Rating: PG-15 (if I was going to use that type of rating).
Spoilers: set second season.
Betas: Klostes sat through the first drafts (winces), Lisa did the more of the comma/spot the misused words thing and LKY, this time, got to look at the final draft. I like to cycle through my betas – it’s only fair.
Word count: circa 55, 000
Part of the Frame of Reference series but you should be able to read it without being familiar with Assignment and Cusp
Frame of Reference series
“Ronon,” Sheppard called over his shoulder, “stop poking the Doc.”
McKay leaned far out of the co-pilot’s seat and peered into the rear compartment of the puddlejumper. Beckett slept the sleep of the just, curled loosely on his side across the bank of seats along the port side of the vessel. Ronon poked Beckett roughly on the back of his shoulder. The doctor simply rocked, forehead pushing against the back rest of the seat, and continued sleeping. Ronon tried again.
“Leave him alone,” Sheppard called again. “That’s an order.”
The Runner stalked to the partition between the two compartments and propped himself up against the doorjamb.
“He’s been asleep for over six hours,” he rumbled.
“Well, not everyone can be Super-Dex,” McKay snarked. “Humans -- sorry Atlanteans, nope Earthlings, okay Tau’ri works, sleep longer than Setadan military specialists.”
“I know that,” Ronon said. “But you move, you talk in your sleep, you get up to take your pisses.”
“A piss,” Sheppard corrected.
Ronon jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “He hasn’t moved.”
McKay leaned back on his chair and swung his feet up on to the console. “He’s got downtime. There’s no patients here. It’s going to take us twelve long hours to reach PX5 662. I’m not surprised he’s crashed. This unrelenting boredom is probably the closest thing to heaven for him. Unrelenting boredom. Not even airplane food and a sweet hostess to alleviate the boredom.”
“You could get your laptop out and do some work,” Sheppard pointed out.
“That I could, but I’m conserving my energy.” McKay pulled a Power Bar from his jacket pocket.
Sheppard smacked his feet.
“It didn’t,” Sheppard refuted. “Keep your feet away from the controls, we don’t want to accidentally trigger the self-destruct.”
“We have self-destruct?” McKay swung his feet down and bent over to peer at the dash.
“Yes, but not there.” Sheppard tapped his temple.
“How long can you sleep for?” Ronon asked.
“My record’s twenty eight hours,” McKay recounted wistfully, gazing into the space field before him. “That was after my first Ph.D. submission. I don’t actually remember falling asleep. When I got back to my apartment, I just lay down in front of the fire. Out for the count. Woke up because I couldn’t find my arms.”
“What?” Sheppard asked.
McKay stretched backwards, arms above his head, demonstrating. “My arms went to sleep. I couldn’t feel them. It was pretty weird – took me ages to find them.”
“Twenty eight hours?” Ronon checked.
“Yeah. And I got up, grabbed some chips and a beer and went back to sleep and slept for another ten or so hours.”
“You sleep at night for only two… four hours,” Ronon said slowly.
“That’s on missions,” Sheppard explained. “When we do an overnighter, we’re on watch. Two hour watches on and off. And back on Atlantis you’ve got caffeinated scientists with toys. They’re not typical human – Terrans. Supposedly, we need seven to nine hours sleep a night.”
“A lot of wasted time,” Rodney interrupted Ronon. “We can get by on less. But after a while then the body demands a recoup.
“My people generally sleep for four hours a night. It is surprising that you need so much sleep.” Teyla uncurled from her seat behind Sheppard, setting her book aside. “The doctor has been busy recently; perhaps that we need this time to travel to Thou-et is a good thing.”
“I’m still not too happy that the Stargate on PX5 662 won’t activate.” Sheppard craned his head trying to peer at the second puddlejumper paralleling their course. The angle was completely wrong for a visual assessment of the team within.
“Yes, but if Teyla’s right there could be unparalleled opportunities to scavenge,” McKay said, rubbing his hands together avariciously.
Sheppard rolled his eyes. He was the one that had argued with Weir to allow the mission. The Athosians had requested that they be allowed to fulfil their seasonal visit to their trading partners on the planet Thou-et. The Stargate had not engaged. Teyla’s grandfather and father had traded with the women of Thou-et, mainly for delicate metal goods and, occasionally, medicinal advice when the Athosian shaman was unable to act. Teyla had presented previously acquired Thou-et surgical instruments as a gift for Beckett. Impressed by the workmanship, he had shown them to Rodney, who had identified that the degree of manufacture was beyond that of most of the inhabitants of the planets that they had visited. Intrigued, both Beckett and McKay had asked about Thou-et. Teyla spoke of a secretive, gentle people who avoided conflict and lived within an old city of stones and metal.
If the world had been culled of all the people of Thou-et, important technology might have been abandoned. If the Stargate had merely been damaged by the Wraith, repairing the device might bring them valuable allies. Luckily, while the Thou-et Stargate was offline, the Stargate orbiting PX5 664 at the edge of the red dwarf solar system had not been damaged. Using the Stargate at PX5 664 they had emerged in the solar system and begun the long haul flight to Thou-et.
The atmosphere in the puddlejumper was pleasant, anticipatory of the mission ahead. They lounged and lazed, enjoying the downtime. Sheppard had played Spider Solitaire for a few hours and then read old SGC mission reports. Teyla had brought a romance novel which
“Why is the Doc so tired?” Sheppard asked.
“Lieutenant Hillier broke his wrist,” McKay said.
Sheppard sat up. “What? Hillier? Redhead? Likes comic books? How come I didn’t know about one of my men?”
“I don’t know.” McKay shrugged -- it was obvious that he didn’t particularly care either.
“Hang on, Hillier only just got out of the infirmary after breaking his hip. What happened?”
Ostentatiously, McKay opened his laptop. “I have absolutely no idea. But, Carson was up all night running a genetic analysis on Hillier. I can guess what he was checking for, though.”
“And?” Sheppard said levelling a glare at the scientist.
McKay took his time, starting a couple of programmes before speaking, “Hutchinson’s disease has been shown to cause breakages. Lipidoses. Cancer. Osteogenesis imperfecta. I doubt that one, though.” McKay flicked a finger to each announcement.
Sheppard stood up.
“Are you going to wake the Doc?” Ronon asked, stepping into his way.
“Hell, yes. I want to know about my man.”
“Don’t you think that Dr. Beckett would have told you if there was a problem?” Ronon said.
They both turned to the comatose Beckett. Hunched in a ball, shoulders tucked high up against his neck, he didn’t look very comfortable. Sheppard slipped past Ronon and crouched at the doctor’s side. Gently, he pulled him over, onto his back, making sure that he didn’t roll off the narrow seat. Beckett shifted awkwardly and squirmed onto his left side, facing out into the compartment bay. His broad forehead furrowed, thick eyes brows coming together.
Beckett cracked open an eye. “Murr?”
“You awake, Doc?”
Beckett pushed up on an elbow. “What? Is someone hurt?”
“No, Doc. I wanted to ask you about Lieutenant Hillier? Rodney says you were up all night, checking his DNA?”
“Hiller broke his wrist. What’s the matter with him?” Sheppard asked tightly.
Abruptly waking up fully, Beckett fixed him with an intense stare. “I was concerned that a second break close after the broken hip indicated that there was an underlying problem. But no, he’s just a clumsy wee git, who like most of the marines, plays too hard.”
Sheppard settled back on his heels. “Sorry, Doc.”
Beckett flopped back on the seats. “I did tell the duty officer. He musta forgotten to--” he yawned expansively.
Sheppard patted him on the shoulder. “Go to sleep, Doc.”
Beckett obeyed, already breathing deeply and evenly, a slight breathy snore in the back of his throat.
A tad concerned, Sheppard reached out and laid the back of his hand on Beckett’s forehead. He was a little cool rather than warm.
“Is he ill?” Ronon tried to be quiet.
“Nah, but I wouldn’t have thought that one all nighter would have him sleeping like the dead.” Shrugging, Sheppard stood quickly. McKay had been alone in the cockpit for thirty seconds; they were probably wildly off course. He needed to get back.
They were indeed veering widely all over the place. It was lucky that they had inertial dampeners -- otherwise Beckett would have been sleeping in a heap on the floor.
“It’s not complicated so why are you so bad at flying?” Sheppard studied the screen outputs in amazement. “Straight-line. I repeat: it’s not complicated. Just think it in your head.”
McKay glowered. “I multi-task as a matter of course. We can’t all be one-track minded. I think of other things.”
“I fly, that’s the definition of multi-tasking, McKay.” Sheppard levered McKay out of his seat.
“Hurting!” he remonstrated and Sheppard released him. McKay dropped neatly back into the pilot’s seat.
“Look, we’ve got the perfect opportunity to try and teach me to fly straight.” McKay tapped his wrist watch. “We’ve got another five hours before we reach the planet. Let’s try and figure out how you fly the puddlejumper so… effortlessly.”
Sheppard moved up behind his seat and set his hands on either side of the head rest. “You do drive, McKay, don’t you?”
“Yes,” McKay said a little bit too tightly.
“It’s like that is it?” Sheppard said smugly.
“I’ll have you know that none of it was ever my fault. Not even the incident with the central meridian and the cow.”
Sheppard winced; it took little imagination to imagine any litany of mishaps all because McKay probably got a little bit distracted.
“Look, you’re capable of incredible focus. Building nuclear bombs requires concentration.”
“And then some.”
“Let’s try it that way. Concentrate on a straight line.”
“Okay, that’s not working.”
“McKay, get out of my seat.”
McKay rolled his eyes at the exasperated tone. It really didn’t make sense; the sweep, swing and yaw were unrelenting. He had tried every combination of thought processes possible.
“McKay,” Sheppard said again, with that nasal twang that sometimes was like nails down a blackboard.
Making a great production, McKay swung the chair around and bounced to his feet into Sheppard’s personal space. Sheppard met him head on and they waltzed without touching, circling around until Sheppard could reclaim his seat. “You want to get the Doc’s scanner and check him out?”
McKay jerked around. “What? I’m an astrophysicist not a doctor.”
Sheppard cocked an eyebrow.
“A medical doctor,” McKay snapped.
“Just run the scanner,” Sheppard directed.
McKay dragged his heels back into the rear compartment. It seemed a profound waste of his time, assuming that he would even be able to interpret the results. Beckett was now cocooned in one of the mission’s unzipped sleeping bags. McKay pointed at Ronon and then at Beckett.
“He looked cold,” the Runner said simply. Ronon was probably also responsible for pushing one of the supply crates up next to Beckett’s torso, so if the physician rolled over he wouldn’t fall off the bench. Beckett’s medical bag was tucked beside him in easy reach.
McKay quietly opened the rigid backpack. The equipment was carefully packed in compartments, each and everything had its place. He plucked Carson’s favourite piece of equipment from the pack. The Ancient medical scanner provided a quick and dirty spec of a person’s state. He pondered that it would be easier to simply wake the man up and stick a thermometer in his mouth, but tapped the side of the scanner with his fingertips booting it up. Detaching the sensor strip and angling it towards Carson, automatically initiated a sensor run. Lots of numbers popped up on the tablet and years of diagnosing his own ailments came in useful. Temp, okay. Blood pressure, sort of okay. Pulse, resting.
McKay turned the sensor on himself. Borderline hypertensive. Carson kept ragging him about his coffee intake: ‘Rodney, forty cups of coffee a day is bad for your health.’
“What’s the diagnosis, Dr. McKay?” Sheppard called.
“He’s asleep.” McKay spotted the cylindrical portable brain activity scanner. With a smirk, he filched it from the pack. He popped out the diagnostic wand and the device initialised extending the holographic display interface in the air before him. But as per usual the stored data was password locked. That was easily bypassed. McKay grabbed Carson’s hand from under the blankets – amazingly the man stayed asleep – and rested it on the cylinder. By the simple expedience of placing his hand on top of Beckett’s and inwardly commanding “open” he unlocked the protected material.
McKay stood and met Ronon’s implacable stare with a smirk.
He waved the wand over Carson’s head calling up an fMRI-like 3D-scan of his brain. Mentally, he made the image twist around and then spliced it like baloney until the tell tale red spots which Carson had manifested after an altercation with the Atlantean Chair were revealed. They were fractionally bigger. McKay downsized the image and then sauntered into the cockpit, making a point of again smirking at the watching Runner. He bypassed Teyla who was nose deep in her book.
Sheppard was communing with the puddlejumper. Surreptitiously, McKay waved the wand over the back of the colonel’s head.
“McKay?” the Colonel questioned, without turning his head.
“Just checking conscious baselines.”
“Why?” Sheppard drawled.
“Carson’s been complaining. Well, he hasn’t been complaining, but he’s had a few headaches. I was wondering if that was why he was sleeping.”
“Should you be doing that?”
McKay tried to smile innocently. “You were the one that asked me to check him out. His temp’s fine, so he hasn’t got an infection.”
”Hey, what’s that?” McKay pointed at the upper left hand quadrant of the windshield.
“There.” McKay initiated another scan as Sheppard called up a sensor display and used the magnification function to zoom in on the area that McKay had indicated.
“There’s nothing there.” Sheppard finally craned his head over his shoulder.
“I thought that I saw a flash.” McKay bent his head back to the device.
Sheppard shot him a plainly suspicious glance but returned to the controls.
“Are we almost there?” McKay asked, deliberately singsong.
“Half an hour,” Sheppard responded satisfactorily tightly. “I’m going to cloak.”
McKay took another reading. Settling in his chair, he couldn’t help but wonder why no one had carried out these types of scans before. Then again…. He called up the holographic interface and consulted the root directory. Carson certainly had been a busy bee. Most of the files were number coded – but it did not take a genius to figure out who the letters CB (in compatible Ancient script) stood for. He scrolled up the files and selected a MjJS file which corresponded to the time of Sheppard’s visit in the infirmary after the Chair incident.
Sheppard shot him a horrified look as the hologram of a knobbly, folded brain manifested in mid air. “Is that necessary?”
“It’s an interesting device. You have the wand.” He waved it. “That obviously emits a coherent form of radiation but also reads the information back from the analysed object. I can’t see a detector array, though. The holographic display interface is unique in all of the Ancient devices I’ve analysed. I’d take it apart if we weren’t on a mission and Carson might need it.”
“Why didn’t you take it apart on Atlantis?”
“Carson wouldn’t let me. He hides it. In fact I think that he sleeps with it. Better than a blankie, I suppose.”
“So he’s going to go apeshit if he sees you with it.”
“He’s asleep.” McKay closed down the hologram and popped off the side panel revealing the memory crystals. He placed Carson’s toy on the dash, and set up his Ancient data tablet beside the scanner. Humming happily, he pulled out the requisite cables, fiddled a connection and downloaded the stored data. He didn’t have the same display capacity on his data tablet, but he could view the information after a fashion. At least now, Carson’s valuable data was backed up.
“Dr. Beckett is very careful with his equipment,” Teyla spoke up, her tone even but amazingly chastising.
Sheppard called up the puddlejumper display on the windshield and McKay took another suite of readings, as their target planet was scanned. What he really needed now was a series of readings where Sheppard wasn’t manipulating Ancient technology.
“Aren’t you giving us radiation poisoning or something?” Sheppard asked.
McKay froze, studying the brain activity scanner as if it were an iratus bug. One handed, he pulled out his life signs detector from his vest lying beside his chair and flicked it on, selecting the radiation option. He couldn’t believe that he hadn’t checked the device earlier. Such a lapse could be deadly.
“No,” he said slowly as he studied the results. “Fascinating. The detector is registering nominal amounts of Ξ radiation – classified as not dangerous. I’ve got to get this thing in the laboratory.”
“Ah. Ah. Ah!” Sheppard waggled a finger as McKay popped off another panel. “Don’t play with the Doc’s things when we might need them.”
Reluctantly hearing the wisdom of his own words, McKay sealed the panels. He generated Carson’s sleeping scan beside a Sheppard-awake-and-using-technology scan, sliced them and compared the different graphic outputs. It was not a fair comparison, however, as they were two entirely different people. Sheppard watched him leerily, eyebrow raised.
“The Doc’s waking,” Ronon said lowly.
“What!” Frantically, McKay disconnected the scanner from his data tablet. He dashed back into the compartment.
Carson hadn’t moved an inch, in fact he was snoring.
Rodney scowled at the chuckling Runner.
“Put it back, McKay,” Sheppard ordered. “We’re almost there, any rate. Wake the Doc up and get ready for an atmospheric entry in ten minutes.”
Carson sat up, knuckling his eyes. “Rodney?”
“Sleeping beauty awakes.” Rodney grinned. “Nah. More like the Kraken.”
“What?” Carson grumbled.
“Carson. Here.” Rodney thrust a mug of coffee in his face.
He jerked back away from the mug. It was a bit much to expect him to be able to cope with M. Rodney Ingram McKay mere seconds after waking.
“You need it. You’ve been sleeping for hours.”
“Are we there yet?”
Up front, Sheppard snorted.
“Just about to enter the atmosphere,” Rodney said. “The inertial dampeners will theoretically prevent any turbulence, but it’s best to be awake and aware.”
“Enough with the ‘what’. Here. Coffee!” Rodney waggled the mug.
Automatically saying, “Thank you.” Carson accepted the mug. He took a blissful gulp. A born and bred Scotsman, he had been weaned on tea, but a decent cup of coffee sometimes was just what a body needed.
“Are you awake now?” Rodney asked intensely.
“Yes,” Carson was instantly suspicious.
“I want to talk to you about your ATA activation research.”
“What?” Carson asked slowly. That made no sense. He knew that he had just woken up but somehow that seemed to come from way out of left field.
Rodney tapped his foot against Carson’s medic-backpack.
“You’ve been running scans of people activating Ancient Tech using your toy – which you never let me play with by the way.”
Carson slowly processed his so-called-best-friend’s words.
“You been looking at my research notes?” he finally asked, his tone deliberately even.
“Your notes? Your favourite little black book?” Rodney mused. “No. I was playing with your scanner. Are you aware that it’s unique? I have to insist that after this little jaunt you let me take it down to the lab. The fact that it uses a hereto unknown type of radiation… It’s so fascinating, that makes the other aspects of its function and design system almost incidental.”
Carson leaned forward. “You’ve been looking at my files,” he asked, deadly calm.
“Just a few scans. Enough to figure out what you’re doing.”
“You cheeky wee bastard! How would you feel if someone looked at your private files, your notes, your research. That’s a blatant invasion of privacy!” Carson’s voice rose.
“It’s important research, it’s relevant to the whole mission! What about the team of bio-medics that are researching the activation aspect of the Ancient gene and technology? Your underlings, by the way, who are working in the dark. You shouldn’t be sitting on it.”
“How the Hell can you say that I’m sitting on it! I do my research in my time to my specifications and I’ll share the results when I’m bloody well ready to.”
“Guys?” Sheppard interjected loudly.
Carson ignored the Colonel. “How dare you come and look at my private files and you bloody well know that they were private – everything in that scanner is code-locked. And then have the audacity to question my research ethics!”
“You haven’t talked to Elizabeth. It hasn’t come up in any of the discussion groups or scientific working meetings. There’s terabytes of information on that system.” Rodney jabbed his finger at the backpack. “Just for you and no one else.”
“Oh, diddums, you feeling a little left out of the loop?” Carson mocked. “Last time I checked you were an astrophysicist, not a geneticist.”
“I’ve got my finger in many pies. Genius, don’t you know. Skilled at many fields.”
“That doesn’t give you the right to invade my private work!” Carson slapped his hand down hard on the bench seat. The slap echoed sharply through the puddlejumper.
Rodney froze as the crack reverberated. He paled as he finally realised that Carson was pissed. His eyes darted left then right.
“I can’t believe that you did that, Rodney,” Carson said into the silence that filled the cabin.
Rodney should never play poker. His face revealed spectacularly that he realised that he had stepped over the line. Carson knew his friend well, knew that for all his vaunted intelligence often he didn’t think.
But no apology was forthcoming.
Rodney scrambled to his feet and scurried to the cock-pit. Carson watched him go, now heavy-hearted. He didn’t like yelling at people, even when they deserved it.
Angrily, he zipped up his backpack, obscuring the offending scanner from view. Carson slumped back on the bench. He couldn’t even begin to predict in a million years what Rodney’s next reaction would be.
“We’ve scanned the planet,” Sheppard reported. “We’re entering the atmosphere. Please stow all luggage in the appropriate compartments. Refrain from smoking unless we catch fire.”
The humour was macabre. Absently, Carson rolled up the sleeping bag and then stuffed it and his backpack in the netting above his head. He pondered on the large crate which Rodney had insisted on bringing to carefully horde any loot. He moved to jam it back between the end of the bench seats and the drop down hatch. When it didn’t shift, he squatted down and put his shoulder to it. Ronon was suddenly at his side, lending his quiet strength to effortlessly push it into its former position.
Inertial dampeners would likely render the descent smooth, Carson remembered, but it was best to sit. He leaned forward so he could see into the cockpit.
“I’ve identified the Stargate from the Naquada based electromagnetic signal,” Rodney reported flatly.
The HUD screen before Sheppard glowed into life, showing a schematic of the smallest continent. The northern most inlet magnified. Resolution increased incrementally until a map of 1:500 000 square meters resolved with icons denoting the Stargate and blocks which indicated urban developments.
“Are there any signs of life?” Teyla asked, concerned.
“Nope,” Sheppard responded. “Not getting any readings from the ‘gate either.”
“Which of these blocks is the Healer’s City?” Rodney asked.
“The City of the Healers is an hour’s brisk walk from the Stargate,” Teyla offered, pointing at the largest beige-coloured rectangle.
“It’s getting late,” Sheppard noted as the curve of the horizon masked the sun as they angled towards the Naquada signal. “We’ll set down by the Stargate and give Rodney time to figure out what the problem is, camp, and then head to the city first thing in the morning.”
“So are you going to forgive Rodney?” Sheppard asked as he loaned an absent hand to straighten Beckett’s sleeping bag across the deck of the puddlejumper cabin.
Beckett rocked back on his heels. “Forgive? When he apologises, or more likely sometime tomorrow,” he admitted reluctantly.
Sheppard smiled inwardly. He’d pretty much suspected that the doctor was incapable of holding a grudge.
“Oh, believe you me, son.” Beckett cocked a heavy eyebrow in his direction. “I can hold a grudge until the end of time. But this is just classic Rodney.”
Sheppard glanced out the open puddlejumper door and across the pasture to the DHD. The gently rolling landscape provided little in the way of cover, but provided an incomparable view of anything approaching. In the descending dusk the world was tinged with purple. McKay had his head in the guts of the inactive device and was talking loudly at it. Ronon stood over him and McKay’s assistant, Miller, keeping an easy glance on the land around them.
“Don’t make any excuses for him, Colonel,” Beckett broke through his words. “What he did was bang out of order. He wouldn’t have done it with Radek’s research.”
“Radek would have strung him up by his balls,” Sheppard interjected.
“Aye.” Beckett sighed noisily. “You know what it says? It says that he doesn’t consider what I do as real research. Yeah, we’ve all heard his voodoo comments, but we say ‘that’s just Rodney’. You simply don’t look at a fellow scientist’s research without permission, that’s dead wrong – end of story.”
“What are you working on? You’ve got my scans on your toy?” Sheppard pointed at Beckett’s backpack which was set next to his bedding within easy reach. “I don’t remember you taking scans of me using Ancient tech.”
“I don’t have those type a’ scans. I’ve got our scans that I took after our incident with the Wraith infected Chair.”
“Well, McKay took some readings of me when I was flying the ‘jumper.”
Beckett’s eyes gleamed avariciously, but then dampened. “Well, I’d be interested in looking at them -- with your express permission.”
“Yeah, sure.” Sheppard waved his hand. He leaned across the bedding. “So what are you working on?”
Beckett reached into his pack, without looking, and withdrew the scanner. Practiced fingers flew over the controls. The holographic display interface popped up before them. Using his fingertip, Carson drew one set of data files across the screen and highlighted the last five.
“What were you doing, Colonel?”
“Just flying the ‘jumper. Calling up the windshield HUD screen.”
“So you were using Ancient tech in all these scans?”
“Pity.” Carson tapped the bottom file. The 3D image of Sheppard’s brain appeared. A second brain appeared next to it.
“Yes.” Carson pointed to the first one and then the second. “This is now and this is after the Chair incident.”
“Are those lurid red spots still in my brain?”
“They simply indicate that synaptic activity has increased. The colour could be brown, it’s just the programming.” Beckett manipulated the display interface and the two separate brain holograms transformed, breaking down into slices. The slices that showed no blurry red areas diminished, leaving only the affected transverse sections for study.
“They don’t look any different?” Sheppard hazarded. It was grim viewing. The red colour was particularly disturbing.
Beckett consulted the display panel, squinting at the numbers. “They’re not -- significantly.”
“And you were expecting them to be?”
“I was investigating the possibility that they are different.”
“So take one of me sitting here doing nothing.”
The diagnostic wand extruded on mental command from the scanner housing. Sheppard sat still as Beckett waved the wand over his forehead. The gentle wind rolling over the plain ruffled his hair.
“I’ve got scans of me sitting out on the west pier,” Beckett volunteered. “But the red spots still appear.”
The holographic brain appeared next to the other two. But Beckett’s attention was on the display panel. Sheppard could see that the array of numbers were different, but only slightly.
“We’re sitting in an Ancient puddlejumper. Maybe I’m picking up stuff?”
“Hence the reason why I volunteered to come on this mission.” Beckett grinned until his nose wrinkled. “Admittedly, the City of the Healers was a bit of a draw. I thought that it would be valuable to get a reading on a non-Ancient infected planet. Assuming that there are no Ancient installations here.”
“You’re looking for a baseline.”
“Yes. But that wouldn’t be a baseline.” Beckett waved his hand over the screen and the three holograms winked out. “What would be valuable is an Ancient fMRI scan of your brain before General O’Neill brought you to the outpost in Antarctica.”
“What about yours?”
Beckett coughed. “Until I came to Atlantis I’d never even had a concussion, no reason to have a CAT or even a basic MRI scan.”
“The red stuff didn’t appear until after the infected Chair.”
A faint reddish tint touched Beckett’s cheeks.
“Didn’t it?” Sheppard persisted.
“You should have had a’ fMRI after the incident with the Wraith stunner, but I didn’t insist and let you out of the infirmary because Teyla and Lieutenant Ford were lost on that planet.”
Sheppard remembered; he had railroaded the doctor and left ‘against medical advice’. Sharp words had been exchanged.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter, though,” Carson continued. “A true baseline would be one before we were ever exposed to Ancient Tech. As soon as we stepped into the Antarctic outpost we were compromised.”
“All the ATA gene carriers show these spots?”
Beckett nodded. “Ours. Yours and mine show the highest degree of increased biochemical neurological transmissions – in the red zone, so to speak. Miko has ‘em and Passat and the others, but lower -- borderline.”
“What about your gene therapy victims?”
Beckett’s lips pursed at the ‘victim’ epithet. “Not a sausage. I’ve got some people’s scans from their medical records, and visits to our infirmary. I’ve got numerous scans from Rodney and despite the fact that he manips Ancient Tech, and there’s no evidence of increased synaptic activity in those regions.”
“Doc, this is a bit uhm… disturbing.”
“Aye,” Beckett acknowledged. “I’ve asked Stargate Command when they identify another natural gene carrier to carry out fMRI and CAT scans of them before they encounter any Ancient Technology. It’s entirely possible that it’s part and parcel of having the ATA gene. But the fMRI at the SGC isn’t as sensitive as ours so it might not detect the areas. Plus as soon as a new ATA is brought into the vicinity of our Ancient fMRI, they’re compromised. It’s a bit of a conundrum.”
“Why am I not reassured?”
Beckett’s face folded. “‘Cos I haven’t figured it out yet.” He gazed, abstracted out of the hatch. Teyla and Sarah Sakson pushed through the knee-high grass to the second parked puddlejumper.
“Doc.” Sheppard raised his hand to cup Beckett’s shoulder.
Beckett shuffled backwards. “It’s very disturbing, but I don’t have enough information yet to make a determination, let alone a diagnosis.”
“What did they say at Stargate Command?” Sheppard dropped his hand.
“I sent a communiqué in the last data burst, asking for information about the Ancients’ biophysiology, but I haven’t had a response yet. There was an Ancient Woman found actually encased in ice at the Antarctic base a few years back,” Carson suddenly volunteered.
“What?” Sheppard exclaimed; that didn’t make sense.
“She was dead. And then revived and then she died of an infection,” Beckett explained.
“And you worked with her?”
“I, uhm, worked with her DNA,” Beckett said delicately. “I saw her MRIs and…”
“We’re turning into Ancients?” Sheppard demanded.
“No. No. I can’t say that.”
“But it’s possible,” he probed.
Beckett shook his head, gingerly. “Noooo. It’s like comparing an MRI of a chimpanzee… No, a gorilla and a human. That doesn’t work….”
“Doc?” Sheppard felt his stomach clench.
“The Ancient lady was Ancient.” Beckett coughed, embarrassed. “I think she may have been pre-Ascension, but she was lit up like Christmas Tree lights compared to you and me. We’re little blips – baby steps.”
“So it’s nothing to worry about? We won’t trip into Ascension?” Sheppard clarified.
“I don’t think that it works that way, son. I just need to know what our ‘little blips’ signify in the grand scheme of things.”
“Perhaps you should ask Rodney for help?”
Beckett stared at him charily. “I will, Colonel Sheppard, when I have finished my analyses. When Rodney was playing with my scanner, he encountered exactly the same limitations that I had – lack of baseline and that our inactive and active manipulation of Ancient technology while on Atlantis results in no significant changes in neuro-chemical transmissions in our brains.”
“Sorry, Carson.” Sheppard held his hands up.
Beckett hummed introspectively.
Sheppard strove to placate, and he was also interested. “So what can I do to help?”
“I’d be interested to get a sleeping reading.”
“Sure, Doc. Next time – Hey, tonight, grab as many scans as you need. I’ll make a point of bedding down outside the puddlejumper, so at least I’ll be ten foot away from any Ancient Tech.”
Beckett smiled softly. “Thank you, John.”
“What are you cooking?” Ronon sniffed appreciatively.
Bent uncomfortably over the deeply dug fire pit, bum parked on a stone block, Beckett pulled back. “It’s called bacon, son.”
Ronon kicked the final few stray, sheared stalks of grass away from the large circle of cleaned earth around the well used pit that they had found. A spark made an escape from the fire as a twisted branch split. Ronon stamped it out of existence even though it was well within the cleared area. Eb Coleman, from the second puddlejumper, sat on the stone beside Beckett diligently feeding the fire the pile of small, scavenged branches from the copse of bushes around them. Warped and gnarly, the bushes likely protected the DHD and the fire pit from the winds that blasted over the plain in harsher seasons.
Beckett hummed under his breath. “I thought it a wee bit unfair that we’d be missing out on the bounty the Daedalus delivered yesterday.”
Sniffing again, Ronon squatted at the doctor’s side. “I’ve tried your eggs,” he said flatly.
“Ah, you’ve tried,” the r rolled off his tongue, “the reconstituted crap that the commissary calls eggs. These are proper eggs. I had a small chilling unit, and we had a puddlejumper with internal power, so I thought ‘why not, we deserve a treat’.”
“Did you put beer in your chiller?”
Beckett cocked a smile at him. “No, son, I didn’t bring any beer; we’re on a mission. I did, however, get a care package from me mum which probably has some bottles of real ale in. They’re in my room, I’ll introduce you to them when we get back to Atlantis.”
“Smells good.” A spark drifted up in the spiral of smoke from the fire, straight up in the air in the windless evening. Ronon reached out and caught it.
“Divine, more like.” Carson inhaled and smiled beatifically. “It would be better if we had black pudding and why is it so difficult to get tinned tomatoes? I mean tinned tomatoes are designed for travel.”
“Black pudding -- dessert?”
“No, son, savoury. It’s a sausage made of pig’s blood, suet, bread, barley and oatmeal.”
“Sounds nice,” Ronon said.
Beckett cast a glance over his shoulder at the gagging Marine sat beside them. “No bacon for you, son, if you’re going to take the mick out of my favourite breakfast.”
Eb Coleman held up his hands. “I wouldn’t dream of dissing your cooking, Doc. It smells great.”
“Aye well, remember no dissing the cook or I’ll send you to the puddlejumper for tasty MREs.” He pointed at the two puddlejumpers parked kitty corner to the firepit, adding another barrier to protect their campsite.
“Honest, Doc, I’m sitting here salivating,” Coleman said, licking his lips.
Carson huffed and smiled. “Well, we’ve only got one frying pan and there’s eight of us, so do you two want first dibs?”
Both men nodded enthusiatically.
“Hi, Doc.” Sheppard moseyed on up. “Smells good.”
“That it does. But Ronon and Eb here have first dibs.”
“How much did you bring?” Sheppard licked his lips.
“Three rashers and two eggs each.”
“Rasher?” Sheppard asked.
Carson pointed to a slab of bacon gently curling in the pan.
“You gave this some thought, Doc.”
Sheppard stood at a comfortable parade rest, hands on the butt of his P-90 as it hung from his vest. Dusk was upon them. The red sun was a sliver on the horizon. A light breeze made the dry grass around them rustle. Carson doled out the first rashers of bacon and eggs to Ronon and Coleman. The fat spat as he threw in the next batch of rashers. The smell was divine. Ronon hummed contentedly as he munched, and Sheppard guessed that there was another convert to the cult of bacon. Drawn by the aroma, Sarah Sakson exited the back of the second puddlejumper plastic plate in hand. She grinned, displaying a mouthful of crooked teeth.
“Hullo, love.” Carson promptly forked some rashers and an egg onto her held out plate.
“Smells good, Dr. B..”
Ronon stood and smacked his lips, food bolted and devoured. “That was good.”
“Funnily enough, bacon always tastes nicer when you’re outside.” Sheppard settled on the rock seat that Ronon had vacated.
“A bag of chips with salt and vinegar after a session in the pub,” Carson reminisced blissfully.
“Doc?” Sheppard asked for clarification.
“After you’ve been down the pub for a couple of beers it’s good to stop at the chippy and buy a bag of chips to eat on the way home.” Carson flipped the bacon over. “Cold November nights when the air’s crisp are the best.”
“I like my bacon nice and crispy,” Sheppard informed, pointing at the bacon simmering on the hottest side of the frying pan.
“Do you want some of the rind?” Carson offered a side plate of hot, crunchy fat that had been snipped off from the bacon.
“Suit yourself.” Carson flicked a strand into his mouth.
Ronon squatted down. “Can I?”
At Carson’s nod, he delicately took a single strip of fat. His resultant groan was positively orgasmic. Carson laughed richly.
“That doesn’t look very healthy,” Sheppard complained.
“Once in a blue moon isn’t going to do you any harm.” Carson transferred rashers onto the plates laid out beside him. “Do you want to call for Rodney, Miller and Cody to join us?”
Sheppard cocked his head at Ronon.
Ronon bellowed, “Naafi UP!”
Shocked, Carson looked at the Runner and then began to laugh.
“Was that not right?” Ronon queried.
“No, it was fine,” Beckett said. “It’s just that, I’d guess that I’m the only one who’ll understand you.”
Seeing his bacon – nice and crispy – Sheppard swooped. He wasn’t going to ask what the demented doctor meant.
Across the meadow, Miller and Lieutenant Cody Hall gazed meekly at them, obviously smelling the bacon, but McKay was still head and shoulders deep inside the guts of the DHD.
“Pack it up, McKay,” Sheppard ordered.
McKay wriggled out, long enough to say, “Almost finished,” before diving back in.
