Light Up, Light UpAuthor: briar_pipePrompt:
Paperwork & DocumentsRating:
PG-13 for languageWord Count:
Spoilers through Kindred 2Summary:
"It is okay, Rodney," Dr. Z called sweetly to the retreating man's back, "I do not want your job. It has more paperwork."Author's Note:
A-mouse did above-and-beyond beta duty on this and saved the story. If it works at all, thank her. If it doesn't, blame me. lovetheboys
also did last-minute hand-holding and telling me what I really needed to hear. You ladies are awesome. *squishes you both*
The title is from “Run” by Snow Patrol.
Air whistled through the cracks and broken windows of the room, bringing a brief, sharp chill. Papers rustled in the draft. Lucia Esposito shivered, too, and tucked her hands under her arms. It looked like the squatters they'd chased off had piled bound volumes up like logs and burned them for warmth. Maybe her team should do the same.
It was impossible to photograph every page. They had tried that, shortly after the Hoffans were culled. It would take an army of underpaid grad students to scan just this room, and the Daedalus already carried more important things back to Earth with each trip: revolutionary medical equipment, personnel at the end of their rotations, stacks of flag-draped coffins.
(The Varoni made beautiful, spare coffins out of melted-down scrap, with these intricate little latches that looked like they were made for a child's hand. The expedition kept about twenty in a storage room beside the jumper bay, and traded for a few more every time they went back.)
So instead of sitting in their nice, warm labs, the linguists were out here suffering with the rest of the teams. Each bound volume was opened, skimmed with human eyes, and tossed in piles according to the great Lantean tradition: definitely useful, might be useful, and we don't know enough to make it useful.
Lucia sometimes wondered about the people who used to live here. She had never met them, couldn't read their language, but looking up at the vaulted ceilings, she thought she could almost catch a glimpse of the spirit that drove them to write everything down, in obsessive and loving detail, for the next generation. She thought of the stories her grandmother had told, repeating herself like a scratchy old tape player, and the songs she had insisted Lucia sing even though her voice was nothing special. "The rabbit only cries at its own death; you are not a rabbit, so you must sing." So many things had made no sense to her then, and now lay garbled in her memory. Things she wished she had written down.
Like the Hoffan memories that lay strewn on the floor in haphazard piles, the bookshelves teetering or crashed forward into balconies and pillars. The marines wouldn't let them get too close to the unstable parts, so they were cut off from more than a quarter of this stash, but it didn't matter. They wouldn't finish the part they could reach.
"Do you think some of them survived?" she asked Hui Coleman. "The Hoffans, I mean."
Hui shrugged. "Wouldn't they have come back? People like this-" The sweep of her eyes took in the bunker, its millennia of precise detail, and its ingenious cataloging system, now smashed. "People like this don't just leave. They keep trying."
Lucia knew it was probably true. Still, she wanted to hope.
"I have something!" called Singh from across the room. "Come look at this, please."
Evan was outside looking up at the towers when he saw the jumper return. For a moment his hands twitched, regretting the lack of a camera to capture that moment of perfect hovering, impossible hummingbird motion as the golden rhombus seemed almost to kiss the tower before sinking down out of sight.
He sighed and closed his eyes, storing the image behind his eyelids, where he could at least try to draw it out again later, maybe put it down on canvas. Then his radio chirped.
"Sheppard to Lorne. Did you fall off a pier or something?"
"Sorry sir, be up in a minute."
"No rush, just wondering."
"On my way. Lorne out."
He ended up jogging most of the way to the transporter, having gone further out than he'd thought. Not a good impression for the guy who was nominally in charge while the Colonel was off playing island-hopper. But then, Sheppard didn't care so much how things looked. It was disconcerting and a relief both at once, and Evan still hadn't quite adapted. He wondered if he ever would.
The transporter took him to the gate level and let him out opposite the conference room. Scientists were already milling about, chattering in their secret language, a little more animated than they'd been last week. News of Michael's escape had hit the base like a Superbowl loss and a failed World Series bid in the same day. Civilians had moped for days, and Marines had taken to extra PT like an invisible sergeant was riding their backs.
No one had taken it harder than SGA-1, who seemed to take personal responsibility for not ending the threat, no matter that common sense said that sometimes you had to cut your losses and run. That sometimes, the fact that you could run at all was a win.
Evan was just happy Miss Teyla was back. He didn't need that failure hanging over his own head.
This, though, was almost a different Atlantis. Two linguists were arguing by the far door, pointing out different parts of an indifferently bound book that looked in acute danger of falling apart in their hands. Pegasus work, Evan was sure. Dex was leaning up against the opposite wall, cleaning his fingernails with the point of a knife. His body language said "listening." There were at least ten other scientists (it was hard to tell, they kept moving in and out of the room itself, and he couldn't see inside), most of them physicists or computer people, and the noise they were making pretty much drowned out anything useful.
"Lorne!" Sheppard was weaving his way through the crowd, like a fish swimming against the current. "I think they found something," he said, reaching Evan's side and turning to look at the milling group. "What do you rate it?"
"About a seven, sir," Evan replied. "Maybe an eight if McKay and Zelenka are having a slap-fight inside."
The Colonel grinned. "Let's go find out, hm?"
Inside, there were even more scientists than Evan had thought. Some stood in clumps, others sat on the table, and a few went winging by like fighters out of formation, skimming from one group to another, bringing news and new theories that led to eruptions in their wakes.
Oh, it was definitely an eight.
Drs. Zelenka and McKay were not yet trading blows, but the volume of their shouting made Evan wonder why he hadn't heard them out in the hallway, and if they could hear each other at all. Maybe that was the point.
