Prompt: Artificial Intelligence
Word Count: 16,000
Summary: The team explores a city that was built to resemble Atlantis -- a City with a mind of its own.
"So," McKay said, running a hand over the even surface. "This should be it."
Ronon glanced at the indicated wall. "Doesn't look any different than anything else we've seen," he commented.
"Well," McKay said defensively, "It took a few tries for me to figure out the layout. It's not easy, you know. Anyway. This one..." and he tapped against the surface. "... should be the right way in."
Sheppard shrugged. "Doesn't look like much."
"Oh," McKay replied. "It's 'much'. Just wait until we get a look inside."
"Now would be a good time," Sheppard commented as he waited.
"I do not see a doorway," Teyla added. "This appears to be little more than another wall."
"Just give me a minute," McKay snapped as he ran his scanner over the featureless space. "This has to be the place."
"Said that last time," Ronon muttered, glaring at the woodland around them. Things rustled through the leaves. "We'll get attacked by blargnaughts before you get us inside."
At mention of the beast, McKay stopped and spun about. "Wait, you think one of them is nearby?" he uttered with a squeak.
"Just keep working, McKay," Sheppard said tiredly as Ronon chuckled.
"Right," Rodney sneered at the Satedan and returned his attention to the wall, slowly running the scanner this way and that. "This has to be it," he repeated in a whisper.
And Sheppard sighed again. They'd been at it for over an hour. The Atlantis database had offered tantalizing clues regarding the purpose of the huge structure. The Ancients had built it. Some sort of research had happened here and then, it had been abandoned.
That never boded well. Rodney had been able to determine that the Ancients had created a smaller version of Atlantis at this site, nothing like the planet with the loose medieval women and the tower. The question was -- why?
"Think of the spare parts," McKay had said, "You know how many times we've had to replace major systems in the control room. Whenever we get invaded, or shot up, or whatever, we need to replace half the technology in there. It'd be nice to have some back-up parts."
Sheppard did not deny that they could use more materials. Maybe they'd even find a few jumpers stashed away.
So they went, searching for this 'other' Atlantis and hoping to find it in better shape than the version infested by Camelot wannabes or as hard to access as the Replicator's version. They'd found the outline of the structure, but the city appeared to be mostly buried.
Sheppard flicked a bit of dust from his P90 and leaned a shoulder against the wall. "Maybe," the colonel said with a sigh, "Maybe, it's time we called it a day." He watched as Rodney press his hand against the surface.
McKay let out a happy exclamation as the wall split, and a door slid open. The others snapped to attention. Only blackness was revealed.
They paused a moment before stepping forward to peer inside. It was dark and little else.
"So..." Sheppard started, looking toward McKay. "Is it safe?"
"Safe?" McKay repeated. "Safe is a... relative term." He held out his scanner. "I'm reading power. Systems seem to be coming online. No life forms." He glanced to the dark hole. "It looks relatively safe."
"Fine," Sheppard stated. "Let's check it out."
Teyla move through first, the light of her P90 illuminating her way, catching familiar-looking architecture. She had only moved two steps when the whole place started to illuminate.
Sheppard and Rodney, both moving through the opening, halted briefly to take it in, as Ronon pressed in between them. The light came on in sections, revealing the large space bit by bit.
"Huh," Sheppard uttered.
Atlantis. It looked like the control room of Atlantis, as if they were entering from the balcony nearest Carter's office. But instead of natural sunlight, a defused light came from plain panels where the windows should have been.
Sheppard glanced to the Gate's location, finding only a bare platform, and he missed the stunning stained glass that would have been behind it.
McKay was already moving forward, looking greedy and excited as he headed into the un-plundered upper level.
The door shut behind them once Sheppard and Ronon stepped fully within, and Dex glared at it before he continued after McKay. Teyla's gaze traveled about the room and she came to stand beside Sheppard.
Sheppard looked upward to where the jumperbay would have been. He knew that the building didn't extend high enough to allow for that lofty space and he tsked quietly, annoyed that there would probably be no jumpers to add to their collection.
Yes, it looked like Atlantis, but it wasn't their home. This underground recreation was hardly the same and he glared unhappily at the light fixtures.
McKay stood over one of the control consoles, looking thoughtful. "Yes, see," he said, pointing. "A veritable treasure trove of parts."