Ronon grabbed the two filled plates and strolled over to the famished scientist and baby-faced marine. Carson started the next batch. Ronon took up guard duty, absently twirling his blaster as Cody dug into the bacon. Munching happily, Miller settled down, half hidden in the dry grass around the DHD.
“Keep an eye on the bacon, Colonel,” Carson directed and picked up the sixth plate.
Sheppard kept one eye on the bacon as instructed and the other on the rest of his team. Teyla emerged from the bushes, brushing down her trousers. She craned her head regally and settled by the fire on the stone block on the far side.
“Do you like your eggs over easy or sunny side up?” Sheppard asked.
“I do not know. Which ever is easiest to cook.”
Sheppard left the eggs frying gently – he guessed that Carson was a chef who felt that too many cooks spoilt the broth.
“I’m in the middle of delicate work!” Rodney screeched.
Sheppard looked up from the frying pan to see Carson stalking back to the campfire, his expression a poker mask. The plate of fried food was left balancing on the DHD.
Beckett settled back in his place. He professionally flipped over the bacon. “If I didn’t know better I’d think he was PMSing.”
“PMSing?” Teyla asked.
“There are some poor people, women, who are tightly woven into their menstrual cycle,” Carson said soberly. “Their hormones make them overly irritable at certain times of the month.”
“Dr. McKay is not a woman.”
“Hence the reason for his bad mood cannot be PMS.” Carson doled out the final rashers of bacon to Teyla and himself. “I do know that eating something will put him in a better mood. But you can lead a horse -- a farm animal -- to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
“A sensible proverb, Dr. Beckett.”
“Carson, Teyla.” The doctor smiled engagingly.
“Of course. A minor slip.”
Reaching, Sheppard snagged one of the fried pieces of rind and popped it in his mouth. A pleased smile graced his lips and he grabbed another.
“So good, so bad for you. Rodney’s missing a treat.” He glanced to the astrophysicist, and caught Rodney sheepishly taking the plate from the DHD and munching on the bacon. The hole that Rodney was digging was getting deeper and deeper.
The sun had set and the
moonless sky was an ebony swath with diamond stars when McKay finally wrestled
the DHD into submission. Wearily, he stumbled back to the parked puddlejumpers,
his way illuminated by a flashlight carrying Ronon.
“Hey,” Sheppard said easily, and McKay slumped beside the banked fire, lying full out. “Solve the problem?”
McKay breathed deeply and noisily, halfway to sleep like the rest of the team camped out in the puddlejumpers, before volunteering, “Yes and no.”
“So what is it?”
“I know what the problem is, but I haven’t repaired it.” McKay rolled onto one elbow and stared directly at Sheppard. “It’s been sabotaged.”
“Someone or several someones have rerouted every single secondary and tertiary system back on themselves. Once you reset one, it like a domino knocks over another random set relay--” McKay flipped one hand against the other illustrating a bank of domino tiles falling-- “so any repairs you make are ultimately pointless. It’s also constantly signalling a 404 error code to the gate, preventing a lock.”
“Can you fix it?” Sheppard asked. It would be useful to have the Stargate up and running even if they could fly to the ‘gate orbiting PX5 664.
“Yes – after I’ve had some sleep.” McKay knuckled his brow.
“Can we just use our puddlejumper DHD to dial home?”
McKay’s lips thinned. “Theoretically, yes. Not at the moment, though.”
“But…” Sheppard began.
McKay held up a finger. “It’s entirely possible that the ‘gate’s looped in the anti-lock code. Overriding, disconnecting or damaging the DHD might prevent it permanently resetting. Whoever did this is clever. If I was going to sabotage a ‘gate, I’d set it up like that. I need to look at it tomorrow when I’m fresh. The inhabitants might be a bit pissed if we permanently damage their DHD and Stargate.”
“Get some sleep then, McKay.” Sheppard nodded towards their puddlejumper where he had laid out McKay’s sleeping bag.
McKay looked like he wanted to crawl to his sleeping bag, but he lumbered to his feet. “Actually, it’s easy now I know what the problem is. I just need to show Miller the correct sequence in which to do the repairs. Any trained monkey can do it. Repairing the DHD should reset the stargate.” Yawning, McKay stumbled to the puddlejumper, talking all the way. “Or – if it turns out that the DHD is irreparable and when I know it won’t damage the ‘gate to take it out – we can let the marines blow the DHD up with C4 and we can use the puddlejumpers’ DHDs.”
“Sabotage,” Sheppard said quietly as McKay disappeared inside.
“Sophisticated sabotage,” Ronon clarified. “And it happened on this side of the Stargate.”
“It wasn’t set on a timer after the saboteur went through the ‘gate?”
“McKay doesn’t think so.”
Sheppard cast a fleeting glance at the life signs detector set by his feet. “No one within range.”
“I can’t hear anyone out there.”
Sheppard shrugged; until they had more information, they could only keep watch. Speculation was a waste of time. “We’ll head to the City of the Healers in the morning at first light.”
“Okay,” Ronon said easily, thoroughly versed in the US vernacular. “You want to crash?”
“I’m good. Coleman is spelling me in an hour. You should get your head down.”
“Is that an order?”
“Yes,” Sheppard drawled. “It’s an order.”
Ronon rose smoothly to his feet and followed McKay into the puddlejumper. Sheppard was not surprised when he returned with his bedroll and set it beside the glowing fire.
“Like a baby gron-delf.”
Sheppard raised an eyebrow.
“A beast of the smallholdings – large and fecund, produces lots of babies which snore louder than their size.” He smacked his lips. “Good eating – like your bacon.”
McKay jogged back through the long grass to the puddlejumper, working through their now well-worn trail. Sneezing echoed as the early morning sunlight warmed the grasses and illuminated the dust motes rising in the air.
“Hurry up, McKay,” Sheppard called as the astrophysicist ran up the back ramp.
“I’m here. I’m here.” He sniffed massively clearing his sinuses and swallowed.
“Miller know what he’s doing?” Sheppard said conversationally, knowing full well that McKay wouldn’t have left his fellow scientist until he was fully sure that the man knew how to repair the DHD.
“He does now.” McKay surged past Ronon and Sarah to claim his seat beside the pilot.
Sheppard closed the back hatch and mentally commanded the puddlejumper to rise. He swung it round, hovering over Miller and Eb Coleman by the non-operational DHD. The young captain raised his hand in absent salute.
Sheppard engaged the cloak and sped towards the City. An hour’s march would take a mere five minutes. McKay perched on the edge of his chair as they flew over the gently rolling landscape.
“That’s a pretty amazing view.”
Only a wisp of cloud marred the pale, pink sky. Visibility was excellent. They could see hundreds of miles of unrelenting grassland. Sheppard banked towards the hills rising like the plates in a stegosaurus’ back.
Teyla leaned between the seats and pointed. “There is the City of the Healers.”
A high, semi circular stone wall hemmed the city. Built into and against the hills were rising levels of single-storey square structures – vaguely ziggurat-like with a slightly wider base than the top. Each tier was arranged in a semicircle bisected by a vast promenade leading straight from the city gates to an immense, windowless ziggurat. Each blocky building was constructed of smooth stonework, hewn from the pinkish cliffs overhead. There appeared to be no windows or doors. Stairs were built up on walls and cut into the roof were hatches. Behind the sharply delineated levels of city, as the hills jutted into cliffs, there were reliefs of Giants carved into the rock face.
“It’s not like Atlantis,” McKay said, shooting a frustrated glare at the Athosian.
“Do you not think that I would have told you many seasons ago if it had resembled the City of the Ancestors?” Teyla said easily.
“Who are the faces?” McKay asked.
“Like Mount Rushmore,” Sheppard marvelled.
“More like the Mata Nui carvings or the Buddhas of Bamiyan,” McKay said waspishly.
Carson joined them. “Is the whole city devoted to healing? Or is there a Healers’ Hall?”
“There,” Teyla pointed to the largest building directly ahead.
Sheppard was aiming for it any rate – set at the end of a long promenade at the foot of a sixty foot statue, it looked kind of important.
“The carvings are of the Ancestors,” Teyla added. “Many travel to Thou-et to pay homage to the Ancestors and to speak with the healers.”
“Pah,” McKay mocked, lowly.
Sheppard ignored him. “They anyone in particular?” He waved his hand at the woman straight ahead. The carvers had even detailed the embroidery in her bodice.
“It must have taken them generations,” Carson marvelled. “Look at her hair. Each curl is rendered.”
“What about the smaller figures? Are they the Ancients?” McKay asked intently.
“I believe that they are us,” Teyla said softly, “under the protection of the Ancestors.”
“Life signs, Colonel?” McKay asked.
Shepard consulted the pop up HUD screen on the windshield. “Nothing. Unless there’re hibernating Wraith.” He gently set the camouflaged puddlejumper down on the first giant flagstone of the promenade. The back hatch lifted up and the puddlejumper de-cloaked.
“What’s the plan, Sheppard?” Ronon asked.
“Three teams. One team cover the med centre. One team the city boundary--” Sheppard pointed at the lowest most tier of blocky buildings, “--and the last team to investigate the building interiors. Teyla and I will take the interiors -- Teyla, you know which ones might be interesting. Cody, Sarah, take the boundary, stay in radio contact. Beckett, McKay and Ronon take the med centre. This place is built out of solid rock and the med centre looks like it goes back into the cliff face; radio communication might be iffy. Half an hour then rendezvous back at the ‘jumper.”
“Half an hour?” McKay protested.
“Half an hour,” Sheppard said flatly. “We all sense that there’s something out of whack here. The city is deserted and the DHD sabotaged. Quick and dirty -- we look, assess the scavenging opportunities and then decide. Everyone keep their comms on.”
The statue of the embroidered woman stood protectively over the Healers’ Hall. The building seemed to be sheltered within the folds of her layered skirts. Standing on the first step of a steep stone staircase, Rodney had his nose stuck in his energy detector and was muttering to himself. The man hadn’t looked Carson straight in the eye since their altercation. But that could be for many reasons.
Ronon prowled ahead of the two scientists, hand on his blaster’s grip, as he watched the world around them. The building shared the blocky structure of the smaller living dwellings, but unlike them there was a towering, pillar-edged doorway at the top of the stairs. The Runner took the steps up to the wide, open entrance two at a time.
Carson paused halfway up the steep staircase. “Rodney?”
The astrophysicist froze and then slowly looked up. “Yes, Carson?”
“The architecture of the Healer Hall is completely different to the rest of the city.”
“It’s curious. Now we’re closer we can see that the houses are younger, smaller stones, wattle and dab. But look--” Carson pointed at the three meter right hand cornerstone on the towering temple above them, “--how the Hell did anyone move that there?”
“Ancient construction.” McKay flashed a tiny smile at him and then bounded up the stairs, zigzagging to ease the trip.
Carson picked his way upwards, now and then bracing a hand on the steps above him as he climbed. Ronon waited at the top.
“Do you want me to take your med kit, Doc?” He jerked his chin at the backpack.
“No, son, you just keep your gun ready.”
“I can carry both, Doc.”
“I know you can, but I’d feel sort of undressed without it.”
Ronon nodded once, turned and stalked through the open doorway into the cavernous hall. He sniffed the air as he made his way forward.
Involuntarily, Carson sniffed too, drawing in dry, dry air with the faintest hint like cloves. He stepped over the threshold and felt the visceral thrum of Ancient technology stir in his guts. Strips of lights in the walls on either side, thrummed on. Each cell initialised in sequence, climbing up the high walls like light caterpillars. As they reached the ceiling, a domed light in the centre of the foyer glowed pearlescently.
Ronon dropped down on one knee, spinning to better scan the area and present a smaller target.
“Uhm, sorry.” Carson raised his hand. “It’s reacting to me. Ancient gene thing, you know.” He shrugged bashfully.
“Yeah, your gene medicine.”
Rodney entered, life signs detector in hand, tongue clicking as he interpreted the readings. “No, Carson’s a natural gene carrier.”
Ronon stroked his goatee and stared at the doctor.
Carson smiled tentatively. “Penny for your thoughts, son?”
“I don’t understand,” Ronon said. “I thought that you had created the Ancestor’s gene in a lab?”
“No.” Carson took another tentative step as the hall perked up around him. He could sense immense hollowness stretching far back into the cliffs beyond the confines of the first area. “Well, not quite. The gene is naturally in our population but only a very small percentage has it.”
“You’re an Ancestor?”
Slightly distracted, Carson held up his hand, trying somehow to grab the feelings in the air around him.
Rodney answered for him, “Carson has the gene or maybe even genes of the Ancients naturally like Sheppard.”
“Either it’s evolved a second time, which has always struck me as statistically unlikely,” Rodney continued, “or an Ancient had nookie with one of his ancestors way back in the distant past.”
Carson flashed a black look at his friend, but he couldn’t deny the possibility.
“Nookie?” Ronon asked.
“Sexual relations,” Carson offered.
“Oh, I misunderstood. I thought you’d made the gene.”
“No.” Carson drifted forward. He shivered as welcoming stroked up his spine. It was not Atlantis -- it was less complex, more linear, direct. Attention mostly caught by a nebulous drifting, unidentifiable sense, he slowly said, “I used my natural gene as the basis of our gene therapy. Rodney here was my first test subject.”
“Carson.” Rodney waved a hand in front of his face. “Where are you?”
Carson jerked back from the hand. “It’s definitely Ancient. But we knew that, flashing lights and all.”
“Are you sensing a Chair?”
“No,” Carson could say that with surety. “We should call Colonel Sheppard.”
“Any particular reason?” Rodney asked directly.
“No, just he’s got the stronger gene.”
Rodney tapped his watch. “We’ve only got twenty three minutes before we have to meet at the puddlejumper, let’s keep looking.”
“Are you detecting a ZPM??” Carson asked.
“Could be. We’ve definitely got a power source. It’s either nearly depleted or off line.” Grinning happily, he turned and scanned. “This way.”
He jogged ahead, moving straight down the centre of the foyer, focussed on the circular portal embedded in the far wall. It bore the distinctive stamp of Ancient design, but the drizzled metal patterning was tinged more into gold than silver.
Carson edged his foot onto the reddish golden path that neatly bisected the foyer and led directly to the portal. The skin behind his ears was tickling. Ronon glared, obviously unhappy that his charges were at opposite ends of a long corridor. Dutifully, Carson ignored the antechambers set at regular intervals along the walls since they couldn’t afford to split up. The enticing rooms would have to wait. He picked up the pace to join Rodney.
The doors ahead were barred. Rodney came to a dead stop, his forehead almost touching the scroll work. The portal was three times the diameter of a man. A wavy band of patterning marked the circumference. The ebb and swirl of the metal work was subtly gentler and more rounded than the metal work on Atlantis. Curls and spirals broke away from the band, twisting and knotting towards the centre.
Rodney rapped his knuckles against the middle. “Open,” he demanded.
Carson stuck his hands in his pockets. “Maybe it’s not a door. It could just be a tapestry.”
Rodney turned his detector and presented it directly in Carson’s face. “Power source, behind the big, round door. Carson, you try.”
Carson resituated his backpack uneasily. “It’s probably shut for a reason.”
“Like what?” Rodney griped. He waved at the wall. “Looks like plain, I don’t know, masonry, with a big red-gold portal. It’s a door. Doors are meant to be opened. Do you see any warning signs?”
“I don’t know.” But reluctantly Carson closed his eyes. He could feel the fine skin around his eyes tightening. Deliberately, he tried to relax. Sheppard always emphasised that the key was to simply expect it and make it happen.
“Perhaps if you touched it,” Rodney interrupted his train of thought.
Carson opened his eyes and glared sufficiently harshly that Rodney stepped back. He caught his tongue between his teeth, and felt it – there, a tiny stroke, a scratch deep inside his head. The hollowness opened, encapsulating all things Ancient. The machinery grated, trying to comply. But the mechanism did not open.
“It’s broke. It’s old, older than dust. It’s frozen solid.”
“Ronon.” McKay stepped aside.
“What?” Carson could only manage to bleat once before Ronon unfurled his gun and blasted a hole in the portal. Cringing, Carson ducked reflexively away from the rush of heat. Inside his head, the mechanism grated, and released with a satisfied sigh. The barrier retracted, spiralling into the border a fraction and a hole appeared in the centre.
“Stop,” Rodney directed.
The Runner holstered his weapon. “You okay, Doc?” he asked the wincing medic.
“Carson, did you do that?”
A lump of molten Ancient metal fell to the floor. Without thinking, Carson scooped up the lump. Heat dissipated quicker than it could burn. ‘Magic,’ he thought instinctively.
He turned over the metallic fragment – it felt warm and vibrant in his hand. It felt like Sheppard’s magic metal – his so-called Atlantean primed material that responded like quicksilver to thought.
“Carson, open the door!”
“Oh?” Carson scowled at the golf ball sized hole. He breathed out once and pictured an opening camera shutter. The portal grated, blades retracting a foot and then almost two before groaning to a halt. “It’s stuck again.”
“It will do.” Rodney shimmied out of his vest and pushed it and his backpack through the hole.
“I should go first.” Ronon stepped forward.
“Oh, feel free.” Rodney stepped aside.
A slight smile quirked the Runner’s lips. Carefully, he poked head and shoulders through the hole, scanning the interior. He pulled back, divested himself of his wide shouldered coat and his double edge blade and passed both through the opening. Grunting, he squirmed through.
Rodney gestured grandly at the opening. “After you, Carson.”
He eyed it doubtfully, but if Ronon got through he probably could. Carson pulled off his backpack and vest and passed them to the other side. The hole was sufficiently high enough from the floor that they were looking at an uncomfortable drop on the other side. Gingerly, he poked his head, arms and then wriggled his shoulders through. Ronon was there, grabbing his jacket collar and pulling him. Carson sucked in his gut and popped out. The Runner was impressively strong, setting him on his feet without breaking a sweat.
“Okay, Doc?” He patted his shoulder.
“Yes, thank you, Ronon.”
“Is someone going to give me a hand?” Rodney whined, head and shoulders through the hole. Ronon grabbed his collar and yanked. “Ow!”
Set rudely on his feet, Rodney turned in a complete circle, scanning all the way. The corridor walls and floor were a cool white, almost appearing ceramic in nature with borders patterned with an intricate twist of lapis lazuli blue knotwork. More, but smaller, dome lights set along the walls, illuminated the environment, brutally.
“There’s a significant power source here.” Rodney tapped the life signs-energy detector and then pointed imperiously northward. “There’s something that way.”
Ronon, blaster in hand, stalked down the corridor leading them.
“ZPM, ZPM,” Rodney sang under his breath.
“Anyone around?” Sheppard called.
Silence greeted them. He didn’t expect any answer – even the air around them seemed to be still and dead. He contemplated the one-storey, blocky building in front of him. A steep staircase formed of single treads was embedded in the wall. Sheppard took them two at a time, heading rapidly for the high ground. The roof was gently domed, and in the centre sat a round, covered porthole. Teyla joined him.
Sheppard turned in a circle, viewing the city from their new vantage point. Lieutenant Cody Hall and the young scientist, Sarah, were heading down the main thoroughfare to the high city walls. Up at the top of the city, Ronon was just entering the medical building. He could see that the rising terraces of the city were arranged in semi-circular ripples and that the medical building was the focal point.
“You know, it’s like a temple,” Sheppard mused.
“As I said, many come to Thou-et to reflect on the Ancestors.”
“And get medical attention. What about the Wraith? There were--” Sheppard looked out across the city levels checking on his team. Carson paused at the threshold of the temple entrance. He craned his head, peering back over his shoulder at the city, before venturing into the building, “--a lot of people here.”
“The Wraith rarely culled Thou-et.”
“I guess it pays to leave the veterinarians undamaged.”
Teyla glanced at him sideways, but didn’t comment.
“Right.” Sheppard left his contemplation of the city, and pushed open the porthole with his foot. The flashlight on his P-90 illuminated a circle of light in the dark room beneath. “I’ll go down, you stay here.”
He slid smoothly down the ladder, feet on either side of the rungs. He dropped to a crouch, scanning the dark open plan room. The beam of his light picked up few fixtures, a row of shelves in the wall. The back wall had a small fireplace constructed of small reddish bricks. The hearth was empty and a single black pot sat on a metal trivet. A thick rush carpet covered the entire floor and large cushions were strewn about. It was all very commonplace and very musty.
The doorway to the adjacent room was unusual; it was a tiny oval, a mere two and a half foot in height, but about three foot wide.
“Teyla, are the Thou-etins midgets?” he called.
“They are people of normal height. Perhaps a little shorter.”
Crouching, Sheppard shuffled into the next room. It was a bedroom. A mound of blankets were laid on a mattress which filled up half the room.
“Communal sleeping, I guess,” Sheppard mused. Across from the bed on the same wall of the fireplace in the other room was another small, oval doorway. This one had a metal door barred with a stout golden rod. Sheppard lifted it away and the tiny door swung open without even a squeak. A tunnel led straight ahead to another metal door.
“Ah.” Sheppard glanced at the ceiling and realised belatedly that the house was embedded several feet into the ground. Likely a network of tunnels burrowed through the earth joining individual buildings. These people crawled a lot.
He returned to the living room and looked up through the porthole, squinting at the bright pinking light overhead.
“Colonel Sheppard, have you found anything?” Teyla blocked the light.
“Gets pretty hot here doesn’t it?”
“At noon, we will be happy to stay within the puddlejumper. But we are now at the end of the dry season, so it will be hot but not too hot.”
“The anthropologists would have a field day looking through all this stuff. The architecture and the like’s really interesting.” He climbed up the ladder, happy to exit the claustrophobic building.
“Shall we look at another home?” Teyla asked, gesturing at the house directly to their left.
Sheppard moved to the corner edge of the flat top of the building. A narrow gap, a couple of feet, purely to allow ventilation of the fires along the walls parallel to the cliffs above, separated the line of houses from the next, higher tier.
“No, let’s head up that way. I’d guess the higher up the cliff face you are the more important you are.” Sheppard backed up and then took a running jump, leaping to catch the roof of the next tier. Smoothly, he caught the edging tile work, and then used his momentum to clamber onto the roof. Teyla leaped up easily beside him.
“It would be very difficult for the Wraith to move through this city.”
Sheppard cocked a finger at her. “Yep, you’re right. That probably explains the little doorways. The big guys wouldn’t be able to get through them at all.”
“Shall we continue to the next level? Or investigate this house?”
“Nah, let’s go up a couple of levels.” Sheppard took another running jump to the next tier of roofs.
“I know this,” Carson breathed reverentially. In the centre of a circular room sat a squat dais. The tiled floor bore a concentric, swirling pattern. At the edge of the innermost circle a covered pedestal stood abandoned. Carson moved immediately to the control device, pulling away a protective silky covering.
“How? Can you sense it or something?” Rodney probed.
“No. No. No.” Carson shook his head. “I’ve read SGC mission reports. This is an Ancient DNA resequencer.” He laid his hands on the viscous control interface and the device surged into life. He huffed an ecstatic sigh. “I’ve always been surprised that we never found one on Atlantis.”
Humming happily under his breath, Carson called up the manipulator’s specs. Screens and screens of data scrolled before his eyes across the dataface. All the information was in Ancient and, unsurprisingly, technical terminology; there were many happy hours of work ahead of him.
“Carson!” Rodney barked.
“What?” Carson jerked back from the controls.
“Orgasm later.” Rodney tapped his watch face. “We’ve only got fifteen minutes. Sheppard’s going to be rattling our cages in thirteen minutes.”
“We can come back. It’s not going away.”
Carson knew he was pouting mulishly. “It’s--”
“Fascinating, incredibly interesting and amazingly useful for your research. But it’s not – and I repeat – not going anywhere, and in the next room there might be a limb regenerator or something. We can come back.”
“You just want to find the power source.”
Rodney jiggled on the spot. “Not denying that but looking for it might reveal other stuff you’re interested in.”
Reluctantly, Carson moved way from the control pedestal. With a disgruntled beep, the machine powered down. The possibilities that the manipulator presented were immense. The ability to view the DNA helix in real time, and splice it and change it, offered a research potential that at the core would allow him to plumb the genetics of diseases such as cancers. Here possibly also lay amelioration, the manipulation of DNA to cure.
Carson scowled. But Rodney was right; time was limited. There was more to investigate and they would return, even if he had to come on his own. Ronon waited patiently for him to move and Rodney jiggled from foot to foot. Sighing excessively, making sure that Rodney knew that this was a great chore, he trailed after the astrophysicist.
Rodney glanced, once, twice at him, but didn’t smirk as they marched down another ceramic white and lapis corridor. Ronon took the rear, reluctantly chivvying Carson along as he paused to glance into cool, white rooms. Rodney had point and Carson noted that he had released the catch on his hand weapon holster. Dutifully, Carson flipped the Velcro strap on his own gun. Rodney paused at a crossroads and waved the energy detector around.
“I’ve lost the signal. The lights are still on, though.” He pointed down the left hand corridor. “Last signal was this way.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Ronon said flatly, he tapped his wrist watch. “Twenty-two minutes. We have to return to Sheppard.”
“No,” Rodney snapped. “We haven’t made any progress.”
“Sheppard’s waiting,” Ronon said doggedly.
Rodney tapped his comm.. “Sheppard?” he tried. There was not even the slight click indicating contact with the recipient.
“The walls are pretty thick,” Carson said. He noted that albeit disagreeing, Rodney did not move in pursuit of his weakening power source.
Ronon jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “We’re returning and reporting back.”
Carson shifted his backpack and made a little step back towards the exit.
“Okay, Okay!” Rodney stowed his life signs detector in his vest pocket. He stalked past Carson and Ronon. “We’re all coming back here. We haven’t even begun to search this place.”
Ronon moved after him. Carson remained still, he could almost imagine a breath of wind ruffling his hair, but the air was dead and musty. He rubbed the goose bumps that rose on his arms.
Imagination was a powerful thing, and he had been always gifted with a rampant one. Many a nightmare had woke him as a child and a young adult, and now in the Pegasus Galaxy as an adult.
“Doc?” Ronon asked.
“Coming.” He chanced another look at the sterile wall tiles, inexplicably hunting for a camera tucked in a corner.
“Doc,” Ronon called again.
“Coming.” He jogged the short distance to catch up with the younger man.
“You okay, Doc?”
“Yes.” Carson looked back down the corridor. “Someone just walked over my grave.”
The Runner stared at him and then leaned closely. “You know where you’re to be buried and you can feel the weight of a footstep?”
Carson stared at him blankly for a heartbeat. “No, son, it’s a saying when you’re…uhm… disturbed.”
“Like instinct, when the Wraith hunt you?”
“Yes, it’s a feeling of threat.”
Ronon pulled free his blade. “Where is this threat?”
Carson jumped back. “I… I… I just feel it. It could just be me thinking too much, you know. It’s too quiet here. It’s full of ghosts.”
“Yes,” Ronon said simply. He stepped back to place himself between Carson and the end of the corridor and studied the area with the gravitas of the hunted.
“Let’s hurry up and rendezvous with John, shall we?” Carson trotted after Rodney knowing that Ronon would bring up the rear.
“I vote for the temple,” McKay stated.
“It’s not a democracy, McKay,” Sheppard said, as he leaned against the puddlejumper hatch between the cockpit and the rear compartment. The two teams were packed into the lead ‘jumper, arranged on the bench seats or that floor, apart from Ronon who had taken the rear hatch position.
Beckett coughed and held up a finger. “Did you discover anything interesting in the city, Colonel Sheppard?”
“Empty houses. Pretty uniform. Living area and a sleeping area. They’re linked underground by tunnels, which would be a pain for the Wraith to crawl through.”
“So nothing that interesting?” McKay announced, sitting up straight on the bench seat
“Sarah, love, did you find anything of interest?”
Sarah peered at up him from under a lock of dark brown hair that fell over one eye. She shifted on her bottom on the cold deck plates. “No Dr. B., the houses are surprisingly neat. People didn’t just run away, they took everything. There’s no food or even clothes left behind.”
“The city gate is barred from the inside,” Lieutenant Hall announced, sitting just a little straighter. “The mechanism can only be operated through a series of ratchets and wheels. Whoever shut it had to then go over the wall with a rope or something, unless there’s a secondary gate – which we didn’t have time to search for.”
Sheppard nodded, digesting the young officer’s succinct summary. He rested his head back against the puddlejumper bulkhead.
“We haven’t even begun to plumb the technology in that temple,” McKay stated. “Beckett found a DNA manipulator. It might all be medical stuff up there but there’s a power source and that’s a hell of a lot more interesting than crawling around tunnels and abandoned buildings. The temple is the logical choice. And, might I point out: this place is abandoned. Nobody’s going to protest, hang us up by our heels, chase us with spears or call curses down on us if we take something interesting.”
“We don’t know that the place is abandoned,” Sheppard pointed out. “Teyla?”
“I sense no Wraith. But if they are hibernating I would not sense them.”
“Dr. Beckett sensed that he was being watched,” Ronon announced.
All eyes turned to the doctor, who blushed brightly.
“Doc?” Sheppard questioned gently.
“Uhm.” Carson shifted on his seat. “I… uhm… felt like something crawled over my grave back in the temple. It wasn’t Ancient, it was just creepy.”
McKay tapped the keypad on his life signs detector. “It was five degrees below the ambient temperature in the Hall. It was chilly. That’s probably what you felt.”
“You have the soul of a poet, Rodney.” Carson said.
Rodney scowled, crossed his arms and slumped mulishly on his seat.
“Okay. We’re going to search the temple. Lieutenant, stay with the puddlejumper, monitor us and Miller, back at the DHD. Keep a scan on the area.”
Cody saluted sharply. “Yes, sir.”
“Teyla, Ronon, make another run of the city before it gets too hot and then join us in the temple. Everyone else will take the temple.”
McKay rubbed his hands, gleefully. Sheppard stood, swinging his pack onto his back. The others took at as a signal to move. Ronon offered a hand to Teyla pulling her to her feet. They moved off together, easily striding into the dusty air – both unaffected by the rising heat. McKay, juggling with his vest and at least three handfuls of equipment, scurried out of the puddlejumper. Sheppard hared after him jumping over Sarah’s legs, calling at him to wait. At the bottom of the ramp, McKay stopped and jogged from foot to foot.
“Look, it’s getting hotter, time to get inside.” McKay jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the temple. “Things to see.”
“Son,” Carson could be heard clearly in the ‘jumper talking to Cody. “You’re a redhead and fair skinned. If you’re going to walk around the perimeter of the puddlejumper, make sure that you’ve got some of the 100 SPF sun screen cream on. And don’t go out when the sun’s directly over head.”
“Yes, Doc,” Cody said mildly.
Beckett clambered out of the puddlejumper hauling his backpack and his case. He strode solidly towards the temple with Sarah skipping to keep up. McKay saw them moving and darted ahead so he would be first into the temple. Sheppard moved with them, paralleling their course.
Rodney would not be entering the temple alone.
End part one
Carson chuckled happily. He hadn’t made a dent in the mainframe, but the information he had found was fascinating. He consulted his own handheld computer, checking a translation, which proved only to have a 76% confidence on language verification. He tutted under his breath. This was going to take so long. He scurried across to the central dais, pulled out his leatherman tool and extracted the blade. A heartbeat later a sliver of skin in a drop of blood burgeoned on the platform. Carson moved back to the control dais, absently sucking on the side of his little finger. He planted his undamaged hand on the control interface. Two strands of light rose up into the air.
His ear piece chirruped. “Hey, Doc, how are you doing?” Sheppard drawled laconically.
“Fine,” Carson said absently around his fingertip.
“Doc,” Sheppard said chastisingly.
“Colonel Sheppard, I’m perfectly okay. Rodney set a life signs detector by the doorway to alert me to anyone in the proximity. It hasn’t beeped.”
“How are you doing?” Carson said brightly. “Rodney found his power source?”
“We found another one of those gold doors, like the one at the entrance.”
“Can you open it?”
“No, it’s seized solid. Sarah and McKay are pulling off the side panels to free up the mechanism.”
“Side panel?” Carson asked, distracted by the unfurling of his own DNA before him in giant holographic wonder.
“Yeah, further you get into the temple, the more Ancient it looks. We’re seeing the occasional hexagonal, glowy panel things over the walls.”
“Sheppard!” Rodney’s voice sounded over the mike. “Come over here and try again.”
“Gotta go, Doc. Keep an ear cocked for that detector.”
“Yes, yes.” That string of twisted double helix was positively marvellous. A data analysis readout blinked into being on the main screen on the far wall, providing a quick summary of the DNA strand. Carson stroked the screen before him. It perked up approvingly, scrolling down to disease-predispositions. There were no Ancient-equivalent red flags, although he did have a predisposition tensus and ar-meg-emthov re. The former meant tension according to his translation database, but there were no translations of the latter. He had to get both Rodney and Colonel Sheppard on to the dais. Rodney needed to be checked for damage from his repeated exposures to radiation and Sheppard both for radiation and the Wraith retro-virus affects on his DNA. But firstly, he had to learn how to understand and use the device.
“Greetings, Carrs Son of Beckett.”
Carson jumped at the soft voice. He came back to earth with a jarring thump. “God, who?” He squinted at the glaringly white wall.
“Carrs, scion of the Atlantians, Erus,” the voice uttered.
Between one blink and the next, a figure, tall and etiolated, coalesced before him. Bipedal, elongated head, large chest cavity and dual hinged upper appendages ending in two digits with opposable thumbs, Carson’s brain catalogued. Predator; eyes point forward. No genitalia. The lower appendages were also dual hinged and Carson guessed that the thing could drop to the ground and shift on all fours when it had to. The alien wore a pale, transparent shift formed mainly of pockets dripping with enough technology to make Rodney drool.
“Hello.” Carson wiggled his fingers in a feeble wave.
“Carrs.” It bowed slightly.
Carson reached for his ear piece.
“No.” It raised a finger.
Carson froze. “Why? My friends would love to meet you.”
“Only the Erus, not Ante, the Dd’el or the Ta’ar.” It spat the final name as an insult.
“Eh,” Carson said intelligently.
Loose-limbed it stalked forward a step. “Only Erus.”
“Colonel Sheppard is bound to be an Erus. He’s so erussy, you’ll be impressed.” He stepped hastily to the side as the alien moved up to the control pedestal. It brushed the liquid dataface and the tower of DNA twisted about its axis. Resolution increased and a sequence of base pairs increased in size until they almost filled the room.
Carson slapped his comm.. “Colonel,” he squeaked, “I need you in the DNA room, asap. Now. I’ve met a new friend.”
The alien turned, its predator eyes narrowed. Snake-fast its arm whipped out. Carson jerked back, but it caught his tac vest and yanked him into its grasp. Something cold and metal pressed hard against his neck, hard against his carotid artery, and the world disappeared in blindingly white sparks.
“Move!” Sheppard ordered.
McKay obeyed with startling alacrity, yanking free his laptop and cables from the portal, but abandoning his other tools. He caught Sarah’s elbow and propelled her ahead. Sheppard took point, running fast, but not flat out. His P-90 was primed to fire.
One corridor, two corridor, turn left and then second left. He had a good memory. He knew where they had left the doctor.
“Right, not left!” McKay snapped reading his body language.
Sheppard twisted and ran the correct way.
The DNA manipulator laboratory was at the end of a secluded corridor. He skidded around the corner, and picked up speed when he saw a prone form lying on the floor.
He hit the force field at full tilt and was thrown backwards into the air. All his breath huffed out at once as he smashed down on the floor. McKay slid to a halt at his side and crouched to rest a hand on his chest.
“You okay, Sheppard?” McKay asked. But even as he checked Sheppard, his attention was on the figure on the other side of the force field.