"-is so clearly an interface designed for mental input-"
"-yes, yes, a trained monkey could see that, but it could be for education or therapy or pretty much anything
, there's no evidence-"
"-when you have seen the equipment in person, perhaps you will concede I am right for once-"
"-like I would go to a planet you so eloquently dubbed 'the swamp that ate my boot', I can see through your sneaky little-"
"HI GUYS," Sheppard shouted amiably, slapping a hand down on each of their shoulders. Then, quieter, "Care to explain what's got everyone about to piss their pants?"
McKay frowned. Zelenka jumped into the momentary lull.
"It is a-" his face pinched tight for a moment, looking for the word, "-card catalog," he finally finished, trailing off.
Sheppard gave him the fish-eye. "Seriously?"
McKay took over. "Probably not. But if it were - I said if it were
, not that it is, you overexcited... rhesus monkey
. Stop that." He turned back to Sheppard. "Anyway, if it were, it would be the most useful discovery since the ZPM."
Sheppard raised his eyebrows slowly.
"Oh for - a mental search function for the Ancient database? Ring a bell?"
"Well, it's definitely got you drooling...." Sheppard grinned, then ducked the inevitable swat aimed at his head.
"Yes, yes, laugh at the eager scientists. Keep laughing until the next time I save your ass, Colonel 'I don't know, it just turned on.'"
Sheppard looked like he was about to retort when one of the linguists ran up, trailing papers and two other linguists, who were picking up the fallen pieces and juggling them back into order. "Dr. McKay! We have a gate address - it's definitely the swamp planet."
Dr. Z's face lit up. Evan stifled a smile.
"Oh for - stop gloating, you Czech... something
. That doesn't mean you're right. All it means is you're going back to the planet of the oversized leeches. With overnight gear."
"It is okay, Rodney," Dr. Z called sweetly to the retreating man's back, "I do not want your job. It has more paperwork."
McKay's only answer was to stomp louder.
Jonathan checked the beans and listened to Dukes with half an ear. She was bitching at Ellerby, which was usually a lost cause but almost always amusing, so he didn't tell her to lay off.
"I'm just saying-" she emphasized her point with her knife, then went back to chopping tubers, "I'm just saying it's a good thing we didn't scrub the Athosian off the walls these past three years. Those people have been through enough, they don't need us acting like they're not welcome to know where the toilets are."
saying some scribbled directions on the walls aren't going to magically make us kiss and make up. They left before. They didn't come back when they could've - twice. Arroyo was first wave, and he says it was a fucking mess."
Jonathan cut in. "Dukes, hand me the blue pepper. And shut it, both of you, the lunch rush is starting."
Dukes made a face and Ellerby rolled his eyes, but they shut up. Which was just as well, because practically the first person in line was Major Lorne.
"What would you like today, sir?" Jonathan asked, settling the sauce batch under the warmer and hooking a ladle on one side.
"Not-quite-lemon cream sauce, sir. The pasta'll be out in just a second."
"Veggie option, sir. The meat's cutlets."
"Of what? Or do I want to know?"
"Well, it is
white meat, sir, but that's all I'm at liberty to say."
"I'll take the pasta."
"Good choice, sir."
As he moved between the kitchen and the line (which was just a turn around the corner, no actual door between them), Jonathan kept one eye and both ears on the crowd. Something was up today, a tension in the air that was different from the first few days after the Athosians came back. This was a sharper crackle, more positive. If he were to sketch the room right now, all the backs would be just a little straighter, the shoulders back, the chins jutting forward, people leaning towards each other to get a word in edgewise.
"What the hell?" he asked Dukes, because she was one of the three biggest gossips on base. "Did someone discover an orgasm machine and didn't tell the KP?"
"Oh, please." She waved at the enormous, metal box in the corner that was too heavy to move and served no purpose that anyone could figure out. "That's
probably the orgasm machine. No, the linguists found something today and the physicists are having a pissing contest over - get this - what it does
Kelso snickered, on his way past with an empty pan.
"Seriously," Dukes went on, popping the oven door open and checking the doughnuts, "they're fucking fighting over who's right before they've even seen
the thing. Those people need some real work to do."
"First blood by four!" Jimbo shouted from out back.
"Call Chuck yourself," Jonathan shouted back. "I lost a wad last week."
"Ooh, baby." Dukes was laughing, her ponytail shaking. "We know you lose it to Rosie every night. But someday you'll find that perfect guy-"
Jonathan threatened her with a spoon. She laughed again, and Ellerby bitched sourly, "I tried that already. She likes it."
"Can I get some actual food out here?
" yelled the ever-cheerful Dr. McKay from out front, and Jonathan dashed back to the line with the pasta.
"...They roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws, but Max said 'Be still!' and tamed them with a magic trick...."
Ronon cupped a hand behind Wex's head and turned him in his lap. "This is the good part," he whispered, but Wex just stared up at him as if to say 'What good part?'
Kids today. Ronon rolled his own eyes and went back to listening, letting his hands trail down so they could be claimed by various smaller hands under and behind him, traded from one to another like talismans. He swatted them whenever they got too close to his gun, though.
"...Until he came to rest in the night of his very own room, where he found his supper waiting for him. And it was still hot."
Slowly, slowly, the children who had been cowering under tables (Sheppard, Ronon, each other) poked their heads out, blinking big-eyed in the light.
"It's okay," Sheppard told them. "It's just a story." He looked bewildered.
Ronon hid a smile.
"I don't get it," Sheppard said as they left the Athosians' quarters. "I told them Freddie and they laughed at me. Then I tell them Maurice Sendak and there's crying
. I thought Wex was going to wet his pants, and he's almost ten
"It was the yellow eyes," Ronon told him. "Sounded like Wraith."
"Oh god." Sheppard slapped his own forehead. "I didn't even-"
"'S okay. My parents told me Wraith stories all the time. Supposed to make you more careful."
