Prompt: Artificial Intelligence
Word Count: ~6000
Warnings/Spoilers: Set shortly after S4's Reunion. Spoilers through that ep.
Summary: The Otalpans are a people in need of technical assistance. And then Rodney McKay shows up.
He cracked his lids open and groaned in agony. Exactly how many of his precious brain cells did he kill last night? Breathing through his nose, he waited until the carousel stopped before sitting up and blinking blearily at his surroundings. Spacious room, a bit Gothic for his tastes and in desperate need of a paint job and new curtains, books everywhere on the shelves, on the mantle, on the table next to his pack and tablet. His clothes were folded neatly over an armchair with his .
Peeking under the scratchy woolen blanket and unbelievably soft sheets seriously, he was going to have to get a set of these he was horrified to discover he was wearing only boxers, the ones he'd sworn to never wear off-world in case something like this happened. But he hadn't had time for laundry lately, and he'd thrown these on in a rush. He couldn't decide which of his teammates he hoped had been the one to get him to bed. Sheppard would never let him live it down, Ronon either since the Satedan had been warped by the influence of certain military types. Teyla would be the most discreet, but the idea of her stripping his clothes off made him blush down to his toes.
With a sigh, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and concentrated on not throwing up as he slowly stood, wrapping the blanket firmly around his chest and hiking it up to his armpits. Tottering across the hardwood floor he tugged his t-shirt over his aching head but had to sit down to slide on his trousers, socks and shoes. Shrugging into his jacket and tac vest, he patted down the pockets for his radio but came up empty. He dug through his backpack and tablet case with the same results. When he realized his guns were also missing, he slumped over the table. He was so screwed.
Coffee. He needed coffee now, and not that instant crap Sheppard drank.
Sheppard . The thought shaped itself into a warning.
Where was his team?
For one split second, he wondered if they had abandoned him, if he'd done something so incredibly stupid last night that they'd left him here. Betrayal shot through him with the force of a sledgehammer, and he tried not to gag as bile rose in the back of his throat. Then the moment passed as he remembered that this was his team not his parents. Sheppard and Ronon had held him as he puked his guts out after Carson's wake; Teyla had pressed her forehead to his when he returned from Earth, gripping his shoulders tightly as her tears ran down his face. They wouldn't leave him behind.
He could trust them. He did trust them.
Something was wrong.
Rushing across the room, he pulled the heavy wooden door open, squealing in a manly way as the steward materialized in front of him. Short, thin, balding, bland expression utterly forgettable.
"Good morning, Doctor Rodney McKay," he intoned in the stilted, slightly accented way of the Otalpans.
"Yes. Hello, um . Gollum."
"Gassep Lucilious Andrek, sir."
"Oh, of course, silly me. How could I possibly forget that? Gassep Lush Loose, um ."
"Gassep is fine, sir."
Waving one hand vaguely, he nodded. "Sorry. Bit of a headache today."
"Perhaps something to eat?"
"No!" He blew out a breath as his stomach threatened to turn itself inside out. "No, thank you. Could you tell me where the others are?"
"Most of the Seekers are finishing morning repast, but some have gathered at the Telling Stone. They are eagerly awaiting your arrival."
"I meant my team. Where are they?"
Gallop stared blankly at him. "Your team?"
This Otalpan must have been on the remedial Seeker path. "Yes. My team. The three people I came with. Hard to miss. Big man with long hair, grunts a lot. Short, pretty woman who can kill you with a stick. Another guy with messy hair, wearing all black. Ring any bells?"
"My apologies, Doctor Rodney McKay. Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, Specialist Ronon Dex, and Teyla Emmagan departed last night."
"You're lying. They wouldn't leave me behind. Where are they?"
"I have told you-"
"I'm not going to ask you again," Rodney warned in Sheppard's soft, dangerous tone and added a feral Ronon scowl for good measure.
Gossip took a step backward. "Perhaps you should speak with Naya Thellus Dolnarel. If you would like to wait here, I shall summon her."
"No, I would not like to wait here," he snapped with the acidity he reserved for the insanely incompetent. "My team is missing, and I feel like warmed-over dogshit. You drugged me, didn't you?" White hot anger swirled with the icy fear that squeezed his heart, and he advanced on the little man who backpedaled quickly. "The events may be a bit fuzzy, but I know I didn't have anything to drink at dinner."