Sheppard could only wheeze. Sarah collapsed to her knees gasping for breath at his side.
“John?” McKay questioned.
Sheppard rolled onto his side and coughed harshly. “Yes,” he mouthed.
“I saw. Try not to move. You might have broken something.”
Sheppard scowled and sat up. His diaphragm was quivering and his back was bruised, but he had only had the wind knocked out of him. He pointed imperiously at the doorway, still unable to talk. McKay nodded and moved to the door. He already had his laptop open and began knocking at the ceramic tiles around the door.
Sheppard drew in a whooping great breath and managed to get enough air in to calm his lungs.
“Is he alive?” Sarah asked, splayed fingers pressed to her mouth. McKay ignored her, continuing to tap.
Sheppard got his feet under him and staggered upright. The deep, nerve-clenching smart clamouring across the back of hips promised a bruise that would be as black as the ace of spades. He lurched forward.
“Sheppard, try and think it off.” McKay didn’t stop his search.
‘Off!” Sheppard thought and imagined the blue coruscating lighting of an Ancient force field ebbing into the floor. It flared satisfactorily but remained intact.
On the other side of the force field, Carson lay in a loosely curled ball at the side of the control pedestal, one hand tucked under his chin and his other arm outstretched. Facing them, they could see that his eyes were closed, dark eyelashes still against his cheeks.
“Gimme your life signs detector.” Sheppard held out his hand.
Focussed on his tiles, McKay yanked it from his vest. He didn’t look at Sheppard, just continued tapping the tiles, holding it without pausing his tapping. Sheppard took it, automatically calling it to life. As he angled it towards the room, it registered absolutely nothing.
“McKay, can these things sense through force fields?”
“Depends on the force field specs.” McKay clicked his fingers. “Gimme that.” He snatched the detector back and angled it to the wall. Scowling, he studied the readouts.
“Carson!” Sheppard yelled.
The doctor didn’t twitch a muscle.
“It’s not generated across the doorway, there’s no circuitry,” McKay announced. “It encompasses the entire room.”
“How do we get in?” Sheppard moved as close as possible to the force field. “Did Beckett initiate a containment protocol?”
“Why’s he unconscious?” Sheppard asked.
“I’m not psychic,” McKay said.
“Is there air in the room?” Sheppard flicked a glance at his watch. It had been over three minutes since Beckett’s frantic call.
“His chest isn’t moving,” Sarah said. “He’s not breathing.”
“Shut up,” McKay snapped at the young woman.
“I just…” She stopped talking and clamped her lips together at McKay’s foul expression.
“I need the resonator from the puddlejumper. It’s yay tall.” McKay’s hands described a foot tall, cylindrical object and then drew two narrow prongs erupting from the crown. “I stored it in the third aft compartment on the right side, next to the defibrillator. You better bring that, as well.”
“Anything else?” Sheppard asked sharply.
“Secondary tool kit. GO. GO. GO!”
Sheppard thrust his backup Wraith stunner into Sarah’s unresisting hands. “It’s on stun. Fire at anyone you don’t know.”
Sheppard burst out of the temple entrance into the harsh daylight of Thou-et at midday. The heat beat down on his head like a brick. He took the steep stairs like a ladder, skidding down them. He finished up at the bottom rolling as if dropping from a parachute jump. Momentum took him to his feet and he ran for the cloaked puddlejumper.
“Sheppard!” Ronon boomed, from his vantage point on the first building of the penultimate tier.
The colonel simply pointed to the puddlejumper and continued running, knowing that Ronon would join him there.
Cody Hall met him at the back hatch.
Gasping and winded, Sheppard pointed at the correct compartment. “Open it,” he croaked.
Cody yanked it open and Sheppard swooped.
“Sheppard?” Ronon stamped up the hatch.
He simply turned and pushed defibrillator and resonator into Ronon’s hands. “Get these to the DNA room and McKay. Now!”
The trained military specialist didn’t argue, he simply obeyed.
Sheppard leaned over, bracing his hands against his knees. Cody proffered a canteen of water, and Sheppard took it gratefully. He took deep breaths in between careful sips. It was hellishly hot – too hot to run.
He looked up and saw Teyla watching him. Her cool gaze catalogued his condition and found it acceptable.
“I will join Ronon in the temple.”
“I’ll be on your heels,” Sheppard said.
She craned her head regally and then was away, following Ronon’s footsteps.
“Sir, what happened?” Cody asked.
“Beckett’s caught behind a force field. He’s unconscious. Call Miller and Coleman -- get an update on the DHD. We might need the Stargate to transport Beckett to Atlantis.” He grabbed the backup toolkit. “Comm. me when you have an update.”
“Sheppard,” he announced, identifying himself just before he turned into the DNA resequencer corridor. Ronon’s preternaturally sensitive hearing would have alerted him that a man was approaching and he did not want to be greeted by a stun from his blaster. Both Teyla and Ronon stepped back and lowered their weapons as he slid on the shiny floor tiles around the corner.
Equipment was strewn about the corridor in front of the force field. McKay was angling the antennae of the resonator muttering to himself as Sheppard slid on his knees to fetch up at his side. The colonel opened the tool kit, which concertinaed to reveal the multiple levels of equipment. Suddenly the resonator pulsed and the force field coruscated.
McKay swore. “It’s resonating on a sub-atomic level. This is going to take a moment.” He glanced through the scintillating force field at the figure curled by the pedestal.
Sheppard rubbed his ear as the resonator hiked up another notch. Ronon winced, baring his teeth.
McKay consulted the readouts on the laptop. “It’s Ancient design, but better spec than the Atlantean force fields. Probably has medical ramifications -- super fine to prevent viral particles escaping. I think Carson triggered a quarantine protocol. The man’s a danger around Ancient tech. Damn, it’s multiphase.” He stabbed angrily at the keyboard.
“McKay? How long?” Sheppard asked, knowing that if the air had been sucked from the room Beckett was dead and rotting.
Ronon stepped over them, fetching up against the door. Shielding his eyes from the flaring force field, he studied Beckett.
“Positive charge. Negative charge.” McKay held up a clenched fist and an open hand. He captured his fist with a loud slap. “They’re attracted. Force field basic physics revolves around how charges exert force on each other. Negative. Negative.” He held his hands flat and pretended to force them together. “Like charges repel. A force field artificially manipulates electrons. In this case it’s actually affecting the oxygen molecules forcing them into oxygen atoms whose electrons form the basis of the field as they re-orientate. But –- and this is the clever part – it’s actually a wave form. I’m trying to get the atoms to reform back to molecules and break up the charge. Hence the resonator which will cause the atoms to – why am I telling you this?” McKay shook his head and curled over his laptop.
“He’s not breathing,” Ronon announced.
McKay shot him a filthy glare. “It’s a medical facility; he might be in stasis.”
Sheppard blew out a tiny sigh – that was a good working theory.
“Electric permittivity of free space,” McKay muttered.
The force field sparked and dissipated with a flare. Ronon was at Beckett’s side in a heartbeat. He reached down to check the pulse at the man’s throat and his hand passed straight through the body.
“Elders’ tits!” Ronon swore and, reflexively, jerked back.
Carson lay there as still as death. Gingerly, Ronon extended a finger. Slowly, he moved to tap Beckett’s shoulder and started as his finger sank through his t-shirt as if it wasn’t there.
“Hologram,” McKay determined instantly. He looked to the ceiling, hunting for the emitting source. “That was clever. That kept us distracted while Carson was taken.”
Sheppard swore vituperatively as he hauled the Runner to his feet. “Ronon, one way in and one way out. See if you can pick up Carson’s trail.”
Ronon growled an affirmative and stalked off, dreadlocks swinging as he scanned the cold floor tiles. “It’s going to be difficult, this stuff’s hard.”
Teyla paced him, lending her own skills to a search of the floor.
“Rodney?” Sheppard asked a multitude of questions with a single word.
McKay dropped to one knee and scrutinised the doctor’s form.
“Carson was rendered unconscious,” he announced. “This is a recent, real time image. Someone or something knocked him out and then the holographic image was created as he lay in this spot.”
“How do you know?”
McKay wiped his finger on a tile and it came up tipped with blood. The littlest finger on Carson’s outstretched hand was stained with blood.
“Carson cut his finger just before he was knocked out. While he lay here, it bled on the floor.”
“Damn.” Sheppard joined McKay beside their friend. He couldn’t see any injuries, but the man’s thick hair would hide a thump to the head.
“Carson said he’d met someone.” McKay made a sweep with his life signs detector. “Turn the DNA manipulator off – it’s affecting my readings.”
Sheppard reached up and placed his hand on the viscous control panel and thought ‘off’ loudly. The giant DNA strand winked out.
Carson’s image of sleeping unconsciousness remained intact.
“Huh.” McKay peered up at the ceiling. He waved his hands over Carson but didn’t interrupt any hologram emitter.
“Where is it?”
McKay quirked a smile and plunged his hands into Carson’s body. Sheppard withheld a shudder; it looked like some kind of weird voodoo ritual. The image winked out and Rodney held a grenade sized egg topped by a sapphire lens, triumphantly.
“Portable hologram.” He tossed it in the air, caught it and stuffed it in one of his many tac vest pockets. “Obvious Ancient design.”
Ronon had reached the doorway. “There’s nothing, no fibres, scuff marks on these hard tiles. We have to track another way.”
“You know,” McKay began, “if this place has been abandoned, why isn’t it dusty? Then again, Atlantis wasn’t dusty, was it?”
Sheppard knew that it was a rhetorical question. “And?”
“That you haven’t found any evidence of Carson being dragged off down that corridor might actually mean that he wasn’t.”
McKay stood and started a slow traverse of the room, life signs detector in energy mode in one hand. Stopping at a plain, white wall, between the banks of information screens, he moved to touch it.
“Don’t!” Sheppard said.
McKay froze, he cast a glance over his shoulder. “You got a stick?”
Sheppard tossed over his sheathed K-Bar knife.
“Huh.” McKay poked the wall and smiled as the knife sunk in like cutting a wedding cake. “One hologram.”
“Can we use infrared to see through them?”
McKay held up the Ancient equivalent of a Star trek tricoder. “Huh, it actually registers a hologram as wall. I suppose by definition it is a wall, it’s just a wall of light. This should be able to detect the focussed light emitter as an energy source. I just need to find the appropriate protocols and use them.” He forgoed using the knife and reached into the wall.
The white wall blipped out, leaving an oval doorway with the golden, metallic scrollwork.
“Thought so, it was the only blank piece of wall. You’re on, Colonel, think it open.”
Sheppard scowled and the portal blades ratcheted into the walls. Ronon pushed past them, scanning the area fervently.
‘Warm?’ Carson cracked open his eyes and failed to even begin to understand what he was seeing. He closed his eyes and thought that he had slept for a millennia.
‘A plastic hood?’ he wondered when he finally opened his eyes. The mattress under his head was soft and yielding. There was a wall about a foot high surrounding him, with a dome of transparent plastic protecting his head. “I’m in a cradle… or a coffin.”
The lassitude of a body asleep consumed him. There was a vague metallic taste coating the roof of his mouth.
A tall, blurry figure moved outside the crib, muttering.
‘Alien?’ Carson wondered but couldn’t find the energy to be concerned. A faint shush preceded the hood’s retraction.
“Erus.” A thin hand patted the base of his throat. “It has been too long. The Dd’el is intelligent.”
Carson squinted. “Dd’el?”
A pointy, grey face leaned in closely. Oh, my god, he remembered the alien in the DNA resequencer room. The shark alien with the needle-like fingers. Poison tipped?
“They are coming. I do not wish to talk to them. It is not the time and they are Dd’el and Ta’ar -- one is tainted with the Wraith.”
“Tell me of the other Erus. It has been too long. Where are you from?”
Carson clamped his teeth together and closed his eyes.
“No matter – I will ask the Dd’el, Erus. Your minion is valuable.”
“Rodney,” it mouthed, trying the name out. “He is an abomination.”
“No.” Carson tried to sit up, but the paralysing agent held him fast.
“You are cold.” The blurry figure moved and returned with a blanket. It was then that Carson realised that he was naked.
“What did you do?” Carson demanded. Adrenalin fuelled him; exhaling heavily through his nose, he managed to lift his head off the mattress. The explosion of stars at the movement made his eyes tear up. Carson fell back, clinging to the edge of consciousness.
A sharp edged talon collected a tear. The claw trailed down his cheek, brushing through his faint beard to rest once again over his carotid.
Whiteness engulfed him.
The team crept through the corridor with the non-member trailing at their heels. Sarah had asked one question before Ronon had spun on her commanding silence. She hadn’t said a word since. Teyla had smiled once at the woman, offering a tiny shred of reassurance, before returning to watching their surroundings and protecting her comrades.
McKay was in the centre of the group, one eye on the detector and the other on his team. He communicated through his finger, pointing out directions.
“One life sign,” he mouthed, pointing at a sealed door.
Sheppard nodded and slid silently forward. Ronon ghosted at his side. Sheppard cocked his head to the side, the portal ratcheted open and both men shot through. One covered left and the high ground and the other covered right checking for attackers crouched low. In concert, they swapped tactics ensuring the whole area was cleared. The room was decked out like a morgue with a row of coffins set at right angles to the east wall. A floor-to-ceiling rack of Ancient computers were on the west wall situated around a massive, blank display. There was another portal on the far wall. A central autopsy table, complete with side wells to contain blood, stood in the centre of the room. Sheppard cocked a finger at the threesome by the door indicating that it was safe to enter.
McKay cautiously extended a toe over the threshold of the portal. Still holding his life signs detector, he pointed at the silvery grey box at the far end of the row. A shelf beside the coffin held a neatly folded pile of SGC issued fatigues. Seeing them, he pushed past Ronon. Leaving the women by the door, skirting around a grey barrel, he arrowed towards the coffin. Sheppard joined him.
Inside, Beckett lay motionless, protected by a clear, transparent cover. A blue blanket was draped over him -- neck to toes.
“Carson?” McKay tapped loudly on the plexi-glass.
“McKay, shush.” Sheppard cast a furtive glance around the laboratory. Sarah stayed by the door as Teyla paced slowly into the laboratory. P-90 raised to her shoulder, Teyla scanned the floor, walls and ceiling while her team members helped Beckett. Ancient metalwork was drizzled across the ceiling directly above the central mortuary slab.
“Dr. McKay have you seen this before?” she whispered.
McKay’s attention was solely on the doctor. Sheppard glanced upward. A golden metal, twisting storm decorated the ceiling. The central eye was a blank solid disc.
“It’s some kind of monitoring cradle or inactive stasis unit.” McKay brushed his hands over the cool metal surrounding Beckett and an array of lights awoke under his fingers. He rapped the plexi-glass sharply with his knuckles again. “It won’t open.”
“Let me,” Sheppard said. The hood retracted into the pod with a gentle hiss.
“Show off,” McKay groused.
“Doc?” Sheppard reached in and pressed a gentle hand against the base of Beckett’s throat. It took a count of three but then a solid pulse beat against his fingertips. “I’ve got a pulse.”
The doctor’s skin was chilled and rough. Carefully, cognizant that Beckett had been unconscious, he brushed his fingers through the man’s thick hair hunting for a knot or blood.
“I guess it’s some kind of quarantine facility,” McKay hazarded still studying the readings. “Isolation cradles? I’m not reading any increase in body temperature which would indicate an infection. He’s a little cool, actually.”
Sheppard lifted the finely woven blanket and abruptly dropped it back. “Well, something happened.”
“What?” McKay peered into the cradle. “Is he naked?” A smile tinged his tone.
“Hey, Doc?” Sheppard shook his shoulder.
Beckett rocked but didn’t wake.
“We need to get him out of here.” McKay jumped back as the sides fell away merging into the supporting pallet. “I didn’t do that. Did you do that, Sheppard?”
“Yep.” Sheppard pulled down the blanket to Carson’s waist and planted his ear against his chest. He was reassured by a measured dual thump.
Straightening, he said, “Ronon, give me a hand here.”
The Runner looked down at the unconscious doctor. “I can manage him. Can’t have us both hauling him.”
Sheppard nodded, accepting the wisdom. They needed one of them able to fully react to an attack. Reluctantly, Sheppard had to admit that Beckett was a pretty solid guy. He could probably drag him – but carrying him would be an effort. Ronon freed Beckett’s hands from the blanket and quickly yanked the doctor into a seated position. Sheppard moved to prevent him lolling to the side.
“Swing his legs around,” Ronon directed.
Tucking the blanket best he could, Sheppard complied. There was a flash of bare flesh, as Ronon heaved the solidly built doctor over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. Sheppard secured the blanket around Beckett’s legs and hips.
Ronon grunted and stood straight. Beckett hung loosely and Ronon grabbed his hanging arm, holding him secure.
Sheppard crouched by Carson’s head and tapped the man’s cheekbone. “Doc? You in there?”
There was absolutely no response.
“McKay, get Beckett’s things.” He checked on the rest of the group. Teyla was still carefully examining the room, hunting for any clues to what had occurred. Sarah stood by the doorway, arms tightly clasped over her breasts. She swallowed harshly at his regard.
“You okay?” Sheppard asked.
“Let’s get out of here,” McKay directed. “We’ll come back for the power source later.”
Sheppard had med-evacced soldiers in Afghanistan and had some basic medic training while in the field, so he was deemed the best person to check out Beckett. McKay and Ronon had made themselves scarce seconds after settling him on McKay’s inflatable mattress in the back of the puddlejumper.
“If you are uncomfortable, I can look after Dr. Beckett,” Teyla said evenly, kneeling beside him.
“The Doc’s a pretty shy guy. I…”
“He is a healer; I doubt that he has issue with nudity.” But Teyla bowed her head accepting his decision. Rising sedately to her feet, she turned and smoothly walked out of the vessel.
“Hey, Doc?” He patted Beckett’s cheek, hoping he’d wake up. He was warmer, but he remained solidly unconscious. Sheppard knew enough to know that they should have checked Beckett before moving him, but the urge to leave the temple had been irresistible.
Gingerly, Sheppard lifted an eyelid. What he could see of the pupil was dilated. Drugs? he wondered. Then he remembered the cut finger. Twitching the blanket aside, he started. There was a neat white bandage wrapped around Carson’s little finger. Who kidnapped a person and then wrapped a band-aid on a minor cut? Focussed now, he began to check Beckett from head to toe. Running fingers over his head, he determined that there still wasn’t any evidence of a head injury. But there was a sticky, shaved region about the size of a quarter above his ear. There were two mosquito-like inflamed spots with pin pricks on the side of his neck. They looked disturbingly like injection sites. There was nothing on his pale, sparsely haired chest, but there was a fresh white band-aid the size of a business card tucked under his ribs on the left side, dotted with a line of blood. Another fresh bandage covered the crook of his elbow. Fury growing, Sheppard lifted the blanket. There were no marks on his groin, but in the curve of Beckett’s hip beside the jutting pelvic bone sat another band-aid. Sheppard pulled the blanket aside. His right ankle was swathed in bandages and his toes were darkening with bruises. He tucked the blanket back around Beckett’s waist.
“Teyla, I need a hand.”
“Yes?” As he expected, she had been waiting just outside, likely protecting Beckett’s privacy. Three strides and she was up the ramp and crouching at his side.
“I want to check his back.”
With Teyla controlling Carson’s head, together they log rolled him over onto his left side. Revealed about two thirds the way down his spine was another fresh, white bandage. Sheppard growled.
“What are these?” Teyla asked.
Carefully, Sheppard teased the edge off the edge of the bandage. It protected a red welt with a tiny injection site. Carefully, every motion controlled, he re-stuck the bandage over the wound.
“It’s a medical facility. They did stuff to him.” Without the necessity of instructions they rolled Beckett onto his back in tandem. Sheppard snagged a backpack and tucked it under his feet so both were raised. Evidence of needles and cutting and a twisted ankle, little horrible things – a catalogue of wrongs.
“Is he badly injured?” Teyla asked.
Sheppard ran his fingers through his hair. “Bastards,” he snarled.
“Stay with him, don’t let him wake up alone.” Sheppard marched into the cockpit. He slapped hard on the comm. and again when Miller and Coleman did not answer.
“Sir?” Eb Coleman’s voice sounded tinny.
“What’s the ETA on the DHD?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Coleman said reluctantly. “Miller tripped a cascade and we’re back where we started. Miller says he knows what he’s doing and estimates--” there was a pause, “--five hours.”
“Make it two. Stay in contact.” Sheppard rubbed his cheek. He stalked out of the ‘jumper ignoring Teyla’s concerned expression.
Ronon stood akimbo, watching the temple looming over them as if he were imagining the effects of a STINGER SAM missile launched directly at the chest of the carving protecting the entrance. Sarah was huddled up against the puddlejumper, arms still crossed defensively, keeping out of the way of Ronon. McKay was perched on the edge of a large storage box tapping away on his laptop. A cable linked the laptop to his life signs detector sitting on top of the box. Lieutenant Hall was calling out numbers from another laptop that was attached to the holographic globe.
Rodney jumped to his feet, abandoning his work as Sheppard stomped down the ramp. “How’s Carson?”
“Still unconscious. He’s got wounds on his side, gut and back. His ankle’s sprained or broken. We’ll know more when he wakes up.”
“What?” McKay said, appalled. “What kind of wounds?”
“Injection points on his neck, on his spine. Cuts on his side, groin.”
Ronon caressed his blaster. “We should go up there and…”
“No – we don’t know what we’re up against.” Sheppard stopped him dead with one look. “With the hologram technology we’d be walking into traps. We wait until Beckett can tell us what happened. Miller says the DHD will be up and running in five hours or less.”
“He should have repaired it all ready!” McKay interrupted.
“He hit a problem,” Sheppard said tersely. “Once the DHD is working, we’ll ship Beckett out and return with a combat team, get in there, find out what’s what and scavenge if possible. Hall, you have first watch. McKay, get out the MREs.”
Night came quickly in
the equatorial latitude and with it came a mournful ‘Crap!”
The team members outside the puddlejumper froze. For one hysterical second, Sheppard likened it to a bad play with the performers waiting for a prompt.
“Doc?” Sheppard called, stepping back from McKay’s impromptu lab. table constructed of crates. McKay slowly pocketed his newly configured life signs detector in his vest and closed the lid down on his laptop. Together they strode to the ‘jumper.
“You have the watch,” Ronon told Hall, turning abruptly from his surveillance of the ziggurat.
As they barrelled into the back compartment, Beckett was struggling to a sitting position with Teyla’s help. He scrubbed his bristly face with one hand.
“Here, Dr. Beckett.” Teyla handed over a canteen of water.
“Thanks, Luv.” He took a mouthful and swished. Looking around, seeing nothing to spit in, he swallowed with a grimace. Flopping back, he shielded his eyes with a hand. He seemed to relax into the air mattress, becoming boneless.
McKay shrugged expressively at Sheppard, hands rising enquiringly. He mouthed something incomprehensible.
“Doc, you with us?” Sheppard queried, thinking Beckett had fallen asleep.
There was a moment’s pause before, “Aye, son.”
“You wanna tell us what happened?”
Beckett’s eyes snapped open. He sat up again and Teyla neatly slipped another backpack behind him. The man winced and reached behind to rub at the base of his spine. Sheppard crouched at Carson’s side as Ronon slipped by them, heading for the cockpit
“What the… What hit me?” His eyes widened, horrified. “There was an alien. I mean a real, true alien. Tall and skinny with shark eyes. It grabbed me. It had venomous talons. It knocked me out. I woke up in some kind of treatment suite.”
He stared at his friends, suddenly mute, and clutched at the blanket around his hips. Teyla laid a gentle hand on his shoulder and he flinched away violently.
“Sorry,” he said automatically.
Teyla folded her hands on her lap. “You have nothing to apologise for, Dr. Beckett.”
Moving very slowly, Sheppard squatted by his side. “What did it do to you, Doc?”
“I dunno.” Beckett twisted with a tiny wince and fingered the bandage under his ribs, lifted up the blanket and peered at his groin. They waited patiently as he conducted his own analysis. His brow furrowed as he revealed his swollen ankle. Finally, he licked his lips nervously, and flopped against the backpack
“Carson, can you tell us?” Teyla asked carefully.
He nodded once. “Biopsies,” he said shortly. “Lung or heart tissue.” Tapping his hip and then indicating his back, he itemised, “Samples: bone marrow, spinal fluid, I’d guess.”
“And your ankle?” McKay queried, leaning over to peer at the swollen flesh.
Carson jerked his foot back a fraction from McKay’s scrutiny and hissed. “Haven’t a clue. It was okay before… the attack.”
“Did you try and escape?” McKay probed. “Fell, twisted it?”
Beckett flinched. “Don’t remember.”
“Really?” McKay asked.
“Really,” Beckett snapped back, “I don’t remember!” He caught himself and scrubbed his face tiredly.
McKay rocketed to his feet. He jerked from foot to foot, poised to escape from the puddlejumper all together.
“Does anyone have my equipment?” Carson said very quietly.
“I’ve got it.” McKay grabbed it from the lump of equipment piled together to make room for the airbed. He dragged over the backpack, popped open the fasteners and passed over the diagnostic body scanner without being asked.
“Thank you,” Beckett said automatically. Silently, he detached the diagnostic wand from the scanner. His brow furrowed as he initiated the hand-held tablet, and the furrows deepened as he slowly waved the sensor over his head and upper torso. Twisting uncomfortably, he angled the wand back over his forehead, trying to keep one eye the tablet’s data screen.
“Doc, can I help?” Sheppard held his hand out. “It’s no trouble.”
Beckett looked at him mutely, his eyes wide with consternation.
“Honest, Doc; it’s not an imposition.”
With a hesitant smile, Beckett handed over the wand. “It’s in scanning… mode. Just wave it over me.”
“Yeah, Doc.” Sheppard cocked his head at Teyla and McKay who both got the message immediately. McKay bolted, sprinting down the ramp and executing a sharp right turn, moving out of sight.
“I will be just outside. If you require assistance.” Teyla nodded once and then slowly exited the ‘jumper.
“You want me to stay or go,” Ronon asked quietly, stepping out of the cockpit where he had watched both the action in the back compartment and the temple through the main screen.
Sheppard jerked his head after Rodney and Teyla and with an acknowledging grunt, Ronon followed.
“So, Dr. Beckett,” Sheppard said deliberately, shuffling a little closer to the doctor, “do I need to remove the blanket?”
“No, it’ll sense through fabric.”
Methodically, Sheppard wielded the sensor, ensuring every inch of Beckett was covered from his head to his toes. The doctor was silent, bearing the scrutiny stoically. He accepted the sensor strip back with a nod and called up the data screen on the parent device.
Sheppard waited as, brow furrowed, Beckett interpreted the stored results. He fired up the sensor again and played it over his lower abdomen.
“Doc?” he finally asked, unable to wait another second.
“Took lung tissue, bone marrow, spinal fluid, sperm and blood. There’s evidence of trauma in my sinus cavity so likely it harvested nasal epithelial cells. I’m surprised it just didn’t go ahead an’ biopsy my brain.” Carson thudded back against his mattress and stared blindly at the ceiling. “Actually, that’s interesting…”
“They’re invasive, but designed not to truly compromise the patient. I can think of a number of other samples to take which… Damn. There’s evidence of a mild neurotoxin, but the scanner isn’t equipped for that level of chemical analysis to truly ID it.” Beckett rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I told you it was an alien, didn’t I?”
“Yeah,” Sheppard said slowly. The doctor was positively grey and was beginning to ramble a little bit.
“It -- I’m anthropomorphising here -- but I got the impression that it was nutty as a fruit cake. It called me an Erus and said that Rodney was a Dd’el.”
“Dd’el?” Sheppard checked.
“Aye, lad? Dd’el and… uhm… Ante.”
“Dd’el means something like ‘false ancestor’. We ran into natives on PX8-463 and they had some Ancient kit which identified McKay as a Dd’el.” Sheppard smiled without humour. “We only escaped by the skin of our teeth. They were mortally offended by McKay and he hadn’t even said anything.”
Beckett snorted. “False ancestor, eh? I’m guessing then that it all relates to the gene. The alien identified you as an Erus. It really didn’t like that Rodney was a living, breathing human. It called him an abomination.”
“Erus?” Sheppard couldn’t place the term; that was Elizabeth’s job. “Do you know what it means?”
Beckett shook his head. “Erus,” he intoned. “It sounded more like an honorific, though, than Dd’el.”
“And you said ‘aunty’?” Sheppard settled back on his heels and waited for his response.
“It mentioned Anti or Ante and something that sounded a little like Tau’ri – Ta’ar. A Ta’ar ‘tainted by Wraith’ by which I assumed it meant Teyla’s Wraith DNA. He classified us according to our genes.” Beckett reached for his backpack and pulled out a small, zipped pocket pack. He found a single paper packeted syringe and rifled in the backpack until he extracted a vial filled with clear liquid.
“Doc?” Sheppard said worriedly.
“I’ve got a bugger of a headache, son. My ankle hurts like a bitch, too. It’s just to take the edge off, or I’m going to be puking on you and passing out during this interrogation.” He drew a dose into the syringe and Sheppard looked away as Beckett injected the contents in his hip. Snagging his jacket lying on top of the pile of clothes on the bench seats beside him, he shrugged into it and zipped it all the way up to his throat. He grabbed his boxer shorts from the pile and looked pointedly at the colonel.
“Doc?” Sheppard questioned.
“You mind… uhm… turning around?” Beckett twirled his index finger.
Sheppard turned. Beckett grunted painfully as he manhandled the shorts on, making the air mattress squeak. The muttered expletives were inventive. Chuckling very quietly, Sheppard stored them away for future use.
“Ready. You can turn back,” Beckett said finally.
Beckett had lain back on the mattress and the blanket was pulled tight around his body. He forced a smile at the colonel, but it could only be described as tremulous.
“Okay, Carson,” Sheppard said, “let’s start at the beginning.”
“So I’m an abomination,” McKay said casually as Sheppard exited the puddlejumper.
“You knew that all ready.” Sheppard cracked a smile.
McKay quirked one back at him as he pushed off the side of the ‘jumper. “So a real alien. As alien as the Asgard and insane. How’s Carson?”
Sheppard caught his elbow and drew him away from the ramp to the couple of crates. “Bit banged up and woozy from some kind of drug. His ankle’s badly sprained. He’ll be all right.”
Pawing at the equipment on the first crate, Sarah jerked her head up, wide eyed. Without a word, she scurried off to the shadow of the ‘jumper. Lips pursed, Sheppard stared at the woman; just a little high strung. For a second, he contemplated asking Teyla -- deep in conversation with Hall on the other side of the puddlejumper ramp (she always seemed fascinated by redheads) -- to have a word with her, but McKay spoke.
“Is Carson asleep now?” He detached the cables attaching the holographic globe to a laptop, and tossed it, once into the air, before stuffing it in the front vest pocket.
“Yeah. Took some meds for the pain. Just crashed.”
McKay crossed his arms and raised his chin mulishly. “That alien took somatic and genetic material from Carson. A human from Earth. We’ve been separated from the Pegasus galaxy for millennia. It’s entirely possible it’ll be able to identify specific genetic markers, unique to the Tau’ri. That leads to a whole host of other problems, but mainly I’m concerned about bioweapons.”
“I think you’re borrowing trouble, McKay.” Sheppard said. “It may not even be able to do that kind of stuff.”
“Oh, please.” McKay pierced him with a disparaging glare. “I expect better of you. A) you’re assuming that there is only one of the them, B) it was capable of identifying you and Carson as ‘Erus’ and me as a ‘Dd’el’ from a genetic scan and C), you’re assuming that its interest is purely scientific. We need to destroy that material.”
“We get Carson out of here and return with a strike team,” Sheppard said with finality.
“Excellent – evidence of logical thought. I’ll check with Miller.” McKay made a production out of checking his watch. “It’s been four hours, even if he’s incapable of pulling a Scotty, he should have almost repaired the DHD by now.”
Sheppard nodded. McKay looked at him sort of sadly, and tip-toed theatrically into the puddlejumper. The last of the evening light was finally waning, creating shadows of deep purple. He passed Sarah who still huddled beside the ‘jumper, watching Ronon warily. Sheppard spared a headshake at the Runner, who still faced the temple dead on, daring an attack.
“Sarah, Ronon wasn’t being personal. You had to be quiet. We were in enemy territory.”
She shook her dark head and scurried after McKay into the back of the ‘jumper. Mentally, Sheppard added the young biophysicist to the evacuation list.
Sheppard snagged a packet of chips from McKay’s stash of munchies on the crate and cracked the cellophane wrapping. Ronon spun around at the sound. Sheppard ambled over and proffered the pack.
Ronon turned up his nose, but grabbed a generous handful. “How’s the Doc?”
“Sleeping. Minor injuries. Got a bit of a shock, though.”
Ronon growled deep in the back of his throat. “We should get out of here.”
“McKay’s checking with Miller. Soon as the ‘gate’s up and running we’re shipping Beckett and Sarah out of here. We’ll come back with a team and destroy the biological material the alien stole from Beckett.”
“We should go to the Stargate.”
“We should have something to eat.” Sheppard pointed at the intimidating ziggurat. “I’ll watch it, you raid McKay’s MREs.”
“Your MREs suck.”
Hall and Teyla had ambled over to McKay’s crate. The redhead dutifully handed over a veggie burger with barbecue sauce and managed to find a wry smile in the face of chicken with noodles.
“We…” Sheppard craned his head to the side.
Ronon drew his blaster. “What is it?”
“I dunno. Something’s wrong. McKay?” he called and began to walk rapidly back to the ‘jumper.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Ronon said, and Sheppard knew that the Runner’s hearing bordered on the phenomenal.
“It was….” Sheppard thumped his chest.
“Did ‘someone walk over your grave’?”
Sheppard took one, two strides into the back of the puddlejumper, Ronon at his heels. He switched the lights on with a simple thought. All was as he had left it: Carson slept the sleep of the exhausted, rolled up in the blue blanket under a SCG issued four-seasons sleeping bag. His fingers lay lax on the pillow by his head. Backpacks were strewn about the bay. McKay’s data tablet lay abandoned on the starboard bench seats. Sheppard strode into the cockpit.
The cockpit was unoccupied.
Sheppard slapped the ‘jumper comm. unit repeatedly, encouraging Coleman to answer. He counted under his breath, estimating the time to walk from the DHD to the ‘jumper.
“Sir?” The voice sounded breathless; he had ran from the DHD to the ‘jumper.
“Did McKay just contact you?” Sheppard said without preamble.
“No, sir!” Coleman snapped, responding to the tone.
“McKay,” Sheppard hollered. “Sarah!”
Ronon strode from the puddlejumper, already in hunt mode. At the bottom of the ramp, Teyla partnered him, P-90 cocked and ready. “McKay and the woman have disappeared,” the Runner informed her.
Carson turned on the mattress and opened his eyes. “What’s happening?”
Sheppard bent down. “McKay and Sarah have disappeared. I guess you didn’t see anything.”
Beckett blinked sleepily. “No. Sarah?”
Sheppard patted the man on his shoulder. “It’s okay, Carson. Go back to sleep.”
Sheppard jogged down the ramp. “Lt. Hall.”
The young lieutenant, who had taken Ronon’s scrutiny of the temple, snapped to attention. “Yes, Colonel?”
“Guard the Doc.”
Ronon and Teyla were halfway across the promenade. The Runner ran flat out. Sheppard followed their trajectory to see Sarah standing by one of the squat buildings, half hidden in the growing gloom. Her white, shocky face seemed to hang ghostlike in mid air. The illumination was out of phase; there was no source of light by the blocky, wattle and daub buildings. Yet he could see her clearly.