Sheppard looked at him sideways. "Really?"
"No. Just trying to make you feel better."
They reached the infirmary and ducked inside, moving around equipment and people until they stood beside the curtains that marked off Teyla's space. Sheppard cleared his throat.
"Teyla? Can we come in?"
A pause, then a muffled "Yes, John."
Ronon didn't think he'd ever get over the shock of seeing her like this. She wasn't gaunt, but her eyes seemed sunken anyway. Her belly stood out more prominently than before, and somehow the glow had faded from her skin. Her fingers shook as she took Sheppard's hand. Even more disturbingly, he let her do it without a wince.
"Kids're fine," Ronon said, because he knew she'd be worried about that first. And yes, there went a tiny relaxing of the muscles in her neck and jaw.
"Thank you," she said.
"Sheppard told 'em a story." Because Ronon couldn't resist. "Scared the pants off 'em."
"A family history?" Teyla asked. "Or one of your movies?"
"A children's story," Sheppard said, still looking confused. "It's supposed to be about, I dunno. Facing your fears? Using your imagination? Not hating your mom? I honestly don't know."
But Teyla nodded. "A Wraith tale. I understand."
Sheppard whirled on him. "You said-"
Laughing silently, Ronon dodged back out of reach. "Got you good."
Sheppard's growl promised revenge, but Teyla smiled just the tiniest bit, so it was worth it.
Then the smile faded, swallowed up in exhaustion once more. "Will you both come to Kanan's Remembrance tomorrow? It would... honor me."
"We're the ones honored," Ronon told her, taking her hand in both of his. After an elbow to the ribs, Sheppard did the same with her other hand. "We'll be there."
"Thank you. Thank you both."
On their way out, Sheppard glanced at him sideways, unsure again. "Did your people really-"
"Yeah." The fun was over, and this was. This was important. "I started school knowing my family history, three minor poems, and about a dozen Wraith tales. By the time I finished, I knew five of the eight histories, one romance, all eleven of the hero tales, and maybe fifty minor poems. I lose track sometimes."
"Whoa. All in your head?"
"Not in my left hand, so yeah."
"Wow, that's." Sheppard snorted. "I took two English classes in college."
Ronon glanced at him sideways. "You're making fun of me."
Ronon considered that. "Okay."
"Can I hear one sometime?"
Ronon looked up at the vaulted ceiling as they passed under a damaged edge of the tower. "I'll think about it."Click.
Darkness. The sound of cloth on cloth, birds singing, a man quietly cursing.
"I think you need to take the lens cap off, Doc."
"Yes, yes, it is obvious. I am juggling here and you are not helping at all."
"Sorry, Doc. My job is to look out for hostiles."
"Hostile mud, perhaps? Or, oh, vegetation that will eat us?"
"It's been known to happen."
"To Rodney's team, yes." The cloth sounds stop. "And Major? Projectile weapons were very useless in that case, so I recommend you come help me before I drop this camera and we must return to Atlantis to get another."
A sigh. "Alright, alright, where do you want me?"
Light, blinding, slowly resolving into green. Flash of trees, mud, a pair of boots.
-Green, bright sun, green, brief glimpse of a pale shape in the distance.
"This is the facility we investigated on our last trip, half a year ago. As you can see, it is now above the water line but has not always been. The path we cleared before is almost invisible. Also, the trees make my nose itch."
"It is true! Perhaps relevant, even."
"If you say so. Hatfield, Sapolu, stay with the scientists. Arroyo, you're with me."
Dark cloth blocking the sun, then moving away, up the hill. Two figures, fighting carefully with the underbrush. The white shape, unmoving in the distance, with a tiny black rectangle in the middle that might be a door.
A female voice, nearby. "I don't think these boots are really waterproof."
A male one. "I believe it is - what do you call it? - Murphy's Law, yes. We should rename it for Pegasus."
A flat, American accent. "Already done, sir. The list's hanging on the wall back at barracks, around the corner from the things we're not supposed to bother the Colonel about."
"That one is a very short list, yes?"
"Naw, it's actually pretty long."
A pause. "I believe Rodney has never seen this list. Possibly he would not approve. Oh - are they waving to us?"
"Yes sir. Let's get going, folks!"
Shaking, shivering green, all the way up the hill-Blink.
-"Hold the torch higher, Esposito, please. Yes, there."
A throne-like chair slowly swims into focus, dark gray in a surrounding blackness. "Rodney, if we sink to the bottom of the swamp trying to carry this home, perhaps you will understand. There is no power here, but Singh believes the markings on the device to be consistent with the Hoffan records, such as they were. We are also bringing two consoles and a pile of spare parts which may actually be trash, it is hard to tell. However, I am not staying here to find out. It smells like something died nearby."
A mechanical whining sound in the distance. "Ah, that is our chariot. Excuse me, I must work bolt-cutters now."Off.
Jennifer tapped on the glass with one fingernail. She didn't know how anyone could work in an office so wide open, everything she did visible to the random occupants of two other rooms. Jennifer's own office was a retreat, a place to go when she needed to think or talk to a patient privately. It had a lock. And a wall
Sam looked up and smiled. "Come in," she mouthed, and Jennifer stepped in front of the sensor.
"What brings you up here?" Sam asked as Jennifer moved toward the desk, still awkward with the new arrangement. She fumbled for the chair and sat down.
"Oh, just the usual." Was she transparent, like the glass? Jennifer wished she knew. "What's up with you?"
"So this is a social call?" Sam smiled, close-mouthed but reaching her eyes, and said, "Actually, I'm glad you interrupted. Some of my job isn't entirely pleasant."
"Really?" Like Jennifer didn't know that, but to hear Sam admit it....
"Just doing some reading." Sam's smile fell away.