He pressed a hand to his mouth as he looked at the controls, and then snapped his head up. "From my understanding, there should be much more than just the gateroom. They created most of the control tower's upper levels. We'll have to find out exactly how much was recreated."
They jumped when a calm voice filled the room, responding, "There are five levels and approximately 45 separate spaces available. Which would you like to examine next?"
All four went for their weapons.
"Please be advised that firearms are not permitted within the city. Remove all apparatus that may prove dangerous toward other life-forms and deposit the items in the indicated bin."
A drawer opened near one of the consoles. If they'd been on Atlantis, it would have been the space used to store spare computer batteries and snacks.
Sheppard scanned the room, looking for whoever had spoken, and muttered, "I think we'll be just fine keeping our firearms with us."
"It is asked that all strangers remove their firearms," the calm voice reiterated. It was a maddeningly neutral sounding voice, without any identifiable accent.
"Not going to happen," Ronon snapped, looking annoyed as hell.
"We're keeping 'em," Sheppard proclaimed, even though Rodney looked as if he were contemplating complying.
There was a pause. "Very well," the pleasantness of the voice waned, and the drawer slid shut.
McKay was holding out his scanner, watching the screen with an intense expression.
Sheppard let his weapon lower as he glanced suspiciously around the room. "Who are you?" he asked. "What are you doing here?"
"I am here because I must be here," the voice told them. "I am here to assist you in all your needs, to guide you."
McKay frowned. "Where are you? Because I'm not picking up any other life signs." He glanced toward Carter's office as if he expected to see someone staring back at them.
"I am everywhere."
"Yeah, great," McKay sniped. "Why aren't you registering?" he went on, pointing at the scanner.
"I am not a life form as you would know one," the voice said.
"Well then, what are you?" Sheppard asked, irritated at the smug response.
"I am the city," the voice told them.
"What the hell does that mean?" Sheppard responded.
Teyla and Ronon looked toward McKay, whose eyes darted as he thought. Then, he snapped his fingers. "Of course! Of course!" He stepped quickly, moving to the center of the room. "You're an AI, aren't you -- an Artificial Intelligence controlling the city?"
"Artificial sounds...somewhat demeaning," the voice returned.
"Yes, well, only if you find 'artificial' shameful, and I can't see why you'd say that. And 'intelligence' well, you can't beat that." McKay spun about. "I had read something about this in the database, totally unconnected with what was recorded about this facility. The Ancients, at one point, were playing with the idea of adding an artificial intelligence to various computer systems in Atlantis. They abandoned the idea. No reason was recorded, but this must have been their test site. Yes, that makes perfect sense. Create a mock- up of Atlantis and trial it here." McKay spread his arms, indicating the space around them. He grinned widely. "Quite clever, actually," he added.
"Yeah," Sheppard wasn't convinced. "And why is it so clever?"
"Because if something went wrong," McKay told him. "The problem would only occur in this contained environment and wouldn't affect the actual Atlantis."
"Actual Atlantis?" the voice stated, sounding puzzled.
"McKay..." Sheppard muttered. "ix-nay on the alking-tay."
"What?" McKay's face went a little blank.
"HAL might get issed-off-pay."
McKay crossed his arms over his chest. "Ine-fay. I'll ut-shay up-pay!"
"Abulous-fay," Sheppard replied. "So do it now."
McKay did not look pleased, but he got the message.
"I was designed to be the perfect city," the voice continued. "I will be able to conform to your needs and assist you in any endeavor."
Ronon stalked around the room, muttering, "I don't like this." He looked toward the door. "I think we should go."
"Hang on... hang on..." McKay put out placating hands. "Just because HAL wants to be helpful, doesn't mean this is a maniacal killing machine, right?"
"I am not a maniacal killing machine," the voice said, a little prissily, "And if you are to refer to me, please use the name that I was given by my creators."
"Okay, fine," Sheppard responded, giving McKay the skunk eye. "What are we supposed to call you?"
"I am the city," the voice told them.
"So, we're supposed to call you 'City'?" Sheppard asked.
"It would be appropriate," City responded. "And how shall I refer to you?"
"Ah, Sheppard," John said, raising his arm. "That's McKay."
"Hello, Sheppard. Hello, McKay," City responded warmly.
Sheppard went on, saying, "Over there is Teyla and Ronon." He pointed them out and wondered how City was watching them did it have eyes, a face? Were they supposed to be looking somewhere specific when addressing it?