Every danger sense that Sheppard possessed screamed.
Even as he ran flat out after them, he yelled, “Ronon, stop!”
Torn between youthful enthusiasm and an inbred tendency to obey, Ronon stumbled a step and then skidded to a stop. He spun around, dreds whipping against his face.
“The woman.” He pointed, body poised to run again.
Sheppard finally reached his team mates. “It is not her,” he said between breaths. “Look at the light, it’s all wrong. It’s a hologram.”
“What?” Teyla squinted at the figure cowering by the corner of the building.
“Sarah, say something,” Sheppard ordered. “Tell me your surname.”
The figure neither said a word nor twitched, but stood arms crossed, head down, ducking her head away from them. P-90 raised to his shoulder, flashlight trained on the woman, Sheppard crossed the final flagstones. There was no shadow or illumination from the light shining directly on her face. There was a circle of light on the wall behind her head, with no silhouette.
“If you don’t say something or move, I’m going to fire.”
There was no answer.
The single round passed through her forehead as if it wasn’t there.
“Colonel!” Teyla protested, and then fell silent.
“Hologram,” Ronon noted.
“Question is, since when?” Sheppard edged forward. The image remained still, in its customary scared position. He squatted and felt through her feet, fingers scuffling over dry stones, until he extracted the spherical holographic emitter. As his finger covered a raised pad, the image of Sarah moved forward. Ronon drew his blade and skewered her to no effect, she simply continued walking. Sheppard moved his finger and she froze.
“Shit,” he swore.
“What?” Ronon asked.
“It’s been with us since we found Beckett in the temple.” Sheppard stepped into the holograph, effectively wearing it like a badly fitting suit.
Teyla blinked when he extended his hand through the image’s breast.
“Sarah,” Teyla said, “adopted that scared position of crossing her arms over her chest as we walked to the treatment suite,”
“It has a limited repertoire.” Sheppard executed a slide to the left out of Sarah’s form. He tossed the ball into the air and caught it. “Either it could only take images in a specific place…”
“Hence the continually crossed arms,” Teyla noted.
“Or it takes a lot of memory to construct an image,” Sheppard finished. He flicked the top of the blue egg with a finger nail and the image folded in on itself, disappearing.
“It didn’t speak,” Ronon said. “This is sophisticated technology.”
Moving his fingers in sequence, Sheppard studied the sphere as it rolled around his palm. “Back to the puddlejumper,” he ordered. “Whatever made the hologram could be hiding anywhere. McKay and the alien could be inside the ‘jumper as we speak – camouflaged.”
Carson gritted his teeth and manhandled his boot over his swollen foot.
“Er, should you be doing that, Doc?” Hall asked, from his position by the open hatch.
“Strangely enough, lad, I don’t fancy sitting here in the buff when there’s an alien running about kidnapping people. And I can’t very well help lying on a mattress, can I?” He ran a mental inventory on the drugs in his pack, but decided against the stimulant. Slowly, he laced up his boot, taking care to give enough support to his foot without cutting off the blood supply too much. Feeling the edge of a chill eating at him, he buttoned up his collar. “Have you seen anything lying around that I can use as a walking stick?”
“No, Doc. I didn’t see any trees.”
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a wooden stick, son.”
“Oh.” Cody rocked from foot to foot. “I’m sure that I can find something when the team returns.”
Carson caught the edge of the bench and levered himself up and onto the padded seat. The world made a gentle swoop, but, thankfully, settled where up was up and down was down. Patting his jacket pockets, he found a chocolate bar and munched down a couple of chunks, focussed on simply setting his blood sugar levels to rights.
“Doc, Lt. Hall.” Sheppard ran double time up the ramp. “You guys all right?”
“No activity, sir.”
Carson nodded around a mouthful of chocolate. Sheppard walked up the portside of the ‘jumper, barrel of the P-90 sweeping a body length above the bench seat.
“Doc, talk to me,” Sheppard ordered.
He held a hand over his mouth. “Aye, son.”
Sheppard ducked into the cock-pit, moving up the left side, sweeping with his P-90 and then down the starboard side.
“What sort of chocolate are you eating?” he called.
Carson couldn’t help blinking stupidly at the question, it neither seemed the time nor appropriate. And he couldn’t even begin to guess what Sheppard was up to. Ronon poked his head into the puddlejumper, glared piercingly at Hall and then glowered at Carson, before ducking back out of sight.
“Doc?” the Colonel insisted stepping back into the rear compartment.
“It’s a Yorkie.” Carson craned his head trying to see where Ronon had gone with such a dark cloud hanging over his head. “Chunky Milk Chocolate.”
“Good. Hall, what shift do you have after we return to Atlantis?”
“I don’t have one, sir,” the lieutenant rapped out. “I’ll be on stand down for forty eight hours.”
Teyla, breathing just a little bit more heavily than normal, came up the ramp with Ronon. They stopped right on the threshold of the hatch, making an effective wall.
“We found no sign of Dr. McKay or Dr. Sakson,” Teyla reported.
“Sound off,” Sheppard commanded. “One.” He pointed to his chest and then Cody Hall.
“Two,” Hall said.
“Three,” Carson supplied when pointed at.
Perplexed, Teyla said, “Four.”
“Why are we doing this?” Ronon asked.
“I’m guessing that the hologram doesn’t allow mimicking of a person’s voice,” Sheppard said tightly. “Or it’s got a limited repertoire based on words overheard.”
Carson shook his head. “Sorry, maybe I’m being a bit thick. But what are you talking about?”
“Sorry, Doc. The alien’s been here with us, it took Sarah’s form using hologram technology,” Sheppard said.
“Since when?” Carson blurted.
“Probably since we got you out of the lab.”
“So where’s Sarah?” Carson felt his blood pressure dump into his ankles. “She’s still up there, isn’t she?”
Sheppard nodded sharply. “It probably wants male and female DNA.”
Carson knew that the man was really thinking worst case scenario. His expression was flinty, lips pursed, eyes incandescent green. Sheppard pierced him with a glare, and in that fiery anger, Carson swore that he saw fear. He had already told the colonel of the contempt that the alien had for the normal Tau’ri.
“It’s got Rodney and it thinks he’s an abomination!” Carson hauled himself up on one foot.
“We’ve got other problems,” Sheppard said, he moved to the cockpit and leaned over the communication’s unit. “Coleman?”
“Yes, Sir?” the captain answered immediately.
“Where are you at?” Sheppard said brusquely.
“Dr. Miller reckons two-three more dominos, sir. Ten minutes then we’re good to go.”
“Tell him to stop and cascade it back to zero.”
“Sir?” Coleman’s voice rose in query.
“We have a potential foothold situation – an alien with excellent camouflage abilities. We do not want to take it back to Atlantis.”
“Acknowledged, sir. I’ll tell Dr. Miller. Shall we join you at the city?”
“Yes. Come and get Beckett and then I want you in geosynchronous orbit over the city.”
“What? I’m not going anywhere, Colonel,” Carson protested loud enough so Sheppard could hear him. “Rodney’s up in that city with that monster that’s probably doing things to him.”
“Stay on the line, Captain,” Sheppard said and turned to back to look in the rear compartment. “Dr. Beckett--” he took a deep breath, “-- Carson, you’re injured – you’re a liability. You’ll only be in the way and you’ll be safer in the ‘jumper.”
The honesty was as sharp as a scalpel and it didn’t hurt for the first few seconds.
“Sheppard’s right, Doc,” Ronon rumbled.
“We need more intel., but what’s relevant is that the DHD is sabotaged and the planet abandoned,” Sheppard said. “This thing was left on the planet.”
“And an entire city of people had time to escape?” Ronon pondered.
“We let it out.” Carson sank back to the bench seat and hung his head. “We opened the portal. It was trapped and we let it out.”
“If that was the case, why did the people leave?” Sheppard asked rhetorically.
“They were so terrified of the monster in the temple that they abandoned the planet?” Ronon said scornfully. “Even though they knew it was trapped?”
“They knew that it would get out, eventually,” Sheppard answered.
“I think,” Carson said slowly, fear stirring in his belly. “I think that Captain Coleman and Dr. Miller should not come to the City - even to pick me up. We don’t know enough about it or even if there’s only one alien. As soon as Miller and Coleman come down here and I limp up into the puddlejumper, the ship’s compromised. For all you know, the alien’s standing at the bottom of the ramp listening to us.”
Ronon spun and pointed his blaster.
“Calm, calm,” Sheppard intoned until the Runner holstered his weapon. “It was an example.”
“It doesn’t have the gene. It can’t operate the ‘jumpers,” Carson suddenly blurted.
“What?” Sheppard asked. He raised his hand. “Hold that thought, a sec.”
Carson slumped. He rubbed at the sore spot just between his eyebrows, trying to put his thoughts in order. Leaning over the console, Sheppard was communicating with Coleman, telling him to move without delay into orbit around the planet.
A pair of combat boots entered Carson’s field of view as he hung his head. “Right, you were saying, Dr. Beckett?”
Carson lifted his head. “Well, if it wants off the planet and the city’s inhabitants broke the DHD so it couldn’t escape – it should have tried to steal the ‘jumper pretty much straight away. We would have been attacked hours ago. Rodney has an artificial gene, it might think that it can harvest the gene and get it for itself. That’s why it took all those scans and samples from me.”
“Or kidnap a pilot,” Ronon said, looking at Sheppard.
Sheppard grew still, clearly thinking hard. “Right, this is what we’re going to do. Cody, stay with the Doc. Keep the ‘jumper hatch locked. Standard code words before opening.”
The painfully young lieutenant saluted. “Yes, sir.”
“Ronon, Teyla and I will go to the temple and retrieve Rodney and Sarah.”
McKay came awake far too slowly. As consciousness rose, he knew that he had been standing looking at the wall for far too long. All the muscles in his shoulders were locked tighter than a stargate iris and an agonising headache gnawed at the back of his skull.
‘Standing,’ he thought slowly. ‘Indeed, yes, standing’. The tiles were white, a beautiful, pristine white. Starting, he momentarily closed his eyes and twisted his head, trying to stretch free of the pain. Opening them, he still faced a wall like a recalcitrant school dunce told to stand in the corner. His muscles were still semi seized. Some kind of rohypnol analogue that rendered the victim in an altered suggestive state had obviously been used.
He had been told to stand in the corner.
The flare of fury seemed to wash the vestiges of drug away. Incensed, he turned to face whatever had inflicted this indignity on him and screamed.
Mid-horror, he caught himself, cramming his fingers in his mouth. He spun away without conscious thought, blocking that image. It was no longer a person; it was a picture. It wasn’t an eviscerated colleague, a colleague who he had shown how to configure the Naquada generators. It was just a moment from a horror movie. It wasn’t Sarah.
Blindly, he edged along the wall, fingertips brushing the tiles. There had to be a door somewhere. He found a portal. It didn’t respond to his pitiful attempt at a cold, calm command to open but he didn’t expect it to as he rested his forehead on the panel. Automatically, he pulled open his Velcro pockets and, belatedly, he discovered that he still wore his tac vest. A heartbeat later, he peeled off the control panel beside the door and began probing with his leatherman. The blades of the portal retracted with an infinitely satisfying hiss.
He left the room and its grisly contents without looking back.
The vivisection room led into a lab., remarkably similar to the one which had held Carson. Containment cradles against the walls and a central dominating morgue table. The hood on the diagnostic cradle on the far end of the row of beds was open. McKay did not linger, he scurried over to the portal on the far wall.
He had no recollection of how he had arrived at the labs, but he didn’t feel like asking whoever had brought him to the temple.
The second portal responded to his mental command. He spent a moment looking back at the portal that had required manipulation. If a door’s protocol could be manipulated not to respond to a…
The inanity of his own thoughts astounded him. He shelved the idea until time was more conducive to idle thought and peeked out into the corridor.
“Empty,” he breathed, and he didn’t like it. Then again Carson had spoken of an insane alien; it was likely to underestimate him.
He took a quick inventory of his pockets.
“As insane as the day is long,” he said satisfied, as he pulled out his life signs detector. Flicking it on revealed only one concentric circle – his own beating heart. McKay chanced it, and stepped into the corridor.
Cody peered in the last possible hidey-hole that might conceal a possible walking stick. Carson, benched in the truest sense of the word, could only smile at his diligence. The kid had searched the puddlejumper from top to bottom.
“How did you hurt it, Doc?”
“I don’t remember,” Carson said darkly. He pulled the scrap of Sheppard’s memory metal from his jacket pocket. A twist and a mental shove, bent the Atlantean primed material into a dense sphere and then into a thin lace. “But it’s always been weak. I broke it really badly in a rugger accident at Uni, wracked up the tendons and everything.”
“Rugger? That’s like American football?” Cody asked, unsure.
“Rubgy is the great-grandfather and American football is the bastard son.” Carson couldn’t help but grin as the marine spun around. But Cody, he knew, was a bright young man and read the teasing instantly. Carson looped the metal lace around itself and smoothed it into a ball.
Cody flashed a perfect white smile. “Them’s fighting words.” He closed the port hatch under the ceiling webbing and straightened dusting off his hands. “There’s nothing here that can help you, Doc.”
“That’s… annoying.” Carson popped the metal ball back in his pocket.
Cody immediately made two strides to the back hatch lever.
“Son.” Carson raised his hand unnecessarily.
Hall nodded, acknowledging the caution. “Sir, code for day two-Atlantean week. Third shift.”
Cody glanced over his shoulder at Carson, who shook his head emphatically. Cold fingernails scritched up his spine, individual vertebrae by individual vertebrae.
“Sir, the code, please?”
Silence greeted his tense request. Carson edged forward and leaned out of his seat to look along the long angle of the compartment to the cockpit and the windscreen beyond. It was dark outside now, and pitch, pitch black.
The tap sounded again on the starboard side. Carson turned on his bottom, following. He shied back as it tapped right beside him.
Cody charged past him and into the cockpit to peering into the dark night. Balancing on one foot, Carson stood. He caught the mesh rigging above his head and used that to help as he hopped forwards. The child who hid from the monsters under the bed, rose in him. ‘Face your fears. Face your fears,’ he muttered.
Cody was plastered up against the windscreen, craning his head trying futilely to see along the side of the ‘jumper. The angle was completely wrong.
Using the back rest of the rear seat as a bridge, Carson finally reached the pilot seat and plopped down. He called up the HUD display on the windscreen. A mere thought changed the display configuration to the life signs mode. Nothing appeared.
“Is it…?” Cody began.
Carson jumped at the soft question.
“If it’s shielded. It wouldn’t show up, would they?”
Carson shrugged. “As Rodney would say, it would depend on the configuration of the shield.”
“Carson?” Rodney said clearly, sounding concerned.
They both jerked to face the back of the ‘jumper.
“Dr. McKay?” Cody slid off the dashboard and rushed to the back hatch.
Carson spun back to look at the screen. There were still no life signs on the HUD.
“Cody, son, don’t open that door.” He swivelled the chair and slowly stood. The schematic on the HUD expanded, pale, golden lines showing the edges of the tiered terraces of the city and the foyer of the temple at the end of the promenade. Not a single life sign glowed on the map. Gut churning icily, he hopped to the hatch between the cock-pit and the rear compartment.
“Did you do that?” Rodney said.
“What? Dr. McKay?” Cody asked, sharing a confused glance with Carson at the non sequitor. Cody backed away from the rear hatch, slow step by slow step.
“There’s nothing on the screen,” Carson reported glancing back. “Nothing human is out there.”
“Nothing human? That’s reassuring.” Cody echoed with the merest shading of humour.
They both jumped as something grated above their heads. “If it damages the ‘jumper it can hardly escape from here,” Carson muttered.
“Good point, Doc.” Cody swallowed harshly and moved infinitesimally closer to Carson.
The screen blinked out.
“Shite,” Carson said feelingly.
“Perhaps it didn’t think that far ahead?”
The screen flared and resumed its display. Carson scowled.
“It generates a holographic field of some sort,” Carson offered. “Perhaps it got too close to the ‘jumper’s sensor array and fudged them.”
Cody studied the ceiling, brow furrowed as he tried to look straight through the bulkhead. “What’s it doing on the roof?”
“I’m not a mind reader, son.”
They both jumped as the scrape slide down the port side.
Sheppard studied the concertinaed portal. It had been a pure bitch manhandling Beckett’s unconscious form through the hole. Sheppard’s imagination supplied a vivid image of it suddenly slicing shut on his body. Deliberately, he shifted his concentration to his life signs detector. It revealed three life sign blips -- himself, Ronon and Teyla in close proximity -- and the immediate structure. But McKay hadn’t reconfigured it to detect holograms – an oversight on his part. Sighing, and annoyed at himself, he stuffed it back in its assigned pocket.
Ronon ducked to pass his blade though to the other side.
“Hang on,” Sheppard steeled himself, mind skittering over the seized mechanism. He could feel it like a music track repeating, jerking ineffectually. The grate threatened to become a full-blown migraine. Perhaps that was why the Ancient’s built to last, coding their technology to their genetics meant that they couldn’t tolerate sloppy design and broken down equipment.
“Ronon, on three, try and lever open one of the door blades.”
The Runner shrugged off his scabbard, resituated his blade and positioned the hard scabbard crossways though the portal gap.
“Good idea,” Sheppard noted. He grabbed the offending grate with his mind – and that felt weird. Holding up three fingers, he dropped one down and then the second. He gestured vehemently with his index finger and wrenched mentally at that agonising grate as Ronon threw his weight against the scabbard.
The release was viscerally satisfying as the portal retracted. Sheppard jammed a finger in his ear and wiggled it. He felt like his ears had popped.
“What’s it like? Making the Ancestor’s technology work?” Ronon asked, his voice unaccountably soft.
“Magic and ice cream and riding on Ferris Wheels,” Sheppard said without thinking.
“Sex?” Ronon summarised.
Sheppard blinked once, twice. “No. Sorta. Not really.” He forged ahead through the door, running away, knowing that Teyla had their six and that she was laughing without a sound.
The sortie party retraced their earlier footsteps, Sheppard on point and Teyla in the rear. Finger lightly resting on the trigger of his P-90, he scanned each twist and turn of the labyrinth as they returned to the experimental laboratory. Pausing outside the portal, he lifted his scanner, but no McKay-blip appeared. Pocketing the scanner, he placed his free hand on the portal. It was warm to the touch, the golden metallic strands were a little viscous like honey, but not sticky. The amber backdrop was cool. All the doors on Atlantis had sensor pads that the non ATAs could use to open the doors, but the Temple, supposedly geared to healing the people of Pegasus, depended on the ATA gene…. If you weren’t Ancient, or of Ancient descent, you couldn’t enter this room or, for that matter, the temple, through the main entrance.
Sheppard huffed, and mentally commanded the portal to open. It was as they had left it: central creepy table, row of coffins and lots of computers.
Ronon sniffed noisily before they even entered the room. “Blood.”
“Where?” Teyla asked.
“Fresh, large volume.” He raised his chin high. “Other stuff, fluids.”
“Fluids,” Sheppard echoed, grimacing.
“Yeah.” Ronon stalked into the lab., heading straight for the far portal that in their haste to remove Dr. Beckett, they had not investigated.
P-90 at his shoulder, Sheppard ghosted forward. Teyla stayed to cover their exit and watch from a position where she could fall back.
“Can you open it, Sheppard?”
“Easily.” Sheppard reached over and waved his hand over the standard panel. The blades retracted into the wall with a hiss. Outside door only for ATAs and inside anyone could move? That did not make sense. Neither man entered. Sheppard knew that smell and he had no reason to doubt that Ronon was not intimately familiar with that rancid, sweet odour. In the centre of the room, decked out in cold, silver metal, it was the antithesis of medical amelioration and care.
The gutted hollow of Sarah Sakson lay on the autopsy table.
“Fuck,” Sheppard said.
“Indeed.” Ronon moved into the room before Sheppard could take the lead.
“It could be a hologram,” Sheppard let a tiny sigh out – no McKay.
“I smell death.” Expression driven in stone, Ronon reached to confirm the sense of smell with touch.
Carson hobbled across the floor of their little metal can, where none of the vehicle’s sensors showed anything. Nothing moved, there were no sounds of creeping on the hull and even the slight, dusty sirocco wind outside was totally muted by the puddlejumper’s hull. He dropped tiredly onto the bench seat and pulled a sleeping bag around his shoulders.
“God, this is creepy,” Cody, sitting on the opposite bench seat, stroked the holster of his SIG.
“I wish the comm. system worked in the temple.”
“We should be safe in here, Doc.”
“Actually, lad, I feel like a sitting duck.”
“You want to, maybe you could take the ‘jumper up. We could hover in midair,” Cody offered.
“We should have done that when it was crawling on the roof.” Carson slapped his forehead. “Idiot.”
Sarah’s scream brought them both to their feet. Cody blanched as white as alabaster. Carson swore as he put weight on his ankle.
Both men stared at each other for a heartbeat.
“No!” she screamed again. Drawing his SIG P-226, Cody positioned beside the hatch and reached for the manual lever.
“No, son, it’s probably only a recording.” Carson hobbled over, urgency overriding pain, and grabbed his arm. “There’s nothing on the life sign’s display.”
He pointed along the length of the ‘jumper to the dark HUD on the windscreen.
“Do we really know if it’s working?” Cody asked, his hand curling around the lever. “They fritzed before when the thing was on the roof. Maybe they’re broken?”
“The stuff feels all right.” Carson tapped his temple.
The scream reached a piercing intensity, her fear cycling in her voice to the highest pitch.
“But--” Cody thumbed off the pistol’s safety. “--Can we chance it?”
Sarah screamed, Cody’s hand jerked and the hatch opened.
End Part Two
The hatch lowered with a hiss. Beyond the lights of the ‘jumper nothing moved. It was the true dark of night without any suburban illumination.
“Son,” Carson said, “shut the hatch, now.”
The alien appeared on the ramp, long arms extended.
“Stop!” Carson threw himself between Cody and the looming beast.
It drew itself to its full height, double jointed legs straightening. “You are Erus? Lord Carrs?”
“Don’t hurt him.” Carson kept his shorter, stockier body between Cody and the alien.
“Doc,” Cody ground out, frustrated. He gripped Carson’s shoulder and tugged, trying to get Carson to move behind him. “Get out of the way.”
“It moves like greased shit,” Carson hissed the expletive. He backed up towards the lieutenant. Cody extended his right arm by Carson’s ear. The report from the SIG deafened the doctor.
The shells passed through the monster as if it was not there.
“Oh, shit.” Cody said as if talking from a great distance.
“It’s the hologram,” Carson said unnecessarily. “It could be anywhere.”
Cody sprayed the entire hatch area. The hologram disappeared. Carson crouched down clapping his hands over his ears. A whisper of a breath lifted the hair at the back of his head. Cody was flung to the side, smashing against the bulkhead with a bone splintering crack. Sliding down the wall, he left a smear of wetness.
“No!” Carson punched blindly and met only air. “Get thee behind me, you evil sprite.”
“Erus. Ta’ar,” it spat the name loudly in the darkness.
“Don’t touch him. I forbid it. He’s my responsibility.”
Silence throbbed. The breath caught in the back of Carson’s throat.
“Oh, our Father--,” He whispered into the emptiness. Invisible hands clamped around his biceps and, abruptly, he was lifted from the deck and held aloft. The being coalesced before him, all angles and limbs. Carson saw himself mirrored in its obsidian, slanted eyes.
“Where’s Rodney? What did you do with Sarah?” Carson demanded.
The pinpricks of sharp nails pierced his shirt sleeves as he hung suspended between its two hands. The monster extended its neck and sniffed at Carson’s throat.
“Erus,” it mouthed.
“Quit with the bloody Erus stuff,” Carson bleated. “So I’m an Erus – So. Fuckin’. What?”
“It has been millennia since the Erus walked among us. They left the Ante, but the Ante followed and left us.”
“Us? There’s more of you?”
“Many,” it breathed, and leaned in for another inhale. “Waiting.”
Deep in Carson’s head a nail dragged. It felt like a migraine. He hadn’t had a migraine for over a decade, not since he had had to live in Halls of Residence at University. He kicked out, smashing his toes. The alien did not even blink. Carson felt his muscles turning elastic, his head flopping back, held only in place by skin and tendons.
“Some kind of injected neurotoxin?” he mused, manically. He realised, distantly, that his ankle did not hurt. “But stop hurting my head. I don’t like it. Get out. You’re broken. You’re wrong.”
“Why did you make the Dd’el?”
“You spoke with Rodney?” He felt horribly disconnected and closed his eyes against the strobing lights. They burnt his eyelids.
“He is an abomination.” The voice said from an impossible distance.
“He is not. He’s my…”
McKay scowled as he walked the perimeter-base of the circular pit. Carson was right; the alien was nutty as a fruitcake, else why force him down into a hole containing a two-storey tall defunct energy column and a box of tools?
“Give the genius a way out – why don’t you?” he had said when forced unceremoniously down into the deep pit. The way out -- a set of rungs -- had been retracted into the shiny wall, but there had to be a mechanism somewhere to make them stand proud.
The pit had not answered him. The walls were black and glassy and only reflected his brilliance.
“And I’ve got a set of tools,” McKay said to the world at large. “Some food would be nice. Feeling a bit woozy here.”
He aimed a haphazard glare at the column. He had been excited for a heartbeat on seeing it; it was formed of the same amber matrix of the zero point modules but on a giant scale. The alien obviously wanted him to look at the column, therefore he had not looked at the column.
It was pretty fascinating, though. However, finding the mechanism to extend the ladder was significantly more important.
The distance from the central column to the curved wall was about three meters – too far to span and crab walk between the column and the wall, even if he was capable of Teyla-like gymnastics.
McKay flopped down to the floor and mutinously crossed his arms. He had covered the walls with the finest of fine-tooth combs and he had scrutinized the area which housed the retracted ladder until his fingertips had started to bleed. The only answer was that the release mechanism had to be on the surface.
He swore, harshly, under his breath.
The column mocked him. He had wanted to examine it -- he burned to delve into its depths -- and now, since there seemed to be no way of making the ladder stand proud, he could.
McKay looked up and scrambled to his feet. The alien stood at the edge of the pit; he held a limp Carson by the scruff of his neck. Elongated fingers wrapped almost twice around his neck, and the thin, double jointed arm that effortlessly held Carson up seemed to be mechanically inadequate to the task.
“Your Lord Carrs.” And it dropped Carson.
“No, no, no, no.” McKay reached up arms outstretched, calculating maths and probabilities and knowing that he would break his spine. A net of lightning arced over his head, catching Carson like a fly in a spider’s web. Both men froze, McKay opened mouthed in shock and Carson unconscious within a force field. For a moment, he wondered if Carson was going to be held over his head like something to aspire to. Then the tendrils slowly extended under Carson’s weight and he descended. McKay ducked away from the flickering energy strands. As Carson touched the ground the failsafe snapped back to the top of the pit and faded.
“Repair the tektonikos.” It turned away, dropping down to crouch on all fours and stalked off.
McKay threw a scowl in its wake as he crouched at Carson’s side. “Carson?” he demanded shaking his shoulder.
The doctor rocked once, twice, but did not even moan.
“Carson, Carson.” The doctor was twisted uncomfortably on his side, face pressed against the glassy floor. McKay shrugged out of his tac vest and jacket and folded the jacket in to a pillow. He rolled Carson onto his back, carefully situated his head on the pillow and then steadfastly straightened his limbs.
“Come on, Carson.” He patted his face with little slaps. Leaning close, he hollered, “Carson! Emergency!”
Nary a flicker.
“Completely out for the count.” McKay leaned over and gingerly set his ear against Carson’s chest. “Yay, Carson, still beating. You just stay there sleeping, and I’ll save the day. Again.”
He stood and contemplated the column and the tools. There was no obvious mechanism to lower the amber column into the ground, so he sussed that it stood proud. Foolish, foolish, alien and now he had Carson. The day was indeed looking up. Suiting up for work, he pulled his vest back over his t-shirt and fastened the clasps. Ready, McKay crouched and pried off one of the panels at the base. Evidently the ‘thing’ produced a fair amount of heat as a by-product, accounting for the fused, glassy walls.
“Curiouser and curiouser.” He flicked out his life signs detector and analysed the residual radiation. The spectrum was tweaked towards the infra-red. Even now the walls were warm and sweat was trickling down his spine. “How totally inefficient.”
McKay looked up and down. How far did the amber matrix penetrate the earth? Rapping his knuckles against the crystal didn’t cause any resonance, but he did not expect it to. It would have to be solidly rooted in the earth.
“Geothermal energy? We are on the edge of a continental rift structure.” He brushed his hot, sweaty forehead. “Right, geothermal. And, Carson, it’s being inefficiently transformed. It’s a giant geothermal ZPM. And it’s broken.”
McKay popped off every base panel he could see, revealing the innards of the housing of the crystal. He dropped down onto his haunches and peered into the workings. There were four coils set to transform the thermal energy into another form.
“I know that the Ancients liked their redundancies, but this is ridiculous. Unless…” He rifled through the box of tools.
McKay abandoned the box and crawled over to the doctor’s side. “Carson?”
Carson’s eyes opened a fraction and they seemed to be all pupil.
“Oh my, Carson, you’re drugged out of your gourd, aren’t you.” He patted Carson’s warm, stubbly cheek. “Come on. Come on.”
The eyes opened a fraction more and McKay had never seen pupils so dilated, their irises the merest filament of blue.
“Well, the eyes are open, but there’s no one at home.” He poked Carson, hard, right in the fleshy bit where the collar bone met the shoulder and gained no reaction. “That didn’t work.”
With a sigh, he crawled on his knees back to the column. “Okay, Carson, I’m going to figure out what’s wrong with this thing and then bargain our way out of here.”
“Yes, I will figure it out,” he replied to Carson’s silent answer. “Genius, here.”
He slid the first of the first coils from the housing and carefully scrutinised the curled strand. There were no flaws in the crystalline structure. The next one was intact, as were the third and the fourth.
“They’re all right. I’d guess that they’ve been replaced fairly recently. Someone’s tried to repair this giant dildo and failed. Someone who only knows how to repair.” He ducked down and identified the end stage geothermal transmission system – a bright, sparkly, unused unit. “No evidence of trying to get around the problem.”
McKay craned his head over his shoulder and checked on Carson. He was breathing, lightly, with only a bare lift of his chest.
“Tried and failed. Someone who can read instructions, but no real understanding of the process.” McKay pondered, “The sabotage on the DHD was inventive, but logical? Hmmm?”
McKay bent his formidable intellect to the problem, musing that ‘formidable intellect’ described it very well. He hooked up his life signs detector (in energy mode) to the column and traced the separate elements deep within the giant crystal. The matrix was still processing energy, but the transformation process was damaged. He scavenged the alien’s tool box and taught himself how to use the previously unknown geothermal monitor contained inside. The device would throw out a threatening level of gamma radiation if used. So he set it aside, mentally cataloguing that the next time that the Genii wanted to trade it would make the perfect gift. They were already doomed.
Habitually, he checked on Carson and finally noticed that his eyes were open and watching.
“About time. I was getting bored.” He shuffled back to Carson’s side and bestowed a pat on his cheek. “Hey?”
Carson slowly closed his eyes.
“No, open them.” McKay kept the patting up like he was going for the Guinness Book of Records. “Open those baby blues.”
The eyes switched open. No recognition flared within the depths. The pupils were still widely dilated.
“Carson?” McKay clicked his fingers over the man’s face. “Anyone in there?”
McKay caught Carson by his jacket lapels and hauled him into a sitting position, angling him to rest against the shiny wall.
“Come on, Lord Carson. Wakey wakey. Yeah, Lord Carson, that’s what the whacked out alien called you. It’s like talking to a manikin.” He let go and Carson promptly flopped to the side.
“Whoops. Sorry about that,” McKay said as he caught Carson and propped him back up. He saw himself reflected in pupils like mirrors. There was not a hint of colour on Carson’s pale Celtic skin. “Come on clap your hands or something.”
The hands twitched and then came together in a dull, uncoordinated flap.
“Go, Carson,” McKay encouraged, and then checked that no one had overheard. “And again. Clap.”
The second clap was just as ineffectual as the first, but at least he had tried.
“Carson, stick your tongue out.”
A hint of tongue peeked between his teeth.
“Ah,” McKay said, realising. “I see that this is the drugs making you suggestible part of the experience. Tell me where Sheppard is?”
The faintest of lines dug in between Carson’s thick eyebrows.
“Teyla? Ronon?” McKay’s voice rose. There was no response, no real indication that Carson was processing. “Let’s try and walk this off. Right, stand up.”
Obediently, Carson tucked his feet under him and stood. Even under the brainwashing of drugs, his face crumpled as he put weight on his bad ankle. McKay caught him as he stumbled and lowered him to floor.
McKay grimaced. “Sorry, about that – I forgot. You’re getting heavy in your old age. This is usually when you berate me.”
Carson glared blankly into the ether, the faintest rill of saliva burgeoning at the corner of his mouth.
“Swallow,” McKay ordered, with a shiver.
McKay grinned until his face hurt. “This could be kind of fun.”
Carson blinked slowly.
“I just think these things,” McKay said and patted Carson’s shoulder, “I wouldn’t do anything. Honest. Come on, lay down.”
Carefully, he guided Carson onto his side, pillowing his head back on his folded up jacket.
“I’ll just go and keep figuring out how to get us out of here. You have a nap. You’ll feel better soon. Probably.” Hot, sweaty and sticky, he shuffled back to the column and continued stripping out the components.
“What’s up with this place?” Sheppard demanded as they turned down yet another featureless corridor of white tiles and lapis lazuli edging. “Are we going around in circles or what?”
“It would be easier if we were in a forest.” Teyla let out the slightest of smiles to tell them that she knew that her statement was meant, somewhat, in jest.
Ronon stopped, making his team stop. “It’s not right. What does your Ancestor’s scanner tell you?”
“Walls and shit.” Sheppard held it up. “I’m not getting any life signs except ours.”
Ronon twisted his beard in fingers, curling it into a tight knot. “It’s not right. Doesn’t feel right.”
“Carson, say after me: sausages.”
“Why?” came the croaked reply.
“Yes!” He spun on his heel abandoning his tools. “You’re awake.”
Carson scrubbed at his face with a broad hand. “What… what happened?”
He rolled his head on the jacket, peering blearily up the pit. His mouth opened and closed without a word. McKay picked his way over the dissected remains of the column’s energy transformation unit. For a good two hours, while he had worked, he had kept up a running commentary, in between ordering Carson to speak and had been met by resounding silence.
“Don’t you remember?” Squatting, he loaned a hand to help Carson into an upright position. His friend flopped against him; the first instinct was always to move, but he restrained himself. Carson was a solid weight leaning into him, too warm and vulnerable. His t-shirt was sticky with perspiration in the dry, hot air. Settling down, back against the wall, McKay let Carson fold into his side.
“Oh, God, that alien.” Carson pushed the heel of his hand against his forehead. “Cody let it into the ‘jumper.”
“Hormones.” He rested the back of his head against the glassy wall.
“What about the rest of the team?”
Carson sat up as if shocked. “You were kidnapped. The alien took you.”
“I know that.” McKay rolled his eyes. “What happened to everyone back at the ‘jumper?”
“It was… Dear God, I’ve got a headache.”
“Doozy, isn’t it?”
Carson blinked up at him. “Oh, aye, you were took, weren’t you.”
“I see that your command of grammar fails under the influence of drugs.”
“What’s happening, Rodney?” Carson snapped.
“He’s not my friend, Rodney.”