The way she said it gave Jennifer a sudden insight, a moment of clarity she usually associated with a flash of diagnosis. "Marie and I were doing some of that right after lunch," she admitted, though she really didn't want to talk about that. It was why she was here, though, wasn't it?
Sam seemed to catch her meaning. "My predecessor was... a formidable woman."
"Yeah," Jennifer breathed. "She was pretty. Well. She said what she meant, most of the time."
Sam's lips twisted. "The reports she filed with the SGC make that clear. But her private logs are on a whole different level. And now I have to decide how much of that the next person should see."
Jennifer started. "You're really leaving? I thought-"
"Do you know who's coming in?"
Sam's eyes flickered, and Jennifer saw the moment she decided to hedge. "Not for certain, no."
"And you're worried it might be an IOA sympathizer."
"I am... concerned
that a new person might face all of the obstacles I did while lacking years of gate team experience to help him adapt. Which is why I'm torn. Dr. Weir's notes might help that person tremendously, but they also might prove to be a weapon in the hands of someone not... sensitive to their impact."
The pauses didn't sound like Sam at all. Jennifer's fingers twisted in her lap. "We were reading Carson's notes," she admitted. "Earlier. It's why I'm here."
Sam's shoulders straightened. "What did you find?"
"The stasis chambers. They're not what we thought. Carson had notes, readings and recordings from three different incidents-"
"And you have a theory."
"It was his theory, actually. I can't believe he didn't say anything when we put him in there."
Sam folded her hands. The look in her eyes said I can
, but aloud she said, "Go on."
"It's not true stasis; it's a time dilation field. Time still passes, at about a rate of one two hundredth of normal time, according to Carson's calculations. The person inside is also rendered immobile, with their senses almost completely blocked. But that person still receives electrical energy through the pod, and the brain is still active, though in a slowed or simplified state."
Jennifer bit her lip. "Still active, ranging from stage 2 to stage 4 sleep with occasional bursts of REM."
"Are you sure about this?"
"No." Jennifer sighed. "Readings from the 'Aurora' were limited to what Rodney was able to take at the time. But without sensory input, brain resources are vastly freed. It's possible the consciousness is active in what we would consider 'real-time'. I'm not sure about any of this, it's just extrapolation from the notes."
"So you're saying that Carson's aware in there?"
"I'm saying he could
be." She took a deep breath, threaded her fingers together a little more tightly. "I'm also saying we don't have the kind of time we thought we did."
"I know we all hoped to find a cure when we rescued Teyla-"
"It's worse than that," Jennifer interrupted. "At the rate his body is aging in there, he only has, well, he has about ten months. From now. Give or take a few weeks."
Sam stared at her.
"I know, I'm sorry." Jennifer put the heels of her hands against her eyes and pushed, watching the sparks go off. "But I felt I had to say something. There are so many people hoping-"
"You did the right thing," Sam said, but her voice was strained.
Jennifer snorted. "Yeah, I." She blinked, turning to look out at the gateroom past her shoulder. It was empty, except for the security detail. "You know what's funny? I really miss him, but mostly I wish he was back in charge so I wouldn't have to be."
Sam gave her a wry smile. "I know exactly what you mean."
Mornings. Mornings were for coffee, and arguments, and blinking slowly awake after you had already set up your simulations for the day - just in time to fix them, usually. Mornings were smiles and hellos and growls, all on autopilot - even if you were actually a morning person and had been surviving on four hours of sleep a night for the past twenty years.
Also in the mornings, if you didn't reach the dining area quickly enough, they gave away all the jelly doughnuts. Unless you were very good friends with a cook.
Miko stood outside the lab with her doughnut cradled in her hand, eating with quick, precise bites and hoping no one caught her before she finished. She did not wish to share today, nor did she wish to attract attention from those already shouting inside.
"-care if you had a vision from god, that thing is untested and I have better things to do right now-"
"-yes, yes, your VR program, would it not be helpful to actually know what you are-"
"-letting the excitement of getting off that mudball planet alive affect your judgement-"
"-we all miss Carson, Rodney."
Miko froze in the act of licking sugar off her fingertips. Quickly she reviewed the overlapping conversations, trying to determine if the sudden lack of insults were caused by a social faux pas
or something life-threatening, and therefore whether she should move forward or make a run for it.
No sirens rang out. She peeked around the door.
Dr. McKay was standing with his mouth open and his eyes wide, but even as she watched his head drooped and he turned away from Dr. Zelenka, staggering to the other side of the room and dropping into a seat with his back to everyone.
"Do what you like," he said, too loudly. "Just try not to blow us all up."
The words were right, but the tone was all wrong. Slipping invisibly to her workstation, Miko got a head start on her constant daily task: fretting.
It was worse by lunchtime. Dr. Zelenka had all but dragged her to one of the unused labs, where he began hooking up a chair that looked somewhat like the control chair but not. The designs were different, the panels lighter, and there was a strange half-circle shape embedded near where the seated person's head would be. It drew her attention, pulling at her to run her fingers over the surface, to scan beneath to find the circuit pattern and tease it into some sense.
Eventually, Dr. Zelenka stopped plucking at her sleeve and went off to solve the power issue himself.
The arrangement of circuits and breakers was like nothing she had ever seen before. She didn't think it was possible to diagram it, even in 3D. Overlapping and spinning around each other, deliberately stretching out to almost touch unrelated wires - how much current would be needed to jump the gap? - it seemed less like a machine intended to do an actual job and more like a work of art born out of someone's fever-dream.
"What do you see?" Dr. Zelenka said from right behind her. Miko jumped, yanking her hand back from the exposed circuitry.
"Sorry, sorry," he laughed, catching her elbow. "I forget how you are, working so much with Rodney. But tell me - does it look like it can read minds?"