"Very well," City replied. "It has been so long since anyone has been here. I was designed to please my makers, to keep them safe from all harm." The City paused. "What can I do to please you?"
"Maybe, we could have a look around?" McKay tried. "You could let us check out some of your 'rooms'?"
"Yes, of course."
"And jumpers," Sheppard added. "You have any of those?"
"Jumpers?" City repeated. "I am unfamiliar with that term."
Gritting his teeth, Sheppard corrected with, "Gate ships. You know, flying ships."
"Oh," City sounded disappointed. "I have no such vessels within me."
"Great," Sheppard said with a sigh.
"But I shall be pleased to show you whatever else you wish to see. I am vast and certainly there is plenty here that shall interest you."
Ronon looked unhappy. "Don't think we need to spend a lot of time here," he voiced.
"Yeah," Sheppard drawled, glancing about the room. "It'd probably be a good idea to take a quick look around and report back."
"But there's so much to explore!" McKay complained.
"Let's get started. We'll split up to cover more ground," Sheppard directed.
Doors opened on opposite sides of the room one on their level, and the other on the lower 'gate' level. "Yes, please, come this way," City told them, its voice seeming to come from below now. "McKay and Sheppard, here is much to show you. The others may look about on this level."
Sheppard and his team exchanged looks, and split up. Sheppard and McKay heading down the stairs, and Ronon and Teyla going in the other direction.
Ronon didn't like it. He didn't like anything about the situation. First of all, being without windows or any visible means of escape was not good. Secondly, he did not like being separated from the rest of his team. Thirdly, and perhaps most keenly, he disliked computers and voices that came from nowhere.
"You will continue along this corridor," the voice told them.
Ronon snorted, and muttered, "We'll go where we want. We know this place." The City didn't respond, but Dex had a fairly good impression that it disagreed with him. He thanked the Ancestors that his Atlantis didn't have this sort of thinking machine running the place.
He glanced to Teyla, who raised an eyebrow at him, apparently sharing the thought. She didn't like it either.
He stalked forward, his gaze moving quickly as he examined passageways that were familiar and yet not. "Looks different," he declared.
Teyla nodded. "It is as Atlantis appeared when I first arrived," she said quietly. "And not unlike the Atlantis of the Replicators."
Ronon grumbled. "Replicators, robots, AI's, I don't like them. They're not real. Don't like dealing with them. Not worth the trouble." He looked about, wondering if the City had something to say about that, but it didn't take the bait. Stupid computer.
He moved down the hallway, glancing into a room. It was a space that the gateroom staff used for storage, and he missed the Weimaraner calendar that should have been hanging by the door.
He didn't know much about Earth's dogs, but after three years of Wegman's posed pooches, he figured it wouldn't be such a bad thing to own such an animal.
With the missing the calendar, the room didn't seem right. They moved on.
"Ronon? Teyla?" Sheppard voice sounded over the radio.
Ronon touched the control, and responded, "Sheppard?"
"Nothing," Ronon replied.
"Oh come on," McKay's voice came over the earpiece. "You haven't found 'nothing'. What kind of a comment is that? The place is full of..." There was a muffled bit of business on the other end as McKay and Sheppard squabbled and their voices became indistinct.
And finally Sheppard came back, saying, "We're not finding much either. Looks like they have the basic furnishings, but not much more."
"Like I said," Ronon responded.
Teyla smiled at him, and then touched her own radio. "We are nearly finished with the upper level and can join you below if you wish."
"Might as well," McKay stated, sounding flustered. "So far we've found little more than replacement parts for consoles and such. You'd think they'd have something a little bit more exciting here. For one thing, I'd like to get a look at the processing system for this computer system because it has to be impressive."
"Okay," Ronon said, not caring. "We're gonna keep moving."
"Right," McKay responded, miffed. "So, talk to you later?"
"Check in with us when you've finished the floor," Sheppard cut in.
"We are nearly done," Teyla told him. "And will soon join you."
Ronon shook his head. This place just seemed wrong without the thousand little bits and pieces left by the others. This was not his home. And, if McKay wanted them to find interesting toys, they weren't succeeding.
At least the voice was quiet. It had barely spoken to them since they started their search -- the quieter the better. The voice had a strangely neuter quality that annoyed him. How was one supposed to respond to something when it wasn't obviously male or female? The voice was too calm and too crisp.
