Get your ass in gear. It’s your boss who’s in trouble.”


McKay stumbled, caught himself, jumped down four stairs to the landing and then continued his careening way downwards. The stairwell was poorly lit, only basic glow strips on the steps guided his way. It was mindless, the worst form of exercise, running, boring. At least with self-defence you got exercise and learnt how to claw out an attacker’s eyes. Sheppard was very pragmatic when it came to self-defence.

They had to be close. The marines were closer.


“Dr. Beckett!” the red headed marine called out.


McKay turned the final corner. Halfway down the flight of stairs, the two marines stood. Dark water stretched before them, filling the stair well and the wide corridor beyond. Cody – the red head -- had a flashlight and was carefully sweeping the still water. 


McKay consulted the life signs detector, deciphering the gross details. All in all a life signs detector which only showed life signs a cubic space of 10 by 200 by 100m was not that efficient a tool. The resolution was poor. Somehow he expected better from the Ancients.


Carson should now be within sensor distance.


“Rodney, you’re close,” Elizabeth informed him over the comm..


There was a life signs blob of concentric circles about ten degrees to the right and fifteen meters away.




The medic clattered behind them. Huffing and wheezing, he set down his medical kit. “Any… sign?”


“Dr. Beckett!” Cody yelled.


There was a splash which echoed loudly. Cody shone the flashlight straight at the noise. A bedraggled Carson Beckett raised his hand warding off the light. Cody surged into the water.


“Marines,” McKay muttered depreciatively, so eager to jump into the fray – surely there was a rope somewhere. 


The young man pushed effortlessly through the chest high water. He kept the flashlight shining on the doctor like a spot light. The beam seemed to make the darkness around Beckett more impenetrable.


“I’ve got you, Dr. Beckett.”


“About bloody time. I’m having a hell of a day. Where’s Rodney?”


“Here.” McKay angled his own flashlight at his friend. Carson was clinging to a statue of a tall humanoid with the grip of the profoundly exhausted.


Cody finally reached him.


“Dr. Beckett, are you injured?” the medic called.


“No, son.” Beckett carefully unpeeled his fingers from the legs of the statue. He was moving like a glacier. Cody moved up next to him, pulling the doctor’s arm over his own shoulders and twining an arm around his waist. 


McKay finally jumped into the water. It was freezing. Rodney hissed, feeling the water sheeting through his trousers. He bounced through the water trying futilely to keep as much as his body out of the water as possible.  He met Cody and Carson, halfway.


Carson, you okay?” Rodney grabbed his free arm and dragged it over his shoulder.


“Just cold,” Beckett reassured. “Rodney, we’ve got a p--problem, Atlantis has been c--compromised.”




“It’s in the system. I thought that it was the s—sy-ystem.” His teeth chattered. “Only the… most of the accidents in the last three weeks… have been non-ATA humans. All the acc—ccidents….”


“Let’s get you out of the water, Carson.” Both he and Cody manhandled the doctor out of the water and into the waiting medic’s hands. The medic sat his superior down on the steps and immediately started pawing. Beckett pushed him away.


McKay grabbed the banister and hauled himself out of the water. He ran his hands down his trousers trying to wring out the liquid.


“All the accidents were m—m involved humans using init--initialised Ancient technology or directly with the s—sy-ystem.”


“I’ve been working on them all week,” McKay pointed out.


“You’ve got the gene, Rodney.” Beckett shivered.


Cody cracked a MRE broth mix, shaking the contents to activate the heating element. He decanted the heated contents into his collapsible cup and diluted the broth down to a thin, warm soup.


“Here ya go, Dr. B.” He handed it across.


“Thanks, son.” Beckett held it in his chilled hands and breathed in the warmth. He sighed blissfully.


“You’re welcome.”


“Rodney,” Carson began. “In the last th--three weeks the number of accidents and visits to the infirmary have in--increased significantly. But what is important is that statistically if these events were random, a fifth of the patients should have possessed the ATA gene. Only one in thirty of the latest visits were ATAs and, apart from your cut finger, it was for headaches.  The people complaining of severe headaches have the natural ATA gene.”




Carson took a fortifying gulp of soup. “I thought the Ancient technology was targeting us. But no the Ancient technology is actively intervening when ATAs are affected by whatever or whomever is targeting the inhabitants of Atlantis.  The people who didn’t respond to my gene therapy have suffered the worst accidents like Radek.”


“You’re speaking like Atlantis is sentient.”


“Like it hadn’t occurred to you.” Beckett tried to struggle to his feet. Muscles had obviously seized up. He groaned and settled back on the stair. “Maybe it’s sentient like a chimpanzee and it has protocols to protect ATAs? That stands to reason.” 


“Right.” Rodney unclipped the backpack from his BDU vest. It fell with a thud to the metal stairs. “Cody, Franks? Medic person, stay with Dr. Beckett and when he’s better help him up the stairs. I’m going to run up thousands of flights of stairs.”




McKay mused introspectively, “If you’re right, whatever it is it could be monitoring our communications system.” Then he made to dart away.


“Rodney,” Carson snapped halting him.



”Cody, go with Dr. McKay,” Beckett ordered.


“Over protective…” McKay muttered as he turned and ran.




Run. Run. Run. Run, went one litany. The other portion of his brain was contemplating the problem. The virus check had not revealed a virus. That didn’t necessarily mean that there was no virus, only that their check had not registered one. Therefore it was radically different to the Wraith AI virus which had infected the Daedalus.


What was it?


McKay’s feet pounded up the stairs bringing him closer and closer to the control centre.  The marine kept pace.


‘I need data.’ McKay came to an abrupt halt. “Roving virus?”


“Sir?” Cody asked.


McKay noted with absent satisfaction that the marine was a bit flushed with exertion.  “A virus that moves through the system without a trace. Why not just a saboteur? But they’d have to know more about the system than I do. Conflict. A subroutine within the Ancient systems?”


McKay began running again.


“Targeting humans!” McKay tripped and fell hard against the sharp stair edges.


Cody bent down and grabbed his bicep. “Sir, are you all right?”


“We are in so much trouble.” McKay scrambled to his feet wincing at his scraped shins. He ran spurred now by the belief of genocide.


“Are you hurt?” Cody persisted.


McKay thought that since he was running it was rather obvious that the injuries were minor.  He was about to say it when,


“I can’t believe that Carson said sentient like a chimpanzee – since when are chimpanzees sentient?”


“Did you hit your head, Dr. Mckay?” Cody asked between puffs of breath.


“No!” McKay continued running.





“Rodney?” Elizabeth ran from her glass office as he screeched into the control room.


Mckay ignored her questions as he yanked Zvika Chen from the biometrics sensor array. The woman fell to the floor with a squawk. McKay opened the laptop screen restarting the computer. The graphic breakdowns of the individual ATAs and the non-ATAs outputs lay side by side, scrolling down the screen. The peaks and troughs, frustratingly, bore no labels on the x or y axis. The sweep of the two series outputs were different, but not radically.


“Biology?” McKay pondered as he wracked his brains. Nanites? He sent his wheeled chair sweeping across the floor to the Zelenka’s data archive port. Three SGC laptops were hooked into the Ancients’ data archive interface, in a somewhat vain attempt, to facilitate communication with the Ancients’ stored knowledge. He pulled up their files on the nanovirus that had infected his team of scientists in the early days of their exploration of Atlantis. Fingers flying over the keyboards he uploaded their analyses onto the Ancient primary board to pull out a comparison. He needed a signature element or molecule to track any similar nano-scale devices in the system.


“Rodney, what are you doing?” Elizabeth persisted.


McKay leaned over the slaved laptop. “Working? Trying to save the day?”


Elizabeth gritted her teeth.


“Funnily enough I’m doing this for you since, if Beckett’s hypothesis is correct, you’re the one in trouble.” He smiled a little smugly. “I’m safe.” 


“Dr. McKay, Rodney,” Weir said tightly. “Explain to me what you’re doing.”





“Help me up,” Beckett directed. He held his hand out to Franks knowing that Cassidy would protest.


“Dr. Beckett,” the physician’s assistant said immediately.


The towering Marine hauled him easily to his feet.


Beckett stomped his feet on the metal stairs trying to get feeling to return. It was going to be quite a hike – hopefully he would be warm by the time that he returned to the surface levels. He was merely chilled, so a hot shower would put him to rights.


“Right, son. Let’s get a move on.” Gripping the rail, he began to solidly drag himself up the stairs. It was pure, unadulterated torment. He was tired, but determined. More people at this very time might be injured. They had to get to the inhabited levels. Franks had his back, although the exertion was warming so that he doubted that he would trip now.


“Perhaps if we found a transporter?” Cassidy blurted as they cut through a corridor to next staircase.


“Not today, son,” Beckett said bleakly.


The young man had the grace to look sheepish. “Sorry, Doc.”


“Three more flights,” Franks said.


“Excellent.”  Beckett found his second wind. If he stayed in Atlantis long enough, he felt that one day he might actually get fit.


They emerged on the inhabited levels and somehow they seemed warmer and less cavernous, despite having exactly the same architecture as down below.


“Operations tower.” Franks pointed the way.


Beckett mentally mapped the route; they would pass through two doors which could be controlled through the ATA gene. “Can I have your mike, son?” He held his hand out to Cassidy.


The medic immediately unhooked and handed it over. The comm. was set to infirmary mode.


“Beckett here.”


“Sir! You’re all right.” The voice was relieved.


Beckett blinked. Uhm, yes. Thank you. Has there been any admissions to the infirmary?”


“No, Dr. Beckett.”


“Excellent.” He looped the mike over his ear. “Cassidy, get yourself back to the infirmary and stay there. And remember what I said about touching the Ancient stuff, especially if it’s interfaced with our technology.”


“Yes, Dr. Beckett.” Cassidy loped off, all long limbs and coltish indecision.


“Thee and me this way.” Carson pointed to the control room.


Each time they ran through an ATA gene controlled door, he imagined it permanently and firmly open. It took pure force of effort not to picture the doors clanging shut on the hapless passer-by.


“Can someone get me some dry clothes?” Rodney was calling stridently as they loped up the staircase to the control booth.


“Rodney, what are you doing touching that stuff!” Beckett demanded.


McKay jerked backwards and then he rolled his eyes heavenward. “Carson! You as much as said that I’d be all right.”


Carson, are you okay?” Elizabeth moved to his side.


“I’m fine.” Beckett found a smile. “A wee bit damp. I’ve just had a little bit of an adventure.”


“Yes. Damp. Dry clothes – two pairs. Now,” Rodney insisted as everyone ignored him. 


“Are you making any progress, Rodney?” Elizabeth asked.


“Yes. There’s several components in the nanite technology which is unique. I’m using that to track to see if there are any in Atlantis’ systems.”


Nanovirus.” Beckett’s mouth fell open in a soundless ‘o’ of understanding.


“Yes.” McKay smiled. “What technology have we come across so far that specifically attacks humans? Our unknown creators of the nanovirus.”


“You think that we have nanovirus in the Atlantis computers specifically targeting humans?” Elizabeth clarified.


McKay sent a twisted smile in her direction. “It’s a possibility. Not a nanovirus capable of infecting humans but possibly nanities designed to carry out specific tasks within the Atlantis mainframe.”


“How long will it take?” Beckett waved a hand at the biometric sensor array.


“I don’t know. How long is a piece of string? Don’t answer that – stupid analogy. The errors I’ve been picking up are random and unpredictable. If there are nanites in the system, possibly they’re moving.” McKay’s’ fingers wriggled, describing little crawling creatures. “Moving inside the crystal matrices and the cables. Maybe they even have transport capabilities. If that’s the case tracking them will be difficult and will take time. I need some way to sweep the whole City over a short period of time.”


“While the sensor array is hunting for your nanites--” Elizabeth began.


“It’s a theory – hypothesis – they might not even be there,” McKay interrupted.


Elizabeth continued. “Can you check the iris so we can retrieve Colonel Sheppard while the scan is running?”


“Oh, yes, good idea,” Rodney noted. “It would be sensible to get the strongest gene back, maybe he can ask Atlantis what the problem is. Carson, have you tried”


Beckett held up his hands, wardingly. “I don’t talk to her.”


“Her? Hmmm.” McKay pushed with his legs and sent his chair careening over to the DHD. He slipped out of the chair and shuffled under the consol. He popped off a panel revealing a mess of illuminated wires. “Is someone going to get me some dry clothes?”


Carson,” Elizabeth said. “You look a little pale. Are you sure you’re okay?”


“Yes, thank you. Just a wee bit of a shock.”


“What happened?”


Beckett patted the consol under his hand. “Atlantis saved me.”


“Right!” McKay bounced to his feet. “I’ve set up a manual control, if the iris initialises itself hitting this button--” he pointed at the enter button on the laptop sitting above the amber DHD triangular crystals, “--will switch off power to the iris causing it to fail.  It will be immediate.”


“Okay. Dial up Colonel Sheppard so he can come home.”


McKay muttered under his breath, sing song, “Chevron one encoded…” as he rapidly keyed in the sequence.


Beckett accepted a towel, with a smile, from Cody. He scrubbed his hair dry and then twisted it around his neck – scarf like. The whoosh of the Stargate caught his attention. He didn’t think that the visceral shiver that curled through his bones every time he saw the Stargate would ever diminish.


“Finally!” Sheppard exulted the moment that the event horizon settled. “Can we come home now?”


“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “Rodney has checked the iris. We’ll disconnect, you dial in and then come home.”


Rodney killed the event horizon with a flick of a button.


The young marine passed Beckett a large cup of sugary coffee.


“You’re a life saver, son.” He cradled it in his hands.


The light sequence ran clockwise, the chevrons coding for Atlantis. The iris automatically activated.


“Receiving Colonel Sheppard’s IDC,” McKay announced.


“Lower the iris.”


McKay hit the normal disengage button and nothing happened. The shimmering iris remained firmly in place.


“Rodney?” Elizabeth said archly.


McKay hit his newly rigged manual control and once again the iris remained intact. Grimacing, McKay dropped to his butt and stuck his head in the consol. His hand appeared up over the consol, grabbed his his laptop and cables pulling them both down. Low swearing ensued as he connected his diagnostic programme to the DHD.


“What’s happening?” Sheppard demanded. “Are we clear?”


“No!” Elizabeth stated. “Stay where you are. We can’t get the iris down.”


“Rodney?” Sheppard drawled.


“I didn’t do this.” His voice was muffled, head first in the column beneath the DHD control panel.


“So what’s that problem?” Sheppard persisted.


McKay rocked back on his heels. “I don’t think Atlantis wants her best beloved in danger,” he said pithily.