Minds, brains, yes - that was the pattern, the image behind the mad twisting and crazy dead-ends-that-weren't. "It mimics the organic, yes. I think...."
"Excellent!" He clapped his hands together and smiled at her, all blindingly bright eyes. "We can test it before lunch, yes?"
"I don't think-"
"Come now," he said gently. "Rodney does not want to hear from us unless we have answers. He is very. I cannot think of the word in English. Lost? No, but something like that. He is very something right now. We must do what we can."
Miko felt her chest tighten, but she nodded anyway. Everything in Atlantis felt too fast, always. They never sat down, never had the time to make sure-
"We will eat lunch first, I think." And he was leading her away.
Miko looked back once, seeing the chair, seeing the crazily swirling circuits imposed over it in her mind's eye, sharp and silver. She shivered.
Teyla breathed in through her mouth and out through her nose, trying not to react to the incense pouring out of the tiny glass cups littered around the room. The fire suppression system could be turned off, but not her sense of smell, nor the memory of doing this day after day, a new name, a new Remembrance each time. They blurred together. They should not.
She thought perhaps she would say nothing today. It was her right, as one bereaved.
On her left side was Halling, much changed for his time imprisoned, yet still standing by her, for her. On her right, Ronon was solid and steady as a tree. She could not fall with them here, she knew, and yet some part of her refused to show even the slightest weakness to their watchful eyes.
Farther to her left, the crystal passed to Kanan's sister Ela. She, too, had the right to pass it on in silence, but instead lifted it to her breast and began to sing.
Instantly, Teyla's eyes were full and she felt herself sway. Ronon's arms came around her shoulders, holding her up, and yet there was no comfort in it. His ears, which heard the same sounds hers did, could not have picked this lullaby out from dozens like it, could not have said this is our favorite
among the children who had huddled in that tent in the dark. Ela had her mother's voice. Would Kanan's son have his?
The song ended; the still-humming crystal passed to Halling. Teyla barely heard the words. "He was becoming a good leader." "He had great strength of heart."
They were mere words. No music lay behind them.
And then it was her turn. She choked, felt Ronon press the crystal into her palms, and she had never been so relieved in her life to hear someone's radio go off at a totally inappropriate time, to hear Rodney's soft, incongruous "Crap.
Okay." All eyes followed him out the door, and by the time they returned to her, she had swallowed her tears enough to speak.
"I loved him," she said, and the crystal lit up and swallowed her words whole, to be echoed forever at a simple touch.
His heart was pounding in his teeth. This was why Rodney hated running - he shouldn't have to think so much about the very blood that kept him alive and how it was racing through his veins, stretching the walls until they physically hurt.
Not that he really wanted to think about what was waiting for him, either.
The transporter took a glacial eon: that half a second while it encoded the destination, the two seconds he was incorporeal (his watch didn't know the difference, but they had timed it before, so now Rodney's brain
knew, and that was all that mattered), another full second waiting for the doors to open.
Then he was running again and cursing his body again, mentally now because he couldn't spare the breath for anything else.
Rounding the corner, almost knocking over Keller, who caught herself on the edge of a madly blinking console. He didn't have breath to apologize, not that he would have anyway, because she shouldn't have been gaping in the doorway like that. Also, move
Kusanagi was standing with her back to him, her head bowed, hands stretched down to grip the arm of the chair thing. Rodney could see a pair of legs in khaki pants sticking out to the side of her. The rest of the form was hidden by her body, but he knew who it was.Damn
Rodney didn't shove Kusanagi out of the way because he knew if she was still standing there, there was a reason. He also didn't shove the nurse, because she was taking Radek's pulse and checking his pupils and generally doing things that reminded him of Carson and that connected the dots somewhere in the back of his brain and coughed up a "-what the hell was he thinking
? He's not a gene carrier!"
"But I am," Kusanagi whispered, and Rodney looked down at her hands. Tiny wires threaded out of the chair, piercing her skin in at least ten different places. As he watched, another snaked its way out and buried itself behind the knuckles of her right hand. Kusanagi whimpered.
"Oh, that's just wrong," Rodney whispered, then raised his voice. "Keller!"
It took twenty minutes to get Kusanagi detached, but the chair didn't power down and Radek didn't wake up.
"What happened?" Rodney asked as the nurse wound a bandage around her hand.
"We - it was just supposed to be a test run." Her eyes were still fixed on Radek's body, lying limp in the chair. Rodney didn't think she'd looked away since he got here. "We tried to power it up, but it wouldn't. He said, maybe if one of us sat down. We just wouldn't lean back. Wouldn't get in range of the circuits."
"Well that worked, didn't it," Rodney spat, and turned to glare at the chair some more. He couldn't touch
it, that was the worst part. He couldn't take it apart, because it might stick him full of wires or, god, turn off and kill Radek. Or turn off and save Radek. Rodney hated not knowing which.
"The equipment is interfering with my EKG readings," Keller said from somewhere behind him. "I'm getting there-and-not-there. Ghost in the machine or something."
"Ghost-" Rodney grabbed Kusanagi's hands, ignoring her wince. "What did he say
? What did you see in that thing?"
She gasped but tried to hold his gaze. "Mirror-image, mirror of the, of the brain-"
"Map, map-maker, translator-"
He let her babble, picking up pieces of what she was trying to say. Unlike Radek, she never dropped back down into her native tongue, but sometimes all she could do was circle around an idea, offering up every synonym that fell across her path. That was okay. Rodney was a genius - he always figured out what she meant in the end.
"Show me the data," he said at one point, and she pulled out her tablet, tracing out circuit diagrams that were clearly never intended to be shown in 2D. Her lips still moved occasionally, dropping a word or a half-sound, aborted thought. Rodney let the pieces of noise lie where they fell. He was busy.