He glowered, daring it to say something. Silence. Good.
They kept moving until they made a circuit of the upper floor and had doubled back to where they had started. Nothing. And still more nothing.
"You done?" he asked his companion.
Teyla smiled and nodded. "We should check in with the others."
"Yeah, we've seen everything up here," Ronon grumbled.
The City spoke finally, "But there is one room you have not examined."
Teyla tilted her head to ask, "What have we missed?"
And a wall slid open beside them. If they were on Atlantis, the doorway would have opened to air a long drop and sea.
They shared a glance, and then peered into a room they'd never seen before. It was a rather small place with a series of promising looking panels and a console with a strange device displayed.
"What is that?" Ronon asked.
"It would appear that we have found a new device," Teyla said with a small smile. "Exactly what Dr. McKay wanted."
Ronon tapped his earpiece. "Sheppard," he called.
"Yeah," Sheppard returned, sounding a little testy.
Ronon smiled, glad. "We might've found something."
"Found something? What is it? You could be a little more descriptive than that?" Ronon had become used to the bite in McKay's voice, and recognized it as frustration at the situation. Yes, they were all annoyed. "Let me guess, you found another room, with more of the same sorts of things that have been in other rooms."
"It's a new room," Ronon told him.
"Great. Wait..." The tone of McKay's voice changed considerably. "What do you mean?"
"Like I said," Ronon replied, "It's a new room."
Teyla replied with a kinder tone, "This room does not exist on Atlantis. It is in an area that would otherwise open to the outside."
"I'll be right there..." McKay started.
"Let them deal with it, McKay," Sheppard declared. "We'll finish this level and, if they find anything good, we'll stop there on the way out."
"Oh, yeah, good thinking. So, carry on."
"Yeah," Ronon responded, and ended the transmission with, "Dex out."
He couldn't explain why he felt a measure of trepidation at the idea of entering the room, but he stepped forward carefully.
Teyla lingered outside, perhaps feeling the same anxiety as he, but neither wanted to speak of it. The City was listening.
He frowned as he approached the device on the console, unsure of what it was. What was its use? It looked like every other thing that McKay kept slung in his pack. It was shaped to fit in the palm of a hand. It had pieces that appeared to light up.
Dex leaned over it, but didn't trust it enough to touch. He cleared his throat and asked, "What's it for, City?"
"I cannot say," the City responded. "The secret of the device was left to the Makers. Some people are not deemed worthy to understand such things." There was no doubting the meaning of the words.
Ronon raised his head at that statement and glared upward, wanting to see 'City', wishing it had a head so that he that could rip it off.
"Ronon," Teyla said calmly from just outside the room. "We should continue onward. Dr. McKay can examine the item before we exit."
"Yeah," Ronon returned, his voice a low rumble. "Sooner we get out of this place, the better."
The City spoke again, saying, "I couldn't agree more."
Teyla suddenly pitched forward, as if the floor beneath her had risen up, or the wall had slammed into her from behind.
Ronon spun about to catch her as she was flung within the room. The door descended with a whoosh, trapping them. Ronon, one arm busily steadying Teyla, reached for his blaster, but it was already too late.
The room filled with a bitter smelling gas and everything spun.
"Please, let us continue," City said, sounding pleased. "There is much yet to show you."
"Yeah, we're coming," Sheppard grumbled.
"It has been so long since I have had guests," City went on. "Certainly you can understand my excitement at your arrival."
"Excitement?" McKay repeated, amazed. "You can feel excitement?"
"I am capable of such sensations," City explained. "Unfortunately, I have been without interaction for a very long time."
"How long?" Sheppard asked.
"Very long," City answered.
"You can't give a better response than that?" Sheppard asked. "And I thought you were some super computer and everything."
"I have been inactive much of the time," City stated, a pout in its voice. "When I am inactive, I exist outside of time. I have no means of counting the passage of years when I am in that state. But it was a very long time. Come along. I shall show you more wondrous things."
"Haven't seen much of the wondrous stuff yet," Rodney grumbled, and then his head shot up as he thought of something. "Hey, City?"
"Yes, McKay?" the City responded.
"The others," and he pointed a finger upward as he spoke. "Ronon and Teyla, they said they'd found that special room. You're keeping tabs on them, right?"
"You're able to watch them to see what they're doing right now? So, what are they doing?"