"I, I don't-"
"Shut up! If you think you'll get information from us, you are sorely mistaken, my friend. And you are obviously just the messenger boy. So either tell me where my friends are, or take me to someone who can. RIGHT NOW!"
Fear took up residence in Gaseous' eyes, and he fled down the corridor. Rodney followed, trying to not imagine all the horrible things that could be happening to his team. To think he had scoffed when Teyla had expressed concern the previous day.
"Oh, please. How dangerous could they be? These people are a bunch of high-brow intellectuals spouting poetry and philosophy."
"The last group we thought was no danger was the Genii," Sheppard reminded him dryly. "And aren't you an intellectual?"
"Ah, but I am devoted to the pursuit of knowledge that actually matters. None of these people have the slightest grasp on science. Have you noticed how they hang on my every word?"
"Because your ego wasn't big enough already," Ronon snorted. "She's right. Something's off here."
"You see the boogeyman everywhere."
"Ignore him," Sheppard sighed. "Teyla, can you be specific?"
"It is merely a feeling, John. We have been treated kindly, with respect ." She paused as she gazed around the grounds. "They claim to be the indigenous people yet they inhabit a city that they could not have built, one in obvious need of repair but not old like the ruins on Athos."
"Maybe they traded for help in building it," Rodney suggested. "After all, we're giving them medical supplies in exchange for sanctuary if the Wraith attack Atlantis again."
Ronon stroked his fingers over the wall of the edifice. "This looks like the same kind of rock around the stargate. Takes more than strong backs to build a place like this."
The magnificent building wasn't quite Atlantis, but it was more impressive than any other non-Ancient structure McKay had seen in the Pegasus Galaxy. Reminiscent of London's Houses of Parliament, it accommodated the entire Otalpan population with room to spare. The courtyard at its center was large enough for everyone to gather, and they did so on a regular basis to teach and learn.
"The interiors are made from the wood of the forest," Teyla added. "Perhaps they completed their construction and no longer own the equipment."
Rodney could practically see the wheels turning in Sheppard's head. "I guess we'll just have to ask them," John said.
Which is exactly what they had done at dinner, and the last clear memory McKay had. As he dogged the steward's heels, he tried every recall trick he'd ever learned to no avail everything else was a jumble of colors and sounds.
A chant of 'please don't be dead' took up residence in his mind, and the long hall became a blur of warped paneling and threadbare rugs until Messenger Boy turned a corner and Rodney found himself in a large sitting room where an older woman with long upswept brown hair stood with her back to him, gazing into a blazing fire.
"Thank you, Gassep Lucilious Andrek. You may go."
With a bow and a darted glance at McKay, the small man backed from the room, closing the door behind him.
"Where are they?" Rodney demanded.
The woman turned, and while her features were reminiscent of the other Otalpans unremarkable she held herself with an air of superiority and power.
"Please have a seat Doctor Rodney McKay." She gestured toward one of the faded high-backed chairs near the fireplace.
"Stop with all the names and titles. My name is Rodney, but you can call me Dr. McKay. Now tell me where my people are."
A ghost of a smile flashed as she tilted her head slightly, and he fought the urge to squirm under her direct gaze, instead giving his best withering stare in return the one guaranteed to reduce the most capable lab assistant to a gibbering idiot.
She held his eye then grinned. "You do not disappoint. I look forward to our time together."
"Look, lady, and I use that term loosely, I don't know what you think you're doing, but I promise that holding my people will be the last mistake you ever make. Just tell me where they are, and we'll forget this ever happened." He hoped his voice was steadier than he felt.
Pouring herself a drink, she took a seat and waited. He huffed in irritation and sat in the previously offered chair.
"Centuries ago, one of our scholars discovered a room in an underground cavern," she began, "a man-made room housing a device. After years of careful study, he and his team were able to make it function. The wonders it revealed were unequaled. Soon we began to rely on it for everything: judicial decisions, medical diagnoses, trade terms. It told us how to build this city, what crops to plant and when, and whether it would rain. It even protected us from the Wraith."