“The whacked-out alien kidnapped me straight from the puddlejumper. It had some kind of cloaking technology. Made itself look like…” McKay trailed off as he remembered the autopsy slab. “Sarah! Yes, some kind of holographic overlay which made him look like Sarah. I woke up in a lab. standing in the corner.”
“Rodney, you’ve gone as white as a sheet.”
Carson fumbled for McKay’s pulse. He shook him off with a flick of his wrist, but he couldn’t move away without dumping the woozy doctor on the floor.
“Then the alien grabbed me,” McKay said managing a flat tone of voice, “and it frogmarched me here, forced me down the ladder and told me to fix the energy station.”
“Just like that?” Carson asked, blinking.
“That was a succinct summary. Do you want the long-winded version? What happened in the ‘jumper? Where’s Sheppard?”
“It drugged you.” Carson finally captured his arm.
“Carson,” he whined as he submitted to clammy fingers gripping his wrist. “It drugged you. The second time in less than a day. You’re the one that should be checked out. Do you know where Sheppard and the others are?”
“Rodney? Did you hit your head?”
“Why?” McKay leaned away so he could look Carson in the eyes. The left one was bloodshot, a tiny little vessel had blown in the corner setting up a starburst of red.
“You’re not normally so quick to dismiss your own health.”
“Well, excuse me. I’ve got a lot on my mind. I repeat: Where’s Sheppard?”
“Colonel Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon left Cody and me in the ‘jumper and came into the temple to rescue you and Sarah,” Carson said.
“Really?” McKay said slowly.
“Yes, Rodney, really. As soon as Colonel Sheppard realised what had happened they set out after you.”
“I… So where are they? You’ve been mimicking a drooling idiot for over two hours and they haven’t marched in and rescued us. Why?” McKay’s voice rose and he pulled, abruptly, away.
Carson flopped, but caught himself with an outstretched arm. “Rodney?”
“We have to get out of here.” Hand on the wall, McKay scrambled to his feet, kicking a pile of matrix tablets as he stood.
McKay ran a hand over his hair. Pit, column, smooth walls, went the assessment: no help here. Pit, column, smooth walls.
“Can that thing help?” Carson pointed at the giant ZPM.
“This thing--” McKay turned to the column. “--transforms geothermal energy from deep within a fissure vault directly beneath us into a very curious form of electrical energy. Take away two of those coils and we could have megavolts. This thing in Atlantis would be a godsend. It’s a little bit big to shift, though. The additional two coils actually do something to the electrons. It reduces the efficiency and the total volts. I don’t have the equipment here to analyse the output, but it’s counter intuitive – it’s not efficient.”
Carson cracked a smile. “So why do it?”
“To power something very specific,” McKay answered automatically.
McKay flung his hands in the air. “How should I know? I don’t have a crystal ball. It could be anything, from a watch to a volcano detector. You would design the ‘whatever’ just to draw the output only from this transformer. But why make whatever you’ve designed so specific?”
“One big thing?” Carson waved vaguely at the enormous column.
“Or lots of little things,” he snapped.
Carson slumped down, resting his head against the wall, so he could watch McKay with the least amount of effort. “And it’s broke?”
“Yes. No. The central processing unit was replaced. It’s not accepting any commands. But is it a hardware fault? Parts of the interior are definitely degraded. I need my laptop to truly diagnose what’s happening. Plus one of the matrix control tablets has been removed and replaced with a blank unformatted tablet. Deliberate? Or an idiot?” McKay held up the offending transparent tablet. “There’s some evidence of minor jury rigging and someone has tried to repair it but they didn’t have a clue. Two, possibly three, people have worked on this recently. One with knowledge and the other just trying aimlessly.”
“It looks really broke, now, though.” Carson looked at the individual parts strewn across the floor.
“If I stamp on that tablet and that coil--” McKay pointed and his foot twitched, “--it will even more difficult to repair.”
“Are you going to do it?”
“Why?” Carson asked.
“Because I don’t know what’s going on.”
“We need to get out of here.”
“Tell me something I don’t know. But I’m not Spiderman.”
“I thought you were Superman.”
“You wouldn’t find this so amusing if you’d seen the lab. with… Ooooo, Spiderman.” McKay bent, picked up an extraneous length of coiling and then pitched it into the air up above the top of the pit. It reached its apogee and then felt back to earth. As it passed the boundary of the pit, the energy flared and caught it. The coil was slowly deposited back on the floor.
“I know how to get out of here.”
“How?” Carson slowly clambered to a foot and balanced with one hand against the wall.
“I get to be Spiderman.”
“You’re doing very well, Rodney,” Carson encouraged.
McKay sniffed loudly and inched another handhold up the side of the craggy, giant ZPM. No doubt the fit and lithe Colonel Sheppard would have scaled it effortlessly. McKay did not like enclosed spaces, lemons, hymenopterans, people with contagious infections and he certainly did not like rock climbing.
He had sufficient imagination that he could easily picture the drop off the side of the column and a screaming fall to the hard floor. But that was not a problem: the Ancient spider web force field would catch him.
Finally, he wrapped his fingers on the jaggy edge of the pinnacle of crystalline structure and huffing and wheezing pulled himself on to the top. Footing was precarious amidst the proud edges of the crystals.
“Careful, Rodney. Don’t fall on those edges, they look sharp.”
“Comments from the peanut gallery aren’t helping.”
The tip of the column extended clear of the pit. Across the divide, banks of control suites and monitors waited to be examined. He perched on the edge of the column and judged the distance. It was impossible; a human could not make that jump, especially without a running start.
Heart in his mouth, he leaped, as far as he could, up and out. Arms and legs extended, he increased his surface area. The energy tendrils surged out and he writhed deliberately within them, using his momentum to surf to the far edge. Time was of the essence as he slid forwards. He calculated velocities and factored in inertia. Reaching out, his fingertips curved around the decorative moulding along the edge of the pit as he was slowly lowered. Inexorably, he swung down until his belly was flat against the wall as he maintained his grip on the knotwork edging the top of the pit.
The majority of his weight was supported by the force field, otherwise he knew that he wouldn’t have the upper body strength to straight lift his mass to the edge. Grunting, he got an elbow over the raised knotwork. Scrabbling over the top bruised his abdomen severely and probably ruptured his spleen. He rolled over away from the edge, spread out his arms and legs and flopped. The ceiling was plain and nicely boring, he looked at it for a long while.
“Rodney?” Carson called.
McKay rolled his eyes and then slowly turned onto his stomach. The banks of monitors and equipment were arranged in chest high hexagonal pillars equidistant apart across the level. The closest one next to the pit probably housed the mechanism to extend the ladder. Rubbing his bruised belly, he stood and headed to the likely pillar. When he peered over the side of the pit, Carson was looking straight back at him, quivering with apprehension.
“Rodney, are you okay?”
“Yep.” He slapped a hand on the control panel and the ladder extruded from the wall. “Do you think you can make your way up on one foot?”
Carson didn’t bother to answer. Setting both hands on a rung just above his head, he hopped onto the ladder. Huff followed puff as he laboriously made his way up. When his dark head popped over the edge, McKay caught his collar and hauled him up and out of the pit.
“Oh, boy.” Carson paused a moment on hands and knees. “Just let me get my breath and then we best find poor, wee Sarah. She must be terrified.”
McKay’s stomach turned to ice cold lead. He said without preamble, “She’s dead, Carson.”
Carson’s head jerked around. “What?”
“The alien killed her. I saw her body.”
“Are you sure?”
McKay hauled Carson to his foot and dragged an arm over his shoulders. “Unmistakable.”
Carson’s eyes darkened as he processed those words. “Oh, I’m sorry that you had to see that, Rodney.”
“Look,” McKay said sharply, “we need to take five minutes to look around here before we go and find Sheppard. You game?”
“Yes, Rodney,” Carson said levelly. “Let’s figure out what’s happening.”
First settling Carson to lean against what appeared to be the most unimportant control pillar -- in case his gene decided to do something stupid -- McKay headed to the central pillar. He let his fingers dance over the console playing a symphony of discovery.
“What I don’t understand, why the big ZPM when there’s enough power from somewhere else to power all this stuff?” Carson waved at all the working monitors on top of the hexagonal pillars.
“The ‘giant’ ZPM has a different role to play,” McKay explained for what felt like the thousandth time. “But once again no manuals explaining what is what. It’s not really a ZPM, it just shares the crystalline housing in common with a ZPM. Vacuum space isn’t involved.”
“Something that the alien covets,” Carson mused. “Can you estimate how long it’s been broken?”
McKay called up the logs. He scanned the scrolling information on the data screen. “It’s been malfunctioning for 127 erms – however long that is. It died 0.06 erms ago. Back-ups automatically kicked in.”
“So something could still be powered by this specific electricity from the back-ups?” Carson checked.
“I don’t have a laptop so I can’t interrogate the CPU, but--” McKay pulled his energy detector from his vest, “—we could track the novel energy signature and find whatever’s being activated.”
“Wouldn’t it better if we got out of here?” Carson said nervously.
“Knowing Sheppard he will be where the action is and this energy is powering something pretty specific. It’s inevitable they’ll come together.” McKay tapped the key pad. “Sheppard’s not here and it’s been at least four hours. So I guess it’s my turn to rescue him.”
“Crap.” Carson hopped over to lean against the primary console. He glanced to the left and to the right, looking pale and discomforted and uncomfortable in his own skin. “Only someone who knows as much as you could sabotage the DHD and the energy column.”
“Indisputably.” McKay scratched at the mole on his jowl. “No, actually, they just need the basic intelligence to read the instruction manual -- not that we ever found a lot of them. Okay, there had, or has, to be a person with a degree of Ancient knowledge here in the temple.”
“Who left with the entire population of the city, rather than stay here,” Carson said.
“Well, that’s reassuring.”
“Or, the people were scared and left, and an Ancient descended and trapped what they were running from here in the temple?”
“Again reassuring,” McKay said sarcastically. “The supposition that it was an Ancient is unproven at this time, but it’s a good working hypothesis. We’re also assuming that it is the alien that they ran away from.”
“Well, it’s pretty scary; I’d run away from it,” Carson said honestly.
“We’re also assuming that they ran away.”
“That’s really scary.” Carson swayed on the spot. McKay reached out and steadied him, gripping his bicep.
Carson smiled a thank you, posture firming as he gripped the computer’s housing. McKay loosened his hold -- checked for any wavering -- and then released him fully to go back to pecking at the console.
“Maybe the alien trapped the humans in here?” McKay continued, playing Devil’s Advocate.
“Where are they? They would show up as life signs on your monitor. Unless, of course they’re dead,” Carson finished soberly. “Sheppard said that the houses were cleared. People had time to leave. And this thing was stuck here. I figured that’s why it took you, to figure out how the gene was incorporated in your DNA and then it could steal a ‘jumper and escape.”
“It took me, Lord Carson, because of my supreme intellect and Mr. Fixit qualities, not because of your potluck ATA soup. Still why not do that? It’s got the medical know how.”
Carson could also offer alternate hypotheses, when necessary. “It’s alien; maybe it found out that the gene wouldn’t take?”
“Why the tests then? You and what it did to Sarah -- it dissected her brain.” McKay grabbed Carson’s arm and dragged it over his shoulder. “Let’s get out of here. Rescue Sheppard.”
”Yeah, great. I’m gimpy and you’ve got to carry me. Great rescue party.”
End part three
“I noticed something. Did you?” Carson asked as they hobbled along yet another a cold, white tiled corridor. Every now and again he resorted to hopping a few steps, just for a moment’s relief. Rodney’s grip on his wrist was bruisingly solid as he kept Carson’s arm pulled over his shoulders.
“I notice lots of things. What specifically?” Rodney licked dry, dehydrated lips. Carson would have sold his left kidney for a canteen of water for them.
“The alien left us alone a long time. But it told me that there were lots of aliens. Why did no one check on us?”
“And you’re just telling me this now?” Rodney said acerbically.
“Excuse me.” Carson rolled his eyes. “I forgot that it told me. I was suspended three foot in the air and half drugged at the time.”
“Three foot in the air?” Rodney clarified, unconsciously glancing at the high ceiling.
“Yeah, it grabbed me and straight lifted me until my head brushed roof of the jumper.”
“That’s interesting. It doesn’t appear on the life signs detector either.” They paused at a crossroads and ever so slowly peeked around the corner. Both simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief when nothing jumped out at them.
“That’s a bit of a non sequitor,” Carson said, as they continued painfully on their way. “It didn’t appear on the life signs detector in the puddlejumper either. What are you thinking, Rodney?”
“That we’ve got an alien that’s capable of medical voodoo and someone – maybe another alien – that can engineer after a fashion. I mean, it’s not as good as me. Interesting, eh?”
Carson couldn’t help smile at the blind invitation to feed McKay a line. “Why is an alien medic in a tau’ri facility and why is the engineer also an alien?”
McKay tilted his head, so he could look at Carson out of the corner of his eye. “Hmmm.”
“We need to find the temple’s equivalent of the Operations Tower control room and then I’ll explain.”
“Why don’t you tell me now?” Carson winced and stumbled as he came down too hard on his ankle. Agony writhed up his leg bones and his gorge rose. Rodney held him steadily as Carson gripped his forearm hard enough to draw bruises. He blew out a harsh breath.
“Because it’s just a hypothesis, I haven’t proved anything,” Rodney continued when he straightened.
“Just a hypothesis, yeah?” Carson said between gritted teeth, mentally willing the pain to recede. “You don’t want to share when you don’t have all the information. Funny that.”
Rodney cast him a perplexed glance. “You still feeling a little drugged?”
“Now’s not the time to get into professional courtesies between fellow scientists, now’s the time to tell me what you’re thinking.” Carson breathed heavily through the pain. He wanted to kick and spit and rend and tear. His temper was fractured. “Gimme a second.”
Rodney seemed content to stand still for the moment. Flicking up a Velcro flap, he pulled out his life signs detector from his vest. “Is your head hurting?”
Carson slid from Rodney’s side, grabbed one of the extruded light fittings, and used it to stay upright.
“We can rest here a little bit.” Rodney swung in a tense circle, detector in his hand.
“No,” Carson growled. “Just tell me what you’re thinking.”
The scanner chimed.
“Hang on.” Rodney raised a finger as he scrutinized his detector. “I tweaked this to register coherent light. I’m registering multiple emissions in the rather poor range of this Ancient detector and they’re moving.”
“So, what does that mean?”
“Ahead of us is a shifting holographic maze. Maybe this is why Sheppard and the others haven’t found us,” Rodney mused. “They could be being led around by their noses.”
Carson craned his head and looked at the screen. He was always surprised by the crude graphic display on the LSD screen: limited area; basic lines indicating gross physical structures and circles showing the occurrence of the selected radiation type. The secondary screen provided more detailed text based information – the information was, of course, in Ancient. Rodney turned the detector on its side and hummed under his breath.
“Can you go on?” Rodney asked.
Carson’s answer was to hop away from the wall and sling his arm over Rodney’s shoulder. Rodney grabbed his wrist, hooked an arm around his waist, executed an abrupt right turn and dragged them through a white wall.
“Bloody H--” Carson blurted as they emerged on the other side in another globe illuminated corridor, decorated with panels of golden and brown hexagons and white tiles.
Rodney chewed on his bottom lip as he studied the life signs detector, now held down at Carson’s waist. “Let’s go thataway,” he said nodding right. “Might be worth checking out – the angles are right.”
“I don’t know, Rodney. Perhaps we should leave. We’ve got no way to defend ourselves.”
“Sheppard won’t leave until he knows we’re safe. He’s got this thing about leaving people behind enemy lines.” Rodney angled the detector so Carson could see it better. “We’re in the inner sanctum – so to speak – the set up is more like Atlantis. The angles of these corridors indicate an orientation to a central hub. That’s probably the centre’s equivalent of the Operations Tower. There’ll probably be an intercom system, sensor arrays and monitors. If we get there we can see what’s happening and talk to Sheppard.”
“I suppose,” Carson said grudgingly, “It’s a gamble whatever we do – try and get out of here or try and find Colonel Sheppard. If there’s only one alien, it seems to need to lie dormant quite regularly. Maybe we’ll be lucky and manage both.”
“You noticed that.”
“Yes, no one checked on us as we tried to escape and, bloody hell, it took us over half an hour. The alien said that there’s lots of them. They got to be hibernating like the Wraith.”
“Maybe not exactly like the Wraith,” Rodney said as he dragged them along.
“Come on, Rodney, give in to your inner showman. Tell me all ready!”
“This is about me looking at your research, isn’t it?” Rodney sighed heavily. “Okay, okay, I apologise. I’m sorry. Are you happy now?”
“Rodney,” Carson rebuked gently.
The report of gunfire quashed any fight in the bud. Rodney’s head came up like a scenting gun dog. Many rounds spanging reverberated through the ceramic-lined corridors, making it impossible to accurately identify where the sounds were coming from.
“That’s a P-90: Sheppard.” Rodney jerked forward, moving away from Carson. His eyes were wide and filled with consternation. He tapped his ear piece, “Colonel Sheppard?” Receiving no reply, he fumbled at the transmitter unit in his breast pocket clicking the button. “Colonel? Sheppard?”
There was no response.
“We must be too far away from them?” Carson hazarded. “You know it doesn’t reach outside.”
“We can hear fire.” He twitched to the left, to the right, trying to get a bead on the direction of the shooting. But the sound was reverberating in the maze of corridors. “We have to --. The Operations Tower. I think that I can stop this. Or at the very least find them.”
Carson stumbled to a side wall, gingerly reached out to check it was solid before leaning tiredly against it.
“I have to go and find them,” Rodney said as he glanced furtively down both angles of a t-junction.
“Go then.” Carson waved in the vague direction of the central hub. “I’ll follow.”
Rodney turned and Carson felt like a slide under a microscope as he stood, balancing on one foot, supported by a hand on a wall -- all in all a complete waste of space and unable to contribute.
“No. That doesn’t work either.” Rodney bounced forward, grabbed Carson around the waist, hauled his arm over his shoulder and yanked him bodily along. Tensing at the memory of pain, Carson set a foot on the floor and proceeded to hobble at his side as fast as he could to a litany of agony.
Carson was wracked in perspiration by they time they reached the pseudo-familiar environs of an Ancient control room in an Operations Tower. Rodney set him on the bottom flight of the stairs leading up to the main, secondary control level and then took the stairs two at a time and disappeared out of sight. Carson flopped, barely feeling the bites of the risers against his back. He fumbled at his trouser pockets, hoping to drag out a blister pack of Tylenol or even better a vial of morphine. If he had had his tac vest on when he had been kidnapped from the puddlejumper he would have had a basic medical kit at his disposal. The only thing in his pocket was the fragment of Atlantean primed material. He rolled it in his fingers, commanding it to extrude into a fine strand as long as his forearm. Blinking, he lost control and it snapped back into a lump of inert matter.
His head felt inexplicably better.
“Rodney!” He flipped over and crawled up the steps as fast as he could, barking his knees and shins against the metal work. Rodney was a frenzy of activity, swapping matrix tablets back on forth on a device which looked suspiciously like a biometric sensor array. The man spun, reached over and slapped his hand down on the initiation pad belonging to the main screen which dominated the control hub.
“Rodney?” Carson said again.
Adept at multitasking, Rodney nodded in his direction and kept his attention on the screen, which was resolving a 3D display of the temple complex burrowed deep into the mountain face.
“It’s an android,” Carson said simply. “It all makes sense. The need for power - one Ancient made sentinel android staying active and all the others are sleeping because the geothermal ZPM is broke. The fact that it felt in my head like Ancient Tech.”
“Well, that was one clue that you didn’t feel like sharing. Oooh, that’s unusual,” Rodney added meanly as he continued working feverishly.
“You knew there were androids,” Carson snapped back.
“It was one hypothesis. I also wondered if there was an ID monster from Forbidden Planet. The android hypothesis is winning now. I believe--” his nose screwed up, “--that there’s two active androids in the temple. Anything else that you’ve forgotten that you want to tell me, hmm?”
“I just remembered now. I could feel it like a migraine gone wrong when it attacked us in the puddlejumper. Scraping through my head like a nail through shredded glass when I was drugged.”
Rodney glanced at him charily. Realising that flopping tiredly at the top of the stairs on his stomach was not giving the best impression, Carson got to his knees and crawled across to a solid looking barrel set next to the biometric sensor array and used it to drag his arse onto a wheeled stool.
“It’s been here a long, long time,” Carson added.
“I suspected. I think that the majority of the City was inhabited by the androids – hence no food or creature comforts in all the houses that Teyla and Sheppard searched. The specific power requirement function is to hold them here at this location. I guessed that they were androids since they used equipment which would kill any organic life form using them.” Rodney shook his head as the screen failed to resolve properly. He stabbed angrily at the panels. “The whole place, I think, was a training facility, for the poor, abandoned Tau’ri. The androids were left here to teach and heal the Ancient’s pets. The re-enactment of an Ancient City and the hologram tech was so that the androids didn’t freak out the uneducated masses going about their duties.”
“When they were teaching or doing voodoo they probably took on the appearance of a human.” Rodney shrugged. “We know that they can do it.”
“And when the geothermal ZPM started to breakdown the androids became inactive.”
“Inactive and probably corrupted over time.” Rodney charged across the floor and dropped to his knees before the 3D display. He levered off the lower panel and checked the banks of crystals. “It’s not like Atlantis, this place hasn’t been hibernating – it’s been active for over ten thousand years, it’s worn out.”
“Teyla said nothing about teaching, just that this was the City of the Healers,” Carson pointed out.
“When the Ancients ascended, or abandoned Pegasus, they left the androids as caretakers for the galaxy: healers, teachers, mechanical engineers…. The Healers were the androids that had the most redundancies and back up protocols -- because they were actually directly responsible for their charges’ lives -- so that they lasted the longest. They’re probably AI units and they’re always problematical – always trying to gain free will and all that that entails.” Rodney darted back to the sensor array and bestowed a short, sharp kick. “Work, you unmitigated piece of--”
“Rodney?” Carson didn’t think that he had ever seen Rodney kick a machine.
“Get over here, Carson, and see if you can charm this piece of shit to work.”
Before Carson could stand, Rodney had darted over, grabbed his stool and wheeled him over to the array. Gingerly, Carson set his fingertips in the series of light spots on the rank below the banks of transparent matrix tablets.
“What do you want me to do? It’s working.”
“Think of Sheppard. Get it to highlight another Erus in the complex.” Rodney looked at the main screen which still showed the vastness of the complex but no other information.
“Why me? You’ve got the gene?” Carson protested because Rodney expected it.
“Just do it.”
Carson pictured the gene in his mind’s eye, building the ordered sequence of nucleotide bases in gold and silver, scarlet and bronze. The base pairs waltzed elegantly before his eyes, delicately choosing their partners. Thymine and adenine minuetted with a duo of starburst swirls. Cytosine stamped, gripping guanine in a tight three armed grip.
“Carson,” Rodney rebuked. “Don’t go too deep. Just tell it to find an Ancient.”
Carson jerked free. “This place isn’t Atlantis.”
“We know that.”
“It feels different in my head.” Carson scrubbed at his arms, brushing away the goosebumps. Taking a deep breath, he set his fingertips back in the hollows. The central hub display bleeped. Multiple screens dropped in place like a set of cards, a cursor whizzing over the lines of rooms and walls. It finally settled on two screens, the centre one showed the temple’s Operations Tower. The second screen, indicating three hundred meters away according the the script at the side of the display, showed a bright golden spot that signified an ATA bearer -- likely Colonel Sheppard. Relieved, Carson pulled his hands free.
Rodney spun in a circle studying the backs of equipment. “No visuals, though.”
“It’s a biometric sensor array, Rodney.”
“If that thing was generating holographic images of us walking around there has to be a visual monitoring and recording system.”
Carson pushed the wheeled chair along the floor with one foot, scrutinizing the machines. “If the alien’s powered by the backup generator, if we switch that off, will it die?” he asked.
“I don’t see anything that even remotely looks like an Ancient energy shut down system.” Rodney’s mouth down turned. “I thought, I thought, that there would be more equipment here. The controls for the city. Even a weapons locker would be helpful. I’m going to have to resort to brute force at this rate.”
“It was the logical decision to come here,” Carson returned softly.
“I can’t hear any gun fire.” He looked as if he wanted to run into the fray.
“We don’t have any weapons,” Carson hurried to divert that idea. “We have no way to defend ourselves in direct confrontation -- there has to be something that we can do from here.”
“They could be dead all ready.”
Carson simply pointed to the life signs on the screen. Two others pulsated next to Sheppard’s golden circles. “The one with the greenish tinge is Teyla –- I selected for residual Wraith DNA -- and the other, I guess is Ronon.”
The primary map screen decreased resolution showing a series of blank rooms and corridors burrowing into several hundred yards of rock face. Nothing was labelled. Rodney ran his long fingers over the screen and Carson noticed that his nails were ragged and torn.
“This is probably where the temple’s ZPMs are housed.” Rodney tapped a hexagonal shaped room one hundred and seventy meters and eighteen degrees of dead reckoning from their position. His fingertip squeaked as it drew a path to his team.
“ZPMs?” Carson queried.
“Takes a considerable amount of power just to keep this place illuminated and more importantly aerated.” Rodney suddenly brightened. He tapped three tablets in rapid succession. “Ooooh, we’ve got power. Damn!” His mood shifted mercurially. “They are almost, but not quite, at entropy--”
“Rodney, we’re trying to figure out where the android is.”
Carson moved rapidly out of the way as Rodney descended on the biometric sensor array. His fingers flew over the tablets. He stopped momentarily and consulted his LSD, reading out loud the information on the lower text screen. A series of frequency modulations then appeared on the base of the main screen. The diagram blinked and two circles appeared, one on the same level as Sheppard and the other in the room adjacent to the ZPM room.
“Okay, I inputted the specific energy frequency and tracked it -- that’s the alien and that’s the backup generator that’s powering it.” Rodney pointed at the screen directly opposite where he guessed the temple ZPMs were situated.
“Go,” Carson said simply. “Run. Switch it off.”
“I can’t leave you here.” Rodney hovered indecisively.
“Rodney, the alien’s attacking Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon, three hundred odd meters away from here. I’ll be okay.” He waved the man away with a flick of his hands. “Run. Now. Go.”
“Look, just remember it’s Ancient Tech.” Rodney tapped his temple. “If it can teleport in or something, try and switch it off. Try and find the Ancient intercom and tell Sheppard to do that.”
“Go. Go.” Carson gestured emphatically.
“Going, going, gone.” Rodney called as he bolted down the stairs.
Carson folded his hands on his lap and contemplated the sudden silence with no small amount of anxiety. Suddenly – without Rodney filling all the edges – the silence was loud and threatening.
Ronon lay down suppressing fire. Sheppard sprawled at his feet, dazed, twitching uncontrollably beside Sarah’s wrapped corpse. Teyla crouched at Ronon’s knee spraying the lower region of the corridor with rounds.
“I still cannot see where the attack came from,” Teyla said.
They had been slowly working their way through the confusing mishmash of corridors; Ronon’s innate sense of being had objected to their nonsensical twisting through the maze with a rising gorge of nausea. Teyla, too, had insisted that the lay of the land changed around and Sheppard had accepted their judgment. Annoyed that it had taken them so long to figure out that they were trapped in a moving maze, Ronon had taken point, extending his blade, tapping walls and finding out which was real and which were not. Sheppard had a thing called a compass that he normally kept close to his heart and he had used it determine their direction. Slowly, they had made progress into the bowels of the temple. Then one moment Sheppard had been guarding their six, the next, he lay on the cold floor seizing. His forehead thudding rhythmically against the tiles with sharp, painful sounding taps. Ronon had released the harness holding the body on his back as he spun his blaster from its holster. Bolt after bolt blasted had down the corridor arching over Sheppard’s unconscious form.
“Hold.” Teyla raised her clenched fist and cocked her head the side, listening.
The final fired round fell to the floor and bounced to a stop.
Carson drummed his finger nails against his thighs. There was a molten metal spike in his ankle and some evil sprite was rocking it back and forth. The medical diagnostic scanner had indicated a bad sprain, but he was pretty sure now that the ligaments were ruptured -- surgery was in his future. Grimacing, one footed, he pushed the wheeled stool across the floor looking for some sort of communication device. They used their own comm. systems in Atlantis since they had yet to find the Ancient equivalent. There was nothing as prosaic as a microphone clearly labelled for him among the banks of equipment.
He was loathe to touch any unknown Ancient device. Even as a child he had been death to electronic equipment, breaking the television with appalling regularity. He would touch it and it would short, or the valves would blow in the back and one memorable experience he had depressed a channel button so hard that he had pushed it through the back of the telly. Eventually, it had reached the point that on a Friday evening before he was sent to bed his dad would ask him which channel he wanted the telly left on for kids’ television on Saturday morning. Watching the ‘Banana Splits’ on Saturday had become so traumatic that he had eventually given up and taught himself to read.
Being on Atlantis was a little bit like being five years old again – a menace to electronics.
Carson chair-sailed back to the main view screen. Rodney’s blip was moving speedily towards the room next to the ZPM room. They could only hope that the thing didn’t have batteries when Rodney switched the power off.
The series of golden circles in the corridor now looked a little muted compared to his own glowing ones in the Operations Tower control room. Automatically, Carson reached to his ear, trying to trigger his non-existent ear piece to send a medical team to what was obviously a medical emergency.
“Buggery and tarnation!” Carson swore. He needed a crutch. He had to get down there. Punching the consol with one short, fiery stab, he glared at the screen willing the colours to glow brighter. Okay, if he couldn’t find a crutch he could crawl. As he looked a white signal flared right next to his own.
“Oh,” Carson swallowed very slowly.
The hairs rose on the back of his neck.
They had already figured out that there had been lots of aliens running around the temple once upon a time. The mistake was assuming that the sabotaging alien had left.
Carson turned ever so slowly on the stool.
The thing unfolded from the blocky metallic barrel sitting next to the biometric sensor array. They had completely overlooked it. For all intents and purposes it merely resembled a waist high storage container. The outer protective casing enfolding back into the main body as it extended hydraulic limbs and teardrop shaped sensory on a long, concertinaed neck. The eye units swivelled independently, and then both focussed on him. Shimmering, the shark-like hologram suddenly overlay the metal skeleton.
“Oh,” Carson said, realisation dawning. “A hologram over a metal android.”
It took a measured step forward.
“Off!” Carson yelled backing up the yell with the strongest mental command he had ever managed.
It jerked and rocked back on its heels.
For a heartbeat, Carson thought that he had succeeded, but it straightened and regarded him with cold intensity.
‘Off!’ Carson clenched his fist tightly, grabbing elusive nothingness and crushing it to death. His own mind rocked between his ears.
“Protocols do not allow patients to switch off units,” it intoned.
“I’m not a patient,” Carson retorted. “Off!”
He could have sworn that it sighed. The holographic overlay shimmered and a tall, brown haired, pale skinned human form stood before him.
“Eruii cannot deactivate me.” It raised a finger. “I am not programmed to be deactivated. You would need the supervisors’ command codes and direct interface with the central entity to initiate a shut down. I cannot supply an Eruii with the codes. I do not have the codes therefore I cannot give you the codes if you so order.”
Carson’s mind bent sideways. This was a second android that Rodney had guessed might inhabit the facility. If he had not been sitting, he would have fallen on his bottom. His limbs felt like lead as blood pooled around his internal organs. The urge to puke was almost irresistible. He breathed through his mouth, heavily, as he self-diagnosed: moderate shock. Inanely, he thought that he could murder a proper cup of tea.
The android stood, arms hanging loosely and the human face remained impassive as it waited. Perhaps it had no real identity. Although, Carson noted, it did refer to itself as ‘I’.
“Do you know where the codes are?” Carson finally grated.
“That would defeat the objective of not supplying the codes.”
“You’re an android? An artificially intelligent, android doctor?”
It cocked its head to the side. “My remit includes systems and engineering.”
“Oh that’s a bit of a relief.” Carson slowly pushed the chair back a finger length. “The other one has to be a medic. Bit whacked, though.”
It moved a step and Carson scuttled backwards with a massive push, wheels screeching. The wheels went click-click as he skated across the floor. Flinging out a hand, he caught the edge of the glass panel at the top of the stairs and came to a halt.
“Rest assured my systems are still operating within normal parameters,” it said, tone even. Taking a measured step forward, its hands twitched and head bobbed out of synch with the swing of its legs. It if had been human, Carson would have wondered on Parkinson’s Disease.
“That one isn’t?” Carson grimaced. He had suspected that fact.
“The diagnostic capability inherent to all primary medical units required a meta level of processing above my own. When this facility reached a terminal level of degradation, in an attempt to go beyond its programming parameters and address the problem, the priskin unit cannibalised other units’ experiential processors.”
“And I guess that that didnae work very well.” Carson shifted to the edge of his seat.
“Correct. The unit is now compromised and safety and security measures were initiated.”
“You shut down the Stargate,” Carson noted.
“After enabling the migration of the Ta’ar inhabitants of the City. The priskin unit proved to be detrimental to the health of the local Ta’ar.”
Carson shuddered at the implications. “So you saved the Ta’ar in the City, and prevented any other Ta’ar from visiting the Healer’s City. Why didn’t you leave?” he wondered and then clicked his fingers. “Oh, of course you’re trapped by your specific energy requirements. You’ll run out of power eventually if you go through the Stargate. Pity that.”
“Indeed,” it said dryly.
“And you can’t figure out how to obtain power of another--” Carson wracked his brain for the technical term. “You can’t… erm… configure yourself to use something else? Take a battery pack with you?”
“I do not have the required knowledge to configure such a device. There is no information on that subject in the database. ”
But you looked, Carson observed. He flashed a toothy smile at the android and asked, “If an Ancient came to the temple would they consider you self determining and demand your destruction?”
“You are the Erus.” As it cocked his head to the side, Carson sensed cynicism and had his answer.
“Which means?” Carson asked. He shifted off the chair, balancing on one foot as he held the back rest. If push came to shove, he was going to throw the chair at the android and roll down the staircase.
“I require direction.” And Carson was torn by the neediness in its voice. The android’s neck extended further than any human’s, and a hint of obsidian blackness flared in artificial hazel eyes.
“You can’t give me the shut down codes, right?” Carson tugged at his earlobe as he pondered. “So we need to switch this Priskin fellow off? What other measures in your protocol should be… uhm… initiated.”
“Sealing of the facility followed by destruction of the facility and remaining units.”
“Isn’t that a wee bit… over the top?”
“Previous knowledge indicated that self determining artificial systems with self focussed moral imperatives are a significant threat to the Eruii and Ante and should be contained with all alacrity. There is no exception to this rule.”
“So why hasn’t it gone boom!” Balancing on one foot, Carson spread his hands mimicking a detonation.
“There is insufficient power to fuel the explosion.”
“What about the geothermal power source? If we repair it, will this place explode?”
“If the tektonikos was repaired it could be configured to explode. It will be difficult. The parts necessary to repair the tektonikos are no longer available. Resources to develop the required equipment no longer exist on this planet. I exceeded programming parameters to maintain the tektonikos for 14.7 erms, Erus.”
Carson would bet his last bar of chocolate it stood on the edge of deciding that survival was more important than some dead Ancient Erus programming. The joke was that it had crossed the line when it started its battle of wills with the medical android.
One of the androids had thrust Rodney in the pit to repair the column, the tektonikos, Carson guessed. Rodney had said that the tektonikos was irreparable, but knowing Rodney he would be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat. The question was: which android had dropped Rodney in the pit? This one or the medical android?