There was a slight pause. "I can watch anyone within the city," City told them.
"Well, that's great," Rodney shot back. "But did they find anything interesting?"
"Not as such," City stated. "I believe they are disappointed with the results of their last discovery."
Sheppard, glanced to McKay, not sure what to think of the answer, and touched his radio. "Ronon?" he called.
"Yeah," was the response.
"So... did you find anything in that room?" John continued.
"Really?" McKay shot back, incredulous. "You found a secret room. There's nothing worthwhile in there?"
"Like I said. Nothing."
"Well, what's the point of the secret room then?" McKay groused. "There has to be something!"
Teyla's voice came next. "We have found a new device."
Great," Sheppard returned. "We're heading up."
Teyla continued with, "We should continue onward. Dr. McKay can examine the item before we exit."
"Oh," Rodney responded, looking nonplussed. "Okay."
"I guess you're right. You probably shouldn't mess with it until McKay can look at it," Sheppard returned. He glanced to McKay, seeing his frustrated glare. "No reason to go back and forth, Rodney," Sheppard told him. Then, he spoke in the mic, "Are you heading down to join us now?"
"We're gonna check out this floor," Ronon said.
"I thought you were done up there?" Sheppard challenged.
Teyla responded, "We are nearly done."
"Great, just speed it up, okay," McKay told her.
"Dex, out." Ronon came back.
McKay harrumphed and glanced toward Sheppard who looked a little perplexed by the conversation.
"Come," City spoke. "Let us continue your exploration. Please, there is much yet to see."
"Any more hidden rooms?" Sheppard asked. "Because if you have some of those, we'd like to have a glance at them."
"There is much to be revealed," City told them. "I have been waiting for you for a very long time. Come in this direction." A doorway slid open to indicate what City wanted. "You wished to see a special room? Please enjoy."
"It's the mess hall," McKay said, incredulously. "Seriously, we use this room as the mess hall." Annoyed, he moved into the space. "See, we have the same waterfall fountain thing. And over there is where they serve up dinner. You don't have any windows. This room usually has a great view." He looked about. "This is not a secret room."
Sheppard followed, his eyes scanning the space. Where there were dozens tables and benches and chairs on Atlantis, here there was open space and a scattering of furniture.
"Beds," he said out loud as he moved toward the cots. "The Ancients used this area as living quarters?"
"That is a good observation," City stated as the doors to the room slid shut. "I hope you find it accommodating. I will do everything in my power to ensure that you are comfortable."
"What?" McKay cried, spinning about. "You ... what are you doing?"
"Please," the City said. "Remain calm."
Furious, Sheppard stalked back toward the door and waved a hand over the sensor. When that didn't work, he thumped on it with his fist. "You're going to open that door, and you are going to open it now!"
"No," City replied. "I shall not."
"Aren't you supposed to obey us?" McKay asked, his voice tight.
"No," City told him. "I am to do what is best for the City and its inhabitants."
Sheppard jerked a chin at McKay. "Open it," he demanded.
"Yeah," McKay responded and moved to the control panel. He reached for the cover, but cried out in pain as a bolt of electricity arced. Dancing backward, Rodney held onto his hand, crying, "Son of a bitch!"
"Do not do that," City said, sounding apologetic.
"It shocked me!" McKay moaned, flicking his hand to get feeling back into it.
"You okay?" Sheppard asked.
"Did you hear me? It shocked me!"
"I was not a large enough charge to cause harm," City said calmly.
"Open the door!" Sheppard demanded. " We're leaving!" he growled as he raised his P90 to the door.
"I can withstand your weapons," City told them.
Sheppard swung a glance at McKay who gave him an unhappy nod.
"Yeah, but it'll leave a mark," Sheppard snarled, and opened fire on the door.
It lasted only a few seconds as the bullets came ricocheting back at him. With a shout, Sheppard jumped and gave up on the attack.
"I could have told you that would happen!" McKay sputtered as he scampered backward. " Are you trying to kill us?"
Sheppard just jerked his shoulders. "Had to try it," he grumbled.
"It would be best if you did not try such a thing again," City chided. "Please, stop such foolishness and relax. You will only cause harm to yourself, and I would not want that to happen. I will provide sustenance for you when you hunger or thirst. Every facility you need is available in this area. You will want nothing else."