Hui held the scanner with one hand and stroked Miko's head with the other. The older woman was half-kneeling on the floor, her hands on Zelenka's ankles. She was talking, talking, keeping up a constant litany of quiet reassurance that Hui figured was more for her own sake than for the comatose man in the chair, but she wasn't going to say that. McKay had already yelled once, and the resulting tears had him backing down faster than Hui had ever seen. Even the giant-man Dex couldn't make McKay look more terrified.
She wondered if she could make herself cry sometime, just to get the same reaction.
Not right now, though. Today sucked enough without embarrassing herself. Tipping her useless scanner on its side, she said out loud, "This isn't working. We need somebody on the inside."
McKay froze, then hunched his shoulders even further as he tapped furiously at his laptop. "I don't know how you expect to accomplish that."
"I don't." Hui reset the scanner and started again. "Miracles are your job. You and Col. Sheppard."
"Me and-" and then McKay was snapping, pointing back in her general direction without even turning around. "Coleman, some days you aren't entirely stupid."
Hui smiled. That was a pretty big compliment.
Down by her knees, Miko was still whispering, constant, unending, a perpetual motion machine made flesh. It made Hui shiver, but she didn't lift her hand.
In the main hallway running through Bravo company's barracks, there were two paper signs. On your right side as you came out of the transporter, the sign read:
bug annoy Maj Lt Col Sheppard if:
- You think you hear something counting down. Radio Dr. McKay.
- You see a flying purple people eater. Radio Biology (and your squad leader, if it starts breathing fire).
- You start turning into a flying purple people eater. Radio the infirmary.
- Someone appears out of thin air in front of you. Make them set down any devices they may be carrying, escort them to a holding cell, then radio Dr. McKay.
- A closet you never knew about opens up in your room, especially if it's full of blinky lights. Back away quickly and radio Dr. McKay.
- The mess runs out of pudding cups. Corner KP and offer your porn stash.
- There is an unscheduled offworld activation. Radio Dr. Weir and take cover.
- The still blows up. Radio Dr. Z and stay on the channel for some class A Czech cursing. Do not try to put out the fire without chemical help.
- You develop a rash after an offworld mission. Go to the infirmary and radio Botany from an isolation ward. (Yes, we're serious.)
- A seagull is nesting in critical equipment. Call for backup (and watch out for its friends).
- You notice a leak or water on the floor somewhere not in your shower. Radio Dr. Z and evacuate the area.
- You witness a knock-down drag-out fight between a short woman and one or more large Marines. Radio Chuck for the odds, but always put your money on Teyla.
- Your gender changes unexpectedly. Go to the infirmary and radio Dr.
McKay. Kusanagi (for all device-related transformations until further notice)
- You feel an uncontrollable urge to bungee-jump. Radio Dr. Heightmeyer...."
The list went on, well past the paper it started on. It covered the wall from about knee height to seven feet up, stretching about as wide as a man could reach from fingertip to fingertip with his chest up against the wall. It sported dozens of different writing styles, including some languages Sheppard couldn't read.
Some of the stories were real. Some were inside jokes. Some were things people made up just to scare the new kids.
On the opposite wall was a similar sheet, but there were only three items on it:
"Bug Maj Sheppard if:
- You see a Wraith who isn't dead or under heavy guard
- You suspect an invasion
- Anyone tells you that BC sucks."
It clearly hadn't been touched since it was posted, except for the fact that someone had put it under plexiglass and attached a thin, steel frame.
It was in Lt. Ford's handwriting.
As John ran through the halls, he reflected that Rodney had clearly never seen this list, nor would he approve of it at all.
"I'm at the chair room," John panted, swiping his hand over the door panel. "What next?"
"You sit in the chair, of course! I don't have time for stupid-"
"Rodney! Calm down and tell me what the fuck to do, okay?"
He could hear McKay's heavy breathing over the radio, some horrific parody of a person trying to take deep breaths. "He's been in there for eighteen hours, dammit. I need you to sit in the chair and see if you can access the database system from there and bring him back
"Well, as long as that's all...."
John ignored the next tirade. It contained nothing useful, and he was busy settling himself into the chair, getting his hands into position and considering his options. Marie the head nurse came through the door with her hands full, slowing down when she saw him already seated. He nodded to her and she got to work prepping an IV bag, just in case.
He wondered where she'd hang it. Probably the back of the chair, and wouldn't that
get McKay going again.
"Try to keep track of time this round, Colonel," she said with a little lift at one corner of her mouth.
John appreciated the attempt. "Yeah, I'll do that. See you on the other side."
And he was closing his eyes, sinking back into the chair, feeling the world light up around him-
John blinked, sitting up. The light around him was strangely blue, but this was clearly the chair room. Marie was gone, as was the medical equipment. He wondered how long he'd been under, if there had been some sort of emergency that dragged her away.
He tapped his radio. Nothing, not even static. Battery was dead, then.
He'd been under a really long time.
Carefully, he stood. One joint at a time, checking for damage, and okay, no, everything was fine. Better than usual. Which didn't make any sense if he'd been sitting still for a while. He always came out feeling about ten years older. But not today. Huh.
He moved quickly to the open doorway, checking around the corner, but there was no one. Down the hall, footsteps so light there was almost no sound - or was there no sound at all, literally? Geez, this was creepy.
He tapped his radio again. This time, a woman's voice came through loud and clear, almost making him jump.
"-pard, can you hear me?"
"Yeah, yeah," he answered quickly. "I'm here. What's going on?"
"Colonel Sheppard. Colonel Sheppard
"I said I could-"
"He's not responding. Should we try to abort?"
"Give him time," said a distant voice, and John felt a rush of relief because that was Rodney
, and if Rodney was out there somewhere, watching his back, well. He had a chance, that was all.