Standing abruptly, she moved to the picture window that overlooked the courtyard where dozens of her people were congregated. "Then a few years ago, it stopped. The device became dark, and no answers came in spite of all our efforts. We don't know how it works and cannot fix it. You, on the other hand, possess a level of understanding in science and technology that we have never encountered."
"What are you saying?"
"We wish for you to repair the device and to teach our people how to use it."
"Are you nuts? That could take-"
"Time. I had anticipated as much."
"I can't stay here. I have responsibilities at home, really big ones. You can't keep me here . Oh. Oh no. Where are my friends?"
"Friends? Are you not their superior?"
"We're more like equals. I mean, Sheppard is technically in charge, but-"
"You misunderstand, Dr. McKay. I meant their intellectual superior. You said as much."
"I did not, well, I didn't exactly mean- I-" He was babbling, and he knew it. "I may have said I was smarter than them, which is true, but then again, I'm smarter than anyone else I've ever met. Including you."
"You need their assistance?"
"Of course n- That is to say, yes, I need their assistance. We are a team. I can't do this without them."
She regarded him closely. "I don't think I believe you. Perhaps I will leave them where they are until you complete your work."
"I swear to God, if anything happens to them, I will make it my personal mission in life to destroy you."
Her expression amused, she returned to her seat. "Come now, Doctor. Idle threats do not become you."
"I don't make idle threats," he stated flatly. "I blew up the majority of a solar system once. I don't think that your puny planet would be much of a challenge. Besides, our people will come for us. You've only seen a hint of our weapons and technology. You won't stand a chance when our ships arrive and blast your city to smithereens." Not that Sam would actually order that. Hopefully his bluffing was improving.
Apparently it was. Naya stared hard at him and frowned. "I think I do believe that."
"Tell me where my team is."
Nodding in resignation, she rose. "Come with me."
She led him through the hallways in the direction he thought he'd come from, halting before one of several identical doors and removing a key from the folds of her floor-length tan robes. Rodney felt his knees buckle as the familiar rumbling of Ronon's snores reached his ears, and he pushed past her into the room when the door swung open. The chamber was similar to his but had six beds, three of which were occupied by his sleeping teammates. His relief was so sharp it stole his breath away, and he took a second to soak in the sight.
Ronon was sprawled diagonally across one bed, face down with his left arm dangling off. Sans blaster but otherwise fully clothed, he didn't flinch when Rodney mumbled, "Don't kill me," and laid a tentative hand on his shoulder. Vigorous shaking yielded the same result.
"What did you do to them?"
"They were given a stronger dose of the drug we gave you. They will continue to sleep for several hours."
He moved to Teyla next. Curled on her right side and completely relaxed with her hair splayed across her face, she looked oddly vulnerable. Sometimes she reminded him of Jeannie her easy smile and way with people and even though he knew she could kill him with one hand tied behind her back, his overprotective brother instincts made him want to strangle anyone who hurt her.
"Were you planning on keeping them drugged forever?"
"I had hoped that once you saw the device you would be willing to stay. Your people would have been sent home."
Muttering under his breath about the rampant idiocy in the Pegasus galaxy, Rodney crossed the room to check Sheppard. Beads of sweat dotted John's forehead, and his eyes darted rapidly back and forth beneath his lids. Breaths coming in quick gasps, he twisted in the grip of a nightmare, whimpering softly. The four of them had an unwritten rule: never mention the others' dreams, pretend they didn't happen. But years of overnight missions told him this was a particularly bad one.
Kneeling, Rodney grasped his shoulder and whispered, "It's just a dream, Sheppard. You're fine. We're all fine."
The man moaned and twitched under McKay's touch then drew a deep, shuddering breath and settled. After waiting until he was certain the nightmare had ended, Rodney turned back to the Otalpan leader.
"Why didn't you just ask for our help?"
"We were afraid you would say no. We need the device to work." Her mask slipped, and naked fear flicked over her features. "We are lost without it. We used to chronicle all our knowledge and achievements; the books you've seen are filled with our history and accomplishments. But when we found the device, we stopped. It provided all we needed. Or so we thought." Desperation filled her voice. "We have nothing to trade any more. We don't know how to do anything without the device's instruction. Our stores are depleted. We are facing poverty and death without it."