"You will release us, now!" Sheppard snapped.
" I am the City and you are my inhabitants. All is as it should be."
McKay touched his radio. "Ronon! Teyla!" he called. "Answer, answer, answer! Come on!"
"Oh," City said offhand. "They are gone."
"What?" Sheppard shot back. "Where are they?"
Beside him, McKay gasped "What have you done to them?"
"They are well," City said. "Now, please, relax. The City will provide. The City is content and when the City is happy, every one of its citizens is happy."
Teyla was confused. She blinked up at blue sky, trying to understand what had happened. She felt clouded, as if she'd partaken of too much Genii Harvest wine. She felt disconnected and sleepy. She frowned, not liking the sensation.
Where was she? What had happened? She contemplated, trying to understand her environment before she made a move.
Grass. She was on her back. She could hear the wind in the trees. It was a warm day. The sun felt nice.
Why did that seem so wrong?
She frowned. What was the last thing she remembered? Exploring. They'd been on an expedition to a new facility. Then, they were in Atlantis. Wait, that seemed wrong.
Not Atlantis the City.
She sat up with that realization and regretted the quick movement as her head swam and the world dimmed a little. She winced.
She turned, seeing Ronon sitting beside her. She swallowed and nodded, and raised a hand to rub her forehead.
"Stupid City gassed us," Ronon grumbled.
Teyla sighed, remembering it now remembering the bitter taste of the gas and how the room had spun.
Ronon staggered, getting to his feet in stages, obviously feeling no better than she did. He wavered a moment, putting one arm out to steady himself once he fully stood.
Teyla looked about, searching the area. They were in grassy patch, between a wooded area and a wall. They were alone.
"Have you heard from the others?" she asked.
Ronon shook his head, and pinched his face, looking as if he'd regretted the action.
She reached for her radio, but found nothing. Frustrated, she searched in the grass, thinking she might have dropped it. There were bits of metal in the grass, but nothing that resembled her radio.
Ronon watched her. " I don't have my radio either. The City must have arms or something." He swore thickly and added, "It took our weapons, too."
She let out a low breath. The City had already let them know that it did not want them armed. Now, it had its wish.
"I hate that City," Ronon grumbled. And he held out a hand to her.
Teyla regarded his offer and considered refusing it, for she was well enough to stand on her own, but she wasn't a fool. She accepted the help.
The world swam as Ronon gave her a tug, but she was able to shake off the sensation, and managed to stand without stumbling too much.
If Ronon noticed her difficulty, he said nothing as he nodded to the wall. "Figure that's where we came from," he said. "And that's how we're going to get back in." His hand brushed at the empty holster, as if he wished the blaster to appear.
Teyla sighed. "We should go to the jumper," she stated.
"Won't do us much good," Ronon reminded. "Can't fly it without Sheppard or McKay. It'll take a couple days to walk to the Gate from here. I don't think the jumper's radio will reach the Gate if Atlantis dials in." He moved to the wall, scowling at it.
"Do you believe that Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay are still within? They might have been ejected as we were? They might be nearby."
"I got the feeling that the City liked them," Ronon stated. "They got the gene. I think it wanted to keep 'em."
Teyla closed her eyes a moment. Apparently, only the 'Ancestors' were acceptable in the City.
Ronon went on, "We're going to get Sheppard and McKay out before we go anywhere."
"Do you believe the City will harm them?" Teyla asked.
"Don't trust it," Ronon responded. "It got rid of us pretty fast. I figure it'll be trying just as hard to keep them."
Teyla nodded, not doubting Ronon's declaration. "Still, I wish we could speak to them to verify their situation."
"It's McKay and Sheppard," Ronon returned. "They're in trouble."
"If we return to the jumper, we will be able to get some supplies," Teyla reminded. "Tools, weapons... explosives."
At the last two words, Ronon brightened, and giving the wall one last aggravated look, he started toward their landing area. "Sooner we get them out, and head home, the better," he muttered.
And together they started their trek to the jumper as something watched them from the woods.
"Ronon," Sheppard called through his radio. "Teyla, respond now. Ronon! Teyla!"
McKay paced. "They're not going to answer. The City has blocked their signals or figured out a way to take away their radios. Hell, it probably 'made up' that last conversation we had with them. It sounded a little recycled, didn't it?"