Though not being able to talk back was going to get irritating pretty quick.
He continued to move through the strangely silent shell of Atlantis, convinced now that this wasn't exactly real. Real
was on the other side of his radio connection. This could be an alternate universe, but he thought it was more likely he had ended up exactly where he'd meant to go - wherever Radek was stuck.
Which, wow, was somewhere big
He came around a corner and stopped, breathless for a moment with the sheer size of it. He was facing the central core of the tower, an open space below the gateroom, thirty or forty stories of empty space maybe five hundred yards across. Staircases twisted and spiraled all over the sides, to the left and right of him, above and below. Maybe twenty feet up a catwalk arched out over the open space, so long it seemed to dwindle to a point in the distance. John couldn't see any way it could be structurally sound.
There was nothing in the real Atlantis like this. He took a deep breath and set his foot on the first step going up.
The ground shook.
To be fair, it didn't so much shake as jerk sideways for half a second and slide back, guilty-like, into place. John stumbled, banged his knee on a stair and wow, that should have hurt. That really, really should have hurt.
For a moment he knelt there touching the ground at five points. It stayed where it was. Cautiously, slowly, he stood again and began taking each step by itself, his hand near the railing. Just in case.
It was a long, long walk without the transporters. John tried to test his surroundings, see if he could manipulate them, but they stayed firmly weird. And distant, like he was seeing them through warped glass or artificial fog.
He had passed the first catwalk pretty quickly. After that it became his benchmark, dwindling below even as the second one loomed infinitesimally, growing slowly only when he wasn't looking. The only positive thing he could see in this whole mess was that his joints didn't ache. Nor did he really have to stop and rest, but sometimes he did just because it was so incredibly boring
, one foot in front of the other, the barely-changing view.
"His heart-rate's steady," said the voice in his ear. Well, that was good. Right?
Up and up and up he walked, while everything around him faded out at the far edges.
He almost missed it when he passed the base level. His concentration was all poured into listening to the radio and feeling for tremors, and nothing else really bled through until suddenly there was a wall beside him, where before there had been empty space. He started in surprise, then ran up the last four flights - possibly a little faster than he should have, but his breathing barely changed, and then he was bursting out into the control room from the back stair.
The room was eerily quiet and almost empty. Almost. But there, typing on a laptop (and how was there was Earth equipment in here?, John wondered) was a scruffy-headed man in khaki pants and a blue jacket, mismatched and utterly focused on what he was doing. John felt something in his chest loosen.
The other man looked up - and fell off his chair.
"You - where - why-" Zelenka sputtered as John helped him up. "I had thought these were isolated events occurring in the memory structure-"
"I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about," John told him with a half-laugh. God, this had been too easy. "Rodney told me 'go' and I went."
"And now we are both trapped. How thoughtful of him."
"I don't think-" John paused, checked to see if this was really true. "I don't think we're really trapped. It feels like the system's just. Standing by? Like no one's initialized it."
"And you coming here did nothing?"
"I came through the control chair," John admitted, and ducked his head when Zelenka's eyes widened.
"That should not even be possible," Zelenka whispered. "Hearing one another, yes, but."
"Yes. I have been listening to Kusanagi for hours, I think. She cannot seem to hear me, though."
"Yes. Surely you can hear her, too?"
"No, I'm hearing Marie and sometimes Rodney, when he gets really loud."
Zelenka looked puzzled. "Are they trapped as well?"
"No..." John blinked. "As far as I know, we're the only ones."
"No, there is-"
The room rippled.
John watched his left hand fade to almost nothing, and there, finally, was the pain he was expecting, sharp and desperate. Zelenka's cry was enlongated, his glasses flashing prismatic colors John wasn't sure existed in the real world. Somewhere above them, a window shattered and sent tiny fragments of light spilling down over them in winking slow motion, each one passing through his body with a tiny pang, like it wasn't quite there, or he wasn't.
It was horrifying and went on forever and was over inside of a second.
"Holy shit!" John yelled, just because he could. Because he could hear
himself now, and his hand was back, throbbing. "What the hell, Radek?"
"His blood pressure just spiked," said the voice in his ear, and no duh
"I am sorry, Colonel." And Radek actually sounded sorry, which didn't really help. There was a cut on his cheek, bleeding slowly. "The code is corrupted. That is the fifth event since I entered and the worst by far. I suspect we may not survive another."
Oh, great. "How do we get out?"
Radek shrugged. "I found the proper code in the database and sent it to Rodney for a patch. I suspect he is not checking his email, or he would have it fixed by now."
"Okay, okay." John looked out over the room, trying to think. The light was still strange, playing over the laptops, the balcony, the glass that should have been shattered but sat smugly untouched, the blue rim of the gate-
Then John was moving without thought, his hand going for the DHD.
"What are you doing?" came the shout as he pressed symbols in an old familiar sequence. "You cannot dial a gate's own address! It causes tremors, instability! You are crazy!"
John didn't try to explain. He could already feel another shift coming on, and he didn't plan to be here when it hit. In his mind's eye he saw the vast empty space right below this very room, the endless distance they could smash down and no. Just no.
The gate kawooshed.
Ripples of blue light reflected across Radek's shocked face as John grabbed his hand and pulled. They staggered briefly forward and then Radek was pulling back, snatching at the laptop still perched on the console.
"Leave it!" John shouted. "It's not real!"
But Radek wouldn't, so John ended up towing the man practically by his collar down the steps and across the shivering gateroom floor, his wiry arms clutching the machine tight like a baby as they stumbled through-
Hui was standing next to Zelenka's feet when they twitched and kicked her in the ankle.
"The code's unstable!" McKay was shouting. "We're coming up on a fatal error!"