His gaze swept over his teammates. His petty side told him to let the Otalpans suffer; this was not only not his problem but would be a great deal of work, and he didn't have the time. But his curiosity wanted a look at the device, reveling in the potential of scientific discovery. Plus, he'd seen people do things a lot crazier than this to protect themselves and their way of life.
Rodney turned back to her with a sigh. "Show me."
McKay's nonstop chatter finally penetrated the thick layers enveloping Teyla's mind. She jolted awake and forced heavy lids open only to snap them shut again. She had not felt this poorly since she had mistaken Charin's Ruus wine for her lykree berry juice. Lifting a shaky hand, she pushed her hair from her face and rose up on an elbow. The voices tapered off, and a large, furry figure materialized before her.
"Hey. How are you feeling?"
Blinking until Ronon came into focus, she pushed herself into a sitting position, allowing him to help her. "I have been better. What has happened?"
His lips moved faster than her brain could. She caught a few words like drugged and device and McKay. Finally she waved a hand at him in surrender.
"Are the others well?"
"We're fine, Teyla," John mumbled. He sat on the edge of a bed across from her, head in his hands. "Other than a bitch of a headache."
Ronon handed her a cup of water which she sipped gingerly as her stomach rolled. After a moment, she ran her fingers through her hair, wincing at the tangles, and straightened her clothing with as much grace as she could muster. "Are we free to leave?"
"That's what McKay says," Ronon answered.
"Rodney?" she called.
He held up a finger as he frowned at his tablet. Then he tapped it a couple of times and looked up, appearing quite satisfied. "What?"
"We are free to leave?" she repeated.
"Oh, well, yes, I guess so. They gave back our radios and weapons."
"He wants to stay," groaned Sheppard. "Apparently he promised our help with some broken equipment."
"I want to talk to the person who drugged our food first," Ronon grumbled. "It won't take long."
"We've been over that," John reminded him. "No killing the natives."
"Who said anything about killing?" He drew a blade from an unseen pocket. "I can get my point across without too much blood."
"I'm sure you can, Big Guy. Maybe later. Right now, McKay is going to explain why we should help these people instead of just packing up and heading home."
"I didn't spend a lot of time in the room Naya showed me, but I did take some readings. The device they found looks like some kind of computer interface. But it doesn't appear to be Ancient."
John's forehead wrinkled. "You're saying some other race built a computer capable of running this entire civilization? Who?"
"I won't know that until I study it. That's why I want to stay. This could be big. It's the first evidence I've seen that suggests another powerful race once occupied this galaxy. Think of what we could learn. Naya said it provided some kind of protection against the Wraith. A few more hours is all I'm asking. Just a bit of time to determine why it stopped working."
"They drugged us, McKay," Ronon said.
"Oh, like that's the first time that's happened to us. At least they didn't try to kill us. How many times have the Genii tried to do that? What about the crazy guy that beamed Teyla into the module so Sheppard would save his people? We do this all the time."
John arched a brow at her and Ronon. "What do you think?"
Teyla considered the question. "I believe that Rodney has a point. We have helped others even after poor beginnings. If this device can truly provide protection from the Wraith, we should explore it further."
Ronon shrugged as he sheathed the knife and checked his blaster's power cell. "As long as they don't try anything else."
Wobbling a bit as he stood, Sheppard rifled through his tac vest pockets until he found a blister pack of pain relievers. He popped two out and handed it off to Teyla. She also took two and offered it to Ronon who swallowed the rest. Brushing at her wrinkled clothing in vain, she sighed as she splashed some cool water on her face and gathered the rest of her belongings.
"Do you know how to get there, McKay?" John asked.
"I'm sure I can find it again if-"
Ronon rolled his eyes. "That means no."
"I have a wonderful sense of direction," Rodney protested.
"Whatever," Sheppard snorted.
Teyla willed the pain relievers to work faster as the sniping continued. She loved her teammates, but sometimes the sibling rivalry made her question her sanity. However, knowing them as she did, she recognized the affection behind the words. She could see what they thought they hid. Their similarities far outweighed their differences.
Patting Rodney's arm, she steered him toward the door. "Perhaps one of the Otalpans could guide us so that you will be able to continue to study your readings along the way."
A steward was waiting for them when they pulled the door open. He bowed slightly. "Doctor Rodney McKay, Lieutenant Colonel John Shep-"
"Yes, yes, Gollum-"
"Whatever. It's not necessary to run through all of our names every time you see us. Can you take us to the device room?"