“And I can’t find any evidence of system errors. My tampering was set in place to take down the iris if it reinitialised after we’d powered it down. Like pulling the plug.  But it’s not even registering the primary disengage protocol.” He growled. “Carson, are you sure Radek…?”


Radek is not to be disturbed,” Beckett said firmly.


“What if…? Elizabeth began.


“No, Dr. Zelenka has a serious concussion and I am not compromising his recovery.” Beckett crossed his arms, resolute. Radek couldn’t even concentrate on Cosmo; he was in no fit state to help Rodney hunt down alien nanites. “Are ye registering any wee nanities?”


Rodney popped the back off his life signs detector swapped a few micro crystals and then scanned the consol.


“The theory’s flawed, though,” he said introspectively. “I’m assuming nanites and I’m assuming they share structures with the nano-machines capable of infecting humans.”


“So what type of nanite could infect the crystalline structure in the majority of the Atlantis systems?” Beckett asked.


Rodney’s gaze was abstracted as he stared into the middle distance. “They need to move through the lattice structure. They’ll need shielding technology to circumvent positive and negative charges, before the required manipulations take place. Either the whole system is infected or they’re transporting from area to area as required. There’s some kind of communications network in place overlaying the Atlantis systems?”


“If they’re that small, could they be floating in the air?” Beckett asked.


“If they’re moving though Brownian motion it would take them day, month, years, even decades to infect the whole system.”


“They could have had ten thousand years,” Weir pointed out.


“What’s happening!” Sheppard demanded.


“Oops. Forget about him.” Beckett smiled sheepishly.


“You can’t come through, Colonel Sheppard. We’re having problems with the iris.”


“Can’t Rodney solve it?” Sheppard said combatively. 


“Rodney can solve it,” McKay said snidely, “given enough information. I’m working on it.”


“So you think that nanites have infected Atlantis and are targeting humans?” Sheppard clarified.


“Yes,” McKay said tersely as he bent his mind to solving the problem.


“So like they’re everywhere. In every structure, fermenting away…” Sheppard mused over the communications system as he pieced together the bits and pieces that he had overheard.


Beckett was once again rather impressed, the man tried to put forth a façade of easy indifference and average intelligence, but the steel trap mind never actually stopped.


“Yes,” McKay said slowly waiting for his next words. “They’re actively targeting and injuring humans. Unless you’ve got the ATA gene, then you’re protected.”


“I think the reason we’ve been having headaches is because of feedback in the gene controlled technology,” Beckett supplied.


Rodney and Elizabeth heads whipped around, focussing on the doctor. He shrugged, it seemed sensible. He was not that prone to headaches and both he and Sheppard had had rather nasty ones over several days. Miko had also come to the infirmary with migraines on three separate events, usually they only happened at certain times of the month. Passat was currently in the infirmary with a headache.


“I think your theory’s a little bit flawed,” Sheppard said laconically.


“Why?” Elizabeth demanded.


“How many electromagnetic pulses has Atlantis been subjected to in the last year? They’ll be fried.”


“Ah!” Rodney’s finger jabbed the air. “Thought of that. But if they’re within the Atlantis matrices they’ll be shielded and they’re inactive unless they’re triggered. When they’re shut down they can withstand an EM pulse.”


“But you still have no evidence that it is nanites,” Sheppard pointed out. He sounded suspiciously like he was yawning. “And since Atlantis is intervening when some of us are targeted, Atlantis is aware of the problem on some level.”


Silence reigned. Rodney looked at each of the consols on the control level as if waiting for a red flashing light which said ‘here’s the answer’. It was not in his nature to allow answers to come to him. He needed to hunt out and find the answers.


“Well, there is that.” McKay finally glared at the DHD, almost as it he blamed it for their problems.


“You have to get me there,” the first hint of ire tinged Sheppard’s voice, “so I can get in the Chair and figure out what the Hell is going on.”


“The Chair! Yes!” McKay exulted. He abandoned his laptop and life signs detector and advanced on Beckett.


Carson backed away, abandoning his coffee cup in his haste. It crashed to the floor. “What are you doing, man?”


“The Chair,” McKay directed with a pointed finger.


Carson stopped dead skirting the edge of the puddle of coffee. “That’s for weapons systems! It’s nout to do with Atlantis’ controls.”


McKay grabbed his elbow and yanked. “The Chair interfaces directly with Atlantis’ systems. The operations tower is push button and matrix plates to control Atlantis’ systems.”


“And?” The Force of McKay continued to drag him along. “Use the buttons.”


“Rodney?” Elizabeth called as he forced Beckett down the staircase to the Stargate level.


“We’re going to the Chair room,” McKay yelled. “As soon as I give you the go ahead tell Sheppard he can come through the Stargate.”


“I don’t want to go to the Chair,” Beckett protested.


“Well, you are.” McKay frogmarched him off the platform and to the corridor.


“Why are we going to the Chair?” Beckett asked. “It’s for firing drones and the like. The command centre should be able to find the nanite things or whatever’s the problem.”


“Think of it like one’s a PC system and the other’s a Mac,” McKay said. “They have different operating systems. They have some commonalities like Word and WordPerfect which give you the same output -- a document. But they approach it differently.”


“And?” Carson tried to dig his heels in to no avail. The man looked stocky, but he was strong.


“We need the direct interface. Shut down the iris and if you can get right into the system and figure out what’s happening from the inside, tell us and then we can fix it, even better.”


“That sounds dangerous.”


“It’s not. You just have to tell us what not responding properly.”


“You’re bloody insane. Why don’t you do it? You’ve got the gene,” Beckett pointed out.


“Have you ever seen me in the Chair?”


“Actually, no.” Carson cocked his head to the side and looked at him directly. “Why is that?”


“Because I can make it glow blue and nothing much else.” McKay said through gritted teeth. “I can, however, make the operations tower sing and dance.”


“So,” Carson said slowly as McKay dragged him along. “To use your analogy: I’m the PC and you’re the Mac.”

McKay grimaced. “I think -- and I don’t believe I’m saying this -- you’re the Mac and I’m the PC.” McKay yanked him into a transporter booth. “That’s so insulting.”




Beckett fought every step of the way but it was like trying to hold back a tsunami with fingers and thumbs splayed. Rodney had driven him to the Chair room and it hardly felt as if his feet had touched the ground. 


Rodney released him momentarily, long enough to fiddle with the laptop that he kept permanently linked to the Chair. Carson debated running for the door. He thought too long. Rodney reached for him and it was obvious that the man had been taking lessons from Sheppard in jujitsu or something. Carson was spun around and dropped into the Chair. Rodney caught his wrists and drew his hands to the touch panels on the armrests. The surfaces gave way viscously and his fingers sunk deeply.


Rodney placed his stubby hand on the centre of Carson’s chest. “Do it!”


Beckett closed his eyes and leaned back.


Warmth flared around him, seeping through his skin.


“The Chair’s more than firing drones,” McKay said tersely. “It allows Ancients to interface with their technology. You’re more than half way there already. I’ve seen you with the Ancient scanners in the infirmary, you don’t balk – you just use them. Do it. Do it now! Find the iris. Make Atlantis take it down.”




Beckett surfed. The grey sea lay around him, ebbing and flowing through the inlets and coves, brushing dark green seaweed. He clenched his teeth and the scene greyed out. Vastness encompassed him.


“Find the iris,” McKay instructed.


Perspiration beaded and then flowed. He could feel the sweat trickling from his temples.


Iris.’ He imagined it before him, a barricade to the vortex of the Stargate. It rose without the benefit of the naquada structure, an opalescent disc hung in mid air.


His head felt hollow, gutted like the bowels after you had voided your guts. He swore his mind echoed.


“The iris, Carson,” Rodney instructed.


“Got it,” he said through gritted teeth.


“Take it down,” McKay instructed.


How?’ he wondered. It was solid and simply there. Hard enough to touch. Beckett reached out and laid his hand on the hard surface. It was thin. Molecule thin, if he remembered Rodney’s lectures – situated nanometres before the event horizon to prevent it forming properly.




His carefully pared nails raked the fabric ripping the iris. It shed like skin dying after a bad sunburn.


Beckett opened his eyes momentarily, staring at Rodney. The man’s notoriously fair skin was pale except for a flush on his cheek bones. He leaned too close. The gaze was intent and Beckett could see the darker grey flecks radiating from his pupils like starbursts to merge with the truer sea blue of his irises. It was disconcerting to be the recipient of such intense scrutiny. Beckett closed his eyes.


Imagination was the key. Picture it, make it, decide what was going to happen in the hollowness of his mind and make it work.


Don’t get distracted.’ Beckett ripped the iris down.


As he held the skin in his hands, he heard Elizabeth over Rodney’s ear piece informing him that the iris was down.


“Is it safe?” she demanded.


Carson?” Rodney asked.


He couldn’t answer. He needed to hold onto the impossibility.


“Tell Sheppard go… go… go… don’t hesitate,” McKay said shortly.


Beckett blanked – just held the fabric of the shredded iris in his hand. Holding it open. Trying only to think only on the iris.


‘Why is it soft when it’s energy?’ The fragments slipped through his fingers.


“John’s through,” McKay informed him softly. “Find out where the infection is.”


‘Infection?’ Automatically, Beckett looked for signs of infection, red swollen flesh, the exudates of oozing pus and rising temperature. No his mind supplied – parasites, clawing beasties.


On the edge of the rocky shore, a twisted tree, gnarled by the sea wind was covered in black, twisty spiders.


It did not translate into McKay’s real world. 


“No, they’re bees – no termites...” Beckett said out loud.


“You got them?” McKay’s voice seemed to becoming more distant.


Carson stood back from the tree, he rubbed his chin. There were hundreds of thousands of the swarming, black armoured insects. They bore segmented tails ending in sharp points. The insects jabbed the spines into the gnarly, twisted bark. Carefully, he brushed a handful of the black beasties away.


They stung.




Carson’s face was racked up. The furrows on his brow were more like crevices. McKay scrutinised his every aspect.


“You can do this, Carson. When the Wraith were approaching and you needed to, the second you got in that Chair it initialised.” He ground his teeth, he couldn’t believe that he was actually trying to cajole and comfort.


Carson jerked, smacking his forehead into McKay’s face. The astrophysicist fell back with a squawk. Beckett’s heels dug into the Chair, his head gouged into the headrest. His back was an arch.


“Shit, Carson!” Blood dripped from McKay’s nose. Then he realised that his friend was seizing. “Carson!”


Beckett twisted and writhed, but his hands remained firmly entrenched in the hand pads.


“McKay?” Sheppard yelled. The colonel appeared, running at full pelt down the corridor. Entering the room, he had to skid to a halt. Smoothly, he leaped onto the pedestal that housed the Atlantean Chair.


“What’s happening?” Sheppard demanded.


Moaning lowly, Beckett made one final, violent jerk and flopped back in the Chair as still as death. Rodney stood stock still for a heartbeat before slapping his hand against Carson’s throat. Even inexperienced, he could feel the rapid bite of Carson’s pulse against his fingers.


Carson, Sheppard’s here, you can get off the Chair.”


The doctor didn’t move a fraction of an inch. Galvanised, McKay leaned closely – was he breathing?


“McKay?” Sheppard asked apprehensively. 


“He’s breathing. I think.” Rodney shot a nervous glance at the Colonel.


Sheppard pushed him out of the way. Gently, he patted Beckett’s face and took a jolt. The coolest strafe of wet lightning nipped from Beckett’s cheek to his fingers. Unconsciously, he rubbed his fingertips.


“He’s deep in Atlantis. I think he’s inside…” Sheppard said.


“What?” Rodney asked.


Sheppard ripped off his Kevlar vest and threw it aside.


“What are you doing?”


His BDU jacket followed.


“I’m following my gut, Rodney.” He clambered onto the Chair, jamming his knees on either side of Carson’s thighs. He perched over the doctor. Facing Beckett, he laid his hands over Carson’s and then with the utmost care leaned forwards and brought their foreheads together.


“John!” Rodney shrieked.




“Cool. Different.” Sheppard looked around. When he usually accessed the weapon’s systems, the information on the drones and the defensive capabilities like the shield appeared in his mind like the puddle jumper screens. Or outputs manifested visually for all to see. When he activated the drones, he had a bird’s eye view from the missile as it targeted. Multi-tasking was the name of the game.


This, however, was one of Rodney’s virtual environments.


Silvery white, giant, sharp edged pillars, reminiscent of the stones on the Giant Causeway in Ireland surrounded him. They loomed as high as oak trees. The majority were abutting each other, but like teeth in a mouth some were crooked allowing a body to squeeze through.


“Doc?” he called.


The Giant’s Causeway stones dominated his view. With an absent wave, he sent the hexagonal pillars back into the earth. The grating stones shook the ground.


“Doc?” A stomach swooping flight sent him or moved the world beneath his feet – he was not too sure – but the upshot was that he arrived at Beckett’s side.


The doctor was administering medical aid to an old crone of a woman, more twisted and gnarled than the 10 000 year old Weir. She lay naked, her skin wrinkled, dry leather on fresh loamy dirt. A spidery cobweb of jet black strands over lay her body. They penetrated the topmost layer of the skin. Each strand was a filamentous branching, embedded tattoo.


Her eyes were open and she was watching Beckett with something which was close to affection.


“Hey, Doc?” Sheppard dropped to a crouch at the doctor’s side.


Beckett was picking at the strands, wincing as he drew an individual strand, teasing it carefully from her body.


Sheppard pulled his Swiss Army knife from the BDU jacket that he clearly remembered discarding and slipped out the tiny tweezers secreted in the hilt.


“Will these help?”


Beckett jerked violently. “Colonel! How did you get here?”


“Same way as you,” he proffered the tweezers.


Carefully, Beckett accepted them. “I don’t know if they’ll help…” but he used them to tease at a strand. His fingers were red, flushing with swelling and in the centre of each bump was a blood red spot.


The strands extended into the earth growing from some unknown source to choke the life from the woman. Sheppard drew his kay-bar knife and dug into the earth severing a thick rope of strands.


“What are you doing?” Beckett demanded.




“Stop them coming.” Beckett brushed at his thigh. “Where are they coming from?”


Sheppard dug into the soil with his knife. The strands grew like fungal hyphae, the strand matrix penetrating deep into the dirt.


“Can we lift her?”


“Lift her?” Beckett queried. “Her roots are in the ground.”


Sheppard could see the strands extended from her skin into the earth anchoring her solidly.


“Cut her free.” Sheppard severed the strands at her shoulder.


Beckett shot him a perplexed glance and returned to pulling off individual strands. Each one he drew free he twisted in his deft fingers breaking it in two. Sheppard freed her shoulder. None of the strands had twisted out of the dirt to embed in her skull.