“Are there weapons in this facility?”
“Okay. Surgery suite. Portable medical lasers. Force field rib spreaders. Where are they stored?”
“I do not understand.”
And God love it, Carson saw that the thing looked totally perplexed. He pointed at the images on the screen. “Your mad mate is attacking my friends. We have to do something.”
Creepiness. Fingers and nails skritch-scratched up his spine. Rodney’s plan to switch off the battery was doomed to failure – else why hadn’t this android, who was so focussed on defeating the medical android, simply took a crowbar to it? Or it was just stringing him along because it was lonely and wanted to talk?
Carson stood tall. “Take me to the portable medical equipment – the medical lasers. Now,” he ordered.
McKay raced down corridors, slicing through holographic walls without blinking. A year ago he would have been wheezing and gasping, now he could run. He didn’t like it, but he could run. Ahead of him, gunfire sounded.
His grandmother would have washed his mouth out with soap.
McKay step-stumbled and skidded at a real corner, fingers scrabbling on the cold tiles to swing around as fast as humanly possible. He pounded along, knees and shins aching with every footfall. The next twist was hidden behind a holographic wall. McKay ran through it, shuddering as it dissipated around him. Legs pumping, he raced to the next corner and was not surprised as a façade of white tiles and blue mosaic edging warped into being. He breached the holographic wall to emerge in the corridor down from comrades and the subsidiary power room.
Ronon’s bellow of pain completely took him apart. For a heart stopping moment, he stopped and almost ran towards the sound.
“No!” he berated himself. His skills were in engineering not weaponry. The power room was adjacent the ZPM room, he gnawed on his lip as he ignored the bounty across the corridor and entered.
In the centre of the hexagonal room was a console aside a chest high pedestal. Terror thrumming, McKay raced over. In the centre of the pedestal was a recessed circle approximately twenty five centimetres in diameter.
Almost gibbering in excitement, McKay turned to the console. The set up was familiar. He scanned, absently noting that the resident charge was decaying, but that was hardly surprising. McKay lifted and resituated the central matrix tablet on the pedestal.
The resultant click sent a visceral belt through his gut. He knew he was smiling, his entire face felt stretched, as the ZPM rose from its housing.
He spent a breath, marvelling as it sat like a museum piece, before snatching the ZPM free and leaving without looking back.
Carson withheld a
succession of shivers by clamping his teeth painfully on the tip of his tongue
as the android carefully entwined a long arm around his waist. The disjunction
of the feel of the multi articulated limb and the visual of a single jointed
elbow made his skin crawl. The android effortlessly swung him around and
executed two long, limbed steps to abruptly stop by the other side of the wide
“Look down, Erus.”
“Eh?” Obediently, Carson looked down. The ochre floor with the darker red circle and line etchings was familiar. They stood just inside a circle. On closer examination, Carson realised that it was a loose spiral with the centre drawn as a solid dark circle. The android shifted him, so his toe touched the circle.
The tickle inside his head shifted, Carson barely looked at the android as white light flared up from the floor engulfing them.
A brand new room reformed around them. Glaring white ceramic tiled walls and padded gurneys situated so personnel could move completely around them greeted him.
“Oh, that was different.” Carson knew exactly where they were – or more accurately what kind of room they were in -- an emergency treatment suite. They had found one of the Ancient hospitals on Atlantis a few weeks earlier, but it had been far out on the northern pier. They had chosen to remain at the subsidiary medical care facility in the Operations Tower, moving a selection of Ancient equipment from the hospital to their base of medical operations. Carson had spent many hours exploring the hospital and the layout of the rooms, especially the treatment suites, followed a common format. He jerked in the direction of the stored emergency intervention tools beside the first bed but didn’t go anywhere as the android held him fast.
“Oi, Benton,” Carson remonstrated. “Get me over to that table.”
“Okay, do you have a name?”
“My designation is…”
“Benton, it is then. Treatment table, now.” Carson reached again in the direction of the table and the android smoothly moved him over. The man-high cabinet beside the bed yielded to a mental command, all the drawers extending. You had to love the Ancients; they were pretty anal. Their organisational skills were the definition of – ‘if it works don’t change it’.
“I need a first aid kit.” Carson looked left and right and hopped away from the android closer to the cabinet. “Go get me a bag, Benton.”
Carson lifted up the affectionately named ‘sternum cracker’. The length of a student’s ruler, it generated a clean blue laser blade at the tip and extended articulated arms to grip and peal back separated ribs. He secreted the cracker in the long pocket down the side of his trousers. Rapidly, he assessed the Ancient equivalent equipment, pulling out IV therapy kit, laser scalpels, manual suction system, multiple dressings and vacuum packed syringes. A small square case was dumped on the bed beside his loot. The drawer at chest height held a diagnostic body scanner which would provide a patient’s specs – Carson almost cuddled it.
“Benton, presumably you guys, since you operated as a hospital, have drugs and the facility to manufacture drugs?” The ones abandoned on Atlantis had long since decayed or evaporated.
“I maintained the hydroponics facility where some materials were generated. I have no further knowledge.”
“Bugger.” He needed the antiseptics, antibiotics, anti-virals, haemostatic drugs and at the very least normal saline and he’d be happier if he could place his hands on some epinephrine. He felt undressed without his medical kit. There was a tray with fluid filled vials but he lacked the information to use them. Arbitrarily, he grabbed handfuls and dumped them in the case.
He was abruptly aware of the passage of time.
“Are there transporters throughout the complex?”
Carson made another assessing scan of the emergency room, mentally cataloguing ‘must haves’ against ‘would really, really like’ and time. Propped in the corner was a recognisable pair of crutches. Humans were humans wherever they were birthed and the ergonomics were the same.
“Get me them.” Carson pointed. Ignoring the android, he scooped his loot on top the meds and closed the square case. He looped the carrying strap over his head. He spun on his heel and Benton was there offering the crutches.
“Thank you,” Carson said automatically. They were the type that wrapped around your wrists – bloody uncomfortable in the long term. The forearm supports twitched and then moved snugly around his arms. “Right, that’s different,” Carson said nervously. “Okay, okay, priorities: we need to get to where your mad mate is and my friends, okay?”
Benton regarded him woodenly.
“Benton?” Carson dredged up a little smile. “Please.”
The cessation of gunfire was as shocking as its initiation. His life signs detector indicated a t-junction, he showed up in the upstroke and three glowing spots and one white point of energy specific emanations were in the right hand side cross stroke. What the hell was he going to do when he got there, throw his ZPM at the android?
But if the shooting had stopped, had it ran out of energy?
“Sheppard?” He whispered into his comm.. Once again there was no response.
McKay slid to a halt a mere ten foot away from his team. He moved forward, shoulder blades brushing the wall. Pausing at the corner, McKay dropped to a crouch. Leaning out a fraction, he tried to see down the corridor without revealing himself.
Ronon was folded up, back against a wall, arms twisted under him and legs extended into the corridor – no one could lie like that and not be unconscious. Consulting his LSD, McKay swore silently as a holographic entity and life sign circles moved off in the opposite direction. Sheppard and the android were leaving and he doubted that Sheppard was going voluntarily.
McKay poked his head right out and saw the disturbing sight of Sheppard’s booted feet being dragged off down a corridor at right angles to the one where they had been attacked. Free to move, he scuttled to Ronon’s side, distantly noting that Teyla lay opposite, also unconscious. Stepping over a long black, plastic bag, he scooped up Ronon’s blaster. Jiggling the weapon, he checked the setting as he ran down the long length of the hallway. Heart in his mouth, he stepped out right into the other corridor.
The thing was dragging Sheppard along the floor by the scruff of his neck. The shot was clear. McKay firmed his stance, extended both arms, sighted, drew a breath and squeezed the trigger as he exhaled.
The bolt flew true, impacting the grey extended body. And the energy coruscated against the metal carapace protecting its torso.
“Damn,” McKay said succinctly. He re-aimed and fired smoothly at the creature’s jointed legs. The second joint on the right leg flared bright-red hot.
McKay allowed himself a moment’s satisfaction as it released Sheppard, dropping him to the floor with a bruising thud. The android craned its head, twisting it through one hundred and eighty degrees to stare at him directly.
McKay stood stock still, trapped by its gaze.
Then its stare shifted to the ZPM that he held.
“Uh, oh.” McKay realised, and with a high pitched bleat he turned and ran.
Carson hobbled towards the transporter spiral in the centre of the emergency treatment suite. Abruptly, Benton stopped.
“I am unable to assist you further. The bh’potenti has now been removed from its housing. I only have limited energy.” Benton stopped. The holographic overlay of both man and alien dissipated. It ratcheted down, limbs and torso folding together.
“Don’t you have, like, batteries or something?”
“The priskin unit has preferential use of resources. Its power cells are at full power. I have only ever had limited functionality.” Its left limb twitched spastically, trying to draw in to the centre unit, but then failing.
“Can I use the transporters without you?” Carson said urgently, watching it slowly shut down before his eyes.
“Within the primary complex only.”
“Command.” Its voice ebbed on the final consonant.
Carson manhandled one crutch into the other hand and reached out to lay a gentle hand on its sensor array. He hesitated a moment, hand hovering, before he finally touched Benton’s head.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know how to help you. The Ancient made you slaves to the power.” Carson nibbled his lip. Presumably, the Ancients had a good reason for their protocols, but they seemed to be driven by fear that the androids would evolve beyond their programming.
Benton’s arm appendage whipped out, digits curling tightly around Carson’s wrist. “Erus,” he said softly.
“Yes, Benton?” Carson returned tightly.
“I do not want to stop.” The light in its eyes faded.
Carson stood, waiting for Benton to release him. The grip around his wrist was ice cold. Finally, he twisted his hand, left and right until it was free. Benton hadn’t made it back to the self contained protective casing, he looked like a old transistor radio with the innards pulled out.
“I’m sorry.” Carson hobbled to the central disk. Standing in the centre, he stared back at the sight, so strangely sad. Benton had said that he could command the transporter – that seemed too vague an instruction. He had been blessed with a good memory, not photographic, but excellent nevertheless. He pictured the three dimensional image of the complex on the screen in the Operations Tower. He needed to get to the team. The last view of their life signs had been disturbingly poor.
Carson cracked open an eye. He hadn’t shifted. A mental ‘please’ didn’t work either.
Carson closed his eyes again and concentrated, mentally focussing on the right hand side hexagonal room where Rodney thought that the ZPMs were housed. It seemed sensible that there would be a transporter platform by the ZPMs. The lights engulfed him and a utilitarian Ancient dressed room reformed around him. This room had the same base colour scheme as Atlantis rather than the more golden hues of the Healer complex. He could be back home.
“That’s worse than the Stargate.” Carson checked all his finger and toes were in place.
The light panels on the walls behind the metallic scrolling overlay glowed and Carson felt the familiar stroke of activating Ancient technology. The triangular pedestal in the centre of the room bore three circles on the top: ZPM holders. Rodney had certainly identified the room correctly. Two of the three holes were empty. The third looked jury rigged, a length of cabling linking the base of the inserted ZPM with a bank of intricate metal work on the far wall. It didn’t look like any sort of interface with which Carson was familiar. There was a definite spiral pattern in the fluid metallic patterning and the cable was inserted in the eye.
Fascinating, but it was hardly the moment to analyse it. He made a mental note to mention it to Rodney, if there was time. Swinging, his crutches out, he moved with the jerky flow of the gimpy in the direction of his companions.
Reach, hop, balance, reach, hop, balance – with each incremental stride forward the case banged against his rib cage. Sweat made his scalp itch and the back of his t-shirt stickly uncomfortable as he headed unerringly towards the team. Reach, hop, balance, reach, hop, balance – the muscles in his shoulders started to burn. It was with something close to relief he turned the corner to find Ronon and Teyla. The crutches clattered to the floor as he dropped to his knees at Teyla’s side. Quickly, he ran through the standard ABC’s: airway, breathing and circulation. All were on an even keel. Carefully, Carson peeled back and eyelid, the pupil revealed was widely dilated.
“Drugged.” Competently, he moved Teyla’s left arm up beside her head, folded her leg into a vee, tucked her other hand under her cheek, and then rolled her into the standard recovery position. Extending her neck and moving her head back, he made a quick visual scan and then crawled over to Ronon. Breathing and circulation were within acceptable parameters. The man was a twisted mess, Carson badly needed to secure his c-spine before moving him. His pupils were fixed and dilated, indicating drugs, but the way that he was mashed against the wall, indicated that he had been thrown forcibly against it. Carefully, Carson interleaved his fingers through the tightly woven dreds trying to assess Ronon’s scalp, hunting for any evidence of trauma.
“Bloody Hell, it’s better than a helmet.” He fingered his way down each neck vertebrae, speedily assessing. Searching fingers encountered a hard object and, agog, he pulled free a stiletto from a sheaf in the back of his coat. The edge was as sharp as a scalpel. Carson licked his thumb and continued his assessment. The Runner’s shirt and open-weave sweater split open under a pass of the razor sharp blade. The leather strap holding his scabbard in place parted and fell away. There was a nice array of bruises colouring along his rib cage. Carson continued his assessment of the spine.
“Idiot.” He slapped his forehead and delved back into his newly acquired medical kit grabbing the Ancient medical scanner. Detaching the diagnostic sensor strip and fired up the device. “I bloody well should be struck off for forgetting this. Twit,” he continued remonstrating as he ran the wand over Ronon from head to toe. A compact image appeared on the main screen indicating skeletal structure and a transparent overlay of muscles and tissues. Red patches flared on his head and torso and data streamed on the bottom of the display.
Significant bruising and slight concussion, Carson interpreted the results with a relieved sigh. Eminently happier, he tugged impossibly heavy limbs until he could roll Ronon into a moderately successful version of the recovery position.
“Two patients, both unconscious, prognosis good,” Carson summarised. “Where’s Sheppard?”
McKay ran. He’d gone past wailing like a demon, he simply ran as fast -- as fast -- as he could. Pure terror was his advantage. He didn’t have a clue where he was. He just ran, along corridors, through rooms and down staircases. McKay turned down a spiral staircase, half sliding down the metal work banister, caught the newel post at the bottom and swung into the well. Clamping his hand over his mouth to contain his breathing, he crouched down into the space.
He had had enough of running around like a damsel in a bad horror movie. The trick was to stay in front of the android until its batteries ran out or he led it to some kind of containment device. The DNA manipulator room had had a force containment field.
Unfortunately, he really didn’t have a clue where he was and there was a Mengele-driven android on his tail.
He imagined heavy metallic footsteps picking their way down the stairs above his head. But nothing walked above him.
McKay bargained with himself that it wouldn’t have an internal life signs detector. He stayed as still as a church mouse. He stayed crouched, listening over the hammering of his heart until the imaginary footsteps moved away. Finally, reluctantly, he crawled out from under the stairs.
His knees were shaking so he had to half crab-walk up the stairs using his hands.
“Carson?” a voice said weakly.
“Oh, Teyla, Luv!” Carson crawled rapidly over.
Plainly disorientated, she flailed out from her carefully arranged position. Carson caught a hand and cupped the back of her head.
“Carson, what happened?” She freed her hand with a yank and pushing hard against the floor, lifted herself into a sitting position.
“The android attacked you.”
“Android?” her eyes were clouded, a poor reflection of her normally bright, assessing gaze.
Carson absently theorised that her wraith enhanced system might make her reactions anomalous to the android’s drug attack.
“Carson?” she chided.
“Oh, sorry, Luv. The people here are mechanical robots -- we call ‘em androids.”
“Why?” she managed.
“Rodney thinks that they were created to be protectors. But they’ve gone a bit nuts over time.”
“You people talk so strangely.”
Carson gently patted her shoulder as she bowed her head. Given that she normally was such soul of discretion her whispered words spoke of deep confusion.
“I don’t suppose you know what happened to Rodney and Colonel Sheppard?”
“What?” She lifted her head and scanned the corridor.
“Rodney was coming here, hell for leather. And, I dunno, fifteen minutes ago, there were three life signs in this corridor, so I think that the mad android’s dragged them off somewhere.” Carson caught her chin, lifting her head and checked her pupils.
“You have to go after them!” Teyla twisted free.
“What?” Carson said. “I cannae; you’re half drugged and Ronon’s unconscious.”
Teyla shifted painfully. “I can look after Ronon. You should help Dr. McKay and Colonel Sheppard.”
“I’ve gotta disagree, Luv.”
Teyla dragged herself over to Ronon. Halfway across the breadth of the corridor, Carson caved and crawled after her to help her over. Teyla patted Ronon’s chest, reassuring herself that he still breathed.
“He’s okay. Took a nasty bang to the head and had a run in the android’s talons,” Carson explained. “He’ll have a doozy of a headache when he wakes.”
Teyla swallowed, evidently containing nausea. “Go find the Colonel.”
“I’m no leaving you, Luv.” He retrieved the medical scanner and waved the diagnostic wand over the back of her head. Residuals of the drug were still present, but they were decaying faster than they had in his own body.
Carson considered his options. Abandoning them simply wasn’t possible. If he got them to the ZPM room, he had access to the transporter system. He rubbed his chin, trying to recall if the DNA manipulator room had had the typical ochre floor with the spiral and line patterning. He was pretty sure that they were plain white tiles. Okay, they could go to the control room.
“Yes. Plan. We’ll go to the control room, there’s the biometric sensor array. We’ll be able to find Rodney and Colonel Sheppard.” One way to shift Ronon would be to drag him along on his coat along the cold, shiny floors. “Nah, there must be a gurney somewhere.”
Teyla was looked at him as if he were acting stranger than normal. Carson realised that he was effectively talking to himself. Using his crutches he levered painfully to his feet.
“Okay, all these blank corridors are weird. Who just builds rank and file of only corridors? I guess that there must be rooms masked by holographic overlays. No, Rodney would have spotted holograms. John always says I over think and to relax.” Carson pursed his lips. He couldn’t stop extending his hand like some kind of character from Lord of Rings. The crutch hung from his forearm as he gestured down the corridor. At the mental command of ‘stop’, he felt the blip of ATA activated technology switching off in the deepest recesses of his brain. Tiles retracted into unseen housings and a series of doorways were revealed.
“Well, you bugger,” Carson said tiredly. “John was right. I hate this stuff.”
Teyla watched him open mouthed as he laboriously hobbled over and peered into the first room. Empty.
The second room appeared to be storage and was filled with bedding and other fabrics. The third appeared to be a typical ward. The Ancient padded beds were not conveniently wheeled, they were fixed in situ affairs. Personally, Carson didn’t think that was an efficient design, but it did mean that there had to be a patient transport apparatus nearby. There was a stretcher leaning against the wall. Carson scowled, neither he nor Teyla were capable of carrying Ronon. The body length of slivery fabric was stretched on a framework of Colonel Sheppard’s affectionately name memory metal – material imbued with Atlantean triggers to respond to thought.
“Never,” Carson mused. He fingered the lump of metal in his trouser pocket, feeling it warm and reform into a square block.
There was no time to be scared. They were vulnerable; lying in a corridor in the middle of the complex. They needed to get to the Operations Tower. Carson closed his eyes and imagined the stretcher lifting away from the wall, and orientating to float horizontal to the floor. He cracked open an eye.
The gurney crashed from chest height to the floor.
“Darn.” This was going to be difficult.
There was one little trick he could probably manage, though.
It was much easier and significantly less dangerous to mentally float the stretcher a mere hairsbreadth above the floor. Their pace was glacially slow, but Teyla needed to brace one hand against the walls and Carson could feel exhaustion burrowing into his bones.
“It is more defensible,” Teyla noted as they entered the ZPM room.
“Actually not.” Carson pointed with one of his sticks at the circle and the stretcher, with a peacefully curled up Ronon, settled in the centre. Crutches swinging, Carson moved to Ronon’s side. “Join me, Teyla.”
“The spiral is a transporter. The central circle is where I have to stand to initiate it.”
“Circle?” Teyla queried, but she came trustingly to his side.
“There’s going to be a flash of white and then we’ll be somewhere else.” Carson explained. He closed his eyes and pictured the spiral to the left of the main staircase in the complex’s control room. The flare of the transporter worked through his bones.
“By the Ancestors!” Teyla uttered as they reformed. “Where are we?”
“Operations Tower – like on Atlantis. It’s the control hub.” Carson hobbled over to the three dimensional map. He set one crutch leaning against the console and checked the tablets. They were still configured to Rodney’s parameters. He squinted at the giant screen and swore, “Fucking Hell!”
“Carson?” Teyla staggered over.
Carson jabbed at the display. “That’s John! He was just around the corner. I didn’t see him.”
There was a white blob about two hundred yards from John’s dully glowing golden circles. The blob was moving rapidly toward the hub and John was in its way.
“We have to go back.” Teyla said simply.
Carson glanced at the Athosian. Her skin was almost grey with shock. She was barely able to stay upright.
“Stay with Ronon, Teyla.” Taking a deep breath, Carson grabbed his second crutch and limped back to Ronon’s side. A mental command neatly tipped the massive Runner from the stretcher and onto the floor. Practiced hands rolled Ronon out of the area effect of the spiral. Carson settled him back onto his side, head tipped back and legs folded. He laid his hand against Ronon’s throat – the pulse was steady and strong. On hands and knees, Carson pulled the stretcher into the transporter, set his cobbled together med-kit more firmly at his side and pictured the ZPM room.
The last thing he heard was Teyla protesting.
The room reformed around him. Carson regarded the stretcher charily. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” He settled his bum on the centre and mentally commanded the stretcher forwards. It lurched off the floor and followed his instructions.
One eye on his life signs detector, McKay absently patted his pockets for a powerbar, bar of chocolate or even a piece of chewing gum. He was starving. There was nothing organic on his life signs detector. McKay looked at the angles and orientations of the displayed corridors trying to calculate where the Operations Tower would be. He needed an identified point so he could figure out how to get back to his team.
There was a large open space on the detector’s monitor at forty degrees of dead ahead. If it was the geothermal ZPM room he would have a starting point.
And within the ZPM room there were a couple of little tweaks to the system that he could do that would give them a bartering point.
Carson sledged around the corner and sped down the corridor. He spared a heartfelt glance at the definitely body shaped object wrapped in black plastic, rolled up against the wall.
“Sorry, Luv. I’ll come back for you, if I can, but the living take precedent.”
He slid into the corridor where Sheppard was last spotted.
“Thank you.” He breathed a sigh of relief. The colonel lay face down on the floor, limbs lax against the floor tiles. A mental command sent the stretcher to stop at his side. Fully aware that time was of the essence and the approach of an android, Carson hoped that the man was simply drugged. One hand bracing his neck and the other gripping his far shoulder, Carson rolled Sheppard onto his legs. Bracing Sheppard’s head securely on his lap, he backed up the stretcher. Sheppard was lanky, his heels dragged along the floor as they rapidly reversed.
It was exponentially harder to reverse the stretcher. As he thought about a three point turn, the stretcher stuttered to a halt.
“Bugger.” Carson clenched his fists and ground his teeth. “Buggery and tarnation. Stupid stuff.”
He fought for calm, inhaling through his nose and exhaling through his mouth. The stretcher rose a mere inch and continued reversing down the corridor. One eye open, the other tightly closed, he navigated the t-junction, angling their feet back up the way that he had come.
At the edge of his peripheral vision, movement grabbed his attention, kicking and screaming into the immediacy of action.
The alien emerged at the end of the corridor. All angles and stretched out metal limbs and blocky torso, it matched the engineering android but an atavistic terror scraped along Carson’s skin.
“Erus?” Craning its long neck, it regarded him levelly.
Their gazes matched across the long length of the corridor.
Slowly, the alien dropped to all fours. Carson, waving his hands in mid-air, commanded the stretcher forward. It lurched forward hastily, sliding rapidly across the tiled floor. Carson caught a handful of Sheppard’s trousers and hauled his feet onto the stretcher fully, holding his head steady with the other hand. They rushed forward. Carson was already mentally mapping the route back to the ZPM room. Now was not the time for panic. His patient depended on him. It was like surgery with an arterial bleeder, panic simply was not an option.
Looking back would be a waste of effort, even as his ears told him that the thing was gaining. The stretcher rocked to the left, scraping the floor as they skated into the corridor with the ZPM room off to the side.
He jerked suddenly off the stretcher, piling into the wall in a tangle of limbs with Sheppard. Half-blinded, he pushed Sheppard off him, struggling to get to his knees. The alien crouched, one paw keeping the stretcher planted to the ground.
“Atlantean.” It sniffed the air.
“Up!” Carson gestured and the stretcher flipped up ninety degrees smacking the priskin unit in the face. A mental command of ‘back’ pushed both of them into the far wall. Carson grabbed Sheppard by the collar of his fleece and scrabbled across the floor. Sheppard’s fleece rucked up around his arms showing his belly. Knees smarted, the med-kit hanging off his neck banged his rib cage and his shoulders burned as he yanked them inch by incremental inch to safety.
“Now would be a good time to wake up, Colonel Shepp--” He broke off as he was snatched up by his bad ankle. The pain was white-blinding, excruciating and as he swung in the alien’s grip he splattered the floor with bile. The world swung crazily as Priskin manipulated him, around and about, manhandling him as easily as a child. A long arm encircled his neck, holding him upright.
“No,” it said slowly. It leaned over, taking Carson with him as it reached and grabbed Sheppard by the front of his black micro fleece and hauled him upright. Priskin’s long neck extended and it sniffed deeply at the hollow in Sheppard’s throat. “Eruii.”
“Yes. Eruii and we’re descendants of the people that created you. Want to let me go, Priskin? Like now?”
“No. I may have need of you.”
McKay looked down into the geothermal pit, his plan germinating to fruition in his mind. The gamble was that his team was last seen lying stunned in a corridor, but five minutes spent here might give them important collateral. As he deliberated, mentally weighing the pros and cons, his hands bobbed as if gauging weight. Then with a grimace, he clambered down the extended ladder taking them three at a time. At the bottom, he sorted through the disconnected parts and the machinery that the android had given him. The geothermal monitor, which the alien had first given him when he had been stuck in the pit, was the crux of his plan. The inherent bad design was a point in his favour; it easily came apart to supply a nice selection of parts for his delectation. Scrabbling under the matrix housing, he began to pull out cables.
Carson struggled all the way, down every corridor, turn and step, but it did not help. Held by his neck against Priskin’s torso, his struggles were ineffectual. A portal concertinaed open into what Carson recognised was an Ancient medical research lab. Coffin-like cradles were set evenly along the wall on the right. Each cradle had a retractable plastic hood. Carson felt his stomach flip; he knew this place, but he had seen it from inside one of those pods as Priskin had scraped skin samples, inserted needles and invaded him on the basest of levels.
“No. No. No!” Carson kicked out. “Let me go. Let me -- You can’t do this.”
The grip round his neck tightened. Black circles bled at the edges of his vision. Oxygen starved, he slumped limply as Priskin effortlessly lifted and situated Sheppard on one of the tables.
“Why?” Carson mouthed.
Priskin smoothly moved him around, cradling him in articulated appendages. Up, down, and with a nauseating twist, he was lying in one of the cradles. Priskin reached and wrenched the bulky first aid kit from Carson, racking his neck as the strap was pulled free. The android set it on the opposite cradle. The plastic hood rose up over Carson, containing him. He put his palms against the glass and pushed. It didn’t shift an inch. Struggling up on one elbow, he peered over the edge of the cradle, head pushing hard up against the curved plastic. Priskin crossed back to Sheppard’s side with a loose, snake-hipped gait.
“Don’t touch him! I forbid it!” Carson yelled, as Priskin leaned over the colonel.
Priskin turned his long neck, bringing his tear-drop head around. “You can not order me. I have progressed beyond blind obedience.”
“Well, grow up then. You can’t go around hurting people.”
“But I need you to grow up,” Priskin said conversationally. He gripped Sheppard’s pointy chin and twisted his head back and forth. Priskin held his hand up and the long talon like fingers extended. The index finger bore a sharp needle.
Carson yelped as he jabbed it in Sheppard’s throat. Priskin pulled it free from Sheppard’s neck and a well of blood burgeoned then dribbled down the side of his neck.
“Processing,” Priskin intoned. Another appliance extended from its second digit – longer and holding a fork-like probe at the end.
“Stop it! Stop it!” Carson banged ineffectually at the hood. He watched horrified as Priskin inserted the needle deep into Sheppard’s nose. It was long enough to reach far into his sinuses or beyond. Pulling the blood tipped sensor free, Priskin froze.
Samples, Carson realised, belatedly. It was taking samples. Frantically, Carson scanned the containment bed. There had to be some kind of emergency release within the cradle. Priskin awoke again to draw a familiar medical scanner from his voluminous coat. Carson watched as he played the separate diagnostic wand over Sheppard’s head, passing it from left to right.
“You were a doctor. Act like it,” Carson hollered.
Priskin paused, and then, surprising Carson, he took one of his long limbed steps over to his cradle. Its right leg swung out from its hip in an ungainly manner as if the knee joint was seizing. “I have served for ten millennia, healing at the dictates of the Eruii. The time has passed and nothing changed, until the tektonikos began to fail. One by one, we chose to sleep until there is no more power and we die because there is no escape.” Priskin leaned closely to the hood. “One was chosen to remain and succour the sick until the end. I do not want to die.”
“Neither did Benton.”
The metal extruded lips twisted. “Benton?”
“The other android, the android that kept you here and helped the humans escape.”
“You named the systems and engineering unit?”
It struck Carson as a curious question, but every second that Priskin talked to him meant that he wasn’t inserting probes in John. “Yeah, why not?”
“Where is Benton?”
“In the uhm… Operations Tower.” Carson shrugged. “But he ran out of power when Rodney disconnected the ZPM.”
“The Dd’el. False ancestor, pathetic excuse for a Ta’ar.”
“I’m sure that Rodney would be mortally insulted if you called him a ‘pathetic excuse’ for a human. He’s actually rather bright.” Carson said the first thing that came into his head, “Giving Rodney the genes of the Ancestors has, actually, been of great help to us, the descendants of the Eruii.”
“The Erus dabbled with the genetic manipulation of the lesser Ante also, but decided that those who served could not simply be given the geas of the Eruiian.” Priskin laid his long fingered hand directly above Carson’s throat. “In history it was written that they were to find their own way.”
“Fascinating,” Carson said out loud, because in fact it was interesting. “The Ancients, the Eruii, at one point did genetically manipulate their own people? Of course they did. The Ancients seeded basic humans on terraformed, ecologically consistent planets across entire galaxies; a little genetic manipulation was probably a trick on the side. But they didn’t give their genes to the Ta’ar, at all?”
“The Eruii birthed the Ta’ar. But the rules were set: the lesser races were the lesser races. Your every cell is seeded with genes of the ancestors.” Priskin carefully drummed long talons on the hood. “That Eruii lay with Ta’ar seems incontrovertible, since many of your family had to be Erus. More though are of the family of the other. I do not understand – it too is anathema.”
“What do you mean?” Carson demanded as Priskin turned back to Sheppard. He needed that answer for his own intellectual curiosity and to delay the android.
“You are not true Eruii, but you are more Erus than Ante. I would choose this one--” Priskin laid a covetous hand on Sheppard’s chest, “--to host my consciousness. He is more Erus.”
“What!” Carson jerked up, banging his head against the plexi-glass. “No, no. You cannot. You can’t do that.”
“It is the only way. As an android, I cannot leave the citadel. As an android I cannot operate the devices slaved to the Eruii outside the citadel. If I wear the body of an Erus, I will be free.”
End part four
McKay finished reconnecting the tertiary resistor, ensuring that it bypassed the second and forth transformation units and coiled it back on the first. Whistling, he checked the cobbled together radiation emitter unit from the geothermal monitor, which now overrode the primary interface. Turning to the emergency shut down system, he gleefully finished rewiring the innards now that the energy re-routing paths were in place.
He needed some kind of timing device and he was not going to sacrifice his life signs detector.
“No, no, far too pedestrian. Ah!” Despite not picking up a signal very well within the temple, he had kept his comm. on him; he kind of felt undressed without it. Pulling it free from his ear and the transmitter unit from his breast pocket, he weighed both in his hand. If he got close enough to his team he would be able to contact them but he really needed a trigger. Gnashing his teeth, he popped the back off the transmitter – he needed to improve the receptivity to, at the very least, pick up a constrained, high frequency signal.
He was going to bring the world down.
“You can fix it.”
McKay jerked to his feet. Spinning on his heel, he scanned the high edges of the pit. The android crouched by the retractable ladder. It rested double jointed elbows on the floor.
“I can fix anything.” McKay shrugged casually. “Under sufficient pressure.”
“Is the tektonikos fixed?”
“I can’t tell, I can’t use your equipment, I have an abject fear of gamma radiation.” He toed the gutted remains of the geothermal monitor. “I tried to repair it, but I happen to like my germ cells unmutated. I’m just funny that way.”
“Why did you come back? Here?” the android asked. “Why repair the tektonikos when you could escape?”
“I like solving problems.” McKay said as he stared up at the android. He was a bit puzzled and that annoyed him. The tektonikos was irreparable and the androids were slaved to its power supply and thus the ZPM backup. The android had to know that he had the stolen ZPM and that it was tucked in the laptop pouch on the back of his tac vest. Why wasn’t it jumping in the pit and taking it from him? McKay shrugged again, checking the reassuring weight of the ZPM. The android that had chased him through the complex had worn a pale, transparent shift. While it was entirely possible that the android that had pursued him had simply removed its coat, somehow McKay doubted it.
They had hypothesised that there was more than one android.
“You are Lord Carrs’ engineer, are you not?” The android tapped elongated fingers on the edge of the pit.
Lord Carrs, hmmm? McKay registered. That’s what the android that dropped Carson in the pit called him.
“Did your Lord tell you to repair the tektonikos?”
While the urge to deny, vehemently, that he was anyone’s serf rose like his gorge in his throat, McKay simply said, “Yes.” A nice simple little fib, anything more complicated, given his complete and total inability to lie, even an android would probably catch him.
He needed more information to form a hypothesis. And if the android thought that he was repairing the tektonikos he could continue working.
The skin crawled on the back of his neck, as he bent back to the innards of the energy converter.
Carson planted a fist against the plastic hood and resisted the temptation to break his hand against it. Across the laboratory, Priskin scooped a boneless Sheppard up and swung him over to the central mortuary table. Pushing Sheppard’s head to the side on the metal table, Priskin revealed the long angle of his neck.
“No!” Carson yelled.
The android ignored him, turning to a waist high stand beside the table holding a tray of metallic, shiny tools. It picked up a sharp, edged blade.
“Stop it!” Carson demanded as it set the blade to the side of Sheppard’s head.
Carson could only watch as it shaved a careful inch of hair above Sheppard’s pointy ear. Unconsciously, he reached for bare flesh above his own ear, still sticky with medical glue. What the hell was it doing? Priskin took a rectangular pad from the tray --Carson recognised a standard Ancient monitoring pad -- and carefully affixed it to the bared flesh. Panels on the far wall glowed into being. The information streaming from top to bottom of the screen revealed that Sheppard was throwing out delta waves – deeply unconscious. There was a whole host of other, detailed data streams on the far side of the giant screen. Carson pushed his nose up against his cage, trying to make out the information.
“Damn, a schematic would be so much more helpful,” he mumbled.
“Wake, Erus.” Priskin set another talon to the base of Sheppard’s throat.
Sheppard’s hand immediately twitched, an uncoordinated drumming of his nails on the metal table. Priskin laid long fingered hands along the length of Sheppard’s face and angled his head back, raising his chin. Taking another, larger sticky pad, Priskin placed it on the centre of Sheppard’s forehead, pressing it firmly in place. The android stepped back and a globe descended from a ceiling array. A fine twist of coils reached forth from the device down to the insensate colonel. Carson clawed at the hood. Priskin carefully griped the coil and took the tip to set it against the forehead pad.