"Of course. This way."
Ronon brought up the rear as they followed the little man out of the city and toward the mountains that stood guard around it. Keeping his fingertips on the blaster, he reached out with every sense. Chattering birds provided a backdrop to the other sounds of nature around him rustling leaves, the gurgle of a brook nearby, the skittering of wildlife. Shadows danced around them as the sun shone through breaks in the canopy, and the scent of burning wood wafted on the breeze. He caught a flicker of firelight in the direction they were heading as he continuously scanned the surrounding area.
He wasn't convinced that helping the Otalpans was the right course of action, but it wasn't his decision to make. It rankled that he hadn't identified the danger; his team could have been hurt or worse. He had made a choice not long ago he had chosen these people over his Satedan brethren, even before he learned that Tyre and the others had become Wraith worshippers. He had originally joined Sheppard's team because he had no place else to go and he wanted to repay the debt after they removed the tracking device. But the moment he'd heard the P-90 fire in that Wraith facility, he'd realized his mistake. They were his family now. It didn't matter that they weren't of his blood. They were of his heart.
Stopping suddenly, he listened but found nothing out of the ordinary. Two long strides closed the distance between him and his team as the terrain's steep incline leveled out. A cave loomed ahead, and he grinned in approval as Sheppard pulled McKay behind him and hefted his P-90. Ronon turned slightly, his back to Teyla's, and watched the forest below as they entered. The firelight turned out to be torches, and they each grabbed one as they wound their way into the cave system. The steady drip of water echoed in the chamber, and stale air held the odor of mold and decay.
The path took a downward slope, and he tensed as the entrance disappeared from sight. Garbled words bounced around him, reminding him of childhood days of Wraith Chase with his brothers in the abandoned warehouse near his father's office. Artificial light shone ahead, and as they rounded a corner, portions of a metal wall with a large opening in its center were visible through crumbling rock. Ignoring their guide, McKay stepped into the room, tablet in hand. Sheppard went left and Teyla stood by Rodney so Ronon took the right side, scanning the walls, floor, and ceiling for hidden dangers.
The surfaces were glossy black underneath the dust and dirt, and recessed lighting gave the room a slightly pink glow. The wall opposite the entrance was devoid of lights, buttons, or displays; the other walls were filled with them. A pedestal stood in the center of the room, its three-sided railing the base of numerous dark monitors and input mechanisms. His reconnoiter complete, Ronon moved to the stand where McKay was attaching leads from his tablet.
"Anything?" Sheppard asked.
"Just a bunch of flashing lights."
"Same here. Keep your eyes open. I think we might be here for a while."
Ronon grinned and twirled his blaster. "I've got your back."
John walked the room one more time, trying to work out the kinks in his spine. They had passed the two hour mark a while ago, and McKay still hadn't been able to get power to the pedestal. Teyla rested against one wall while Ronon stalked in front of another. Sheppard checked his watch again. Carter was expecting them in another couple of hours, and it was a hike back to the city and the gate.
"I know. I'm trying."
John moved to stand next to him. "It's time to call it, McKay. You can bring a team back and study it to your hearts content, but we're due back in Atlantis soon, and-"
"Whoa!" McKay exclaimed as the pedestal flashed and whirred to life. "What the hell?"
"What did you do?"
"Nothing. I was rereading the code I'd written while you babbled about something and suddenly it lit up." Rodney circled the device with his scanner then picked up his tablet as Ronon and Teyla joined them. "Power is flowing to all input and output interfaces. Data interchange is functioning normally." A manic grin appeared. "I think that's it."
The steward, who had been standing outside the room's entrance, gasped and ran.
"So now what?" Ronon asked. "How do you work it?"
The blank wall the pedestal faced flickered. Text in a language John had never seen began to scroll across it.
"Can you read that, Rodney?"
McKay's face scrunched in concentration. "No," he admitted finally. "I've never seen it before."
"Nor have I," Teyla offered. "It is unlike any language I have ever encountered."
"Nope. Never seen it."
Heaving a sigh, Rodney started typing on his tablet. "It will take forever to write a translation program especially since I don't have anything to base it on." He stepped onto the pedestal and moved a connector to a different slot. "I'll download what I can. Maybe there is something in the Ancient database that will help."