There were too many.


“This isn’t going to work,” Sheppard growled.


“We have to kill them at the source – find the hive,” Beckett cast about. He brushed frantically at the earth, breaking the strands.


“Hang on. I know what to do. I’ve done this before. My reality can be controlled by imagination.”  A spade manifested in his hands.


“Colonel!” Beckett said amazed.


He dug into the earth, digging deeply slicing through the strands. Digging until clean earth was revealed. Beckett squinted at him, but didn’t say a word only continued freeing the old lady from the twisted black strands. Each one he captured he broke and cast into the ditch that Sheppard was digging moat-like around the woman.


Sheppard dug like a mad man, sweat marring vision and burning the skin on his lips. His shoulders were strained as he scooped out the final spade full creating a moat.


“Have you got her free?” Sheppard asked.


Beckett’s hands were torn and swollen. “I got the last one I can see, but there might be some in the roots.”


“Roots?” Sheppard queried.


“Yes, roots – the insects look like they could be burrowing.”


It was then that Sheppard figured that they were seeing different realities. He stopped and took a long look at the wizened old woman.


“What are you seeing, Doc?”

”An old oak tree and tiny black insects.” He shuddered.


“Describe it more,” Sheppard instructed.


Puzzled, but willing Beckett, began, “We’re standing on a rocky shore. The sea beyond is grey and white horses dance on the waves. We’re standing on the shore, but at its edge where land with short, tufty and plucky sawtoothed grass clings. There’s a tree – Atlantis, I guess – it’s worn by the elements, the salty sea air and the towering westerly winds. It’s old, but strong despite being twisted back and forth on itself like the most intricate Celtic knotwork. The roots grow deeply penetrating into the soil and splitting rocks.”


Scotland coloured Beckett’s words and drew Sheppard in until he could see his vision.


He had not described the tang of the salt air and the invigorating wind.


The bugs were caught in the hole here – rather than a moat that he had dug. It was filling with water, seeping up from beneath. Beckett lobbed a crushed bug in the water, where it thrashed with its bloody brethren.


“Why isn’t Atlantis killing them?” Sheppard said. They looked like miniature iratus bugs to him.


“You mean like generating antibodies?” Beckett posed.


Sheppard shrugged expansively. “That would work, I guess. But I was thinking a low level EM pulse within the system to knock out the nanites. It – She’s – aware of their actions, actively, mitigating their effects, but isn’t stopping them.”


Beckett caught a bug and threw it in the pond. Sheppard knew that it was ultimately futile. They couldn’t get them all by hand.


“We need an antibiotic, a pesticide, some kind of agent to kill the infection,” Beckett said.


“You’re thinking like its biological.”


“Hardly surprising, son.” He smushed another insect.


“We’re not here, Doc. This is just a way of looking at the problem that our minds can understand.”


Beckett caught another bug and twisted it left and right in his fingers rending it in two. His brow furrowed as he concentrated.


“We need to show Atlantis how to identify them so her innate defence mechanisms can annihilate them. They’re like the HIV virus,” Beckett mused. “The body can’t fight the virus because it doesn’t recognise it. But the body knows when it has a fever or ulcers because of the virus.”


“So what do we do, Doc?”


Beckett chewed on his lip. “You weren’t seeing the tree and the insects. What did you see, John?”


“An old woman and entangled black, twisty fibres. When I was in High School I had a project with Jenny-May Harris. We rotted down a wood log and grew mould on it. There were these hyphae things that grew everywhere deep into the wood. The strands were like that but jet black instead of white.”


“Okay,” Beckett closed his eyes as he thought. “What we’re seeing isn’t real. It’s a way of interpreting information from Atlantis, yeah?”


Sheppard nodded and then realising that the doctor’s eyes were closed, said, “Yes.”


“Okay, you’re seeing fungi and I’m seeing insects.” Beckett opened his eyes. “We definitely need some kind of agent to eradicate the infection.”


Sheppard manifested an old barrel of Agent Orange.


“Holy Crap.” Beckett jumped back.


Sheppard rested his foot on the edge of the rusty metal container. “Will this do it?”


“I… I don’t know. I’m just… guessing. Agent Orange was a defoliator, I think?”


“DDT, then.” Shepard clicked his fingers and a second, larger steel barrel appeared.


Beckett’s mouth fell open.


“It’s all in our heads, Carson,” he observed and he tipped over the barrel of DDT into the dug out puddle.


The world shrieked.


Sheppard screamed and folded, clamping his hands over his ears. Crystalline pillars sprang up around him, obscuring everything from his view apart from jagged, sharp edges. The shriek was unrelenting. Sheppard swore his ears were bleeding.


What was happening in the real world?


The shrieking in his head was amplified by a melange of both his own screaming and Beckett’s. “Doc?” he tried to call over the shrieking but knew that the man would not be able to hear.


Lightning stroked up his spine, arching him back. He was held upright caught tightly in the energy. The prickling of Ancient technology was magnified a thousand fold, strafing through his mind leaving it empty and echoing. Beckett’s low moan of terror reverberated in those cavernous chambers.


Sheppard gasped and abruptly the lightning ceased. He folded forward and dropped to his knees. A single drop of blood splashed on the stones at his knees.


“Out! Out! Out!” Beckett was yelling.


Sheppard pulled down the stones before him revealing Beckett lying on his back, hands scrabbling at his temples as he lay beside the twisted tree. Sheppard crawled forwards, unable to stand. The stones rose beneath him as he tried to reach the doctor’s side. Each time he had to force them back into their sockets. One rising rapidly caught him unawares and he tumbled a body length before fetching up on a descending pillar.


“Down!” he commanded and rolled the final stretch to Beckett’s side. He caught the doctor by his lapels and hauled him upright.


“We’re leaving now.” And he made thought reality.




“That was different,” Sheppard observed.


The Chair shut down, jerking to an upright position.  Sheppard toppled off sideways. With a bleat, McKay executed a dive worthy of the Super Bowl at its worst and managed to break Sheppard’s fall by – basically – offering his body as a mattress.


“My back!” McKay yelled.


Sheppard lay unconscious against him, his head lolling on his chest.


“Major? Colonel?” McKay tried to no avail, patting the pale face. “Carson? Carson, he’s unconscious!”


Ungainly, he rolled Sheppard off him and struggled to his feet. “Carson?” He froze, the doctor lay lax in the Chair. Twin streams of blood seeped from his nose staining his white shirt.


McKay slapped at his ear piece. “I need a med team in the Chair room, asap. Two patients. Hurry!” For a lifetime, he dithered between Beckett and Sheppard, unable to decide who to check first. Sheppard lay sprawled on the dais a graceless knot. McKay knelt beside the colonel. He hesitated for a heartbeat.


“Colonel? John?” he grated stridently.


There was no response, not even a flicker of his eyelashes. McKay worried at his thin bottom lip. In his, albeit limited, experience unconsciousness was not cut and dried total out-for-the-count. Often people were just stunned, a yell or a shake got some kind of response.


Sheppard was deeply unconscious.


He straightened one of Sheppard’s legs and folded the other into a vee. Rote memories of the recovery position guided him. He carefully positioned Sheppard’s right arm alongside his body and bent the other beside his head. The physics were sound. Fulcrum and lever. He caught the bent knee and with his other hand braced under Sheppard’s cheek, carefully rolled him into the recovery position.


“Where the Hell are the medics?” McKay stood.


Carson hadn’t moved an inch. The stain on his shirt had grown. McKay glanced back to Sheppard to see a drop of blood burgeon and fall to the floor. He could have sworn that he heard it splash.


Carson, I don’t know what to do.” He froze. He could fix nuclear bombs, but he couldn’t fix people.




Rodney twined his fingers in his hair and pushed hard on his skull, digging in fingertips trying to focus only on the pressure. He had simply stood until the med team had descended on the Chair room. Alerted by his comm. call, two sets of medics had responded. One set had dealt with Sheppard and the other with Carson. IVs had been hung and monitoring pads placed on suddenly bared chests, oxygen had been demanded in curt tones before they had been whipped away, cocooned in medical paraphernalia.


As he sat waiting outside the infirmary, a tiny nurse –- why are they always so short, he wondered inanely --  came up to him. She held a damp cloth and an ice pack.


“For your nose, Dr. McKay.” She thrust them at him, poised to run at the first harsh word. “I’ll get a doctor to come and have a look when they’ve seen Dr. Beckett and Colonel Sheppard.”


McKay snatched them from her – suddenly his nose hurt. Flecks of dried blood adhered to the damp cloth. He sniffed experimentally.


“How bad is it?”


“I don’t know, sir, Dr. Pega and Dr. Biro haven’t reported.”


“I meant my nose.”


“Oh. It’s definitely swollen, sir. It doesn’t look broken.”


“Why haven’t Pega and Biro come through? Why don’t you go and see and report back, like a good little nurse.”


His voice rose and she scampered away. McKay slumped back in his seat. Leaning his head back against the wall behind him, he planted the ice pack over his eyes. What a day and he hadn’t even figured out what was happening.





“Rodney?” Elizabeth said softly.


McKay blinked immediately awake. He sat up letting the ice pack fall to his lap. “Have you heard anything?”


She smiled softly and indicated the bespectacled Dr. Biro at her side with a nod of her head.


“Biro.” McKay jumped up. “What’s the prognosis?”


The woman fidgeted with her glasses.


“Today,” McKay said stridently.


“Dr. Beckett and Colonel Sheppard are now stable but are in a guarded condition.”


McKay underscored his dissatisfaction at that degree of information with a flick of his hands. “Details.”


“Dr. McKay told us that both Dr. Beckett and Colonel Sheppard interfaced with the Chair and that something went wrong. There is evidence that this interface is mental in nature. As natural ATA gene carriers one would hope that they would have instinctive control of the systems. Truly, Major – Colonel Sheppard has shown a deeply intuitive understanding on the Ancients’ systems.”




Biro tweaked a discomfited glance in McKay direction. “Both men are still unconscious, they are not responding to any stimuli indicating a GCS of 3. They were shocky when brought in, low blood pressure and temperature. These responded to treatment with colloidal fluids and heated blankets.”


“Fascinating – but get to the point.”


“A CAT scan revealed both patients have minor haemorrhages in the frontal lobes. So we ran the ancient version of an fMRI scan which showed significant changes in their brains in the left temporal lobe of the brain. Neural activity has been affected.” Biro’s eyes were intent behind her thick lenses. “There are indications that synaptic activity has increased. We can’t tell at this time the ramifications of this injury, but you should be prepared that they will not be the same people that we know when they wake up.”


Nanite brain,” McKay said pithily.


“Rodney,” Elizabeth rebuked.


“Where in the left hemisphere?”


Biro brushed vaguely over her ear indicating the general area.


“Speech and language areas, yes? Correct?”


“Yes.” Biro gritted her teeth.


“Sheppard spoke to me. A clear, concise sentence. His language skills are unaffected.”


“Continuing unconsciousness can’t be a good thing?” Elizabeth asked.


Rodney pushed past them and into the infirmary proper. Carson was closest to the nurses’ station, directly under his peers’ watchful eyes. Sheppard was in the bed directly opposite. Carson lay propped up on the exceedingly uncomfortable infirmary bed. He was as pale as the pillows. He wore a transparent O2 mask over his nose and mouth. Blankets were piled on and tucked up against his neck, but folded so his hands were free. McKay counted two IV lines, one in the back of his hand and the other embedded in his other wrist. The uncomfortable – Rodney didn’t like the sticky pads – leads snaked from his chest to the ECG situated behind his head.


He didn’t look well.


Sheppard’s dark hair and pale skin made him look more washed out. Unlike Carson, he lay completely flat his head supported on a flat pillow. Bolsters were placed on either side of his head keeping it still. He also had the O2 mask and the IVs and monitoring leads. He didn’t look as chilled and had fewer blankets.




McKay jerked around. Radek was struggling awkwardly up onto an elbow. His other arm was strapped up to relieve the pressure on his cracked shoulder.


Zelenka.” McKay strode quickly to his side. “Lay back, Radek. You look like crap.” It only took a light shove on the centre of his chest to push him flat on his bed.


Radek blinked at him owlishly. “What happened, Rodney?”


“Atlantis systems have been compromised. Nanites--” McKay ground his teeth together, “--possibly. They’re attacking people without the ATA gene.”


Radek’s mouth fell open. “How?”


“Electric shocks, doors slamming shut on you, malfunctioning transporters.” McKay shuddered.


“And Carson, Colonel Sheppard? They have gene.”


Frustrated, Rodney craned his head over his shoulder and looked at his two unconscious friends. “We can’t identify the problem with Atlantis’ sensors – ultimately they’re compromised. It might not be even be nanites. They tried to use the Chair to get into Atlantis itself -– herself? -- to figure out what was happening.”


“Did they succeed?” Radek asked.


Horrified, Rodney felt his stomach turn to lead. “I don’t believe it--”


He ran from the infirmary without looking back. He was disgusted at himself. He had become completely distracted – they were all still at risk and he had been sitting quietly outside the infirmary waiting for news. He bowled past Elizabeth and Biro. Both women called something but he ignored them.




Kavanaugh, get away from that laptop!” Rodney snapped.


The long haired scientist was crouched over the laptop that McKay had hooked up to the Chair to monitor its activity.


“I was just…”


“I don’t care – get away from that laptop.”


Kavanaugh sighed deeply. He made a pointedly massive step away from the laptop and stood hip canted, watching.


“Did you touch anything?”


“I am fully capable of reading a diagnostic without affecting the input parameters,” Kavanaugh said sharply.


“Did you did touch it?”


“Enough to know that you need this.” He held out a standard computer cable and battery pack. “If you’re running a programme you’ll want to start up the computer and close it--”


“Yes, thank you.” McKay snatched the cable and pack out of the man’s hands. One of the most annoying things about Kavanaugh was that he was occasionally right.


“You’re more than welcome.”


“And people think that I’m grating,” McKay muttered under his breath. Kavanaugh stood looking over his shoulder as he powered up the computer. Start-up seemed to taking longer than normal. Four windows opened simultaneously. One monitoring the system phase modulation errors; the other showed the output of the laptop connected to the biometric sensor array which was hunting for anomalous proteins and unique elemental signatures in the Atlantis crystal matrix system. There was no correlation between the two outputs. The third and fourth windows displayed programmes tracking the Chair’s systems. The inventory of the weapons was depressingly low. McKay’s fingers flew -- hunting, hunting for the evidence of Carson and Colonel Sheppard’s activities deep in the Atlantis system. Another two windows popped up.