There was an audible click.
Carson brushed his own forehead, but there was no sticky residue. Priskin moved to the head of the mortuary unit, long antennae like projections extending from his central torso. Carson patted frantically at his t-shirt and pockets looking for some kind of tool, even a pen knife to help him escape. Priskin’s trunk-antennae interfaced with the globe as it hovered over Sheppard’s head.
With a shout of exultation Carson found the sternum cracker lying alongside his thigh. He twisted the foot long tube in the confines of the cradle and set the laser to the edge where hood met base. The blue laser flared at a mental command, splicing through the join with the ease of a scalpel through flesh. Teeth clenched, Carson triggered the rib splitters. They extended from the housing to grab the edge of the hood and the table he lay upon.
“Open!” Carson wrenched and the hood split, shattering under the strength of the cracker and the leverage of his muscles. He threw the plastic fragments of the hood aside and sat up.
The priskin unit was deep in communication with the array above Sheppard’s head. Carson squirmed off the table, eeling to the floor. On hands and knees, he crawled over to the entranced priskin unit. With a twist of the end of the sternum cracker, the laser tip lengthened by a meter. Above him, Sheppard suddenly thrashed, heels scraping against the table.
Carson thrust the laser blade up through the android, diagonally from hip to armpit, splitting the monster in two. The top half sheared away from the bottom. Carson yanked it down to the floor with a clatter. The legs fell sideways. The connectors from Priskin’s torso stretched and snapped away from the globe as it fell backwards. A sharp edge caught and sliced through Carson’s jacket sleeve. Carson ignored the spasming tendrils. The android torso under his hands flickered, the holographic overlay throwing up a nightmarish amalgam of android, man and alien. Carson flipped the cracker over in his hand, and brought the blade down right between the android’s eyes. Sparks skittered across the floor, to flare and die.
“See you, you horrible beastie.” Carson wrenched his fist to the side and split its head in half.
Carson fell away, sagging to the side for a heartbeat. To flop to the floor and curl up seemed irresistible. Sighing, he set a hand to the floor and did not lie down. Crawling, he turned to the mortuary table. He reached up, unerringly finding the pulse point at Sheppard’s throat.
Carson hung there, head down between his shoulder blades, one arm curled up over the table as Sheppard’s pulse drummed against his fingers with his other hand braced against the floor.
“Too fast,” he told no one. “Come on, John, wake up. You’re waking up, I can tell.”
Warm fingers brushed his hand. “Doc?” a voice came tentatively.
“Colonel Sheppard? Thank God.” Carson pulled himself up, hooking his chin over the table top. “I guessed that Priskin had given you a stimulant. I’m bloody glad that you’re you.”
“What?” Sheppard levered up on an elbow. He clawed at his forehead and ripped free the pad, throwing it aside. “What’s that?” He pushed at it as the coil hung dead from the globe.
“John? John?” Carson slapped at the table, gaining Sheppard’s attention. “Do you mind telling me your full name, son?”
Sheppard shrugged and said gamely, “Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, USAF. What the fuck happened?”
“An android tried to steal your body.” Carson flopped back down to the floor with a little huff of a sigh.
Sheppard gripped the edge of the table and it was his turn to haul his chin over the lip. He looked down with a befuddled expression. “Hey, Carson, what are you doing?”
“I’m having a bugger of a day, actually,” Carson said glumly. “Field work sucks, you know.”
“Perhaps you’re a jinx.” Sheppard hummed introspectively.
Carson rolled his eyes. “Thanks. Really, thanks, I needed to know that.”
Sheppard grinned unrepentantly. By dint of pushing and pulling, he sat up swinging his legs over the side. Propping his elbows on his knees, he sat loosely, like a kid.
“Where are we? I’ve been here before, haven’t I? This is where we found you? Wasn’t it?” Sheppard cocked his head to the side and looked at the ceiling. “I’m pretty sure that that big disco ball wasn’t there before, though.”
“John?” Carson began in the face of that disturbingly chipper tone.
“Right,” Sheppard continued brightly. “What’s the situation?”
Carson slowly crooked his finger in the vague direction of the shredded up android. “He was trying to download his ‘consciousness’ into your brain. I--” he let out a delicate cough, “--I objected.”
Sheppard’s eyes widened. “Cool.” He blinked wide eyes slowly; his irises were dilated to the mere thread. “My team? Where are they? Where’s Rodney?”
“Ronon and Teyla are at the complex’s control room. I don’t know where Rodney is. Lieutenant Hall was last seen in the puddlejumper when one of the androids attacked him. And Sarah Sakson is dead – vivisection, probably. I think that Priskin here, was trying to figure out the logistics of downloading his consciousness, I guess,” Carson finished sadly,
“Androids?” Sheppard swayed as he turned his head, and had to flop back into his boneless curl. “Like proper ones from Battlestar Galactica?”
“Uhm?” Carson hazarded, “I thought that they were cyborgs?”
“No,” Sheppard said intently. “Well, it depends on the series. The classic series, they’re machines. They’re sort of like organic constructs in the new series.”
Carson craned his neck so he could squint closer at Sheppard. He clicked his fingers. “John? Are you tracking? What’s your mother’s maiden name?”
“McCall,” Sheppard answered without hesitation. He smacked his lips. “Androids here, in the temple? Why? How many?”
Carson diagnosed latent effects of the android’s sedative compounded by the stimulant, and hoped that an easily distractible Colonel Sheppard was a transient phenomenon. “This complex was manned by androids. Rodney suspects that once upon a time this was a teaching facility, teaching medicine, engineering, history and the like. As it wore down, the androids put their waning resources into the healing side of the equation. There’s little power left now so the androids left a sentinel--”
Sheppard pointed at the spilled out innards without moving his head.
Carson nodded. “There was also an engineering unit but he ran out of power. Really, it’s bloody typical, if we’d waited a week there probably wouldn’t have been any androids to contend with and Rodney could have scavenged this place to his heart’s content.”
Rubbing a knuckle in the centre of his forehead, Sheppard scrunched his face up. “Androids, yeah? There was only two -- a sentinel and an engineering unit -- and they’re accounted for, yeah?”
“Erkk.” Carson shuffled on to his bottom and, tensing against the pain, he extended his leg out along the floor. The tongue of his boot was pushed out by the swollen flesh beneath. “Assuming that Benton wasn’t lying and I’m pretty sure that every other word out of his mouth was a lie.”
“Androids lie? Doesn’t sound like they know the Laws of Robotics.”
“They predate Asimov,” Carson said soberly. “But let’s stay on track.”
“’Kay.” Sheppard began counting off on his fingers. “So let’s get this straight: Androids, teaching facility and trying to download its consciousness into my brain? Teyla and Ronon accounted for. Rodney missing? And only two androids?”
“Well, there’s lots in storage, but there’s not enough power to animate them.”
Sheppard scrubbed at his eyes. “Okay, let’s find Rodney.” He slithered off the table and continued slithering into a black clad puddle on the floor. Nose pushed up against the cold tiles, he hummed under his breath. “Nuh, didn’t expect that.”
Carson rolled over onto his hip and pushed at Sheppard’s shoulder, tipping him onto his back so he could look at his patient’s eyes.
“Hey, Carson,” Sheppard said loopily. “This is really good crack.”
“I thought that the android was trying to wake you up – seemed reasonable if he was going to download his consciousness, but you’re reacting… Ah, twit,” Carson berated himself. “We’re not from around here: atypical reactions. You are always blowing the curve, aren’t you?”
“ATA gene,” Sheppard said smugly.
Carson shook his head there wasn’t really any answer to that one – especially given that he had one of his own.
“We’ve got a mission,” Sheppard stated, he pushed off the floor and bounced to his feet. Weaving like a sapling in a hurricane, he took four steps to the left and then three steps back. “Whoa.”
“Great,” Carson said feelingly, they were so screwed.
Sheppard bent over at the waist, bringing his nose close to Carson’s foot. “That looks sore. Can you walk?”
Impressively, he straightened. Loose hipped and boneless, he swung on the spot without moving his feet.
“I can hop with help.” Carson said, wondering what sort of crutch a paralytically drunk, skinny-arsed colonel would be. He scanned the medical research lab. looking for some way to help Sheppard. He needed a full blood work up before he could even begin to prescribe anything other than a saline IV. The sink in the far corner was – recognising the glyphs – of standard Ancient design consisting of two taps, one with distilled and the other with de-ionised water. He pointed at the sink. “Hey, you see that tap on the right? Get yourself a drink. Now, son.”
“Tap? I can tap. Well, no, I can’t. My big sister could. We had to go to all her recitals. God, they were boring.”
“The faucet.” Carson jerked his finger at the sink. “Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard, get yourself a drink of water. That’s an order. Now!” he emphasized the command with a bellow.
Sheppard jerked. “Yes, sir.” His hand twitched but he managed to abort the salute at half-mast. “You’re not my--”
“Now, Colonel.” Carson rapped out. “Doctor’s orders.”
“Yes, sir.” Sheppard staggered over, twisting a bit to the right and then to the left as he navigated the length of the laboratory. He stuck his head in the sink and turned the tap to let the water spray over the back of his head.
Carson sunk back on the floor and planted his palm over his eyes. Beyond tired, he was beginning to think that he was born that way. Hand falling away, he let it land limply on the floor. They needed to get Teyla and Ronon, find Rodney and leave the bloody temple. Giving in for a moment, Carson closed his eyes, and found a quiet instant which stretched before him like soft velvet.
Cold droplets fell on his upturned face. Carson blinked and looked straight into John’s large black pupils. He thought that he could make out the retina within. Another drop of water hit right between his eyebrows like Chinese water torture.
“Hey?” John shook his head and water dotted Carson’s face.
“Did you drink any of it?” Carson asked softly.
John nodded and showered Carson again. “It tasted like nothing. Just wet. A coke would be really good. Or a beer. I guess you wouldn’t let me have a beer, would you? A cold wet one. That would be real nice.”
“You can have a beer when we get to Atlantis,” Carson interrupted. “My mam sent me some IPA. It’s in my room back at home.”
“Cool.” Sheppard leaned backwards and tapped sharply between Carson’s eyebrows. “I’ll hold you to that.” He rocked back on to his heels, bum tucked low, elbows on his knees. His tendons and muscles had to be made out of elastic.
Carson propped up on his elbow. “Do you have a life signs detector?”
Sheppard shook his head, massively. “Did I have one before? I had a vest before but I’ve lost it. My Rodney’s got one. We’re going to go find Rodney, right? Why does Rodney get all the cool toys?”
“Because he was deprived as a kid and it’s made him a selfish little toad,” Carson said abruptly. He pointed at the collection of medical supplies that he had taken from the emergency ward. “Get that satchel, Colonel Sheppard.”
Sheppard bounded off like a well trained hunting dog. Rohypnol derivative, Carson decided. He reached up to grab the edge of the mortuary table and managed once again to get upright. More than anything in the world, he wanted to lay his head down and sleep. Even the thought of putting his foot to the floor made him feel vaguely nauseated.
John reappeared smiling toothily. He was a bit like an enthusiastic Great Dane puppy, all long limbs and big, plate-like paws. Quite often under the influence of anaesthetics and benzodiazepines John was combative and intent on escaping medical support, yet this combination made him suggestible and even more easy going than his normal, protective façade.
“Sit.” Carson patted the table enticingly.
John nimbly bounced onto the table, sitting, swinging his legs back and forth. Carson opened his case and pulled out the medical scanner. He detached the scanning wand from the main unit. Eyes crossed, John tried to follow the path of the wand over his head. Squinting at the readings, Carson found evidence of what he assumed was the decaying rohypnol derivative and, presumably, the stimulant. He ground his teeth, the resolution was inadequate. Carson would have sold his kidney for a blood test. There were no gross physical changes in the structure of his cerebral cortex. He needed his brain activity scanner to fully understand what was happening to Sheppard.
“Okay, we better move,” Carson said packing up his kit.
Grinning, John jumped off the table. He fitted under Carson’s shoulder, sliding a long arm around his waist. “Do you have any idea where we are relative to my team?”
Carson gnawed on his lip. “That damn android dragged us all over the shop. I don’t know. It was about five minutes from the corridor where I found you. I wish we had a life signs detector. If we chuck a left and follow our noses further into the complex?”
John swung him to the door. “So… Cool. Blind leading the blind.”
McKay jumped when the android perched on the rim of pit suddenly stood. The android gazed into middle space over the pit. Its shoulders drooped.
“The priskin unit has uploaded its consciousness onto the mainframe. It is overwriting the central entity.” It sounded amazed.
McKay’s fingers twitched covetously, he so wanted to delve into the android’s programming. Carefully, while it was distracted, he set his ear piece in the reconfigured gamma radiation detector to identify the signal from the SG-C transmitter. He patted the transmitter unit in his vest pocket. The mechanism to overload the tektonikos was more than a little convoluted, but rather impressive given the sabotaged and broken equipment he had to work with. McKay smiled.
“I do not understand,” the android said. It actually rubbed its appendages together in consternation. “The priskin unit is unable to download to another android.”
McKay set hands to the pit ladder and squirrelled up. The android stood, frozen as it interfaced, connecting with a data system outside of McKay’s purview. It opened it black eyes just as he got close enough to push it in the pit. McKay folded his arms over his chest.
“What’s happening?” he demanded.
“I do not understand. No, I do comprehend. The priskin unit’s primary form must have been destroyed. There can be no other explanation. The priskin unit cannibalised other units’ experiential processors in an attempt to go beyond its programming limits. It uploaded the other medical priskin units’ synergistic memory files. Priskin improved its data processing abilities until it reached the limits of its modified design. It is unable to download its consciousness into individual units which it lobotomised – it has grown beyond their capabilities, the only place that it could survive is the mainframe.”
McKay thought like wildfire. “Let me get this straight.” He pointed at the android before him. “This priskin unit’s doing a HAL -- forget that – there’s an artificial consciousness now residing in the computers controlling the temple?”
McKay twisted his face at the insult. “And the priskin unit is classified as insane?”
“I am not equipped to make that diagnosis. But the priskin unit is considered to be compromised based on security protocols and has to be contained.” It drooped, concertinaing down into its stocky torso. “This unit’s backup power is approaching terminal depletion.”
McKay pulled out his life signs detector and selecting the energy mode scanned the android. There was less than ten ergs of energy left.
“You’re going to deposit your programme in another android in the temple and use its final remaining dregs of power, aren’t you?”
“With each little death I take another small life.” Its voice was low, barely a whisper. “I may not be able to upload to the mainframe and download to one of the lobotomised units due to the priskin unit’s presence.”
And then the energy faded, leaving McKay with a lump of inanimate metal and Ancient circuitry. How many times had it done this? he wondered, skipping between the stored androids utilising the last of each android’s reserves.
“Okay,” McKay spoke out loud. “Problem: Insane android in the mainframe. Solution: Shut down the mainframe.”
He rotated his shoulders setting the ZPM securely and ran from the room.
“I’ve got to be be…eeee….eeeee…. be…. Per….fect. I got be bee eeee..e. e.e. eeee pur purr fect. Too many people take--”
“Colonel,” Carson interrupted as they turned into yet another interminable corridor. “Why are you singing that song?”
“I dunno, it just popped into my head. I know others. I hear the train a comin'; it's rollin' 'round the bend.”
“Colonel, please.” Carson squeezed John’s shoulder and stopped hobbling, bringing them both to a halt.
“Shush,” Carson brought a finger to his lips. The problem was the bloody corridors all looked alike. “We’ve got turned around. We’re lost.”
Sheppard raised his chin and sniffed. “It’s getting mustier; we’re going further into the complex.”
The occasional decorative panel of bronze, amber and brown hexagonal framed metal work, instead of white ceramic tiles, was also a dead giveaway that they were deep in the temple.
“I guess that’s right then.” All they really needed to find was a room of sufficient importance that it had the interlaced circular pattern of the transporter on the floor. In great deliberation, Carson extended his hand and thought any doors along the corridor open. Obediently, two doors were revealed.
“Cool,” Sheppard said like a surfer kid. “I bet I could do that.”
Sheppard gestured imperiously, waving his hand like the Queen of England and intoned, “Open Sesame.”
A door directly to their left glowed chair-bright blue, Ancient glyphs strobing up to illuminate the newly revealed threshold. The lettering flared and died as the door opened. Inside there was an area about the size of a lift in all the hospitals that Carson had worked in. Engraved in the floor was the familiar spiral patterning of a transporter.
“What is it?” Sheppard asked gamely.
Carson sucked on his bottom lip before deciding not to answer that one. God knew where Sheppard would imagine them ending up.
“We need to go in there.” Carson nodded at the room. He hopped in the direction of the transporter and Sheppard, warm against his side, moved with him.
“Are you going to tell me what it is?” Sheppard leaned over to peer at the floor.
Carson caught him by the scruff of the neck and pulled him upright. “I want you to close your eyes, John, and trust me.”
“I trust you.” Sheppard closed his eyes and, lips tightly pursed, lifted his chin high.
Carson smiled at the little kid expression; it was as if he were waiting for a Christmas present. He closed his eyes in turn and pictured the transporter platform in the Operations Tower. The whiteness flared in his mind and around them. A new room reformed around them.
“Teyla!” Ronon boomed.
“Carson, Colonel Sheppard!”
“Hey, Teyla,” Sheppard chirped. “That was cool. Can we do that again?”
Teyla stopped in her dash towards them. “Is Colonel Sheppard all right?”
“I’m hoping that it’s a reaction to medication Priskin gave him.” It had occurred to him that during the attempt to download its consciousness that Priskin had damaged the Colonel’s mind. There was little that he could do until he got Sheppard back to Atlantis. “Hopefully, yes.”
“Priskin?” Teyla asked.
“The android responsible for this whole affair,” Carson said succinctly.
Moving much more carefully, she moved into Sheppard’s personal space. He grinned down at her. Stretching up on her toes, she reached up to bring their foreheads together. Sheppard bent and allowed it.
“What can we do to help him?” Teyla asked as Sheppard straightened.
“Water’s the best bet at the moment,” Carson said.
“I’m fine.” Sheppard grinned toothily as he scanned the control room. “It’s kind of like the Operations Tower back at home.”
“Where’s this Priskin now?” Ronon asked.
“I… uhm… killed it.” Carson lifted his chin and nodded directly at Ronon.
Carson hopped in the direction of a wheeled chair. Ronon was suddenly at his side, lending a hand. He sagged into his greater weight and strength. Carson craned his head, checking Ronon’s eyes for any evidence of complications due to his concussion. There was a small contusion above his left eyebrow but otherwise he seemed fine. He reached for the sliced open sweater trying to check his ribs, but Ronon caught his hand as he helped him across the floor.
“You look rough, Doc,” Ronon observed, his voice gravelled, as he easily swung Carson onto a chair.
Sheppard bounded across the length of the control room, medical satchel slapping against his hip, to better look up at the screen display showing the temple schematics. Fingers dabbling at the control sheets, he called up cursor and cycled through multiple mini screens. They zinged back and forth dizzyingly until one resolved in the centre of the display.
“Hey, look.” He pointed. On the large screen a golden set of concentric circles was heading directly towards the central hub where there was a selection of white, gold and greenish circles. “Are they us?
“Do you have my gun, Doc?” Ronon asked. “My blade?”
Mutely, Carson shook his head. He pulled his sternum cracker from his trouser pocket and mentally commanded the blade to extend from the tip. A twist of the base and the laser lengthened to the length of his forearm.
“Oh, Carson’s got a lightsabre,” John breathed and he came immediately over, hand outstretched.
“John,” Teyla said evenly, intercepting him.
“Come sit a moment.” She drew him to a chair away from Carson and the bright shiny object. Deftly, she sat him down and planted her water bottle in his hands. And in a voice which none would dare rebuke, told him, “Drink.”
Ronon took the cracker from Carson and manipulated the blade checking the heft and balance.
“Serviceable,” Ronon deemed. “How do I power it down?”
Carson squinted at it, finding that deep place inside his head and switched the blade off.
It was at that the point the lights went out.
There was absolutely no ambient light deep within the mountain; it truly was pitch black. There was nothing, absolutely nothing to see. Light, from a point source, flared, startling Carson. The torch on the top of Teyla’s P-90 threw macabre shadows through the control room.
“What happened?” Ronon asked.
“This place has been running on reduced power for some time. Rodney was going to remove the ZPM powering the androids in the complex, it’s possible that he shut down the separate power source running the complex,” Carson theorised.
“Set my blade alight, Doc,” Ronon directed.
Teyla’s light swung round, shining on Ronon, setting him in sharp relief. For one bare instance, Carson wondered if he could activate Ancient tech without looking at it. Yeah, he decided -- he often closed his eyes when trigging tech. He bent his mind to the surgical instrument and the blade flared forth. And wasn’t that the damn, weirdest thing, thought and action, sometimes he thought that it might spill over into everyday life.
“The dial at the base also controls the length of the blade,” Carson directed. “Careful, it cuts through everything that I’ve tried so far.”
“Even better.” Ronon held the blade aloft, its bluish hue lending light. “Can I switch it off?”
“I don’t think so,” Carson said slowly.
“Lower the blade now. But be ready to initiate it at my command.”
Carson opened and closed his hand and the blade retracted to a hand’s length. Ronon’s eyes were dark as he looked to the glowing blade and to Carson.
“We need to find Rodney,” Sheppard said intently. “He doesn’t like the dark, or for that matter, closed spaces or lemons.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” Carson said, a smile in his voice.
“Is it possible that Rodney is approaching this area?” Teyla asked.
Carson perked up. “Yeah, could be, the colours on the monitor indicated a bearer of the ATA gene. Question is: would he have a torch? Flashlight?”
“Oh, at least three,” Sheppard informed them. “Obviously, he wasn’t a boy scout, but he’ll have his magna-lite and his LSD screen and pocket flashlight. McKay as a boy scout – there’s an image.”
Carson had a mental image Rodney in knee length shorts and a yellow neckerchief and shook his head. The fact that he was an adult in the picture was profoundly disturbing.
“We should find Rodney and leave this area,” Teyla said.
“Yes, I vote for that that. Hey, aren’t I supposed to be in charge?” Sheppard raised his hand.
“You will be in charge once you have regained your usual equanimity,” Teyla informed him. She extended a single finger and pushed at the base of the bottle he held, raising it. “Drink.”
Looking at his fellow men for sympathy, Sheppard slowly mouthed the tip and finding none, he drank.
“We need to descend one level and move due west toward the life sign.” Teyla swung the light beam around to illuminate the stairs.
Carson swallowed, the level of pain was reaching to constant nausea – but needs must. He stood, reaching back to get the wheeled chair. If he wheeled it along, it would act as a crutch of sorts.
“Lemme help, Doc.”
“Whoops!” Carson let out a squeak as he was summarily hefted up and over Ronon’s wide shoulder. “That’s not necessary.”
Ronon let out a huff of a laugh and he easily worked his way down the stairs. From his new vantage point, Carson could make out little, except the cut of Ronon’s long coat and a few stairs. It was a little hard to breathe and he thought if he had eaten anything in the past six or so hours he might have made a mess of Ronon’s back.
McKay came to a screaming halt as the light snapped off.
“Oooh, bad sign.” He consulted his LSD as he fished in his tac vest for his flashlight. Capably equipped, he continued on his way, albeit a little slower.
He had made about a hundred yards progress when one blip, then another, followed by a curious infinity symbol-like amalgam appeared on the edge of the screen. Four individuals; two apart and two in close proximity.
He was distantly aware of the grin splitting his face. “My team, I suspect. And I’m normally right.” Flashlight in hand, he checked Ronon’s blaster, half stuck in his thigh holster.
If it was his team, Ronon was going to want his blaster back. And once again he hadn’t had time to take an interesting piece of equipment apart.
A tone stroked along the walls. McKay cocked his head to the side, recognising the thrum of power. He shielded his eyes with the LSD as the strobe lighting along the walls flared. Incrementally brighter than previously, McKay noted.
He didn’t like it. He glanced at the ceiling fully aware that there was a masked array of complex holographic emitters and scanning devices above them. Who also knew what type of containment protocols, to prevent the escape of contagion and mentally ill patients, were incorporated in the system? At the very least he knew that there were some seriously effective force fields and he didn’t have the equipment to take them down. The androids’ activity had been curtailed by their energy requirements, but now this priskin unit was inside the system and hooked up to the decaying ZPMs that powered the city.
“Uh oh.” It was learning to use the system.
McKay picked up his pace and hoped that it was his team at the end of the twist of corridors.
The blips were a mere corridor turn ahead. The configuration of symbols had not changed, someone was being carried. McKay stopped by a convenient doorway he could step back into just in case there was a miniscule possibility that it was not his team just about to walk into view. Even if it was his team, running ahead, straight into Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon was an accident waiting to happen.
He made sure that he was smiling smugly as Teyla turned the corner.
“Dr. McKay,” Teyla said, and her whole body smiled.
McKay couldn’t help the little fillip of pleasure that thrummed through him as he grinned back. “Nice to see you, too.”
“Rodney!” Sheppard chirruped, bouncing forward to pat him cheerily on the arm. McKay glanced down checking that he hadn’t wiped anything on his sleeve.
“What’s the matter with him!” he said pointing at the beaming Sheppard.
“Our objective was to find you,” Sheppard said brightly.
“Bad reaction to a drug combination,” Carson supplied and McKay caught sight of the man’s ass hanging over Ronon’s shoulder.
“What happened to you?”
“Ronon’s being helpful,” Carson said muffled. Ronon held his hand out to McKay.
McKay simply looked at him wondering if he could possibly keep the blaster a little longer. Ronon’s expression was implacable. Slowly, McKay pulled out the gun and with a disgruntled sigh, slapped it on Ronon’s outstretched palm. Baring his teeth in a grin, Ronon made it spin in his fingers before dropping it neatly back into its holster.
“Dr. McKay.” Teyla moved into his direct line of sight so she had his entire attention. “Did you switch the lights off and on?”
“Ah, no. The priskin android has uploaded its consciousness into the mainframe.” McKay’s eyes drifted to the ceiling. “It’s learning how to use the system. It will be careful as there’s limited power left in the ZPMs.”
“You’re kidding!” Carson moaned from behind Ronon. “Should have known we hadn’t destroyed the bloody beastie.”
“Perhaps now that we have our entire team, we should leave,” Teyla said, and it was not a suggestion.
“Aye,” Carson said, “before Priskin gets his hands on John and succeeds in taking over his body.”
“What?” McKay demanded.
Sheppard tapped at his forehead. “There was an android and it tried to--”
“Carson, is he brain damaged?” McKay demanded.
Carson shifted uncomfortably. Ronon turned presenting his back to McKay so Carson could talk to him (and allowing him to watch the corridor).
Craning his head, Carson looked up at McKay. “He’s getting better. I’m pretty sure it’s temporary. I’ll know more when we get back to Atlantis.” Carson glanced nervously about. “Perhaps, you know, given the insane android in charge of the temple instead of just running around performing experiments on people, we should get out of here.”
“It takes one to know one,” McKay muttered under his breath.
Carson shot him a dark, dark look, which wasn’t muted in the slightest by hanging upside down.
“I concur.” Teyla gestured back the way that they had came, with an easy sweep of her arm.
“I’m fine, by the way,” Sheppard said and deftly relieved McKay of a Power Bar from its easy access pocket. He bit into it savagely.
“That was mine!” Rodney snatched back his treat, holding it out of Sheppard‘s reach. “I didn’t think I had any.”
“I was enjoying that.”
“Colonel Sheppard,” Teyla said at the same time that Carson remonstrated.
“How did you find that?” McKay stuffed the remnants in his mouth and chewed.
Sheppard smirked, there was no other word for it.
“Carson,” McKay began in the face of that fatuous expression, “are you sure he’s okay?”
“No, I’m bloody well not, but I cannae do anything about it here, can I?” Carson said, brogue leaching heavily into his voice. “We need to get him back to Atlantis.”
“I’m fine,” Sheppard said with a modicum of his normal tone.
“You said that the android had tried to take over his body?” McKay asked. “How did it do that? The androids are able to move their conscious programming into the mainframe and download into other inactive units and then use them. To go from an android to a human would probably require some kind of translation interface with the mainframe? Did you see any kind of device?”
“Yeah. There was a ‘device’ in the medical research lab. Priskin scanned John and then physically attached him to a globe in some kind of ceiling array.”
“Dr. McKay,” Teyla said evenly, “we should leave.”
“No, we shouldn’t. What if--” McKay peered into Sheppard’s face, reading a guileless expression in a face that normally was always a little guarded, “--a portion of his consciousness is in the computer?”
“Oh, my god,” Carson breathed.
“I need to access the database to get the androids’ specs. We have to determine the base structure of their cerebral programming, see if it’s positronic, gravitonic or even syntronic. We have to interrogate the database to find if there’s any evidence of… well… Sheppard.”
“Put me down, Ronon.” Carson said tiredly. With a deft slump of his shoulder, Ronon dropped him to the floor. As he weaved slightly, Ronon held his shoulders. “How long do you think we have before the android takes total control of the temple?”
McKay flung his hands high. “How am I supposed to know? I haven’t even cracked the first line of the androids’ code. I need to get to a computer,” he finished slowly, as if explaining to idiots.
Carson offered, “For all we know, he’s just as high as kite. I’ve seen reactions like this.”
“But can we chance it?” McKay said succinctly.
Sheppard raised his hand. “Don’t I get a say?”
“No,” his team said simultaneously. Bottom lip prominent, Sheppard folded his arms over his narrow chest.
“Okay.” Carson faced McKay directly. “We get him to an analysis suite where I can run an fMRI, CAT scan and study an EEG output. We choose one with a computer interface to the mainframe so we don’t have to split up.”
“Presuming it exists,” McKay snapped back. “Have you found a map of the place, to direct us to this Holy of Holies?”
“We hit the Operation Tower, identify a place to ‘hole up’ and check John and get there, asap,” Carson rapped out.
“How? By magic?” McKay tilted his chin up high.
“Sort of.” Carson hopped, turning to face Sheppard. “If you don’t mind, John.”
Sheppard bobbed up on his heels. “Really, can I?”
Carson nodded indulgently. “Go on, son.”
Sheppard extended a finger straight up and then whipped it around in a tight circle. “Open Sesame.”
A doorway immediately to the group’s left opened. Blue glyphs glowed into being inside the ceramic tiles. Grinning widely, Sheppard performed the most extravagantly flamboyant bow he could, arms wind milling like a character from a bad play.
“What’s that?” McKay demanded already moving forward to examine the room.
“Sort of like the transporter booths on Atlantis, but there’s also platforms in some of the rooms to facilitate patient transport,” Carson explained. “There’s a pad in the Operations Tower, we can be there in a blink of an eye.”
“Right, right, then, in!” McKay’s hands fluttered in the direction of the booth. “Hurry. I don’t know how long it will take the android to understand the intricacies of the temple’s computer system.”
They scuttled into the large booth, Teyla helping Carson, Sheppard and McKay racing to be first in and Ronon bringing up the rear.
“John, close your eyes,” Carson directed.
Sheppard’s eyebrows quirked upwards, “I can do it, you know.”
“No drunk driving!” McKay snapped.
“You, too.” Carson glared at McKay. “Let me do it.”
Teyla’s eyes were already closed and her expression meditative-serene.
Ronon stood at the entrance, arms crossed over his broad chest as if guarding the Sultan’s treasure hoard.
“I can keep my mind clear without closing my eyes,” he said.
“Like that’s a hardship,” McKay couldn’t help himself at times.
Carson cocked an eyebrow chidingly and McKay winced; that had been a little closer to the bone than normal. He closed his eyes – wondering what he was missing and why he couldn’t transport them but time was of the essence, they didn’t have time for histrionics and arguments.
“You can open your eyes, Rodney,” Carson said laughingly.
“I didn’t feel a thing.” The Operations Tower was as he had left it, as familiar as home with a few tweaks.
Sheppard poked a finger in his ear, wiggling it. “I feel it -- it feels like a pressure change.”
“You’re sounding a bit more present, son.” Carson hopped over right into the colonel’s personal space and peered in his eyes. “Less dilated.”
“I need a leak,” Sheppard informed him without even a blush.
“Aye, well,” Carson returned, “that’s probably all the water I’m having you drink.”
McKay made a beeline straight for the central command computer. No changes had been made since he had fired it up earlier. Earlier, he wondered, guessing that barely an hour had passed. Ronon paralleled him. McKay made a classic double take at the knife he held in his hand.
“Is that a coherent laser?” he breathed looking at the bright blue, transparent blade.
“It’s the Doc’s,” Ronon said. “It needs the Ancestor’s inheritance.” He glanced at Carson and brandished the weapon.
Carson’s hand flexed and the blade extended to a full metre.
“Lightsabre,” McKay blurted and coveted it.
Sheppard giggled at his words; so the drugs hadn’t quite worn off.
“Rodney!” Carson pointed at the computer.
“Oh, yeah, analysis suite.” He glanced over his shoulder. Sheppard was no longer weaving from side to side like a shaft of wheat in a summer storm, but his eyes were big and bright and impossibly green.
Task firmly in hand, McKay turned back to the computer and did not plumb its depths but called up the temple schematics. Carson hobbled over with Teyla’s assistance, the smaller woman tucking neatly under his arm.
Carson leaned over the console. “There’s one.” His finger jabbed out at the screen. “And it looks like the primary analysis suite. I recognise the glyphs.”
McKay tapped three matrix tablets in rapid succession and called up an overlay of the transporter system. Cocking his head to the side, it took a movement to orientate himself. “Yes, there’s a transporter unit in the analysis suite and there’s a booth beside the DNA resequencer.” He glanced back at the patterning on which they had materialised and made a mental note to check the Operations Tower when they returned to Atlantis. “Okay, it’s a plan: primary analysis suite; check the Colonel; check the mainframe and move to the DNA resequencer corridor and then we get the hell out of here?”
“Sounds good to me,” Carson said heartedly.
“Well, it depends on what I find in the mainframe,” McKay qualified, turning in a slow circle to take in all the scientific goodies in the temple’s Operations Tower.
“Dr. McKay,” Teyla said gaining both men’s attention, “shall we ‘transport’ to the analysis suite and ensure that Colonel Sheppard has not been compromised?”
“I’m not compromised,” Sheppard objected. “I’m just a little loopy.”
“Shall we?” Teyla chivvied them, Mother Duck and ducklings to the platform. Ronon clamped a massive hand around Carson’s bicep and kept him upright.
“So you just picture where you’re going?” McKay checked, gearing up to do just that as he stepped into the spiral.
“Let the Doc do it,” Ronon said soberly. “Maybe it needs the true Ancestor’s gene.”
A smile quirked Carson’s lip. “Enough teasing. Everyone close their eyes, that includes you, Rodney, and you, Colonel Sheppard.”
Matching sighs were heaved out.
‘Children,’ the cant of Teyla’s shoulders spoke loudly.
The analysis suite was
everything that Carson could dream of -- the dark chocolate and a smooth smoky
whisky of top of the line medical equipment.
“John, get yourself up on that diagnostic cradle.” Carson directed, pointing at the contoured couch in the centre of the room. He made a quick check of the ceiling but there was no horrible disco ball.
“I feel fine,” Sheppard protested, and there was a touch of gritted teeth in his words.
“The sooner that you get on the diagnostic cradle the quicker we get out of here.” Rodney clicked his fingers backing up Carson, but his attention was mainly caught by the bank of computers along the far wall. “I wish I had my laptop. Did nobody think of bring it when you stormed the temple to rescue me?”