Sheppard, disgusted, let his hand drop from his radio and shouted, "Where are they?" He continued to stare at the door that barred their exit. "I swear to God, City, if you don't tell me where they are, I will take you apart."
"You shall not be able to perform such a task," City responded. "Your companions are merely outside of my walls. All is as it should be."
"Then let us talk to them," Sheppard said with a growl.
"That would not be possible as they no longer have their communication equipment."
"So where is their communication equipment?" Sheppard snapped.
City told them, "I have utilized my maintenance robots to remove the devices while they were unconscious."
"Unconscious?" McKay echoed.
"I assure you," City said. "They have recovered. I shall show you the devices. It will explain why they do not answer."
A little hatch opened in one wall and a strange device issued from it. It was little more than a shoebox with crane-like devices at the top. It glided across the floor, extending on of its claw arms toward them.
McKay and Sheppard stepped back.
It held out two radios, letting the earpieces dangle. It waggled its arm.
Sheppard regarded the machine with a look of distrust, while McKay muttered something about skutters and the insanity of their situation.
"What did you do to them?" Sheppard asked, his voice a low growl.
"As I have already stated, I have attained their communication devices and weapons, then removed them from my premises."
"This unconscious thing," McKay commented, "how did you do that to them?"
"A harmless gas was utilized," City said calmly. "The effects were temporary."
"Okay," Sheppard tried to remain calm. "Then give them back their radios and we will talk to them."
"That is not possible," City told them. "They have moved away from my perimeter. And now that they are gone, there is nothing to worry about," City commented. "The City is safe. The City is sound. Those who do not possess the gene shall not access the City. Those that remain within the City will be protected."
"Great," Sheppard muttered. "Freakin' great."
"But do not worry," the City consoled. "No harm shall come to you, unless you attempt to harm the City. You wouldn't want to give me reason to punish you. I can be very reasonable. I was designed to be reasonable."
"You will let us out now," Sheppard stated as Rodney looked up in alarm at the word 'punishment'.
"That is not wise," City pouted. "You shall be safe within me. Death comes to those who leave me. You shall stay with me and be safe and never die."
McKay frowned. "If everyone who leaves, dies, who's to say that you didn't kill our friends the moment they were outside?" McKay accused. "Shot them, or poisoned them, or shocked them!"
"No," City responded, its voice taking on a hysterical note. "I would not do such a thing! I am the City!"
"Then maybe one of your robots did it?" McKay went on.
Sheppard glared at the little robot. "I can see that happening," he opined.
The robot had stopped flouncing the radios at them, and its main arm dipped in almost a disheartened manner.
"My robots did not kill anyone," the City insisted. "They obey me. Your assertions are unfounded."
"Tell us what has happened to our friends," Sheppard commanded, his voice low.
"I removed them from my perimeter. They are gone. I am safety. All that leave me die," the City repeated.
"This is crazy," McKay added. "This whole situation is seriously messed up."
"Nothing is 'messed up'. Everything is in order," City went on, sounding exuberant. "No harm will ever come to you as long as you remain with me and do as I say. Now, please, do as I say. Relax, and let me attend to you. Do you require sustenance?"
"No," Sheppard answered as he prowled around the room, looking for anything that might help them. The little robot followed him with the radios.
"I will create 'food' whenever you are ready," City went on.
Rodney shook his head. "This might be strange coming from me, but I'm seriously not hungry. Especially considering how old the stuff is in your larder."
"Once you use the waste management facilities, I shall analyze the content and devise the perfect substance from the base elements in my storage facility. The dietary mass will contain the nutritional content required to match the items you previously ingested with added supplements to rectify any health issues that are evident."
"Stop!" Sheppard declared, holding up his hands as McKay cringed. "Just stop! We'll do without."
"Yeah," McKay added. "I'm good."
"But," the City sounded hurt. "You will require sustenance in time."
Sheppard muttered, "Don't plan to be here that long." He nodded to McKay who seemed to understand his meaning and they spread out to thoroughly search the space to see if they could find any means of escape.
Ronon and Teyla made good time, moving from the heaped shape of the City toward the jumper. They were nearly there when Teyla said, "Something is following us."
"Yeah," Ronon responded. "It's beside us now. Not very far into the woods."
Teyla inclined her head slightly. "Do you believe it is the City that is watching us by some means?"
"What, you think it has robots or something?"
"It is possible."