“There.” Kavanaugh leaned over and pointed at the flow of binary zeroes and ones scrolling in the final window. “That’s a biological pattern. It’s not random nor does it have the structure of a --”


“I can recognise chaos. I work with it every day.”


Kavanaugh ignored his cutting remarks. “That could be a binary interpretation of an electroencephalogram reading from a sentient species. I’ve seen various formats of Human, Asgard and Goa’uld ‘grams when I was at Area 51.”


“Get out.” McKay snapped. He turned back to the window.


“It’s very complex. Terabytes of information. Could be Atlantis, could be Beckett – I doubt it’s Sheppard.” Kavanaugh’s smirk was reflected in the screen.


McKay ignored the man and cycled through the data stream to the point where the two men had disconnected. At zero-time the pattern reduced both in complexity and amount of information. Memory usage dropped by gigabytes.


McKay flicked back through to the programme monitoring the phase modulation error. Two micro seconds before the event the cascade error dropped back to 0.000001%.


“I think that they did it. It’s never going to hit zero,” McKay observed. He rocked back his heels and worried on his thumb nail before flicking his ear piece. “Operations, McKay here.”



“Are you getting anything on the biometrics sensor array? Any flags? Not the slaved laptop – real time changes registered in the Atlantean system.”


A short, muted conversation ranged back and forth, before the nameless voice spoke, “Sir, we had a blip at 18:23 Atlantean time. It registered as an error code. The ancient database reported it as an anomalous positive negative switch – essential harmless.”


“Okay. Re-route power to the deep space sensors and completely back to infirmary, but nothing else. I want a system wide announcement that the transporters are not to be used.”

”Sir, are you aware that every door in the inhabited section now refuses to close?”


“It’s probably a function of shutting down the power. Locking people in is counter productive,” McKay said snidely and tapping off the ear mike. He slammed the lid down on his favourite laptop powering down the computer. Without a word to Kavanaugh he stalked out of the Chair room. He could analyse the data while staking out the infirmary.




Petabytes of information,” Rodney mused, fingers clicking over the keyboard. He flicked a glance at the Sheppard – still out. His attention was back on the screen a fraction of a heartbeat later. Kavanaugh might have seen non-random data within the data stream but that was a pure guesswork based on the assumption that they were looking for evidence of human consciousness within the system. A rigorous objective analysis was required. He extracted the best-fit data corresponding to the pattern after Carson and Sheppard dropped out of the system from the most complex data set. Theoretically, the data left would correspond mostly closely to Carson and Sheppard’s brain wave patterns. Assuming Kavanaugh was correct.


Carson, I need Sheppard’s last EEG…” his voice petered out.


Carson hadn’t moved an inch in seven hours. And continuing unconsciousness, he had been informed reluctantly, ‘was not good’. The number of transparent IV bags around both beds had increased. McKay thought one was glucose – he was tempted to get one himself. McKay reached out and bestowed an absent pat on Sheppard’s hand.


“Dr. Biro, I need an old, healthy EEG from Sheppard and from Carson assuming that you’ve got one,” he called.


The doctor shushed loudly. McKay started at the sibilant hiss.


“There’s sleeping patients on the ward, Dr. McKay, can you keep it down?”


“Oh?” McKay blinked suddenly aware of the slumbering Zelenka and some other inhabitants that he hadn’t registered before. “The EEG readings, it’s important.”


Biro pursed her mouth, but didn’t argue, having learned better. She stood from her observation post and stalked into Beckett’s office. Smirking, McKay stood and stretched until all the bones in his spine cracked. Lugging his laptop, he crossed to Carson’s bed. He spared a glance as he hooked up his laptop to the computer supporting Carson’s electroencephalogram readout. There was a blood stain at the corner of his mouth which had been missed by the nurses. It was clear through the distortion of the O2 mask. Rodney deliberately didn’t look at the fMRI scan schematic of Carson’s brain. The picture showed a slice of the brain revealing two hemispheres with the bright red spots. He’d stared at it for an hour he didn’t need to look at it again.


“What are you doing?” Biro demanded softly.


“I need to create an algorithm to separate the individual strands of their consciousness so I can analyse the remaining data. I can do a retrospective analysis with various forms of Carson’s and Sheppard’s EEGs.” He snapped his fingers. “Sheppard’s EEG.”

The blond slapped a memory stick in the palm of his hand. Short, blond hair, McKay noted absently, but not Carter – so he dismissed that line of thought since he had other things to do.


“We also have Dr. Beckett’s conscious baseline. He insisted that all the medical staff become familiar with the Ancient systems, so we ran checks on ourselves. We kept the data as Dr. Beckett--” Biro peered over the rims of her glasses, “--wished us to.”


“So this is in the Ancient format?” McKay turned the memory stick over in his hand.


“No, we ran EEGs with our equipment. We took EEGs and ECGs and took blood chemistry with our equipment at the same time we were playing with the Ancient equipment for comparison purposes. The Ancient data is still on the ancient equivalent devices.” She pointed vaguely over her shoulder. “We don’t always know how to download a lot of the data. We requested the science community to look into it.  They haven’t found the time yet.”


She sniffed loudly.


“Show me.”


Biro gestured expansively. McKay preceded her to the anteroom where Beckett stored equipment. The degree of organisation indicated an orderly, scientific mind. McKay had personal experience with the Ancient body scanner and the human engineered CAT scan. Carson had insisted that the body scanner be interfaced with human tech ten minutes after discerning its function. It had been one of the first devices he had worked with after they had successfully interfaced the naquada generators with Atlantis’ energy matrices.


Biro ran a hand along the bed of the Ancient body scanner. “We used this once on both Dr. Beckett and Colonel Sheppard to generate the scans which show the problem areas. But given the supposed problems with the Ancient technology we haven’t ran anymore fMRI equivalent scans. The CAT scans we took this morning show that the haemorrhages in their frontal lobes have shrunk. Actually,” she said suddenly. “there’s something else which might be useful.” 


Biro crossed the diagnostic lab to a rack of smaller, hand-held equipment. Looking down her long nose, she studied the equipment before selecting a hand-sized cylindrical unit. She passed it to McKay.


“And this is?” he questioned.


“Dr. Beckett identified it as a portable body scanner. The resolution is slightly less than the in-situ version.” She pointed at the diagnostic bed. “He used it to double check the outputs.”


Curious, McKay popped off the side panel. He could make out a cluster of memory storage crystals. A twist and a turn, and he revealed the thin wand that extruded from an articulated arm.


“Sheppard’s not on here?” McKay double checked.


“No, only medical staff were analysed, so we can compare the data against the results from the Ancient equipment, then we can subsequently use it safely. It’s slow work.”


“How did you figure out what it did?” McKay bent his mind to the device. ‘Work!’ The lens crystal at the side initiated and a holographic screen appeared in mid air. McKay squinted at the scrolling ancient script.


“Dr. Beckett found it identified in the medical section on the ancient database. It’s a portable unit for offworld use.”


“Okay, this could be useful.”  McKay dismissed the woman and returned to his seat beside Sheppard’s bed.





McKay was locked out. He had resorted to slapping the Ancient brain activity scanner, but somehow the data in the memory crystals were locked up tighter than details about how Carson had lost his virginity. Rodney had his suspicions. Why would Carson lock down an Ancient device?


He picked up Carson’s heavy hand, laid it on the device and then thought loudly, ‘Work!’


It blipped and unlocked. McKay smiled sublimely. One of the lenses on the housing emitted a blue light and an A5 sized flat plane was generated in mid-air. The directory of the medical staff results popped up on the hologram.


All this lovely information hidden away, sidelined, stored until it could be studied. He wished he could clone himself.


Then again it wasn’t physics.


Absently, he placed Carson’s hand back on the blankets. He took a checking glance over his shoulder at Sheppard and saw his foot twitch. In a blink, McKay abandoned laptop and Ancient scanner and crossed to the colonel’s side.


He peered intently at Sheppard. His pointy face was still, mouth slightly open and eyes closed. That foot had moved, however. He leaned over and tweaked a toe through the blankets and was rewarded by a tiny furrow forming between Sheppard’s eyebrows.


Maj-Colonel, John?” he barked and Sheppard’s hazel eyes twitched open, blinked and then closed. “John!”


Gakk,” Sheppard groaned incomprehensibly. His eyes slid open a slit.


McKay poked him in the shoulder, somewhat gently. “Talk to me.”


Sheppard pushed his head up against the bolster, trying to roll. The restrainers confused him enough to open his eyes fully.


“Hey. Hey. Come on.”


“McKay, what the Hell?” Sheppard croaked.


“Yes,” he exulted, punching the air. “Told her she was a nanite brain.”


“What the fuck happened?” Sheppard brought his hand up and planted it over his face messing with the O2 supplying nasal canula.


“Biro! Dr. Biro,” McKay said sing song. “Your patient’s awake.”


McKay bleated as he was pushed aside. Biro leaned over her patient tormenting him with a pen light. 


“How do you feel, Colonel Sheppard?”


“A headache that sunk Atlantis.” He managed to get a hold of one of the bolsters and threw it from the bed. With a relieved sigh, he curled up on his side and promptly fell asleep.


McKay folded his arms over his chest and smiled at Dr. Biro. His body language spoke for him. The pathologist’s face pinched.


“We can only hope,” she said precisely, “that Dr. Beckett’s shows a similar response.”




McKay stalked into the Chair room. It always happened like that -- find a shred of hope and someone would slap you down so hard that you merged with the ground. Carson was going to be okay – he just didn’t have a strong a gene as Sheppard so it was going to take a little longer.


Okay, he had no evidence or data or proof.




He jerked back and would have fallen except for the marine that caught his elbow.


“What are you doing down here?” McKay demanded. He pulled his diagnostic data tablet against his chest and glared defensively. The young marine, all eight foot of him, looked down from his post beside the Atlantean Chair.


“Guard duty, sir. Dr. Weir orders.”


“Well, get out of the way. I need to try the Chair.”


“No, sir. Orders, sir.”


“Well, I’m giving you orders.”


“You can’t give me orders.”


McKay bristled. “I can’t? I can.”


“No, sir.” The marine hefted his P-90.


“Fine,” McKay snarled. He tapped his ear comm. on the open line. “Elizabeth?”


The baby-faced marine settled into a poised, alert position.




There was a disturbed, unfeminine grunt, but her voice was even when she finally spoke. “Yes, Rodney.”


“There’s a marine stationed at the Chair. Tell him to get out of my way.”


“What are you trying to do?”


“I need to get on the Chair. I have to figure out what happened.”


“No, Rodney,” Elizabeth said simply.




“The risk is too great. We already have two members of our team in the infirmary in serious condition--”


“I know that.”


Elizabeth continued ignoring the interruption.  “--we cannot risk our Chief Scientist.”




“No, Rodney. You told me that the error has been reduced to practically nothing.  I think that we should… carefully return to using some Atlantean systems. You can monitor any changes and we can re-evaluate the problem if it occurs. Using the Chair at this time is not wise.”


Rodney shifted around the guarding marine and attached the cable from the base of the Chair to the back of his data tablet. He tapped the touch screen selecting the baseline data of an unoccupied Chair.


“Rodney?” Elizabeth said in his ear.


“As Chief Scientist,” he said sharply, “I’m advising that we do not power up the systems. I’m not convinced that we’ve solved the problem.”


“We can’t go on like this indefinitely, Rodney.”


“I’m not asking you to!” he snapped back. “Sheppard regained consciousness before but he went straight back to sleep. Leastwise wait until I’ve had the opportunity to talk to him before risking everyone.” He glared at the marine who was standing tall, expression implacable.


“John’s awake?”


“He was. He woke up, complained and went to sleep. Biro threw me out of the infirmary.”


“It’s hardly surprising. It’s three o’clock in the morning. Get some sleep, Rodney. We can talk in the morning and discuss our options in a more reasonable manner.”


The click in his ear was like a slap in the face.




It was the rick in his neck that woke him. Sheppard slowly opened his eyes. Last thing he remembered was curling up on his side into his favourite sleeping position. The infirmary staff had carried out their normal trick of raising the head of his bed and propping him up on a mess of pillows. The fact that they could move him about like that without waking him was profoundly disturbing. He picked at the band-aid on his wrist holding in an IV port. Somehow the ones on the wrist hurt much more than the ones that the docs stuck in the back of your hand.


He felt like reconstituted crap. His hair was sticky and matted like he had had a good work out in the gym. A couple of Tylenol would not go amiss or maybe morphine.


Snoring disturbed him. McKay sprawled, mouth open and drooling, in the chair beside the bed. 


“‘Kay.” He coughed, his throat dry from the O2 flowing up his nose.


McKay spluttered and jerked awake. “What? Oh, God, you’re awake.” He looked blearily at his watch. “About time.”


Sheppard reached for the plastic mug on the table over his bed. McKay beat him to it and poured a cupful of water. He knew better than to gulp but it would have felt so good. He managed a sip before McKay took the mug away.


“What happened, Rodney?”


McKay cast a glance at the desk in the corner where the nurse or doctor on duty sat. Pega was fast asleep his dark head on the desk.


“You tell me, Colonel.”


There was a resounding headache where memory was supposed to live. “Can you get me something for the headache?” he was surprised at the whine in his voice.


McKay responded to it – moving so quickly that tracking him racing across the infirmary made nausea flare in Sheppard’s stomach. He closed his eyes and swallowed tightly. When the City stopped swaying like a boat he opened his eyes.


Dr. Beckett lay in the bed opposite. Sheppard actually took a second glance. The man was rigged up with every piece of equipment that the infirmary seemed to offer. He recognised most of them and was surprised to see that he shared a good few of them. He scratched at the sticky pad on his temple.


“Colonel Sheppard, good to see that you’re with us again.” Pega took a hold of his wrist and began counting. “Remember what happened?”


“The Chair?” Sheppard hazarded.


“Dr. McKay says that you have a headache.” Pega’s dark eyes were measuring and Sheppard knew that he was under the medical microscope.

”Yes.” He couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “Sick too.”


The doctor took a pre-prepared syringe from his lab coat pocket. “This will take the edge off it. We can give you some compazine for the nausea but let’s see how it pans out first.”


“K, Doc’.” That was one thing about Dr. Pega, the guy was stingy with the drugs. Sheppard was not going to complain, but McKay avoided him.


“Beckett?” Sheppard pointed.


Pega’s poker face slipped slightly, then man found a smile which twisted his aquiline face and did nothing to reassure.


“You woke up. Carson will wake up,” McKay announced.


Pega inserted the syringe in the IV port and Sheppard welcomed the warm flare of the medication. The headache was topping his personal Richter scale. He gingerly rubbed the side of his head.


“Did someone hit me?”