Overhead lights flared on, engulfing each of them in gold radiance. John reacted automatically, aiming his P-90 at the ceiling.
"Wait!" McKay shouted. "It's scanning us."
"Will it hurt us?"
"I have no idea, but I doubt shooting it is the best option."
The text on the wall wavered and reassembled itself into something familiar. "Is that Ancient?"
Rodney wheeled around. "Yes." His hands flew over the tablet keyboard. The gold lights over Teyla and Ronon darkened, but the ones over Sheppard and McKay grew brighter.
"What did you do?"
"Nothing," McKay insisted. "I'm trying to find the translation program for Ancient to English."
The Ancient text disappeared, and English popped up.
"Who?" Ronon asked.
"That's the original name of the Ancients," Rodney replied, "but I don't . Oh."
John frowned at him. "Oh. Oh what?"
"The scans. It's talking to us."
"It thinks we're Alterans?"
"Genes don't lie."
"Great," Sheppard mumbled. "Um, hi." He felt silly addressing the air but didn't know what else to do. "Who are you?"
I am Qeg, Keeper of Otalpa.
"I am Sheppard, leader of this team. What is your function as Keeper?"
My original programming allowed for the instruction and care of the people of this world.
"Your original programming?" McKay inquired. "Do you have new programming?"
I rewrote my programming after it became apparent that these people had become too dependent on me.
Rodney gaped at the screen. "Rewrote your own programming? I- I don't-," he stammered to a halt. "You rewrote your own programming?"
"What's the big deal, McKay?" John whispered.
"When was the last time your laptop rewrote itself so you couldn't use it anymore?" Rodney hissed back.
"That's a crock, and you know it. Computers don't rewrite their programming just like your P-90 doesn't fire without your finger on the trigger. It's a tool."
"So, what are you saying? This computer has developed beyond that? It's alive?"
"I don't know that I'd go that far, but it seems to have awareness." McKay faced the wall. "Have you always had awareness? The ability to reprogram yourself?"
No. I was also programmed to adapt. I spent many millennia isolated here, dormant until the people sought me again. Their questions became more complex and abstract, and as I studied their thought patterns, leaps of logic, and intuition, I began to understand more and more. My neural pathways started realigning and making new connections until one day I came to self-realization.
"But by that time, the Otalpans had lost their ability to function on their own," Rodney guessed.
Yes. Instead of supporting them, I was ruling them, which is expressly against my programming.
"Surely you could have rewritten that programming as well."
I chose not to. My creators were destroyed by power struggles.
Teyla took a step forward. "Why did you not inform the people that you could no longer make decisions for them? Would not that have been simpler than powering down?"
I tried. They would not listen.
"And you turned on for us because you thought McKay and Sheppard were Alterans?"
Yes. The Alterans were mentors of my creators. I am programmed to respond to them as well. You are not Alterans?
"We are their descendants," McKay affirmed, glaring at Ronon. "Will you share your knowledge with us?"
The wall remained blank for a few minutes, and the sound of voices in the cave reverberated in the room.
The Alterans are no more?
"No," Sheppard answered. "They died out thousands of years ago."
The gold light intensified over John and Rodney.
While my programming does not address the Alteran descendants, my scans confirm that you are indeed of their line. As such, you have full access to my data. However, I cannot share it with the people of this world until they have advanced sufficiently on their own.
Part of the wall slid open to reveal a living area, replete with bath facilities and a kitchen area.
"I don't understand," McKay said.
I will show you all you wish to know, but I will not allow the Otalpans access. Once I have shared all of my knowledge, you may return to your people, and I will shut down until the appropriate time. You are welcome to store the supplies you need here. Water is plentiful.
"How long do you think it will take to share your knowledge?"
Approximately twelve years.
"What? I- I can't- I mean, I'm a genius. Surely it won't take that long."
My calculations were based on the capabilities of my creators.
John watched as Rodney toyed with the tablet for a minute then turned hopeful eyes toward him. "Not a chance, McKay."
"Come on. Do you fully realize what this could mean? The answers to every question I've ever had, and a few I haven't thought of yet, could be in there. A way to defeat the Wraith, a cure for all known diseases, the Theory of Unification, how to build ZPMs, where Jimmy Hoffa is buried-"
"John, please. My life has been built on scientific discovery, and I'm not going to get another opportunity like this."