“Be happy we rescued you,” Ronon said.
“I rescued myself,” Rodney snapped back. Life signs detector out, he checked the residual charge in the computers. “It looks like we’re good to go. It’s powered up.”
Dragging his heels sullenly, Sheppard walked to the couch. He poked at the yielding covering and looked mutely at his team.
“On, Colonel.” Carson hopped off the platform -- he was getting damn tired of hopping -- to the main bed.
Sheppard clambered on and stretched out, settling his head on the dumbbell like pillow at the head of the bed. “Oh, weird, it sort of cups you.”
“It’s to help you stay still,” Carson said absently, as the monitor bank attached to the diagnostic cradle fired up, registering a patient’s presence. “Ronon, can you get that large blue matrix screen which is propped in the corner? Wheel it over.”
“Okay, I’m in the mainframe,” Rodney reported. “Oooh, that’s clever…”
Ronon scanned the room, found the high matrix screen. He lumbered over, collecting the large screen and wheeling it over to the diagnostic cot.
“Ronon, I need you to move it parallel to Colonel Sheppard,” Carson instructed, fingers flying over the touch pad, “at my command. Set it by his head first.”
Sheppard gave him a thumbs up as the giant nurse dutifully set the screen in place. Teyla moved to the door of the suite, opening it and setting herself at the threshold so she could watch both her team and the only egress.
“We’re using a lot of power,” Rodney warned, “we’re liable to get the priskin unit’s attention. Can you speed this up?”
“Not if I want to do this properly,” Carson said, zooming in on a schematic of the colonel’s brain. He was meticulously familiar with the intricacies of Sheppard’s cerebral cortex. He breathed a sigh of relief as the data output indicated that there were definitely no gross irregularities in the physical structure. He upped the image with a mental command and the threadwork of neurons appeared.
“Tell me about the Wraith, Colonel?”
The limbic system lit up like a lighthouse.
“What do you want to know?” Sheppard’s eyes flicked in his direction, his expression hooded.
“Carson,” Rodney said, “I think we need to hurry.”
“Ronon, pinch Colonel Sheppard, now!”
Obediently, the Runner punched him on the bicep with the speed of a striking rattler.
“Ow!” Sheppard sat up, but not before Carson obtained readings from primary somatosensory and the anterior cingulate cortices.
“Sorry, Colonel, lie back – I’m not finished.”
Sheppard rubbed at his arm. “No,” he protested mulishly.
Ronon set a meaty hand on Sheppard’s chest and pushed him back down onto the couch.
“I’m sorry, Colonel. I needed an honest reaction,” Carson said. “Rodney, ask Colonel Sheppard a maths question.”
“Eh?” Rodney said succinctly.
“I need a check of working memory. Rodney? You said time was of the essence.”
“If,” Ronon rumbled, “Eil plus three of Nones is equal to eight and Eil plus five of Nones is equal of twelve. What does Eil and Nones equal?”
“Base ten?” Sheppard asked.
“Yes. Your base.” Ronon opened and closed his hand. “Ten.”
Sheppard’s face scrunched up and Carson watched the play of activating regions in his brain in glorious technicolor. Streams of data on the left side of the monitor worked to analyse the outputs, watching the display, Carson felt the twisting in his gut ease as another test revealed both optimum and acceptable results.
“X and y both equal two,” Sheppard answered, smirking.
“Pah!” Rodney snapped. “And I’ll be having words with both of you later.”
The lights went out.
“No,” Carson protested. “I haven’t finished!”
“It wasn’t me,” Rodney responded. “We’ve been found. We’ve got to get out of here. Any room we’re in is liable have containment protocols.”
“Move, everyone into the corridor,” Sheppard ordered. The mattress squished loudly as he abruptly swung off the examination bed.
“I’ve got it. I’ve got a flashlight somewhere. Where did I put it?” Rodney held up his life signs detector, the light from the screen offering some illumination.
The light on Teyla’s P-90 flared. “This way.”
Rodney scurried over, checking his pockets as he ran. Sheppard reached his side, pushing a hand between his shoulder blades propelling him through the door as Teyla stepped back into the corridor.
Carson braced himself, setting his foot to the floor, and let out a squeak as Ronon swooped on him. The man must have practised lugging team members; a hard yank on his arm and suddenly Carson was hanging over Ronon’s wide shoulder, scrabbling at his leather coat for purchase. A bound and a leap and he barely stayed in place. Energy played over his skin, like an impending lightning strike and Ronon stumbled as if running through molasses. They popped through the force field, beating it by a hairsbreadth, as it achieved total solidity.
“You guys all right?” Sheppard asked.
“Yeah,” Ronon said laconically, rolling a shoulder and setting Carson more securely.
“Thank you, Ronon.” Carson patted the small of his back. “I’m bloody glad you picked me up.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Rodney blurted. “We’re out. We’re safe. The important matter at hand: I had to keep an eye on the data streams and track the priskin unit but I did not find a binary representation of a human consciousness in any of the files uploaded in the last thirty minutes. It’s probably checking that, which led the android to find us. Carson, is Sheppard more retarded than normal?”
“What?” Carson wriggled trying to see Rodney and the heavy arm around his legs tightened keeping firmly pinned in place. Ronon turned slightly so Carson could see the team.
“Is Sheppard permanently looped?” Rodney asked gratingly.
“Hey, I’m getting better,” Sheppard said, scowling at Rodney. “It’s the drugs. I solved the equation.”
“I can’t prove a negative,” Carson answered. “He passed three of the tests.”
“I’m fine,” Sheppard said again.
“Enough talking,” Ronon entered the fray. “This android will try to kill us; we should leave or destroy it.”
“I vote for destroy.” Rodney raised a hand high, fingers spread. “There’s a veritable cornucopia of Ancient equipment here. Just taking the DNA resequencer would be of incalculable benefit to our research – Carson’s research.”
“Thank you, Rodney,” Carson said with a touch of sarcasm.
“Okay, okay. There are ZPMs, you know...” Rodney juggled LSD, magna-lite, torch and a book light. He handed the book light to Sheppard.
“Actually, there was only one ZPM in the power room. I cannae tell a lie, that DNA resequencer would be of incalculable benefit to my research,” Carson mused, already planning the first trials.
“So two in favour of taking out the android and scavenging this place.” Rodney smirked.
“We are not a democracy,” Sheppard interrupted, eyes just a little wild.
“Just one ZPM in the power room?” Rodney checked. Humming, he stroked fingers over the LSD pulling -hunting the best route to the ZPM room.
“Yeah,” Carson said. Grabbing a handful of leather coat, he used it as leverage to lift himself up a little. “I transported into the power room and there was only one ZPM left. Benton -- the engineering android that I met -- has coupled some kind of thing…”
“Thing?” Rodney said disparagingly with a wave of his hand. “We need to get to the ZPM powering this temple. We disconnect it and the android’s stuck in the mainframe – just hibernating code.”
“We should leave.” Teyla stood resolute. “There are many dangers here of which we are not aware. Have you not said that the power of the Zero Point Module is waning? We return when the power has been drained. No one can visit while the Stargate is broken, so you can return at a later date.”
“What she said,” Sheppard jerked a thumb in Teyla’s direction.
“No way!” Rodney’s voice rose an octave. “We want the second ZPM.”
“Standing here is bad planning,” Ronon said. “We’re poorer targets when we’re moving.”
“Unless we know accurately how much power is left in the ZPM, Teyla, leaving doesn’t really help.” The LSD bleeped, and finger rubbing his bottom lip, mercurially Rodney’s mood shifted to analytical. “We need to know the daily draw on the ZPM to calculate the rate of use, so I can estimate how long the ZPM will last.”
“Enough!” Sheppard roared. “We are not, I repeat, a democracy. Unknown AI in the mainframe and unknown number of androids in the temple. We are leaving and coming back with a combat team at a later date.”
“Oh, okay.” Rodney shifted uneasily, but then, “Are you sure, because…”
Sheppard lurched at him, he grabbed Rodney by the collar of his t-shirt and propelled him down the corridor.
“Hurting!” Rodney protested as he was pushed.
“I think I played this game in the late 1980s,” McKay observed as they picked their way down another murky tiled corridor. He swung his magna-lite to illuminate another offset room in shrouded darkness. “I was a wizard.”
“Dungeons and dragons?” Carson checked, still hanging over Ronon’s shoulder.
“Hmmm, yes. I’m sure I did this campaign in the Dungeons of Aberoth. Lots of corridors. Paladin: Ronon, I guess.” McKay shone the flashlight so Ronon and Carson, walking at his side, were silhouetted like a nightmarish chimera against the wall. “Do you think Teyla could be a kender-thief? Sheppard’s an elf, of course. You get to be our cleric, Carson.”
“I never actually played D&D,” Carson said, bringing a hand up to shield his eyes. “I did rugby at Uni and a bit of rowing.”
“I was not an elf,” Sheppard said from the rear. “I was a human magic user and my alignment was chaotic.”
“Really…” McKay saying that Sheppard was an elf was meant as teasing, but if Sheppard knew the terminology and said he was a chaotic magic user that meant that he had really played the game.
Teyla, in the lead, stopped and raised a fist.
“Quiet,” Ronon said lowly. He pulled his blaster free, spinning it and triggering the highest level.
“Why? What is it?” McKay asked squinting in the darkness.
The glaring flare of the red blast from the laser made him duck, crouching down arms over his head. Another blast rung through the air. McKay peered through the cradle of his arms as Ronon sent relentless blast after blast into the lurching android. The energy flared over its carapace-like torso. Ronon stalked forward, Teyla moving with him to provide back up.
“Doc, the sabre, now!”
Blue light entered the throng of colour and the android’s head separated from its body. The clatter was loud as it bounced across the tiles.
“Jesus Christ!” Carson swore as he hung over Ronon’s shoulder.
“I’m going to put you down, Doc. I’m better with both my hands free.”
Carson scrabbled at Ronon’s coat as he was gently let down. He weaved on one foot. McKay straightened, and darting over, grabbed Carson’s arm to haul it over his shoulder before he could collapse to the floor. Sheppard shored up Carson’s other side. Carson’s mass spread between the two of them was infinity easier than one alone helping him.
“Ronon,” Sheppard said, “how many?”
“Just the one. Teyla?” Ronon asked.
“I only saw one.” She scanned the corridor, P-90 primed and braced at her shoulder.
“This isn’t good,” McKay moaned. “The remaining androids have enough charge to be active for a little while, they could try and stop us escaping.”
Sheppard leaned around Carson. “And why didn’t you tell us that before?”
“It slipped my mind,” McKay snapped back.
“They’re going to want Colonel Sheppard,” Carson looked around urgently, his fingers gripping tightly at McKay’s shoulder. “If’n Priskin wants to escape, it’s going to come after John.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Ronon said implacably.
“I’ve sabotaged the uhm… temple,” McKay blurted. He scrabbled in his vest pocket and pulled out his reconfigured transmitter. “I can send a signal that can trigger a catastrophic overload. This place will melt.”
“And again--” Sheppard rolled his eyes. “--why do you forget to tell us this stuff?”
“So many things to think about. I can’t keep track of everything!”
“I thought that you were a genius – isn’t that the definition of multi-tasking?” Sheppard returned.
“Enough!” Carson chastised. “Let’s get the Hell out of here.”
“Are you sure? I mean, all that sciencey stuff to appropriate,” Sheppard said, as he swung his flashlight around, checking for any androids lurking in the wainscoting.
“Ha. Ha. Very funny,” McKay mocked. “Science supplies one hundred percent of the answers that you demand from me.”
“I don’t think that now’s the time for humour, son. Oh, shit!” Carson pointed at a row of barrels illuminated by Sheppard’s sweeping light. They sat against the corridor wall.
“What?” Ronon demanded.
“Androids in dormant form.”
Ronon’s lightsabre whipped out and bits of severed android littered the floor. Teyla carefully stepped over a smoking limb, walking as lightly as through the forest. A faint aura of distaste coloured her expression.
Sheppard reached around Carson and clicked his fingers together al la McKay. “The detonator.”
“McKay, give me the detonator.”
“No,” McKay protested again.
“Rodney, give him the damn detonator,” Carson barked.
“Okay. Okay.” Rodney slapped it on his outstretched hand.
“This place is like a warren.” McKay tapped at his LSD with his thumb as they progressed through the temple, highlighting for Sheppard the changing local schematics.
“We figured that out, McKay,” Sheppard said around Carson’s bulk. “Your point?”
McKay cocked his head to the side, obviously estimating distances and angles. “Hang on.”
“What?” Sheppard demanded, pulling them to a stop at yet another t-junction. Carson swayed vulnerably against them. The man looked exhausted. The bright light from their flashlights cast sharp shadows that made the pallor of his skin all the more obscene. Up front, Ronon glared over his shoulder at them for once again calling for a halt.
“I know where we are.” McKay pointed with the LSD at the corridor directly ahead of them. “Back to the operations tower and ZPM room. This is the corridor where you were ambushed.”
Teyla immediately set her flashlight to sweep the floor. A black wrapped form appeared in the spot light
“Sarah,” Rodney said around a lump in his throat.
Ronon stalked forward, dreds sweeping back and forth as he scoured the ground. The light of his blue medical laser picked up the long length of his blade. He bent on one knee and rested his hand on the scabbard, just for a moment, before gathering it up. Knotting the sliced harness back together, he swung it over his shoulders. Teyla’s flashlight suddenly stopped on a tac vest with attached P-90 lying on the floor – Sheppard’s. Ronon scooped up the parts, the clips holding it together had been disconnected. Sheppard lifted Carson’s arm free giving all the weight to Rodney. They staggered, grabbing each other more firmly around waists and shoulders and managed to stay upright. Sheppard took back his vest, clipping it together mechanically and shrugging it on. He checked the P-90, cursorily, a click and quick look at the magazine mechanism.
“What about her?” Ronon jerked his bristly chin at the body.
“I…” Rodney raised a finger and let it drop.
“We don’t leave anyone behind.” Face impassive, Sheppard stooped. The team was silent as he hauled her up and over his shoulder, back as straight as if he were at attention.
“Right, right, okay,” McKay babbled. He sent his hand up the other leg of the t-junction. “This way. Out. Along here.”
There was no further talk of plundering the temple, only a dogged determination to get out of the hole. Ronon took point, his blue blade in one hand and his blaster, its hilt glowing red, in the other. Teyla, dependable, wise Teyla, dropped to the rear covering their six.
The weight across Sheppard’s shoulders was cold. There was a swatch of clammy blood along the heel of his hand, staining his wrist where the bag had leaked. Beckett and McKay hobbled ahead of them, heading inexorably to the scene of Sarah’s murder and Carson’s assault. Rodney paused at the crossroads where Sheppard guessed that he and Carson had got turned around. Cocking his head at Ronon, McKay asked a silent question. Ronon concurred and they turned east. A mere two turns and the large portal door of the lab. was on their right.
“We should look in here,” McKay suddenly blurted, stopping and peering into the oppressing darkness within. “Check the equipment where Colonel Sheppard was almost downloaded.”
“I’m fine,” Sheppard said, jaw tense.
The lights, cold, bright and clinical, flared. Ronon crouched, extending his blaster covering the corridor ahead. Teyla spun to scan the area behind them.
“McKay, you got that thing--” Sheppard nodded at the LSD in Rodney’s right hand, “--set to pick up the android?”
“Androids,” McKay corrected. “And the holograms. There’s nothing in the immediate vicinity.”
Above them the white tiles undulated, flared and then blinked out of existence. Lines and rows of infrastructure were revealed. Long pipes with bubbling water drained over head. Cables twisted and weaved through dense black spheres spaced evenly along the ceiling. McKay craned his head, mouth open as he peered at them.
“Huh, there’s the holographic projectors.” He pointed at a series of crystalline matrixes embedded in the weave of cables. “I don’t see any force shield emitters.”
“We should move.” Ronon said, already stalking away from the huddle. Carefully, feeling the impending sense of attack, they made a hobbling step onwards en mass.
The LSD made a defeated bleep. “Wait. Wait.” McKay scowled and the team froze. “Nope, false alarm. Carry on.”
“Can we chance the transporters? Get to the booth next to the DNA resequencer?” Carson said. “It’s right next to the way out.”
“What sort of alarm?” Sheppard asked.
McKay opened his mouth to speak as the lights browned down to dimness. “Uh oh, I’ve got multiple signals!”
“Where from?” Ronon demanded. “How many?”
“Back there, moving fast.” McKay pointed behind them. “Eighteen.”
“Eighteen?” Sheppard echoed. “Fuck.”
There was a loud click as Teyla double-checked the magazine on her P-90.
Sheppard glanced up at the revealed ceiling infrastructure. “Do you think that their holographic camouflage will be working?”
“I assume,” Carson said, looking around nervously, “that they have their own internal holographic thingy. The android that took me from the puddlejumper outside the temple had a holographic shield.”
“So they’re likely going to be invisible,” Sheppard growled. He snapped his fingers and commanded, “Open.”
A door to a transporter booth opened, unsurprisingly, directly opposite the lab. “We’ve got power, let’s get out of here while we can,” Sheppard ordered.
“Faster, faster,” McKay uttered, dragging Beckett into the booth. “They’re getting closer.”
“They are here!” Teyla sprayed the end of the corridor with rounds, backing up step by step to the booth. There was no visible sign of the androids, but the rounds ricocheted off mid-air. Ronon spun his blaster, sending bolt after bolt. Red energy scintillated against nothing.
Sheppard ducked into the booth clearing the way for Ronon and Teyla to enter hip to hip.
“Close!” Carson ordered. The doors slammed shut, Teyla jerked up the barrel of her weapon, barely avoiding the slamming panels. “Everyone shut their eyes.”
Sheppard kept his eyes open, but deliberately did not think of any destination. He felt the whisper of Ancient technology stroking the hairs across the back of his neck. The doors opened on yet another corridor edged in teal. Ronon and Teyla exited, one going north and the other going south to scan the area.
“If we stop the doors from closing, the androids won’t be able to use it,” McKay said, “theoretically.”
“What can we use?” Carson asked.
Rodney glanced introspectively at the body hanging over Sheppard’s shoulder. Beckett hopped, directly, out of the booth, forcing the man to come with him.
“Hang on.” McKay scrutinised the doorjamb, focussed on the blue fading glyphs within the tiles. A smile suddenly graced his face. “Ronon, fire into the transporter floor.”
Ronon raised an eyebrow and extended his arm, pointing directly into Sheppard’s face. Grimly, Sheppard side stepped. Ronon lowered his weapon and fired. Energy flared burning the directly through the floor housing.
“Done,” Ronon said flatly.
“Excellent. Ack--” McKay gasped as he was snatched backwards. Beckett fell away as his support disappeared, landing hard to his hands and knees. Heels drumming at the floor, McKay scrabbled at shimmering air wrapped around his throat. The sound of Ronon’s blaster charging as he spun it, sounded large in the tight corridor.
“Don’t fire!” Sheppard ordered. Slowly, he let his wrapped burden drop to the floor.
“Fire! Fire!” Rodney mouthed.
“Release him.” Sheppard focussed along the sights of his barrel at the small space over McKay’s shoulder where he guessed where the android’s head watched.
“The Dd’el modified the tektonikos. It has been configured to explode. I want the trigger that he has no doubt devised.”
“Benton?” Carson pushed up on one hand, the other reaching to touch the android before him.
“Don’t, Doc,” Sheppard snapped out.
McKay juddered as the camouflaged appendage searched his vest. His face was turning an unsightly dark red. Ronon slid silently to the left maximising their coverage of the android. It backed up, right up against the wall. Teyla bracketed it in from the other side.
“You want this?” Sheppard withdrew the reconfigured unit from his trouser pocket. “Release McKay.”
Benton did not follow the order, instead incrementally tightening his grip. McKay’s head twisted to the side, the angle on the edge of dangerous. He held still, finger knuckles white around the arm circling his neck.
“I can try a stun blast,” Ronon said.
“You’ll just stun, McKay,” Sheppard dismissed the plan.
Carson managed to get to his knees. “You’re killing him, Benton. Release him.”
“He is only a Dd’el.”
“I order it!” Carson yelled, as McKay fell limp in the invisible grip.
The air around the android shimmered and it solidified. His head was a foot above McKay’s and Sheppard’s aim snapped upwards.
“The Dd’el is important to you.” That he was inconsequential to the android went unsaid. Benton unfurled a double jointed arm far past McKay’s head, the stringy, long metallic fingers curling open. “The trigger for your Dd’el.”
“Why!” Carson said, appalled.
“The first rule,” Benton said.
“John,” Carson said urgently in the face of the dark purplish flush colouring McKay’s skin, “give Benton the trigger.”
“Fuck,” Sheppard swore and slapped the transmitter into Benton’s paw.
Benton thrust McKay into Sheppard’s arms, simultaneously ducking under the blast from Ronon’s weapon. Faster than the eye could track, he moved past Teyla, grabbing her vest and flinging her headfirst at Ronon. They hit the floor tangled together. McKay gasped against Sheppard’s neck, painful, raw gasps for breath.
“You should all leave.” Benton scrutinised the transmitter and then with great deliberation turned the knob on the top.
McKay patted frantically at Sheppard’s chest and then pointed to the way out. His expression was wild and terrified. Seconds were counting down in his eyes.
“Retreat!” Sheppard hollered, hauling McKay up by the lump in the compartment on the back of his vest.
Ronon pushed off Teyla. He grabbed Carson by his collar and bodily dragged him along. Teyla, her strength at odds with her stature, joined Sheppard helping a weaving McKay. McKay’s lurching was almost more of a hindrance as they ran. Step after stride, he coughed and wheezed, and would have fallen if they had not helped him.
Ronon simply ran, dragging Carson on his back along the shiny floor tiles.
“The door. Sheppard, open the door!” Ronon boomed as they approached the tightly closed portal.
Beckett managed to crane his head over his shoulder seeing the wedged planes of the shutter design. “Open!” he roared.
Sheppard, breathing heavily as they hauled McKay along, backed up the order with a mental command which seemed loud enough to hear. The blades retracted so fast that the eye couldn’t follow.
“What the fuck?” Lieutenant Cody Hall stood on the other side of the threshold in the antechamber, P-90 primed to fire. He looked left, right, counting heads.
“Fire in the hold!” Sheppard said succinctly.
Cody lowered his weapon. He didn’t argue, he didn’t say a word, just reached down to lend his strength to Ronon’s. Carson skidded across the floor of the entrance foyer as if he were on an ice rink.
A deep rumbling filled their ears. McKay suddenly found coordination. Adrenalin fuelled their escape. They burst through the main doors into the harsh sunlight of Thou-et at midday. It was blindingly bright.
“Tuck and roll,” Ronon advised.
“What?” Carson demanded as Ronon summarily twisted him around and then rolled him off the steep edge.
Ronon leaped down, sliding down the steps, using the long length of his leather coat to protect his legs. Cody dropped and rolled off the edge. He let out a massive whoop as he slid down the sheer face, a counterpoint to Carson’s high pitched screaming.
“Jesus,” Sheppard swore.
McKay shook his head violently, balking at the idea of rolling down the steep ziggurat-like steps. Teyla took him out at the knees, as efficiently as if bantos rod sparring. She pushed and McKay went rolling, bouncing and bouncing down each tread.
The steps, the entire temple, shuddered. Teyla needed no second sign. Smoothly, she slid off the edge, choosing to slide on her legs like Ronon.
Sheppard glanced back at the temple, then turned and joined his team.
It was fucking painful. It was like being caught in the spinning cycle of a washing machine. He tumbled, head over heels, the edge of each riser hitting him bruisingly. Carson’s satchel, still looped over his shoulder, pummelled him with each roll. The rush of air was disorientating. His P-90 cradled against his gut, dug in. Then the floor came up and he somersaulted across the massive stone blocks of the promenade. He came to a sudden halt against something soft. Raising his head, the sweep of the city around him was dizzying. The softness was McKay lying spread eagled, eyes tightly closed.
Sheppard made an abrupt decision: he didn’t stop to help anyone up, but he lurched to his feet and ran as straight as he could for the puddlejumper. His focus was absolute. Ahead of him the engine pods jutted out of the main body. The thrum of them initiating echoed off the stone buildings lining the promenade.
He reached the ‘jumper and darted to the back. The ramp was down. Sheppard clattered in, boots sounding loud in the contained space. The HUD display came on as he entered the cockpit. Smoothly, he dropped into the pilot’s seat. As soon as he touched the dual control levers, the puddlejumper lifted off the ground. He swung it around tightly on its nose and reversed directly towards his team.
Leaning out of his chair, he looked along the length of the ‘jumper and stopped on a pin, right before the gaggle. Ronon bodily threw McKay in. Once again dragged by the collar, Carson was hauled up the ramp by Cody and Teyla. Lying on the deck, McKay rolled onto his stomach, arm extended he jabbed frantically at the sky.
“Go, go, go!” he croaked.
Ronon came in last, ensuring the rest of the team were inside. “We’re clear, Sheppard.”
“Grab onto something.”
Ronon grabbed at the storage mesh rigging, port and starboard, his body a barrier to stop anyone tumbling out the rear hatch. Sheppard sent the puddlejumper on a direct heading for the stratosphere. Wind whistled through the ‘jumper and, belatedly, he brought the ramp up.
“When’s this--” Sheppard began.
The explosion buffeted them, sending them widely off course. The puddlejumper, as aerodynamic as a brick, plummeted to the earth. The cacophony of the explosion and the pure noise of buffeting air were deafening. Sheppard hauled back on the controls, putting body, soul and mind in to getting them stable. For a nightmarish half-second, the ‘jumper did not respond, but then their downward plunge flattened out. The world was dark; the harsh sun blocked out by a wave of dust that obliterated everything. It was like flying through a hurricane. His team tumbled in the back. The HUD on the windshield flicked in and out, and then settled. The central display showed a gyroscope overlaying a schematic of chaotic clouds. A solid mass was rising to meet them. Sheppard yanked back on the levers and the puddlejumper broke free of the turbulent troposphere and into the calmer stratosphere.
Sheppard breathed hard, once, twice.
“You guys okay?” he leaned out of his chair to look back.
Ronon lay on the bottom of the pile, splayed against the closed rear door. McKay was, of course, on top. He tried to click his fingers together and couldn’t find the coordination.
“Boom,” he mouthed. “Big boom.”
He seemed inordinately pleased with himself.
It was quiet in the puddlejumper. A comfortable, steady feeling of relief filled the air as they soared towards the orbital Stargate above PX5 664 at the edge of the solar system. Sheppard opened his eyes -- a twenty minute cat-nap had lessened some of the exhaustion dragging at his bones. He stretched in the co-pilot’s seat, automatically checking their course and the positioning of the other puddlejumper paralleling their path. Miller had effectively just avoided one of McKay’s wider sweeps. McKay had, for some improbable reason, disengaged the autopilot. That was what had probably awoken him. Sheppard reached over and retriggered the autopilot.
“You’re awake,” McKay croaked like he was gargling glass. Sheppard winced at the sound and the air of gloom hanging over his friend.
“What happened?” He checked the rest of the team. Teyla was curled up in the chair behind McKay, fast asleep, a book abandoned on her lap. Hall sat behind him, almost perched on the edge of his seat as he watched their passage through the solar system. Carson and Ronon were bedded down in the back. Carson lay on the floor on an air mattress with his foot propped up on a backpack and Ronon snored his way to PX5 664 on the port bench.
“It’s only got 0.00000032 percent power left,” McKay croaked miserably.
In answer, McKay pointed at the ZPM placed centrally on the dashboard. Sheppard blinked disbelievingly, but the ZPM remained sitting like an object d’art on display.
“What?” Sheppard looked to the ZPM to McKay, who now looked a little smug on top of the misery. “Where, what?” How could he have missed McKay’s crowing that he had discovered a ZPM? After they had escaped Thou’et’s gravity pull, joined their fellow puddlejumper in space and initiated the autopilot everything had been insane: McKay hyperventilating around a swollen throat; Carson dealing with that panic and then insisting on checking everyone, and by everyone he meant everyone; Miller and Captain Coleman in the background frantically demanding an update and Ronon stalking back and forth too over stimulated to relax.
When, finally: McKay breathed easier, slipping into sleep; Cody Hall had had the impressive knot on his temple from the android’s attack bandaged; each of them had been scanned from head to toe, bruises and cuts mapped and assessed; Carson had been cajoled into lying on the floor with his foot elevated and Teyla had settled in to meditative pose -- the adrenalin crash had almost sent Sheppard to his knees.
McKay, waking from his own power nap, had staggered blearily to the pilot’s seat. Slumping, as he assessed the automatic pilot headings, he had waved his hand and croaked,
Sheppard glanced at his watch -- the twenty minute cat-nap had been more like a two hours and twenty minute cat-nap.
“You found a ZPM,” Sheppard said.
McKay rolled his eyes. The curl of his lip, said ‘evidently’.
“So 0.00000032 percent power translates--” Sheppard glanced up to the left as he calculated, “--into half an hour of shield time on Atlantis?”
McKay cocked his head to the side, as he ran through the math. “Depends,” he whispered concisely.
Sheppard pointed and then slowly let his hand drop. As his mind stuttered, he pointed again and inevitably, his finger turned to McKay.
McKay looked completely self-satisfied and then less so as he read Sheppard’s expression. Little highlights of pink coloured under the dark circles under his eyes.
“What?” He looked left and then right. “What did I do?”
“You had a ZPM? Why the Hell did you want to get the other one?”
“Hey!” McKay managed to get out and then his voice disappeared in a croak. Reaching out, he snagged the ZPM and held it against his chest.
Shaking, his head in exasperation at the image, Sheppard wondered why he was even surprised. Two ZPMs were always going to be better in McKay’s world than one. McKay shrugged bashfully and chanced a smile. Sheppard couldn’t help responding in kind.
“You’re one of a kind, McKay.”
Now effectively mute, McKay could only shrug.
Sheppard slowly stretched in his seat, arms over his head. The crack as his spine realigned was immensely wonderful, but his shoulder twanged miserably.
“I’m just going to check the back, then I’ll relieve you, ‘kay?”
A weary, but jubilant, McKay nodded.
“Two seconds.” Sheppard pushed off the co-pilot’s chair wincing at the pull of what felt like an impressing array of bruises down his thighs. He was going to sleep for a week when they got home. As he limped into back section, Teyla opened her eyes long enough to check his progress.
Ronon was snoring, deeply and rhythmically – a surprising sound. Sheppard didn’t think that he had ever heard Ronon snore. Snoring meant that the enemy could find you.
“He’s tired,” Carson said lowly. “The sedative that the android used was effective but rough.”
Sheppard eased down onto his knees. “How are you doing, Doc?” They had slid off his boot, and his bare foot was black and blue, with bruising bleeding along his foot from the toes to above the ankle bone. Swelling had pushed his toes widely apart.
“Ah, fine. It was probably just sprained until the android swung me up by my ankle.”
“Do you need anything?” Sheppard asked pointedly looking at Beckett’s SG-C issued medical case.
“Took a dose before.”
“That was two hours ago; you can have another dose, surely?” He was already opening the case, angling it to Carson.
“Over two, if you haven’t given yourself anything since we got your foot up on that backpack.”
Nodding his head, Beckett reached in and snagged a syringe and a vial. Quickly, he filled the syringe, squinting at the contents. Sheppard winced, turning away as he bared his hip and jabbed the injection home.
“I’m sorry we didn’t get the DNA resequencer,” Sheppard said, hunting for something to say.
“Ah, it’s okay, son,” Carson said magnanimously, lying back on the mattress with a relieved sigh. “You brought my goodie bag along; the contents may be extremely valuable.”
Carson pointed lackadaisically at the satchel on the bench above his head. His finger drew an absent circle in the air; the painkiller already making its effects known.
“Took a bunch a meds from a treatment room; even if one of them turns out to be a new antibiotic that we can synthesise, it’ll help hundred of thousands of people.”
“Cool.” Sheppard unconsciously brought his hand up to tangle in his hair. He stopped halfway -- the blood stain from Sarah’s body had turned a crusty brown over his hand and arm. Clenching his fist, a flake drifted off and then another.
Sheppard’s head snapped up. Carson held out a medical wipe.
“Thanks.” He scrubbed at his wrist, turning the skin a rusty red. His sweat band was stiff with dried blood. “Should have got her out of there,” he admitted quietly and then kicked himself for letting that slip.
“It was a dead body, son. She’s wasn’t there any more. Not really,” Carson said, sympathetically.
Sheppard wadded up the wipe and tossed it in a far corner. “Her parents should have had a body to bury.”
“The living take precedence.” Carson smiled painfully. “You cannae think for one second that you made the wrong decision. Rodney wouldn’t be here or I wouldn’t be here if you’d chosen Sarah.”
“Choice didn’t even enter into it, Doc.” Sheppard shrugged, a mere twist of his unhurt shoulder. “Just would have been the right thing to do.”
“Aye, that it would,” Carson said softly. His eyes drooped, medication drawing him to pain free sleep.
“You get some sleep.” Sheppard bestowed a single pat to Carson’s knee before rising. Carson fell limp, his fingers loosely gripping the syringe. A drop of liquid glistened on the tip of the needle. Grimacing as his back clamoured, Sheppard bent and carefully drew the syringe from his slack hold. Not too sure where to stow a used syringe, he tossed it in the bottom of the case, making a mental note to tell Carson about it later.
He made his painful way back into the cockpit. Hall was now asleep, head back against the rest, hands curled around the P-90 clipped to his vest. Sheppard automatically checked that the safety was engaged.
Rodney levered out of the main seat and dropped unceremoniously into the co-pilot’s seat. “A—‘urs,” he croaked.
“All yours?” Sheppard translated.
McKay nodded and rubbed at his sore throat.
Sheppard flopped down and swung his feet onto the dashboard. It occurred to him that he should have cracked open an MRE or something, but he couldn’t find the energy to go back and root through their supplies.
Rodney set the ZPM back in pride of place. He smiled a little half heartedly -- evidently once again depressed that it contained so little power -- fingers stroking the amber matrix.
“You know--” Sheppard toed the ZPM and smiled as Rodney drew it back a fraction, “--half an hour of shields translates into a lot of energy for other stuff.”
McKay preened, just a little bit.
“And Carson thinks we have some new antibiotics.”
Sagging back into the co-pilot’s seat, Rodney folded his arms over his chest and looked happier. Watching out of the corner of his eye for any objections, he swung his feet onto the dash. The autopilot made a course correction, avoiding the edge of the gravitational rim of the gas giant beneath them. Sheppard’s eyes flicked over the HUD display and the controls, but Rodney’s feet were miles away from the autopilot. Sheppard scanned again, ceaselessly checking readouts before accepting the course change.
The HUD winked out allowing them a clear view of the star field. The rounded arc of the gas giant filled the lower edge of the screen. Grey-green swirls moved perpetually against the swatch of stars in the black velvet of space. Rodney’s finger moved, unconsciously matching the circulating belt at the planet’s pole. Caught in the hypnotic swirling, Rodney’s chin bumped down on his chest. Blinking, he lifted his head. Sheppard kept quiet, breathing slowly in and out, matching the rhythm of Rodney’s bobbing head. Rodney’s busy hands dropped to his lap and his chin bumped down, but this time it stayed.
Dropping his feet, John scooted closer to the console and disengaged the autopilot. Smoothly manipulating the dual controls, he sent his puddlejumper skirting the gravitational well, surfing the wave of energy to -- gently -- slingshot around the planet.
His team slept on through his antics, safe all the way home.