“Get some sleep, Colonel Sheppard. I don’t doubt that it will come back to you.”


The doctor’s pat on his shoulder was overwhelmingly patronising. Sheppard sagged back on his pillows, trying to find the energy to swipe away the annoying nasal canula. McKay’s eyes were wide with consternation. The corners of his thin mouth were turned down.


Sheppard blinked, once, twice and licked his dry lips. McKay handed him the cup without being asked. It tasted like the best water ever. He drifted, and distantly felt someone remove the cup from his grasp, but he could have sworn that McKay hadn’t shifted.


He kept opening his eyes and McKay was always sitting, pecking away on his laptop. A figure in a white coat asked him some inane questions at some point which he must have answered correctly because they left him alone. He was sure that he dreamed of Teyla leaning over him and gently touching her forehead against his. Then he looked and McKay was ensconced by Beckett’s bed, chin in hand thinking deeply. Sheppard sat up and yanked away the O2 line – he felt like his sinuses had shrivelled up. He gulped down water straight from the water jug. He shifted uncomfortably and realised that needing to ask if he could go to the bathroom was not an issue.


“John?” McKay had finally noticed.


“Rodney,” Sheppard returned in between gulps from the jug.


“You seem better?”

”How long did I sleep?”


McKay didn’t even look at his watch. “Forty two hours and twenty minutes.”


“Atlantis?” he asked.


McKay brought his laptop over. “The error’s still there but reduced to almost nothing. It correlates with your expulsion from the system. So this is one way of monitoring the problem if you haven’t solved it.” He angled the screen so Sheppard could see. It made little sense to the Colonel. “Do you remember what you did?”


Sheppard shuffled back against his pillow. He’d only been awake a couple of seconds, and McKay was already interrogating him -- sometimes life was not fair. “Imagined up a barrel of DDT and kicked it over a nest of imagined up iratus bugs.”


McKay’s mouth opened and then closed without a word.


“Any more attacks on people in Atlantis?” Sheppard asked when McKay, amazingly, didn’t comment.


“Not yet, we’re keeping interaction with the Ancient technology to a minimum.”


Sheppard drained the last dregs from the jug. “That can’t go on.”


“I know that. But I’m not satisfied that we identified and solved the problem,” McKay snapped. “And I’m getting sick of saying that. DDT and iratus bugs?”


It  was--” Sheppard clicked his fingers as he hunted for the term, “--a virtual environment. I arrived in a crystal, then found the Doc, who was helping an old woman who was covered in this black fibre-like matt.”


“So you visualised an environment to facilitate your interaction with Atlantis.” McKay cocked his head to the side.


“I guess. Dr. Beckett saw a tree with insects crawling all over it.”


“And you imagined up a barrel of DDT to kill them?”


Sheppard scrunched into his pillow. “It worked, didn’t it?”


“The error that I was monitoring reduced to almost nothing. It’s still there so I’ve advised that we remain running on minimum systems and power until I’m convinced that we’re clear,” Rodney repeated.


“Track the error,” Sheppard ordered.


“Track the error,” McKay mimicked. “You’re speaking like there’s only one error in the entire system. We’ve basically integrated two entirely disparate technologies: Ours – Ancient. I’ll go through the math with you about the power reassignment algorithms and the chicken wire and spit connections that we’ve made to get this place up and running.” He interlaced his fingers and wiggled them. “Suffice to say the word ‘patchy’ springs to mind. It’s only with the use of the ZPM that the Dadaelus brought that we’ve even began to understand how badly we use technology that we barely understand. I’ve got every able person searching the City with energy detectors looking for anomalous readings. Do you know how big this place is!” Rant over, he sagged in his chair.


“Get the docs. Get me out of this rig,” Sheppard ordered.


McKay’s gaze slid to the bank of monitors at his side. “Don’t think that that’s going to happen.”


“Get the docs, McKay.”


McKay tapped the blood pressure reading. “That’s too high and--” his finger moved to the unnerving slice of his brain displayed for all to see, “--you see those coloured areas -- they’ve haven’t figured out if that’s a concussion or brain damage.”


“Your bedside manner sucks, McKay.”


“Well, I’m voting for concussion. The brain damage seems minimal.”


“McKay,” Sheppard grated.


McKay ignored him. “You’ve got a headache. I can see it in your eyes.”


Sheppard sagged back on the pillows.


“I’ll get Pega,” McKay relented. “They’ll probably want to try and feed you. Try not to throw up. It was gross.”


Throw up? He didn’t remember throwing up.


He submitted to a full check up including drawing of bloods by the taciturn Dr. Pega. And by the end of the check he was thoroughly sick of being poked and prodded and the headache was back. One bright light on the horizon was that the catheter was a thing of the past. The gruel he had been supplied with looked particularly unappetising. He poked it.


McKay plopped down next to him, removed the oatmeal and replaced it with a bowl of blue jello. The oatmeal was kicked under the bed next to him.


“How long have you been here?”


“Off and on.” McKay said, and pulled out a power bar. “I caught some sleep in my room at some point. I had to check some things out. Elizabeth was here. Teyla and Ronon came.  I had a shower. I needed to work up the data. It’s all imagery though, isn’t it? You can’t give me anything concrete.”


Sheppard remembered the woman and then the tree. He found a smile. “Yep.”


“I always hated poetry at school.” McKay puffed out his cheeks and slumped in the infirmary chair. He closed his laptop and held it against this chest. Sheppard ferried half a spoonful of jello to his mouth but he had no appetite. He pushed the bowl to McKay who looked at it disinterestedly. Sheppard flopped back on his pillows.


“That’s just so wrong,” Sheppard observed.


“What?” McKay asked, following his line of sight. Carson in an infirmary bed?”




Pega’s, well, Pega -- and Biro’s a pathologist. I know multiple areas of expertise and all – but she’s primarily a pathologist. She cuts up dead people,” McKay rambled.


“Has Carson shown any sign of consciousness?”


McKay shook his head. Then he said softly, “I shouldn’t have forced him to get in the Chair.”


Ah, Sheppard felt his gut clench. He couldn’t think of any response to that.


McKay continued. “He’s got the natural gene and he’s got better at manipulating the technology. But, you know him, it’s not easy. Damn.” McKay stood and was out of the infirmary before Sheppard could say a word.






Rodney nursed a mug of coffee as he pondered on the laptop slaved to the biometric sensor array. He didn’t like it. Elizabeth was arguing that they could return to normal. He had wanted to question Sheppard about his time on the Chair, but he’d got too emotional. Once again he had proven that emotions and science did not mix.


He couldn’t sign off on something that he didn’t understand.


Sheppard and perhaps Carson had done something in the Atlantis mainframe, but that minor little error, beeping in the bowls of the system meant that they hadn’t solved it.


They were staying on reduced power and minimum interaction with the Atlantis systems until he said otherwise.




Elizabeth had brought Sheppard his copy of War & Peace but he didn’t have the concentration to read it. The infirmary was a swirl of activity. A member of the medical staff seemed to check on Carson every two minutes and they seemed to be increasingly disheartened. Radek, who was playing with Rodney’s Chair laptop, kept shooting him concerned glances as if he expected him to solve the problem.


Annoyingly, Sheppard kept falling asleep and every time he woke up nothing had changed. Then he woke up and Pega was stepping back from Carson’s bed stripping off a pair of medical latex gloves.


“What happened?” Sheppard demanded.


“It’s nothing to worry about, Colonel Sheppard, we only inserted an NG tube. It’s to keep up Dr. Beckett’s nutrient intake.”


Come on, Beckett, wake up. You’re frightening your staff.


“Can I get some of these wires off me? They make it really hard to sleep.”


“You don’t seem to have any problem,” Pega observed and returned to Beckett’s office tucked away in the far corner of the ward.


Radek was peering at him again. Sheppard could only shrug. He tried and failed to read a paragraph of his tome.


“Sir,” Lieutenant Hillier piped up. “Would you like to read my comic book?”


“What is it?”


Hellboy graphic novel.”


“Throw it over.”


Hillier squinted, aimed and then flipped the book across the ward with the accuracy of a champion Frisbee thrower. Sheppard snatched and caught it between his palms. Pega’s head shot up, catching the movement, but not seeing the action. Hillier flopped back in his bed and contemplated the ceiling. Pega returned to his paperwork.


The comic book was slightly easier to read. He had always enjoyed tales of fantasy and horror, although, he had shied away from horror in the last twelve months or so. Somehow, in his eclectic reading, he had missed Hellboy.


He looked up from Hellboy’s first meeting with the Sorcerer Rasputin and saw Beckett watching him, brow furrowed in absent concentration.


“Doc?” Sheppard sat up.


Beckett blinked, his mouth worked experimentally but no sound emerged.


Zelenka,” Sheppard called out of the corner of his mouth not taking his eyes from Beckett. “Call a nurse or something, the Doc’s awake.”


Beckett’s left hand moved spastically and then flopped back on the blankets. Inexorably, his eyes slid shut and he became boneless.


“No, no, no. Doc, stay awake,” Sheppard cajoled.


It was to no avail.


The tiny Connell and Andaman responded to Radek’s bedside alert. He simply pointed them towards Beckett’s bed. From the office, Pega saw them rushing over and stood up. Doctors Pega and Biro, Nurses Andaman, Fazi and Connell descended.


“Dr. Beckett, Carson,” Pega called loudly yielding no response. He pinched Beckett’s ear and Sheppard clearly saw Beckett’s left hand clench. Every single member of staff ringing the bed smiled. The energetic Fazi bounced up on his toes.


Carson.” Biro carefully moved aside the O2 mask and gently patted his face. “Come on, Dr. Beckett. You know the score: open those big, blue eyes for me. I’ve leave you alone if you open your eyes.”


“Doc!” Sheppard called. “You’re freaking out Rodney. Show us you’re awake -- open your eyes.”


Galvanised, Beckett opened his eyes. “‘Ney?”


Biro smiled widely and Beckett looked at her like he had never seen her before. “You’re in the infirmary, Carson. You gave us a bit of a fright, but you’re all right now.”


Beckett mumbled disconnectedly and closed his eyes. Sheppard could see that the medical staff were still smiling. It was definitely better, although the Doc had regained consciousness and he hadn’t spoken or moved that much. Andaman straightened out his blankets and plumped up his pillows. Pega bent his dark head to Biro’s level and they whispered back and forth in hushed tones.


“Is he okay?” Sheppard finally asked.


“He responded to verbal commands. He opened his eyes.” The restrained Pega flashed a grin. “That’s a good sign, especially after the last fifty six hours. Okay, yeah, I would like a coherent sentence, but beggars can’t be chosers.”


“So he’s okay?” Sheppard persisted.


Biro glanced at the CAT screen and the EEG graph. “He’s better.”


“Someone want to give Rodney the good news. And Weir?”


“I will,” Pega announced. “I’ll be in the office -- my comm. is there.”

Radek and Hillier were grinning widely as the doctor retreated to Beckett’s sanctum.


“This is good sign, no?” Radek asked Biro.


“It’s a definite improvement,” Biro could say.


“I will email, Rodney. He is concerned.” One handed, Radek pecked away at the keyboard.




Rodney snuck back into the infirmary after visiting hours. Carson actually enforced visiting hours, which were a few hours in the afternoon and evening, citing them as important for patient recovery and for the health of friends and family. Rodney took a small amount of pleasure in the fact that he had managed to contravene the rules over the last few days. Although he suspected that Biro had been watching him for a hypoglycaemic reaction or was ensuring he got some sleep. He had crashed on one of the spare beds a couple of times.


It was still relatively early, 21:00 Atlantean time. Sheppard had curled onto his side and pulled a mess blankets high up so only the curve of his cheek and a tuff of jet black hair was visible. Radek slept mouth open, snoring up a storm.


Rodney padded over to Carson’s side. Radek had said that he had woken, but he was in the exact same position when Rodney had left. The new tube up his nose, secured by white tape, didn’t look very comfortable. 


Carson? Carson?” he whispered. He glanced at Biro who had her nose deep in paperwork as she manned the nurses’ station. She had to be aware of his entrance, nobody could be that dense.


Rodney shook his friend’s shoulder. “Wake up, Carson.”


Carson snuffled and Rodney noticed that all the blood had now been cleaned all away. Biro raised her head and watched him. Rodney took that as tacit permission.


R’ney?” Carson mumbled behind the O2 mask.


“Hey?” Rodney grinned.


Beckett’s eyes opened a fraction and he shifted uncomfortably. “Head down,” he whispered. “Down…”


“Biro, I think Carson wants the bed dropped flat.”


“You sure?” The doctor joined them, smiling at her patient.


“Pretty much.”


“Hello, Carson.” Biro patted his hand.


“Headache,” he said without moving his lips. “Down.”


“Nurse Andaman, can I have 5mg demerol.”


The nurse responded, instantly moving the pharmacology section at the back of the ward.


“Can he lay down?” Rodney asked. “I think he’d be more comfortable.”


“When his nose was bleeding and after we’d cauterised the blood vessels, we wanted him upright. Yes, let’s lower the bed.”


Rodney knew where the controls were. As soon as the bed was flat, Beckett heaved a satisfied sigh. Carefully, Biro slid away a couple of the pillows.


“Dr. Biro.” Andaman passed over a sterile syringe and a small, sealed vial.


Brio checked the syringe and the vial before extracting the drug. Carson watched her, his expression befuddled. Biro held the vial before him giving him the opportunity to read the label if he was able.


Beckett reached out with his left hand, swiped but missed the vial. He grimaced and closed his eyes. Biro slid home the needle.


“Is he okay?” Rodney whispered.


Biro nodded tightly.


Carson grabbed a corner of his blanket, pulled it tight up to tuck against chin.


Carson,” McKay hissed. “Stay with me, just a minute.”


The man glowered at him, half hiding under his blanket. “What?” he grumbled.


“Sheppard told me about the VE. The virtual environment in the Atlantis mainframe. He saw an old woman trapped in fibres. You saw a tree with insects on it. Did you have a sense of anything else, other than the tree or the woman?” McKay persisted, “Sheppard initially arrived in a crystalline reality. What did you first see?”


Carson swallowed harshly. “Home. My grandparents’ home.”


“Did you control the environment?”


Beckett batted blindly in his direction. “Stop talking, please.”


Biro flashed McKay a dark look. “Are you feeling nauseous, Carson?”


Carson groaned his answer.


“Sheppard threw up,” Rodney informed. He backed away from potentially flying vomit.


“Thank you, Dr. McKay, I was there. Carson, I’m going to give you something to make you more comfortable. But we emptied your stomach, you have an NG tube, you won’t be throwing up.” Biro raised the head of the bed a fraction and then drew Rodney away.