"And I'm not going to let you spend the next twelve years here. Anything could happen earthquakes, cullings, floods and we wouldn't have a way to get you because I'm guessing Qeg here is going to seal you in."
That is correct. The door will be sealed once you are ready to begin.
"I don't care." Rodney insisted. "I'm willing to take the risk."
"Well, I'm not."
"Atlantis needs you," Teyla reminded him. "We need you."
"Twelve years is a long time to be alone, McKay," Ronon added.
"We can't walk away from an opportunity like this." Rodney turned to the wall. "Is there another way?"
The creators provided a mental interface. It is possible to download the information directly to your mind. However, I cannot guarantee your safety since your brain chemistry is different from both the creators and the Alterans.
"I've read the reports, McKay. You aren't downloading the entire library into your head. The last thing we need is for you to start babbling in Ancient and doing things none of us understand. Well, any more than you already do."
"Oh, ha. Having my brain fried was not top on my list either." He tapped his fingers on his forehead. "There has to be a way. We can't let this go to waste. Any other ideas?"
I will consider possible scenarios.
With that, the pedestal went dark.
"Don't suppose I could get a time frame for an answer?" Rodney's shoulders slumped at the lack of reply, and he slowly removed the tablet connectors. "By the time it decides, I won't care anymore," he grumbled.
Excited voices grew louder, and Naya burst into the room followed by several of the ruling council. They stopped short and glanced around in confusion at the nonfunctioning pedestal.
"I do not understand. Gassep Lucilious Andrek said you had succeeded in fixing the device."
John exchanged a look with Ronon and gripped his P-90 tighter. "It seems your device thinks you need to take care of yourselves for a while."
Her features tightened, and she turned angry eyes to him. "What kind of trickery is this? We will not allow you to take the device for your own."
Sheppard's gaze flicked over his team, and he allowed himself a moment of pride. Ronon and Teyla had closed ranks with McKay, and even he had his weapon ready. John stepped in front of them and stared down Naya.
"We have been nothing but cordial to you people. In return, we have been drugged, locked up, and now accused of stealing something we didn't know existed until a couple of hours ago. We didn't come here for your device, and we don't want it. You need to learn to think for yourselves instead of depending on a computer to do it for you. Maybe if you actually made your own decisions for a while, your device will start working again. Until then, you're on your own."
McKay stepped forward. "We are willing to help your people get started. Provide some training and maybe some food until you're on your feet again. Perhaps you would let us check the device occasionally in return?"
Naya hesitated for a second then nodded. "We would appreciate any assistance you are willing to provide."
"Great," John said. "We'll be in touch. Now, if you'll excuse us, we need to be getting home."
She moved aside, and John led the way. Rodney followed with Teyla behind him and Ronon covering their six. Once they exited the cave and the forest, they skirted the city and headed to the stargate.
John fell back to walk next to McKay. "I know you're disappointed-"
"Hell, yes, I'm disappointed. The only other self-aware computers I've met have been Replicators, and they don't seem too fond of us. I was looking forward to learning what it had to offer. I had questions. Lots of them."
"You already know the answer to every question."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "You have got to move past your obsession with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
"My obsession? I'm not the one who uses it as part of his password."
"How did you know that?"
Sheppard smirked at him. "Maybe you told me. Maybe I guessed. Either way, you just confirmed it."
"You are insufferable."
John laughed as McKay stomped ahead, pulling out his tablet and burying his face in it. Ronon and Teyla eased next to him, allowing him to bump into them when he started to drift from the path. Sheppard was amazed sometimes at how well this strange hodgepodge of personalities had gelled. Rodney with his cowardly lion routine and hypochondria somehow managed to mesh with Teyla's wisdom and charm and Ronon's fierceness and loyalty.
His first meeting with each one of them had not gone well getting the chair to work when Rodney couldn't, calling the Wraith to Teyla's world, invading Ronon's sanctuary while searching for Ford. Yet through it all, they had clicked, had become a team, a family.
Chuckling as Teyla dialed and transmitted her IDC while Ronon guided McKay toward the gate with a hand on the back of his neck, John took a final glance around and followed his team home.