"We have to open a connection back to the chair," Carter replied calmly. Well, not quite calmly. "McKay, I need you to-"
Over the radio, the nurse's voice barked, "Colonel Sheppard is-"
A console exploded.
Well, not exploded, exactly. Sizzled and popped and gave off smoke like a child's firecracker, which sent everyone in the room diving for cover.
The tense, long silence that followed was finally broken by a hoarse, trembling voice. "Am I fired, Rodney?"
"Oh hell no," McKay said, slowly standing up. "I'm going to hold this one over your head for years
Radek talked. He reasoned. He explained. Eventually, he yelled.
Behind him (behind Rodney, behind Rodney's back), Coleman and Kusanagi went to work. Esposito ran nervous interference in the control room, distracting Colonel Carter. It was a team effort. Radek felt very proud of his team. Also somewhat hungry.
The night before, Dr. Keller had pronounced him, "Dehydrated and a pound or two lighter, but likely to live. And you're going to bed right now
. You too, McKay."
She had pressed a pill into Radek's hand, another one into Ronon's (who had promptly stuffed it into McKay's mouth and held his nose like a squirming child's), then shooed them all out of her infirmary, the two of them and their many bystanders. They'd been quite noisy for so late at night.
Now, though, Radek had had twelve hours of sleep and felt almost whole again. The jagged edge of panic had faded, leaving behind only the urgency that this thing be done, that he find a way back inside. Not for himself, he didn't think he could ever go there again, but for others. Others would go. They would touch the inside of that strange world and shape it with their thoughts until it was a place where a person could truly live
"It's done," said Coleman quietly behind him. Kusanagi hummed agreement, her hands spilling over with cracked and darkened crystals.
"What's done?" demanded McKay, whirling. "What, what?"
"Rodney." Radek laid his hand on Rodney's arm and used a tone he almost never brought out except with his sister's son. "When I was inside the artificial space-"
"The VR," Rodney corrected, but he was still listening, caught despite himself.
"-when I was inside, I heard voices. People speaking to me from out here. But there was another voice. A man who was not in this room."
"No. It was Carson Beckett. Rodney, he is awake in there."
It was a terrible thing to watch, the way McKay's eyes shone even as his body deflated, curled in on itself and turned away. Radek closed his eyes.
-Only to open them a moment later when Rodney cleared his throat and said, roughly, "Don't just stand there, we have to check their work. The SGC likes to hire trained monkeys, you know." And Radek knew, yes, he knew very well, and he let out a breath and squeezed Kusanagi's shoulder as she passed.
His team, yes, that Rodney had hand-picked, one by one.
Marie checked the Sergeant's pulse - "Call me Jonathan, ma'am," he'd winked as he settled into the chair - and looked around the room. There were still three more people waiting to go. Lieutenant Kagan, fidgeting on his stool. Major Lorne, back for his third session in two days, leaning against the wall because no one had offered to carry more than a couple of seats up here yet. Specialist Dex, sprawled beside him looking lazy but with circles starting to form under his eyes. Marie decided she would make him come back tomorrow. Four sessions was too many in such a short time, especially for someone adding as much detail as he did.
She'd take her own turn, then, or maybe the day after. There was no shortage of volunteers. People coming out of it said it was amazing, incredibly complex and full of people walking and talking and being themselves. Bustling, practically the real Atlantis.
One or two people had come out looking haunted. Marie had asked Dr. Brown, but her only reply had been, "I didn't expect to see her again."
Marie wet her lips and sat down again. Maybe in a few days.
There was another thing she was putting off, and that was the letter on her desktop, a little file named "From_jwatson_To_mko". The latest databurst had brought all sorts of letters, both text and video, to be encoded into the VR for Dr. Beckett. It seemed like everyone at the SGC knew the man, either from Atlantis or from his brief stint in Colorado while the city was closed to them. And every one of those people had something to say to him.
Everyone here, too. There was a rustle of cloth and footsteps and "Nurse Ko?"
Marie turned at the sound of her name. Teyla Emmagan stood there with another Athosian woman, both of them looking somewhat uncomfortable. Dex pushed off the floor and joined them.
"We were wondering," Teyla said, carefully not looking at the Sergeant in the chair, "if a way has been found to translate voice...?"
"Not yet," Marie told her. "All I know is it's a high priority."
"Ah." The other woman was fingering something that hung around her neck, opaque and yet catching the light. "We would like to know when, if, it does happen."
"We have a song," Teyla explained, and the faintest edge of a smile appeared on her tired face.
"I'll call you myself when I hear anything," Marie assured her.
"Thank you. Oh, and I believe that Doctor Cole-"
A flurry of lab coat and a clipboard. "I'm here, I'm here! Sorry, Marie, I know I'm late."
Marie waved it away. "It's fine. Sergeant Alawe has fifteen more minutes, then the Lieutenant, then the Major. Mr. Dex here was just leaving."
Dex growled, but Teyla said, "Ronon, will you help me back to my room?" and his frustrated glare melted like soft wax. Marie would have to remember that trick.
She followed them out after making sure Maggie had her notes, but instead of turning right toward the transporter, her feet took her left, deeper into the sublevels of the city. Past darkened windows, reflective as the lights came on in front of her and went out behind. Down two long hallways and a half-dozen turns, until she came to a room with no door and stepped inside.
Against the far wall a bank of lights was blinking slowly, steadily. All clear. The face behind the force field was still and unmoving, but now she knew there was life behind it. Not the same man who had stood beside her and refused to leave a man to die, and yet the same. She wondered, if she went inside, would she meet him again.
Laying her palm against the cool wall beside his face, she whispered, "Thank you, Doctor."
The lights continued to shine.
|When I heard the learn'd astronomer,|
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams,
to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured
with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.