“He wanted the bed down,” McKay protested.


“Yes, but raising his head slightly will help the nausea. He’s presenting with the same symptoms as Colonel Sheppard. We’ll give him some compazine.”


Biro drew Rodney away and Andaman took their place, speaking lowly to her boss as she carefully straightened out blankets which did not need tweaking.


Rodney twitched his elbow out of the pathologist’s ghostly touch.


“You’ve seen Dr. Beckett, Dr. McKay, leave him to us for the night. He’s really not going to be able to answer your questions properly, any rate.”


Rodney blamed tiredness in the fact that somehow the pathologist had managed to get him out of the door and the infirmary to the corridor without him noticing.


“He’s confused… Are you sure…?” McKay couldn’t put it in words.


“Have you ever had a migraine?”


“No. I don’t get migraines. Headaches from working with idiots, but not migraines.”


Biro’s pointy face twisted further. “You remember the Wraith blast that you took in the face? Concentrating was a little difficult afterwards, wasn’t it?”


Grudgingly, McKay agreed.


“Think of Colonel Sheppard and Dr. Beckett having Wraith blast times twenty. The degree of confusion that they showed, while disturbing, isn’t unexpected.  Colonel Sheppard has shown considerable improvement, but it takes time.” Biro peered over the top of her sharp edged glasses. “I think you should go and get some rest. In fact I’m insisting. And stop by the canteen and get yourself a hot chocolate and some toast first.” 


Rodney was left standing in the corridor wondering how uncharacteristic it was that he had let Biro lead him around like a brainless numbnut. More worrying was that he still stood, frozen, trying to remember where the commissary was.




Rodney jerked around. Ronon Dex stepped forward. Rodney blinked. The Runner must have been leaning by one of the water light columns, hiding in the shadows.


“The doctor advised that you should eat.”


“Yeah, I’d go along with that. My stomach is… Yeah, I think my blood sugar is zero. But, then again, that really isn’t possible unless you’re dead. It’s likely under 4 mmol/L, I bet.”


Ronon rumbled deep in throat. “Food, McKay.”


And once again Rodney let someone lead him around.




Sheppard hopped up onto his infirmary bed. Yet another round of tests were under his belt.  He was down to one IV. Under normal circumstances he would be fighting to leave, and truth be told, he had to bite his tongue to not demand to be let free. But the Doc was still pretty much out of it and if they found anything valuable by poking and prodding him he guessed that it was time well spent.


The brain thing was pretty creepy. The neurological leads pasted on his temples had been removed when they had carted him off to the Ancient body scanner earlier in the morning (despite Rodney’s protests about using Ancient tech), but the fMRI scan picture on the screen beside his bed still showed the last image. The three red blurry areas didn’t look good, but that was probably just the colouring, if they were blue-green like his other scans they’d be much less intimidating. They were pretty small, he thought, consideringly. 


Beckett, opposite, shifted -- half sitting up and then lying carefully back down.


“Hey, Doc.” Sheppard slipped off the bed and tooled over, dragging his IV pole with him.




Beckett blinked furiously. His focus was on Sheppard and the man was definitely wearing the white scrubs of a patient.


“You?” He managed to lift a finger and point at the Major – Colonel – whatever.


“I’m fine, Doc.”


Sheppard’s crow wing hair was a bit flattened and that Beckett knew was not right. The doctor clicked his fingers. Sheppard took a hesitant step closer. By dint of pure effort, Beckett reached out and grabbed Sheppard’s wrist. Unerringly, his fingers sought out the radial pulse. The ebb and flow of Sheppard’s heart’s beat throbbed against his fingertips. Beckett rolled his head on his pillow, hunting for the clock which he knew was on the far wall. He slowly counted as he watched the minute hand. The beat was measured and even in a cadence of health. He lost himself in the beat and was completely unaware as sleep stole up and overtook him.




“He moved his right hand,” Pega said.


“What?” Sheppard flicked a glance at Pega who had appeared at his side. Carson snuffled softly, his hand still wrapped around Sheppard’s wrist.


“Hadn’t you noticed? Dr. Beckett hadn’t moved his hand since he was brought in – until now.”


“You thought that he’d…” Sheppard pointed at the screen above Beckett’s head.


Pega grimaced and shrugged. “It was a possibility, unlikely though, but we were concerned. The CAT results do not show a stroke profile per se, but the brain’s a complex interacting network and we do have evidence of changes in activity mainly in the left hemisphere. Dr. Beckett is right handed; he hadn’t used it.”


“Jesus,” Sheppard said under his breath. The docs played their cards so close to their chests. “He’s all right, though. I feel fine. The headache is… interesting.”


“Well, that’s to be expected. We’re now treating this as closed head injury. After a head injury, headaches are to be expected for some time afterwards.”


Pega reached over to unpeel Beckett’s fingers. Sheppard beat him to it.


“When am I getting out of here, Dr. Pega?”


“I’ll probably let you back to your room either late tonight or sometime tomorrow.” Pega crossed his arms. “We don’t have all the answers yet – we’re in unknown territory here. Colonel, you were comatose for over twenty four hours and it was nearly forty eight before you were truly awake. Just be thankful that you both seem to come out of it unscathed.”




Food and a good night’s sleep was an amazing rejuvenator. Life would be much less complicated if he didn’t get caught up in people and be filled with concerns. Discontent, McKay grumbled as he studied the array of laptops attached to the deep space sensors. Furmenty had wanted him to check the sensors, he hadn’t had time but Miller had analysed the components at his direction and found nothing suspicious. Miller was pragmatic and dogmatic; he would have been detailed in his examination. There was no evidence of tampering: sensors had not been realigned so they were effectually useless nor were they sending inappropriate data. Kavanaugh had checked the dead woman’s notes on her laptop and found nothing.


McKay drummed his fingers lightly against the laptop housing.


There were more than a few people working in the operations tower. Surveillance demanded that the area be powered up and that was inherently dangerous. They tried to concentrate on solely using their laptops, but has he watched, the dweeb manning the DHD resituated one of the lower unit matrix tablets.


They were all accidents waiting to happen – but that was nothing new.


“You!” McKay snapped.


Anti-Grodin jumped back.


“What part of ‘don’t touch the Ancient equipment’, don’t you understand?”


“Sorry, sir.” He actually put his hands behind his back.


The attacks had been proactive, direct rather than indirect. People were gassed or caught between closing doors.  A simple realignment of a containment field in one of the labs which could release a deadly microbe would have been much more subtle and efficient. The dichotomy was annoying, difficult to track down but so linear in its strikes.


Assuming Furmenty had found something, how had the evidence of the tampering been removed? A curiously constrained intelligence drove whole situation.


“Headaches.” He triggered his ear comm.. Miko.”


The response was gratifying instantaneous. “Dr. McKay, sir, yes? How can I help you?”


“Do you have a headache?” he asked without preamble.


“I can work, sir.”


“I wasn’t asking that. Do you have a headache?”


A very quiet, “Yes,” followed.


“Go ask the other natural gene carriers if they have a headache and get back to me.”


“Yes, ma-sir.”





Okay, this is weird,’ Carson finally figured out what he was looking at. Bedside rail, blanket and edge of a sheet covered mattress. ‘I’m in the infirmary. Yes. Bloody Hell.


Carson rolled on to his back and took clinical stock. Two IV ports: one standard peripheral line in the back of his hand and the other an arterial line in his wrist. He reached up and twisted the pole so he could read the labels: saline and a glucose solution. He didn’t need to lift the blankets up to know that he had a foley catheter inserted in his penis. That wasn’t going to be staying in long. There were the standard twelve leads monitoring his heart rate and rhythm. He followed the leads to the electrocardiograph and was pleased to see that his sinus rhythm was normal. His sats were fine and he resisted removing the monitoring peg pinching his ear.


It was all bloody uncomfortable.


His blood pressure was a little high.


“Hey, Doc?”


“Colonel Sheppard.” Beckett registered that the man had one IV and seemed fairly relaxed and happy. He sat up further and craned to look to the designated quiet bed at the end of the ward, but neither the bed nor Radek were there. Carson looked left and right a bit disorientated. It looked different from this angle. Radek?”


“Here, Carson.” The Czech waved from a bed in the more public area of the ward.  He sat cross legged pecking away at a laptop.


“How are you feeling?” Carson asked.


“Fine, I was released yesterday morning. I came today to have check up, but the doctors are busy at the moment.”


“Why? What’s the problem?” Carson made to kick off his blankets and was immediately reminded of the foley.


“We are,” Sheppard called out as he shuffled off his bed. He grabbed his IV pole and pushed it ahead of him. “I’ll go get Biro.”


“What. Eh. I.” Beckett gritted his teeth. Bloody Hell, what happened? He rubbed at his forehead, apparently he had some kind of head injury because he was coming up with nothing. Hang on. Hang on. “The nanites!”


“Dr. Beckett, calm yourself.” Pega returned with Sheppard.


“Claudio.” Carson scowled at his colleague.


“Dr. Beckett,” he returned. 


“So what’s the diagnosis?”


Uhm, kind of like a concussion. But not,” Sheppard said.


Beckett speared the colonel with a discontented glare, not happy with that level of information. Dr. Pega pointed at the fMRI scan screen nestled beside Beckett’s bed. “There were indications of increased synaptic transmissions throughout the cerebral cortex, with three acute areas presenting in the left hemisphere. There were also some small, pointpetechial haemorrhages in the frontal lobes.”


“Did I seize?” Beckett struggled to shift round to peer at the screen behind his head.


“No, sir.”




“Yes, sir. We treated you both with IV manitol. We’ll be running another fMRI with the Ancient body scanner now that you’re conscious. But Colonel Sheppard displayed the same symptoms and post recovery there was no indication of permanent damage.”


“Colonel? How do you feel?” asked Carson.


“Hey, I’m fine.” Sheppard waved a hand absently. “It was like – I don’t know – system shock. But I’ve drank my potion and rolled my dice and now I’ve got my points back.”


Beckett wondered if Sheppard needed his head examined – literally.


“Dungeons and Dragons?” McKay sauntered down the aisle between the beds. “I should of guessed.”


“Of course I played D&D, McKay. I’ve got a good imagination, haven’t I? How could I resist?”


“What character did you play? Oh, let me guess.” McKay rubbed his chin in a blatantly false manner. “I bet you were an elf.”


Beckett groaned.


“You got a headache, Doc?” Sheppard asked solicitously.


“I have now.” Carson dropped his head back on the pillows. “Claudio, how long?”


“Just over three days.”


“Nearer four,” McKay put in.


Carson squirmed around to look at the screen again. “Four days,” he said incredulously.


“Let’s see if you can eat something and after you’ve had a nap we’ll get you down to the fMRI,” Pega said.


“Don’t you patronise me, son.”


Sheppard creased up laughing.


“That was so you.” McKay snorted. “Funny, though, when you say it – it doesn’t sound patronising.”


“I…” Carson consulted his stomach. He really didn’t feel hungry but shuffling down to a more comfortable position he realised that the nap part sounded like a pretty good idea.


He opened his eyes as the head of his bed was raised.


I fell asleep.’


He smiled at his head nurse. “Hullo, Becky.”


“Dr. B.” Andaman smiled. “I scrounged you some cornflakes and nice cold milk from the Daedalus.”


“Is that toast?” Carson poked the plate.


“With butter.”


You trying to spoil me?”


“Why not? You better eat it, before Dr. McKay comes over.”


Rodney was already sniffing and abandoning the spare bed where he sat with his ever present laptop. Carson carefully cut his slice of toast in two as Rodney made his way over. Becky plumped up an extra pillow and Carson sat up so she could slip it behind his back.


“Enjoy your dinner.”


“Thank you, m’dear.”


Becky, her eyes strangely bright, beetled off.


Rodney accepted his half of toast as his due. He mumbled, mouth full, “How you feeling?”


Carson took stock. “Got a headache, but it’s masked by some pretty serious meds.” He pointed to the bottom of the bed. “Pass my chart up.”


“It’s not there. Pega said that he’s the doctor, you’re the patient.”


“Did he now?”


“Eat your cornflakes, Carson. You’d probably fall asleep before you finished reading it, any rate.”


Carson sighed and ferried a spoonful of flakes to his mouth.


“So,” Rodney began, “what do you remember?”


The spoon clattered in the bowl. “Did we get them?”


“That is the question which I’ve been subjected to since you fried your brain. The answer is complicated. One thing, though, all the natural ATA carriers are still having headaches.  Hardly conclusive evidence. I don’t suppose you want to go back in the Chair?”


“No, bloody way, and if Colonel Sheppard agrees I’ll smack him upside the head.”


“Didn’t think you would.” Rodney sighed heavily. It had not been a serious request. “I do feel that we got a little trapped in the nanite hypothesis.”


“We saw bugs.”


“But did you see them because I’d primed you? Or because there were really bugs? And why would Sheppard pouring DDT over them, kill them?”


Carson shrugged. “I wanted to label them; make them radioactive or something, so Atlantis could recognise the threat and deal with them.”


“Oh.” Rodney slumped in his appropriated chair and pulled on his bottom lip introspectively. “That’s interesting. It all hinges on actually identifying the problem, though. We have fairly conclusive evidence that Atlantis can’t identify the problem as a threat but can respond to its activities.  The error that I was monitoring has reduced but we’re limiting our interactions with the Ancient technology at the moment.”


“So what are our options?”


“We’re going to set up traps.”




Rodney nodded. “Get a few of your failed gene therapy victims to use the technology under controlled circumstances and see if it attacks them.”


Horrified, Carson spluttered. “You can’t do that.”


“We can and we will. You can’t disprove a negative but this is what we’re resigned to. We run a hundred tests and if no one gets hurt, I’ll authorise limited use. Keep monitoring the system and trying to figure out what exactly is the problem -- nanites or otherwise.”


“Have you looked at one of those crystal tablets under an electron microscope?”

McKay nodded. “And crystallography and spectrophometric analysis. Nothing.”


“But you don’t even know if the wee beasties are in the crystals you tested.”


“I stripped down the conduits and crystals which shocked Radek. We’ve been using them – which theoretically will have the causative agent in the equipment and wouldn’t be affected by your actions on the Chair because it was disconnected at the time.” McKay leaned over and pressed his fingers against his temples.


“When was the last time that you slept, Rodney?”


“I’ve slept,” McKay said to his knees.


“Okay.” Sheppard hopped up on Carson’s bed. He was dressed now, in his standard black microfleece and trousers. His feet were bare. “Let’s forget the nanites. It’s not working is it?”


McKay’s head popped up. “Go on.”


“When we were on the Chair were there earthquakes?”