Ronon snorted and said, " Something took our guns and radios." He kept his attention on the woods. "Gonna feel a lot better when I get my hands on some sort of weapon." He growled, saying, "I don't even have a knife."
Teyla nodded, wondering at how naked Ronon must feel at that moment. They kept moving toward the jumper. She watched the woods, seeing the way the foliage dipped and fluttered. Something was definitely among the trees and she furrowed her brow, wondering why the City should be interested in them.
If it wanted their jumper, they were leading it right to the ship. The sooner they reached the jumper, the sooner they'd have a means of taking out the thing that watched from the woods.
As she walked, she regarded the low grass under her feet. This was not natural, she realized. If this place was left to nature, certainly the trees would have closed in upon the facility, ivy would have overgrown it in time. Something tended this area, keeping the City clean and clear. Something kept the grass low.
The City had access to this area, and that fact kept her alert and wary.
They kept moving, and suddenly, the jumper came into view. Teyla looked down to find the jumper remote, and jerked her head as a blur of motion, big and dark, came at her from the woods.
The thing leaped and barely missed her as she spun clear. She landed in a crouch as the it made a quick turn and glared at her.
A blargnaught a fierce creature with sharp teeth, pointed ears and muscular frame. Spotted, downy fur seemed to float about it as it snarled. It ran at her again.
She brought up both arms at once, clouting the thing sharply across the muzzle and momentarily diverted it as Ronon launched himself at the creature.
Man and beast rolled. He wrapped his arms around its neck and they moved in a snarling, spitting jumble. It slashed at the sky as Ronon landed on his back and clenched the thing to his chest.
Teyla made a quick choice -- to stand and fight barehanded or to gain an edge on their adversary. She turned away from the grappling pair, pulling the jumper remote from her vest. It took only a moment for her to open the hatch and put her hands on a P90. She was outside again, running down the rear ramp as it settled on the ground.
Ronon and the creature grappled. He held it with one arm about its neck, and the other wrapped at its front legs, partially trapping them. But the creature was strong and more than capable of tearing a man to shreds. It shrieked as it twisted and writhed in Ronon's grip, clawing at the air in an attempt to get free.
"Ronon!" Teyla shouted, leveling the weapon at the creature. "Release it!"
Ronon, snarling almost as much as the creature, yelled, "NO!" The muscles of his arms bulged as the creature snapped and frantically struggled. Claws slashed as it twisted, catching Ronon and tearing at his clothing, his skin. Ronon held on all the tighter.
Teyla aimed, but was unable to get a clear shot. "Ronon!" she called. "Release it! I shall kill it."
"It is mine!" With a howl, Ronon bit onto the ear of the snarling creature, making it roar in pain. He gnashed at the ear, grinding it between his teeth as the thing struggled and bucked and yowled.
Teyla fought the urge to roll her eyes. "Ronon! Do not be so foolish!"
Ronon growled. The blargnaught bellowed. Teyla kept her aim, trying to find a shot that wouldn't also take out her friend, and she swore under her breath at a Satedan's stubbornness.
Enraged, the creature managed to rotate enough to gain some purchase on the ground. It shoved at the earth, wrenching itself free from Ronon's tight clasp.
With one bound, it was away, trailing blood from its torn ear. It spun, not bothering to hiss or snarl as it lunged back at its tormentor. Teeth and claws flashed.
Momentum kept it moving, but the cable-taut muscles of its limbs went limp as it crashed into Ronon. Claws extended and contracted as Ronon flung it to the ground. It opened its mouth, but the sound it made was a pathetic sort of 'mew'. Its great chest heaved twice, and then stilled. Blood darkened its soft fur.
Ronon spit out the bit of ear. "I could have taken it," he muttered.
With a smile, Teyla responded, "I do not doubt that."
Ronon regarded the spent creature and stated, "It was a good competitor." He ran his tongue over his teeth, trying to get the fur out of his mouth.
"You fought ferociously," Teyla commented, and nodded to the bloody rents that ran down his arms. "We should see to those."
"Just scratches," Ronon decided, and then glanced down at the beast. "It'll make a good coat."
She tossed the P90 to Ronon, who caught it easily. She returned to the jumper for more supplies. She reached for the first aid kit.
Ronon followed her, keeping an eye out for any further attacks. "It's time we taught that City a lesson."
Teyla nodded in agreement, and broke out the C4.
Continue to Part Two.