“Earthquakes? We’re on a City in an alien ocean. We don’t get earthquakes.”


“McKay,” Sheppard chastised.


“No. The City didn’t move.”


“Okay. Atlantis was under attack. Nasty fungi when I was not thinking in Beckett’s world.” Sheppard scratched his head.  “In Beckett’s they were iratus bugs.”


“No, they weren’t,” Carson disagreed. “They were termites and you told me that you saw an old woman covered in mould.”


“Is that relevant?” Sheppard asked.


“Of course it’s relevant.” McKay stood and paced to the end of the bed. He made an abrupt turn. “Termites are social insects. Right, Carson?”


“Yes, Rodney. They have a complex system of communication. Morphologically and behaviourally differentiated castes structured to form a cooperative relationship. They generally live in a central nest or hive.” A thought occurred and Carson spoke out loud. “Moulds are complex. To the naked eye they look fairly uniform, but there are different structures relating to different functions like reproduction. They communicate – loosely – by protoplasmic streaming between cells in the mould mat of hyphae. Fungi and termites, you know, they’re entirely different organisms. They’re in different phyla – so, of course, they’re different.” 


“What are you thinking, McKay?” Sheppard asked interrupting Carson’s spiel. The astrophysicist was watching Carson hawk-like as he talked 


“It’s not nanites. It’s an interacting, communicating system formed of different entities. It’s a hive. I’m going with the hive analogy. Stay with me. The reason that we haven’t found unusual elements or molecules is because it’s actually using Atlantis’ own matrix technology. You, Carson, thought that it was malicious. The Wraith that was hiding in the bowels set up a hard drive – no – no – no too much supposition.”


“McKay?” Sheppard asked.


“Stop talking. I’m thinking. It’s in the redundancies. Probably in the security systems. There’s an isolated command protocol. Someone or something has made Atlantis schizoid. Question is – where is it located and how do we get rid of it? Atlantis can’t heal itself. This is sophisticated piece of sabotage.”


“The Chair.” Sheppard shifted off Carson’s bed. “It’s primary function is security. As you’ve said, McKay, it’s a direct link to Atlantis.”


“You’re not interfacing with the Chair again.” Carson sat up.


“I don’t intend to. The Chair could house the infection. Look what happened last time.” Sheppard looked down at his bare feet. “Any idea where my shoes are?”


“You haven’t been discharged,” Carson protested.


Sheppard hummed introspectively. “To be frank--” he nodded at Carson, “--you’re awake, I don’t need to hang around being poked and prodded anymore. And I’m feeling fine.”


“I don’t think that you can come with us, Carson.” Rodney gestured vaguely at the IVs and leads. “And you still look pale and sort of headachy.”


“Shoes. Who need shoes?” Flashing a blatantly mischievous grin, Sheppard made his escape.


Rodney shuffled from side to side. “I best be going with Sheppard.”


“Rodney, it’s not safe.”


He made to dart away, but he caught himself. “It’s good to see you’re all right.” McKay said awkwardly. Words spoken, honesty laid bare, he blushed and then raced after the colonel.


Carson raised his hand. “I…” He shuffled on his bed, the alert button had to be somewhere. He spotted it hanging on the wall behind the bed well out of reach unless he removed his foley and IV lines. “Becky!” he hollered.


Andaman came running. “Dr. Beckett.”


Gimme your ear piece.” Carson snatched at midair.


Perplexed, but Andaman unhooked her comm. and handed it over.


“Thank you,” Carson said automatically.


“Where’s Colonel Sheppard?”


Carson flashed her an apologetic smile as he set the comm. in place. “Rodney?”


Carson, what are you doing on an open line?” 


“Trying to add the level head of reason to what you’re up to,” Carson said sharply. “It’s aware -- when I was coming to tell you about the problem it maliciously tried to kill me. It’s more than a bloody ‘isolated command protocol’. Take care, man.”





McKay chased after the surprisingly spry Sheppard given his last few days in a critical care unit.


Carson?” he asked over his ear piece.


“Yes, Rodney?”


Ahead of him, Sheppard caught a banister with his hip and slid down a flight of stairs.


“Did you get a sense of Atlantis as a person?” Rodney asked.


“No it was a tree. Oak tree, though,” Carson said


“Why’s that pertinent?”


“They’re often associated with wisdom.”


Rodney heaved in a breath. “Do trees get infections?”


“All living things get infections.”


“Atlantis isn’t alive,” Rodney said in between breaths as he ran down the stairs after Sheppard.


“Yeah, right,” Sheppard called from below.


Rodney finally caught up with Sheppard. The colonel stood at the doorway to the Chair room, carefully scrutinising the room for threats.


“Have you noticed all the doors are open?” he said softly.


“I think that it’s part of the energy shut down protocols. Doors in a closed position lock people in.”


“Do you have a schematic of the Chair?”


“Oh, yeah,” Rodney mocked. “‘Cause the Ancients are so good at the instruction manuals.”


“What are we looking for?”


“I’m hoping something obvious. Wraith technology differs dramatically from Ancient tech. Carson had a point. I think that we’re looking for an Artificial Intelligence unit jacked into the Atlantis mainframe.”


“And you think that the Wraith did this. Maybe when Bob infiltrated the City?”


Rodney gingerly stepped into the room. Lightning didn’t erupt from the walls. He darted across the floor. He was getting spooked. Crouching, he peeled a panel off the base of the Chair. 


“This is working in the dark,” he complained.


Sheppard took a cautious, barefooted step across the room. The walls were breathing. Rodney jerked around.


Carson said he got the impression…”


“Rodney.” Radek barrelled into the room weighted down with a tool belt, two laptops and a diagnostic data tablet tucked in his sling.


Radek, you read my mind.”


“Hardly. You and Carson are talking on an open mike. Elizabeth is not very happy, but is willing to let you play this out.” He twisted, offering the laptops to Rodney, ham-handed due to his cracked shoulder. McKay took them and then unfastened Radek’s tool belt and spilled the contents on the floor.


“This is the Chair laptop,” Rodney noted as he started the computer.


“You left it in the infirmary.” Radek crouched beside Rodney at the base of the Chair.


“Yeah. Yeah.” Rodney hooked it up.


“We are looking for AI? Hard-drive attached to Atlantis, yes?”


The lights went out.


“Hmm, that’s an efficient way of stopping you looking,” Sheppard observed.


Rodney angled the illuminated screen of the laptop at the opened panel. “Radek, stay close to me. Atlantis won’t protect you.”


“And you will?” Radek snorted.


“I’ve got the gene. Atlantis will intervene if I‘m targeted. Hypothetically.”


“Lights on,” Sheppard called out. They flared back to life. “Interesting.”


“Very. Carson said that you had had headaches. Are you getting one at the moment?” Rodney asked.


Sheppard rolled his eyes. “Hello, headache for days.”


“Is it directional?”


“You mean can I use my body like a mike.” Sheppard grimaced. “No I can’t.”


“Okay.” Suddenly frustrated, McKay broke off. “This is recent. Last three weeks, according to Carson’s analysis. If there is sabotage during the Wraith invasion it had to be quick and dirty. It will just be behind a panel.”


“Ah, but, Rodney, Wraith hate Ancients more than humans, so why specifically target humans and leave Ancients? Maybe sabotage from people who designed nanites.” Radek posed.




Nanites in lab for more the 10 000 years,” Radek pointed out. “The protocol in system for over 10 000 years but not activated until Colonel Sheppard used Chair to fire drones or we installed powered ZPM.”


“I hate this!” McKay span away. “It’s all squishy science. There’s no hard data. We can’t even find the problem.”


“Quit whining.” Sheppard squatted at the corner of the Chair dais. He held his hand a foot over a circle in the floor tiling. It rose as he lifted his hand and the housing beneath should have held a ZPM. Sheppard raised a mocking eyebrow and then lay flat on his stomach to peer in the hole. McKay shuffled over to the second circle and tried, and failed to make it rise. Sheppard leaned over and extended a supercilious finger and drew the housing upwards.


“Well, pop up the tiles,” McKay said imperiously and returned to peeling off surface panels from the Chair base.


“Remember how to put the Chair back together,” Sheppard retorted and began to gesture opaque blue tiles, one by one, off the Chair dais.


“I look at your data on the Chair laptop when you abandon it in the infirmary,” Radek said. “I used your algorithm to separate out four strands of consciousnesses.”


“Four?” Rodney rocked back on his heels.


“It is based on algorithm geared towards human consciousness, therefore it is inherently flawed. But four strands were in the data stream if I look at best fit of data.”


Sheppard yanked free the last triangular tile and carried it over to the others which he had stacked by the door.


“The AI theory’s looking better,” Rodney stated.


Sheppard had all of the shaped tiles lifted, leaving the spider web of the supporting frame structure behind. He balanced, prehensile toes on the metal blue-grey frame, peering into the innards of the dais.


“All looks Ancient to me.” Sheppard poked a crystal. The tingle that signalled Ancient technology stroked up his hand. “I thought that the Chair was powered down?”


“It is,” McKay said without looking up from his laptop.


“How did I lift the ZPM housing? Do the lights?” Sheppard asked. The hairs on the back of his neck rose. “Back. Back. Get back.”


Balancing on the skeletal framework, Rodney stood up. Eyes wide, he held his laptop before him.


“Off the dais. Now!” Sheppard yelled.


“What?” Rodney took an automatic step back at the yell.


Zelenka simply looked at him owlishly.


The forcefield that shot up from the floor clipped McKay. The laptop was caught and was yanked from McKay’s hands and carried up to the ceiling as the forcefield extended. It exploded on impact, showering them with sparks. McKay was bowled backwards off the dais where he landed in a limp heap. He could feel the floor hard under his hip, but everything else felt a little distant and twisted.


“McKay!” Sheppard bounced off the inner side of the cylindrical forcefield and fell back on the denuded dais.


“Rodney?” Zelenka, crouched by the Chair, unfurled his arm from over his head.  He shuffled across the exposed framework to the edge of the field and peered through it at McKay.


“Rodney!” Sheppard yelled again.


“Yes. Yes. Yes.” McKay slapped the floor. “A moment.” He rolled onto his back.


“McKay, are you all right?” Sheppard demanded an answer.


McKay sat up and rubbed his face. “Yes. I think we’ve conclusively proven that we’re on the right track.”


Sheppard poked the forcefield. Light oscillated from his fingertip forming patterns on the field. He moved his finger drawing swirls.


“It’s a forcefield to protect the user,” Sheppard marvelled.


“There was one on the Chair in Antarctica.” Rodney did not touch the field.


“Are they air tight?” Sheppard asked tapping it.


“Kind of a pointless if they’re not,” Rodney snapped.


Three minds bent to calculate the volume of air remaining within the cylindrical forcefield given that two men were caught within it.


“We’re good for a few hours,” Sheppard stated. 


“Ah, but forcefield is shrinking. And it is shrinking fast.” Zelenka pointed to the base. The corner of the second laptop was now touching the edge of the field. Sheppard picked his way over the frame and pulled the laptop away.


“Rodney, any ideas?”


“Think it off, gene boy.”


Sheppard’s eyes narrowed. He stood still and stared heatedly at the field. It shimmered. Sheppard took a step back and stumbled, foot going into the innards of the Chair dais.


“Didn’t go down,” he said unnecessarily.


McKay sometimes stated the obvious too, “I can see that. So did Atlantis put that up to protect her blue eyed boy or has the AI evolved?”


“It’s shrinking, McKay. That feels a bit threatening.”


Radek volunteered, “Unless she’s conserving power. Make forcefield smaller to protect her best beloved. We have curtailed energy throughout Atlantis.”


“Will you two give it a rest? Now’s not the time.” Sheppard scowled. “McKay, you’re on the opposite side of the forcefield that has probably been put up to protect us.”


“Oh?” McKay spun in a rapid circle. Nothing moved threateningly around him. He wasn’t reassured.


“McKay, get out of here,” Sheppard ordered.


“We’ve got two conflicting hypotheses. One: you’re in danger. Two: I’m in danger. My leaving isn’t going to solve the problem.” McKay firmed his jaw. “You two keep looking in and around the Chair. I’m going to pull up the floor. Keep an eye on the forcefield.”


Radek’s tools were scattered, some on the floor and others on the dais contained within the field. Rodney grabbed an energy scanner and a flat-bladed screwdriver and while monitoring energy readings began to pick and choose which floor tiles to lever up. He couldn’t believe that he had overlooked the simple fact that the Chair had been powered when he had made Carson use it. That was embarrassingly incompetent. He quickly exposed the communication conduit from the base of the dais to Atlantis’ core grid. The forcefield continued inexorably shrinking inwards. Nothing unusual was revealed as McKay hunted. McKay ground his teeth in frustration. Radek swore volubly as another foot of space on the dais was lost. Soon they would have to resort to sitting on the Chair.


“Enough,” Sheppard stated.


Rodney jerked his head in the direction of his trapped companions. “No, don’t do it, Colonel.”


Sheppard quirked his lips in a travesty of a smile and jumped onto the Chair. It initialised immediately, dropping back and glowing blue.


McKay fetched up against the forcefield. He placed his hands on it, light cascading under his fingertips. Radek stood facing him, his unhurt shoulder raised and dropped in the universal gesture ‘there was nothing I could do’. The Czech turned to the Colonel. Sheppard lay still, hardly breathing and his expression calm.


Above him a three dimensional map of Atlantis, transparent and glowing, appeared. The piers dropped away. Skyscrapers disappeared one by one like peeling the skin from an orange. Each building was assessed and then faded away until only the central area inhabited by the humans remained. Here progress was slower. Rodney guessed that the errors caused by interfacing human and Ancient technology made identifying the source of their problems difficult. Beckett’s genetics lab pulsed a bright orange. Rodney held his breath. Sheppard twitched. Then it too disappeared off the map. The search continued until only the Chair room remained. The ghostly image grew until it was large enough to see internal details. Toylike images of themselves stood in a mock up. Sheppard lay on the Chair and Radek stood at his side. McKay was plastered against the forcefield.


A bright orange pulse shone behind the base of the Chair – lurid and threatening. McKay shifted around the forcefield to get a better view of the image. Whatever it was it was embedded in the dais about a foot below the communication conduit.


“Yes!” It was on his side of the force field.


The tile had already been removed, revealing the thigh thick cord of light cabling of the main Chair conduit. McKay poked his head in the hole.


“Careful, Rodney.” Radek crouched as close as he could get.


McKay wiggled a little further. It was a tight fit. Underneath the cabling, a melon sized, gelatinous mass hung by a single strand of ropey mucous. Three other strands wriggled ineffectually, twitching towards the light cabling but unable to bridge the distance to connect with the conduit as it hung.


“Gross,” McKay couldn’t help utter. He angled his head a little further.


“Rodney!” Radek called.


McKay pulled his head out. “What? What?”


“What do you see?”


“It’s organic. Vaguely reminiscent of the Wraith structures inside their vessels.” McKay poked his head back in the hole, twisting to get in a little further. “Yep, on the underside I can see…”


Embedded in the base of the mass was a black, smooth edged unmistakably Wraith device. It looked inert. None of the LCD equivalent sensors were illuminated. McKay wriggled a bit more and managed to get his scanner in place to take some readings. The mass registered organic, formed mainly of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen with a base electric charge. The cybernetic unit barely registered. Articulated, black legs dug deep into the mass. The flesh around the penetrating legs was red and cracked with infection.


“McKay,” Ronon boomed and McKay jerked banging his head.


Ow.” McKay whined. A warm hand gripped his leg.


“Are you stuck?”


“No. But if I scream yank me out.” Wriggling further, McKay angled his hand so he could brush the mass with the back. Warm and wet, he shuddered. “What’s happening with Sheppard?”


“He is still on the Chair,” Ronon said.


“Tell Radek to get him off it. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I cut this thing off.”


“Dr. McKay,” Teyla said, her tones as always even, “is there anything I can do to assist you?”


“No. Look there’s some kind of cybernetic device badly connected to the communication conduit to the Atlantis mainframe. I’m going to snip the tentacle off and I don’t know what’s going to happen. Perhaps you should step back?”


“Ronon and I will remain close to render assistance if you need it.” Two sets of hands gripped his legs.


McKay bit his bottom lip. “Uhm, you don’t want to be doing that if I get shocked. You’ll get shocked. Let go.”


Reluctantly, the hands released him.


“Rodney!” Radek shrieked. “The force field is collapsing on us!”


“Shit.” There was no time to carefully cut the tentacle off. McKay grabbed the slimy tendril and yanked. The shock was immediate. He felt the energy writhe up his forearm and burn where his elbow touched the edge of the dais. He screamed. He was yanked from the hole, banging his head against the conduit. The world swung crazily as Ronon manhandled him up and out of the dais and down onto the floor.


Lightning arched and Ronon curled over him as sparks fell. A muscular forearm blocked most of his view, as Rodney watched a spark on the floor before him flare then slowly burn away. The Runner lifted away.


Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.” McKay gripped his forearm against his chest as he moved. “Sheppard? Zelenka?”


Ronon grabbed the collar of his shirt and pulled him around. The forcefield had dissipated. Radek was crouched in the smallest possible ball under the raised footrest. He smiled bashfully and rolled out.


“Seemed best place to hide.”


McKay lurched to his feet, helped by Ronon’s firm grip on his collar. “Sheppard?”


Teyla beat him to the Chair.  Sheppard’s mouth was open slightly and the faintness rill of saliva stained his chin. Gently, Teyla patted his cheek.


“John?” she breathed.


For the longest heartbeat it seemed that he was not going to respond, then he opened his eyes the merest sliver.


“Hey.” He smiled. “Did it work?”


Rodney forced his way forward. “What were you thinking?”


“Did it work, McKay?”


McKay grimaced. He rubbed his aching forearm. “I disconnected the weird snotty thing attached to the Chair. How did you know?”


Sheppard sat up and the Chair back rose with him, powering down. “I asked Atlantis to identify anything installed computer, mechanical or even biological in the system since the siege. It went after biological.”


McKay threw his hands in the air. “Military!” He promptly squeaked as his burnt arm clamoured.


“It worked.” Sheppard swung his legs off the Chair.


“Yes, I know,” Rodney sulked.


“Ah.” Sheppard quirked a smile. “It’s like that, is it?”


“What do you mean?” Rodney said defensively. He had been well on the way to figuring it out. Sheppard’s heroics on the Chair hadn’t been needed – okay the forcefield was about to crash on them to unknown, but likely crushing, effect.


“Nothing.” Sheppard stood and his knees promptly gave way.


Rodney and Teyla caught him.


“Right, infirmary,” McKay dictated.


Sheppard pushed off them and managed to stand upright. “I’m fine, just a head rush.”


“Well, I’m going.” McKay angled his hand so that the bleeding blisters on his first two fingers and thumb could be seen. “Who knows what nasty alien bugs were in that mucous. I’m going to need antibiotics and probably a tetanus booster. You should come since you weren’t even discharged. Radek?”


“Yes, Rodney?”


“Hook up my data tablet. We need to look at the Chair systems. And we need someone from biology to get that cybernetic organism. I definitely want to look at the cybernetic control.”


Radek pointed to his sling.


“Okay. Okay! Call someone. Miller’s a halfway decent scientist.” He glared at all and sundry.Teyla, you see my diagnostic data tablet and the cabling with the USB port and the cobbled together female end?”


Teyla carefully helped Sheppard sit on the edge of the dais. Ronon followed McKay’s orders and pointing finger, setting the pad by the Chair and holding out a handful of cables.


“Yes. That’s it.” McKay pointed at the UBS end of one cable. “That goes in my data tablet. The other end--” he crouched down on his haunches and pointed at the male connector that he and Radek had devised in the early days of playing with the Chair.


Ronon’s regarded him as if asked to perform lewd acts on a table top.


“Plug it in the male end.” McKay shook his head as the Runner complied.


“You terrans are strange,” he growled.


“Okay. Okay.” McKay screwed up his nose as the data tablet promptly displayed running streams of Ancient script. His fingers danced over the screen. As a -- relatively -- uncomplicated scroll of numbers filled the left hand side of the screen, he smiled. He surfed through the mainframe hunting for the annoying little error which had made his last few days Hell and it was nowhere to be found.


“Are we clear? Sheppard asked.


McKay smiled his happy, misshapen smile. Sheppard grinned back at him.






“I don’t see why I’m here,” Sheppard grumbled as Ronon conducted him back to the infirmary.


“You weren’t discharged. I’m surprised that Carson didn’t come haring after you and drag you back.” Rodney sniped as he preceded them through the door, cradling his arm against his chest. “I need help!”


Ssssssh!” Andaman rushed forwards. “Dr. Beckett’s asleep.”


“I’m burnt,” McKay protested. “Asleep? How?”


“He was quite distraught when you left. He tried to get out of bed and almost passed out--”


“Hah! You mean fainted, don’t you?” Rodney scoffed. He plonked down on a bed and sagged tiredly.


“Dr. Pega sedated him,” Andaman said.


They turned to look at the sleeping Scot. The battle with Pega must have had some compromises since Beckett’s bed had been lowered to a horizontal position. He was a blanket covered lump apart from five bare toes poking out from underneath the coverings.


Sheppard winced. “Pega’s going to be ass deep in trouble when the Doc wakes up.”


“You, Colonel Sheppard, should get back in your bed,” Andaman directed.


“He seemed unconscious when he was on the Chair,” Ronon boomed.


Sheppard shot him a black look. “Traitor,” he mouthed.


“I’m hurt.” Rodney rolled back his sleeve revealing a suppurating, four inch burn running from just above his elbow down his forearm. In the centre it was white and the edges were crispy like bacon.


“Jesus, McKay, why didn’t you say something?”


“I did.” McKay paled impossibly whiter as he studied the burn.


“I thought you were exaggerating,” Sheppard said.


“Just be grateful that the charge earthed through my elbow instead of working through my entire body. I could have had a heart attack.” He flopped back on the bed and Sheppard suspected that behind the overacting was a foundation of shock and faintness.


“Dr. McKay, I’ll get Pega straight away. Colonel Sheppard, I’ll inform Dr. Biro that you’ve returned and have been on the Chair again. She’ll no doubt want to schedule another fMRI, maybe in the morning after another round of blood tests.”


The smile that she sent his way as she moved to the back of the lab could only be described as evil.





Burns debrided and bandaged, antibiotics and painkillers prescribed, slings put in place, casual clothes replaced by scrubs, fMRIs scheduled and bloods drawn, all ended with Sheppard sitting sullenly back in his infirmary bed and McKay settled in the chair beside him.


Radek poked his head around the door and grinned impishly at them. “The coast is clear? Yes?”


McKay waved him in. The Czech scuttled forward.


“Analysis?” Rodney ordered.


“I concur that cybernetic organism was the source of the attacks. No evidence of problems in the system, other than the ones we know.” He grinned, but then abruptly became sober. “Rough and ready, dirty test did not reveal that the organic material was Wraith.”


“What is it?” Sheppard asked.


Radek hummed and hared. “Dr. Biro is running more conclusive test, to double check our results, before reporting to Dr. Weir. But I thought that you would want to know?”

“Yes. Yes,” Rodney snapped.


“Ancient DNA.”


“What?” Sheppard sat up.


“The organic ‘brain’ was Ancient once upon a time,” Radek continued. “Very nasty, mutated and twisted, but essentially a neurological matrix of brain tissue, synapses and stem cells. Wraith device might control the ‘brain’.”


“The Wraith device was inert,” Rodney stated. “Or it only worked intermittently, to reduce the possibility of detection. It’s kind of a neat way to sabotage Ancient systems, if you think about it. The security protocols won’t detect an ancient ‘brain’ as a threat.”


“There’s something bloody well wrong with the Ancient systems then,” Beckett spoke. The doctor rose up on an elbow.




“Well, don’t you think it’s bloody disturbing that Atlantis only protected the ATAs?”


“I doubt it was malicious, Carson,” McKay said. “The technology simply doesn’t recognise non-ATA humans and why should it?”


Not happy with that reasoning, Beckett burrowed back into his pillows.


“So this was put in place when the Wraith were in Atlantis or did Bob do it?” Sheppard asked.


“I’d guess during the invasion. It wasn’t hooked up correctly. Only one of four strands was linked to the conduit. They probably were working on it and were taken out by Everett’s marines. One of them must have put the tile back in place ‘cause our marines would have reported an incursion in the Chair room.”


“Our marines?” Sheppard grinned.


“Well, you know. We’ve trained the marines who have been here since we arrived,” Rodney said proudly. Radek nodded agreeing with him. “They might struggle with the scientific process but they know better than to touch anything without our permission and report anything unusual.”


Sheppard laughed, wondering who was deluding whom.


“Okay. Okay.” Andaman beetled in, her curly black hair flying. She tapped her wrist watch. “Visiting hours are over. Dr. Zelenka, Dr. McKay, you best be off, both of you look like you could do with an early night and maybe a bit of a lie in. Dr. McKay, don’t forget to take your antibiotics before you go to bed. You can also have two Tylenol when you have supper. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow morning to have your burns checked and the dressings changed.”


They couldn’t help but move at her chivvying, relentless and as persistent as the Niagara Falls. Sheppard shuffled down his bed, getting comfortable. The scientists finally left, if not arm in arm, at least they had matching slings. Sheppard could hear their voices getting more distant as they argued how they would thoroughly check to determine that the Atlantis mainframe had not been compromised.


Pleased with herself, Andaman turned and crossed her arms over her ample bosom. “Can I get anything for you Dr. B?”


“No, I’m fine, Love. If you could just turn the lights down a wee bit, please.”


“Colonel Sheppard?”


“Nah, I’m fine.” Sheppard waved her off.


Andaman moved to Lieutenant Hillier’s side. Sheppard kicked his feet free of the entangling blankets, settling them to his satisfaction. Another night in the infirmary seemed like an interminable chore, but somehow sneaking out seemed an infinitely harder endeavour. Beckett was still hooked up, although he was down to a single IV and the heart monitor, so he wasn’t escaping either.


“Colonel, a penny for your thoughts?”


Sheppard sighed introspectively. “What do you remember from the Chair?”




“Why did you go into the system?”


“Colonel?” Beckett questioned, perplexed.


Sheppard shrugged. “You went into it, visited and created a Virtual Environment instead of calling up data screens to try and figure out the problem.”


Beckett sat up, tenting his blankets as he crossed his legs. “I guess, because—Oh, my, because I think holistically. Rodney asked me to diagnose a patient. I needed to see my patient to get a sense of what was the problem. I don’t do that remotely. I can, obviously. Someone can tell me that a patient’s white count is up and their blood pressure is falling. But touching your patient, seeing them, speaking to them, is the best way to do it. Ooooh, my, I’m sorry, Colonel Sheppard. You shouldn’t have had to pull me out. I shouldn’t have gone in in the first place.”


“Hindsight is always twenty:twenty, Doc.” Sheppard waved off the rambling apology. “I can understand why you thought that way.”


“But, Colonel…” Beckett’s eyes were wide and horrified.


“Doc, it’s fine. Really it’s fine.” Sheppard leaned forward conspiratorially. “So was it magical?”


Beckett cracked a shy smile, as Sheppard was angling for, at the deliberate reminder of their first meeting. “It was amazing, but unfortunately it was very, very dangerous.”


Kentucky fried brains.”


Beckett glared. “You went on the Chair again? How do you feel?”


“Always the doc, Doc.”


Aye, and you’ll answer the question.”


Sheppard leaned back and folded his arms behind his head. “I’m okay. There wasn’t any VE. I just pulled up a visual of the City.”


Beckett groaned and flopped back on his pillows. “I’m never going anywhere near the bloody Chair ever again.”


“Yeah, but, Doc, it was pretty amazing.” He looked at the ceiling. The memories were strong. He could remember the scent, taste and feel of Beckett’s coastline. It was almost close enough to touch. The world of the hexagonal pillars, where the air had been cold and icy with that grating taste of granite, had been more alien.


Full immersion.


Sheppard wiped sweaty palms on his thighs.


“John?” Beckett asked softly.


“You’ve got better at the gene stuff,” Sheppard said.


“And you’re changing the subject.”


“I’m not really. We can’t let this go -- there are resources here in Atlantis that we barely comprehend on an intellectual level. We need to use those resources,” Sheppard said seriously. “Okay, the Chair might not be your thing, but Rodney’s right, some stuff you use without thinking. Your problem is that you over think things, you don’t listen to your instincts.”


“I am what I am,” Beckett said defensively.


“We have to practise, Doc. We have to get more skilled at using the Atlantean technology.” He twisted his hand, pretending to raise the ZPM housing. That had been different. That hadn’t been initialization nor reading displays -- that had been gross manipulation of material imbued with Atlantean triggers that were primed to respond to thought.


Atlantean primed matter.


He engaged that same openness in his mind, which allowed him to fly without consciously thinking. And there, within the hybrid Ancient and Terran infirmary, half way up one of the curious rust coloured decorative façades on the wall, was a warm spot that begged to be investigated. Who knew what else was out there?


“What are you thinking?” Beckett demanded.


Sheppard grinned. “It’s an adventure. Come on, dive in.”